The Last and Longest New Zealand Blog

Our last 2 weeks in NZed were spent tiki-touring the North Island in a campervan.  We stayed at various ‘freedom camps’ and holiday parks and had some epic adventures and one expensive mistake. 

Upon leaving Ashburton our first stop was Christchurch to pick up the mercedes-benz ‘sprinter’ – our home away from home.  Gas stove, toilet, shower, large bed, the works.  It’s rather long though – 7 meters. 

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Our first stop was Kaikoura for some of the worlds best fish ’n chips.  I must say that in New Zealand, Fish n Chips (fush n chups) is far superior to the States in every measure.  We then stayed the night in Picton.  The following morning we (barely) caught the ferry across Cook Straight to the North Island.  Jonny hit the ‘off’ button instead of snooze on the alarm and we only made it to the ferry just as they were loading the campervans.  Close call!    Picton is on Queen Charlotte Sound – reminded me very much of the San Juan Islands in Washington.  Someday we will come back for the famous hike of the area too.

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The ferry made it’s way to Wellington after about 3.5 hours and the swells were quite tolerable.  Wellington looked beautiful without rain!

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Our first stop on the North Island was in Martinborough.  I wanted to see the Wairarapa wines but unfortunately it’s the wrong time of year.  The town was incredibly sleepy, but I imagine in the summer it’s a lot like Napa / Sonoma.  Instead of staying the night as originally planned, we pushed forward to find Stonehenge Aoteroa, a re-creation of stonehenge out of concrete.  Sadly, it too was closed, so we had to take a picture of it from the highway.  After thinking the day was a bust we actually found an amazing designer chocolate nearby at Schok chocolates.    Then we stayed the night in a holiday park in Masterton. 

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The next morning we traversed the Wairarapa area and saw many, many, many, many sheep.  There were even sheep on the golf courses.  Good luck with that guys.  Wonder if anybody has ever lost a golf ball in sheep’s wool? 

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As we were driving up highway 2 we came across the Tui brewery!  We didn’t buy any beer but we went to their museum.  It was pretty cool. 

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Next stop was Havelock North to meet Andrea’s friends (at their amazing cafe) and then off to Cape Kidnappers.  Apparently this was an area where Captain Cook’s Tahitian translator/guide was kidnapped by Maoris.  The afternoon was spent hiking Te Mata peak overlooking all of Hawkes Bay.  That evening we drove thru Napier and made our way to Taupo.

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The weather was not cooperating with us at Lake Taupo, so the pictures are a bust.  However, Jonny taught me all about pumice, the volcanic rock that floats.  We spent a long period of time the next morning throwing rocks into the lake from our campsite and watching them float away.

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That morning we went to Huka falls – a place where a shit ton of water is forced thru a very narrow area of rock, creating super rapids.  This is on the Waikato river, very close to the area where the “barrel” scenes from The Hobbit were filmed. 

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The North Island is super geothermically active.  There are geysers, mud pools, craters, hot springs, and volcanos all over the damn place.  The first of these wonders we visited was at a place called “Craters of the Moon.”

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Then it was on to Rotorua!  I’ve been looking forward to seeing Rotorua since we came to NZ because I actually was took a job here before accepting the position in Ashburton.  Fortunately that job fell thru, and I got to be in the South Island, but nonetheless I was excited to see it.  Rotorua is a major tourist destination in NZ for its hot springs and Maori cultural experiences.  We went directly to the famous Polynesian Spa.  Got to get our fill of ‘medicinal’ hot springs whilst overlooking Lake Rotorua. 

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The famous bath house now museum was, of course, a must see.  After that we went to Whakarewarewa (Fah-kah-ray-wah-ray-wah) – a ‘living Maori village.’  It was actually pretty cool.  This one particular tribe still has land that sits over a very geothermically active site, and they use it to their advantage, cooking and bathing in hot springs.  Unfortunately occasionally steam vents open up under their houses and they have to move.  We were treated to the Haka and a speech from the chief as well.  I know there’s a lot of different opinions about the Maori here in NZ, but I’m actually quite enamored by their culture.  I particularly like the language, and we got to learn a little at the village as well.

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To finish out the day we went to Wai-O-tapu “Geothermal Wonderland.”  Now not many of you may realize this, but Jonny is actually a geologist, getting his university degree in the topic.  He is a rock hound and LOVES volcanos and such.  He was like a kid in a candy shop.  I must admit that even I was impressed by the minerals that come out of the earth here.

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The next day was our biggest yet.  The Tongariro Alpine Crossing.  We booked a tour to hike this volcano in the winter, requiring crampons, ice-axes, and helmets.  It was quite the expedition.  The trail runs between two volcanoes – Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.  Mt Ngauruhoe is also known as Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings.  These are ACTIVE volcanoes covered with snow (ie high avalanche risk).  There were steam vents everywhere.  I totally felt like I should be carrying the One ring into the magma chamber.  In fact, the most recent eruption in 2012 took out the trampers hut (see holes in hut below).

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After the epic hiking day we decided to stay in a creepy-ass holiday park on the way to Wanganui.  Let’s just say the showers looked like they should be from a prison and the lights turned off right in the middle of my shower, I had to feel my way around, naked in the dark and freezing cold 25 ft to turn them on again.  Not cool Zeus.

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Then it was off to Taranaki!  I’ve wanted to see this volcano ever since I saw a picture of it in my colleagues office a year ago.  At first I mistook the picture for Mt. Hood.  This one is particularly impressive because it seems to come up out of nowhere.  Surrounded by flat farmland and then “BAM” volcano.  When we arrived at the national park the mountain was surrounded in clouds and other was predicted to worsen so I was convinced we wouldn’t get to see it… but then after a short hike the clouds seemed to part, just for us, and there she was in all her splendor (although I think the Maori think it’s actually a dude, but I feel like it’s a chick).  Then we spent the night in New Plymouth, and got to see their beautiful coastal walkway and famous pedestrian bridge.

