Friday, February 18, 2011

Something ticked off my bucket list....

In the summer of 1987, I went to the Oregon State Fair with my girlfriends Emily and Jen. It was a few months after getting my driver's license and I was the only newly licensed 16 year old that was allowed to drive up the I-5 corridor to Salem just 40 minutes away. The Oregon State Fair is your typical State Fair complete with farm animals, homemade jam and canned goods, amateur arts and crafts, cotton candy, elephant ears and rides that make you barf. While it seems like the State Fair mostly draws country bands these days, back then there were lots of cool acts like John Denver, REO Speedwagon and Pat Benetar. For some odd reason, in the summer of 1987, a little band with New Zealand and Australian origins called Crowded House was performing for free. It was during the time that you could not turn on the radio without hearing this:

I had heard the song and liked it and thought, great! Let's check them out! So, Jen, Emily and I ended up in the 3rd row of the amphitheater. Neil Finn (a New Zealander by birth), Nick Seymour and Paul Hester (Aussies by birth) came out on stage in these ornate costumes:

And it was 95 degrees out. So, after a few witty exchanges with each other in their New Zealand and Australian accents and deciding they were over dressed for the weather, they stripped down to their boxer shorts and started to play their set. And I became a die hard Crowded House and Neil Finn fan from that moment on.

Now, it wasn't the boxer shorts that won me over so quickly but surely it showed how goofy and fun the band was. They loved to joke with each other on stage and had the whole crowd laughing. This is one of the special things about Crowded House and Neil as any fan will tell you. This proved to be true for every one of their tours I have seen over the years. One notable conversation on stage had them talking about playing tennis with their penises (Temple of Low Men Tour, Starry Night Club in Portland, Oregon, 1989).

And then there is his voice. THAT VOICE!!! Neil's voice is like an arrow straight to my heart. I love his voice. Just have a listen:

And though his lyrics are often quirky, I think they are brilliant, poignant, whimsical....poetic. Sigh.... Can you tell that I am in love?

I have seen Crowded House at the (now non-existent) Fox Theater in Portland and the Warfield in San Francisco in 1992 (Woodface tour), the Roseland Theater in Portland in 1994 (Together Alone tour though without Paul who had left the tour by then). Most recently I saw them at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland in 2007 (Time on Earth Tour), sadly minus Paul Hester who committed suicide in 2005 but with the bright addition of Matt Sherrod on drums. I have also seen Neil on his solo gigs (Try Whistling This and One All) at the Roseland in Portland in 1998 and 2002 and The Finn Brothers (Everyone is Here ) at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland in 2004. Crowded House released their album Intriguer last year, not too long after our arrival in New Zealand, which meant that I had to lament missing them at the Edgefield in Portland last August.

If I were to make a "bucket list", one of the top things I would have on that list is living abroad- Tick! Another thing that would be on the list is to see Crowded House or Neil Finn in concert in New Zealand.

And that is exactly what I am going to do this Sunday! Tick!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Better late than never....

The one year anniversary of our move to New Zealand was about 5 months ago but we have a few good excuses for not having written a post to mark the occasion. Let’s see, there was that 7.1 magnitude earthquake on September 4th which halted life as we know it in Christchurch and a month long visit from Grammy and Papa Two. Then there was a move to a new house and...well, things settled down after that minus the 4000+ aftershocks that we have had, including some recent 4.9-5.1 magnitude shakes. M finished her first year of school, celebrated her 6th birthday and my mom came for a month long visit. W just celebrated his 3rd birthday and now my sister is here for a quick visit.

So, how do you sum up a year of living in a new country, one that is half way around the world and sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? I shall give it a try....

New Zealand is a beautiful country and Christchurch is perfectly situated for exploring the South Island. We love the close proximity to so many different landscapes and activities. We can drive 5 1/2 hours and be in Golden Bay or drive an hour or so and we are in beautiful Akaroa. We have loved driving south to see the penguins in Oamaru or the Albatross on the Otago Peninsula and west to see the Kea in Arthur’s Pass. Mt Cook and the Mackenzie country is a recent favorite trip. We have had many wonderful adventures and have seen a good portion of the South Island. The beauty here is unparalleled.

