Thursday, March 30, 2006


We're happy to say that we've found a church choir to join. It's actually a Methodist church about 2 suburbs away in Mt. Albert, but evidently Methodist is about as close to Congregational as it's going to get here. The pastor is a woman and her sermons can't compare to Rick Skidmore's, but the music program is outstanding. We usually make the most friends and have the closest relationships through choir on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, so if the sermon is not-as-good-as-Rick's for 20 minutes, I guess we can live with that.

The choir director is a man who can sing all 4 parts. Yup, he can sing the soprano part in falsetto and help them find their melody line. It's pretty amazing. There's quite a few serious musicians in this group of about 25 people, including a former church organist and a former choir director (his dad). His mum, his auntie and his sister also sing in the choir and I guess his brother is a choir director for a large Auckland community choir or something. They are quite the musical family. Unfortunately, neither the director nor the organist gives us 4 beginning pitches. Does everyone else have perfect pitch and know exactly where a D is? Not me! But the lady I sit by (his auntie) always knows our note, so I just sing what she sings. Overall, it seems like enough of them are professional musicians or soloist quality that the choir sings more difficult music, sightreads it well and learns it fast. While we enjoy being a part of this talented group, it means that we are almost out of our league. Imagine, Curt is NOT the strongest voice that everyone else follows! Anyway, they don't _need_ us as badly as our Milwaukie choir needed us. It was always nice to feel needed. : )

Since the choir anthems are more challenging, you might think at least the hymns would be familiar and therefore easier. But the hymns are different here and that always throws me off. I recognize hymn titles like "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" and think "Ooh, I know this one" but then discover it's sung to a completely different tune. In addition, the words to each hymn are printed in a block of text at the bottom of the page, not under each line of music. This makes it a little harder for me to follow. And then ... sometimes they switch tunes: the words for hymn #443 might be sung with the music from #205! You can imagine me flipping back and forth, getting totally befuddled.

They also have different words for half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes here - they call them minims, crotchets, and quavers. I'd never heard these terms before, but I'm learning.

We've only been attending this church 5 weeks so far but the people at church and at choir have been friendly. We're still learning everyone's names but they all seem to know ours! (And don't forget, everyone pronounces Megan correctly here. I love it!) It'll be nice once we get to know more people. We're going to one lady's house for tea after church this Sunday, which is a good start.

When we first moved to Oregon, it took us 6 months to find the right church and 12 months before we joined the choir. So it feels good to have a place to go on Sunday mornings after only 3 months in New Zealand. We lived in Oregon for 5 years and became very attached to the folks at Kairos Milwaukie church; after we've been here for 5 years, I'm sure we will become just as attached to Mt. Albert Methodist.

PS - When we attended our first choir rehearsal here, we pulled out our black music folders and as I opened mine up, I discovered the church bulletin from our last service at Milwaukie where Curt and I read a liturgy, lit an Advent candle, sang in the choir, and I even played bells. Good times. I cried a little, remembering that day. But smiled.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Look Mom, No Cavities!

Mom gave us the baby grand piano about ten years ago, when she and Keith moved to a smaller rental house in Bellingham. We had a nice spacious six-bedroom house at the time and so we were thrilled to have it in our living room. The boys were taking piano lessons from their Grandma Shirley, so it sure seemed convenient. I was so naive.

There was just one small problem: our living room was on the upper floor of a two-storey, mid-level entry house and there was no way for the piano movers to muscle it up the stairs. My good friend, Doug Smith, had a heavy-duty forklift that he was generously willing to drive to our house so that he could hoist the piano in a sling, over the upper floor deck railing, so we could take it through the patio sliding doors into the living room. It was a very windy day when we were able to finally coordinate movers and piano tuners, and Doug had to carefully elevate the piano between power lines suspended above our deck. Needless to say, the pucker factor was very high.

