Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ready for the weekend!

Our attempt to find the basketball game playing in a bar was a failure. Oh well. So while you all are getting ready for March Madness, Jake and I are learning more about NZ's sports traditions. Tonight we've been invited to a cricket match. Now I don't know much about cricket, but I've heard some of the matches go on for days and days. Luckily tonight we're going to see a much more condensed version, called a 20-20 match, that will last three or four hours.

And tomorrow, we're flying up to Auckland for a three-day weekend. With 1.4 million people, it's about the size of KC and it's NZ's biggest city. We're hoping to do some tramping (quit giggling -- that means hiking here) and find a beach if the weather's nice. So we may be away from our phones, e-mail and blog for a couple days.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No TV = no college basketball

We're pretty excited about the K-State v. Mizzou game today, but it doesn't look like we'll have a chance to watch it. There's a long shot that it'll be shown at the only American sports bar in town, so I'll have to see if that's an option. For those who may not know, Jake and I are bitterly divided on this matchup -- the poor guy's a Kansas State alum, and I'm a proud grad from the U. of Missouri.

I'm sure we'll read about the outcome online, but we'd love to hear your expert analysis if you have any to offer... and only if my team wins. 

We're not too bummed out though, because we just booked our tickets to Chirstchurch! We're heading there for a three-day weekend in early April. It'll be our first trip to the south island and we can't wait! It's a good thing I'm here at home and have the time to scour the travel sites for good deals.

View Larger Map

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Our first nude beach experience

(Warning: Images may contain nudity.)

Yesterday we went on our coolest hike yet. It was on a track called the Eastern Walkway here in Wellington, and it took us along the coast where the ocean meets Wellington Harbour, and then back (and up and down) through the hills and bush. In just two and a half hours, we traversed rocky coastline, flat grassy areas, sandy beaches, shady, damp forest, and yes, we saw some very nude people. First, a few shots of the scenery...

Jake was convinced he was taller than this plant.

I'm sure there's a story about this totem pole, but I don't know it. The boat in this pic is one of the ferries that goes between the north and south islands. We haven't been to the south island yet, but are definitely looking forward to it.

We saw lots of warning signs about penguins, but didn't see a darn one of them. Maybe our calls ("Here penguin!) scared them away.

<-- Wellington Harbour                        Pacific Ocean -->

Well I see the disclaimer about nudity didn't slow you down, so here's what you've been waiting for. See the arrow pointing at some people-colored pixels? Those are some real live nude folks. There were maybe 10 or 12 of them total, including both men and women. It was a bit strange to walk so close to them. I didn't know whether to give a friendly wave and smile, as is the custom here, or to avert my eyes altogether. Our hike took us down along the beach -- where we kept all our clothes on, in case you were wondering -- and then up to the vantage point you see here. 

We've started planning a few trips in the upcoming weeks. So far, here's what our calendar looks like:

Friday, Feb. 27: Cricket match here in Wellington

Feb. 28-March 2: Fly to Auckland for hiking and beach time

March 7-8: Drive north to Wanganui for camping and jet-boating on a river

March 20-22: Fly down to Christchurch area on the south island for sea-kayaking, thermal springs, and other cool stuff we don't even know about yet, in celebration of Jake's 32nd birthday (March 19) and our one-year anniversary (March 20).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Time for some shout outs

Have you ever been talking to someone, and as you hear the words you’re saying, you’re realizing something new? That happened to me today as I sent an e-mail to Angela. I was telling her how it’s just now hitting me that this isn’t a vacation. I’ve been so excited about this new adventure that I hadn’t started really missing people until now. And that’s when it occurred to me that I miss you, all of you. (Not so much that I’m ready to come home yet, but nevertheless, I miss you.)

So as I sit here on a Friday night, I celebrate (with a beer) the fact that today I landed an interview for an awesome job, and I picked up some freelance work from Rockhurst. It’s been a good day. I’d like to give a shout out to a few of our peeps, although I’m sure I’ve left folks out. So here goes, in no particular order:

My nephews Dylan, Alec and Mitchell: I’m so proud of you. Please go to college.

Dave: Awesome work on the new home page. And I appreciate your pep talks.

Corey: You are the most online person I know. And Jake’s biggest fan. How can I not appreciate that?

Grandma Dolores: You inspire me every day.

Shelly: You’re the best mom I know, besides mine and Jake’s of course.

Angela: I miss our good conversations.

Aaron and Jami: We miss dressing up like idiots and hanging out with you.

Sharon: You’ve always been there for me and you’ve taught me so much.

Mom: You’re the best. I miss you the most.

Dad: I use what I’ve learned from you every day.

Adena/Mom: I can’t imagine how you could have raised your children any better. They are all  great people.

