Friday, 27 November 2009

Ice Cream

For some reason a lot of people here are under the impression that New Zealand is internationally known for having great ice cream. On multiple occasions when the fact comes up that I don't like New Zealand ice cream I hear, "But New Zealand is supposed to make the best ice cream in the world!" Maybe a news show did a report once stating this? Maybe Kiwis learn it in school? Maybe the dairy industry has put subliminal messages in advertisements?

Whatever the reason, I'd like to state my opinion for the record that the ice cream here kinda sucks. Yesterday I was talking about this to my co-worker (my one and only co-worker, unless you count my 2 bosses who bring the company total to 4) because of this story about New Zealand's most popular ice cream brand Tip Top.

Me: Tip Top is so icy and watery and light and fluffy. When it melts it turns into watery foam!

Co-worker: Yeah... what's wrong with that? What does your ice cream turn into when it melts?

Me: Cream.

Co-worker: ... Ew.

You can get Häagen-Dazs for a small fortune, but I've decided it's just not worth it. So I don't eat ice cream anymore. Instead, I'll just save up and gorge on Ben & Jerry's when I go back to visit the States.

Monday, 7 September 2009

3... 2... 1...

Central Napier has 3 super markets, all within spitting distance of each other. As you can see in the photo above, 1 is a Pak 'n Save, and the other 2 are Countdowns. Yes. You read that right. There are 2 Countdown supermarkets, directly across the street from each other.

Apparently, one of them used to be a Woolworths, which was bought out by Countdown. So they rebranded the supermarket. Never mind the fact that there's already a Countdown DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET. To avoid confusion, they can be referred to as the "old" Countdown versus the "new" Countdown. But as the months and years go by, people forget which is which of those, so now Napier has the "dark green" Countdown versus the "light green" Countdown.

And now you know.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Year-round Fall

There are no deciduous trees native to New Zealand. Though many trees that drop all their leaves in fall have been introduced, the natives are all either fern, conifer, or what Wikipedia refers to as broadleaf. I think we've got one of the latter in our front yard. We have yet to identify it, but it for sure isn't deciduous. There are leaves on the tree year round. And leaves fall year round. I've never had to deal with that before. Constant raking. Annoying. But I guess it is nice that in winter trees here don't look all dead with no leaves.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Flippin' Heck

I've posted on my tumblr this and this, this and this about the cold here.

That pretty much sums it up. The winters are only miserable here because of the miserable condition of the housing. And the biggest problem is the damp. We've got mold on the windows and mold on the walls. We've done our best to eradicate it, but it's a constant effort. We wake up in the mornings and towel all the condensation off the window panes and the puddles off the window sills. We open all the windows to air out the rooms. We run a dehumidifier on the really damp days. We pull the blankets and sheets off the beds during the day to air the mattresses out.

And yet tonight I found mold. The worst type possible. I was flipping the girls' mattress for the first time in 2 months. I discovered mold on the fabric covering the boxspring, and on the mattress itself on the side that had been down. This is tragic, as this mattress is an all organic natural latex one we had gotten specifically because little Nys seems to have allergy issues. Plus it's the most comfortable mattress I've ever slept on. We shipped it over with our stuff from Boston. I don't believe comparable mattresses are available here. Luckily we have two, the second having been in our virtually unused spare room. Because it hasn't been slept on much, it hasn't gotten all that body moisture in it and it's not moldy (yet).

So we pulled a quick switcheroo, and we're going to try to save the moldy mattress. It's not too bad, the boxspring is worse, and just has very light spots of grey. They don't even show up in a photo, so I have no proof for y'all, but trust me, it's there. So I've got both pieces in the spare room now, with a radiator on and the dehumidifier running, and I'll leave it that way all night. (The dehumidifier needs the heat to get the air temperature up or else it doesn't work.) Then tomorrow we're hoping for a sunny day. We'll take them outside, brush them down, vacuum them off, and lay in the sun for as long as possible. And then we're just going to have to be even more vigilant in the girls' room. Running the dehumidifier every day, flipping the mattress regularly. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Up for Auction

New Zealand's most popular web site, apparently, is Trade Me. It's kinda a combination of ebay and craigslist, for Kiwis only. I saw stated on the news here the other day that on any given day, 67% of web pages hit by New Zealanders are Trade Me pages. That's kinda insane.

Trade Me is one of two main site for NZ job listings (the other being Seek), and has the most comprehensive real estate listings. We found our house initially on Trade Me, and I got my job through Trade Me. But it's mainly an auction site. So far I've only participated in one auction, which I won, for a kids desk and bench for the girls' art work.

This week, I won another auction. But this time, it was in person. At a real auction house. Maidens and Foster is right next door to my office building, and every Wednesday at 1:00pm they hold an auction for general household items. I've been wanting a desk chair for awhile, but I was loathe to pay the $100 the cheapest new ones were at stores. Several weeks ago I went to check out the auction items during the open viewing time, and I saw a few adequate desk chairs. Not wanting to take too much time out of my day, I placed absentee bids on 2 of them (hoping I would not win both, but since one of them I was only bidding $15 on, it wouldn't have been the end of the world). Well, I lost them both, both by $5. I figured if I had the chance again, I'd have to be there in person to bid.