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The next day, however, our plans came to a grinding halt.  We had booked in to go spelunking in a cave in Waitomo… but on our way there the unthinkable happened.  Jonny pulled in to a gas station to fill up the ole camper van and wound up filling the diesel tank with $120 worth of regular gasoline (petrol).  He was just on autopilot, and to his defense the petrol here comes in a green nozzle (similar to the diesel in the US).  I was in the station buying potato chips and tea and he comes running in with a look on his face like he accidentally ran over a puppy… “Baby I fucked up bad.”  I knew what had happened before he even told me.  We had to call a tow truck and beg the diesel mechanic in town to drain the gas out on a Sunday.  And let me tell you guys… nothing in New Zealand is open on a Sunday.  It was a Christmas miracle this guy agreed to help us.  Unfortunately it cost us more to drain the fuel tank than it did to rent the campervan in the first place.  I snapped these photos for posterity (Jonny is gonna be pissed!).

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It took the better portion of the day sorting out the diesel vs petrol fiasco, but we got on our way again and stayed the night in a campground outside of Waitomo.  Now the reason this area is so special is because of a very long underground cave with a stream flowing thru it.  A lot of people, “blackwater” raft the cave – but I was not very interested in getting wet and frozen in the middle of the winter – so we went rappelling / spelunking instead.  It was amazing!  We basically rappelled 100m into the caves.  And best of all, there were GLOW WORMS!  These things are creepy little maggots that emit light from their butts to attract other bugs to get stuck on these strings that hang down from them and then they eat them.  Then they sit around for 9 months until they become large mosquito-like things that only live for 3 days before they mate and die (often eaten by their offspring).  They’re freaking bizarre but I really like the way they look like stars in the night sky of the caves. 

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As it was on our way to Coromandel, after our caving adventure we went to…. wait for it… HOBBITON!  Yes, the shire lives on outside a town called Matamata on a sheep farm.  It’s now a major tourist trap partly owned by the farmers, Peter Jackson, and Warner Brothers.  Apparently after The Lord of the Rings the site became rather run down, but they permanently rebuilt it for The Hobbit and now there’s even a mock up Green Dragon pub there that caters to weddings and such.  It’s a lovely over-priced tourist trap, complete with baby lambs!  But, let’s be honest, most of New Zealand looks like The Shire so don’t worry if you aren’t able to visit Hobbiton itself.

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We pressed on into the Coromandel peninsula and stayed 2 days at a Top 10 Holiday Park at Hot Water Beach.  Coromandel is a wonderfully scenic area complete with famous Kauri trees and crazy blue water.  It’s not really the right time of year to visit, as it rained and was quite cold/windy, but I can imagine in the summer this is THE place to be in NZed.  Hot Water Beach is this interesting spot where a hot spring comes up thru the sand right at the beach.  During low tide you can dig a spot out in the sand and soak in warm water.  This is an amazing experience except for 2 things: 1 – there’s not actually a lot of spots to dig and 2 – ‘low’ tide is different at different times of year and times of the day.  Our low tides occurred at 8am and 8pm.  We decided to hit the 8am low tide, seeing as how the 8pm would be dark.  Unfortunately the ocean didn’t want to fully cooperate and kept sweeping away the pools everyone had dug.  But for a while it was pretty sweet.  Then this guy tried to take a picture of the both of us and wound up dropping our camera in the water.  So after that point we only had phone pictures (of one of the most scenic areas of NZed.  Oh well).  Cathedral Cove was quite a tasty meatball too.

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It was near here that the seagulls thought they could get the better of us and our tasty pastries.

The next day we drove around the rest of the Coromandel peninsula and thru Auckland – where we stopped to look for a new camera.  Sadly there were too many options and I could not make up my mind so I stuck with the ole phone camera for the rest of the trip.  We stayed the night in a campground near Tutukaka on the northernmost part of New Zealand.  Why, praytell?  Because the next morning we went

DIVING!

The Poor Knights are a set of islands outside of Tutukaka bay – nobody knows why they were named that by Captain Cook.  They are home to some stunning undersea life and ecosystems.  They were also once home to a tribe of Maoris that were massacred for not sharing their pigs with other tribes.  It was my first ever cold-water dive.  The first dive was miserable – my mask wouldn’t seal and then I had holes in my booties so my feet were frozen.  I didn’t want to go back in for a second dive but somebody gave me their dive socks and a new mask and low-and-behold it was amazing down there!  There was even a sub-surface cave that we could breath in (weird breathing without a mask at 10m below sea level).  We saw an eagle ray, a sting ray, and lots and lots and lots of nudibranchs.  I don’t know why people love nudibranchs (think little colorful sea slugs) but it was heaven for enthusiasts.  It was 14*C the whole time (57* F).  I had a 7mm wetsuit and a vest on and still required 5 hot chocolates to revive me.

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After diving we drove to Paihia, a sassy and amazing beach town at the Bay of Islands.  This was so that we could visit one of New Zealand’s most hallowed places, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.  It’s where the Mauri and the English signed a treaty basically granting the Mauris England’s protection in exchange for allowing the Brits to be there.  Unfortunately it was somewhat misinterpreted by both sides and ultimately caused heartache (and is still in contention today).  It is considered New Zealand’s founding document.  There’s a beautiful park there, historical buildings, and of course a Marae.  We were again treated to a cultural show and the Haka!  We also got to play cricket!

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We were also treated to tons of Tuis.  A Tui is an awesome bird with an amazing vocal range and a cute tuft of white on its chest.  I couldn’t get a picture of one but I got a video of one making noises.  This is somebody else’s picture.

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After this we headed to see the ancient Kauri trees.  These have origins in the Jurassic Period and although most of them were cut down for timber, there is now a robust conservation effort underway.  They are magnificent trees.  This one has a Mauri name – as most of them do because they’ve been around for so long.  Tāne Mahuta – the lord of the forest.  It’s trunk is 42.5ft around and it’s height is 168 feet.

