Thursday, September 29, 2011

3 Month Retrospective

  So we have been in New Zealand for 3 months now. We've gotten use to driving on the left side of the road (I have almost conquered the round-abouts,but still feel like Chevy Chase in European Vacation most of the time) and we can get around town without a map. We know where to shop for groceries, home improvement, and housewares. I know that biscuits here are cookies, jelly means jello, and mince is hamburger meat. I understand that Rugby is a Religion, and that kiwi's laugh at the all the padding American Football players wear. And I have accepted that I will never be able to pronounce local words with my American accent, I have just learned to look away and mumble. Basically New Zealand does not feel like a Foreign country anymore. So if your wondering how long it takes to get through the initial, stressful, scary, foreign, lonely make or break phase of moving to a foreign country I would say 3-6 months. But obviously different for everyone, I think that Brad and I have a high tolerance for change and that has helped to ease the transition.
  Are we happy here in New Zealand is a question I have been getting from some folks back home. And the answer is yes. We are enjoying a significantly higher quality of life here in NZ than we were in Kansas. Nature has given NZ an unfair advantage by putting so much fun stuff to do here. And NZ is decades ahead of America in terms of the benefits it provides its citizens. Obviously 4.5 million is an easier number for a government to work with compared to 300 million. We are enjoying living around people of wildly different cultures and backgrounds. And we are crazy about the slow pace of life, and laid back kiwi lifestyle.  I also have to be honest here, and say that yes, I am coping with being separarted from family, friends and KD but I still miss them EVERY single day.          
  What would we change or what has surprised us? New Zealand is less convenient than America but more expensive. We are still in shock over the price of electricity, dairy products (especially with Fronterra in our back yard) and gas. Bacon, chicken and popcorn are also crazy expensive. My new running shoes were $250 and a new tennis racket is $350-$450. We are all learning that less is more and we only buy what we "need" vs. "want". Skyler and I are also getting a little cranky about being cold. Most Kiwi homes have no insulation, and no heat. I turn on the stove in the morning, and Skyler and I stand next to it to warm up. I would of done more research about economical ways to stay warm and ask more questions to our real estate agent about which rental homes have heat. Well, at least I will know next time. And Summer is right around the corner, as we set our clocks ahead last weekend. The days are getting longer and warmer, yippee!!!!
  What have we done right? First, we took a chance. That chance being the "unknown" and that can be scary, especially with 3 kids. Packing up and moving to a new country is a gamble, and gambling is a risk. But we stacked the bet in our favor with determination, flexibility and optimisim. If we would of listened to reason and stayed back in KS than we would of never gotten to experience this family adventure that has already made us all grow, adapt, and learn. Cheers, XOXO Jenny

Some random pictures from these past few weeks.

I bet he did not have an $700 electric bill!!

The girls after they ran the Taranaki Cross -Country Race. 

Nor did he.

90% of the runner's went without shoes

Lindsey running into the Grand Stands at the finish line. The last quarter mile was on a dog track. 

Skyler coming into the finish. Both girls placed in the 50's, and there were about 130 girls in each race. We are so very proud of both of them and they were equally as proud which was just as important. AND they got to miss school all day to go the event!!

Lindsey coming off her obstacle. 

Wasting away a Sunday afternoon. These are the Sugar Loaf Islands which are only 10 minutes from our house.

The view from a hike Brad and I took this week. 

Never REALLY knew what these were used for until now. I always saw these in my grandparents closets and thought they were for tummy aches.  I put hot water in them and stick them in the kids bed to keep them warm at night. They work amazingly well!! Free night time heat for the kiddos.  

Most Kiwi's do not use clothes dryers as they use up too much electricity. SO this is how we dry our clothes. Watch out Laura Ingle Wilder you ain't got nothing on me!!! Okay maybe she does, but it felt so old fashion at first!!! But I kinda like it now, and it takes shorter for the clothes to dry on a sunny day than a dryer would. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Rugby World Cup 2011 has taken over here in New Zealand.  This nation of 4.5 million people is hosting the biggest world sporting event for 2011 and the buzz in the air here is palpable.  The All Blacks (New Zealands national team) have been the top ranked team worldwide for many years but have last won a world cup in 1987 so the kiwis are starved for a big win. Twenty nations are represented in the tournament divided into four pools of five.  Each team plays four games in their respective pools with the top two in each advancing to the quarterfinals.  The top teams are in addition to the All Blacks are Australia, South Africa, England and France.

