Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween!


This morning, my two little monsters turned into a little witch, and a not-so-little Count Dracula.

The reason? It’s Halloween! And the 685-millionth thing I didn’t know about Kiwis, is that they celebrate Halloween here.
The kids have been beside themselves for weeks now, counting down the days.

With American cartoons being a regular part of their TV diet for so long, I guess it’s only natural that they couldn’t wait for their chance to dress up and go trick or treating.

Their school kicked things off by announcing a Halloween costume dress-up day. Yes, my sewing skills are limited but somehow I managed to cobble together a couple of costumes with the help of the dress-up box, face paint, and a couple of bargains from the $2 shop. Even more surprisingly, my efforts were given the nod (okay, squeals) of approval from two very excited children.

C. chose to go as Count Dracula, and quickly set about painting fake blood on his teeth and axe. (And yes, I know Count Dracula didn’t have an axe, but who is going to let facts get in the way of a small dude’s fun?) H. made a late minute scratching of her Dorothy the Dinosaur idea, and became a wicked witch instead, complete with warty nose.

We walked to school, as we do whenever we can, and of course, the kids attracted smiles, waves and toots from passersby. Their excitement was infectious, particularly when we reached the school and saw dozens of witches, warlocks, counts, ghosts and monsters chasing each other around the playground. Even the teachers joined in the fun, in their own scary (and funny) costumes.

Tonight, we’re supposed to go trick or treating around our neighbourhood (that’s if the costumes survive the day). We’ve also laid in supplies of lollies and treats in case any ghosts or ghouls want to pay us a visit.

H. wants me to dress up too, but since I can be pretty scary at times, I suppose I can just go as myself!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Not exactly hard labour...

H. enjoys a tea party with her friends.

It was our first long weekend here in Auckland, with Monday a holiday for Labour Day.

With rain forecast for most of the weekend, we decided to stay indoors. A couple of swims and spas, plenty of reading, and a few DVDs were just what the doctor ordered.

Friends came by for Sunday lunch, which was a good excuse to further my education on the NZ wine industry.

This Riverstone Pinot Gris was deliciously fun and fruity, with a hint of green apple and pear.
It went down far too easily!

Monday dawned bright and sunny, so we took a walk into the city via the Viaduct. The Viaduct is basically a collection of trendy restaurants, cafes and shops along the harbour.

The kids were entranced by the yachts, ships and catamarans, though couldn't understand why they weren't allowed to board and explore all the boats!
All that walking and fresh air gave them an appetite, but luckily, as in Australia, a McDonalds is never too far away here. After a pasta zoo meal each, they were still hungry. C. tucked in to a hot chocolate and raspberry-apple pie, while H. made short work of an ice-cream.















If only weekends could last all week ...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Auckland supermarkets

Australia and New Zealand similar?
Sometimes when I'm grocery shopping, I'm not so sure.
Here of some of the staples stocked at our local supermarket (and yes, I'm sure the staff do think I'm a nutter, after my furtive photography efforts this morning) ...
Kiwis love their Kumara, and for convenience you can buy it as wedges, chips, rosti and hashbrowns.

Fresh cockles and mussels.
If, like me, you're not sure how to cook them, you can buy some ready to go...
Fancy a hangi, but don't have the facilities to DIY? Grab one in a box!
Or how about a TV dinner? There are a huge range of gourmet meals, cooked then vaccuum-sealed. This one's roast beef, vegies, gravy and Yorkshire Pudding. Just reheat in the microwave (It tastes better than it looks).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Impressions of Auckland

Ready for school in their new T-shirts


So we’ve been here two months already, and everyone is asking what living in NZ is really like.

We’re still feeling our way really, but so far, so good.

Funnily enough, I had assumed that living in New Zealand would be very similar to life in Australia. And in some ways that’s true. We speak the same language, for example, and a lot of the foods are similar (in NZ, Kiwi Kids Are Weet Bix Kids)!

But so far I've found the culture and surroundings – have more in common with England than Australia. There are American influences too – for example, it appears that Halloween is celebrated here fairly widely, if the barrage of advertising and television programming is anything to go by.
School life is much the same...

I love the fact that there is water aplenty, and unlike drought-ravaged Brisbane, we can now enjoy guilt-free baths (well, at least until we get the electricity bill! We have an old-fashioned hot water system here, not a solar one!)

