09 April 2015

Puzzling World in Wanaka

Family activities are a good way to get everyone together and bonding. Puzzling World in Wanaka is just one of those special places.
It has a maze with bridges and four colour towers. This maze was quite challenging, and only my crafty husband made it out successfully without taking an "emergency escape exit".
The kids also really liked the optical illusion room, where you look way taller or way smaller based on where you stand at the back of the room.
The Puzzling World starts off with a series of rooms at an incline of 10-15 degrees. It appears that water flows up, and that you
can "slide up" a slide, instead of sliding down. There are a few Escher window clings which I adored. Optical illusions was a theme throughout the whole place.
Mike loved the leaning tower of Wanaka. You can take pictures on the lawn just so it appears that you are Superstrong and holding the tower up, or are eating the tower, or are pushing it back into place. The key for Mike was getting us to cooperate as we were tired from waiting for him in the cafe and puzzle room while he finished the maze ( 45 more mins). Then crafting the perfect tower shot was another 20 mins, at which point the kids were all puzzled out.

08 April 2015

Stewart Island trip

If you live on the South Island and want to see blue penguins, then your best bet is to go south of Christchurch to Oamaru or beyond. If you really want to see native birds and other wildlife at their best, continue past Oamaru to Invercargill and take the ferry to Stewart Island. Stewart Island has many places that are pristine native bush and native birds flourish without any rats or cats or other predators. Ulva Island, a small island that is a Eco tourist destination, provided us with easy bird viewing of many native birds, including the weka, oystercatcher, bellbird, fantail, Stewart Island robin, kaka, yellow crowned parakeet, and red crowned parakeet.
On the same ecotour , we also saw the Albatross in many numbers. They are amazing sea birds. This happened to coincide with the hit song that came out the same month of a similar name. :) Zack thought feeding fish to the Albatross was the best part of the trip.
My only sadness in going to Stewart Island was that we did not stay for a second day. I would have loved to do an overnight tramping tour.
It was definitely a great tourist spot for those of us that love identifying birds and flora in the wild. The kids had fun, and we got back to Invercargill and the Internet by sundown. This made for a happy husband, as he loves his email and web updates.

06 April 2015

Easter and Passover in Christchurch

This is my third Easter and Passover here in Christchurch. I know how to hunt for matzah at the Johnson's International Grocer, how to sing "Dayenu" in a room with tables of Jews from the Canterbury area and Israel. I know how to throw an autumn egg hunt for the American Club of Christchurch.
But more importantly, I have incorporated NZ customs into my holiday celebrations. Zack cut up beetroot to add to my Seder plate on Friday. We got some Waikato chocolate hollow eggs to share, in various themed boxes from the Warehouse. I even got a mould from a department store to make my own hollow chocolate eggs. The kids had three Seders for Passover and three egg hunts this April. More importantly, we all got to enjoy a 4 day weekend as Good Friday and Easter Monday are statutory holidays in NZ. Almost everything is closed except for tourist spots and a few dairies on the corner.
Mandatory family bonding time!
Mike is teaching the kids how to play Poker, and I took everyone swimming at Pioneer Swim centre. The kids and I ended Easter with a walk at Willowbank and we hand fed the emus, sheep, pukekos, and even pet wallabies.
Happy autumn holidays from the NZ Frieds!

25 February 2015

Jews of Christchurch

Being Jewish is something you are born into, although there are a few converts, such as my brother's girlfriend Bernadette. This can be tricky if you are discriminated against by others. Sometimes, a person can be discriminated against in subtle ways. This may be done in passing comments or in running jokes amongst friends. In NZ as well as America, these are often directed at minorities. I have often felt the minority status of being Jewish whilst growing up in central Pennsylvania, a predominately Christian region. Holidays were always complicated because Hanukkah often fell a few weeks before Christmas, and Easter and Passover had one similarity- hard boiled eggs. In Pennsylvania, assimilation into the local culture meant having a Hannukkah bush instead of a Christmas tree. It meant enjoying Spring Plastic Egg Hunts for candy and prizes, and then also celebrating Passover with local Jews at the temple and having matzoh ball soup. Living in Christchurch, we are lucky to have a Canterbury Hebrew Congregation in the city. We can still go to family services on a Friday night and eat matzoh ball soup. Sometimes we even have a Hebrew School teacher to help the kids learn Hebrew and info on the Torah. I value having times where I can be comfortable in my local community as a Jewish person. The Jewish community in Christchurch is unique in that it is a blend of Israelis, Americans, and Kiwis, as well as a handful of Europeans. All come to celebrate holidays and pray for High Holy Days. Purim, a holiday with a carnival theme, is coming up in early March. The kids are having a carnival party at synagogue and the adults are having a drinks and dancing night at Cargo Bar. Most of the Isrealis insist that Purim is a huge holiday in Isreal and that drinking is essential. Mike and I have a friend watching the kids this Friday, so we can go out. A spring Egg hunt will soon be underway at the local park. Then on Sunday, we have the kids' carnival. We will see how that goes. Kids had a great time last year celebrating. I am glad that we have other friends in the minority to hang out with, and some friends in the majority Christian Kiwi society that accept us for who we are. Jews are all a bit different from each other in NZ, but we all have many commonalities that bind us as a community.

