“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

"The Silly Season"

Here's me, on the left, and Eric, Barb, and Darin at Shakespear Regional Park, north of Auckland. We had a picnic on Christmas day. We brought our snorkel gear, but decided to play Bocce ball instead. Darin and I won the first game, but lost the second and so had to do the dishes after dinner. Dinner was hosted by Barb and Eric, who served a lovely beef rib roast (from one of the Daves- both cows had the same name). The flower is on a Pohutukawa (sp?) tree, also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree. The weather was very nice.

The cats got a kitty "sky tower" for Christmas, as you can see in the photo. The window looks out to the west Waitakere hills, and lot of birds fly around that window. The Mynah birds steal the neigbor dog's food (their dog is named Jazz, too!) on the neigbor's patio, opposite our window. Jazz (our cat) managed to work open the window in the bathroom I had cracked for ventilation the other night, and escaped the house. We called and looked, shining our flashlights (torches) in the dark, under the thick vegitation in our yard and our neighbor's, to no avail. He returned the next morning, fortunately, but I see he has a fine scratch on his nose. He must have met the neighbor's cat. Serves him right. I hope he was cold too.

Monday, December 25, 2006


The Thursday before Christmas, 11 employees from my company went fishing out of Mercury Bay, on the Coromandel peninsula. We had to meet at the office at 4:30 am, drive about 3.5 hours, then slosh around in the boat all day, and ride another 3.5 hours back to Auckland. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. Too bad the wind blew all day, hard, and it rained, too. But, you know what they say- a bad day fishing is still better than working. I caught only 2 fish, but the captain split the catch between the 5 of us. The snapper are a beautiful fish- pink with blue spots (and delicate and delicious). I look forward to returning to visit the Coromandel again, but I think I can skip fishing again for awhile. I enjoy eating fish (tuna, salmon, bass, snapper, halibut, lincod...), but as a scuba diver, I know the marine environment is under serious pressure. By fishing, I am part of the problem. The issue is a complicated one, and obviously I don't hold recreational fishing responsible for declining fishstocks. By going out to get the fish myself, at least I can remind myself of the sacrifice of the animal, instead of buying a piece of meat in the store. Does this make me less inclined to eat meat? No. But I do feel like I earned that delicious meat, and enjoy it all the more.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Parade in Swanson

Here's a few photos from the Swanson Christmas parade. Barbara and Jim (elf and Santa) are Barb and Eric's neighbors. We discovered why no one here gets excited about dressing up for Halloween. People do it instead for Christmas (the parade anyway). The parade was small, as this is a small town, even with the next town over(Ranui) joining in.
As a Christmas gift from my company, we got to take Friday the 22nd off with pay. I also got a free-range turkey (costs about $35 here!), a bottle of champagne, a jar of cranberry sauce, and little mince tarts. That was very nice, but I am peeved that I, as well as the rest of the staff, was required to take vacation days Dec. 27-29. They wanted to close the office and if you needed to work, you needed your supervisor's permission. I think I should have discretion as to when I take my vacation, instead of having it imposed on me. I can't get too upset about it though, as I can really use the time off now to get moved into the house. We still need to do home improvements (paint, put carpet in) before we can move furniture in, and we need to buy a bedroom set since we don't have anywhere to put our clothes, so we're limited in what we can do. Today, Darin put together the cat "sky tower" and the cats are both sleeping on the top roost, cuddled up together. Awww, so cute!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

moving into our new house

After living with my sister and brother in law for the past 10 weeks, I'm ready for independence. Darin and I got the keys to the house on Friday Dec. 16. We still ate dinner with them on the weekend. Barb cooked up some of her freshly butchered cow, mmmm.
Now that we're in the house, we see all the details we missed before. Darin has been working full time to get the place in order. We picked up our TV, stereo surround sound, dvd player, coffee maker, microwave, dryer, dishwasher, telephone, and some other stuff I'm probably forgetting. The dryer has to be mounted upside-down above the washer- fairly common here, if you even have a dryer. Most everyone hangs laundry on the clothesline. We will do this too but it's good to have the dryer for when it rains, as it does reguarly here, like today. He had to drill a hole in the exterior wall to put the exhaust duct through. He also put a latch on the sliding door from the kitchen to the laundry room, so we can confine the cats in there temporarily. The cats have a couple nice windows with wide ledges to look out into the front and side yard. We are trying to adapt them to the new surroundings slowly in hopes that this will avoid any behavioral problems.
I found the dishes and got groceries. My attempt to use the oven to make our first meal in the house was a frustrating experience. This stove is electronic and has no instruction book, and is not at all user friendly. Darin sat in front of it for 10 min trying to get it to turn on and stay on. He got it to work but is not sure how. We just got internet connection today, so we'll search around to maybe download instructions.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lure Coursing in New Zealand

