Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Whakatane -- stop laughing!

Whakatane!!! For a solid month before we left for Whakatane, I had to endure the snickering of my kids every time I mentioned it. Lots of Maori names are used for cities and streets and if they weren't already foreign enough, there are also some pronunciation variations to deal with -- i.e. "wh" is pronounced as an F. So, yeah, reminiscent of Meet the Parents, we spent the weekend of Trey's 13th birthday in Fok-a-tah-nee. Ha ha ha, like that is so funny after the 50th time! 

The fabulous f-word city is about 3 1/2 hours south of Auckland and boasts the sort of fishing that makes all the boys drool, no matter their age. With the help of some of his friends, Dennis found a charter captain there and booked him for a day of fishing at White Island, about 30 miles out in the Pacific. Even Dennis's friend from North Carolina said it was his dream to fish there. Cool deal for Trey. 

On the way down, we drove through the usual one-street towns and farmland dotted with volcanoes, sometimes emerging to gorgeous sea views, sometimes just counting the sheep for hours. As our travel in the US largely involves our Interstate system, I'm still not used to the two-lane roads and small towns that we see on our trips these days. I find the main streets with their ever present dairies, butchers, fruit markets, and take-away places fascinating and very cool visually. The colors and sign fonts are bold and nothing goes well together. It's a big bright, somewhat shabby jumble of Anchor milk, L&P, chicken legs, and strawberries pretty much everywhere we go.

Found another Homestay for this trip and it worked out very well yet again. Poor Dennis is not as comfortable with this idea as I am, and he sort of cringes when he finds out we'll be staying in someone's home and eating breakfast with them in the mornings. He's an engineer, you know? Not a full blown stereotypical engineer, socially, but deep down, he'd rather keep to himself most of the time and go about his business quietly. Not that you can't do that at the Homestays, but I guess he's afraid of the possibilities. Who can blame him? 

This place was just outside of town and the hosts were lovely, as always. A retired couple, very friendly and interesting and they made wonderful toast with ham and tomatoes. And homemade kiwifruit jam! You learn so much about the area when you get to spend some time with local people. And our part of the house was totally private and separate from the rest. It's not as if we're out partying till all hours anyway. We're pretty boring people who appreciate a good night's sleep. 

For dinner, Janet suggested that we pop in to the Whakatane Sportfishing Club, which is only for members but they'll let you eat there if they're not full and you don't make a habit of overstaying your welcome. Our friend Cam who works with Dennis brought his little boy, Pete, down to join in the fishing fun and so we all had dinner together to celebrate Mr. Teenager's big day. We had awesome seafood, cheered on one of the NZ rugby teams, and finished up with a Coruba and cola, which Cam said was a classic Kiwi drink. I'm sold! 

The boys left very early to meet Lionel and head out to sea and Laurel and I slept in, chatted with Janet and Peter and ate enough toast with ham and tomatoes for 4 people, and then headed over to Ohope Beach. Janet suggested we look for a trail that would take us around to a little bay only reachable by foot. As usual I was fooled by the Kiwi statement, "It's just a short walk..." We climbed and climbed and panted and cursed Janet and all the other fit, super-walking Kiwis and finally did make it up and around and it was lovely. OK, it was worth the "walk" (long, hard climb!). 

And we tried whitebait!! Anyone familiar with this delicacy? We weren't either until recently. It's only available for a short time and revered as if God himself offers it from his dining room table once a year. They're tiny fish captured in a net as they try to swim up a river. They plop them into an egg mixture, heads, eyes, tails, and all and fry them into fritters. I ate one whole fritter and that was plenty for me, thanks. Not bad, but I didn't need any more to make my life complete. 

The boys finally came in from their day and they were exhausted but happy and they'd caught quite a few nice fish. Trey had a really big Grand Trevalli (GT) that impressed everyone and a few Kingfish that weren't big enough to keep. Definitely a birthday that will stay in his precious little memory for a while. 