Owen and his buddy Jasper with a few of the Eagles

We have been fortunate to be living in one of the host cities of the tournament and even more fortunate that the USA Eagles have played their first two games of the World Cup here.  First against one of the traditional powers, Ireland and then against fellow up and coming rugby nation Russia.  As Americans the Eagles have given us much to be proud of.  They have been practicing locally for about a week here and anyone who has met them has commented how friendly, accommodating and approachable they have been.  On the field they played with passion and heart that even the Kiwis I have talked to have found inspiring.   We met several of the Eagles at a welcoming ceremony in Inglewood, a town just outside of New Plymouth where they were staying and training prior to their matches in New Plymouth and they were awesome.  I think they also  really appreciate the reception they have received here because they are relatively unknown in the States.  The Kiwis welcome anyone with open arms but rugby players are practically received as gods.

The game against Ireland was on 9/11/2011, a pretty important anniversary in American history.  We started the day by attending what was billed as the first 9/11 memorial service in the world, being that we are 18 hours ahead of the US and the sun rises each day first in this part of the world.  The US ambassador to New Zealand was there as were the Pacific Fleet Marine Corp marching band and most importantly the entire Eagles squad.  The memorial service was at a beautiful old stone Presbyterian church here.  The American contingent was afforded special status and took their seats after everyone else.  Never before have I witnessed a standing ovation during a church service, but the applause that reverberated through that church that morning was deafening.  It sent chills down my spine and brought tears to all of our eyes.  It really made me realize how global an event 9/11 was and how much respect and standing The US has in the world.  After the applause died down the minister looked at the players and said "and that was not in the program".  The New Plymouth fire department was also there in remembrance of their fire fighting family.  A truly wonderful event.  While we think we are living in a great and probably most the beautiful country in the world, we are still very proud to be from the land of the free and the home of the brave.

On to the rugby.  First up for the Americans were the mighty Irish team, one of the top ten in the world.   The atmosphere for the game was amazing.  There are many Irish as well as Americans living in New Zealand so it was a full house and loud.  This is Rugby not soccer so the crowd, while incredibly festive is also incredibly civil, no fights, fans waving each others flags and singing and dancing together.  A hooligans game played and enjoyed by gentlemen as opposed to soccer which has a reputation for the reverse.  The games in general are incredibly entertaining.  Non stop action for two forty minute halves with a short intermission means the game lasts about an hour and a half unlike the sometimes four hour slog it takes to get through an NFL game.  Since rugby is now a professional sport in many countries the athletes are big, fast and hit very hard of course with no helmets or pads.
 The US hung in there with the Irish tied 3-3 late in the first half when the Irish scored a late try to go in to halftime with a 10-3 lead.  While the Irish looked like the superior team in terms of talent and technique, the US kept it close through shear determination and ferocious hitting before ultimately falling 22-10.  
USA- Ireland

Five days later the Eagles laced them up again for a match against Russia which was advertised as the cold war classic.  We were invited to a pre match party hosted by the US embassy here and it was great munching down on some American style cheeseburgers, hot dogs, potato salad and Budweiser beer. The atmosphere could not compete with that of the crazy Irish fans but it was still great.  It was the Russians first ever Rugby World Cup game and they too played with a lot of heart but the US prevailed 12-6.  
US celebrating hard fought win against the Russians

USA celebrating thrilling 13-6 victory over Russia
The US is on to Wellington next where they will play the heavily favorite Wallabies of Australia.   We have one more game here in New Plymouth, Wales against Namibia later this month and I am sure it will too have a great atmosphere.  Jenny and I really enjoyed the games we have attended here as well as several of the other games around the country on TV.  Cheering on the Eagles was a blast but watching the All Blacks is amazing.  They are clearly the best team and we are hoping that in the end they win it all.  There will be a serious epidemic of depression down here if they don't.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Academics vs. Athletics