For the next five years, we had a nice piano in our house. But the boys grew up and started to move away from home, and we decided to downsize. We decided to move to Portland into a small, three-bedroom house. We had to reverse the piano moving process, and Doug was kind enough again to bring the forklift on city streets up the steep hill to our house to lift the piano off the deck. Piano movers strapped the piano to a skid board and we hauled it to Portland in a 24-ft U-Haul truck. Our new house was also on a hill, so the local piano movers had to negotiate a steep driveway and seven steps up to our front porch. I had to remove the wrought-iron railing so they could swing it around two corners to get it in the living room. I could not bear to watch this time, but the move came off without a hitch, because they quickly had the piano re-assembled.

All was fine for the next four and a half years. When Carlin came to live with us in Portland, while he went to school at Multnomah Bible College, we enjoyed listening to him play. We stipulated that he could have free room and board as long as he played the piano for us and he willingly obliged. Since Carlin is the only one of our sons to maintain an interest in playing, we offered him the piano when he was ready to settle down. But we decided to move to New Zealand before Carlin finished college and had a place of his own.

So we strapped the piano to another skid board (I had to buy the skid board and straps this time), hired piano movers to haul it out of the house, down the stairs and up the driveway where they hoisted it up into the waiting 20-ft cargo container, ready for shipping by slow boat to Auckland via Singapore (that's another long story). When the cargo container finally arrived in New Zealand, we had found a rental house to live in, also down a steep driveway with about six steps up to our front door and a right angle corner to negotiate.

Once our cargo container arrived, we hired a team of three house movers with strong backs to do the heavy lifting for us. In the middle of all of this chaos, we had to have a customs official from the Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture come and witness the opening of the container so he could make a quarantine inspection of our household goods. The young, strong movers used their muscles and brains to set up a ramp to get the entire household and piano moved into the house in less than three hours.

Then I had to contact a piano shop to find a tuner who could re-assemble the pieces, and tune the piano in its new climate on the other side of the planet. The piano shop put me in contact with William Lo, a sub-contractor with limited English speaking skills, but able and willing to do the work. After a few miscommunications, his team of two scrawny laborers came to the house and put the piano back together. I couldn't watch. Then William came to our house one evening to tune it. After that he offered to fix the ivories that had been chipped or previously replaced with poorly matching synthetics. So a few nights later, William came to our house, retracted the keyboard and took 16 keys (still attached to their hammers) in a cardboard box back to his shop. Today, he came to deliver the repaired keys. It looks great!

The only way I can justify dragging this piano all over the world is if I try once again to learn how to play it. I've talked about it several times, but now that we have clean, white piano keys, I no longer have any good excuses. So thanks to you, Mom, for your generous gift. It's been sheer pleasure so far.


Monday, March 13, 2006


There's some cute words in New Zealand, and a lot of them seem to end with "ie."

• Your breakfast might be called a breakie. One restaurant offers the Big Breakie, the Vegie Breakie and the Continental Breakie.
• An umbrella is a brolly
• A bag of candy is called lollies which is short for lollipops, but doesn't mean the candy is on a stick. It's just general candy.
• Your relatives are called the rellies
• Your aunt is always known as your auntie (but your uncle is just an uncle)
• Diapers are called nappies which is short for napkins
• Fizzie is pop (a carbonated drink). All fizzies are outlawed at my school. We confiscate them and pour them out.
• The mailman is called the Postie. And they're usually women. And they ride bikes on thier routes. And they don't pick up your letters; they only deliver.
• The Salvation Army is called the Sallies. (As in: Take your donation to the Sallies.)
• Ozzies are Australians. New Zealanders have a HUGE inferiority complex/rivalry with the Australians. If our rugby team loses all its games except the one against Australia, it's still considered a successful season
• Pommies are the British. There's LOTS of British people living here. I don't know why they're called Pommies, though.
• Boaties are people who go boating all the time and there's plenty of them! Yachties are essentially the same except with more money and bigger boats.
• Surfies are ubiquitious here, too - not just in Australia
• Bikies are motorcycles gang-types, what Americans call bikers. Somehow "bikies" just doesn't sound very scary