We were invited to join a group of sighthound owners to come lure coursing on Sunday. The weather could not have been nicer, and the scenery was of cows ("beefies") and red deer grazing in the paddocks. Wendy, our host, is a Borzoi breeder we met at a dog show a few weeks ago, and has a lot of property south of Auckland. She is just getting started in lure coursing. She took this photo of Cerebus, shown on the right, and I took one of her Borzoi, on the left. Barb, Darin, and I brought Fargo and Cerebus out for fun with the other dogs: a young Norwegian Elkhound, several Whippets, and several Borzoi. Fargo, the Rottie, is not fast but demonstrated for all watching the enormous "drive" that motivates him to chase the lure. He had such a great time, as did Cerebus. Afterwards we had a BBQ at Wendy's house.
Barb and Eric got 3 new calves on Saturday. One of them will be for Darin and me. They are Angus x Fresian.
The turkeys had taken up residence across the road a ways, and on Saturday we went down to try to herd them back. A neighbor managed to catch one after it ran up his driveway, and Darin caught another, and they are now back on Barb and Eric's property. We hope they'll stay this time, but really have no way to keep them here. The third hen was not in sight when we caught the other two, but she's still around- probably sitting on eggs.
The cicadas hatched today in the Auckland Domain. I walk through there almost daily, between buildings for work, and yesterday it was quiet. Today, the trees were buzzing loudly. None out in Swanson, yet. Soon I'm sure.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New Zealand Residence

We got our NZ Residence Visas this week, yay! Now Darin can get a job if he wants, and we can come and go from the country as we please. The process went surprisingly fast. I submitted the Skilled Migrant application October 19, added a few documents to complete the application in early November, and we had a letter from the Immigration office at the end of Nov. We gave them our US passports, and they sent them back about 10 days later with the residence visa and returning resident's permit stamps.
The whole process has taken less than a year. I began applying for a Work Permit back in April 2006, and had it by the end of May. We later (June I think) applied for residence by first submitting an Expression of Interest. I had already completed the chest xray, medical review, and police certificate for my work permit, but Darin was not included in the work permit- he had to enter the country with a return flight and visitor's permit, only good for a few months. He would have applied for an extension if the residence app. were not approved so fast.

The photos are of Fargo and me at Bethell's Beach, a 20 min drive from our home. Isn't he handsome? Too bad his movement is such a mess. Still he loves to run, and got a real workout chasing the ball. He needs to be ready to run lure coursing this weekend! The borzoi breeder we met at the dog show invited us to come out this Sunday.

I've taken the train to work 3 days in the past week, and it's very comfortable. The train station in Swanson is kept very clean and nice, and I get on near the end of the line so there's always free seats to choose. By the time we get another 2 stops along the line, the train is full at commute time. It's $5 each way, but it's more affordable if you buy a pass. It takes about an hour to get to work on the train, which is about what the drive takes in commuter traffic.

In other news, our shipping container was delivered on Monday. Darin and the movers put it into the garage at our new house (we don't move in until Dec 15). MAF inspected 28 boxes, but approved everything! "Sweet as" is how they would express pleasure in NZ. I retrieved the dog toenail clippers last night, but not much else is accessable.

In animal updates, the cows got sacrificed today. They've gone to the butcher for processing. Darin saved the liver and hearts for dog and cat food. Fargo barely chewed the big chunk of boiled liver I fed him for dinner. The cats are doing ok. Darin made them a great toy with some feathers we saved from the turkeys. We saw the turkeys crossing the road on Monday- they are still preferring to hang around the neighbor's lifestyle block.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bad luck

