Saturday, January 31, 2009

Surfin', safari and bbq

So far you know what it's like to drive on the left and what our house looks like, and by now you're probably asking yourself "but what are Kiwi birthday parties like?" Perfect timing! Jake and I just attended our first yesterday to celebrate birthdays for Stephanie and Greg, both KPMGers.

This is Stephanie in the brown safari dress. She's on a tw0-year assignment from Philly, and she's been here about nine months. She organized the party and picked the theme, "surfin' safari," and folks came in a range of dressed-upedness. One guy even wore a full lion costume even though it was 80-something degrees. I just noticed the guys trying to squeeze into our shot.

Here's Brett, the guy from Atlanta we mentioned before. Notice the American flag hat he's wearing, as though no one could tell he's an American. Way to represent! :)

And just like home, guys stand around in circles talking about cars and sports and barbecue.

And just in case you're not tired of seeing pics of us, here's another for you. This lei (look famaliar, Katherine?) is one of the little things I brought over to remind me of home, and it sure came in handy at the party. Some other little things we brought over included our fish magnets on the fridge from Jeromy, a water color from Emily and Ella, some silverware we got from Grandma Dolores, a stuffed lion from Kara and lots of photos. I had to sneak most of it into our luggage because I was getting that "how much are we paying to bring all your silly knick knacks?" look from Jake, but I'm sure he's happy we have it now. My folks were nice enough to send over a Boulevard Beer coaster. I have yet to see an American beer here, but we're not looking too hard, as we've found the beers to be just fine. 

Jake has rounded up a few Americans and some agreeable Kiwis to watch the SuperBowl at a bar near the harbourfront called "Chicagos" tomorrow. It'll be Monday here, and he's taking the afternoon off in preparation for the kickoff which is around noon, I think. Should be fun. We'll keep you posted.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Best e-mail of the week

Well folks, it's time I put down the champagne and picked up the want ads. I sent out my first New Zealand resume the other day, and within 15 minutes, I received my first New Zealand rejection. But it wasn't for nothing. The recruiter (who called me and told me I was under-qualified for the position) invited me out to coffee and gave me some insight about the job market here and several contacts I should get in touch with. Already this morning I've sent out a few resumes for jobs that sound really interesting. I'd love to find something in marketing communication as an editor, project manager, web content manager or something along those lines. Keep your fingers crossed for me! 

The best e-mail of the week came from my good friend Angela from Rockhurst:

"Jamie, I have to say your blog is great and I envy every thing that you have done so far. But what is this about having to find a job? I thought you were taking a work hiatus? Can't you fake a pregnancy or something to keep yourself at home?"

Well now that it's so public, I think Jake would be a little suspicious if I tried it. But I like the way you think.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A few more pics of the house

One month in, and we finally have all the basic furniture in the house. After a bit of cleaning, I decided to take a few more pics and show you where we live. I'm also trying to post my first slideshow here, so I'm crossing my fingers it works...


Monday, January 26, 2009

Trekking around the island

Before we confuse you with several new unpronounceable place names, allow me to give you an idea of where we're talking about. Here's a map of NZ (pronounced "enzed").

We're in Wellington, the capital, and we've highlighted the places we've been over the past two weekends.

1. Cape Palliser, where we saw the seals and the lighthouse.
2. Raumati Beach
3. Rimutaka Forest Park

(Note to Joe and Angela and Dave ... how I miss you and your amazing PhotoShop skills. I'd be embarrassed to tell you how long it took me to create the maps above.)

Home: We live within about an hour of the other places on the map, but great hiking trails are within walking distance of our front door. We walked about 20 minutes through town to find a trail that led up to Mt. Kaukau (Jake likes to pronounce it like an angry bird). Our house sits about 110 meters above sea level, and we climbed up to around 400 that day. Whew.

This plant reminds me of the giant leaf we received from Lori in Hawaii the day we got married. I'm not sure that's going to make sense to anyone who didn't come with us, but there's not much more to explain. 

2. At Raumati Beach on the west coast, Jake claimed to have seen a 20-lb. sea gull, pictured below. "It's the size of a turkey!" He spent most of his time following the critter around while I took in the spectacular views. We walked along the beach and ate at a little place right there that had a good view, then came out and watched the sun go down. This is where we could see the south island. You may be able to see it in this shot, although its very faint.

We took some time to walk around on the rocks a bit farther south. It reminded us of doing the same thing in Hawaii.

