Thursday, December 10, 2009

December, 2009
Auckland, New Zealand

Happy Christmas to all our friends and family.

On Christmas Day, we will be celebrating our 4th anniversary of immigrating to New Zealand. And I have recently become aware that we must be well and truly settled into our life, based on the evidence that I no longer keep a journal.

Over the past thirty years of travelling – whether to Paris or to Chicago - I have always kept a journal of our experiences, our impressions, and our blunders. (Curt has a travel journal too, but his is usually full of sketches.) Moving to New Zealand in 2005 was like being a traveller every day and I kept a journal of every cultural realisation, each new pronunciation, and all the obscure sports jargon. We absorbed New Zealand’s history, its politics, its music and art. I thrive on that kind of stimulation and savoured every bit of knowledge, which I was motivated to document in a journal and on our blog. But now, after four years here, we know our way around this city of a million people as well as we know our way around Seattle or Portland. We can pronounce Ngaruawahia and we know where it is. I even say to-mah-to sometimes instead of to-may-to. And at some point during the year, I ceased writing a journal or making entries on the blog. I think this is a significant development; not that we have mastered all there is to know about this country, but rather an indication of our settling in. New Zealand is becoming home. We’ll always be known as The Americans, and we’ll always talk ‘funny’ with an American accent. But we’re quite comfortable here. Life is good.

Although our family is scattered throughout America, technology allows us to keep in touch with them via email, Facebook, and Skype. We can even play Scrabble with the boys online. We also travel to see them in person, and they fly here to visit us.

In July, we went to America to attend Nolan and Erica’s lovely outdoor wedding. Carlin performed the ceremony, and Austin and Boone were both groomsmen. During our visit, we also made a trip to San Juan Island with the boys, sat around a campfire, attended a baseball game, found long-lost relatives, and went to an American Idol concert (don’t ask).

After the wedding, Nolan (27) and Erica moved to Vermont where he is attending law school. They will be living there for the next three years, which is an excellent opportunity for us to visit New England in the near future. Carlin (26) and Kristen have settled into a nice life in Phoenix. They are buying a house and have 2 dogs now. Boone (24) and Emma live in Seattle where they are both in college. Boone is an engineering student at UW, and works as the youth leader for a church in Bellevue. Austin (29) and Jonna live in Bellingham and they both graduated from WWU this year. Austin’s major was political science, and he is applying to law schools for next year.

Just after Christmas, he and Jonna are coming to New Zealand to spend a month with us. We‘ll have a great time showing them our beautiful country, especially exploring the stunning vistas of the South Island with them.

When Austin and Jonna leave, my mom will arrive for a month-long visit, too. As you can tell, we like having company. It’s summertime here so the weather is outstanding and I don’t have to teach. My mom saw most of the important sights during her last two visits, so we’ll have more time to sit on the deck and enjoy the sunshine. No doubt, we will also spend countless hours appreciating Curt’s yard.

He and his green thumb have created a garden full of colourful, exotic tropical plants like freesia and ‘bird of paradise,’ along with citrus trees, an olive tree, and good ol’ sunflowers. Our garden is also a haven for New Zealand native birds whose songs greet us in the morning. I even like watching the cute little geckos scurry along the bricks.

Curt has also been painting prolifically this year¬, his most productive year ever. He has especially enjoyed painting more portraits lately.
I predict he will paint colourful autumn trees of Vermont next … or maybe snow covered mountains in the South Island. He never runs out of inspiration.

Besides travelling, painting, and gardening, we both enjoy our work – he as an engineer and me as a teacher. We value our church community and our neighbourhood driveway parties, and we (of course) sing in various choirs. This year, I’ve also become absorbed in family history, but found to my dismay that George W. Bush is Curt’s 11th cousin.

Contrary to this rosy account of our lives in New Zealand, life here is not perfect: We still have to get up when the alarm clock blares every morning, and our carpet still needs to be vacuumed. Most distressing, however, is that Christmas in the summertime is just not right, and it never will be … but I think we could get used to it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

6 months condensed into 4 paragraphs

Good news: we are about to depart for the US, where we will attend our son's wedding. Being in Bellingham in July will be extra nice because it's summer there and it's the middle of winter here. My hands have been freezing every morning as I ride my scooter to work!

Bad news: we have had to switch churches because our (old) church rejected having a gay pastor, which went against our ultra-liberal beliefs. This was not a decision that we took lightly. We were crushed to leave the friends we had made there, and we were especially sad to leave the choir. Fortunately, we found a liberal church nearer to our house and have enjoyed the intellectual stimulation that their service provides. And we've joined the choir.

Really good news: Curt has been painting like mad. He's completed 4 paintings in the last 6 weeks. He's even started doing portraits for the first time. We can't post any photos yet because the paintings are gifts. Top Secret. Shhh.