These photos were taken at Takapuna beach, north of the Auckland business district, across a big bridge. We went out and test drove a boat a few weeks ago.
We also had fun last night at my company's Christmas party. Yeah, it was on a Tuesday night, in November, and no one bothers calling it a "holiday" party. Whatever. We had to leave unexpectedly (9 pm, we'd had 3.5 hrs of visiting and food and drinks, so that was enough anyway). Barb called to say Fargo was missing. I thought I was going to puke when she told me this, because this is very unusual for him. My Rottweiler is very attached to people, and never just takes off for the hell of it. My immediate assumption was that he had left the property, somehow getting past the gates, and been hit by a car. Or, someone driving by picked him up (he is friendly and handsome). Those were the only possible scenarios. Why else would he be gone that long, and not come when called? Barb and Eric alerted the neighbors, walked up and down the hill and neighborhood, calling him, and had no response. They must have been worried sick. To think that my dog had come all the way across the Pacific, into the opposite hemisphere, on the other side of the earth, to go through 30 days of isolation, only to end up roadkill- this was horrifying.
Barb called back shortly after we started our drive back home to tell us he was back! What relief I felt! Eric found him on the property next to theirs. He'd been hiding in a shed because he got shocked by the electric fence, ran away in fear and pain, and didn't know how to get back across the fence. Fargo is attracted to the other side of the electric fence because there are cows there, which he's very interested in, but we've kept him away (hooves and horns, you know). Fargo was out alone after eating his dinner, so no one saw what happened. The yard is fenced but there's no physical fence where the electricity is, just 2 wires running horizontally.
So you would think we could safely retire to bed with the cats and dog then. But no, we had another shock- one of the cats had peed on our new mattress. UGH UGH UGH, Why? That has never happened before. I had just changed the litter. The mattress has a wool pad on top, you can't take it off to clean. I had to change the sheets, Darin rotated the mattress, and I used some enzymatic cleaner on the spot. After work today we bought a mattress protector pad. I'm so pissed at myself for not doing it sooner. Today Darin let the cats spend more time outside the bedroom (they've been confined mostly), and there was no repeat performance. Instead, Jazz managed to pick a fight with and chase Eric's cat Aqua. I don't think anyone got hurt. Just 2 more weeks, kitties, and we'll move you into our new house.
The chicks are getting bigger. There are just 5 of the 7 left, as two escaped the cage and were eaten by Pukekos or falcons. The turkeys have taken up residence across the street on the neighbor's land. We don't have any way to confine them to B&E's land, as they are tame but still free range wild turkeys.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Giving thanks

Thanks to...
...my pets, who tolerated 30 days quarantine, to comfort me here at the edge of the earth.
...my sister and brother in law, who have taken care of me, put up with me, and educated me about living in Auckland.
...my husband, for taking care of the pets and house after I left So Cal for Auckland, and for doing all the busywork to get our lives in order over here.
...my friends who send the regular or occasional email, to give feedback and share information about their lives. I really appreciate this, and I encourage everyone to leave a comment on the blog or send me an email.
...the new friends I have made here, who, so far, are Americans. I am trying to make Kiwi friends, but they tend to be aloof. There are people from all over the world here, and I'm glad for the diversity.
...New Zealand Immigration service, who approved our application for residence (with another payment of $600) so quickly! Yay! The main advantage of this is that I can take advantage of the socialized medicine, and see a specialist at a subsidized cost instead of $325 just for a consultation.

We celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday, the 25th, at Barb's house with 3 other Americans in Auckland, who also happened to be California escapees. We had wild turkey, homemade stuffing, an award winning NZ Pinot Gris, and incredibly rich and yummy chocolate cake. We had a field trip down to visit the cows, turkeys, and chickens. The wild turkeys were re-homed here from a local friend's property- he wanted to get rid of them. We captured a tom and 2 hens and they have made a home here. They are quite interesting and amusing- it was funny to see the cows chasing the turkeys.

Today Darin, Barb and I went to a dog show and met a Borzoi breeder who is interested in lure coursing. She is keen to buy the equipement when visiting the US in April, and I promised to send her the information about where to buy it. As far as Barb and I can tell, the lure coursing here in NZ is just for sighthounds. I did lure coursing with my Rottweiler, and he loved it, at Luratics in San Diego. What a great group. We watched the rottweilers show, and all of them have short muzzles. They also do not disqualify dogs for missing teeth, as the US standard does. I had a nice meeting with Vickie and Ken Brodmuir, whose dogs are very nice. I saw my first Kelpie. There was only one there, though. The other breeds I hadn't come across until moving here include the huntaway and pig dogs. I find it appalling that pet stores sell puppies and kittens in their shops, frequently what they call "designer" dogs, crosses of purebreeds (Bichon x Lhasa Apso, Jack Russel x Papillon, etc.) for upwards of $500, what you might expect to pay for a purebreed dog. Apparently, the kennel clubs here don't care as much about the future of their breeds as the rest of the world.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Fargo, Jazz, and Latte were released from quarantine ($3200 NZD paid) today! Darin brought them home and got them settled. Fortunately, they gave Fargo a bath before his release. The cats are confined to our bedroom for awhile, and Fargo was kept in a crate in the shed until Barb, Eric and I returned from work. Barb, Darin, and I took Barb's dog Cerebus and Fargo to meet each other at the local park. There were no problems, so we brought them home and Fargo got to come into the house. Cerebus got fed, then Fargo. Fargo didn't have much interest in eating, he was so happy and excited to be free from confinement. He did tell Cerebus where to go when he got too close to his dish, though. When Barb and I went to feed the chickens, the dogs came along. Fargo was obsessing over his "Cuz" squeaky ball, and totally ignored Cerebus racing at him in the paddock. Latte ate a plate of Jimbo's raw beef, but Jazz wasn't interested. All of the pets are looking well fed and need exercise. They seem tired out from the stress of the day.
Our house purchase went "unconditional" yesterday after we all signed. The current owners will have the roof repaired, and we'll have access to the garage on the 22nd of Nov. Our closing date is Dec. 15th. Darin is researching homeowners insurance, and we have approval for 3 different mortgages. We just need to decide which one will give us the best rate and perks. Finally, we got the majority of our USD transferred to Everbank, which exchanged it into NZD. Then we'll get the money wired into the ANZ account. Whew! Good thing Darin doesn't have a job, because all these things have kept him really busy! I never could have done it without him, so THANKS DARIN!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Baby chicks