To my horror, wine is generally more expensive than at home, particularly cleanskins and boxes. But I’ve found the supermarkets often have fabulous specials that make it possible to drink nicer wine more often. The other day I stocked up on a couple of Jacobs Creek wines for NZ$6.99. I don’t think I’ve ever paid so little for Jacobs Creek wines at home!

Beer is slightly cheaper too. Kyle picked up a six-pack of Corona the other day for NZ$10.99.

Medical and pharmaceutical costs have been the real surprise. Our first doctors visits cost NZ$85, and a follow-up was $75. Many medical services that are bulk-billed at home, like x-rays and routine bloodwork, can cost hundreds here. And prescriptions and over the counter medicines are frightfully expensive. For example, kiddie panadol is more than twice the price. A simple 50-pack of paracetamol was on sale for NZ$9.99 yesterday (I used to pay AUS$2.99 at epharmacy for 100). And a ventolin was NZ$20 (I could get two for AUS$13 at home). Apparently costs come down once you’ve been with the same doctor for three months. But I hate to think how pensioners and people on low incomes survive. They literally can't afford to get sick!

The kids have really embraced the lifestyle and are happily making friends, which was one of our biggest concerns. But they still miss their friends and family back home, and often tell me to take a photo to put on the web so their loved ones can see what they've been up to.

They love getting phone calls and emails, so imagine their surprise yesterday when a parcel arrived from Grandma and Pa-pa.

They were so thrilled they insisted on wearing their new shirts to school today!

Home-wise, we’ve settled in well. Strangely, after all that downsizing and sorting out prior to our move, I wish we’d brought a few more things over. For example, all the lunchboxes came – but none of my pantry Tupperware. You know, usefull stuff like containers to store flour and sugar and cereal in. I don’t know how that happened!

And I wish we’d brought more photos and pictures, particularly for the kids’ rooms. We only brought a few thinking we wouldn’t be able to put them up in a rental home, but there are loads of hooks and the walls are looking bare. We're hoping to slowly start adorning them with bits and pieces of Kiwi art which we'll collect on our travels.

So far, apart from family and friends, it's the little things I miss about home:
Sunrise (I know, but I liked to catch-up with the world in the background while we got ready for school and work, and the Kiwi version is horrid);
The Courier Mail and Sunday Mail (I can read them online, but it's not the same as leaving sections scattered throughout the house to annoy my husband!);
Our pets (Even though we still think we made the right decision by not subjecting them to a move, I miss them desperately. Particularly Daisy! I would give anything to give her a big cuddle and hear her snoring at my feet.)
The river and parklands behind our house (though we now have a cool park nearby, and the harbour is within walking distance)
Our barbecue and outdoor setting (but hopefully we will get a replacement here soon).
Aussie TV - Our free-to-air telly programming back home is far more entertaining than we're getting here. Mind you, I guess that just gives me more time to blog!
My Wine Of The Week
mmm....chardonnay ...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Schools, snakes, and chicken in a can

Some things stay the same, despite international borders, and one of them is school fundraising.
The kids' Auckland school is raising money by asking kids (and parents) to sell chocolates and lollies on their behalf.
Of course, C. and H. wasted no time dragging me out into our neighbourhood to make inroads into their boxes of snakes.
At home, we'd have had no shortage of buyers to guilt into taking a few packets off our hands - neighbours, friends, relatives. But now we live in a fairly trendy development of townhouses close to the city, and haven't really gotten to know anyone. The body corporate discourage door-to-door salespeople, and even junk mail is a no-no.
So I really wasn't sure how our new neighbours would take to unsolicited visits from young kids pushing sweets. But I needn't have worried. One woman bought five packets, while another bought two, despite having started a new diet with Jenny Craig. One man gave Chase $5 for $4 worth of snakes, and insisted he keep the change.
We even ventured into a couple of nearby offices, where the kids were warmly welcomed and inundated with sales from office-workers with the afternoon munchies.
It was all really sweet (pardon the pun).
Last night, Kyle enjoyed another must-do Auckland experience - a Kiwi Octoberfest. From what I can tell it mainly involved lots of beer-drinking and meat-eating, as opposed to a full-on cultural experience, but he really enjoyed it. Particularly the sight of his boss dressed up in Lederhosen!
Speaking of Kiwi experiences, C. has discovered a food I never came across in Australia (but maybe I was looking in the wrong places?) It's chicken in a can.
It's found in the supermarket where the salmon and tuna is sold. At $2-plus for a small tin, it would probably be cheaper to buy the whole chicken!
I can't bring myself to taste it, and H. says it's gross and disgusting. But C. loves it!
Mmm ... canned chicken