For the next few weeks there were no desk chairs, but finally this week there were several. They were lots number 140 - 146, and I was told that they usually run through about 100 lots an hour. So starting around 2:00 on Wednesday I stuck my head out the window at work to listen for the lot numbers they were up to. When then got to 130, I went down. I was nervous, as I'd never been to a real auction before. I kept my hands tight in my pockets as I didn't want to accidentally bid on something. All sorts of people were crammed into the room, a lot looked like they were just there passing time. But in those 10 lots I got the gist of how it went. And when lot 140 came I, I jumped in right away. I wasn't going to wait around to let any chairs get by me. The bidding started at $20, another guy bid $25, I went $30, and it was over. Whohoo! It was fun, but nerve-racking. And now I've got a sweet desk chair.

Monday, 3 August 2009

There's this referendum...

A New Zealand Citizens Initiated Referendum that asks "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

Here's the history as far as I have gleaned:
Assault is against the law in New Zealand.
There used to be an exception to the assault law if it was a case of a parent or guardian using "reasonable" force against their child for the purposes of correction. (Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961)
In 2007 this section of the law was changed, essentially removing the exception and outlawing smacking (what Americans call spanking).
This upset a lot of people who think that as parents they have the right to smack their children.
A group of these people got together and followed the protocol to put this referendum to the public.

This question is very poorly worded because it assumes that a "smack" (whatever that technically means) can be a "part of good parental correction." And using the term "criminal offence" is scary, and not in fact what the current law does.

So I vote Yes, because a Yes vote is essentially saying that I want the law kept the way it is now. I don't think that good parents who lightly smack their children should go to jail, despite my Yes vote. The current law isn't doing that.

Here's an analogy. When my friend from the States was here visiting recently we went out to a night club. An obnoxious drunk was being a jerk to us, and my friend slapped him. Twice. He wasn't happy, but he was too drunk to do anything about it.
Was this assault? Yes.
Do I think she should have slapped him? No
Was she arrested for it? No
Do I think she should have been arrested for it? No
Do I think the law should be changed to make exceptions for slapping nasty drunks? No

In the same way, I think that smacking your kids is assault, and I don't think it should be done, and I don't want an exception in the law explicitly saying it's okay to smack, but I don't think that parents who are loving and kind otherwise should be arrested.

Is that all clear now?

Friday, 31 July 2009

What to say?

I've obviously been having a hard time coming up with stuff to post here. Everything for me is new right now, and yet it's all kind of mundane as well. Life is life. Job, school, housework, TV, knitting. Although it's a new location, it's still just my boring old life. And yet I'm experiencing so much that I'm sure someone else out there must be interested in, so here I am.

Let's start with the job stuff. I managed to find, relatively easily actually, a computer programming job here in little old Napier. Obviously I consider myself extremely lucky, given the economic environment right now. And I tell myself that jobwise I couldn't have done any better, even in Boston.

My husband, the recent culinary school graduate, also found a job fairly easily, at a winery restaurant with one of the best reputations in Hawkes Bay. He worked full-time steadily till the busy tourist season ended, and has been a mostly stay-at-home-dad since I got my full-time job. That transition took everyone a bit of getting used to, but we've all settled in great.

After a rough start, school for Bic is finally wonderful. That topic should be it's own post though, so we'll move on. Nys is doing okay at her preschool. Funnily, the youngest at 3-years-old, she's having the hardest time getting used to not being in Boston anymore. She still regularly asks when we're going back. She misses our dog we had to leave behind. She misses her grandmother. Even though she's now spent over a sixth of her life here, she doesn't yet feel like this is home.

I know how she feels. I'm happy here, but I'm not sure I fit in. My workmates are nice, and the parents of my kids' school friends are nice, but I haven't made any friends yet. Which is pretty much fine, we've got our wonderful family. But some friends would be fun. Luckily, my best friend from Boston is the best friend in the world, and she just came over for a visit. It was a reminder of how awesome it is to have friends, and served to make me miss Boston even more than I already was.

I do miss it, and I at this point, 8 months into our move, I feel like at some point we will move back. In a few years at the earliest, so who knows how I'll feel then, but that's how I'm feeling now. Which I'm fine with.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Buying a House

We got through it. We have a house, which we love. But the process was more than slightly annoying.

A friend of a friend of the family is an agent in town, so she showed us around to some listings her agency had that met our criteria. That was all good. We actually fell in love with the very first house we saw, which had only come on the market the day before. So dutifully we kept looking, knowing that with the markets the way they are now, there's no reason to rush.