New news: I have been so obsessed with FaceBook lately that I have ignored my blog for months.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Joan's visit

My mom, Joan, is here in New Zealand to visit us again for about a month. She arrived on Dec 31 and will leave on Feb 3. In fact, she went to Hawaii to visit my brother and his family for 2 weeks before she arrived in NZ, and will go there again for 2 weeks afterwards. All together, she will spend 9 weeks on islands in the Pacific, while back home in Bellingham everybody is shivering in record snowfalls. It's a pretty sweet deal. She did the same thing last year, too, but the two visits to New Zealand couldn't be more different.

Last year, it was her first time to this country, so I had a schedule of tourist sights to do every day: museum, aquarium, Piha beach, zoo, One Tree Hill, Devonport, Waiheke Island, Sheepworld, kauri trees, Hamilton, Coromandel, kiwifruit farm, etc. She finally told me to relax; that she only wanted to do tourist things half the time. But whenever we didn't go anywhere, I would inevitably be antsy and bored silly.

Compare that to her current visit: No daily schedule. No tourist sights. We did go to Sydney for 4 days, but we haven't been to many tourist attractions around here. Instead, we go to the local beach at St Heliers for running/walking, then we sit at home and admire the garden the rest of the day. We went to the quilt store once. And Plant Barn more than once (to buy more admirable plants for the garden). Admittedly, we did one traditional tourist activity when we took a ferry to Rangitoto and rode the train to the near-summit. But really, we spend 95% of our time at home doing nothing. And it is glorious.

We sit on the deck in our comfy recliners. Curt drinks coffee. We read the paper. We watch the resident butterfly flit about. Joan has read at least 10 books so far. I'm usually keeping busy with something on the computer. Besides all the gardening, Curt had already made two(!) paintings while she's been here. Sometimes in the evenings, we have driveway parties and socialise with the neighbours.

Alas, Curt had to go back to work last week, and I have to go back to work next week. Then Joan leaves the week after that. So our summer vacation is coming to it end. But it feels like we truly had a vacation this time. A glorious vacation of doing nothing and loving it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Letter for 2008

                         A year of momentous celebrations.
                         … and a few disappointing ordeals:
January -
• in which Megan’s mother Joan was here to visit
• in which we learned these momentous revelations about dear old Mum: she named Megan after a character in the book Apple Tree by Galsworthy; she is afraid of heights (has never been up Seattle’s Space Needle); and she went to a strip club on her 18th birthday (courtesy of the corrupting influence of her older sister)
February -
• in which we sang back-up (along with 700 others) for opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at an outdoor concert in the park
• in which we had a driveway party with our neighbours to wish Joan a bon voyage
• in which the school year began and Megan was back in a classroom teaching Social Studies and English, in addition to a little librarian work on the side
March -
• in which Austin (28) embarked on a Political Science degree
April -
• in which Megan tried a very British sport called bowls, which is similar to bowling only there are no pins to knock down, it’s played outdoors on perfect grass, and everyone wears white and keeps a stiff upper lip
May -
• in which Megan celebrated another birthday and disappointingly got another year older
• in which the newlyweds (Carlin and Kristen) living in Phoenix, got a new dog
June -
• in which we began a series of ascents of Auckland’s 50 volcanic cones – called mountains, but actually just hills a few hundred metres high
• in which we went to see the musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - good fun with outrageous costumes, plenty of ‘70s disco retrospective, and therapy for any latent homophobia
July -
• in which Megan bought a scooter and achieved notoriety among the students as the teacher on the red scooter riding around Auckland. Her coolness factor increased substantially
• in which Megan wanted to sing with a select group to welcome Condoleezza Rice’s visit to New Zealand, but was disappointingly rejected because they were recruiting young singers, despite being the only one who already knew the words to the American national anthem AND being able to sing in a fluent American accent
August -
• in which Nolan (26) announced he would be going to law school next year
• in which Boone (23) came to visit and to summit 8 mountains/volcanic cones/hills while here
• in which Boone played Scrabble against Curt 18 times during his 4 week visit – Boone won 12 times but that’s only because Curt disappointingly had “crap for letters”
• in which we had another driveway party to celebrate Boone’s visit, and then another
September -
• in which we went to our first rugby game, a truly Kiwi experience
• in which we stopped in Bellingham, WA on the way to England, and Curt delivered 3 original paintings as gifts to the boys:

• in which we spent 3 weeks in England to celebrate our 30th anniversary
• in which Megan was hit by a taxi in London while walking across the street. She survived with minor bruises; her beloved muffin was smashed in the ordeal
• in which we went to Bellingham, England and learned it’s pronounced Bell-in-jum there. Really.
October -
• in which we stopped in Portland, OR on our way home from England and saw Curt’s family, our old church family, and Megan’s old school (plus a special stop for Mrs. Fields cookies)
• in which we came home to learn that our church had failed miserably during our brief absence – first approving and then rejecting the appointment of a new pastor because she was gay. We were incensed, frustrated, and sorely disappointed over the ordeal
November -
• in which we gathered with our (Kiwi) neighbours to celebrate and offer a toast for the American election results
• in which we gathered with our Kiwi neighbours again 4 days later for the New Zealand election results
• in which Megan got hit by a car while riding on her scooter. She survived with a few cracked ribs and some minor scrapes and bruises; her beloved scooter got smashed in the ordeal
• in which Nolan and Erica announced their engagement and upcoming summer wedding
• in which Megan bought another scooter
• in which Curt finished 2 more paintings:

December -
• in which we write our clever Christmas letter

Friday, November 21, 2008

Megan is OK; the scooter is not

Megan asked me to write this because she is too busy marking papers at this moment getting ready for the end of the school year reports.