Then this weekend, we headed over to Rimutaka Forest Park for a day hike. We were on the lookout for Kiwis (the bird, not the fruit) but never saw any. I guess they're nocturnal.

The trail was all through a forest of palm trees and giant ferns and other cool plants we couldn't identify. It seemed like a tropical jungle to us. Most of our three-hour round-trip was under a full canopy that sunlight couldn't penetrate, so even though it was probably 75 or 80 outside, it was perfectly cool under the trees. 

The thing about this place is that just outside the forest you can see a large number of hillsides that have been forested. I've heard that was a big problem here, but haven't done much research on it yet, as I'm using our Internet mostly for blogging and e-mail so far. A good blog author would give you a link to some intriguing and insightful information on the subject. Fair warning, dear readers: until this becomes a revenue-generating venture, this may be as good as it gets.

In all of these exciting trips and planning, I've forgotten to mention something important. My mom just had a birthday on Jan. 16. Mom, you mean the world to both of us, and one of the reasons we love you so much is all the love and support you've shared with us lately. xoxo

I realize I have missed some other birthdays since firing up this blog last fall, but rest assured we'll try to cover them during our time here. The important ones, I mean. (Sorry Corey, you're probably not on that list.)


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Back…perhaps by popular demand???

Jake here. It was so nice to get all of the positive feedback with my last posting that I figured that I should give this blogging thing a second shot. This time, I hope to post a few pictures to keep everybody more visually stimulated.

Overall, I am getting more and more excited about New Zealand everyday. The job is starting out well and it is clear I will be working with a good group of folks and learning a lot of new things. There is so much to do around here with little travel. I am getting to the point that I can communicate with nearly everybody, regardless of how different their version of English is from what I am accustomed to.

This weekend and last were a lot of fun and we have been consistently amazed by the natural beauty of the area. We can’t wait to see more and we know that the best is yet to come. Not my best from the car photo, but here is our first glimpses of the south island near sunset…we can’t wait to see it up close.

I am feeling much better behind the wheel of our little car and have realized that Wellington is a very compact city. Nothing is far away and everything is challenging to locate (the first time, at least). One challenge has been giving up the keys to my dear wife.

Driving w/ Mrs. Jamie…although I have never been 100% relaxed when Jamie is driving in the States, I have had a more difficult time so far finding peace in the passenger seat here. Please note the fear in my eyes:

In our new world, fear quickly transforms into very detailed driving suggestions/comments, robust directions and instructions, and, at times, a few pleas for mercy. I am quickly realizing (because Jamie told me) that this reaction is not at all helpful, so I have been working with another plan that involves a human blindfold.

Jamie seems happy with the change and I am getting the hang of it too. It sure beats ridding in the boot / trunk!


Thursday, January 22, 2009

9 reasons it's obvious we're not in Kansas any more

1. First and most fabulous, it's summer here. 

2. Second, people actually walk and ride their bikes to get around. When I've taken Jake to work, we've seen hoards of commuters walking, riding and running on the sidewalks to get to work. A lot of guys wear shirts and ties on bikes, and women wear sneakers to walk in their business suits... surely they switch into nicer shoes when they arrive. 

3. Parking tickets are only $12 (about $7 USD) and not the ridiculous $45 we're used to seeing in KC. Got my first one yesterday and was pleasantly surprised. 

4. I've never seen so much chutney. Will someone please tell me what it is and what I do with it?

5. Jake's been working 40-hour weeks. It's amazing. I don't know when that's ever happened before.

6. You know that irritating high-pitched beeping sound you hear when a big truck is backing up? Our car does that. Every car does that here. 

7. You're not allowed to order just coffee. Everything is espresso based, such as latte, mocha, etc. The closest thing we've found is an Americano, which seems to be just some watered down espresso. But Jake still gets a strange look when he turns down the milk and sugar. 

8. There are very few mosquitoes or other insects here. Must be too windy for them.

9. I have no idea how college football ended, or who's going to the Superbowl (maybe that's already happened...?), but I know rugby's big "sevens" tournament is coming to town soon. And apparently the tradition involves everyone dressing up in costumes and looking like fools. Now I know Jake and I will fit right in! Check out more funny costume pics from last year's tournament.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Finally online

Hello from our new home -- I'm in the second bedroom/office. No furniture in here yet, so I'm lying on the floor surrounded by wires and installation instructions. This poor wireless modem and I have been battling all day, but after three painful calls to tech support and a few hours of frustration, I have prevailed!

