Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Easter, I'm not letting YOU get by unnoticed!


Easter really sneaked up on me this year. I mean, I'd seen the ten foot tall inflatable Easter bunny at New World supermarket, and I'd eaten some hot cross buns last weekend, but I hadn't given Easter much thought after that.

When life is treating me well, Easter is easy to ignore. Right now life is treating me very well.

Yesterday I woke up, drank peppermint tea and read Hemingway. Then Dan and I ran down to the beach and jumped into the sea. We swam against a background of volcanic islands and palm trees. We walked back up to the house, barefoot and soaking. We made coffee and I wrote all day. If this isn't life treating me well, then I don't know what is.

But even when my house is in order, when my finances, my emotions and my relationships are all ticking away nicely, I need to pay Easter some respect. I've got to tip my hat to this holiday I know I'm indebted to.

Easter comes along, if quietly and on tip toes, and reminds me of the 29 other Easters I've lived. Easters when I wasn't sipping coffee on the beach in New Zealand, when my house felt anything but in order. I think of years when Easter was really stretching, because of difficult relationship scenarios, because of a train wreck that crashed into my faith and worldview, because of fear, guilt, doubt and all of those other things that happen to humans.

As a human of faith, specifically of the Christian variety, Easter is my backbone. In the Christian calendar, it's the holiday that celebrates Jesus' resurrection. It resonates with me, because I'm all about resurrection. Easter reminds me that I believe in a God who says, "Give me the worst you've got. Give me the places you feel death. I'm going to go ahead and turn all that into life." This resurrection belief is one I've clung to through many long Good Fridays of the soul, waiting for the relief of Easter Sunday.

I am so grateful that right now I don't feel like I'm hanging on desperately to a resurrection God. But Easter is my yearly reminder that I have felt this - I've hung on with white knuckles - and that I may again. And that whether I feel it or not, my identity revolves around a resurrection. I'm grateful to have a God who doesn't let me drown in desperation, but drip feeds me hope when I need it.

Easter may humbly try and sneak by unnoticed, but I'm not going to let it. I hope everyone has a lovely holiday with friends and family and that you may all know the grace of resurrection in your lives this year as well.

Photo: Lawatt

Monday, 29 March 2010

Being Kiwi: The joys of being from a place nobody knows anything about

New Zealand is a place where strangers talk to each other on the streets, which is at first disarming to an ex-Londoner, but ultimately pleasant. Last week a friendly stranger asked if he could borrow a chair from my sidewalk cafĂ© table. All the other tables were full and he needed a place to sip his flat white. Fair enough. I gave a smile and dove back into my laptop. The sixty-year-old man seemed harmless so after a few minutes I said something to him and we got to chatting. It turned out he sold real estate in the Kohimarama area where we’re living. 

Local small talk continued and then he asked me, “Do you know what the best thing about this place is?” 

I told him to hit me, guessing his response: Access to the sea? Laid-back villagey feel? Kiwi ingenuity? Tell me…

“The best thing about New Zealand is that nobody cares about us.”

What a fantastic best thing. 

“Nobody cares about us because nobody knows about us. We’re just a little island in a far corner of the world – our own little secret.”

Even though I wouldn’t trade my American passport for anything, I do have a reoccurring fantasy about being from somewhere with slightly lighter cultural baggage. Somewhere neutral and pleasant, like Ireland or Sweden, where people just smile when you say where you’re from. I imagine it would be quite freeing to come from somewhere that people across the world pay little attention to. New Zealand fits this bill. 

Nobody cares about what New Zealand’s healthcare system looks like (fine, thanks). Nobody even knows who’s freaking leading the country (John Key). No one has strong opinions on this little Kiwi oasis, and if they do, it’s all positive. “I LOVE Lord of the Rings!” or “Flight of the Conchords is awesome!” or “No nuclear, right on!” Honestly, try and come up with something bad about New Zealand. 

If I were from New Zealand I’d be a much less defensive and much more pleasant person. 

Anyway, as of tomorrow, the countdown to Seattle slowly begins: 9 more weeks. And for every day of the next 9 weeks I plan on enjoying this world's best kept secret. 

Friday, 26 March 2010

Autumn in the southern hemisphere

I'd only ever seen New Zealand in raging summer mode, so I was reluctant to believe it was capable of anything else. But I'm giving in, autumn is coming, and I like it.

In England, autumn was a slippery slope straight into a dark and cold winter, so it made me apprehensive. But this year I'm defying odds, and my kiwi autumn is headed... to another summer! Here's to a summer in Seattle on the horizon, and summers are Seattle's best kept secret.

