Monday, October 26, 2009

Our Labour Day hike

Today is Labour Day in New Zealand, and in an effort to take full advantage of a free day off work, Jake and I went across the harbour for a hike up above Days Bay. We've had some fantastic weather this weekend with highs around 15 degree C (60ish F).

Our hike involved about an hour of climbing through the woods -- whew! Then followed the ridge for a while before descending back down to near water level. We saw some cool plants and wildlife along the way, including several of these birds (above) and a ton of these ferns (below). An unfurling fern frond, called a Koru, is one of the most common Maori symbols we see, and it symbolizes new life, growth, strength and peace. And of course the fern itself is probably the most common NZ symbol.

We saw so many beautiful ferns during our walk. This is another variety (below), although I can't tell you which. A better blogger would know her ferns. Sorry.

They say New Zealand doesn't have any poisonous snakes or spiders or really anything that will bite or hurt you (you'll find all of that in Australia, we're told). But when this little kitty came walking out of the bush near the high point of our walk today, Jake advised me not to pet him as he could be carrying something we don't want to pick up. Jake couldn't help but show him a little love, but he did so cautiously by petting him with a stick. What can I say? My husband is practical and has a big heart.

Oh look, I captured a birdie in this shot across the harbour. I took this shot right when kitty came out of the bush. We're facing back toward our home, which is somewhere near the highest hill (below, right-centerish).

I know it was only a 2 1/2 hour hike, but I was pretty worn out afterward. We'll be going on several more of these in the coming weekends because we have a three-day hike through Abel Tasman National Park in December. We'll be camping and carrying all our equipment and food (and wine, obviously) the whole time, so I need a bit more practice. Can't wait!


Sunday, October 25, 2009

A bit of spring cleaning at the Swearingen home

We had a little dinner party last night with some friends. I don't think we've ever had this place so clean, so I had to snap a few pics before folks came over.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Living a double life ... sort of

Moving abroad has certainly taught me the importance of being organized. We've come across so many details we never considered when we first talked about making this trip. For example, we have separate credit cards and bank accounts for the U.S. and NZ. We must file taxes in both places, and the tax years are different. We even own cars in both places, so there's the licensing and insurance that go with each of those.

We actually tried to sell the Audi in Kansas City before moving but didn't find the right buyer before we needed to leave. It worked out great though, as it's saving us a ton of car rental fees when we come back for visits and we won't be rushed into buying something when we make the big move back.

We even need to keep multiple mail addresses. Jake's folks have generously agreed to let us keep it at their home, and leave their address on record with the license and insurance folks. My U.S. credit card company won't allow me to use my card if I'm not a U.S. resident, so they think I'm living with my folks for now. This means, too, that we have to pay some bills here and some there.

And we have six phones (two not pictured).
  1. NZ home phone for local calls.
  2. My prepaid mobile for NZ texting and calls.
  3. Jake's blackberry for work in NZ.
  4. Our Vonage voip phone that uses a US number and rings here at home. This is the phone most likely to wake us up in the middle of the night (you listening to this, Matt?). If you believe anything Jake says, apparently I usually wake up just enough to elbow him in the gut and yelled "US phone!" at him before I fell back asleep.
  5. Our prepaid mobile that works when we're in the US. (We mostly use it to look up our US friends' numbers, and then make the call on the Vonage phone.)
  6. The MagicJack, another voip system/infomercial product that we can use anywhere in the world where we have an Internet connection and a phone receiver. At this point, we don't use this amazing system often, but it deserves it's own blog entry.
If I have to remember another phone number, I'm going to pull my hair out! Just kidding, but I think it's quite an interesting lifestyle to get used to. Thank goodness for online banking and bill pay! I can't imagine living abroad without the miracle of the Internet.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ah the joys of airline travel

We've been away for so long I'd almost forgotten what I love so much about flying in the States. I knew we were there when we saw humorless signs such as "Thank you for participating in security," and when our ticket agent was bossy and condescending. Not sure what makes me laugh more, folks like him or that guy on every flight who makes sure he's loud enough for everyone to hear. This one said "I'll have to make a call on my iPhone and set up a meeting ..." with extra emphasis on iPhone, as if we're all impressed. Dude, you're a jackass.

But I'll stop complaining now, because each of our flights (four each way) were on time and our bags made the trip along with us, which was pretty exciting.

Safety Schmafety
I have to admit after watching Air New Zealand's domestic safety video, the ones I've seen in the States seem incredibly serious and impersonal. Of course I understand why there's a difference, and I appreciate both approaches. It's just interesting to see ANZ's ability to customize the message goes a long way to conveying warmth, hospitality, national identity, brand and safety. I actually look forward to seeing it every time I fly.