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We then drove back to Auckland and stayed for a few nights.  We wanted a lasting souvenir of our time spent in this amazing country – so we got tattoos.  I got a fern leaf with Mauri design and color like a paua shell.  Jonny got an awesome kiwi bird/fern leaf/yin yang mix.  My foot tattoo hurt like a son-of-a-bitch.  All my other tattoos were nothing compared to this.  Here is an ‘after’ picture – I was a bit fried after an hour of shooting nerve pain.

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We also went to an awesome little food festival along the waterfront, and went up the Sky Tower.  I kept calling it the Auckland Space Needle.

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Our last day in NZ we went to a lovely brunch and a museum.  Then we paid $900 to send our 6 bags home with us.  Aye carumba!  I love Air New Zealand but that’s more than a ticket for a person!  I have no idea how we accumulated so much stuff.  I hope it all goes to good use.

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And, well, that’s it.  Our trip home was uneventful and we were greeted by our families at the airport.  We then had a big steak dinner and it felt oddly like we had never left – which is, I suppose, what home should be.  It’s good to be back – but it’s hectic.  I feel as if I have 10 million things that need to get done, whereas in New Zealand I never had the feeling like I had to be doing something.  I could relax at home and not feel guilty that I wasn’t out getting more done.  We’ve now moved back to the greater Portland area (Vancouver, Washington, to be exact) and tomorrow I get my first glimpse of the clinic I’ll be working at for the foreseeable future.  I don’t know if we’ll be spending any more prolonged periods overseas – but I do know that we’ll always have New Zealand as one of our fondest memories.  Thank you to everyone who made this past year (plus) possible.  It literally took a village to get us here and a village to get us back and we’ll never forget what sacrifices had to be made by all involved.

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New Zealand – Done and Dusted

And good as gold.  Sweet as!  We had heaps of fun, loads of life experiences, and lots of tasty lamb.  Genuinely sad to say goodbye.  Tah Aoteroa.  Kia Ora!

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Farewell Ash-burr-ton, the ton of Ashbur, Ashbur-by-the-ton

Just a quick little ditty here to say goodbye to my peeps in Ashburton, the lovely dairy town in the middle of the South Island that supported us for over a year.  We’ll miss your gum boots, your smiles, and your very odd weather patterns.  I’ll always remember the awesomeness of Sealy St. and the wonderful people who work their asses off every day to make it the best clinic in town (and I’ve heard this from many patients on my weekend calls).  Mick + Murray – you guys rock and made it easy to transition to NZ medicine. Jude + Shirley + Ann-Marie + Karlyn + Jane – you are fantastic nurses and worth your weight in gold.  Kaye + Andrea + Karen + Helen + Katie + Fiona + Lee – you run that place like a well-oiled machine and make it fun to work there.

You guys restored my faith in primary care, and for that I thank you times infinite.

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We will especially miss our second family, the Flannigans, whose antics and hilarity were only outdone by their love of softball.  We wish you all the best.

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To our quiz-mates, the saviors of the weekday – we bid you a fond farewell but hope that Mr. Secret Squirrel lives on in you.  Keep up the good work for us.  Oh and beat the Tarrys.

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To Richelle and her band of merry misfits – keep softball in Ashburton alive.  Maybe someday we’ll be back for another season!  Also, don’t forget about our plan for world domination by opening a health spa back in the states.

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Andrea – don’t forget to visit us in the states for an epic master chef battle between Jonny and you.  We’ll even try to find you Kiwi ingredients.  Loved your American burger, btw.

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And lastly, of course, Fluffytail.  We have no idea who owned you and fed you, but we were happy to be your family and a warm bed on a cold night when you needed it.  We don’t even know your real name.  For some reason you knew we needed a kitty and you came to keep us company when we were sometimes homesick.  Thanks Fluffytail!

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Thanks Ashburton.  There are many others I haven’t the time to post about today, but you are always in our hearts.  Now it’s your turn to visit Portland!

 

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Things are coming to a close

Well, the cat is out of the bag now.  I’ve taken a position back in Vancouver, WA at Providence to work as a family physician.  I chose the location mainly to work alongside one of my best friends – Cara, and because of the benefits and hours.  I start in late September.  That means that Jonny and I are already starting to do some packing and figure out our journey home.  We actually just had to move out of our recent home to make way for the doc who will be taking over my position, and we will be leaving Ashburton for good in mid-August.  After that we plan a small sojourn over the North Island before flying across the biggest pond.

This little country has made a big place in our hearts.  The way a lot of things seem bass-ackwards here is extremely endearing, and the people are tough, proud, and kind.  They’re also a bit sheltered and not as well off as most Americans.  Sheltered in the sense that many have not had to deal with crime.  Sure there’s petty theft and the occasional assault, but rarely do you lock your doors here and never would you think a potential intruder to have a gun.  Handguns are illegal.  If people think someone has a handgun, even if it’s a toy/airsoft, the cops get called.  Everyone is vigilant in that sense.  When I say they’re not as well off – it’s that many do not have luxuries.  This is because it costs so damn much for the basic necessities – gasoline, rent, food, clothes – all ridiculous in comparison to the states.  People spend their wages on living and as such don’t have the extra to, say, have cable or internet or a smart phone.  Those are luxuries.  I’m not talking about the lowest in socioeconomic status, I’m talking about the middle class.  All that being said, though, they have different priorities.  Many save so that they can travel for a month of the year.  Others send their children to private schools or buy a lot of insurance (it’s odd the amount of insurance sold here).  But they don’t have to pay for healthcare… unless they want to.  There’s a public system and a private system.  You are covered under the public system but might have to wait for non-urgent care (it can take years to get a knee replacement).  If you want to buy health insurance, you’ll be seen quickly and your elective surgeries will be covered… and it’s still WAY cheaper than insurance in the United States.  Taxes are between 15-30% of your salary depending on amount earned, and then you also pay into the “ACC” – which is a nationalized insurance of accident-related injuries.  Overall they do a good job at governing.  New Zealand is only about 5 million people.  Less than most US states.  They manage to provide everything they need and have excellent social support structures.  They also have a military, a university system, and have made themselves an amazing tourist destination.  For such a small place, they’ve certainly managed to make a place for themselves in the world.  I’m quite amazed by them.