So as you all in the northern hemisphere enjoy the early signs of spring and thaw from a long winter, I'm going to go ahead and tuck into this delicious autumn. I love how in addition to leaves turning red here, so do the berries on palm trees. That made my week.

Hope everyone has a good weekend. I'm off to a craft fair in Grey Lynn on Sunday called Kraft Bomb, and with a name like that, I'm sure it going to be sweet.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Cooking the books: how to use a cookbook

My grandma is a garage sale fiend. When I was home a few years ago she scored me this:

It's a Creative Cooking Encyclopedia a la 1984, and it's got some cracking recipes.

I lugged that thing back to Birmingham, then on to the Crouch End flat and the Ravenscourt Park flat in London. It was pretty big, I mean, 2000 recipes!

When Dan and I started packing to leave England we were vicious. It costs a fortune to ship stuff and with books, it's usually cheaper to just buy them again when you get to America. Sad but true. Since this Creative Cooking Encyclopedia took about a 1/3 of my baggage allowance, I knew it was time to say good-bye. But my crafty side put up a fight - there's some great pictures in there, so much potential!

I knew this was true. I love paper products, way more than I love cooking. So before we left I filleted that book for as many great pages as I could, especially in the dessert, cocktail, mousse, and casserole sections. Nothing like a good 1984 frankfurter casserole.

I've come up with three uses for the recipe pages.

1. Envelopes.

2. Book covers. Whack some contact paper on them. Great for journals or idea books.

3. Wrapping paper. I wrapped most of our Christmas presents in this. Dan's mum even saved her Florentine recipe gift wrap and filed it in the recipe cupboard. It's like a double gift: a pressie and a recipe. (Sorry, no photo for this one, but I still wanted to throw it in there.)

So, that's what I do with cookbooks anyway. Strip them down and use them for my crafty ways.

Have you been up to anything crafty recently? Feel free to send a link for a bit of show and tell.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


Right, a few pics and impressions from our Aussie exploits this weekend. But first thanks again to everyone who gave me recommendations for things to do in Sydney - five days is just not long enough to do it all!

Up there, that's Bondi beach. It was just as I expected with a surf competition and all. What I didn't expect were the hoards of blue jellyfish everywhere and how little Aussie kids love stomping on the ones washed up in the sand. Also, I didn't expect it to rain while we were there - I thought that was illegal in Australia or something. Apparently not.

Me on the red-tipped banana phone. Good reception, but not sure about the need to dip it in red wax.

Can you see what's sleeping in the tree? It was quite the introduction to Sydney when we walked through the botanical gardens at dusk to get to the Opera House with a swooping and active swarm of bats 20 feet above us. I pretended not to be freaked out - they're just like birds I told myself. Later I found out they're fruit bats and aren't interested in me, but I still think they're a bit creepy.

The Opera House in all its glory. What a great building! I mean, what would come to your mind if I said "Sydney" without the Opera House? Bats? Red-tipped bananas?!

Sydney surprised me with how big of a city it is. I imagined some sort of sprawling Orange County type of place, but what I found was more a London-by-sea - but newer, warmer and friendlier. I definitely see why so many Brits do a year or two here.

A fantastic room with a view in a neighborhood called Potts Point that felt a lot like Greenwich Village. Great foliage and sidewalk cafe action all around. I love how cafes have massive magazine stacks to read while you munch on scrambled eggs with sourdough toast. I also love how Australia gets sourdough. I'd forgotten how much I missed that stuff.

One final Tim Tam throwback in the airport with the black forest ones I bought the night before. Legend has it that Aussies bite off both ends of this sandwich cookie, use it as a straw to drink a hot beverage like a flat white (shown), then throw it in their mouth before the cookie collapses. Any Aussies able to verify this for me? Even if they don't they really do this they should, and so should you, because the result is exciting and delicious.

After the Tim Tam throwback there was a slight scare going through security when my carry-on high school backpack tested positive for explosive materials. We sorted it out and I was deemed safe in the end, but I think the false alarm might be a sign that I need to buy a new backpack.

All in all, it was great to hit up Sydney and check off another continent. I think Australia's an underrated place and recommend it to anyone. But the strangest thing was that in Sydney I kept thinking about how much I love New Zealand. And I must admit that it's a great feeling when you go on holiday and are actually looking forward to going "home". I'm definitely going to savor my next 2 1/2 months here...

Monday, 8 March 2010

101. Packing the bags for a holiday within a holiday

This Thursday Dan and I are off to Sydney! I've never been to Australia before and can't wait.

I'm a pretty relaxed traveler (as in, I like loose and breathable itineraries), but I still find it helpful to have a list of places to hit up while there. Are there any little gems I may be missing?