My blood pressure is still coming back down to a normal level, so I'll have to do my chit-chatting later on. 

BTW, thanks Corey for not totally embarrassing us on Jake's new colleague's blog. I saw your note here and almost couldn't bare to look on his site. But I was pleasantly surprised by your level of discretion. Well done. We'll wait until everyone knows us a bit better before pulling out all the good stories.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Good morning, Mr. President

Good morning from New Zealand, where Jake and I woke up and stumbled over to our neighbors' house to watch the inauguration at 6 a.m. today (it's Wednesday here). It was so very nice of them to invite us over because we don't have a TV yet. Since we don't have Internet either, we both feel a bit out of the loop and haven't read much news lately at all, so we barely knew it was inauguration time. Sounds like it was pretty big news here, judging by the size of Obama's head on the front page of today's paper. My goodness, that's quite a close-up.

Today's paper also has a job market section that I'll be carefully perusing after my morning nap and then afternoon wine on the deck. It's a rough lifestyle I'm living. :) Really, it hasn't been quite as liesurely as it sounds, but it still feels quite luxurious to not be under enormous pressure to get a job ASAP. I'm definitely looking forward to the opportunity to get some international experience, so we'll see how it goes.

Monday, January 19, 2009

We met an American

I was so focused on cramming in all the photos and info in the last entry that I left out some other updates. One of which is about meeting a KPMGer from Atlanta who is doing the same two-year gig here in Wellington and who just arrived last week. His name is Brett Barrett, and we had the opportunity to visit with him, grab some local food and swap stories on Friday. I have to admit I'm not the best/fastest at deciphering the Kiwi accent, so it was so easy and relaxing to converse with a guy who really speaks our language. Brett's blogging about his adventures too -- you can check it out at He's actually staying in the very same apartment we were in, so it might look familiar, and after reading some of his blog, looks like he's as preoccupied with NZ beverages as we are.

Would you say you have a plethora of photos?

It's been a busy few days here, and it's great to be back online, although I'm still reporting from the quaint little library here in our suburb. I have lots of photos to share, so let's get on with it, right?? First I can't wait to show off a couple shots of our new little house. Here's the living room, or what everyone calls the lounge. The glass door opens to a little deck that overlooks the harbour.

And I need to sneak in a quick pic of Jake on his way to his first day of "school" last Monday. Of course he didn't want to take the photo, but I was sure Adena would appreciate it.

Here's a shot of our view on a sunnier day. The weather's been fantastic... not too hot, and it's only rained a couple times since we've been here, so we've had the windows open a lot.

But I think our parking space has the best view of all. Isn't this amazing?? You can see a ferry leaving for the South Island in this shot -- something I see several times a day (since all I do is sit and stare out the window). Sometimes we see cruise ships too. So from here, you have to walk down about 30 steps to get to our front door.

This weekend was the first time we had a chance to venture out of the city. We headed to Cape Palliser, which is on the very south east corner of the north island, a couple hours outside of Wellington, I'd guess. We drove through the Hutt Valley and then through/around/over some of those giant green hills. About halfway through, we stopped at a scenic lookout and started up a hiking path. I didn't think we'd go in very far, so I just wore my flip flops, and was actually pretty proud of their performance climbing up some steeper sections and down through some loose rocks and gravel.

This was the top of our hike and it was pretty darn windy there, although it doesn't really show.

Here's our view from the top. Amazing!

On the way down I'll admit I was pretty distracted and psyched at the view, and of course I fell down on the trail... no big deal, other than one of my hands landed fully in a spikey little plant. A thousand invisible splinters -- four days later and I'm still trying to get them all out.

The purpose of our trip was to camp and hike among the Putangirua Pinnacles, which are these giant cliffs that have been worn down by wind erosion to these pointy pieces of rock. (Better description here.) We camped within site of this beach. The weather was nice, but the water was a bit too chilly to swim in, although I couldn't resist putting my feet in.

Allow me to summarize our camping experience with this photo. This poor tree is leaning for a reason. Jake and I definitely deserve some kind of award for being able to put up our tent in such a gale and staying sane and married. Of course after we tied the tent down, Jake reinforced it on the windy side with some heavy-duty rope tied to a nearby post and our car. Immediately the wind changes directions and he goes to work on the other side. But then we found someone leaving a comfy little spot along the tree line, and we uprooted the whole station and moved.

Our hike among the pinnacles was just as windy. But what an amazing view.