When we go back to the states there’s a lot I will miss, but some things I won’t.

Top 10 things I will miss – The Southern Cross, lolly cake. a distinct lack of natural predators, baby lambs, men in short-shorts year round, hokey pokey, The Haka, blanket warmers, not stopping for pedestrians, and four-beers-at-a-time rule at sporting events.

Top 10 Things I won’t miss about New Zealand – Camper vans on the single lane highways, tomato sauce, heat pumps, not being able to turn left on a red light (would be a right in the states), $50/kg limes, single-pane windows, not stopping for pedestrians, the same breakfast menu everywhere, rugby zealots, and Northerlies/Southerlies (the infamous Canterbury winds).

We’ve been doing a few things here and there lately, but mostly prepping ourselves for the long journey back into our state-side lives.  We took a hiatus and now must figure out how to re-enter the bustling American society which is decidedly and infinitely more pressured than the Kiwi lifestyle.  I hope we don’t have culture shock.

2 weeks ago we went back to Tekapo to do the hot springs again one last time.  It had snowed the previous day and it was magical.

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Yesterday we went to see The All Blacks take on Argentina.  This is a huge deal here – rugby dominates the landscape and television in NZ.  The All Blacks won the rugby world cup in 2011 and are hoping to do it again this year as well.  It’s crazy that a tiny country can produce such a world class rugby team.  By far my favorite part of each All Blacks game is the Haka.  It’s a kind of a warrior dance originated by the Maoris.  According to wikipedia – “In former times, the peruperu was performed before a battle in order to invoke the god of war and to discourage and frighten the enemy. It involved fierce facial expressions and grimaces, poking out of the tongue, eye bulging, grunts and cries, and the waving of weapons.”  It is super intimidating and it always gives me the chills.  Here’s a video we captured of the All Blacks doing the haka last night.

“Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!  Will I die, Will I die

Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!  Will I live, Will I live

Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru  This is the hairy man

Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā Who brought the sun and caused it to shine

Ā, upane! ka upane! A step upward, another step upward!

Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra A step upward, another… the Sun shines!”

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Welling-tons-of-fun! (Also – how to impress people with cutlery)

Since we last talked Jonny and I have taken several more adventures.  Realizing we’re nearing the end of our year here – we’ve set out to do a few more last minute things.  The plan, as it stands, is to return stateside in early September.  I was initially contracted thru mid-July, but in order to facilitate a smooth transfer to the oncoming locum, I’ve decided to stay a little longer at Sealy St.  Then, for the last two weeks of August we will be traveling the North Island by campervan, and from there back to…. Portland.  More specifically Vancouver (Washington, not Canada, eh).

I know what you’re saying, “Vancouver?!  What the fresh hell?!”  And you’d be right – but I’ve got the opportunity to work with my SFAM Cara at a clinic there.  Also, no state income tax.  The deal isn’t final yet, but I think there’s a very good chance we’ll be Washingtonians come the fall.  I will keep you posted.

So what have we been up to?  Making weapons, eating, working out, and hitting up Wellington.  A couple of weeks ago we took an all-day knife-making course on the West Coast.  We are both now proud owners of hand-made carbon steel knives with red pine handles.  I think mine is better but Jonny doesn’t have to know.

Step 1:  Get a big chunk of steel.

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Step 2: Insert said steel into very hot coal.

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Step 3: Beat the shit out of hot steel with a hammer.

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Step 4: Cut off the end and make a handle

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Step 5: hammer some pegs thru your handle so it doesn’t fall off.  Put brass on, it’s pretty.

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Step 6: shave it down a little bit so it remotely resembles a knife

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Step 7:  Take a lunch break with the ponies and then try the giant swing.

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Step 8: have the real knifemaker fix your knife a little bit whilst you’re at lunch

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Step 9: determine the final shape of the knife, then grind it down .  Mine was a drop point (top).

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Step 10: sand the sweet bejeebus out of it until it’s nice and shiny

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Step 11: put a stain on the handle

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Step 12:  Hand buff it with more sandpaper and then let the knifemaker sharpen it.  Tell the bird how awesome your knife is.  Show it off to everybody and accidentally cut yourself (as I did).

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And that’s how to make a knife.

Then the next day you explore the West coast including Pancake Rocks and Castle Hill

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Find the irony in this donut… in Springfield NZ.

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Then, this most recent weekend was the Queen’s Birthday weekend.  It’s not actually her birthday, but that’s when the Kiwis celebrate it – and for the first time in my life I actually uttered the words, “God Save The Queen”  Thanks for the extra day off so we could go to Wellington.  It felt so nice to be in a city with glorious shopping and amazing restaurants.  I never realized how much I was actually suffering from urban withdrawal.

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The highlight(s) of the trip was the Gallipoli exhibit at the Te Papa museum and the Weta Workshop (the people who made all the props for the Lord of the Rings… and the life-like giant soldiers of the Gallipoli exhibit).  Gallipoli is a big fucking deal around here – source of national pride.  I didn’t realize how much of an impact it had on this country.  This was a really great exhibit at their national museum.  Also, it’s 100% free for anyone to see.  I love that.  Good on ya, NZ.

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The Weta Workshop was what you would expect – lots of artists doing cool things like making sculptures and weaponry and such.  They wouldn’t let us take pictures inside, sadly – but we got a few good ones.

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And so ends another thrilling edition of DocoftheDay.  Not sure what comes next, as winter is coming.  Snowboarding?  Ice-skating?  Rugby?  Time will tell.

 

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I <3 Fiji

After a grueling few weeks at work where the double-bookings never seemed to end and the ACC paperwork piled up like traffic before a holiday weekend, we finally got a real vacation.  One where you actually need to get on an airplane.  I love airporting about and being adventurous.  Fiji was the perfect destination.

