Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Patience of Job?

We told our church friends we were expecting our bub in the context of a short message and video I gave at Sunday night church, which I've posted here if you care to have a look & listen.

The message was entitled "The Patience of Job?" and centers around insights I gained reading the book of Job after I'd had a miscarriage and my body went a little haywire such that we weren't sure we'd be able to have kids.

I'm no professional speaker, of course, so just try to listen fast - I do tend to speak quickly.

P.S. I recommend listening to the audio first, as it lays the groundwork for, and introduces the video.


"The Patience of Job?" Audio


video

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bun in the Oven

Appropriate, I think, as I do love to bake.

Well, it's official - yours truly has spent the last three months or so growing a whole other person! Yep, Baby Lehmann will be making an appearance sometime in early July, so I can say goodbye to sleeping through the night, and say hello to a kind of love that I'm told is more like a force of nature.

We've actually been wanting to have children for a little over a year now, but suffered a miscarriage last November, and some not-too-encouraging symptoms thereafter. While normally quite a private person, I felt led to tell the core membership of our small church and have them begin to pray for us. Well wouldn't you know it, the Bub is due almost exactly nine months since that day! Thank you, Lord!

I found out the day before Chad's birthday, and thus he got the news upon opening one of his birthday presents:

Surprise! You need to start saving for a college fund!

And here is a picture of our sprog:

Cute in a pixely and large-headed way, no?

Around half of the Lehmann family got to come over for a visit a month or so later, so we got to tell them as soon as they dragged their deliriously jet-lagged selves off the plane. To make things extra fun, I put in on a sign in Mad Gab lingo (props to Kayt for that idea), which read as follows:

Hay gas watt? Cherry teas half ink abe abe bee!

It took some of them longer to get than others.

When I told my mom on the phone, she was very happy and emotional, and kept apologizing for tearing up, but I assured her it was way better than her saying "Neat. Gotta go watch Matlock now."

At any rate, we're stoked, and our family and friends are stoked, so this is going to be one well-loved baby by the time s/he makes an appearance in about 6 months - which will be in New Zealand, as we're still having a blast here and are entitled to free maternity and baby care (very budget-friendly). Should be good times :)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Ever since moving to New Zealand in November 2006, we have failed to observe Thanksgiving Day, other than a half-hearted attempt to think about maybe putting together a dinner with some other lonely ex-pats. The drought was finally broken this year, thanks to Robyn, a Kiwi friend of mine. Despite having no real American connections, she decided she would like to have her first Thanksgiving dinner and invited us over to share it. I put together a list of traditional foods, and we divided it up and prepared to feast!

I now know what all of our mother's have gone through year after year, toiling in the kitchen literally all day long to put some lovely food on the table for our families (though I had it easy - Robyn did it all with two small children and a baby to look after!). She had a laugh over preparing candied yams, which seem pretty bizarre to a Kiwi, and are called kumara over here at any rate.

Other overseas adjustments included:
  • making the pumpkin pie out of an actual pumpkin, instead of a can
  • making cornbread dressing in a country where cornmeal is virtually non-existent
  • chicken instead of the amazingly expensive and much more rare turkey option - not too unusual since we often used to have chicken as it's just easier to get right
  • green bean casserole where canned green beans are not that common (I used fresh) and there are no canned french fried onions (crushed up Ritz crackers work in a pinch, in case you were wondering)
  • ready-rolled pie crusts are even more recent to New Zealand than we are, they're inexplicably square-shaped, and are a bit on the smallish side (I'm just not brave enough to try my own and I was short of time anyway)
  • no light corn syrup for the pecan pie, just golden syrup, which is the strength equivalent of dark corn syrup, is made from sugarcane and tastes like cracker jack's coating.
The pecan pie tasted great, since I like mine molasses-y flavored anyway, though Chad was a little worried that my first words upon pulling it out of the oven were: "Well, THAT'S different." Though I've made pecan pies successfully before, this one souffleed up in the middle like mad, slowly settling to more or less even as it cooled. I've heard of this as a symptom of overcooked pumpkin pies and cheesecakes, but not so far with pecan pies - maybe some of you kitchen whizzes out there can give some insight.

