Saturday, June 11, 2011

KC to Kiwi ... and back again

Nine weeks, 13 flights, seven countries, countless trains and buses, five currencies and 30 different hotel rooms. Our world tour was incredible.

We had the opportunity to experience some of the world's most impressive sights such as the Great Wall and the Sistine Chapel, and also visit some of our great family and friends overseas. I kept a journal and took more than 2,800 photos -- that's about 44 per day! I wish I could have shared our pics and stories here but I'm afraid I was too busy enjoying the trip.

We've been in Kansas City for about a week now and plan to start settling in here. We've already received some tips from friends on houses that are for sale. With all of our New Zealand adventures still very fresh in our minds, it's hard to believe that we're no longer there. Although it's abundantly obvious we're in America. There's no mistaking the big roads, big cars, big stores and big meals.

I've read that returning to your home country after being abroad can be more of a culture shock than leaving in the first place, and I think knowing that ahead of time has helped me with the transition. It's certainly a strange sensation.

We're happy to be here and excited about buying our first house and catching up with everyone. Jake's going back to work in the KC office in a week and I'll start my job search before too long. Wow, even though I worked while we were overseas, it still feels like I've been on vacation for a couple of years!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Greetings from Singapore

Well we're off on our next big adventure. Jake and I are at the Singapore airport waiting for a flight that will take us to Kota Kinabalu Malaysia. We've said lots of goodbyes and had an amazing send-off by our friends in Wellington, but it hasn't really hit us that we've really left New Zealand. It feels a bit like a normal vacation so far. A ridiculously awesome vacation! We'll try to check in with some photos once in a while.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2011 Kiwi Royal Smoke-off Challenge

A while ago when we began sorting through our belongings to decide what to sell and what to ship back to Kansas City, Jake was struck with a tough decision. What to do with his smoker? He couldn't just sell it to some stranger who wouldn't appreciate it, and I put my foot down and said we're not paying to ship it back. So he decided to organise the soon-to-be-famous 2011 Kiwi Royal Smoke-off Challenge on the last weekend in March, with the winner taking the smoker home.

In the spirit of the American Royal (world's largest barbecue competition hosted in Kansas City every year), the Kiwi Royal allowed Jake's buddies to compete in smoking the best meat. Thanks to Lesa and Jase for hosting the event and congrats to Mike and Kate Day for taking first place.

I'm afraid I've deleted my photos from the event, but you can be sure it was a fierce competition. It was pouring down rain that day, and the boys were outside much of the time monitoring the meat.

For my contribution, I shared the artery clogging American favourite that is Rotel dip made with Velveeta. This is the same Velveeta I smuggled into the country after my trip to the States last July. I have to admit it was quite amusing to define "pasturised cheese food" for the Kiwis in the room, and also try to explain why no refrigeration was necessary even though I'd bought the cheese more than eight months ago. Everyone tried it and offered a polite comment here and there, but I think it's safe to say Velveeta is probably a one-time experience for them.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ruby slippers: check. Now we can return to Kansas

Of course when people hear Kansas, they think of The Wizard of Oz. So now that it's time for us to return to Kansas, I was quite pleasantly surprised that my workmates gave me my very own ruby slippers.

Aren't they beautiful? They added the glitter themselves. I was wondering why I saw red glitter all over the office in the last couple of weeks.

To be clear, I should say that I'm not really from Kansas. I grew up mostly in Missouri and lived on the Kansas side of Kansas City for a few years before moving here. But Jake is from Kansas, and so it's easier for us to offer a quick and simple answer when folks ask us where we come from.

Several people in the office signed the card, including my closest colleagues and some folks I don't know that well. I loved reading all the comments, but my favourite comes from someone in the latter category: "It was great to meet you, even for a short time. Take care and don't forget NZ when you're back in Wisconsin."

I don't mean to make fun because I certainly no expert with NZ geography, but it made me smile and think about how big our world feels sometimes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to survive a rabid monkey lick

One thing we need to do as we prepare for our upcoming world tour (nine weeks of Borneo, China and Europe) is to get caught up on our vaccinations.

A few weeks ago we visited the Travel Doctor here in Wellington and learned about all the scary things you can catch (like yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis) - or that can catch you (monkeys with rabies, mosquitos with malaria). Yick.