Here's what happened: On Tuesday morning on the way to work, Megan turned right toward school. It was typical morning rush hour traffic, and it's always a challenge making a right hand turn onto that street. Megan says she checked right and then checked left before crossing, but she forgot to check right again because when she got half way across the street she was hit in what the policeman called "a full side impact." Megan doesn't remember all the details but the next thing she knew she was lying in the middle of the road, turned around facing the direction she came from, her motor scooter was further down the road, and her shoes were on the other side of the scooter.

The whole neighbourhood mobilised to help. One of Megan's students lives right across the street from the accident and came to help. The driver of the car that hit her called 111 for an ambulance. A tow truck arrived almost immediately to pick up the pieces of the scooter. Our neighbour, Margaret, also a teacher at Dio, stopped to help and to take the news to school. Some street repair construction workers placed orange traffic cones around Megan and re-directed traffic a safe distance away. A gardener from the cemetery brought a blanket for Megan. The medics came in an ambulance to check her over but by then she was already sitting on the kerb and the scooter had been pulled to the side of the road on the verge. The police came and interviewed everybody. Then our neighbour Brendon stopped to help with the tow truck which took the scooter to an insurance assessment yard. Then Brendon brought Megan home where she called me at work. She was a little bruised and sore but mostly shook up from the trauma. I hopped on my bicycle and came home to be the primary care giver.

Megan spent the rest of the day recovering, napping, and checking for new bruises and abrasions. Thursday she went to the doctor to have her wrist xrayed because it was sore and blue. The wrist is OK - just sprained a little - but the doctor thinks she may have cracked a rib because she feels pain when she coughs. He said it would be a waste to xray for the rib because they can't treat it anyway. He said if the rib had fractured and punctured her lung, then they could treat it but I guess that didn't happen.

The worst part is that Megan can't sit still for more than an hour so she went to work Wednesday so she wouldn't get so bored. Then she felt tired because her body really needs time to heal, so she decided to work only half a day Thursday. Even that was too much. Friday she has a morning meeting but she won't teach for the rest of the day. I feel like I need to tackle her and pin her down to stop her, but she won't stay still. When she is sitting quietly she continues to mark papers. Grrrr.
Megan says that I shouldn't make it sound worse than it is or people might get alarmed. I think I captured the escence of it pretty much. She is a very lucky girl. That's two close calls in the last two months. Remember the taxi and muffin incident at Trafalger Square? I told her that there is to be no more impacts with cars. This trend must stop.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NZ Election vs. US election

A few days after the American election, there was an election New Zealand, too. Clark vs. Key didn't get as much worldwide media attention as Obama vs. McCain. Go figure.

It was a beautiful, sunny spring day to go to the polling booth at a local church. And it seemed sensible to hold an election on a Saturday instead of a Tuesday. The polling place was well-organised and efficient but not high-tech: paper ballots to be marked with a pen, cardboard private voting booth and cardboard ballot boxes. Surprisingly, the poll workers were not all octogenarians like they seem to be in US polling places. My favourite part in both countries is getting the sticker that says "I voted."

That evening, we went to our neighbour's house for dinner and results, which was a lovely way to spend my first NZ election coverage ... even if our hosts supported the 'wrong' party.

The NZ election only covered two things: which person you want to represent your local electorate, and which party you want to control Parliament. Two ticks. In comparison, my American ballot had over 30 different offices to vote for, from President, Senator, and Governor, all the way to local judges. And there are no primaries in NZ; each party has already chosen their favourite from within.

Voter turnout in NZ this year was 78%, a bit lower than the usual 80%. The US voter turnout was a record-breaking 68%.

In both countries, the populated urban areas voted more liberal (Democrat or Labour) while the rural areas voted more conservative (Republicans or National) Although the colours are reversed (conservative National is blue), both the US and NZ election maps looked the same: all one (conservative) colour in the heartland with pockets of the other (liberal) colour in the cities.

Obviously, I was not as elated with the New Zealand election results as I was with the US results. In New Zealand, the conservative National Party took power from the liberal Labour Party who had been in control for the last 9 years. Fortunately, the conservative party in NZ is not as far right as the Republican party in the US. But I was still a bit sad that my friend Helen was no longer Prime Minister. I felt smug being able to say I lived in a country with a female Prime Minister.

Since the US swung left and NZ swung right in the same week, many people have asked if it makes us want to move back to America. The answer is not yet. I think it's going to take a long time for America to recover from the Bush years. But it feels good that moving back to America is at least an option now.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

the morning after

Here is the front page of the New Zealand Herald on the day after the American election:

PS - I wonder if the headline and photo will be just as big after New Zealand's own election, which is happening the day after tomorrow.