Nonetheless, we were able to handily re-create a very special meal from our combined nostalgic memories. I even explained in general terms about the harvest feast of the Pilgrims & Indians to their 4 1/2 year-old son (leaving out details like religious persecution, starvation and disease). It was still a little surreal that the weather was hot and sunny and there was no football on TV, but we were all thankful for the chance to spend time with friends, share in an abundance of food, and celebrate one of the really neat traditions in American culture.

Miss and love you all very much. Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grrrrr...

Or, Why Irresponsible Dog Owners Should Be Beaten With a Stick Until They Get a Clue Before Their Unruly Beast Eats Someone!!!

We moved to New Zealand from Fort Collins, Colorado, arguably a dog-favorable community. There are at least three dog daycare centers, multiple dog parks, and even shops in downtown that let you bring in a well-behaved pet on leash. So it was a shock to us to find New Zealand a much different climate when it comes to canine companions.

Basically, Kiwis are a bunch of dog-haters. Ok maybe not, but when you're travelling with one and everywhere you go you see signs saying that your dog will be shot on sight, you begin to think so. Anyway, in one respect it's because of the high population density of chase-able, edible livestock that can mean financial loss to a farmer if an unsupervised dog comes on their property. Secondly, New Zealand has no significant indigenous predators, which means that the richly varied population of native birds has been decimated by introduced species such as dogs - including the iconic and flightless Kiwi bird.

The third reason, which incidentally ties in intimately with the first two, is that many of the people who do own non-working (i.e. farm) dogs here are the kind of owners you see featured on Animal Cops. They aquire dogs from breeds known for aggresive behavior for the purpose of "protection", and also because they engender fear in others. Case in point: the strutting, smirking fellow I saw in town walking his large, unneutered male on a thick, hardware store-style chain. There have been several reports in the news recently of people being attacked by these dogs, but sadly it has been school age children rather than theives or rival gang members who suffered.

sigh



All this brings me to what happened on our otherwise lovely walk with our own to kind and obedient dogs (one of which we are dogsitting for some friends).

Pals: Nala & Abby



We had just been for a ramble down to the beach, when on the way back to the car, we spotted a small boy walking a pit bull crossbreed towards us.

Seeing the potential for trouble, we each got a dog firmly in hand and walked them single file as close to the other side of the narrow path as we could. Both Nala and Abby behaved beautifully, moving quickly right along and paying no attention to the pit bull. As we passed, the dog stopped, stared, and began to growl. Nala, my own 91lb. (and by no means a pushover) German Shepherd didn't care for his attitude, but kept right on going as I'd asked. After getting by them, we heard a loud snarl, and turned to see that the struggling dog had just slipped his (far too loose!) collar and was charging for us, jaws wide open. Oddly, he did not go for Nala, as aggro dogs would tend to do since she looks the most threatening. Instead he darted straight at small, sweet Abby, who was only too happy to let Chad whip her behind himself as we bunched up and shouted at the dog to back off.

Thwarted, he stood back a bit wondering what to do next while Chad, Nala, and I faced him down with stares and growls (yes, we literally growled at him as well). This is not advisable dog safety etiquette, but suddenly he didn't like his odds very much, so he refrained from trying again. The little boy who had weirdly been given the task of "controlling" him was smart enough to run back up the path to get help from the rest of his family. Even with two adults, they had a hard time getting him collared again and under control, possibly because mom had a second pit bull with her (!!!). We waited tensely until it was reasonably safe, then passed them again, now with TWO hyped-up pit bulls snarling and writhing in their owners' hands. Chad is generally a more patient person than I am, but it was all he could do not to read them the riot act, but good.

The mom actually did apologize profusely, which doesn't excuse fostering such potential for horror in her own home, but considering I've actually seen owners of such dogs try to blame the other party for an unprovoked attack, we accepted it and just kept going. If you're crazy enough to live with a potentially vicious dog in your house with your children, there's not much I can say that will change your mind - usually until it's too late.

So I guess the moral of the story is that while you can't control other people's irresponsible behavior, if you decide to have a dog, learn all you can about how to teach them to cooperate and follow your lead. It could save their life.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I've Been Microchipped

Like my faithful, furry friend Nala, yours truly has been microchipped.

