Saturday, June 20, 2009

Birthday party and All Blacks rugby

Our friend Brett and his flatmates are pretty keen on theme parties, so when Brett turned 26 on Friday, they decided to have an "80s prom movie" party. Unfortunately Jake and I were too busy this week to throw together a costume, but there was plenty of blue eye shadow and poofy dresses to go around. 

And what's an 80s prom without a mullet? Good call, Brett.

One thing we've noticed about NZ is the absence of plastic cups. You can find little plastic wine-sized cups, but nothing like your standard Solo cups that are so useful at parties. Of course Brett had his sister mail him some. I think it came out to $5 for the cups and $40 for the shipping, so I guess it was pretty important to him. Plus, how can you play beer pong (in front of some WWE wrestling, no less) or flippy cup with anything else?

Not sure if this penguin found the wrong party, but he was sure having a great time.

And last night was our chance to see NZ's national rugby team, the All Blacks, live at Westpac Stadium here in Wellington. 

Since tailgating doesn't exist here, we gathered for some pre-match celebrating over at Jason and Lesa's, where we enjoyed some traditional Kiwi nibbles (Kiwi word for light snacks or appetizers), such as some tasty sausage rolls and Eskimo lollies. (NZers say "lollie" in place of "candy.")

Right when tickets went on sale, we bought six because we weren't sure how fast they might sell out. Jake found four KPMG blokes who wanted to come, and I think this is the calmest I saw them all night. 

From left, Jake and I are standing next to Archie, Jason, Greg and Ed.

First they sang the national anthem, which seems to be in the Maori language. 

Then came the haka, the traditional warrior dance they perform before international matches. They yell the words, distort their faces into scary expressions and slap their thighs so hard that we could here it all the way up in our seats. Just amazing. That's got to be pretty intimidating for the opposing team -- in this case it was France.

Take a look at the short video clip of the haka that Brett posted on his blog (you'll have to scroll past a couple of his awesome birthday mullet pics). But check out how intense it sounds, even from way over where Brett's sitting in the stands. 

From what I saw, our fans are competitive and spirited, yet cordial to the other team's fans. And it helps that we won 14-10. What a great time! 

Our seats weren't very close to the field, but that actually worked in our favor thanks to the cover that sheltered us from the light rain that fell most of the match. And with temps around 4 degrees C (about 40 degrees F), we were prepared with ski gear and rubbish sacks for protection. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Now he really IS our favorite cousin

Dear Cousin Jimmy and his girlfriend Sandy,

We're so excited that you're coming to visit next month! Not just that we haven't seen you in a while, but that you're the first and ONLY friends/family we have who've decided to (pony up the $$ and) come see us. In preparation for your trip, Jake and I have put this little list together to make your transition to Kiwi culture as smooth as possible. 
  • Slap a couple kilograms of beetroot to every sandwich you eat.
  • Start listening to Kings of Leon. They seem pretty big here.
  • Study the rules for cricket and rugby. Still nothing will make sense, but at least we've warned you.
  • Pronounce the word yes like it rhymes with peace.
  • Turn your lights off by 5 p.m. every day. It gets dark early here this time of year.
  • Stop tipping and calculating sales tax on things.
  • Get ready to encounter some really friendly folks. 
  • Practice walking with a wide stance to brace yourself from the wind. 
  • Make sure to pack your camera charger. You're going to take a boatload of photos in this gorgeous place.
Jim and Sandy, we can't wait to see you. To others of you who've yet to book your stay with the Swearingens, we'd love to have you! 

Sweet as mate,
Jake and Jamie

Friday, June 12, 2009

Week in review

I'm finding this out now?
Last night, Jake had his first gay (rum) experience with the guys. We went over to a friend's place to watch some rugby, and in between all the boos and hissing at the floundering All Blacks, a bottle of Mount Gay Rum emerged. And with it came a long string of gay references about each man who drank it. All in good humor, of course. 

(Hopefully this is interpreted as good humor; I'm usually very sensitive to topics that could offend. New Zealanders seem much more relaxed about political correctness. They make the U.S. seem strict, rigid and litigious in contrast, but that's a blog topic for another day.)