These baby chicks were hatched just a day ago. We're not sure what breed they are. The cows were in the chicken pen eating grass and one of them dropped a pile. Barb accidentally stepped in it. Good thing she has rubber boots on.

Other important birds of note are the Pukeko and Tui. The Pukeko like to eat the chickens's feed as well as steal the eggs and baby chicks. Today, we are going to scope out some wild turkeys that hang about during chicken (chook) feeding time, with an eye toward catching one for Thanksgiving dinner. Darin says he'll clean it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Offer accepted

Holy cow, we just bought a house! It's a few kilometers from Barb and Eric's house, off Scenic Drive. Yippee!!!
It's not a done deal yet, we need to get our money from the US bank accounts and secure a mortgage. Today Darin went along to the inspection, and there appears to be a leak in the roof. We just had a big storm (another), and there is a spot on the ceiling and on the carpet below. It is leaking around the solar panel that is attached to the roof. We will ask that this be fixed. Fortunately, this house was build with hardwood, heartwood Rimu, which is solid. It has Rimu hardwood polished floors in 2 bedrooms, the hallway, and the kitchen. It's throughout so we could pull up the carpet and finish the floor in the living room.
The house is on a lot 809 square meters, with lots of shrubs, trees, flowers, etc. It's fenced and has backyard access. There is a veggie garden, a small patio area in back and a porch in front. There's a double garage, gas stove, solar water heating, and septic is a biological system that digests the waste. We have city water (many homes out here have water tanks that collect rainwater). There are 2 large bedrooms and one small, that I think will be turned into our closet. Only one bathroom, but it's recently remodeled and large. The toilet is in a separate room, a lot of houses are like that here. There's a hearth to put a woodburner back in, but it was removed when current owners installed a heat pump. There is insulation in the ceiling, and there's storage under the house. The view from the back of the house is West towards the forest parks. We have neighbors on either side of us, fairly close, but it feels private. The street we are on dead ends. This will be the 4th house in a row that we have lived in on a cul-de-sac.
We bought something quickly because I have had trouble feeling settled. I feel that if we're going to make a serious attempt to live here, we need our own place to call home. I am impatient. So is Darin. We had wanted to buy a house with land, like Barb and Eric have, but those properties within commuting distance of Auckland are out of our price range. So, we'll save our money for buying land later. We still plan to keep chickens, and, fortuitously, baby chicks are hatching as I write this. Two are hatched already. We'll have our pick of the juveniles! No idea what breed they are- a neighbor brought over the fertilized eggs when she heard Barb's hens are broody. Less than a week until I get my pets back!!
You can see photos of the house on the following link.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

house hunting

Darin and I are house shopping. We've given up on finding any land within commute distance of Auckland downtown- it is just too much money. We are looking for something with a yard, with some privacy, and a kitchen we can work in. Most of the houses here have little insulation, no central air/heating, no screens on the windows, tiny sinks, and tiny yards. So, we've been looking out west, near Barb and Eric's home (where we are currently living), where it's quiet. There are plenty of bush (forest) walks nearby, and great views from the hills. The west coast/Tasman sea beaches are about 30 min away, along twisty forest roads. We went to Piha (photo) on Sunday, and it reminded me quite a lot of Oregon. This is a good thing. To get to the west coast beaches there is no highway along the coast. It is a destination, not a throughfare.
So we'll have to put off our desire to have land for a while longer. With a house out west of Auckland, in the Waitakeres, we can keep chickens at least. And if we are careful with our money, we'll save up to buy land to move to later, or build a "bach" (pronounced "batch", a small vacation home). A second property is tax-decuctable, so in our interest to buy. The commute into the city will be about an hour, but there's a train nearby. Plus, if we buy something near Barb and Eric, we can still carpool into the city.
This past weekend Guy Faukes day was celebrated with fireworks displays. It's like 4th of July only the weather was quite cool. It was a really good show. You could buy fireworks for home displays but only the week prior to the day, but the government is changing it due to the high number of accidents/stupidity with fireworks.
By the way- least corrupt government in the world is New Zealand and Iceland. Yay!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Zombie taffy

I was hoping this taffy, made in Pakistan, would turn me into a zombie. Drat, it didn't work. Maybe it takes awhile.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

ANZ bank hates me

Hooray, Darin is here! What a relief to be together again. He is doing a good job of keeping me warm at night. The photo is of Eric and Barb on the left, and me and Darin on the right. We celebrated our reunion on Friday with dinner at the Hunting Lodge. It was quite good- the guys had the venison, I had pork, and Barb had the beef eye fillet. We also enjoyed the starters, kangaroo, scallops, and oysters.