Not that this has anything to do with the rest of my carefully crafted post, but this dog walked by us while we sat on the steps by the harbour eating our Pizza Hut individual pizzas (you thought I was going to say curds and whey, right?). He's either a menace to the daily catch on the docks or he's deadly vicious. Either way, pretty embarrassing look for him, I thought. 

Next up, White Island for the rest of us the next day. Hope everyone's well! Write to us and tell us how you're doing! xo, K.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pot luck cultures birthday party

Kia Ora, everyone! How was this year's Thanksgiving? Hope everyone had a fun, filling, and relaxing long weekend, but we'll get to that in a few more posts. Right now I am going to address the fact that I somehow, though I feel like I am still 18, have a teenage son. Thirteen years ago, I had our first baby. It seemed like I'd never stop changing poopy diapers or sleeping for only 2 hours at a time, but here he is, approaching my height, his father's shoe size, and -- a teenager. It makes me a bit weepy to think that officially we have only 5 more years with him. Then some days, I am counting down the minutes until he gets the hell out of my house!! 

I remember a few months back when he was trying to resign himself to this move and he realized he'd turn 13 here. "I won't even have any friends to invite to my party!" said he. What a poor fortune teller my boy has turned out to be. First of all he has a really super group of friends and secondly, this year, there were a bunch of girls invited too. That was a new twist. Much more interesting for the sidelined observing parents. 

They started out on Guy Fawkes Night, a Friday, in Glover Park, an ancient volcanic cone down the street. Anyone know what that is? No one here seems to really know either, but it has something to do with celebrating a terrorist who tried to burn down Parliament in London. In his honor, fireworks are purchased only for four days from midnight on 2 November until 5 November, and set off on the 5th. This coincided nicely and strangely with Trey's birthday on the 6th. A good metaphor for our time here in general. Celebrating Trey's birthday on a British holiday that we know nothing about in New Zealand. OK. 

The boys ran around like puppies, tackling each other and laughing through rugby, bull rush, and soccer, thrilled that Trey and Dennis had brought an American gridiron football and could show them how to throw a spiral. The girls stayed off to the side, much cooler and more mature. Then the party moved to our house, where every morsel of food was ignored, save the kebabs, 12 bottles of Coke and Sprite, and 8 bags of Doritos. And Dennis and Jens managed to avoid burning down the Pohutukawa tree with the fireworks. A fabulous Guy Fawkes success! We ended the evening as honorary Kiwis.

And in the end everyone had a ball, the kids sang Happy Birthday with a Hip Hip Hooray re-mix, the four of us cleaned up a rather soggy mess, and Trey woke up the next morning a teenager. And his mum felt a bit older herself. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Still waiting, Ken!

Saw this funny and very much to-the-point message painted on a fence just south of Rangiriri this weekend. Would love to meet both the painter and Ken. Also -- I assumed this was on the fence of the guy that's owed $300, but Laurel thinks it's actually Ken's fence. Either way, made us laugh...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Photo field trip to the transmission switching station

Kia Ora, friends! How's tricks? Get your junior engineer hats on, because today we're going to talk a little bit about electricity and the reason that we are in New Zealand. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of donning a one-piece men's safety suit and some size 10 steel reinforced black shoes and entering Transpower's newest transmission switching station a half hour south of Auckland beside the Southern Motorway.

The company that Dennis works for in the States makes and sells power utility products and the company that they just purchased here in NZ designs and builds connector systems that are used in substations and switching stations. Transpower's new facility is full of engineering marvels and lots of new ideas that are attracting attention in the industry and Dennis asked if I could join him and Cam, the business development guy, for a tour so I could get some photos of their products.

We met the project engineer and went through the security and signed some stuff saying we wouldn't climb on the 220,000 volt lines, and in we went. It was a little creepy being surrounded by all of that deadly electricity as it pulsed its way through the country, but really interesting and cool to see first-hand a small part of what my husband deals with every day.