Unlike in the states where flying somewhere tropical means going to a safe and generally Americanized area, Fiji is only a 3.5 hour flight from New Zealand and is by far the least touristy-tourist-trap I’ve ever been.  Fiji banks on its tourism, so they still cater as best they can to discerning traveller… but the people there have comparatively little money and as such also don’t give a fuck about your feelings being hurt.  It’s refreshing.

We arrived in Nadi (pronounced “Nandy”) and got off the airplane only to be serenaded by thousands of obnoxious squawking birds who inhabit the airport grounds.  We found our way thru customs where everybody proclaims, “Bula!” (hello) and wears skirts.  Even the men-folk in their ties and blazers are in skirts and flip flops.  We stayed our first night in Fiji at a backpackers on the beach next to the airport.  Because the internet was down, they couldn’t check us in – so asked us to have some drinks at the bar and leave our suitcases in the middle of everything and not to worry about them whilst we waited.  We were offered Kava to drink (‘grog’) and there were kittens and dogs laying all over the place so basically we just made ourselves at home and enjoyed the evening.  Eventually we got our room which was $30 US for the night (double bed and our own bathroom) and it felt like we were cheating to find such a bargain.  They even gave us a free cab ride from the airport!  Great hospitality.  The following morning we took a bus to our new home for the week, Pacific Harbour, and The Uprising Beach Resort.

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This place was great.  It only cost about $650 US for six nights stay in our own two bedroom Villa.  The resort was right on the beach, had a fantastic pool, and free breakfast!  It also had its own rugby field.  This is important because during our stay the Fiji Rugby Seven’s team also stayed at the resort and practiced.  I like having well-chiseled shaved-legged rugby men prancing about!  The national news was there every day interviewing them, so each night we could watch the television and see the very place and guests we saw played back to us.  Nice touch.

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Our first three days in Pacific Harbour consisted of diving all morning and sunning all afternoon.  We invented a new game of throwing a frisbee in the water and making diving catches for it – makes you feel like a professional because you can flail around and generally not injure yourself.  It was truly blissful.

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We had some great dives.  Six in all, four coral dives and two shark dives.  The shark dives were incredible!  Generally in scuba diving you are extremely lucky to see even one shark.  Usually it would be the talk of the dive – everybody would come up and be like, “OMFG did you see that (really tiny and far away) shark?!”.  Well, these dives saturated you with sharks.  I thought I would be scared because there were no cages or anything, but I felt oddly calm.  It was almost like my brain didn’t think there was any danger because I’d watched them so many times on the discovery channel. Being surrounded by more than 30 bull sharks didn’t phase me.  Here I was, no longer the apex predator, and instead of fleeing I was really keen to try to pet one instead.  Very odd feeling.

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Basically what happened was they would surround the tourist divers with professional shark stick handlers.  These dude’s jobs were to A) poke sharks that got too close and B) make sure the tourists didn’t try to pet the sharks.  They would lower a large garbage can full of frozen tuna heads and let the bait out piece by piece.  Often, the sharks weren’t the ones who actually got the fish, but groupers and other little fish instead.  It didn’t seem to matter though, the sharks enjoyed themselves just the same.

 

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The days we didn’t dive we were either A) reading on the beach or B) travelling to Suva.  Suva is the capital of Fiji.  We accidentally took the regular (non-express bus) from our hotel to Suva.  Instead of 45 minutes, it took 1.5 hours, but the experience was awesome.  We got to see the real Fiji, which I’m extremely grateful for.  These people work for the equivalent of $2 US per hour or less and somehow still make ends meet.  In fact, they don’t really seem ‘poor.’  They have their villages and their families and smiles on their faces.  I felt guilty for taking up a seat on the public bus though, as I could have afforded a nicer form of travel and there would have been more space for the locals.  Almost everybody travels by bus – the roadways are basically full of buses and taxis.  In Suva we went to the museum and the marketplace.  My favorite part of the museum was the cannibal exhibit.  Fiji used to have a cannibalistic tribal society where it was thought that your buildings would be stronger if the pillars stood on the bones of your enemies.  They had specialized forks for eating humans, and apparently we taste like pork.  There was even a diagram on how to prepare human.

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I had the best Indian food of my life in Suva.  I didn’t know it, but half of Fiji’s population is Indian.  The British (god bless ’em and their nation-taking) brought Indians to Fiji as cheap (free) labor and the ones who stayed sort of repopulated the islands.  So there’s this really cool blend of Pacifica and Indian cultures there.  I’m not entirely sure if they like each other (I got the feeling that each set of cultures keeps to itself), but they sure have some fantastic fusion food.

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Overall Fiji was a success.  Now I am back at work longing for the days of sunshine and pina coladas.  Plus I’m stressing about finding a new job back in the states – it’s not for lack of jobs but for lack of me knowing myself and knowing what will work best for me and my family.  I wish I could say I love being a doctor but I don’t.  I don’t think any of my colleagues could say they love it either.  It’s our career and we are passionate about it, but most of us would tell other people never to become a doctor.  The system (in the states) has become such that there is little autonomy and a huge expectation placed on the primary care physician to work magic within 15 minutes.  Primary care doctors long to help everyone in every possible way which becomes infinitely frustrating when there are so many people to look after.  Searching for a job for me is kind of like looking for the least of all evils.  It’s disheartening.  I wish I could open a little practice and do my own thing and never have to bother with insurance or corporate entities but there is no such thing anymore.  Or if there was, I wouldn’t have the know-how to do it.  They don’t teach business in medical school, and doctors are purposefully kept in the dark by large HMOs about coding and the money aspects of medicine else they would probably attempt a coup.  Here in Kiwi-land I work for a private practice and I’m still confined by the limits of the government on what they will and won’t pay for in terms of medical care.  It’s infinitely better in many ways (and I will blog about those when it comes closer to the time I leave) but at the same time requires a lot of finesse and can be exhausting in its own right.