We have been busy trying to get things done. Our first business was to have my name added to the bank account he opened while visiting in August. They would not accept a notarized copy of my passport, because it was done in San Diego, nor my CA driver’s license. My passport is currently in a file with a bunch of other original documents at New Zealand Immigration, because I submitted my Application for Residence about a week ago. I have no idea when I’ll get it back. The bank teller could not have cared less. Their policy is to not accept anything other than an original passport as ID. She also did not care that my paycheck had been deposited into the account, and the name of the company on the copy of my work visa in my passport matched the name on the bank’s records. I said that is a totally unreasonable policy, and we glared at each other, and I asked for the manager. The manager suggested she call NZ Immigration, and she was able to verify the passport copy was valid. She told the teller to go ahead and add my name, but by this point, despite our thankfulness, she took it personally and delayed the process so that it took an hour for us to get out of there. She also told us, when we asked about getting checks, that few places will accept them. Which is total bullshit, because we needed a check for our new car the very next day, and we will need one to pay for our new bed, too. We had to go back to the bank on Sat. for a bank check (cost $5), which first required the moving of money from one account to another. The teller cannot do this if you ask. Instead, you have to go to the phone and use their telephone banking system to move the money. To top it all off, the bank (ANZ) sent me my new EFTPOS card (a debit card) with my name on it, but they didn’t transfer my pin # to it, so I can’t even use it. In the letter sent with it, it says to bring it in to any branch to change the pin #. Grrr! The concept of customer service is totally lost on the banks here. You might ask, why didn't you just use a credit card? The answer is that my US credit cards will charge a fee of 3% of the total cost, and we can't get a credit card here yet, because we have no credit history in NZ. One would think that the banks would be happy to take our money. I realize now that I totally took it for granted in the US. We had awesome service at the banks there, and had accounts at about 3 different banks.

I don't like to complain, but I did want to give a fair warning about the banks to others who may be planning to immigrate to NZ. We didn't expect this move to be easy. We're up for the challenge. As the saying goes, if it were easy, everyone would do it. We came here knowing that NZ can be very difficult to get residence, due to the socialized medicine. It's just my perspective, for what it's worth.

On the bright side, we did buy a car. We couldn't commit to a hybrid, and instead opted for a fuel efficient small car, a Toyota Corolla hatchback, 2005, about 39,000 km. We also picked out a new bed, a latex matress with wool pad on top. Delivery on Tuesday.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Other Americans in Auckland

Here's a photo of Bethell's beach. It's just 25 min from my sister's house. I went yesterday morning, and there were guys going out to surf the giant scary waves (this is the Tasman Sea, West coast). The sun did come out later that day, but it's back to raining today. The good thing about it being cloudy and overcast is that you don't have to wear sunglasses and you can worry less about sunburn.
It's so great to meet other Americans here, because you can communicate so much easier. Here are links to blogs of my new friends here, Adam and Roberta, and Holly. They are good role models (along with my sister and her husband), and genuinely nice people. Who doesn't need more friends like that? What is bizarre is that Holly works with my sister, also owns a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and came from the Bay Area of CA (as did my sister). Small world? Or is NZ a popular place to emigrate to? I think the latter. The country is in demand for skilled labor. I took a big pay cut to come here, but we're expecting the quality of life to be better.
I have to talk about food again. This is a big part of the adaptation process. I enjoy good food, you could call me a "foodie". I'm not terribly picky, but prefer to eat good quality food. The best way to know your food is of good quality is to verify that it's fresh and clean, and you can do this by growing/raising it yourself, or going to the farmer's markets. You can get good dairy, veggies, juice, and meat, but watch out for the sausages! They grind the meat into pudding before stuffing it in the casing and it's scary, not knowing what is in there. I have found a couple good sources of sausages though. One is the EuroDell, where I got a really nice pepperoni, and the other is Nosh, one of the few gourmet grocers in Auckland. Holly served me a chorizo sausage from there that was really great.
As far as restaurants go, I've had great food and beer at Hallertau brewbar and restaurant, and you can get great Thai and Indian food here. Lots of sushi places too, but I haven't tried any yet. We don't eat out too much because we like to cook, and it's cheaper to eat in. Not that it's too expensive to eat out, it's not. What's great about eating in a restaurant here is that there's no tipping, and sales tax is included in the cost of everything. When you finish your meal and are ready to go, you don't have to wait for the waitstaff to bring the bill or make change, instead, you get the bill while you're eating, then take it to the cashier at the front when you're ready.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Quarantine= Jail for pets

