Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Steps to Prepare an American Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that you just don't understand unless you've experienced it.  So, I set out to create an American Thanksgiving halfway around the world. 

Step 1:  Planning the Menu/ Buying the Supplies
As a seasoned Thanksgiving eater, I really didn't take into account the difficulty I would have in planning a menu for it in New Zealand.  Unlike in the US, all of the Thanksgiving supplies aren't readily available on the end caps and sales flyers at all of the local stores...it's just not that easy to find the things I need.

For example, I wanted to actually make cranberries.  Unfortunately, they aren't in season so fresh ones aren't an option.  I asked around and found out that they sold cranberry sauce in the store.  Perfect.  Encouraged I went to the grocery store and with some assistance located the aisle.  And with some more assistance from a kind customer - he pointed them out on the shelf.  Without help I'm not sure I would have noticed the only two options of what I can only call cranberry jam on the shelves.  Definitely not what I was looking for. 

Fortunately, I have the American store.  I was told about this little wonder of a place several months ago but haven't really had the need for it (although there is comfort in knowing it's there).  Martha's Backyard (a.k.a. the American store) seems to be the place to get all those dried goods that I want from home.  They even stock graham crackers!  Kraft mac & cheese, Jiffy muffin mix, Koolaid, Jell-o, big red party cups, Heinz ketchup, Betty crocker cake mixes, Bounce dryer sheets - all the things that you don't really think about until you don't have them.  And, most importantly, canned pumpkin and cranberries along with an array of other Thanksgiving supplies.

With a bit of research, I persevered and finalised my menu (for 14 people) as the following:
  • Veges and dip
  • Turkey with stuffing
  • Corn
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Gravy
  • Green beans
  • Cranberries
  • Biscuits
  • Corn Bread
  • Apple Sauce
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Apple pie
  • Pecan bars

Step 2:  Let the Cooking Begin
One of the things I wanted to be able to do was provide this elaborate feast without much help.  I know that's not a traditional Thanksgiving, but my friends have done so much for me that I wanted them to be able to just rock up and enjoy.  It's still to be determined if this means that I've bitten off more than I can chew. 

Step 3:  Sorting my Holiday Plans
With Thanksgiving, comes the Christmas and New Year holiday season!  One of my favorite times of the year, I thought it was finally time to work out my plans.  Afterall, most offices are shut down for at least two weeks.  My office is closed from December 24 - January 17 so I have a month of time to fill.  It will be prime summer months here so I'll miss the nice cold winter feeling, I think I'll make due with some quality beach time.  Camping, S'mores (one more reason to love the American store), Pub bands, hiking, friends and lots of beaches are in my near future!  I can't think of a more Kiwi-way to spend the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!

To be thankful for:
- New experiences
- Old traditions

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The People You Meet (part 1): Janine, England's Finest

One of the best things about my time here are all of the great people.  It’s hard to convey who they are so I asked my flatmates to be guest bloggers.  I wanted their impressions of New Zealand, and a bit about their past and future plans. 

Part 1:  Janine, England's Finest
Janine (our English flatmate) fits the stereotypes I have for the proper English woman.  She speaks the Queen’s English so well that I occasionally have trouble understanding her (Meagan, the other American, and I trade off as the translator into our own bastardized American English for each other).  She has her tea and eats typical English fare.  She never goes out with out making sure she looks presentable, fully made up and wearing nice clothes, even for archery.

Janine is our entertainment guru in the house and is constantly finding events around the area to attend.  She also has an uncanny knack for finding the ones that are affordable on a traveller’s budget.  Although she was keen to put together something for my blog, with true English modesty she wanted me to write it.  So here’s a bit more about Janine (basically in her words):

I've always had the travel bug.  I have lived around the world as a nanny in places like Texas, USA, Sydney, Australia; Zurich, Switzerland.  Now I’ve also lived in Auckland, New Zealand and Darlington, England (which is where I grew up).  I've travelled around most of Europe, South East Asia, China, Australia, USA, Mexico, Africa and India.  A few other bits:
  • I was featured in a newspaper article in 2001 for all of my travelling
  • I have been an extra in a Bollywood movie
  • Met the Dalai Lama
  • Gone cage diving with great white sharks
  • Completed one of the world’s highest bungee jumps in South Africa, it was terrifying
  • Sky dived a couple of times, been hang gliding, done the world’s highest commercial abseil
  • I just finished my first half marathon, which is a real accomplishment for me as I am not a runner, I got the fitness bug from Jess.
  • And I’ve booked my trip to South America and Antarctica for February
My biggest change since I’ve been here was to start eating meat.  I was a vegetarian for 20 years and after backpacking through Asia, where it was so hard to find vegetarian food that I lived on fried rice and veges and fried noodles and veges for 5 months, I decided I would start to eat meat again. I cannot believe what I have been missing out on and how versatile mince is!