But enough of my tirade.  I suppose my challenge will be to find a way to make the most out of the position I take and be content knowing I’m helping a few people along the way.  And I like challenges.

I leave you with this picture of me and the cat watching bird videos after a hard day’s work.

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Has it been 9 months already?

Yeah, I know.  It’s been a long time.  I haven’t forgotten the blog – life just got busy around here.  Honestly we’ve done so much in the last few months that I have a hard time choosing what to post about.  Also, the readership dropped to next-to-nothing starting back in December and I think part of me just felt it was too much work.  But it’s a good outlet, and honestly I like going back and re-reading my posts, so I’m gonna try to pick it back up again. 

Summer was busy here in the South Island and now it is creeping in to Autumn.  The leaves are starting to fall and the rains are returning.  Softball season ended two weeks ago and it was a truly spectacular ending.  Our team won by a run in the semi-finals and held our own against undefeated Hampstead in the final game.  We lost in the last inning due to a few mishaps but it was definitely fun.  And, of course, lots of yelling and drama which I have come to expect in Kiwi sports.  It’s serious shit, even the guy who is our usual umpire started yelling at the umpire we brought up from Timaru for the championship game.  Most excellent.  Here’s a picture of Jonny holding the trophy we didn’t win 🙂

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We also participated in the “Relay for Life” – our clinic has a team that walks all night to support cancer research.  Jonny was a real hit.  It was actually amazing to see the entire clinic get behind this thing.  In the states, it would be nye impossible to get an entire clinic to show up on their weekend to walk all night as a fundraiser.  The peeps from my clinic here, Sealy St, not only showed up but opened their own ‘American Hotdog” stand, selling snacks all thru the night and donating that money to charity as well.  Talk about taking ownership of your patients – it was truly enlightening and refreshing.  I guess that’s what happens when you like your job and the entire clinic works (hard) for their patients, together.  The don’t need the “patient centered medical home” model here, they live it every day and it’s second nature. 

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Last weekend was Easter.  In NZ it’s a FOUR DAY HOLIDAY.  God bless them.  Friday thru Monday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and/or fertility and the return of life after winter.  It’s kind of funny though, since a lot of Easter is about renewal and Spring time and cute baby animals and stuff – but it’s heading towards dark and cold here.  In fact, daylight savings started on Easter Sunday.  They also have a huge rabbit shoot on Easter weekend due to the need to cull the population.  How do they explain that Easter tradition to the children?

For our Easter the husband and I decided to go back to Fiordland and see Milford Sound, followed by a 3 day hike of the Kepler Track.  I’m not sure you’ve ever been privy to the sensation that something is so stunning that it’s not real, but that was Milford Sound.  I literally couldn’t fathom a place so majestic.  I’m so glad we made the 9 hour drive to see it.  I thought it was going to be too touristy but I don’t think anything could really get in the way of the awe.  It could have been crawling with tourists and my jaw still would have dropped. 

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And did I mention Dolphins?  Yeah, those too.

The following day we set out on our second “Great Walk.”  New Zealand has nine Great Walks.  They pour money into these hiking trails and they draw a large amount of people from all over the world to trek them.  It makes me wish we funded our parks in the states like they do here.  The Kepler was actually built to ease traffic off of the Miflord Sound track, which is called “the most beautiful walk in the world.”  The Kepler did not disappoint.  We did the four day trek in 2.5 days, which meant my little legs worked overtime.  We didn’t get to see any Kiwis (as they are nocturnal), but we could hear them at night from our campsite!  There are no scary animals in New Zealand so you felt nice and safe laying in your tent listening to the birds.  Bumps in the night pose no threat, which makes it easier to sleep.  The only thing that takes away from the experience is the sandflies.  Those fuckers must have been put on the earth specifically to prevent people from ever populating that portion of the world.  Think mosquito, but smaller, very difficult to see, and their bites create little blisters that itch for weeks on end.  We must have had one in our tent the last night because I woke up with multiple bites on my lip, forehead, and neck.  Hooray for going to work looking like an acne-covered 13-year-old!  The one on my neck kind of looks like a hicky, so that will be a nice gossip creator (yes, can be a problem as a small-town GP). 

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And there were SO MANY MUSHROOMS.  We did not eat them, but some of them seemed like they could be fairly psychoactive.  So that’s fun!  I started to try to photograph the many different types but then I just got saturated and gave up.  Did I mention this place is a rainforest?

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And this weekend we were again in Hanmer Springs. I love that little town.  The lot of land we wanted to buy is still there, price reduced!  Who wants to chip in?  Just 175k NZ could buy us a slice of heaven.  Here is what the view would be like.

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Alright my loved ones – hope all is well back in the States.  We will see you soon, in August, back in PDX.  We love it here and I’ll miss it immensely once we’re gone – but some things are meant to be tasted in moderation.  I think we’d grow soft living here in the sheltered world of leaving-the-doors-unlocked and no-traffic-except-slow-tractors.

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South Island Swarm

After what sounds like a flight from hell, Mom and friends arrived in Christchurch looking a bit haggard just over a week ago.  Apparently the Airbus that Air Fiji operates from LAX to Nadi was made as economy as a long-haul aircraft can be (next time, take Air New Zealand).  They said that they much preferred the 737 than this modern day heavy.  Poor mom had to take her oxygen which took up all of her foot space.  They required enough oxygen concentrator batteries to last twice the length of the plane flight – this meant an extra 25lbs of weight for mom to carry as well.  Flying with oxygen is so difficult (because of rules, etc) that most people don’t even try. “I must love you a whole lot to do this” was the first thing she said when she got out of customs.  I drove the ladies around Christchurch (mom, my aunt June, Sandy, and Sallie) and took them to see the Botanical gardens and some of the earthquake damage.  Then it was off to Ashburton for the evening to tuck them in to bed after their 24 hours of travel.