Poor Fargo. He is in dog jail. The kennel is all concrete, has a solid door with a tiny window for a person to peek in at the top, and a wire door at the opposite end, looking into an empty sidewalk and wall. He can't see any other dogs or people walking by. You get 2 hours to visit in the middle of the day. I brought a newspaper to sit on, some treats, the stuffed purple dog toy, and his rubber kong, which can be stuffed with treats for extended treat extraction activity. He can't understand why I don't take him with me when I leave. He can't leave this kennel at all for 30 days. This morning, my new friend Holly (also from CA) took me to a dog park/reserve, so I told Fargo he can look forward to going there with me. I told him it would be worth the wait.
The cats have a better situation. Their cages are upstairs/downstairs, they have a scratching post, and can see their neighboring cats. Plus, they are housed together for company.
The boarding facility seems to be taking good care of them. This whole process is totally unnecessary. Both cats and dog are required to have two rabies titer tests before they travel, as well as numerous other tests and treatments, so they are completely healthy and disease-free. The whole point the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is to make it so difficult and expensive to bring your pets here, you won't do it. It's not that they care about animal welfare, as they poison possums, infect wild rabbits with calcivirus, and allow the sale of puppies at petstores (not cheaply either). Yeah, I'm a little bitter right now.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Why we moved

This is the sunrise seen from my sister's window. I am up before dawn daily.
There's no point in arguing that the US has become more crowded and spoiled, and we have made enemies of much of the rest of the world. Corruption seems to be everywhere, and all anyone cares about is acquiring more stuff. This distracts us from the bigger issues. It's not that Americans don't care, but most of us can't do anything about it. We're too busy trying to pay the mortgage or put gas in the car or whatever. Meanwhile, the middle class keeps shrinking and I worry about our future.
One of the reasons we moved to New Zealand was the opportunity to live a more sustainable lifestyle. The appeal is to eat meat, eggs, and vegetables of which you know the history. Part of the reason our populations are getting fatter is the distance between the food and the consumer. By minimizing that distance, you support the local economy and have greater control over its production. For example, Barb and Eric have 2 cows. They are fun to watch, have lots of green grass to eat, and only mineral supplement and parasite preventative added to their beastly lives. Barb and Eric will have them "home killed" and will get delicious beef that is as good as it gets. Also, chickens are pretty easy to keep and highly entertaining and beautiful, even. I think it is so much better to get fresh eggs from backyard hens than from battery caged hens, whose lives are about the most horrific I can imagine. I too love the idea of having chickens, goats, and cows, maybe emu and alpaca, who knows? Granted, I still have a full-time city job, so fulfilling this goal will be a challenge.
Another goal is to travel, and maintaining livestock is somewhat at odds with this goal. New Zealand is (relatively) close to Fiji and Austrailia, both lovely places to visit. And of course, New Zealand itself is amazingly beautiful.

been shopping

New Zealand, Eric says, is "sometimes open". Most shops, even the malls, close at 5 or 6 pm. The big groceries and "dairies", what we would call a mini-mart, will be open later than this, though. Thursdays are an "open late" night, and you can do your business until, gosh, 7 or 8 pm! Tonight after work I raced into Henderson to pick up my boot at the shoe repair shop. Their idea of extended hours is to close at 6 pm instead of 5. The door was already locked, but the proprietress inside came and let me in. I gave her my pick up slip, and she said “this says Wednesday.” I wasn’t sure why that was relevant, so I said, “yeah, today is Thursday.” I’m so glad to have my warm furry Ugg boots back, and it only cost $6.50 (tear along seam).

My next step was to hit the mall (it’s tiny) and find an electric blanket, because I am still cold. The houses here are generally un-insulated and have just a wood stove for heat. I went into Farmer’s, which is like a Mervyn’s only not as nice. They didn’t have any, so I debated buying a wool duvet insert. I just couldn’t justify it, because I have nice down comforters coming over in the shipping container. That should arrive just in time for summer. I checked with the clerk at the Bed, Bath, and Beyond (a 10th the size of the one in my old neighborhood), and she says they’re out of season. After all, summer is coming, so they say. Tonight the wind is howling, so I’ve taken the portable oil heater and put it in my bedroom to try and warm things up. I’m skeptical though- no insulation.

Some of the shops I’ve been in, I can’t figure out how they stay in business. They have worthless crap for sale that I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind spending hard earned money on. But, you can find some good shopping. Yesterday I discovered the shopping district of Newmarket. There must be more out there, but I haven’t had time to explore. Barb and Eric took me too Avondale market, held on Sunday mornings. Due to the popularity and size of this market the parking costs $2. But you get great deals on fresh produce. I’ve attached a few photos: the little bananas are called Ladyfingers, the kiwifruit are big and delicious, and a general scene. The carrots and asparagus are huge.