Other cute words:
• A summer home is a bach, short for bachelor, which refers to small bachelor's homes built by early settlers and later used as summer homes. Now it refers to any summer home of any size.
• A BBQ is called a sausage sizzle. We had one at school on Meet the Teacher night. The Deputy Principal barbecued sausages (like bratwurst) for all the students and their parents, and the sausages were served on a slice of bread rather than a hot dog bun.
• A chin wag is a long conversation
• Do-up is a fixer-upper (a house that needs some work on it). After you do up the kitchen you could sell it for a profit.
• Everyone uses the word heaps instead of tons as in "I have heaps of homework tonight"

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Being Counted

I feel a little more like an official New Zealander after two bureaucratic actions. I registered to vote Saturday. And I was counted in their census today.

Residents are allowed to vote here, even if you're not a citizen. I remember our Kiwi friend Rick lived in America for 10 years but was never allowed to vote and he thought that was pretty cheesy. Here, we get to vote and we've only been here 2 months. I guess they figure that since we have to pay taxes, and we use their services, we should get a say in how they're run.

It's also Census time here in New Zealand. They do it every 5 years. I will be included in their statistics of 4,000,000 people telling how many drive to work, how much education you have, etc. There's a bit of a fuss in the news because of the choices allowed for ethnic group: You're either Maori, Samoan, Tongan, Cook Islander, Niuean, Chinese, Indian, or "New Zealand European" It's supposedly referring to the white people who live here, called Pakeha. I'm a white person. But I never know if that makes me a Pakeha because I'm also an American, not Kiwi. But I AM Caucasian, which is what the Pakeha are. See what I mean?

Our next bureaucratic action will be getting a NZ driver's license instead of using our Oregon license for ID. We're studying the manual so we can pass the test. Some of the rules are a little different. The one I have a hard time with is this one (I will translate it into American driving so you'll understand): If you are turning right (which is easy any ol' time) and someone across from you is turning left (which may be pretty difficult) onto the same street, you have to yield to the guy making a left. It's hard for me to get used to, but I have to agree it makes a certain amount of sense. That poor guy might have to wait ages if you don't let him go. Meanwhile, you won't have any trouble at all proceeding a few seconds later. These are the little things we have to master so we can pass our test.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

20 days down, 172 more school days left. Aargh!

It's time for a confession: THIS IS HARD!
I knew it would be hard adjusting to a new curriculum and new lingo, etc. I was even looking forward to that challenge. Well, it's certainly a challenge, and I'm barely keeping my head above water. I feel like a new teacher all over again, having to reinvent everything, and spending 20-40 hours outside of school time trying to figure things out. Sheesh. I had a cushy job at Alder Creek, working part time. I had my curriculum pretty organized so that it didn't take too long to plan units that I'd done before. Why on earth did I want to leave that sweet situation and start over? I must have been nuts.

On top of that, I'm having trouble with classroom management. I was NOT prepared for this to be an issue. At Alder Creek, I controlled my classes pretty well. Even kids who misbehaved in other classes (like Gio ... remember him?) were good for me. I rather prided myself on my excellent management skills, especially with boys. OK, it's true I had one class in '03 that was a nightmare, but out of eight years teaching, that's not bad. Unfortunately, my history of successful experiences left me unprepared for this. I did't have a discipline system (like points or checks or whatever). I never needed one. Oh boy do I need one now.

These kids are younger (12), more immature, and lower ability than what I'm used to. Furthermore, what used to work for me in the States, doesn't work here. Sometimes the subtleties don't transfer, sometimes the humour doesn't work, sometimes it's just because they're used to people being firmer and more dictatorial. I don't really know what it is. In Oregon, when I said "OK, that's enough. Quiet down," they did. Why? Why did they obey me? They could have just ignored me and turned the classroom into chaos, but they didn't. It's a mystery. Anyway, I'm having trouble finding the right approach. It's been 4 weeks and I'm still flailing around. Because, as I said before, IT'S HARD

FINALE: This should be entertaining. I had an astonishing incident with one boy on Friday. He had been quite naughty, had been sent out of the room that afternoon, and had filled out a "think sheet" about what all he'd done. I made him stay after school for a few minutes to call home. He was crying about having to call home, and pleading for another chance, and telling me that he couldn’t call because he had to go pick up his sister at primary school. When he dialed, there was nobody there and no message machine. I let him know I would have to call his mum that evening.