Due to our plans to visit Malaysian Borneo and China, they recommended the following:
  • Hepatitis A - a one-time injection plus a booster in 6-12 months; good for 30 years.
  • Hepatitis B - series of three injections over eight weeks; good for life.
  • Typhoid - one-time injection needed every three years.
  • Rabies - this one is optional. And here's what you have to do to survive a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal: wash the area with soap and water for 10 minutes without rubbing. Don't compress the wound as you want to let it bleed and flush the virus from the wound as much as possible. Even if you received a pre-exposure vaccine, you need a post-exposure treatment as soon as possible. Because Bali has so many dogs around, our nurse told us that Bali often runs out of the drug, so it's better to catch a flight to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur in search of immediate medical care. Not really comforting but good to know. Did you know that New Zealand is one of the few places on earth that doesn't have rabies? Let's keep it that way.
  • Malaria - Malaria's a bit different in that you take pills for protection instead of getting a shot. Two types were recommended to us. One is fairly cheap, may upset your stomach and you have to take it during and four weeks following your trip to a malaria area. The other is much more expensive, fewer side effects and you only have to take it for a week following your trip. In both cases do everything you can to avoid mosquito bites.
  • And your typical flu shot - which is designed to protect you from the flu anywhere in the world.
We have our malaria pills ready and have received all the required shots. In the end we opted out of the $200 rabies shot. What are the real chances of getting bitten or licked where we're going? We're hoping fairly low.

It makes me feel good to know we're able to protect ourselves with these vaccines. But after listening to all the horrible things that can happen to you on vacation to "paradise," I have to admit I feel a bit less day-dreamy and a bit more realistic about our upcoming travels.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fancy schmancy dinner for Jake's birthday

I'm a bit late in posting this but wanted to share. Last weekend was Jake's birthday and we celebrated it with a trip to one of Wellington's top restaurants, the White House. (This is not to be confused with the White House in Auckland, which I hear is more of a strip club. I'm sure he would have hated it there.)

We had the best table in the house and were greeted with this beautiful view over the harbour as the sun set.

We had an amazing meal and a gorgeous bottle of Central Otago pinot noir, then a gorgeous bottle of dessert wine from Nelson! For entertainment, we saw a car get pulled over across from the restaurant and watched in astonishment as the driver got out and ran away from the cops, leaving his wife/girlfriend hanging out in the passenger seat. That seemed like a bit more drama than you'd usually see on Oriental Parade.

In any case, we had a great evening and took a cab home at the end of the night. That's one of the things we'll miss most about Wellington. It's so easy and affordable to get around on public transportation, especially after a night of celebrating.

Hope my husband had a fantastic birthday, and I think he'd agree that the year ahead is looking pretty awesome.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Our world tour kicks off in 2 weeks

You've probably heard me mention that our time in New Zealand is coming to an end and we're preparing for a bit of travel before moving back to Kansas City.

It's been lots of fun planning our upcoming trip. It began with us asking ourselves "where in the world do we want to go?" which is quite a daunting question. So we created a giant wishlist that we had to narrow down according to our schedule and budget. (Sorry Palau -- I'll have to swim in your magical jellyfish lake another time.) After much brainstorming, negotiation and organising, our itinerary now looks like this:
  • Leave NZ on 2 April
  • Singapore
  • Malaysian Borneo
  • Beijing
  • Switzerland
  • Greek Islands
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Arrive in Kansas City on 3 June
I'm pretty excited about what's coming up. So excited in fact that I made a logo for our trip. My graphic design friends will undoubtedly be impressed by my expert use of WordArt. In my defense though, I've been busy selling our household goods on and prepping our other stuff for shipping to KC. We've gotten our visas and our shots (more on that later) and our flights. Now just wrapping things up, getting ready to say our goodbyes and preparing for our next adventure.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

All alone in Cathedral Cove

So many cool things about this weekend.

First, we got to fly in one of Air New Zealand's new "All Blacks" planes. They're painted black in honour of NZ hosting the Rugby World Cup this year. Even the interior is black. Very cool.

On our way the Coromandel Peninsula, we drove from Auckland to Hahei with gorgeous weather on Saturday.

We'd heard about the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan the night before we left. So very sad.

NZ had a tsunami warning in effect so we kept a close eye on the beach and an ear to the news on the radio. Thankfully NZ sustained no damage (that I'd heard of). So we ended up waiting until the warning had expired to take a walk on the coast.

Then today an early morning walk down to Cathedral Cove, one of the country's most popular and beautiful destinations. We started out early to beat the crowd and glad we did because we had a good 30 minutes with the beach completely to ourselves!

We walked through the arch (although signs warn against it due to rock falls) to the beach on the other side. Simply breath-taking.

Notice the clouds forming -- it started pouring down on us right as we began our 30-minute return walk and then seemed to rain most of the day. Even though hiking in the rain always makes me feel closer to nature, I'm always looking forward to coffee and a hot shower afterward.

We cruised around and stopped wherever we wanted, which was such a relaxing experience. Then to top it all off, Jake got an awesome emergency row seat with unprecedented legroom on the flight home.