Looking forward to next weekend, when we'll see the All Blacks live when they play right here in Wellington. Hopefully they'll beat France this time.

Folks, don't try this at home
This weekend we were also introduced to what is a apparently a staple of the Kiwi diet. Once our friends learned we'd never tried Marmite, they told us we HAD to try it, and described it to us as "black goo that you spread on toast... It's made out of yeast and some other stuff." Most of them told us their parents made them eat it as kids "and you just learn to like it." Nothing they said seemed appetizing or even very positive. 

Finally someone jumped up, ran to the fridge and came back with samples. Kiwis are super-hospitable, of course. Jake and I both politely tried it, then quickly shared the rest with the others. It tasted salty and almost a little bitter (or something in the bitter family). Jake said it reminded him of soy sauce. In any case, I probably won't be bringing a bottle home to the folks, and I'll certainly never force my kids to eat it. 

I can't be sure we don't have this in the States just because I'd never seen it before. But there sure are some enthusiastic Marmite fans over here in NZ! 

First week on the job
After my first full week at my job, I think I'm really going to like it. I guess they have fortnightly (it's still strange using that word -- means "every two weeks") happy hours in the cafeteria. Jake stopped by and we ended up enjoying $3 beers and chatting with my new colleagues all night.

I had an embarrassing moment at my job on Day 4: I walked into a tray on the printer that was hanging out in the hallway. Loud crash, lots of laughter and some applause. I had a flashback to dropping my tray in the cafeteria in fourth grade. But I felt worse when I saw the repairman there later. I'd actually broken it. I think sharing this story with all of you might ease my shame... let's see if it works.

The fog rolls in
We had a super-foggy day yesterday. This view is looking out our back deck over the harbour, but we couldn't see any water at all. 

We usually see a big island in the middle too, but even that was mostly hidden. You can just see the top of it in this shot.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Not in Kansas any more

For months we've been telling our American friends and family about our time here in New Zealand. Now it's time to give our Kiwi readers a little taste of our home state. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy allegedly noted the following:
  • If you're proud that your region makes the national news at least 96 times each year because it's the hottest or the coldest spot in the nation, you might live in Wichita, Kansas. (Jake's folks and brother's family live there.)
  • If your dad's suntan stops at a line curving around the middle of his fore head, you might live in Pratt, Kansas. (Aaron, didn't you play university baseball there?)
  • If you have worn shorts and a parka at the same time, you might live in Colby, Kansas. (Great outlet mall there.)
  • If your town has an equal number of bars and churches, you might live in Hays, Kansas.
  • If you have had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number, you might live in Kansas.
  • You know you're a true Kansan when 'Vacation' means going east or west on I -70 for the weekend.
  • If you measure distance in hours, you might live in Kansas. 
  • If you know several people who have hit a deer more than once, you might live in Medicine Lodge, Kansas.
  • If you often switch from 'Heat' to 'A/C' in the same day and back again, you might live in Fredonia, Kansas.
  • If you can drive 65 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard, without flinching, you might live in Kansas City, Kansas. (Where we lived right before we moved here.)
  • If you see peopl e wearing camouflage at social events (including weddings), you might live in Great Bend, Kansas. 
  • If you install security lights on your house and garage and leave both unlocked, you might live in Augusta, Kansas. (This is where Jake's folks are from.)
  • If you carry jumper cables in your car and your girlfriend knows how to use them, you might live in Manhattan, Kansas. (Where Jake went to university.)
  • If driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow, you might live in Wichita, Kansas. (Near where Jake grew up.)
  • If you know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction, you might live in Pittsburg, Kansas.
  • If your idea of creative landscaping is a statue of a deer next to your blue spruce, you might live in Derby, Kansas. (Our sister Shelly's hometown, but they don't own any fake deer, or a home right now for that matter.)
  • If "Going Down South" means Oklahoma , you might live in Coffeyville, Kansas. (Cody, didn't you go to university there?)
  • If a brat is something you eat, you might live in Altoona, Kansas.
  • If your idea of going out to eat is a tail gate party every Friday, you might live in Cimarron, Kansas.
  • If you have more miles on your snow blower than your car; you might live in Goodland, Kansas.
  • If you find 0 degrees to be 'a little chilly,' you might live in Concordia, Kansas.
Jake and I find several of these utterly true, especially how we measure distance in hours and drive in raging blizzards. 