Another thing worth mentioning about grocery stores: they have a huge selection of yoghurt. I snapped a photo in the big Foodtown grocery, but this big selection is the rule, not the exception. Barb likes to shop at the little markets (one for fruits and veg., another for meat, another for staples), but I find it comforting to go into the big grocery stores since they're familiar. I found some yummy jams at a local market, and I mix that with plain yoghurt and muesli for breakfast. Delicious.

I have looked but not found plain, non-iodized salt. I’ll ask my Mom to bring some when she visits in February, since I will need to follow the Low Iodine Diet again within a year. I bought a selenium supplement today, because the soils here don’t have much. Selenium has demonstrated effects as an antioxidant and anti-cancer agent.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Moving on

Here is Cerebus, my sister's rescued Rhodesian Ridgeback (ridgeless). He'll have to put up with me while Barb and Eric are celebrating their 40th birtdays and wedding anniversary in Vanuatu. Now I'm really alone out here in the west hills of Auckland, unless you count the 8 chickens ("chooks"), dog, and 3 cats. We are all in transition now- my dog and 2 cats are on a plane from LA to Auckland tonight, my husband is staying with a friend in Phoenix, on his way from California to North Dakota. Our house in San Diego closes escrow tomorrow.
So I've been here just over 2 weeks, and have been trying to settle in. I started my job within a few days of arrival, thinking that I have a lot of catching up to do, because I'm 2 months later than they expected. Instead, my supervisor has gone to the US for 2 weeks, and there's much that I can't do without his approval or signature. There is a new work space at the medical school, where we share facilities, in which the protocol for sharing rooms and equipment has not yet been established. According to my co-worker, the planners and managers did not fully think it through when setting it up. In addition, it can be difficult to get information. I assumed that there would be a health and safety policy at the company, though it's small, because it's referred to in the employment contract. But no one seems to know where that is. I really like my office-mate and co-worker, fortunately, and he's being as helpful as he can be.
Adjusting to the climate has been a challenge. I know I'll sound like a spoiled SoCal brat saying so, but it IS COLD HERE!! It's spring, and we've had wind, rain, hail, and more wind. There is no central heat in Barb's house, so I wear my pyjamas, a fleece vest, and a wool hat to bed. Yes, I had to go buy a wool hat and scarf because I expected warmer weather and packed shorts and short sleeved shirts. The wind is incredibly strong, blows out of Antarctica I think, and reminds me of living in the great plains of North Dakota. Only instead of vast open prarie, the wind comes over vast open ocean. The good thing about this is that the air is clean and fresh. But there are no barriers to tame it, so it is wild. I assume it will get milder as summer comes.
I seem to be making a lot of assumptions here, but it can be hard to get information here. I find I have to be very persistent. I will get information that is tangential to what I ask, but not a straight answer. I feel like I'm being pushy and impatient, because most people here are so laid back and easy going. The pace is much slower that what I'm habituated to, and simple things seem complicated and inefficient. It's really frustrating. I'm so glad I have my sister here to talk to. And soon my husband will be here too- October 25th! I'm so excited to see my pets this weekend! They will be at the quarantine station for 30 days. I can't bear to think of the huge expense to bring them here, so don't ask me about it, it's a sore spot. But I wouldn't come without them. Here they are, Jazz (chocolate ocicat), Latte (white domestic), and Fargo (rottweiler).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bad timing but good luck

When I found out I had thyroid cancer, I was upset. Thyroid cancer is referred to as "the good cancer", but it's no walk in the park. As I said, I found out about it just 10 days before I was to leave for Auckland and begin my job. I had left my San Diego job the end of June, and was unemployed. Fortunately, I still had health insurance through my husband's job.
I had to make an appointment with the ear, nose, and throat doctor. I was conflicted, because I was still thinking I was going to get this treated within 10 days. Ha! Then I learned the first appointment was just a consultation. They didn't have an appointment available for like 5 weeks. I freaked out, crying to the nurse on the phone, because I was afraid I'd lose my job in NZ. She kindly fit me in for a consultation within a few days, after I told her I am trying to leave the country and go to a new job. With the help of the ThyCa website and email group on Yahoo, I learned the treatment is partial or total thyroid removal followed by radioactive iodine (131I). Luckily my doctor turned out to be experienced and talented and a nice guy. Although very busy and overscheduled, he fit me in for surgery on July 14th. And so it happened that instead of flying to Auckland on that date, I was in a hospital recovery room, on IV fluids because it hurt to swallow, getting morphine every 4 hrs. I couldn't sleep on account of the woman in the bed next to me moaning in agony. Whatever they were giving her wasn't working. I felt lucky, again.
My entire thyroid was removed. Fortunately it was encapsulated within the thyroid, and was about 1 cm- we caught it early. They released me the next day, since my parathyroids were all identified and saved during surgery, so my calcium levels were good. I had the giant bandage removed after a few days, and the stitches came out in about another week. Then I developed an allergic reaction to the internal stitches, which was pretty uncomfortable but treated with topical steroid cream.
My job in Auckland was informed of my delay prior to the surgery, and they kindly held the position for me. 6 weeks post-surgery, I had to swallow 100 mCi of 131I and stay away from my pets and sleep separately from my husband for 5 days. It was like being in jail. I had to become hypothyroid AND follow a low iodine diet for 2 weeks before the treatment, and that was a real drag! Once I was able to start the synthetic thyroid hormone medication, I started to feel better. I ended up having just a 2 month delay in departure due to the thyroid cancer.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How I got a job in NZ and thyroid cancer