I renewed my passport the other day, which incidentally is MUCH faster here at the consulate than in the Collin County passport office (seven days as opposed to six weeks; let's hear it for small government!). My first one, issued in 1999, was plain and simple - unassuming graphics, a real picture laminated to the information page, and that's about it. In the new one, they felt the need to be creative, with all sorts of suitably American images on each page: Lady Liberty, Voyager passing the Moon, a steamboat on the mighty Mississippi, etc. The personal information is now on fragile little page 2, rather than just inside the sturdy front cover. My face is also printed directly on it, with no interference from our traditional friend, the photograph.

But really, this information page is just a formality, as my new passport is equipped with "sensitive electronics" that should not be folded, bent, or exposed to extreme temperatures. Yup, you guessed it, a microchip. I guess I should just be glad they didn't ask if they could also put one in my right hand.

It seems the end of an era really, as I'm sure this puts that most iconic of world travellers - the good ol' earthy backpacker - at a disadvantage:
"Avoid extreme temperatures?! What am I suppose to do with it when I'm riding in a camel train across the Sahara? No folding?! What about when I'm on a night train to outer Slabovia and we're attacked by train robbers on horseback, and I throw my pack out the window and do a diving roll to save my life and last thirty dollars?! I can't be worried about "not bending" my passport at times like that!!"


On a different note, my old passport was apparently invalidated by a pack of rabid single hole punches that attacked one night as it sat defenseless in the office. Seriously, it looks like it was involved in a drive-by in Auckland Central. Happily, they missed my NZ work visa, and some of my cooler stamps from past forays like Cambodia and Germany (yes, I'm bragging).


And while I don't generally recommend surrendering your passport when in a foreign country, it was a relatively quick and painless procedure to bring my documentation into the 21st century. I will let you know if I discover that the chip plays My Country Tis' of Thee, or anything when scanned - that would be so worth it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Adventure on the High Seas

Just so we're up front about things, this is Chad - Hi! I do write once and a while, but leave the majority of it up to my lovely wife and her creative talents. However, this particular occasion did not involve Charity, so it's up to me to keep you in the loop....

One of the great Kiwi pasttimes would have to be fishing. Some Kiwis fish for trout in fresh-water, but largely fishing to Kiwis would be salt water - either from the beach or from a boat. I grew up fishing, both from shore and from a boat, but in pretty calm waters and relatively small fish (if any at all ;-) Since coming here I've always wanted to tackle the high seas... I just needed a boat, a rod, a reel, some bait, and even a vague idea of what to do on the open ocean!!! Enter Schneider Electric - our company buys quite a bit of gear from Schneider, so now and again they pass on a choice opportunity to a few guys from Concord (my company). In this case, Schneider hired a charter fishing boat out of Raglan to take about 10 guys out snapper fishing for the day and invited 2 lucky Concord employees to join in the fun - me and Sean. =) So Sean was able to provide the general expertise, including what bait to purchase and from where, as well as provide me with a spare rod and reel. ....NOW we're getting somewhere!

We met down at the wharf at 6:30am to get loaded up and were headed out to sea by about 7:00am.

The forecast for the day was chance of rain and 2-3meter swells.... not so good... but hey, it beats work right! (we went on a Friday =) ....considering the swells and my inexperience with travelling the open ocean a fairly small boat I was a bit nervous about being sea-sick the whole time and frankly I think that work WOULD be better than that! I mentioned it to Sean, and again his experience proved valuable as he was able to recommend some tried and true over-the-counter drugs that would see me through - "SeaLegs" by name.

So with a dose of SeaLegs, some lunch for later and the buzz of excitement on the boat we headed out!

Turns out that the weather so far was looking pretty good considering we kinda expected to be standing in the drizzly rain all day. There was a peek of blue sky and the wind was reasonably calm as we left the sheltered waters of Raglan harbor. We all stood and talked as we trudged on further out to sea - all of us gauging our stomachs for any signs of un-ease in the rolling swell. So far so good for me!