Jim/Dad: I greatly miscalculated the distance between the two islands. Please don’t tell anyone I was so far off.

Jeromy: When are we going to start having fun?

Matt: I’ve always looked up to my big brother. Love you.

Asher: You are the awesomest girl I know.

Brett: You are so much like us it’s amazing. I’m so glad we met.

Cousin Jimmy and Sandy: You’re our #1 favorite cousin, and his girlfriend. Can’t wait to  see you on your visit.

Katherine: You’re the most articulate person I’ve ever worked with/for. I admire that about you.

Grandma Joy and Grandpa Augie: You’re very important to us and we both miss you.

KPMGers: I don’t think I’ve ever met a KPMGer I didn’t like. Is that because you have alcohol at all your events?

Tonya and Gabe: I couldn’t be happier for you and your little munchkins. Send me pics!

Arlene: You are our #1 favorite cousin on my side, but don’t tell Jeff. :) Just kidding. I’m so 
glad you’re part of the fam.

Aunt D and Grandma Harriet: We’re definitely missing our lake trips! Can’t wait to see you.

Bill and Vickie: You're pretty awesome. Is it awful that we admire you for your bbq set-up?

Jamie and Amy: When are you planning to visit??

Jacob: I can’t imagine my life without you. Happy 11-month anniversary.

There's a ton of folks I've left out, but please forgive me. I blame it on the beer. Love you and miss you all.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Money on my mind

Perhaps it's because I'm currently looking for a job that I have money on my mind. I have to admit that when it comes to money, New Zealand knows how to do it. Pennies and nickels? They don't even bother. They round so you don't have to carry five pounds -- sorry, two and a half kilograms -- of change around everywhere. Here's what our cash looks like.

Also the tax, which is something like 12 percent, is included in the prices marked on everything, so you know exactly how much something will cost you. The smallest paper currency they have is the $5 bill, which features Sir Edmund Hillary. As one of New Zealand's biggest heros, of course Hillary and his sherpa colleague were the first climbers known to have reached the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953. But I digress...

Anything less than a $5 bill is in coins, including $2, $1, $.50, $.20 and $.10. I tried to send some coins home to show my parents, and was politely yet firmly informed at the post office that sending currency through the mail is highly "illegal." Sorry folks, you'll have to make due with a photo. The bills have little see-through spots that must make things difficult for the counterfeiters.

Just like in the States, most people rely on plastic, including credit and EFTPOS cards. EFTPOS is short for an Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale, same as a debit card. No cutesy name though ... a big ugly acronym seems to do the trick just fine. And if you need to pay someone for, let's say, rugby tickets or the cordless phone I just bought on (NZ's equivalent to eBay), you just "flick" it into their bank account. That's right... folks hand out their bank account numbers as often as their business cards. That's certainly new to us.

But best of all, there is absolutely no tipping here. Not for waitresses, hair dressers, shuttle drivers or hotel porters. Nothing. Every transaction still comes with the mental struggle of converting it to U.S. currency though, so it's not as easy as it sounds quite yet. At least not for me. Jake's accountant brain can calculate these amounts faster than you can say Tenzing Norgay (the name of Ed's faithful sherpa). But that's why he is making the big bucks and I'm still looking for a gig, I guess. 

I suppose you could even call Jake my faithful sherpa, since he's doing all the work and I am obviously getting all the credit. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What's the story morning glory

How do you expect me to look for a job, or even leave the house, when this is the view we wake up to in the morning?? Okay, it's not this spectacular every day, but this morning's sunrise was pretty great.


Friday, February 13, 2009

These pretzels are making me HUNGRY

As we mark our seventh week here in Kiwiland, we are celebrating the purchase of our new barbecue grill. It's been a long time without our beloved grill. So long in fact, that I realized I have absolutely no idea how to cook meat without an open fire. It was raining on the day we bought the grill, so Jake assembled it in our living room.

It really completes the room, don't you think? 

It was so windy today that we weren't sure it was going to stay lit, but we cooked some steaks for lunch and they turned out just fine. 

Last night we had dinner at the only Mexican restaurant in town, and it was great. It was a little weird seeing a glossary in the menu that gave full descriptions of every single item, down to the tortilla and salsa. Really, if you've never been exposed to fajitas or queso dip, I'm just sad for you.

Speaking of food, I thought I'd share a few samples of what we've been eating.

It goes without saying that wine or beer are part of every meal. This was at a little place down by the harbour with some outdoor seating on a nice day.

And we enjoyed this tasty salad and cheese platter at Raumati Beach on the deck of a restaurant overlooking the beach. It was the first and last time I tried a fruity cocktail recommended by the bartender. It wasn't awful, but I think I'll stick with what I know from now on.

