Sunday, May 30, 2010

Brain Power Needed: Please Send ASAP

Even now there are still things that I have trouble with in my day-to-day activity.  It's incredible to me just how much brain power I have to use to keep up with things.  For example, I don't really hear accents anymore as there are so many everywhere.  However, when someone whispers in an accent other than my own (or if I can only hear every other word at a pub) I can't understand the speaker at all.  Nothing.  They might as well speak in Latin, but I still struggle to comprehend.  
I'm regularly reminding myself of the differences so that I can act appropriately: drive on the left side of the road, the driver sits on the right side of the car (when looking out), it's capsicum and corgette not green pepper and zucchini, pronounce the "t" on fillet and the "h" on herbed but shorten other words to "caf" instead of cafe (actually I refuse to succumb to these three differences, but I'm regularly reminded of them), remember the names of the people I meet (at the gym, at work, at the pub, at parties, etc) and the ones I hear in the news including bands, singers, comedians, politicians (old and new as well as the main ones from Australia and England), and don't forget the spelling....urgh, the spelling.  It gets exhausting! 

It wasn't until recently that I realised what a toll it was all taking.  Which isn't a problem, except it means I have a lot more ditzy moments since moving here (not the impression I want to give to my new acquaintences).  For your reading pleasure, and my slight embarrasment here are a few of those instances when my brain was clearly on holiday:
  • When I see a sign that says left exit on the motorway, I automatically move to the center lane. Why wouldn't I?  That's where the left exits are in the States, forget the fact that I'm actually moving to the right. 
  • After 4 weeks of driving I still turn on the windshield wipers when I want to turn on my blinker (the levers are on the opposite side of the steering column here).
  • At a pub quiz night I struggled with the name of the first First Lady of the US.  Any first grader can recall that it's Martha Washington, but I sat there for five minutes doubting myself.
  • At the same pub quiz night I looked at a map of the world and was disoriented.  It took me a few minutes to realise that it's because the US wasn't put in the middle of the map.  Wow.  I blanched at the presumtion.  Even I fall into the "typical American" category at times.
  • I have twice now...twice!...had trouble opening doors.  I don't know what it is.  I push or pull (whichever one I shouldn't be doing to open the door) and then give up exasperated because it must be locked.  Granted, we tend to have more revolving doors in Chicago, but in reality doors tend to open and close the same the world around, yet I've struggled with this ridiculously simple task.
Fortunately I still have plenty to be thankful for:
- Joining three friends to complete a 5K run through the hills on the north side of the city.  We had the help of a good cheering crew
- Trying new things: this week it was archery in One Tree Hill Domain (the U2 song was named after the park, the subsequent TV show was based on the song)
- Beautiful weather for the entire weekend

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I've Clearly Lost the Plot

On Tuesday this week my brain must have stopped working because I signed up for the Auckland Marathon.  So not only have I registered to voluntarily run 26.2 miles, I've decided to do it for the first time in a city built on a dormant volcanic field. Genius.

Last February I signed up for my first half marathon and as I was training for that run, I decided that I would never want to run more than 13.1 miles.  Apparently pain has no memory because by the time the Chicago Marathon came in October, I was actually convincing myself that I could do a marathon if I put my mind to it.  The excitement as I watched a friend qualify for the Boston Marathon with only seconds to spare was contagious.  I did a bit of research, you know, just in case I thought I might want to sign up for the Chicago marathon.  It was scheduled for October 10, 2010...or 10-10-10.  All of a sudden this wasn't just an idea, it seemed possible (it's incredible what your mind can convince you of).  If I was going to complete a marathon I couldn't think of a better day to do it.  But, it wasn't to be, because I moved to New Zealand instead.  My goal of a marathon would have to wait...or would it?

When I arrived I resolutely decided to continue my running...which I did for about two weeks. Then there were foods to try and socialising to do (which involved alcohol, of course), and more food to try and wine to taste...and one thing lead to another and all of sudden my clothes weren't fitting like they should.

This past Monday I was at my limit.  I bit the bullet and joined the gym (which is $23/week as opposed to the $23/month I was paying at home).  With my membership (which is at the YMCA, one of the cheaper gyms in the city) came a personal trainer.  I dragged myself out of bed to make it in for my first appointment on Tuesday morning, at which point I had to admit out loud my horrible habits.  The culminating point was when I was asked to step on the scale.  Disaster.  I hesitated, I closed my eyes, I stood up tall and held my breath.  As the numbers flipped around to their final resting place, I chanced a glance down.  I didn't like what I saw, even in Kilograms I knew I didn't like it.

Well, all I can figure out is that when those numbers came up on the scale I must have gone into some sort of trance.  Who knows, maybe it was temporary insanity.  Within the hour I registered for the Auckland marathon.  If I needed something to work towards in order to get myself back in shape - I now had it.

That night I drove part of the course over the Harbour Bridge.  As my car climbed up over the bridge, my mind was trying to block out the fact that even in the car it seemed like a long way. Shit. (Pictured above is the Auckland Harbour Bridge)

I no longer need to worry about filling my days with distractions.  As of the end of June I will start training for what I can only assume will be a glimpse of a small bit of my own personal Hell.  What I can say is that barring any volcanic eruptions, I'll finish and I'll have something crossed off my bucket list to boot.