Just prior to our visit to Auckland, I did a Google search for "pharmaceutical Auckland". I stumbled upon this small drug development company that happened to have a single job opening that perfectly described my skills. I thought it was too weird, and decided I needed to explore this further. I inquired about the position, sent my resume, and arranged a meeting during my weeklong visit. It turned into a 2 hour interview, and they offered me the job 2 days later. I guess the lesson is, be cautious about where your curiosity can lead you. I was actually really freaked out and sad when I got the job offer, because I wasn't prepared to consider it.
Now, in the US, if I wanted this sort of job, I'd be competing with a lot of other talented people, references would be checked, and I'd probably have to give a scientific presentation. For the Auckland job, I didn't send any references, because I wasn't really looking for a job, and they never asked for any. The other difference is that the benefits are weenie.
Obviously, I accepted the position, but the decision was not easy. This whole transition continues to be a regular reexamination of my choice, but I'm so grateful to have the choice, and the ability to choose. My decision, along with my husband's agreement and consideration, actually led to an important health discovery. You see, New Zealand Immigration requires a full medical exam (and background check by the FBI, and evidence of education, etc.). During this exam, my doctor found a nodule on my thyroid. He said, don't worry about it. Lots of people get these as they age, and they are usually benign. Only 5% are ever malignant. But, let's do an ultrasound and schedule the endocrinologist follow-up visit, just in case. Well. The doctor himself had to call to request the appointment with the endo., because they are very in demand (you know- diabetes being so prevelant and all). I had applied for and recieved my NZ work permit, had the ultrasound, and had booked my flight to Auckland by mid-June. I was told that the nodule would require a follow-up FNA (fine needle aspiration) biopsy at the endo. visit, based on the nodule being solid, not fluid. The FNA was more painful than I'd expected. The doctor put 4 needles in there- one painkiller, and 3 biopsies of tissue. I wound up with a deep purple/green/yellow bruise on my neck. I hadn't told anyone about it outside my family, and was hiding the bruise with makeup while visiting friends in the Seattle area. I was at the Tacoma Glass museum when I got the call from the endo. telling me the pathology report was "suspicious" for papillary thyroid carcinoma. This was 10 days before I was scheduled to fly to Auckland.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Introduction, Part 2

As a scientist in a fairly unique field, behavioral pharmacology, jobs are located in limited parts of the United States. As I work in industry, as opposed to academia, basically the jobs are in the San Francisco bay area, San Diego, Chicago, Indianapolis, Seattle, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. I really loved San Diego. We moved there after I finished graduate school at Purdue in 1996. I hated my first job, but it led me to my next job, also in San Diego, which I really liked. I never seriously considered leaving that job, because I didn't want to live on the east coast or in the midwest (where I'm from), and the SF bay area was too expensive and cold. That left Seattle, and there's a spare handful of potential companies up there. I did think about my options as the company grew, and policies and management changed. The company was going through growing pains, but seemed to be doing well, and I really liked my supervisor. My attitude changed after my husband and I visited my sister in Auckland in March of 2006.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Welcome to my blog! I moved from San Diego, CA to Auckland, New Zealand the end of September 2006. My husband and I are submitting an Application for Residence to NZ Immigration in October. I am working in the central business district (CBD) of Auckland for a small pharmaceutical discovery company as a result of serendipity. How did I get here?
My sister, 3 years older than me (I'm 37), married a Kiwi (he has a NZ citizenship) while living in Oakland, CA. He convinced her New Zealand is a better place to live than America, and they moved here in April 2005. She says she loves it here. I thought she was a bit crazy. I mean, as an American, we are led to believe that it is the best country in the world. We have immense resources, and generally don't travel to other countries to study or work. But, this is how it starts- an idea, an experience, and an opportunity. More later.