And this delicious little meal came from our very own kitchen. Salmon with orange slices covered in a yummy sauce with some sauteed asparagus (or as Jake would say, asparagi).

Here's what every single mocha looks like, no matter where you order it. Always comes with a little chocolate fish with pink marshmallowy goodness inside. I'm not sure why, but it's true. Overall everything is tasting good, but there are lots of things we're still learning about the food here. We've yet to find any normal dill pickles (they're called gherkins here) and of course we knew we wouldn't have the same selection of foods and brands in the grocery stores. Nothing really tastes the same as what we're used to, and you certainly can't judge the taste by sight alone.

We're not sure what these little dipping sauces actually were, but they certainly weren't what we'd expected. If everything were the same as home, it wouldn't be much of an adventure though, would it? So far I have to say that our favorite food has been the Big Bikkie, the most glorious ice cream treat on a stick you're going to find anywhere.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Time to make some travel plans

Now that we're settled in at our home base here in Wellington, it's time to start planning to visit the rest of the country and beyond. We love traveling, and it's definitely one of our main goals while we're here. So we've set up a planning room -- an "RMOC" if you will -- our Recreation Management Operations Center.

It's in our spare bedroom/office, complete with a map of both islands and a big calendar. We've just begun adding the little pink stickies, which represent some of the places we plan to go. There's a map of the world on the opposite wall for travel opportunities that are farther out. Our next trip is a three-day weekend in Auckland, NZ's biggest city, Feb. 28-March 2. We're actually planning to skip the city activities and get in some hiking and beach time and hopefully some sea kayaking. We have to take advantage of this fantastic summer weather. 

It's Friday here today, and we're going to a KPMG social event tonight. Then tomorrow, Jake's going fishing with some folks from work, and Sunday he's running in Wellington's Round the Bays half marathon. I'll be in the 7K fun run, which I'm guessing is around four miles...? Haven't done the math on that one yet. This darn metric system is killing me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Can't get over the beauty of this place

Last night around 7 p.m. Jake and I went out to Owhiro Bay on the southern coast for a run. It's been a little rainy and cloudy the past couple of days, and the clouds were hanging low. A little drizzle was coming out of the sky, but it wasn't cold -- perfect running weather. 

We parked right on the coast and ran west along a unpaved path that hugged a black sand beach. Then around the next bend, the shore turned to jagged rocks and we'd watch the waves rolling in among them. A thousand little sea gulls climbed on the rocks and floated in the water. Because of the fog, we couldn't see anything out on the water, but we'd hear the the deep horn of a ship in the distance. 

On the other side, big green hills rose up into the clouds. Our path between the water and hills was mostly wide and flat, but the fog made it feel like this little world was all to myself. It felt unreal, and it was one of the most beautiful runs I've ever taken. Looking on a map later, I realized when we were looking out to sea, the next landmass in that direction was Antarctica. Part of our run took us through the Taputeranga Marine Reserve, which lies in the path of three oceanic currents. It's home to a wide range of habitats, plants and animals. 

We saw a handful of other folks around, including a couple mountain bikers, some walkers, a little family and a couple folks fishing. Kiwis sure love the outdoors, and I can see why. 

View Larger Map

Of course I thought to myself I should take a picture of this place, but no photo could have captured the awesomeness. And this description certainly doesn't either. But I wanted to share a little with you about what this place feels like. Every day we see the most spectacular views, and we're blown away. I don't see how anyone could get tired of it. I really wish you could see what I see. 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Our latest cultural immersion project

To our dear friends Cindy, Jeff, Aaron and Jami... please accept the following as an advance entry in your Halloween party costume contest this year.

Yes, I know we're still eight months away, but we keep hearing that no one dresses up for it here, and it breaks our hearts. Our excuse for this foolishness was the the biggest party of the year in Wellington, the New Zealand International Sevens, which happened to be this weekend. The Sevens is a two-day rugby tournament in which each team has seven players who play for two seven-minute halves. I think...? I'm not sure because apparently no one really pays much attention to the matches. It's more important to get dressed up like idiots and drink ridiculous amounts of alcohol. (For the record, I participated in the first, not so much the second.) In any case, I read later that while NZ was up 17-0 at one point in the final, England came back and won the top spot. Ouch.

Some of our new friends include, from left, Ati, Brett, Officer Swearingen, Matt as the Steve Irwin "Crocodile Hunter," and another Matt as a life guard.

And we were lucky enough to tag along with the entire USA women's volleyball team. This is Stephanie from KPMG and one of her "teammates."

The stadium packed in thousands of doctors, angels, hippies, action figures, priests, legos, medieval warriors, Rainbow Brights (above, right -- remember those?) and lots of indistinguishable characters (above, center). 

Apparently this type of foolishness is most effective in group format.  