Thanks to our lovely Aunt D, a proud Arkansan, for sharing this.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tramping through Te Kopahou Reserve

Brett, Jake and I just got back from a three-hour tramp/hike through Wellington's Te Kopahou Reserve, which has some amazing views of the city and harbour.

Not to mention some up-close interactions with wildlife. Who knew NZ had osteriches? 

I was a little nervous to turn my back on this guy. I thought he was going to stretch his long neck over the fence and take a snap at me.

But the guys were certainly not afraid.

The track led us near the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, which features a "predator fence" (which of course made us think about Jurassic Park), lots of mountain bike trails, a motocross race track, and a radar station that looks like a giant soccer ball (below). Also great views of Wellington, the harbour, the ocean and the south island.

The weather looked amazing when we stepped outside this morning. But once we got up so high, the wind was pretty strong and cold. 

Brett, in his shorts, was a bit more optimistic than we were, but he didn't complain at all. Had that been me, I wouldn't have gotten out of the car. 

After the walk we headed to the Craftsman Pub on Courtney Place to enjoy some tasty and well-deserved burgers and a pitcher of Mac's Hop Rocker beer. Yum. 

And now for my post-tramp nap. Later!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Morning tea with the Kiwis

I've had a nice week off work as I prepare to start my new job on Monday. I've been cleaning the house, shopping, running errands and working my way through the Twilight books. They're pretty addictive. 

Here's another thing I've learned about Kiwi workplace culture. In my last position, my boss Jacqui invited our little department to a "morning tea" for me on my last day of work, which was so thoughtful. Thankfully, my husband had warned me that it meant I was expected to bring the treats -- a departure from what I'm used to. So Betty Crocker and I collaborated on some muffins and cookies, after my friend Lesa kindly saved the day by lending me some butter. Everything turned out well, and everyone seemed pretty intrigued with my Rice Krispie Treats. 

Turns out Jacqui brought a delicious chocolate cake and even gave me flowers!  It was quite a celebration for my little nine-week contract. What a fantastic experience with some amazing people! 

Happy Birthday Dad! 
Thought I'd share one of my favorite shots since his birthday was last week. Thanks for everything, Dad. You're the best.


A weekend on the farm

I knew it. I knew having a queen would come in handy one of these days. Today, June 1, happens to be her birthday (or at least when we observe it), which is a public holiday. 

We decided to take advantage of the three-day weekend on a little farm near Tinui. 

We shared a gorgeous little rental house with two other couples. From left is Maggie and Archie, along with their little four-month-old Cameron, and Kate and Mike.

Our first order of business was to drive 20 minutes out to Castlepoint. Jake and I have been there before, but we were still excited to see it again. It's one of the most beautiful places I've seen. 

It features some amazing rock formations overlooking the ocean. 

But little Cameron didn't really seem that impressed. 

Archie did some surfing (wet suit definitely required) while Jake got in some running. Then we all hiked up to the lighthouse.

The weather forecast for Sunday called for some pretty awful weather, so when we saw the sun shining, we all jumped at the chance for a quick walk up a local trail nearby. 

Packed up Cameron, grabbed the rain gear and we were off.

I found these sheep pretty jumpy. Every time I tried to get close enough for a shot, they'd run away and stare at me from afar.

Not sure how high our climb was, but I was pretty exhausted by the time I reached the top. This is Maggie, Kate and Mike.

The rain held off for the most part until we began our descent. And then the sleet came. And then snow! It didn't seem very cold, but it was pretty exciting to go hiking in this crazy weather. It was difficult not to slip on the muddy trail, but we all came back without falling.

Even though it didn't seem that cold outside, I was pretty happy to snuggle up next to our amazing wood-burning stove. 

Thanks to Kate for making the arrangements, as well as preparing some fantastic meals! Jake told me that was the best part of his trip. Good food, good wine, good friends.