We have three weeks left in New Zealand, and we're soaking up as much as we can before we go. Like this completely gorgeous, completely empty beach we enjoyed this morning... we won't find that in Kansas!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A visit to Zealandia

Now that my days are not consumed by the usual 9-5 routine, I've been making the most of every opportunity. The entire time we've lived here I've been wanting to visit Zealandia, formerly called the Korori Wildlife Sanctuary. And yesterday I made it happen.

I went with Jill, who arrived in a Wellington a few weeks ago from Calgary. Her husband works with Jake and is on the same type of secondment (international assignment) and so we already have a lot in common.

Bird-watching is the primary activity here at the sanctuary, and we saw and heard several. Taking photos of them is a bit of a challenge though. I have a new appreciation for wildlife photographers.

Jake knows his NZ birds much better than I do, but I do know the above is the Tui. (I'd probably get kicked out of the country if I got that one wrong.)

Above is a fantail.

And that's where my birding skills end.

Although birds are the main attraction here, Zealandia is also home to several Tuatara, which are thought to date back to the age of dinosaurs. These guys are tagged with colourful beads so staff can keep track of them better. I tried to get this one's attention, but all i could get was a shot of the back of his head.

One of the cool things about Zealandia is that is surrounded by a giant 8.6 km predator fence to keep out non-native mammals. The photo below isn't the predator fence, but it demonstrates why it needs to be so high.

It demonstrates the maximum jumping heights of various animals: weasel - 0.3 metres; mouse - 0.5 m; rat - 0.9m (wow!); stoat - 1.2m; possum - 1.5m; cat - 1.8m.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Okay, here's the plan

You may have heard me talking about our big vacation and our big move coming up. In the next four months we'll be packing up and leaving New Zealand, taking a ridiculously cool trip and relocating back to Kansas City.

Here's the plan:

25 Feb: was my last day at work

31 March
: Last day of work for Jake

2 April
: We leave NZ and begin our nine-week-long vacation (we're calling it our world tour, more details to come)

3 June
: We arrive in Kansas City, where we'll find an apartment and start house-hunting

: Jake goes back to work in the KC office he left in 2008; Jamie looks for a job

So we have about five weeks left in New Zealand. In that time we will sell most of the stuff we own, organise the rest for shipping to KC, close our accounts, say goodbye to our friends and make arrangements for our world tour. And I plan to squeeze in lots more fun before we go. It certainly feels like one chapter is coming to a close and another is about to begin.

Friday, February 25, 2011

My last day at work

Yesterday was my last day at work as we prepare to move back to Kansas City. I'm afraid I didn't get much work done as I said my goodbyes and my awesome colleagues took me out to lunch.

From left is Olly (new member of the web team), myself (some call me WebBabe1), Stacey (WebBabe2), Kathryn and Diana. There are more several more people from work that I've enjoyed working with, but these are my closest workmates.

As a going away present, they gave me what I'm told is the quintessential guide to Kiwi cooking, the Edmonds cookbook. I'm pretty excited about it because now I have a bit more time on my hands and will give some of these recipes a shot. Take note of the date on the cover, and I've even come across some recipes inside that are from the first edition. Very cool. Thanks guys!

So now I will focus my time on enjoying our remaining time in NZ, organising our trip and preparing for our move back to Kansas City. We leave NZ in five weeks, then travel for nine weeks and land in KC in early June.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The tragedy in Christchurch

This is a difficult time for New Zealand as the people in and around Christchurch try to recover from an earthquake that has taken several lives. We have been reading news reports about the latest numbers of dead, injured and missing, and seeing images of the broken buildings and distraught people. It has been devastating.

Jake and I have received several emails and notes from friends and family checking in on us. Most understand we're in Wellington which is far enough away to be safe. Many have asked "how soon are you leaving?" Thanks to all of you. It makes us feel fortunate to have so many folks looking after us.

Several fundraisers have sprung up here and I even heard about a website that is trying to match up people with extra rooms around the country with those displaced by the disaster. That's the spirit. Our hearts go out to those who are there or who have friends and family affected by the earthquake. Here's hoping for peace and calm to return to Canterbury soon.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Speaking of cruise ships

The Queen Elizabeth, one of the world's newest and most luxurious ships, cruised into our harbour early this morning. And when a ship like that comes in, it's a big deal to Wellington.

It blew it's horn and woke me up as it glided in at 6:45am, and so I grabbed my camera and stumbled out onto the balcony to snap a couple pics. Then I saw my next door neighbors watching from their balcony as well, and was grateful that I'd taken the time to put on appropriate clothing before running out.

It was calm and beautiful, covered with some clouds but we saw a graceful sunrise nonetheless. The ship is said to be 294 meters long and carries 2,000 passengers and nearly 1,000 crew. And it's estimated that it will inject more than $1 million into our economy during it's short stay. Wow. For more details, you can read the news story on

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Not your typical two-cruise-ship day

I think Wellingtonians are proud of their city and its often dreary weather. The rest of NZ could be sunny and beautiful and you could easily find a giant dark cloud covering Wellington. That's really more the exception than the rule though because our climate is so mild and we have so many lovely days. But I think the perception of our city's moody weather is a big part of its character.