Our parking spot for the day was about 12 miles from shore and at a depth of approx 56m.... not quite the fishing experience I am used to! You could still see land, but if it had been a drizzly day I'm sure you wouldn't be able to see anything but water! To start the day the swell was "only" about 2m. Which basically means that there were times between big waves where you couldn't see the horizon because it was blocked by the crest of a wave. Yeah, neat. With the anchor down we were particularly prone to pitching with the waves, I'm guessing the deck was pitching from about +40 degrees to -40 degrees constantly all day. Sure makes walking around the deck a blast... and don't even get me started on trying to go to the bathroom! In the end I survived the whole day without getting seasick, which was a HUGE blessing, and there were only two guys who did have trouble finding their feet - but they still managed to pull in a few fish which was fully admirable. Here's a few shots of life on the boat:

My workmate Sean who was STOKED to come on the trip and only happy to help me out with gear and advice as the trip progressed.







Aaron, the boat's skipper, carving up a shark that was caught early on. He filleted a few of them for eating, but most of them he just cut to bits and threw them back - nuisance fish I guess....?










One of my catches of the day - Barracuda! They aren't good for anything, but they're GREAT fun to catch!!! ....and they have massive teeth!














I wish I had a better picture of one of these, but this is the best I managed - this is a Gurnard. I think this particular one is the biggest of the day. I caught 3 and two were keepers, and there were another 6-7 caught by others on the boat. They are quite prized for eating and have BEAUTIFUL fins in addition to being bright orange.




....and these guys were the target of the trip - Red Snapper! (the ones on the left....that are kinda bloody) I realized once I got back that I didn't really get a good pic of a live one, so here's a shot of the ice bin where we were loading them all in. The green/white fish on the right is a Kahawai - we kept a few (obviously) but threw back just as many or more. They are decent eating, but basically just get in the way when we're trying to catch snapper!



So here we are back at the wharf with our haul. I'm not sure what the total was, but we just took all the fish that were caught and divided them equally among the guys who came on the trip. I came home with 6 snapper and a gurnard.... which, come to find out, I had to clean myself... always an adventure. =) but I did it and it went pretty well!





The weather did start to pick up later in the day and the ride back towards the harbor was spent riding out 3+meter swells..... yeah.... fun.... =) We also got a glimpse of the maui dolphins that used to frequent the west coast of NZ, but aren't seen as often anymore. They swam right alongside the boat for a mile or so just leading us in to home.

All in all it was a GREAT day - lots of fish, not much rain, and a reasonably settled tummy!

Road Trip! Part Four: The Lighthouse

On our last day we made a point to make the trip out to the East Cape lighthouse, which sits on the Easternmost point of mainland New Zealand, and carries the distinction of being the most Easterly lighthouse in the world. We considered making it a dawn run so we could be among the first people to set eyes on the sun on October 21st, but really it just wasn't that important to us, so we didn't get up until 8 or so.

The way out looked quite promising for adventure from the start: gravel road hugging the cliffs, threatening to subside in places, narrowing to barely one lane in others. It's hard to believe with those conditions that it's such a touristed (nice word, I think I'll keep it) place, but that's New Zealand and the East Coast in particular for you.


Our first glimpse of the lighthouse indicated pretty quickly that there would be something like 700 stairs involved.


It was probably good to work out our stiff surfing and riding muscles from the day before, though it didn't feel like it at the time.



It was built here on East Island in 1900, where the keepers lived in a small settlement of cottages with their families.


22 years of difficult of island life took it's toll on the keepers, and cost three of their children's lives. The danger of cliff erosion finally convinced the government to move it to it's current location (part of East Island is visible in the bottom left corner of this photo).


A lighthouse keeper manned the mainland site until 1985, when it was fully automated and hooked up to a computer in Wellington, at the very bottom of the North Island.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Road Trip! Part Three: Adventure Day

After the relatively sedate day of swanning about the mansion, we decided to liven things up on Monday with some outdoor pursuits.

First on the menu was surfing! While Raglan is known as a top surf spot in NZ for it's consistency and accessibility, Gisborne is certainly no slouch in the waves department. The day dawned bright and warm with an offshore breeze, and the uncrowded waves were gorgeous even close to the sand - less paddling out!
.