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The next day we started our epic road trip.  Packing the minivan we had borrowed was like a tetris game.  Think 6 people for 7 days, lots of shit to bring along.  We then drove first to Timaru, along the ocean, and had lunch overlooking Caroline Bay.  After this it was a brief stop in Oamaru for some beer and a nice view.
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We got to Dunedin that evening and checked in to our respective hotels.  Jonny and I stayed at a B&B that had TWO cats.  So much fun.  one came in to the bedroom and hung out with us.  Most awesome.  Dunedin is great, an old Scottish settlement complete with big churches and museums-a-plenty.  We even found our way to the New Zealand Cadbury Chocolate Factory.  There’s a ridiculous part of the tour where 1 ton of chocolate is poured out of a vat hanging from the ceiling, but you only get to see it if the whole group yells, “we want chocolate!” as loud as you can.  So we did that, and one guy leaned in and got a finger-full of chocolate only to be informed by the tour guide that they reuse the same chocolate over and over again for 12 months.  Dumbass.  Anyway we walked away with more chocolate bars than we know what to do with.
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The next day was dedicated to driving to Manapouri, a very small town along a lake that was established when they were building the Manapouri hydroelectric power station.  The story of this place is amazing, including digging a tunnel from the lake to the ocean using one of those huge boring machines that dug the chunnel.  How they ever got all that shit to the most remote part of New Zealand I’ll never know.
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The following day we took an amazing boat tour of Doubtful Sound.  It was more picturesque than Hawaii and more pristine than Crater Lake.  There were sea lions, penguins, and dolphins as well.  You couldn’t have asked for a better day – definitely the highlight of our trip.
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Off to Queenstown the following morning.  You may recall that Jonny and I have been there before, but it’s just as awe inspiring the second time around.  You just can’t believe this country, everywhere you go there’s something more breathtaking than anywhere else in the world.  Why would someone ever want to leave?
We took the TSS. Earnslaw, an old coal-fired steamer ship across Lake Wakatipu.  My favorite part was watching the ‘stokers’ shovel coal into the fires and watching the steam engine do its thing.  Fascinating.  A vineyard tour of the Gibbston Valley also proved fruitful as we obtained 4 bottles of wine.  It’s very young in comparison to most wine growing regions, but it’s on the same parallel as needed for a good pinot noir and for the most part we weren’t dissappointed.  One of the vineyards even had a cat in the tasting room!  We shopped a ton in Queenstown as well.  It’s such a tourist trap that you hardly ever get to talk to a real Kiwi there anyway.   Jonny and I stayed at this cheap-ass motel called Reavers.  The name says it all – as in, ‘you might be eaten by rapist cannibals in the night if you stay here.’  Oh well, survived.
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And FINALLY I got to see A REAL LIFE KIWI BIRD.  Ok, it was in a bird life reserve but I’ve been waiting to see one since we moved here.  Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take pictures but I can tell you that it was super cute, much bigger than I thought, and can jump really high!  They’re nocturnal so we could only see them under very small amount of red light (which they can’t see).  The kiwis at the park are kept in the dark during the day and bright lights at night to switch their clocks so us tourists can see them.  It was totally worth the ridiculous $43 to see them.  Now I want to save all the kiwis.  This isn’t my picture, but as you can tell they’re super cute and super quirky, just like me.
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It was mums birthday on 7 March and she decided she wanted chili for her birthday dinner.  Kiwis don’t really have chili, so Jonny made home-made American chili for her and we had lovely little cupcakes as well.  It was a relaxed Kiwi birthday.
The following day (mom’s American birthday) we drove to Wanaka (see a previous post about this) and then past lakes Pukaki and Tekapo on our way back to Ashburton.  Now I must return to work.  Luckily here in NZ they make sure to get a locums to cover for you when you go on vacation, so unlike in the states you don’t go back to a horrific amount of work.  Now mom and friends (sans June who headed back to the states already) will continue their South Island journey, heading to Kaikoura and Abel Tasman over the next few days.  I hope it’s fantastic Ladies!
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All in all, I’d say it was a successful trip.  It is a tad bit stressful organizing 4 LOLs in NAD (little old ladies in no apparent distress) to all do the same things at the same time, but we made it.  Jonny has been a real trooper, driving us everywhere and putting up with all our shit.  Love that man.
I’ll have more to post about later (like Eddie Izzard, floral print men’s wear, and our inability to obtain Burning Man Tickets ) but this is it for now.

 

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Kiwi Potpourri

Yesterday was Valentines day.  My LOML (love of my life) got me some roses and chocolates.  He said, “supposedly there’s a possibility of getting a golden ticket in the chocolate box” at the same time I opened it.  We both stared down into the little heart shaped box at the folded up piece of yellow paper sitting there.  “Is that the golden ticket?” I asked.  Jonny shrugged and looked puzzled.  I opened it up to find this –

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We got the golden ticket!  For $100 of free fancy chocolates from the chocolatier in town!  Happy Valentines day indeed.

I was on call the rest of the day – and it was surprisingly tolerable.  Weekend call consists of being there for acute visits and also running a twice daily 2 hour emergency clinic.  People show up with various lacerations or infections and ideally nobody else calls you out during the rest of the day but that’s generally not the case.  But after 7pm yesterday I heard not a whisper, and it was luxurious.  I really hate being, “on call.”  Somehow I’d rather just be at work.  You spend the entire day dreading that the phone is going to ring instead of enjoying the time you’re supposed to have to yourself.  I get so paranoid that I bring the phone with me to the bathroom.  I guess that’s why we use pagers back in the states, but I’ll never be able to carry a pager again.  PTSD from residency.  I can’t tell you how many times I threw that pager into the trash can out of frustration only to have to go dig it out again, wash it off, and fake-cheerfully call the number displayed on the front.

Anyway, today is Sunday and it’s oddly cold and grey outside.  In fact, the high today will be in the upper 50s… not summery at all.  Jonny and I have become tea-drinkers and we’ve been sucking down the warmth all morning trying to figure out why the hell it’s so Portlandy out.  I’ve given up coffee for a while but if this weather persists I’ll be back on the bean in no time.