Certainly worth putting on the ole' hiking boots.

We found these little pieces of Paua on our walk on the beach that evening. I guess this is a type of abilone found here in NZ.

We saw seals! This is on our drive the next morning along the coast. Our guide book said to drive slow so we didn't run any of them over. We didn't see any in the road, but we were on the lookout.

The last stop before heading home was this little lighthouse on Cape Palliser. There are 250 creeky old wooden steps leading up to the top, and Jake was sure that they only replace them when they break. I was a bit nervous about the steps, but it was worth it.

Here's a view from the lighthouse.

Sunday night we had tickets to see the Wellington Pheonix soccer team take on a team from Adelaide (Australia) at Westpac stadium, which is the big stadium here in town. They call this the A-league -- not sure if that means anything to all you sports junkies. Jake got the tix from work, and we walked a couple miles (including 460 stairs down from our suburb on the hill) to the stadium. I think I was most impressed by being allowed to buy four beers at a time (in bottles with lids so you don't spill half of it on your way to your seat) and a couple of "American" hot dogs (complete with Confederate flag logo), all for $29 -- that's only about $20 USD.

The stadium may look empty, but that's because the 8,000 fans who attended were all sitting in the sunny section to the left of this photo. The home team left with a 1-1 tie.

I think that's all we have for now. We'll have more regular updates once we get Internet access at home. Apparently when someone tells you "We'll call you tomorrow to get everything set up," it's just a friendly greeting and has no literal basis.

Also wanted to share our mailing address with anyone who's interested:

Jacob and Jamie Swearingen
91 Amritsar St.
Khandallah, Wellington 6035
New Zealand

Hope everyone's well. Talk to you again soon!


Monday, January 12, 2009

Oh, Internet... how I've missed you...

Hello from the tiny little library in the suburb of Khandallah, just down the way from our new home. I'm paying for Internet access here, so I'll keep it short. Just wanted to check in with everyone. Jake had his first day of work yesterday and all went well. I'll be taking him into work and picking him up for the time being, but he may end up taking a quick bus ride to and from downtown in the future. So it's been quite adventurous trying to find my way around and run errands on my own. I'm getting used to the wrong-side driving, but still learning my way around. I've taken several wrong turns and long detours, but so far so good. We are (and by "we are" I mean "I am") setting up our phone and Internet so we should be connected to the world again soon.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Home "Sweet As" Home

We just landed an AWESOME house! You've listened to our grumbling about our house-hunting adventures through our whole time here, and it's about to pay off. Jake and I have driven to the highest mountain tops and walked through countless houses, and today we found the place we're going to call home. The coolest part is that it's the best place we've seen by a long shot. It's perched up on the side of a large hill with wood floors, beautiful hourbor views, two little decks, and three bedrooms so we'll have plenty of room when all of you come visit! No photos yet, but we're going to start moving our stuff (all nine bags -- shouldn't take long) over tomorrow morning. 

This is such a relief and definitely a reason to celebrate! All the coordination so far has been a bit overwhelming, but this was the big one. We're so happy to have a place, and better yet, one we're going to love. 


Sorry Eddie Murphy

We know you all have been anxiously awaiting the pics of our new house. We were all ready to move in, thought it was something we'd like, but something just didn't feel right. Sorry Eddie Murphy... no more "Oww! Hot Tub!" for us (Thanks Nick). So now we're back to house-hunting, which is good because the market is picking up again after the holiday. We've seen a few today and have several more to see in the next few days, in between stops at the local pubs in each neighborhood. Jake and I are feeling good about our options.

We went and saw several places today and have lots more in the next couple of days, in between the cultural (pub) stops along the way to fill out tenancy applications. I have to admit it's pretty awesome to sit in the sun and enjoy a drink when most (of you) folks are at work. :)

And for all of Jake's fans out there... not to worry. He received such an overwhelming response from his last posting that I'm sure he'll be back.

Here's a quick overview of what else has been going on and other tidbits we've learned:

-- We bought a bed -- due to be delivered in two weeks. Hopefully we'll have some place to put it by then.

-- Folks in NZ have somewhat different driving habits, other than the obvious "wrong-side" one. When they see a pedestrian or car coming, they tend to roll right up on them and slam on the brakes at the last minute, instead of the considerate slow-down. As Jake and I walked from one bed store to another yesterday, a big delivery truck sped into a slanted parking spot a couple feet from us, and I seriously thought I was getting run over. Scared the crapola out of me.