To do in Sydney

The essentials:
  • Sydney Opera House
  • Ferry to Manly (for a great view of the above Opera House)
  • Bondi beach, then a leisurely stroll to Coogee beach
  • Hold a koala at the Taronga zoo (that's the dream)
The coffee:
  • Campos (apparently the best flat whites in Sydney)
  • Bourke Street Bakery
  • Baddde Manors (clever)
Bookshop cafes (I know, I shouldn't be spending time in Sydney in a bookshop, but hey...)
Brews with a view:
  • Manly Wharf Hotel
  • Bondi Social 
  • Blue Horizon
  • Glebe Market
  • Rocks Market
  • Balmain Market

As I was scouring my guide book and websites and blogs for things to do, I was thinking about how there are so many ways to see a city and there are so many types of travelers. I even made a rough breakdown.

Types of travelers: 

Type A - Loves seeing EVERYTHING, and in an organized and strategic (& possibly exhausting) manner

Type B - Wants to be as active as possible, filling the day with physical activity like hiking or canoeing

Type C - A culture vulture, has to see ALL the museums, shows and things of historical interest. Probably will scour informative leaflets in detail.

Type D - The tourist, not afraid to take an open top bus tour

Type E - The taste traveler, basing the trip around things that go in the mouth

I'm no connoisseur, but I like to base my wanderings around what I can eat and drink. I'll search out a place I know I can start the day with good coffee, absorb the atmosphere and go from there. I also try to stay as inactive as possible, except for walking, which can't be helped. Also, I'm not opposed to taking an open top bus tour but Dan's pretty anti, so as yet have never done one.

What type of traveler are you? And any Sydney tips are more than welcome!

{Photos, from flickr: Artie, MR38, JooJoo, GalerieMontmartre}

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Post No. 100: Kindness to foreigners

This week an American woman here in Auckland called me up to see how I was settling in. I'd met her through Dan's mum, but she certainly didn't have to check in with me. The fact that she did, and her invite to coffee, made me kind of emotional. As an expat herself (both in New Zealand and previously in Singapore), she knows what it's like to be new in a foreign culture, and how important it is to reach out.

That's one of the things I'll take back to America too: knowing how hard it is to be foreign and knowing how much it means to reach out to foreigners.

This phone call made me think of all the people who'd gone out of their way to make me feel welcome during my past 8 years as a foreigner.

Here's a best of list:

  • Most every person I met in Japan.
  • Specifically the Japanese family who lived in my neighbourhood and invited me to a nabe party over the Christmas holidays. The shy dad came to my door with his daughter (who'd randomly attended high school in Oregon!) and asked me over for the next evening. I'd never even met them, but when you're the only white girl in town, people know who you are. 
  • Our dear friends Andy and Emma who welcomed us to Birmingham so lavishly, took us out to lunch the first time we met at church, invited us to every social event, and brought round a Christmas goodie bag to see us through the holidays.
  • Dave and Jill, the Californian couple living in West London, who opened up their home every Sunday night specifically to foreigners. That was their thing. So every Sunday night their house was filled with Koreans, Thais, Italians, Americans, Japanese, and a few Brits...and amazing food from every nationality. There was such a sweet atmosphere there that the first time Dan and I went we thought that this is what heaven must be like.

There are many other people who went out of their way for us and I am so appreciative. I hope to pay it back when I finally get back on my own turf, to zero in on people who are new or foreign or just feel a bit out of place and extend some generous hospitality.

In the meantime, I just want to say a big

thank you 

again to everyone who's gone out of their way to make us feel at home wherever we are.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Send me a postcard please!


One of my favorite things about having a blog is when someone tells me they actually read it. Honestly, when you press that publish button and send it out, it's hard to know just where it's going.

Especially living halfway across the globe from old friends and new (and I'm always halfway across from somebody), connecting on the ol' interweb makes me feel like I'm a part of something just a bit bigger than my actual location.

So... what I'm asking you to do is send me a postcard.

Not an actual postcard (save the trees and all), just a postcard in the comments below.

All you have to do is answer the following:

1.    Where are you living now?
2.    Where is a place that holds a fond memory?
3.    Where are you dreaming of going next?

I'll go first...

1.    I'm currently living in the lovely Auckland, New Zealand
2.    Bali is the place that took my breath away, probably because it's where Dan first told me he loved me on my 24th birthday. Also, it's just stunning.
3.    I'm dreaming of going to Sydney, because I am going there next week. Also I can't wait to go back to Seattle in June. And to add a 3rd 'S', I'm thinking a lot about Shanghai recently.

So, go on and send me a postcard. No postage, so no excuse. I can't wait to see all the places we've got covered between us.

 (I got this idea from Rachel Held Evan's fab blog by the way. Check it out after you've sent the postcard.)
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