This is what it looks like...
So tasty, Dad wants some too!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A taste of France

This weekend, we decided to check out Auckland's French market.
Held at La Cigale, in Parnell, the market features organic fruit and vegetables, roasted chickens, cheeses, crepes, and of course, a huge array of breads and pastries. Oh - and puppies too. (No we didn't bring one home!)
Despite the damp conditions, the market was crowded - too crowded really, for parents with a couple of kids in tow (especially when one insists in being pushed around in a buggy).
For some reason, we encountered the rudest people we've seen so far in New Zealand here. I'm not sure why, perhaps it was the rush to beat the crowds for coffee, cheese and wine that saw some market-goers leave their manners at home. We couldn't get near the tasting area, thanks to the hordes tucking into the free samples as if they were breakfast!
Inside, the kids and I found a few seats. Husband was making his way to one I was saving for him, when suddenly, an older man pushed past him then deftly picked up the chair and took off with it, without breaking stride. All without saying a word!
Despite the crowds, we still were able to sample some of the market offerings ... a delicious caramelised onion and feta tart was divine, while a simple lamb sausage in a roll was upgraded to gourmet status with the addition of fried onions, rocket and chutney. C. wolfed down his first taste of raclette - roasted potatos, chicken sausage and onions topped with bubbling hot French cheese. He declared it delicious! (And wasn't I pleased to see our once-fussy eater trying something new?)
H. snacked on everything like a little bird as usual, except when it came to her drink - a Kiwi Cleanser (kiwi fruit, berries, and apple whizzed into a juice). She slurped it down in record time, so it must have been good.
We took home a couple of demi-baguettes and flat bread topped with onion, peppers and garlic ... mmm, delicious.
I'd love to return to La Cigale, but unless I can convince K. to stay home with the kids, I don't think I'll be braving it any time soon. It's just too much of a struggle battling the weather and the crowds with young kids who risk getting knocked over by a stray baguette!
We had intended to spend Sunday at the beach, but after realising that would mean returning to Auckland with the rest of the End-Of-School-Holiday traffic, we decided to have a lazy day instead.
K. fulfilled a promise by taking the Dude to the movies, Journey of the Centre of the Earth. Apparently, it was 'Awesome!' H. wanted to stay home with me, claiming she still felt a bit sick. Secretly, I think she was worried the movie would be too scary. We enjoyed having some girl time.
We ended the weekend with our new Auckland family tradition - K's Sunday Roast night. This time, my clever husband did a pork roast with crackling and apple sauce, crispy roast potatoes, and vegies. Jamie Oliver eat your heart out!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Park Life


Another week of school holidays have gone by, and somehow we've survived without too many tantrums and tears. The kids have been pretty well-behaved too!
We've spent a lot of time across at our local park, enjoyed a couple of picnics, and caught up with friends.

There was a DVD and Doona Day - coinciding with a wet and cold Auckland day - where we basically snuggled up and stayed dry. Auckland has the perfect weather for Doona Days!
And yesterday, the Little Dude enjoyed a visit to a travel museum and picnic with the city's YMCA school holiday program.
The Princess, poorly with a sore throat and tummy, elected to stay home 'with Mumma'. Keeping her quiet was a challenge, so spent most of the day baking - much to Chase's delight when he arrived home and sampled a few of our creations. I'm still cleaning up the kitchen after my little helper's assistance, but it was worth it to see her mixing and pouring to her heart's content.
Today, Chase is busy building lego creations, then we're walking up the hill to Ponsonby where he will hopefully get a haircut.
One of the downsides of our new home is that just about every night, Harmonie has a nightmare and/or night terrors. She's happy enough during the day, but I guess it's her reaction to the move and change of routine.
Anyway, her cries result in me leaping out of bed and making a midnight dash up three flights of stairs to comfort her. And invitably, she ends up at the bottom of our bed - cuddling my feet. (Yes, she's a weird child sometimes...)
Something tells me she's getting too tall for this, as usually Kyle or I - or both of us - end up getting kicked in the behind. Hence we're shopping for a double bed for her, so at least one of us can nap with her until she goes back to sleep if we need to.
And in response to the interested queries from many of you, yes, I have been sampling a few of the New Zealand wines. Here's one I enjoyed last night (I find wine o-clock comes a bit earlier on the school holidays!)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why are we here?