We like the people here. We have made new friends, both Kiwis and ex-pats and we enjoy our time with them. We have learned about rugby and cricket. We enjoy the taste of Manuka Honey and New Zealand wines. I love working in the midwifery friendly health care system and we love and are thankful for having universal health care at a time when so many of our friends are struggling with this back in the States. We love the kid-friendly nature of New Zealand including the 20 hours of subsidized preschool that W is now eligible for. We love that our kids are both starting to speak with a kiwi accent. We love that we cook more and eat out less and that we have most of our evenings and weekends together at home. We love that the news anchors can wear hideous fashion (Rachel Smalley from TV3 anyone?) and utter the word “dickhead” on the news without blinking an eye even at 6:30 in the evening.

The culture here is not unlike the culture we were accustomed to in Portland. There are a lot of outdoorsy people and there is generally a laid back sensibility to the people here. The community has a lively arts scene and there is a push to be “green.”

We don’t miss American Politics...not one bit. Sarah Palin in 2012 gives us the heebie jeebies. We are tired of the right wing being the party of “no” and of corporations wielding so much power. We are sad to see that our country of origin seems to be on the decline in so many ways. We find that many of our friends are struggling back in the US- with job security, health care, debt, worries about the future that will exist for our children.

All in all, it is nice to be living outside the US. New Zealand is a wonderful country and a nice place to live.

But it is not perfect.

We certainly didn’t expect it to be and we knew about many of its quirks before we came by virtue of our research. The housing, in general, is crap- many houses are uninsulated with single paned windows and no central heating. Damp, cold houses are the norm unless you can afford a new house. The housing market in Christchurch is loaded with overpriced houses- I can’t believe what they are asking for some really, really shitty houses (not that it doesn’t happen in the US too but I digress....) The wages are not so great and given that the cost of living is higher here (petrol, power, food, goods), this is a struggle especially now that we are a one income family. Financially, it would help if the American dollar was a little stronger but with the NZ dollar sitting comfortably around an all-time high against the US dollar, we just have to chalk it up to bad timing and bad luck.

We have most of the comforts of home here in New Zealand though I do miss central heating and a proper washer and dryer and the ease of finding goods and services when you want or need them. We can mostly eat the way we are used to here (minus eating organic which is just too expensive on my salary) and we enjoy our trips to the farmer’s markets and the abundance of fresh fish and free range eggs. But I do miss Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Oregon microbrews, New Seasons and Trader Joe’s, authentic Mexican food, reasonably priced organic food and New York style pizza.

But ultimately, for me, it is missing family and friends that gets to me the most. While none of the stuff I have mentioned is a deal breaker for living here indefinitely, the distance from family and friends is likely that deal breaker. The death of my father early into our stay didn’t help matters. My mom is getting older and I want her to be able to enjoy her grandchildren more often than once a year. Mike’s folks are also being deprived of their grandkids. I miss my sister and brother. I miss seeing my wonderful friends (sisters!) and their kids. Having such deep roots in Oregon and lifelong friendships makes it hard to truly settle in here in New Zealand.

A co-worker who is from the UK and I talked for a long time about how much we both miss family and friends. She said that she felt like she had had her "me" time in the past and that they had moved to NZ to give their kids a better life than they could give them in the UK. So even though she misses her family and friends enough to want to move back, she feels that being here is about giving her kids all that they deserve even if it means sacrificing her strong ties to the UK.

This does give me pause. I do worry about the path the US is taking and wonder if it is a good place to raise our children. There are clearly things here in NZ that are far better than the States- the universal health care, the schooling (at least in the primary years), funding for social services and the safety net that keeps a society healthy. Yet, I also believe that it is family and friends who sustain us and that they are what really matters in life. And therefore, the absence of family and friends is probably too great a sacrifice for me and ultimately, for our family.

There are no decisions to be made yet and for now, we continue to enjoy our time here. We will just have to see what the future holds for us.

Now for Mike's perspective in part deux.... coming soon....

Friday, February 4, 2011

We are lame....

Yes, it is true. We have been pretty bad about keeping up with our blog lately. There was that little earthquake we had back in September, a visit from Mike's folks, a move to a new rental, finishing up Miss M's first year of school and soon after that, consecutive visits from my mom and from my sister. Phew. We have been busy. In the meantime, our "one year anniversary" post seems to have never happened. And here we are, almost at our year and a half anniversary.

However, I am working on this elusive post and we will also plan on posting some pictures and stories from our travels with my mom, sister and our friends (who arrive in 2 weeks).

A belated happy new year to you and yours....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Meeting of the Bloggers

It is a very small world.

Before we moved to New Zealand, we did heaps of research including reading internet forums where ex-pats discussed the finer details of moving to New Zealand. We also read a handful of blogs, mostly by UK ex-pats to get an even more personal perpective on settling here. This fast became one of my favorite blogs for many reasons- Lindsay is a fantastic writer (and she makes me laugh!) and it was also one of the few American ex-pat blogs that I could find. And she is really good at keeping up with her blog (unlike me!).

