Monday, February 20, 2012


I'm still in beautiful New Zealand, where we shiver and zip on a hoodie if the temperature doesn't hit 75. We return to Wisconsin in just a few short days, and I am not looking forward to returning to frigid temperatures, gray snow, and darkness at 5 PM. Can someone please arrange for summer to hit the northern hemisphere in March this year? Thanks oodles.

In the meantime, we're wringing every last drop of enjoyment that we can get out of the warm weather. Today we went blueberry picking. Here's what the kids did when I asked them to pose in front of a big tree:

Seriously, how did these kids get to be such smart-asses? Next thing you know, they'll have blogs of their own.

There was more hilarity with the blueberry-picking buckets, followed by tragedy:

We picked many, many blueberries. I asked Stella how many she thought we picked, and she said "maybe 20." Stella's kindergarten class is just finishing up an unit on estimating, but I have say that she may need a little remedial work in that area.

Baby W ate nearly as many blueberries as we picked. Then he lost a blueberry down his onesie. I was glad to see him looking down his own shirt for a change, with nearly as much interest as he looks down my shirt.

What are we going to do with the blueberries, all 20 of them? That's a good question. I'm thinking it would be fun to do some baking, maybe make some blueberry pound cake or blueberry crumble. It's always fun to make a sweet treat, and my father loves desserts, to the point where he eats a giant slice of cheesecake with an enormous scoop of ice cream on it twice a day. The irony is that due to my father's health problems, he's skinny as a rail. He's 6 ft 4 inches and only weighs 12 stone, or 80 kilograms, or 142 pebbles, or 62.5 eggweights, or whatever eminently sensible units of measurement they use here. Wait -- a furlong! Yes, I think my father weighs about a furlong.

It's hard, when you see somebody eating so many desserts, to exercise dietary restraint. Before we came to New Zealand, I warned Stella that Grandpa ate a lot of dessert, and that we would not be eating dessert every time he did. Anybody want to lay a bet on how long that lasted?

And the trouble is that I have not had any opportunity to go running while I'm here, since there is nobody capable of providing child care for me. This means my opportunities for exercise (and for working off all the cheesecake) are limited. Instead of running, I've been doing lots of pushups, since that's something I can do with the kids around. I once attended a motivational seminar given by a reformed felon, and I learned that in prison the inmates do a lot of pushups. I'm happy to know that when the feds finally send me up the river for not declaring all my tips in income from when I worked as a waitress, I'll have a head start on all the other residents of the pokey.

Another great New Zealand vacation draws to a close. We leave New Zealand having spent some quality time with my father, having enjoyed the warm weather, and having had a great time just relaxing. I'm also leaving just a little bit heavier than when I arrived -- I would say about a furlong.

Monday, February 13, 2012


I've been in New Zealand for a few days now, and things couldn't be better. The kids are having a blast, the weather has been fantastic, and we are enjoying all that New Zealand has to offer...except bungee jumping. (And sheep.) On the other hand, we've yet to see even one single hobbit so I guess not all is well in paradise.

This is my sixth trip here, and there is some part of me that is a little ambivalent about New Zealand. Yes, New Zealand has lovely natural beauty, huge fern forests, and pristine waterfalls. But when I go to New Zealand to visit my father, I spend most of the time in the city. And the cities, or at least the city that my father lives in, have a familiar suburban feel to them. This is in part because New Zealanders seem intent on building really ugly houses.

This is what a New Zealand house should look like, and some of them even do:

But it turns out that many Kiwis are not that excited about in tiny, old houses with balky plumbing, and many of the New Zealanders who can afford to live in more modern houses. As if they don't even see the value of tourists finding their basic living quarters quaint! Whatever.

This is the type of house that many New Zealanders live in today, at least in the area of the country where my father lives. I don't want to use the word "ugly," to describe houses like this, because I recognize that not everybody has the desire or wherewithal to live in a pre-war farmhouse that doubles as a sheep-shearing shed, but let me just say that you would not see a self-respecting hobbit within ten miles of this house:

My father's house here is a whole different ball of wax, as it does not look like New Zealand houses old or new. It's a lovely house, as you can see below. The house has verandas around three sides, a two-story living room, and a basement apartment with a separate entrance, which is where the kids and I are staying. (It's raining in the photos, and I know I said the weather has been "fantastic," but by that I mean "not 8 degrees.")

I'm not going to show any pictures of the inside of the house, because of course as soon as the kids and I showed up, we trashed it. But I'll show some pictures of his garden. His house is on a fairly large lot -- a hectare maybe, or a fortnight, or whatever kind of weird metric units they use here -- and the gardens are great, as you can see:

The irony is that this house, as great as it is, is very poorly suited to my father, who has very significant health problems. He is trying to sell the house, although so far he hasn't had much luck. Maybe you should buy it! Surely you can see that it's a great property. And I can promise that he's a very motivated seller. He's only asking $600,000 New Zealand dollars, which is a real steal. In U.S. dollars, that's less than a hectare.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Hallelujah, I made it to New Zealand! The kids and I survived the nearly 30 hours of travel it takes to get from my house to my father's house on the other side of the world. I only have one or two new twitches in my eyelid as a result.