So what else has been going on?  Not a tonne of adventures lately.  My aunt, mom, and two of her friends (Sandy and Sally) are coming to visit in 2 weeks and I will finally have an actual week off of work (that’s right, I haven’t had a true vacation in 7 months).  We’re going to do a tour of the South Island.  I’m trying to convince myself to bungee jump in Queenstown but I’m not sure.

Last weekend we played in a softball tournament in Rolleston.  You may remember that I hate Rolleston because of how mean they’ve been to us in previous times.  Well I must say that they were a lot more polite this time around and even made us a bbq at the end.  The one guy that I hate didn’t play, and I guess I’m not as mad at them any more.  They thought that we were bringing an elite mid-canterbury women’s softball team to play them and they wound up killing us in the women’s division 25 to 4.  It makes me laugh because there were only 3 women on our team under the age of 40 and we’d never played together before in our lives.  We don’t really steal bases or run fast and were mostly just there for a good time.  The Rolleston team was young and big – like could hit home runs over the fence big, and even though they crushed us we actually were quite happy with how we performed.  Good on ya, ladies!  In the end, however, our Ashburton teams won the tournament (the mixed team and the mens team both won).  Jonny had some stellar hits and plays.  He’s a beast.

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Also in softball news our regular team (The Rebels) got new helmets!  The 3 Japanese players on the team decided they needed some warpaint and made some stickers for them.  We love the new look, it’s quirky and somewhat English-as-a-second-language-esque.

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In other news I have discovered that the quasi-adopted cat loves to watch bird and mouse videos!  I’ve never had a cat that watched TV before, and it’s quite the treat to have her sit and purr in your lap whilst occasionally pawing at non-existent birds flying off the screen.

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It was during one such sitting this week when the cat and I were happy as, watching birds, minding our own business, when THIS walked out onto the couch right next to us.  Like RIGHT next to us.  I don’t know how the hell it got in the house.  Nor do I know if it was trying to kill me or the cat.  But it is one of the only types of poisonous spiders in New Zealand and it doesn’t make webs, it stalks its prey instead.  The White Tailed Spider.  Jonny captured it and I put it outside, but sweet baby jeebus it’s a scary motherfucker.

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Lastly, we had a lovely time at the beach in Timaru with SamAndy, Ginger, and Ophelia.  I got to try boogie-boarding for the first time.  Unfortunately one needs a wet-suit to swim at the beach here in NZ, so I was a bit under dressed.

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A brief word of warning to those awaiting our return – we have decided we might do some more traveling.  Likely we will still be based out of Portland but we have been inspired to try more new and exciting places, so Alaska and Hawaii are on our lists.  Not to worry, however, as we will not be staying quite so long in those places.

Also, it’s never too late to come visit!  We don’t leave until late July.

 

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We Got No Troubles, Life is the Bubbles, Under the Sea!

Five days after our return from Abel Tasman Jonny headed over to Australia to dive in the Great Barrier Reef.  I, of course, was extremely jealous that he got to live out one of my childhood dreams… But I suppose my student loans aren’t just going to pay themselves, and I love that adorable fuzzball, so I held down the fort here in Ashburton.  Jonny came back 8 days later with a tank-top tan and a huge smile on his face.  The amount of fish in his photographs is incredible.  Thousands upon thousands.  Just stunning.

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We’re trying to plan a trip to Fiji to dive but it just gets more and more expensive by the minute.  The problem with Fiji is getting to the resort of your choice because it turns out that it’s made up of many different islands.  Sea planes or expensive boat trips are the name of the game.  Makes me wish I actually knew how to sail.  I took a course once but couldn’t tell you the difference between a line and a rope.  I guess it’s hard to teach a desert girl about the ocean.  #First world problems.

It’s starting to be time to decide what comes after New Zealand.  The thing that sucks about that is now I have to face the demons I put off for a year.  New Zealand was a great way to get my husband to quit asking me what I’m doing with my life… But now his school wants to know if he’s coming back next year.  He says that if he goes back, “that’s it.”  He wants to really jump in to his career.  Jonny also isn’t a big fan of moving (as in HATES moving).  I, on the other hand, don’t mind moving and like the option of trying a place on for size and being able to pick up and move if I don’t like it.  So now there’s a ton of pressure on me to make a rather permanent career choice.  On top of all that, the people of Ashburton are laying it on heavy to get us to stay.  I would totally stay – great place to live, raise kids, good job, amazing people to work with… everything you need except your family and friends from the states.  How about, instead of me making a major life decision, y’all move here for me?

Well, what else has been going on?  I visited Sam and Andy (friends from med skool) in Oamaru.  It’s a crazy small world to have them here 1/2 a world away.  It was Ophelia’s first birthday.  Sam reckons she’ll never have another summertime birthday in January, so she went all out on the strawberry motif.  The next weekend we all met up in Christchurch for dim sum (called yum cha here) and Jonny finally returned to NZ.

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This weekend we went out to Lake Hood for a short while to try our hand at boating… Jonny actually tried wakeboarding and waterskiing.  We also managed to win our softball game (Jonny’s batting has improved along with his guns).  On Sunday we went to a muscle car show – and it was just like being back in the states. Complete with (god knows why) confederate flags and red necks.  Sometimes I swear this is just tiny funny-talking lefty driving America.

Check out the video: Jonny is No Little Mermaid

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And for your amusement – a few other kiwi-isms I’ve learned

Jersey – sweater

Fizzy – soda / coke / pop

Pakeha – non-Maori (usually meaning European/white)

Singlet – tank top

Tickety boo – heavily satisfactory, good.  “Everything is tickety-boo!”

Tah – Thanks, or goodbye, or cheers, or hello, I can’t really tell.

Legend – awesome

Soft cock – an insult

Capsicum – bell pepper

Chook (pronounced like chalk) – chicken

Dummy – baby pacifier

Tasty cheese = sharp cheddar.

Extra tasty cheese = extra sharp cheddar.

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