23 February 2015

2.5 year update in NZ!

Sometimes I get the occasional blog response to my expat blog that I wrote mostly from September 2012- Feb 2014. It is from one of my 18,000 readers. The latest asked, "How are things in NZ now for your family?" My family has mostly adjusted to life in NZ. Ben is in year 4 ( 3rd grade) and Zack is in Year 1 ( kindergarten) at Waimairi School. They just celebrated their 9th and 6th birthday at Inflatable World in Redwood. Both enjoy bringing their scooters to school daily,going to Scouts, and swimming. I have passed all my housing inspections this year, so we are tidy enough for the housing manager. My lease was just renewed last week for another 6 months, so we are happy to be living in this house for a while longer. So over packing and moving! Zack loves Marmite and butter on toast. He has a bit of a Kiwi accent when he says, "school", "as well", "mum", etc. Zack's best friend David has lived here for 2 years and is originally from South Africa. The boys get along because they are boisterous and loud together, and they both love playing Skylanders Trap Team. Ben still has an American accent and his best friend Harry , who was born here in Christchurch, has a mostly Kiwi accent, since his mum Analyn is from the Phillipines and moved here over 15 years ago. She and I are great friends. Mike just celebrated his two year anniversary at Telogis, a GPS software company in Christchurch. I worked last year at Burnside HS, and got a one year job working full time at Lincoln HS. NZ is still sometimes different, but mostly it seems like home. I can navigate the roads and roundabouts driving 100 km/ hr on the open country roads with ease. The mountain passes are still crazy and dangerous to drive, so I usually make Mike drive the windy parts, like when we drove from Queenstown to Wanaka. Last year was a crazy and busy year for our family back in the US. My grandma Portia rapidly became ill and passed away at age 79, and I Skyped in to the funeral, so I could be part of the memorial service. During term 1 holidays, my brother sent me And the kids tickets to go visit with family and we had a reunion of sorts in March. Mike's dad needed a kidney as his diabetes was progressing and he was experiencing renal failure. It turned out that Mike was a perfect match ( blood type O negative) and flew home several times for tissue screenings and CT scans. He was finally approved for kidney donation as a live donor in May, and the surgery was scheduled for late June. We made plans for Mike to go on leave from his job for 6 weeks and I went on leave from my teaching job at the end of June until July 4. Then the school was in winter holiday break for two weeks. Mike flew ahead of us and did his final kidney blood checks in mid June. The surgery went successfully. The kids and I lived for a week in a hotel opposite Tufts Medical Center while Mike was recovering on the same hospital wing as his dad Stephen. The kids grew restless at the hospital, so we went on day outings to the Science Center, the Aquarium, and the movies ( How to train your dragon 2). Once Mike was on the mend, he got to go rest at his family's home in Kingston, MA for two more weeks. During that time, I took my kids up to New Hampshire to see their cousins at Treetops, our family summer cottage on Newfound Lake. The kids loved having an extra summer and we spent our days swimming, rock collecting,and hiking Mt. Cardigan. Mike got the good health check and we all flew home together at the end of July for the beginning of term 3 at school. I was given more responsibility at work and took on a 4th class when a teacher needed more time in her role as dean. I was teaching two year 11 science classes, one applied science class for year 11, and one year 9 maths class. This kept me super busy! My brother Mike got tickets to come visit us during term 3 break. The highlights were going jet boating in Hanmer Springs and hiking near Lake Tekapo.It was good to be around in NZ for term break and not flying internationally. NCEA tests are mostly these end of the year final exams in all of your classes in high school in NZ. Sometimes you get internal exams that the school puts on during the year, but a lot of credits and weight are placed on the end of the year exams, which run for 3 weeks, starting mid November. All of my year 11 science students studied for their exams in adid/ base chemistry, physics/ mechanics, and genetics. Then, after the senior exams, all senior students in years 11,12, 13 were gone, leaving me with only one year 9 maths class to teach until Dec 4. They had their final at the end of November, and then we soon left school. On my last day at school, I wore a university robe and attended the awards / prize giving ceremony. Then I drove out to my interview at Lincoln HS. Later that night, I was offered a full time job for this year as a science teacher. Hooray! I accepted the job and relaxed for the summer with the kids and husband. I learned to crab off New Brighton Pier. We went on a week long roadtrip( roadie) to Invercargill and Stewart Island in Jan. We have been to a few places in NZ now, including Timaru, Dunedin, and Greymouth. Now, I have been at my new job for 4 weeks. My students are awesome and my coworkers are fun and friendly. Here's to an awesome 2015!