It is quite a haul to travel from Wisconsin to New Zealand. First we flew to Dallas, then to Los Angeles, then to Auckland, then we took a three-hour shuttle to the Tauranga area where my father lives. I have to say, the kids were fantastic on the trip. In fact, after the long Los Angeles-Auckland flight, I had three separate people come up to me and compliment me on how well the kids had behaved during the flight,  how quiet they were and how little they cried. It's true, they are great travelers and deserve praise, but how about some kudos for me?! After all, I also managed not cry too loudly. Although a tear or two might have squeezed out when Baby W knocked the chicken cacciatore off my tray and into my lap.

Stella enjoying the sprinkler in New Zealand.

My brother lent me his iPad for the trip to help entertain the kids on the trip. I wasn't sure how much we would use it, but the iPad turned out to be central to keeping Stella happy. On the other hand, Baby W is still nursing and relied more heavily on his very favorite toy, one that can provide entertainment and comfort for hours on end without needing a recharge. I call it the iBoob.

As always the international part of the air travel was far superior to the domestic portion of the trip. On the Quantas flight between Los Angeles and Aukland, we far had more leg room, more amenities, and just an overall much better experience than on the other legs of our trip. But what kind of word is "Quantas"? What happened to that missing "u"? I hate to spread rumors, but the one of the few other words that I can think of without a "u" following the "q" is Al Qaeda. I really hope that Qantas is not a terrorist organization, but if they are, I would still like to acknowledge that they have an excellent in-flight entertainment system.

Baby W wearing his rain coat into the baby pool.

The one complication that arose during our travel is that Stella has developed a phobia of airplane bathrooms. This phobia meant whenever Stella needed to use the toilet, I needed to go into the bathroom with her. And if I was in the airplane bathroom with Stella, I couldn't leave Baby W out wandering the plane by himself, so he had to come in as well. This meant that we had three people inhabiting a space only about 18 inches square. And yet we managed to do it. I'm putting in a request now to have my gravestone read: "Fit Three People in An Airplane Bathroom," and I think it's an accomplishment worthy of, at the very least, a Pulitzer.

Now that we are here and settled in New Zealand, the kids have had a lot of fun playing in the sprinkler. While they get wet, I practice cartwheels. I'm taking an adult gymnastics class, and you may remember me posting a video of my cartwheel a few months ago. I'm happy to say that I'm much better at doing cartwheels, as you can see in the video below. Some of that improvement is due to practice, but I think my gymnastics teacher deserves a lot of the credit for helping me learn to do a cartwheel, especially considering my overall lack of coordination. You might even say she deserves a Pulitzer.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I leave for New Zealand a week from today, with two children in tow, to visit my father. In preparation, I've sunk some fairly serious moola into buying fun and educational books and toys that I'm sure will divert the kids for seconds, possibly even MINUTES of the airline flight. What can I say, I dream big.

But I have also brought out the big guns for the flight: I'm bringing an iPad. My brother has generously offered to lend me his. The kids have never seen an iPad before -- heck, even I've never really seen one before -- and I know they will be not be able to take their eyes off it. Before you know it -- zzzzzzip! The entire 30 hour trip will be over, and the kids will have only blinked once or twice. 

Yes, the iPad will rot their brains, but I've decided in these circumstances I'm okay with that. Brain rot will not be optional on this trip. It will be mandatory.

From our 2009 trip to NZ
This might be a good time to mention that a few years ago when my brother traveled to New Zealand to visit our father, he (my brother) got strip-searched in the Auckland airport. Strip-searched! He never did figure out what the problem was, but I wonder if perhaps his name got included in some sort of no-fly list. Sure, his friends call him "Quinn," but as a family member I know that his real name is Abd Al Aziz Awda. But hey, he's lending me his iPad, so I'm not going to turn him in.

Mostly, I plan to have the kids watch old Tom and Jerry cartoons during the flight on the iPad. Have you ever seen classic Tom and Jerry cartoons from the 1940s? They're hilarious. And, I have to say, incredibly racist. I spend half the cartoon laughing, and the other half cringing and trying to figure out how to talk with Stella about how the black housekeeper is portrayed. I figure I'll just check out an I-Can-Read library book on the Freedom Riders or similar for Stella, and that will cancel out the racism in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. That's how the racism equation works, right? 

As for me, I won't need anything to keep me entertained, because I will be spending my time keeping the kids out of each others' hair. Did I mention that Baby W will be spending the entire trip sitting on my lap? And that he will spend the entire trip kicking his sister? And that she will beg me to keep him away from her even though there's nowhere else he could really go? And that if he prods her enough, she will eventually push back? Let me just say that I am planning to make full use of the Air New Zealand policy of serving passengers all the free wine they can drink. And I'm hoping the kids don't hog all the brain rot, because I'm going to need some as well.  

My dad