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


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.


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.