     We can hardly believe that we have been in NZ almost 3 months. The time has really flown by and we know that the next 9 months will pass even quicker. We have had enough time now to somewhat understand how the school works but still trying to understand what sports are played when and even how to play some of the sports! The educational system here in NZ is quite different than back home. They really value the whole child and try to nuture and develop all aspects of the child. The academic,physical and emotional well-being of the student are all equally important. And as we are learning they do not let Academics get in the way of Athletics!!! I have found myself thinking more than once "when are they doing any school work?" The kids will often miss school for interschool sports (competitions against other schools) or other athletic endeavers. The events take place after lunch.  For example the last two weeks the school has been a represented in the North Island Ski Championship, Board-X-Cross Snowboarding Event, Round the Lakes Relay Event, Cross Country Competions, Taranaki Road Relay Champs, and Tournament Sports Day at Bell Block. Now keep in mind all of these activities take place during the school day, not after school. They also had a World Rugby Cup Day, which the kids where taught different rugby skills. I was REALLY hoping that the All Blacks were going to show up to demonstrate, but I was sadly disappointed (google Sony Bill Williams or Dan Carter and you will understand)!! They also have Math Spectacular, Technogoly Challenges, Art activities and Musical lessons held during school hours, where at home most of this is considered extracurricular activities and held after school.  Owen decided not to play mini-ball (basketball for little ones) but if he would of played practice was held Tuesday mornings after tea time. Lindsey gets on a bus every Friday morning and goes into town to do wood-working, metal and or cooking. All Primary schools in NZ have a small pool and each student learns how to swim, and the Oakura school takes the kids down to the beach in the summer term to surf and build penguin houses. Lindsey has very little homework, her latest assignment was to build a house, and to furnish each room and they could only use recycled items. I have hardly seen any worksheets come home in the backpacks, and they go on quite a few educational field trips. Next week the school has a planting activity which requires walking to the beach, eating lunch, planting Spinifex on the beach and collecting rubbish on their way back to school. Every morning the whole school has tea time and then they have a 20 minute playtime, and then later the whole school has lunch together and another 20 minutes of playtime. I will blog later on the grading system as I am still trying to figure it out.  Depending on what rankings you look at New Zealand ranks in the top 5 educational systems in the world, so they must be doing something right.
   We missed out on the Winter Sports here since we arrived towards the end of the term. But winter sports here are soccer, net-ball, mini-ball, basketball and Rugby. The Spring sports are field hockey, and cross-country. Every student participates in cross-country. They train at the school every day for 3 weeks. The school has a large field that the kids train on, and most train without shoes. They held  a school competition last week. The younger kids ran on the school field and the older kids run in a park nearby. Owen turned 6 the day of the race so he had to run with the 6 year olds. He ran as fast as his little legs could carry him and crossed the line with a smile on his face! Skyler runs like a Gazelle and came in first and Lindsey also did excellent considering how nervous she was the night before. Both girls advanced to the Coastal Cross Country and they once again placed in the top 10. The Coastal Event  was true Cross Country!!! The  2km course consisted of hills, gravel roads and running 30 yard in thigh deep water. The kids had a blast and Brad and I loved sitting out there all afternoon watching these young kids run. The girls will now miss another afternoon of school as they represent the Coastal Schools at the Taranaki Cross Country Championship. They are very excited and Brad and I are so proud of them!!

The 12 year old girls heading up the first hill.

The nine year old girls at the start. 

Skyler running along the lake. 

Skyler heading up the first hill.

Lindsey running through the lake.

Lindsey coming down a very steep hill.

Skyler coming in first. 
Owen celebrated his Birthday 2 weeks ago with a trip to McDonalds and having 3 buddies over for a party.  We went down to the Skate Park so they could practice their scooter tricks!!

Brad spending his NZ Father's Day on his new Stand up paddle board. I was hoping to get a picture of him standing up on the board but those moments went by quickly!!!  Brad will be excellent at the sport by the time summer rolls around so hopefully he can show me how to use the board as the air and water temp. are way to cold for me this time of year.    

