Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Batman makes an appearance

This weekend was Jake's company party -- a masquerade ball. We chose to take ourselves a bit less seriously and went for masks depicting batman and a kitty cat. Others wore masks ranging from intricate and homemade to downright silly.

Jake and I took advantage of a little photo booth they had there, and we even won one of the door prizes, a hotel stay at the Bolten here in Wellington. Sweet!


Monday, July 19, 2010

Making plans for summer

Our northern hemisphere readers may not feel sorry for us when they're dealing with scorching temperatures around this time of year, but we are in the middle of winter. Temps have been in the single digits (in Celsius obviously, which is in the 40ish range if your a Fahrenheit fan). It's even dipped down to freezing here in Wellington a time or two. Add in our famous wind and even a girl from the Midwest would tell you it's cold.

This is why I'm surrounded by my NZ travel guides and brochures again -- we're making plans for this summer.

On the wish list for this summer is one of New Zealand's Top 20 Must-Do's, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It's called one of New Zealand's best one-day hikes, and it better be worth it because it's a 950 m climb followed by a 1,300 m decent. All in about eight hours. My quads are shivering with fear already.

This Top 20 list comes from the book 101 Must-Do's for Kiwis. I think we've already covered 12 of them.

You may have heard me mention New Zealand's nine great walks, as we've done a couple of them (Queen Charlotte and Milford Track). Jake is taking on another when he walks the Routeburn with Brett in December, and we're also trying to make some time for the Whanganui Journey. The Whanganui isn't a walking track but a river that you navigate down on a canoe. It's still one of the great walks though. I guess someone couldn't be bothered to rename the whole list.

Lots of Kiwis have commented on how much of the country we're seeing while we're here. Invariably, they'll say they've never been on this walk or to that city. But we were the same way in Kansas City. Even if you're surrounded by lots of cool stuff to see and do, unless you have a bit of a timeline like we do, there's no need to hurry up and get to it. And when there's no timeline -- if it's always something you could do next week or next month -- it's very easy to put it off.

I think having a bit of a timeline really helps us appreciate being here and keeps us on track for checking off that entire Top 20 list. It's sure a fun goal to work on.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Snapshots from America

As I mentioned earlier, we've just come back from a visit to the States where we saw lots of friends and family and ate as much barbecue and Mexican food as we possibly could. It was a great trip!

Here are a few snapshots. Above is our 10-month-old neice Lyla who loves to swim.

Aaron and Jami had us over for a great barbecue.

Tailgating before the Royals game. Still can't believe KC beat St. Louis 11-3.

Did I mention barbecue? No visit to Kansas City is complete without a stop at Oklahoma Joe's. We picked up some ribs and perused the sauce and rub isle. So many choices!

And Golden Tee. Jake's been carrying his Golen Tee Gold Membership Card in his wallet everyday in New Zealand. Not sure why because we've never seen the game here.

These cattle belong to Jake's folks and can be seen wandering in their yard.

We made an appearance at the Sievering Family Reunion in Mooresville where Jake got right to work on the grill. I think Uncle Bernie was there in more of a supervisory role.

Who says only little ones can enjoy bubbles? This is mom having a bit of fun on a gorgeous clear day.

We also headed to Table Rock Lake on the Fourth of July.

Adena looking after one of the munchkins.

Aunt D with some of the little ones.

And before we flew back to New Zealand we had a half-day layover in LA, where we visited with Grandma and the Cottonaro family.

We saw several more friends and family than we have room here to mention. I hope everyone knows we had such a wonderful time. So many people went out of their way to give us a place to stay, prepare fantastic food, meet us out for a meal or drive us around. Thank you so much for making our visit such a fun one!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kiwis should be proud of their football team

Spain may have won the World Cup, but New Zealand sure has something to sing about this week. And it's going to make one heck of an obscure sports trivia question some day:

With Spain's win against the Netherlands in the final, the New Zealand team became the only undefeated team in this World Cup. It's true. Nice work guys!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Smuggling processed cheese into New Zealand

Kia Ora everyone! Jake and I are happy to be back in Kiwiland after an incredibly busy and fun couple of weeks visiting folks back in the States. In between the barbecues and baseball games and baby-holding, we found a few minutes to stock up on a few grocery items we can't find here in New Zealand.

A few of the items we smuggled back to NZ in our suitcase:
  • Crystal Light -- a powdered low-calorie soft drink mix.
  • Barbecue rubs -- a proud tradition from Kansas City.
  • Montreal Steak seasoning -- excellent on hamburgers and steak.
  • Velveeta -- If you're unfamiliar with this product, it's a gooey yellow processed cheese that you melt in slow cooker with mince and capsicum -- excellent with salted/unflavoured tortilla chips. By the way New Zealanders don't trust any cheese that's yellow.
  • Seasonings for fajitas, enchiladas and tacos -- you can find some of these here but they taste a bit different than the American-style Mexican flavours we're used to.
  • Peanut Butter M&Ms -- can't find these anywhere in NZ that I've found. I shared some with my workmates today and they received mixed reviews, including a comment from my boss ("Are you trying to kill me?") who is apparently allergic to peanuts.
  • Multivitamins -- these are certainly available here but cheaper in the U.S.
  • PowerBar sports gels -- flavoured goo that will help Jake run his next marathon in Melbourne this October.
Of course I'm joking about smuggling this stuff into the country. We declared it on our customs form and all was approved because it's been packaged and poses no threat to NZ's environment.

New Zealand is very careful about what travelers bring here, as it has had its share of struggles with introduced and invasive species over the years. For example, NZ used to be a haven for birds of all kinds, including many that were land-based like our beloved Kiwi, but stoats (little weasley ferret-looking rascals) and other pests have all but annihilated many of those populations.

Also, a microscopic organism nicknamed Didymo has caused several South Island rivers to be covered in what is described as "rock snot." To date, there's no way to clean it up and folks are required to check, clean and dry all equipment (boats, boots, camping gear, etc) when visiting waterways to prevent its spread. Problems like this are why the NZ Customs folks ask whether you have hiking boots in your checked bag or if you've visited a farm in the past 30 days.

We've learned a lot about conservation on our travels throughout this country and are amazed to learn just how much this land has changed in the last couple hundred years. It really helps us appreciate how fragile our earth is, even if our American appetites still crave a little processed cheese food from time to time.