After a stellar session it was time to say goodbye to Gisborne and head up the coast to Tikitiki, and Eastender Horse Treks.

EHT is a small operation run by Reg, a Maori fellow who was quite stoked to be having horse-savvy people coming in.


It was awesomely rough around the edges - my horse's bridle was a bit held on with braided bailing twine - and he encouraged us to ride the horses like they were our own, and that meant pretty much doing whatever we wanted with them. Aww yeeah...

Reg and I racing half-sisters Yokie and East As down the beach


Chad managed to ride a galloping horse and film with his old point-and-shoot at the same time - very talented.
video

Me with East As and Chad riding Troy


Riding up the river -IN the river. Only limited to how wet you wanted to get (it got deeper later on).


Up on the ridge looking down at the beach where we rode earlier - quite a climb.


Jumping stream beds, all-out sprints, playing tag with the waves, and doing our best impressions of a wild west posse in the hills meant it was way more like a day "horsing" around with a friend than a guided tour. I highly recommend it if you like that sort of thing and are out that way :)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Road Trip! Part Two: Gisborne

The lap of luxury...

As it was my birthday weekend (and I mean that literally - I celebrate October the 19th according to local time in both NZ AND the States), Chad booked us in to a fancy bed & breakfast for two nights in Gisborne.

This elegant, 5-bedroom house was originally built in 1912, and has since been fully and beautifully refurbished by the current owners.


The entryway


Staircase with original stained glass windows on the landing



I opted for the upstairs turret bedroom


Complete with sitting area


and a small gas fireplace.

This came in handy as it was chilly and rainy the second day and most of downtown was closed since it was Sunday. We coped by taking naps, and reading in front of the fireplace. Rough, I know.

We rounded out our bad weather day with a DVD in the lounge:

It was hard deciding which tan leather overstuffed couch (not visible in this pic, obviously) to curl up on.

Both mornings, we were treated to the breakfast side of things:


The crepes and three different kinds of fruit and whipped cream and syrup and lemon honey and juice and tea were a lot to handle between the two of us, but we managed.
(It was a good thing the rest of our trip was a lot more active than the first part.)


So, I am basically in love with the whole Edwardian-era bed and breakfast experience, and Chad got multiple rounds of applause for his charming choice of accommodation.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Road Trip! Part One: The Drive

As we approach the two-year mark of living in New Zealand, we decided to revert to behaving like tourists once again by taking a long weekend holiday to the East Cape. This somewhat isolated region is home to fewer people but still chokka with natural beauty and adventure without all the fuss and bother of having to share. It's the first place on the first major land mass to see the sun each morning, as the international date line lies only a few hundred miles to the East.


The relatively long drive was just as much a part of the experience, as Chad and I love road tripping anyway, and in NZ there are always an amazing amount of things to see on the way to anywhere.

A falling rock sign:

And they are not kidding around - Land Transport NZ runs road checks morning and evening from both ends of the Gisborne highway to make sure its not blocked by landslides.

The river that accompanied us partway on our drive, making for some prime and ridiculously scenic sheep farming country.



A tom turkey parading around in front his unimpressed girlfriend.



Strange, suddenly I'm craving seasoned breadcrumbs and pumpkin pie...


Then we suspect we took a wrong turn somewhere near the Indian subcontinent.


Yeah, there's cows on the road. It's how they roll here in the East.


A spot of off-roading. Why? Because we can.


Following the highway along the coast.


An historic church gives evidence to the long history of the area. East Cape is where both Polynesian and European explorers first came ashore on Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I've Been Assimilated

Resistance is futile...

So you may or may not be familiar with the classic 1982 hit song "Down Under" by Men at Work, where we hear the lines :
I said, "Do you speak-a my language?"
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.
While the song has to do with the things and people of Australia, New Zealand has a similar product known as Marmite:

As you can see from the label, it's a "yeast spread". Sounds appetizing already, yeah?