Flash forward to April this year. I was teaching a class and I met an American woman who looked kinda familiar to me. Turns out it was Lindsay. I told her "I read your blog!" and I rattled off some details of some of her more recent posts. And she said "That's creepy.....".

Anyway, we have since met Gareth and Mr Quinn and have gotten to spend some time together over the last few months. Here are some pictures of a recent outing:

P.S. One of these days we will get around to writing our 1 year anniversary post. We have just moved house and are settling in so for now, this will have to do.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Aftershock count.... one thousand sixty. In fact, we just had a 3.8, 4.1 and 4.0 in a span of 15 minutes. Ah for f%$#'s sake. ENOUGH!!!!!!!

You can read an interesting article about our fair city's plight here and here (click on Earthquake Analysis by John Holdaway) who highlights these interesting bits and pieces:
  • The longest period without a quake was 12 hours and 24 minutes on Tuesday evening (Sept 21st).
  • Cantabrians have been shaken every 29 minutes and 10 seconds, on average, since the September 4 quake.
  • Since the initial 7.1 quake over two weeks ago, we have never gone more than 80 hours without an aftershock of magnitude 4.3 or above. So it can still be predicted with a reasonable degree of confidence that we should continue to get at least one large (magnitude 4.3+) aftershock every 2-3 days for the next 1-2 weeks. It’s not unlikely that one or two of those large aftershocks may be of magnitude 5.0-5.5. Magnitude 6+ quakes are much less likely to occur, and are becoming progressively less likely as time goes on.
  • It appears that there is a discrepancy in the amount of energy released since the main Canterbury quake in comparison to other recent quakes of similar magnitude around the world (ie. Haiti, Baja), which suggests the possibility that several strong aftershocks may still be yet to come.
Why do I read this stuff?


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Christchurch Earthquake - New faultline formed - aerial flyover

Aftershocks and more aftershocks and

..... very frazzled nerves.

We are really and truly done with these rumbles and jumbles. There have been 270 aftershocks so far. Most have been between magnitude 3 and 4.9 with a few over 5.0. I feel as though I have just gotten off a long boat ride on the ocean but I feel that way 24 hours a day. Everything seems to be moving or shaking and I am beginning to wonder if I will ever remember the feeling of solid ground under my feet. To give you an idea of just how many frequent and strong shakes we have had, click here.

I was at work when a 5.1 magnitude aftershock hit at 7:49 am. This aftershock was very shallow and quite close to the city which made it feel a lot stronger. I was on the fifth floor of the hospital and ran for the doorframe while other staff hunkered under the desks. It didn't last long but it was a big enough jolt to cut power for a few seconds and to startle all of the mothers (and a few babies) on the floor. Breakfast was about to be served with no way to get the trays up from the ground floor since the elevators (lifts) were knocked out during the aftershock. So a posse of staff lugged the trays up the stairs and we delivered the new mothers their morning meal. Everyone was in a daze after this. Some staff were on the verge of tears and others were in tears. One co-worker headed home to be with her family- it was just too much for her to bear. I called Mike and heard the kids playing in the background, completely unphased by the last shock. These kids really are resilient and this made me feel a bit better about being away for the day.

Christchurch has never been seen as a big risk for a large earthquake. There is the Alpine Fault which runs along the spine of the South Island and is quite active. There are also the Porters Pass fault and the Hope fault which are a good distance from Christchurch. However, get this:
"The fault that ruptured the surface of Canterbury paddocks and produced the magnitude 7.1 earthquake has been quiet for at least 16,000 years. Underground, it split alluvial terraces deposited about 16,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. "

Are you effing kidding me? How unlucky are we to have been part of an event that hasn't happened for 16,000 years?!

Now before the Wellingtonians and other North Island folks get all uppity about how they escaped a big earthquake, it might be worth taking note of this:
"In 1929 there occurred, in west Canterbury, a magnitude 7 earthquake which turned out to be the first of a series of seven major, magnitude greater than 7, earthquakes over the next 13 years. The series included the second and third largest earthquakes in European times.... It is improbable that this occurrence of such large earthquakes in rapid succession was coincidental. There is no reason to think that such a series could not happen again."

Meanwhile, I sit here and just felt another jolt....and another....and another. Heart is a racing but I am hoping I can get some sleep tonight.