To give you an idea of what the course looks like, I've plotted it out on  To see the elevation use the "View Elevation" button below the map.  You will get an idea of what the organisers call "rolling hills" during the first half of the course.  At least I can say I am looking forward to the views and getting back into shape as I work toward this goal.

Things to be thankful for:
- Good advice and encouragement from friends who are accomplished marathoners
- Two legs and feet that, as of today, seem to work quite well
- A ridiculous need for achievements
- Bucket lists, even if I do make it up as I go along

Saturday, May 15, 2010

One Fish, Two Fish...

Fishing is an art for some, a relaxation technique for others, a means to get dinner for many, and for me it's a new way to prove my ineptitude, but a great excuse to be on a boat.  We left slightly late on a recent Sunday morning to drive north for an hour to Martin's Bay.  Since we needed to be back in the city by 4:00pm, it would be a short trip.

I've learned that most Kiwis have grown up with, on, and around boats and water their entire lives and so it all comes very naturally to them.  Whereas, I was land-locked in Missouri for most of my life. A trip to "the lake" in Missouri was most likely a drive to the Lake of the Ozarks - a lake so packed with other land-locked drunken boaters that there wasn't even room to manoeuvre a boat.  (Author's note: I should thank my family for at least providing me with regular trips to the coast and lakes in Maine to get a bit of experience on the water.)

Fortunately I recognize my lack of seamanship, so I just attempt to just stay out of the way until asked for help.  At Martin's Bay, we were launching the boats off of a shallow beach, which sounds like a lot of fun and would have been if I hadn't tried to do it in capri pants.  I was drenched in a matter of 2 minutes.

Once launched we rode 15 minutes out of the harbor and anchored on the lee side of an island peninsula.  I learned how to bait the line (which involved chopping up dead fish and hooking two large slimy chunks on the line as best as possible).  I muscled through it all bravely.     

Although my technique of baiting my line slowly improved, it still wasn't enough.  Sadly I was only allowed to boast about fish that were big enough to take home, which eliminated the the three snapper and one yellow tail that I somehow managed to hook, and left me with nothing to claim. Picture left: One of the little snapper that I caught.

On the other hand, the sun was warm, the breeze wasn't too strong, and there were entire schools of fish jumping (at one point it looked and sounded like a stream bubbling over rocks there were so many fish).  After a few hours on the water, a few different locations, and very little fishing success, we called it a day. We headed back to the city with only one snapper (not caught by me). 

Considering the cost of the gas for the day and the bait that we basically just fed to the fish - the one fish we did keep turned out to be a highly expensive catch.  Four days later the fish was thrown out after going dodgy in the refrigerator before we could cook it. And I discovered what I already knew: Fishing here is just like all fishing experiences, it's not always about the fish you catch.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

30th Birthday: My Own Little New Year

When I was younger my greatest fear was that no one would come to my funeral.  It wasn't that I didn't have any friends, it's that I couldn't think of anything that could be more sad.  I've told very few about that fear, but now as an adult I realize that it's not something I needed to worry about...afterall, I'd be dead.  Three weeks ago, this old fear resurrected itself, only this time I was afraid no one would help me celebrate my birthday.  As it turned out, it was again an irrational fear.

I didn't wake up to an alarm on May 7th because apparently it wanted to give me a gift that morning as well...more sleep.  What it couldn't have known was that I would then skip breakfast and rush around the flat trying to get out on time - still I appreciated the gesture.  Traffic was light and I actually made it to the office on schedule.  When my boss came in she brought with her a beautiful bouquet of flowers in honor of my birthday.  This was the way to start a 30th birthday!

We went out to lunch to celebrate my new role with the company (and my birthday).  I had a traditional pub dish of fish and chips and was allowed to leave work early.  Afterall, I had a party to prepare.  When I arrived home my flatmates were busy in the kitchen with a surprise cake for me (this was on top of the 31 cupcakes I had baked the previous night).  Another flatmate had a bouquet of tulips waiting for me as well.  Seriously - the day kept getting better.

I hurriedly got ready for the evening and then a few of us raced up the street to see some rally cars race around the Domain (a large park in downtown Auckland).  It wasn't nearly as exciting as I thought it would be, but still pretty impressive.  We stayed long enough to watch several cars hoon around a hairpin turn before catching the bus back to our flat in time for the guests to arrive.

By 8pm the food was out and we were ready (cupcakes, Jell-o shots, fruits and veges, cookies...basically enough to feed an army).  By 9pm we had a good gathering of people.  By 9:30pm the flat was full, alcohol was flowing, and chicken wings and another birthday cake appeared (this was brought by a friend and masterfully crafted as a cowboy boot).  By 10pm my flatmates surprised me with candles and everyone was singing a chorus of Happy Birthday (my three attempts to blow out the candles clearly highlighted my age).   At 11pm the landlord, who is also our neighbor, came by to yell at us for the noise.  At 1am everyone was heading home and somehow I managed to make it out to the bars (I should have stayed and crashed).  At 3am (after falling three times on the dance floor), I shook off the guy making futile attempts to keep my focus, and went to sit down with my friends.  I was ready for bed.