-- Otherwise, the driving is going well. I tried it for the first time today, and we're still alive!

-- Folks here don't seem to get cold. Everyone is wearing tanks and shorts, and girls are wearing sun dresses. And it's been in the 60s/70s and windy. Maybe I'm just a big wimp.

-- New words we've learned: "boot" is a trunk; "excess" is a deductible; "rubbish" is trash; no one rents, they only "let"; folks pay rent weekly or "fortnightly"; and "sweet as" is the same as saying awesome. And that doesn't even include any of the Maori words, such as kia ora (hello).

We went on a mini-hike in between house visits today, and check out the view. What gorgeous weather! The big round structure you see there is Westpac Stadium, where the Wellington Pheonix soccer team plays.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Jake's only post so far

I am being held at gun point by my wife and was instructed to contribute to our blog. This is Jake. I'm in New Zealand listening to the "land down under" song. Just a coincidence...I'm not a fan of the tune. You may note that I have not added any pictures...there is a reason for that. I don't know how to add pictures (as that is little too advanced for me).

We are going to sign a lease today on a three bedroom house in Kingston (suburb of Welly). It is probably bigger than we need; however, when I'm bad this will give me some room to run away from Jamie. Just kidding. I'm sure pictures of the house will be forthcoming soon, so stay tuned. There is hot tub room, too. The tub might prove handy this next winter.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bought a car!

Got a new car today! It's a 2004 Nissan Primera. 


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Walking all over Welly

Wow, I don't know if my legs have ever been so tired from walking. When we got our temporary apartment in downtown Wellington, I thought it would be so great and "urban" to walk everywhere -- the grocery store, post office, bank, etc. I'm sure we logged at least five miles just today, including another jog along the harbour this morning. Whew. I think it's a healthier lifestyle (especially since we've learned to buy food that doesn't weigh much, because we have to lug it several blocks) but I'm looking forward to owning a car and experiencing a slightly more suburban perspective of "Welly."

Yesterday we took a cable car up to the top of the Wellington Botanical Garden. And when we say the "top," we mean it! Then got to wind through the park all the way back to something closer to sea level. What a beautiful park! 

I don't know if this is a NZ thing or if you've ever seen this before, but we came across this cool thing called a sundial of human involvement in the park. 

And it works ... it was just after noon when Jake took this fabulous shot of me. 

I have to say our pics don't do justice to the scenery. We were having such a great time wandering around, and we also took the opportunity to strategize about a couple of rental houses we're considering. We're getting closer to making a decision, and it'll be great to get to actually move in somewhere and start feeling at home. We've been nomads ever since we moved out of our place in Fairway on Dec. 19. 

The cactus below earned a photo because it thinks it's a palm tree. And I promise Jake owns more than one shirt. He just likes to wear this one in all the photos we post on this blog. :)

We've had just spectacular weather this entire time. And today came the wind. This is no ordinary wind! I don't know how the women here walk around with long hair. I think I'm going to invest in a few more hats or a shorter haircut. It's crazy windy! I don't have any photographic evidence of this wind yet, but I'll work on it. In the meantime, I'll tell you about our newest adventure. Today Jake and I stopped in a little Chinese restaurant called the Big Thumb for lunch. We're both having a bit of trouble understanding the Kiwi accent, but are making out okay for the most part. I didn't understand anything our Asian server said. But after we ordered, we quickly learned the Yum Cha (have you heard of this?) is a type of service where someone will come around every two minutes and try to sell you an appetizer. First they came with prawn and chive dumplings, and of course I just thought it was a free sample because we looked like clueless Americans. (How nice of them...) Then she wrote down $4 on our ticket. (Hmmm...) Then came some sort of fried twig-looking items, which we declined. (Jake was already nervous about the whole experience after he found beef intestine on the menu.) They brought the food we'd ordered, but kept coming by trying to sell us stuff. Our lunch was good, but we were running out of ways to politely decline the strange-looking dishes. 

Also today we called up a colleague of Jake's from West Virginia who works for KPMG here. We've never met him but he and his wife have helped us with lots of questions about settling in here via e-mail. His name is Archie, and he and his wife Maggie are expecting a baby. They've invited us to dinner tomorrow night, so that will be good. I think Jake and I are both anxious to interact with other people at this point. We make a good team, but we have been around each other 24/7 practically since we moved out two full weeks ago. He reminded me today that we've never spent so much time together, even on vacation. Extended conversation with other people will definitely do us both some good!  

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