If I had a New Zealand dollar for every time a local said: “You’ve left Australia to come here? Usually it’s the other way around”, I’d have enough money to fill my car up with petrol.
Maybe twice.
New Zealanders seem fascinated by our reasons for moving here, but as it happens, we’re far from unusual.
According to today’s New Zealand Herald, 77,000 Austalians permanently left the Big Brown Land in 2007-8, 18.4 per cent of them for the Land of the Long White Cloud (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10536227)
So what’s the attraction?
For us, there were several.
First, my husband was offered a fabulous job here with a great company that could give him excellent experience, of a kind that he wouldn’t be able to get in Queensland. He could have, of course, experienced that in Melbourne, Sydney, or Canberra, but we liked the idea of moving further afield.
Financially, it was a decent opportunity, but it wasn’t about the money. It was more about the chance for an enriching family experience.
We thought long and hard about it. We hated the thought of taking the kids out of their fantastic school, and moving away from family and friends.
We hated the idea of packing up our home of 8 years, sifting through all the crap we’ve collected over the years, and finding another one overseas.
But Auckland is just across the ditch after all, and flights are relatively inexpensive.
And, as we’ve found, there are good schools here too, and the kids have settled in quite happily.
There is no major language barrier (though I’m still getting to grips with Maori, and I suck at pronunciation and spelling!). Even the cuisine, driving, and lifestyle are all very similar.
As for me, as a writer and journalist, I’ve worked from home for most of my career. Thanks to the internet, I can file stories just as easily from Auckland as from Brisbane, and as a bonus, it makes staying in touch with loved ones easy.
And Kyle and I have always loved to travel, and the cost of a family – though priceless – had severely clipped our wings.
We saw a relocation overseas as an opportunity for all of us to experience life in another culture, to see more of the fabulous world we live in, and I believe, bond more as a family.
Certainly, as expats often do when they live in another country, we’re likely to see more of this land than we would have of our own had we been back home.
And yes, we’re spending more money doing that – but we’re also enjoying more quality family time together too.
Because we’re renting, we spend weekends sightseeing and going places rather than mowing the lawn, cleaning the pool, and maintaining the house – even if it’s just a walk in the park across the road!
I have one toilet and one bathroom to clean, rather than three and two respectively. We have one car instead of two. Our lives feel cleaner, simpler.
The other day, C – who had raised the most objections when we discussed the move – said in surprise: “I think I like it better here than I do in Australia”.
As a loyal Queenslander, I probably wouldn’t go quite that far just yet, but certainly, there is plenty to like.
And these Aussies in Auckland have no regrets.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pics from our week

H. got a makeover from some older girls in our complex who have befriended her.


The Skytower is pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month.


C. meets New Zealand's "premier balloon artist" at the Alexandra Park indoor markets, Auckland.
Hat's off to the balloon artist!


H. chose a puppy, and is pretty chuffed at being pushed around in a buggy. We had to buy Her Highness a secondhand stroller, because she insists on being 'luppied everywhere. After I overbalanced hoisting her up and fell over in the middle of Queen Street - and that would be the one day I was wearing a dress - Husband insisted we get her one before I break something (or get arrested for lewd behaviour)! Yes, she is a strapping five-year-old, but at least my back feels better and I don't risk showing all of Auckland my knickers anymore. Well not as easily anyway!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

School Holiday Fun


So it's school holiday here, and apart from yelling - a lot - I've been enjoying spending time with the kids.
There have been plenty of visits to the pool, spa and park, as well as playdates with some new friends they've made.
We also enjoyed a day at the movies - lunch, shopping, trampoline-bungy - as you do - and Beverley Hills Chihauhua (It rocked too! The kids loved it and there were enough big kid jokes for me as well. Plus, I'm a sucker for dogs!).
Of course, the kids talked me into spending a few coins at those annoying electronic game zones they seem to have at every single cinema these days. Just as I was warning C. these games never let you win anything, and they're rigged ... he won a huge stuffed blue bear!
In fact, the bear was so big, it got caught in the chute. Quickly, a crowd gathered and I had to get a security guy to come to the rescue (a few shakes and the bear was out).
C. was happy, but H. was not. "I wanna stuffed toy too," she cried. C. tried hard to get her one, as did she (I wasn't allowed, because everyone knows I am challenged in that department), but no luck. By then, I'd spent all my coins and it was time for the movie to start ... so H. was inconsolable. Luckily, popcorn and coke (eventually) bought her silence.
Oh well, at least she enjoyed the trampoline!
Here's proof...