Saturday I was completely useless.  Clearly not as young as I used to be, my hangover prevented me from doing anything productive.  In all, I hung out with a group of wonderful people, had a very memorable night (despite alcohol's attempt to add a haziness to it all), and brought in the next decade of my life in a cowgirl. My wish: That everyone can be as fortunate as I was on my own little New Year.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Doritos: Now in New Zealand!

That's right, Doritos have made it to New Zealand.  And apparently, there are so many people here that do OEs (Overseas Experiences) there is a big demand for the little chip.  The entire ad campaign is based on this fact alone and billboards, tv ads and other signage declare: Doritos: Now in New Zealand.

Don't be fooled, this is a big deal.  The NZ Herald covered the story:  "Kiwi icons kicked off shelves to make way for US chips" in March because apparently this is kicking out a Kiwi-made product.  The ad campaign features different people declaring how awesome the chips really are.  My favorite is the cute "all-American girl" dressed in an over-sized t-shirt with a giant number on it (picture her boyfriend's practice football jersey).  She is sitting in front of her webcam telling all of New Zealand the benefits of Doritos in a heavy Southern accent, "...they're great for all sorts of parties: barn parties, grass growin' parties, weddin's, you name it..."  New Zealand you have a lot to look forward to now that Doritos are on the scene.  It's just too bad that Doritos are not one of the things I miss from the States.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Visit to the Car Auction

After searching for a few weeks for a car, I finally settled on a few makes and models that I liked.  I watched online for a good deal, but was easily deterred by the idea of trying to get to the cars to check them out.  Lazy, maybe...but mostly I just couldn't be bothered with so many other things going on.  However, with work starting, I decided to rent a car and use it for travel to and from the office as well as a trip to the auction house.

I visited Turners auctions on the North Shore on Tuesday night for the $6500 and under auction - it was a fruitless effort. Although I found a Honda Accord that I liked there, the car just didn't seem to be the right choice.  Stalling three times while trying to park it after a test drive clued me in on that one.

The next morning I headed into work early so that I could stop at another Tuners auction house on the southern side of the city.  There was a '99 Honda Accord listed there that I wanted to take a look at.  I was hoping for something better than the night before.  I test drove the car and found it to be pretty good.  I checked the a/c, the radio, locks, doors, windows, brakes, tires, and looked under the hood (not that I knew what I was looking for, but it seemed like the right thing to do).  After my own very thorough and expert inspection I decided to fork over the money for a slightly more experienced eye to look at it.  The auction was scheduled for noon so I left for work and hoped to come back and bid then.

The inspection came through with a good report while I was at the office.  For the most part the car was in good shape.  The hardest part was yet to come....the bidding.  I knew where my limit was and I knew what the process was, but I had no one there to help me with my nerves.  I was feeling very alone.  My car was lot number 28, I watched as the 27 cars before it came and went and my leg started to shake a bit more each time.  Finally my blue Honda Accord was driven to the center position for the bidding to begin.

The auctioneer began at $5000, quickly dropping to $3000 where he received a bidder.  I countered.  The other bidder jumped up higher.  I countered.  We were off!  The auctioneer was bantering a bit which added to the atmosphere.  My hand was going up and down on its own accord.  Soon we were at $4000 increasing each bid by $100.  And then we were at $4300 increasing by $50.  I was nearing the end of my self-imposed budget.  At $4450 the other person had the bid and I was waffling.  Did I really want the car?  Was it really worth continuing this line of bidding?  This would be my last bid, how long would my opponent hold out?  I raised my hand.  $4500.  The auctioneer looked to my enemy for a counter.  "Where are you going?" He chastised the other bidder into the microphone, "Are you going to just give it to her?"

What was happening here?  My heart was about to beat out of my chest with the anticipation and the auctioneer was stalling!  "Hey!" I yelled smiling at the auctioneer, "Throw down the gavel!!" Crap, did that come out of my mouth?  Sure enough, he looked at me, a bit shocked and laughed as he yelled "SOLD!" and slammed the hammer down.  The car was mine.  The auctioneer continued into the microphone about how the situation only reminded him of being at home...but I couldn't hear.  I was too excited to pay attention to much else in the crowd.  I had won.  I finished the paperwork and planned to pick up the car the following morning.

I was on cloud nine and on my way back to the office.  Before I headed back in, I called my dad to re-tell the exciting story.  He listened and was excited for me and then sagely pointed out that the person bidding against me could have been a plant as the bidder conveniently left as soon as the price reached the reserve.  Damn.  Foiled in the end.  But, at least I have a car.

About the car:  2.2 engine; 175000 km; cam belt changed 20,000km ago; registration and warrant of fitness good through Sept; Car serviced last month; 4 previous owners; very minor bumps/dents on the body; blue interior and exterior; very clean; so far so good