So in brief, back in the day (1870), Napoleon III ordered a million cans of beef from England to feed his starving army. At the time, England was not possessed of this much livestock, so they whipped up a little substance called Bovril - a thick, salty beef extract - to get the soldiers their much-needed protein instead. As it proved to be quite nourishing, a vegetarian version was eventually produced from yeast extracts (a by-product of the beer brewing process, thriftily enough) and christened "Marmite". It's strong, distinctive flavor is reflected in the marketing slogan "Love it or hate it", as people usually fall firmly into one of the two categories. While New Zealand used the original British recipe for a number of years, in true Kiwi style they began fiddling with the ingredients such that NZ Marmite is now its own unique product.

I've tried Vegemite and Marmite occasionally over the years, and always fallen into the "hate it" camp, because frankly, it tastes wretched. Our original Kiwi friend Tim assured me that this was because I wasn't eating it properly: with the thinnest possible scrape across bread, and combined with butter, cheese, and sometimes complimentary toppings like avocado and tomato. But seriously, why you would eat anything that is only marginally palatable in a quarter millimeter proportions?

Especially since it looks like industrial lubricant,


and smells about as good as it looks.


Weeeeeeeell, over the last few months I've been helping out with our church's Mainly Music program, a twice weekly sing-a-long for preschoolers and their mums. We provide snacks for the kids which often include little butter and marmite sandwiches. I figured that was the secret to liking it - infant indoctrination - since most Kiwis quite prefer it to peanut butter (go figure on THAT logic. Weirdos). Since we often work hard and rather near to lunchtime, sometimes I'd have a nibble of whatever might be left on the snack tray, including the aforementioned sandwich monstrosities. This was mostly to test myself to see if I still found them awful, which I did... until a few months ago.

Apparently, like coffee, Marmite can also be an aquired taste. Though I've never actually acclimated to coffee, I began to regard Marmite as less and less horrid over time, until one day I found I was actually craving a marmite-butter-cheese-tomato-and-avocado sandwich for lunch. So the next day I went out and did the unthinkable: I bought my very own whole jar of Marmite. Funnily enough, I found it in a nice tiny size that was probably made for people like me, in case we should come to our senses again, sooner rather than later.

So while I can truly claim to be someone who neither loves nor hates Marmite, I can actually appreciate what a savory smudge can do to liven up a cheese sandwich.

So, your challenge this week is this: I double dog dare you to try it. Oh yes, they do sell it in the States, though Vegemite is easier to find as it's made by good ol' American company Kraft Foods. And while British Marmite, Kiwi Marmite, and Vegemite all look just the same, apparently they each have their own distinct flavor, though you couldn't prove it by me; I haven't gone that native.

Marmite, anyone?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mimi

In Memoriam

Syble Irene Lee Prescott
November 19, 1924 - September 22, 2008


Wife for 59 years to the late (great!) Pip Prescott


Mother of Sandra (R) and Dona (L)


Grandmother to Bethany (UL), Melissa (UR), Charity (LL), and Maxie (LR); grandmother-in-law to Chad (the guy).


We spent a lot of time like this when I was growing up: making some recipe or other out of her Southern Living Cookies and Candy Cookbook, so anyone who has ever enjoyed my baking knows who to thank :)


I've never claimed poetic pretensions, but here is a rough attempt inspired by my favorite grandmother:

Mimi

Off to Quanah I am bound,
a place beyond compare.
Summertime was always best,
knowing you'd be waiting there.

You'd say, "Not much to do here.",
which I never understood.
Since all the time I spent with you
enriched my childhood.

Your cookie cookbook, I still have.
We used it through and through.
Each dog-eared page and recipe
reminds me more of you.

We didn't always see eye-to-eye,
like when I'd make a mess.
Or church, when you would try in vain
to get me in a dress.

Together we would always watch
the Golden Girls, our show.
We'd stay up late and have a laugh,
then off to bed we'd go.

The days would blend together,
One long, idyllic run.
Reading, swimming, napping,
regardless, we had fun.

It's hard to be so far away,
and now you're farther still.
I'll be so glad to meet again
and rejoice one day we will.

On to Heaven! Of worldly sorrows,
you have broken free.
When you get there, please give a kiss
to Daddy Pip for me.




Thanks for the time and love. We miss you, Mimi.