We find the weather reports to be less than consistent, so a while ago Jake developed a more reliable way to gauge the weather. Every morning we look out at the harbour and make a call based on the number of cruise ships we see.
  • 0 cruise ships = gorgeous bright, sunny day
  • 1 cruise ship = cold, grey, windy and rainy
  • 2 cruise ships = call in sick because it's going to be awful

This system was developed based on much observation and our sympathy to all those happy cruise ship passengers who may be disappointed to encounter our sometimes gloomy skies.

Today however, we've found a glitch in our usually fool-proof system. There are two giant cruise ships docked in the harbour and the skies are bright, sunny and warm. The downtown streets are crowded with many khaki-clad camera-toting sightseers. It makes me smile to think of all the happy people on vacation and how much I appreciate the sun when it shines here. It is certainly not your typical two-cruise-ship kind of day here in Wellington!


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

This weekend was one of the best ever – a perfect combination of friends, family, adventure and relaxation.

First, we had a chance to meet one of my relatives Germany, Tim, who is on holiday here in New Zealand with his girlfriend, Sina. After a conversation with my Dad, I figured out that my great grandfather and Tim’s great grandfather were brothers. Fortunately Tim and Sina speak excellent English because my three years of German classes are a distant and rather fuzzy memory now.

On Friday night Jake and I drove about four hours north to the mountains with a couple of friends where we met Tim and Sina. We were there to take on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is magnificent and daunting 7-hour walk up to a couple of active volcanoes and is considered one of New Zealand best hikes. I’ve been looking forward to this for more than two years.

The six of us set off on Saturday morning. After a long walk through rocky terrain then a steep climb, you’re rewarded with a view down into an incredible red crater featuring different colours of volcanic rock and the jagged edges created from repeated eruptions, which remind you how violent this place can be. We encountered solidified lava flows, steam vents and a heavy smell of sulphur in the air, and our photos can’t possibly capture the power and beauty from this place.

Just a bit farther is your final push to the top where I found the most breath-taking view of all. Down below on the other side are the three shining Emerald Lakes, their vibrant hues the result of volcanic minerals. After three or four hours of seeing nothing but the harsh, dry rocky terrain, a view of these bright green pools was like an oasis of calm in such a treacherous setting. It made me wonder about the first person who ever saw these lakes. Someone would have climbed up there without knowing what they’d see, and without the benefit of stairs and marked trails, to find those lakes. They must have thought they were hallucinating.

I found the walk exhilarating and exhausting. I felt my muscles burning and my heart pumping, and it made me feel incredible.

After the long decent back to the car, we stayed in a little motel and made it an early night since we were all so beat. The next day we stretched our sore muscles and chose activities that were a bit less strenuous, including some miniature golf (Tim won) and a swim at the Waikanae Beach on the way back to Wellington.

The beach was a big deal for us because this was the first time Jake and I have actually swam at any NZ beach as we usually find the water much too cold. I’m so glad we took advantage of it because I would have regretted leaving here without a good little swim in the ocean.

Tim and Sina are staying with us for a while before they continue their travels to the South Island later this month. It will be good to get to know them a bit better and to bring our families a bit closer.

Experiences like this make me thankful for my friends and family – including those I’m just now meeting – and for the cool opportunities Jake and I have had. This has been a truly incredible weekend.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Crazy Horses at Wellington Sevens

It's time for the annual Wellington Sevens, a two-day international rugby tournament that is famous for its fancy dress (Kiwi term for costumes) and its high level of alcohol consumption. And it was quite a year to go because New Zealand took home the first place trophy.

Jake and I went with some friends and dressed as the East Coast Crazy Horses, a fictional New Zealand gang from the movie Boy. I have to admit I was pretty excited to wear a mustache.

The movie was a big deal here in NZ but if you're unfamiliar with it, this one-minute-long clip introduces the gang-affiliated characters and offers a bit of insight their simple-minded antics and general silliness.

And what good sporting event is complete without a streaker?

A few fans wore Tui sombreros and ponchos featuring variations of the beer company's "yeah right" campaign messages. This one reads "I wasn't passed out. It was just my afternoon siesta," and it was the cleanest one I could find.

Other costumes ranged from simple to complex to "how am I supposed to fit in my seat?"

While the rugby is fun to watch in bite-sized pieces (seven members per team and seven-minute halves), seeing all the costumes and watching all the fans at various levels of inebriation (and amounts of clothing) are by far more entertaining. But after two days of so much fun, I'm ready for a siesta of my own.