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Well we had an interesting week.  First our image of New Zealand as a paradise on earth free of any badness was shaken a bit but we finished the week with a fantastic road trip though the middle of the North Island.  The week started off us receiving an $800 electric bill for the month of July.  It was a fairly cold month for here and evidently a few of the floor heaters that we had purchased really chew through power.  No wonder they were so cheap.  I think we have things sorted out and hope to have a bill in the $200 - $300 range in the future.  When we had just about recovered from that shock I woke up one morning to go to a meeting at the hospital only to discover that someone had pinched our 1995 Honda odyssey, a sweet vehicle I'll have you know, right out of our driveway.  Of course we had left the keys and Jenny's wallet in it never imagining that it would be stolen.  It turned up about an hour later stuck on a dirt road about a mile from home, likely taken by some drunk @%$* in the middle of the night, with only the wallet and an old iPod missing.  A bit of a lesson in never letting your guard completely down but I cannot imagine this happening much here in Oakura.

Not letting that event get to us we cancelled the credit cards and packed up the mini van later that afternoon and took off on our planned trip to Rotorua.  Rotorua is situated in an area with lots of geothermal activity similar to Yellowstone and is also known as the heartland of Maori culture.  Being the biggest tourist destination on the north island there is also an abundance of  adventure activities, shows, and cultural experiences to attend.  I have heard it referred to as the Kiwi version of Las Vegas though there really is no comparison.   There are many beautiful lakes near Rotorua and one of our new friends here in Oakura lent us their family retreat on Okareka lake for the weekend.  Another example of the wonderful Kiwi generosity we have benefitted from.
Okareka Lake
One of the touristy shows we took in was an agriculture based one on a sheep farm.  (not quite Cirque du soleil in Vegas)

Skyler picking out dinner

I would have never guessed that there are 19 different types of sheep in NZ
 45 million sheep means 10 sheep for every person in New Zealand

 Next we took a gondola to a mountain overlooking Lake Rotorua for some exciting Luge runs
 Kind of like the alpine slide except you have to steer these and you can pass and bump other riders and they go quite fast.
 Owen was the speed demon, flying off the track several times.

 Owen and I chickened out on the sky swing.  I think they could hear Skyler's scream from Auckland
The neon of Roto"vegas"

 We did get to see a few Kiwi birds at a nightime bird sanctuary.  You have to be patient as they only come out at night.  Interesting that a country would choose a blind flightless defenseless bird as their national symbol.  Not all that intimidating.  New Zealand is likely the only place these animals could survive as there are really no predators, absolutely no snakes in the country not even zoos (one of my selling points to Jenny).  The biggest threat to Kiwis now are possums which were introduced by europeans and cause quite a problem here.
Thanks to the Wilsons for the use of their cabin

 The best mountain biking in NZ is also outside Rotorua in the Whakarewarewa forest.  Excellently created and maintained trails with everything from kids loops to the National downhill course where they hold international mountain biking races.  The kids are awesome on the trails.

 Also there is a spectacular redwood forest there.  These redwoods were brought over from California around a hundred years ago.  They apparently grow about 3 times faster here thanks to the climate and iron rich soil but with the rapid growth the wood is less dense and not as suitable for building with as the California redwoods.  There are also vast forests of pine down here that originated in North America and they have a pretty successful timber industry here as a result
Owen doing the Haka, or Maori war dance.  The farther you can stick out your tongue the more ferocious you are.

Their tongues aren't the only thing the warriors like to stick out.

Loads of geothermal activity in the central north island

 Some shots of NZ highway 30 on the way back to Oakura.

 As we are driving down the coast Mt Taranaki appeared like a ghost coming out of the sea.  A welcome sight as it means we are nearing home.

And of course another sunset over the Tasman
 We had an excellent weekend and on our return we got the great news that Jenny's wallet had been turned in to the police and all that was missing was the few bucks that she had in it.

Alls well that ends well right.
Try and pronounce this place