As the day progressed, we'd find Jake's facial hair in new positions. And when one of his sideburns went missing, he became understandably agitated. I suppose a cop with only one sideburn isn't much of a cop. 

But no worries, mates. I had it all under control. 

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Kiwi Culture, Part 1

Now for a lesson about Kiwi culture. As a true journalist, I've put in hours of painstaking research and only accepted information as fact after cross-checking from the most distinguished news sources. First, allow me to introduce Flight of the Conchords, a musical duo from NZ who came to the states and hit it big, even though no one from here had really ever heard of them. (Warning: brief, blurred-out-but-fairly-harmless male nudity in this one. May not be safe for work, depending on your boss's sense of humor.)

Lots of folks back home told us about this show, which I guess is on HBO. And since Jake and I are anti-paying-for-tv, we never saw it until we came here and found it on YouTube (where you can find more funny clips). 

Among all of the interesting facts and insights we've learned about New Zealand from the locals, the country's struggle for a separate identity from Australia gets a lot of focus around here. New Zealanders are extremely proud of their nation, as they should be, and it becomes a heated rivalry in sport (yes, I left the "s" off the end on purpose -- that's what they do here) and jokes that go back and forth. 

For example, check out the Flight of the Conchords web site:

"Australia is full of crap that will bite you, eat you or have a good old go at killing you. Even after all this time the most dangerous thing in NZ are bumblebees (every year there a few folk who get stung and discover they are allergic to them and have a bit of a bad reaction). Short of a cow going to sleep and falling on top of you, you're pretty safe in good ol' NZ."

See Mom, I told you we are safe here.

Read more delightful nuggets, including how NZ has yet to forgive the Ozzies for an infuriating underarm bowl in the 1981 Cricket World Cup. Not sure what I'm talking about? Me either. Anyway, it's worth a quick read if you're curious. Plus, learn how to speak Kiwi.

Another good resource is a TV commercial for a hardware store that gives you:
1) an idea of what the accent is like here
2) some kiwi slang
3) embedded insult to Ozzies (notice the one kid is wearing Australian colors yellow and green)

Don't worry if it doesn't hold that much meaning for you. After being here a while, this commercial is much funnier than when I saw it the first time. 

Hope you've enjoyed this enlightening cultural lesson. Hope you were paying attention because there'll be a test on Friday.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Shepherd to lost sheep... come in lost sheep...

You got yer ears on? Hope so, because Jake and I just set up a phone line so you can call us at our old Kansas City number.

What's our number?
You don't have to worry about international calling codes or anything. It will cost you only as much as a normal 816 number, and we just pay a flat rate so it won't cost us any more or less.

What time is it here?
I'm glad you asked, as we probably won't be very chatty in the middle of the night. Find out here or you can check out the convenient clock on the right side of this page. From KC or Wichita, we're 17 hours ahead. One way to think about it is to subtract seven hours and add a day. For example, 4 p.m. Tuesday in KC is 9 a.m. Wednesday here in NZ.

What's a good time to call?
Any time is good, but you might keep in mind that this is a landline, so we'll only be able to answer when we're at home. Jake is at work until 6 or so each weekday, and we've been out and about a lot on the weekends.

What if we don't answer?
Leave us a voicemail. We'll be able to access it through our e-mail.


SuperBowl Monday

It's the very first American beer we've seen in more than five weeks, and it's an MGD? Oh well, it was good to have a home-grown beer and watch some good ole' American football, even if Jake had to take Monday afternoon off to enjoy it. That's right, kick off was just after noon here, and we stumbled out it to broad daylight just after 4 p.m. Talk about a strange feeling. 

This is Chicago's Sports Cafe (leave to a Wellington bar to call itself a cafe), possibly the only place in town to show the big game. We found out it's famous for its hurricane burger, a giant collection of everything they can find in the kitchen loaded onto two beef patties and a bun. The guys talked a big game when they ordered, but check out their reactions when they have to face the truth.

Some friendly KPMGers came out to watch with us and headed back to work after lunch. I don't blame them. Isn't rugby just like football without the pads?

It wasn't as much fun as our annual chilli cookoff with the Kruegers, but it was a good time. So good, in fact, that we weren't going to drive ourselves home. As we headed to the bus stop, we walked by the USA Rugby team! They're here for a giant tournament, the Sevens, this weekend, and I got to meet a couple of them. Feeling as celebratory as I was, I shouted out "Go Steelers!" and of course the guys are frowning and saying "I'm from Arizona," and "I'm from California." Hmmm... can't win them all, I guess. 

Much more on the Sevens in a later post. It's probably the most important NZ sporting event of the year, and you all deserve some education on such a central element of Kiwi culture. Cross your fingers we find tickets.