There are a few other things I want to complete before I leave New Zealand:
  • Survive any earthquakes or volcano eruptions that there may be.
  • Climb Franz Josef
  • Go camping
  • Do woofing
  • Eat a possum pie when I'm in the South Island
  • Surf successfully
  • Tongariro Crossing – one of the world’s top ten day walks
 Living with Jess, I’ve realised she is: Sparkly, has sass (but I’m not sure where it comes from), and surprises me every now and again.  And she has very white teeth (but not Ross white like on Friends).  I think it must be an American thing.

Editor's Note: Friday is her last night in the house before she starts travelling around New Zealand over the next few months.  Her quiet sarcasm and sense of humour will be missed.  Good luck, Janine!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Bitter Sweet Vacation

For the past two weeks I have enjoyed not only some holiday time from work but the privilege of traveling with one of my best friends around both Sydney and Northern New Zealand.  Unfortunately, like many good things, it came to an end today.  This evening as we said goodbye at the airport (and I struggled and failed to keep my composure in public), I realized that this was just the beginning of all the goodbyes I will be saying in the next few months.  Here are some of the highlights of our travels:

Sydney, Blue Mountains:
We rented a car and drove west of the city just shortly after arriving in Sydney.  We stopped by a farm on the way out for the required photos with koala and kangaroo before enjoying the beauty and expanse of the Blue Mountains.  Don't be fooled by the image, it was a bright sunny day and the mountains really are that picturesque.

Inside Sydney Opera House
Opera at the Sydney Opera House:
On one of our last nights in the city we went to an opera at the Opera House.  The most famous opera house in the entire world didn't disappoint.  The atmosphere and experience was well worth it.  It was a nice night out on the town.  Although the sets weren't what we were expecting, we assumed that the number of shows at the Opera House prevent the size and cost of the permanent ones we are used to in Chicago.

Running the Auckland Marathon/Half Marathon:
An early morning start
So I didn't run the marathon as I had planned.  In fact, I didn't even train for the half marathon as I intended, but I ran it anyway.  We woke up at 4:30am on a Sunday and walked to the ferry where we met up with all the other crazy runners to start a marathon.  We crossed the start line together but I ended up falling to the back of the pack quite quickly.  In fact, I made friends with a 60+ year old man who was speed walking his fifth marathon in five months - I found this out just before he sped away.  So it wasn't the performance I would have liked but in the end I completed a half marathon in Auckland and am one of the few that got the opportunity to walk/run across the Auckland Harbour Bridge into the city.  Author's Note: For those wondering my time was 2 hours and 59 minutes, I finished in just enough time to take pictures of Dave as he crossed the finish line of the full marathon.  My flatmate Janine crossed just shortly after that (she started 50 minutes later with the rest of the half marathoners). 

Dave trying a small dune
Cape Reinga, New Zealand:
On Tuesday morning after spending Monday letting our muscles recover we drove north to Cape Reinga.  We lucked out with amazing weather which just made the experience so much more enjoyable.  Cape Reinga is the northern most point in New Zealand and is also where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean and on a clear day, like the one we had, you can actually see where the waters collide.  It was amazing!  And on our way we stopped by 90-mile beach (which isn't actually 90 miles, but that's just details) and went to the dunes to try sand boarding (basically sledding down massive sand dunes).

Waitomo Caves, New Zealand:
Blackwater rafting at Waitomo
On the last Saturday of our holiday we drove south of Auckland to see Waitomo Caves.  The caves are famous for the glow worms that line the ceilings.  We opted for a blackwater rafting tour to really experience the caves.  Blackwater rafting is hiking and tubing through the cave on a guided tour.  The water was freezing but the glow worms and the experience made it very impressive.  And along the route we found out that the "glow worms" are actually fly larvae (a.k.a. maggots) that glow to attract their food source.  Rightly so, they have been calling them glow worms since the 1800s when they first started bringing tourists to the caves.

Things to be thankful for:
- Best friends
- New Zealand - an amazing country
- Crossing more off my to do list (see the bay of islands, Waitomo Caves, half marathon and sand boarding!! It was a busy vacation!)