After looking at 5 or 6 more places, we decided to make an offer on the first place. We called "our" agent ("our" in double quotes because really agents here can only ever represent the seller) and she said she'd be right by with the offer forms. By the time she came by, apparently there was another offer being put on the place. We thought that a bit sketchy, but since the place was so newly listed it was also to be expected that others would be interested an offering on the same time frame as us.

So we were made to sign a sheet saying we understood that there were multiple offers on the house. We were advised to make our "best offer", meaning don't hold back thinking that we could negotiate up. When multiple offers are made at the same time the way it goes is that both offers are presented to the sellers at the same time, and the sellers select which one they want to work with, and the others are let loose. Hence the recommendation to try to have the higher offer.

We had been planning on offering below RV, rateable (assessed) value, but decided to come up and offer exactly RV, which really, in our minds was not actually as high as we were willing to go, but with the markets the way they were, blah blah blah, we didn't want to jump too fast. We got a call later that night that the other offer was higher, so we were out.

I was really really pissed. The more I thought about it, the more I wish we had offered higher, because I loved the house. But sleeping on it, I calmed down, and got excited about looking again for something else. We started looking at more that next day. And then we got a call from "our" agent again. The other buyers couldn't go as high as the sellers wanted, so now they were offering it to us, at their original asking price. This confused me, because I thought the whole point of the multiple offers deal was that once one offer was chosen to go with, wasn't that it for the rest of the offers? Apparently not. It only meant that they would negotiate with the others first, and then if an agreement wasn't reached, the sellers could reach out to whomever they want. Really sketchy, right? Because essentially the agent told us to make our highest possible offer because there would be no more negotiating, but then there was more negotiating!

Well, I felt a bunch of swirling emotions, elation that the house was still available, but anger at the way the agents we seeming to scam us. So we turned the house down at the asking price, saying we were still interested but not at that price. And that they could contact us if the sellers were willing to come down at all. And we kept looking.

And we found a second house that we liked a lot through a different agency. This agent and agency seemed so uninterested in selling us this property, because we kept calling to see it a second time, and it took ages for us to get in again. Turned out the seller was less than willing to part with her house, and the sale was being forced on her as part of divorce proceedings. Not a pleasant situation, but we really liked the house. We decided to put an offer in.

The agent was tickled to tell us about the drama this caused, with the woman locking herself in the bathroom and refusing to come out to hear the offer. We were a bit concerned about her mental state, and over the long 24 hours it took her and her ex-partner to respond to our offer we decided we didn't really want to be involved anymore. They came back with a counter-offer, interestingly exactly the same as the price we could have the first house at. We turned it down, and withdrew our offer.

We waited another week or so, and didn't find much else we were interested in. The first place we loved was still listed, it had been a month on the market now, and we hoped that maybe the sellers were starting to feel pressure to sell. So we contacted "our" agent again, asking if there had been any movement yet. She said that the sellers would be happy to receive an offer. So we decided to offer again. We went into the real estate office, prepared to offer a bit more than we had offered before, but not as high as their asking price. When we got there "our" agent told us, "Guess what. There's another offer in again. You'll have to give your highest offer again." WTF, right?

At this point, we were sure we were being scammed. Apparently real estate agents in New Zealand are second only to lawyers in their reputations for sliminess. But there was nothing we could do if we really wanted the house. There was no way we could prove that they were making up these mysterious other offers. And technically, there could have been someone else making offers, like the sellers' best friends. Or even the sellers themselves, as I've actually heard is sometimes done here.

But we were sick of it, wanted the house, and still held onto the small possibility that the other offers were legit, so we ended up offering their asking price. The agent took them the offer, and called us back saying, "Do you have any more money?" And we were all, "NO. That is our FINAL offer." And they took it.

Blah. Leaves a bad taste, eh? Upshot? We LOVE our house. And we do know that we paid almost 10% less than the sellers paid for the house less than 3 years ago. So it's not like we were totally ripped off.

The last formalities went without a hitch. We had an inspection done, which came back with stellar results. We went into the lawyers, signed some papers. Wired the money into the lawyers' bank account, and they called us and said, "You can pick up the keys." Yay!

Moving in was a whole other story. To be told later.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Lovely Dawes

I can't believe I never posted this at the time. I guess I never really posted anything about our recon visit here in July.

We spent our time between Napier and Wellington, and when in Wellington we finally got to meet our online friends, the Dawes Family in New Zealand! I could tell you about our evening out, but Marrisa already did, all those months ago. It was a great time, and it's so wonderful to know that we're now on the same land mass with them.

Such sweeties, the Dawes sent us these beautiful flowers as we settle into our new home.

Thanks, guys!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Home Now

Meaning my new home of course. Don't worry, we haven't turned around and headed back.

I know that now that we're actually here, I should be posting heaps with all the good stuff. All the gory details of the move, the set up, etc. But I've been too busy with all the gory details to post.

I'll try to remedy that in the coming days and weeks, but until then, you can check out the tumblog I started to record some brief snippets of my life and impressions here.