Here’s where the story gets interesting: Someone phoned me at school about 30 minutes later.

Voice: Mark told me that he had been naughty today and he is being punished. He is in his room.

Me: Is this Mark's mum? (I’m thinking this lady sounds really young and immature. She didn’t even say who she was)

Voice: Yes

Me: Good. I wanted to speak with you about his actions because I wasn’t sure if you were aware of his behaviour at school.

Voice: Yes

Me: ? Yes you are aware? (I’m thinking she communicates somewhat awkwardly)

Voice: Yes

Me: Actually, I made him call home today after school to tell you about his behaviour, but nobody was home at the time.

Voice: Yes, he had to go pick up his sister at primary school

This is where I realize it’s actually MARK on the phone (!), impersonating his mum. He used the exact same phrase about his sister with the exact same lilt and the exact same intonation, same accent, same everything. But I can’t bring myself to accuse “her” of NOT being Mark's mum, so I just say that I’ll call again that evening to go over more details. “She” insists she won’t be home that evening (choir practice) and that we should talk now. Also, that she knows what he’s done and that he’s already been punished. I decline to continue the conversation, saying I don’t have time to talk now, but I would ring later and talk to “Mark's mum” (letting him know that I’m aware of who this really is). I hang up.

I was absolutely flabbergasted that a kid would impersonate his mother! I can't believe he would call a teacher and try to engage in an adult conversation and think he would sound like a mom. I don’t know what kind of rule violation this is, but it seems pretty serious to me. (I would never tell him this, but you have to admit, it takes a lot of guts to do this at age 12!) It also makes me very concerned about what kind of scams he will be trying at age 15 or 20…

PS I've actually had a boy try to impersonate his mother once before (Gio) but it backfired because I was calling his mom to tell her how good he'd been. I remember the "mom" sounded like she was stoned or something because all she said was Yeah and Huh and grunts like that. Once he found out I had good news to share, he couldn't tell his mom about it without admitting he'd intercepted a phone call intended for her. Ha.

NZ in the 50s

New Zealand is a developed, industrial, modern nation. They have all the same convenient appliances and curent technology like broadband.
But in other ways, living in New Zealand reminds me of the 1950s in America.
It's quaint.

Here's some examples of 50-ish things I've noticed:

• My classroom key is a skeleton key. Do you know of any schools that still have skeleton keys and keyholes?

• In our house, there's only one outlet per room, except the bathroom which has 0 outlets.

• There's mom-and-pop little grocery stores every few blocks. They do good business.

• Even local communities' downtown areas are full of small mom-and-pop places. There's very few glossy chain stores with neon signs. Nearby, there may be a mall with name-brand stores, but the local shops still exist. Two suburbs over, there's a large video store amid their local shops and it looks out of place because it is too big and too modern and too illuminated.

• There's a couple of motorways (freeways) in the major cities, but once you get 15 miles out of town, there are just two-lane roads. There's no "Interstate 5" running the length of the island. Even the motorways within Auckland don't always connect. For instance, there's no motorway connecting the city to the airport. You have to drive on city streets. That would be unheard of for an American city of 1 million!

• There's still lots of one-lane bridges on these two-lane roads. Some of these bridges have traffic lights; others have yield signs. Oregonians, imagine Highway 26 from Portland to the coast with a few one-lane bridges. Or Washingtonians, imagine Mt. Baker Highway with a one-lane bridge over the Nooksack.

• Kids still walk to and from school (no school buses). And the community members call the school if any of our students are naughty on the way home. Last week, a boy didn't give way to a lady pushing a stroller, and she called the school. The Deputy Principal announced it at the next assembly. These kids are wearing school uniforms and representing our school, so he expects them to behave respectfully and they know it.