Bring on the shopping
I had a good time purusing the SkyMall catalog (which isn't carried by any airlines I've flown over here) for products only an American would create, market and buy. After flipping past that same tired Rosetta Stone ad that hasn't changed since smoking on flights was outlawed, I found the Hairmax Laser Comb ($495) designed for slowing hair loss and regrowing hair with laser technology. And the Solafee Foot Tanner ($230) for eliminating those "ugly sock tan lines." Of course I've always loved the Rolling Pet Carrier (a bargain at $120). It's a classic. Afterall why shouldn't you protect your puppy from the perils and discomfort of exercise?

And I don't know why no one's ever given me a Night Vision Monocular ($799) for Christmas. How about an Underwater Cellular Phone System ($1,790) or at least a Mt. Rushmore Garden Statue ($40)? This is American ingenuity at its best. Do you have any SkyMall favorites? We want to hear what they are.

All joking aside, the snorkel mask with built-in waterproof digital camera at $99 looks pretty sweet ... just in case Santa is reading our blog.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Photos from America

After two and a half weeks of visiting friends and family, eating big meals and kissing babies, we're back home again. Below are just a few shots from our trip, and a slideshow at the bottom with plenty more if you're interested.

Our first stop was in Mooresville, Mo., to visit my side of the family. We enjoyed a little fishing, bike-riding and goofing around with the boys.

Then off to Kansas City to see friends and so Jake could check in with his colleagues in the KC office. Don't worry -- I don't think he had to work too hard.

Hanging out with the guys: from left is Jeromy, Uncle Kent, Jim and Jake. They spent some good quality time watching football and playing dominoes.

A lot of things seem more expensive in NZ, so Jake and I were interested in picking up a few things on the trip. Of course I'm not sure what's more American than Wal-Mart.

Just to pick up the essentials of course: stick deodorant (I've only found spray and roll-on in NZ so far -- maybe I'm not looking in the right place), Tums Ultra 1000s (four big containers), sliced turkey, $5 bikini bottom, Visine, makeup, toothbrushes, and a couple of dove decoys for Jake's dad.

And you don't go to the Chillicothe Wal-Mart without seeing someone you know. I almost didn't recognize Tonya without her munchkins.

In addition to Wal-Mart, I did some stocking up on clothes and bought a nice jacket from REI that will be perfect for hiking.

And then on to the world's biggest barbecue competition, the American Royal, with our Chicago friends Jamie and Amy.

Hey Amy, what part of "barbecue festival" do you not understand? We're not sure exactly why you're eating cheese puffs, and aren't you allergic to dairy anyway?

The food was amazing! So amazing that Jake wasn't going to be distracted to smile for this shot. He's been looking forward to this for a long time.

Now allow me to introduce the newest member of our family, Lyla, who is Asher and Randy's little girl. Jake and I managed to work in a lot of baby-holding into our schedule since we won't have the opportunity again for a while.

Over in Wichita, her cousins Ella (left) and Emily spent a lot of time holding her too.

Here's Asher (right) at the baby shower with Shelly and Adena.

Jake and I even had the chance to meet up with Matt. This was our last night in KC before flying out to LA, and it made our 5:30 a.m. wake-up call seem much too early.

And a quick stopover in Orange County to visit Grandma Dolores and the family. Even though we showed up at Bill and Vickie's at 4 p.m. on a Monday, they fired up the grill and fed us some delicious barbecue. Then we topped it off with some ice cream cake -- Jake's favorite. With full bellies, we headed back to the airport, and I was asleep before the plane even took off. An excellent way to start off a 12-hour flight.

What a wonderful time we had seeing everyone! We can't possibly fit all the photos of our friends and family here, but want to thank everyone for going so far out of your way to feed us, house us and help us feel so special.

A few more photos in our slideshow:


Sunday, October 4, 2009

More barbecue, please!

Wow it's great to be here! We've been in the States for nine days now, and Jake and I have been eating, drinking, partying, shopping, fishing, gambling, watching football, playing Golden Tee and eating barbecue. We've seen so many of our good friends and family, and still have lots to see.

Having lived in New Zealand for nine months now, we're noticing some of our habits that our New Zealand neighbors would find strange:

  • Eating biscuits and gravy
  • Having a barbecue without any sausages
  • Firing up the gas-powered leaf blower instead of sweeping the back porch -- yep, we're talking about you Aaron)
  • Athletic shoes that claim to help you lose weight (saw them in a magazine)

We're heading to Wichita on Tuesday, then off on Monday for a quick stop in Orange County, Ca., before flying back to NZ, the "land of the long white cloud."