December 23, 2010

The 3 (or 4) Month Lull

This always happens when I’ve been in NZ for about 3 months.  This time, I’ve been here 4 months before getting this feeling.  Maybe that’s slow progress?
After 3 months, or 4 as the case may be, the novelty wears off.  After 3 months, I start looking up airfare.  After 3 months, I really miss my mom.  After 3 months, I realize my body has been a little bit tensed up all this time and I’m a bit tired. After 3 months, I want to just “be” – on a daily basis – without “trying”.  After 3 months, I want to go home.

December 18, 2010

Embracing Summer Christmas

Summer Christmas.
As unnatural as the juxtaposition of those words might be, I’m trying to embrace this crazy reality.  I have slowly stopped saying, “It’s just WRONG.  Christmas in summer is WRONG.”  I have oppressed this sentiment and replaced it with the expression, “Christmas in summer is, well, different.”  Progress, even if I am gritting my teeth while saying it.

Gift tags from the New Zealand post.
My mission to embrace summer Christmas has involved looking for summer-Christmas paraphernalia – like cards and wrapping paper.  Ideally, I hoped to find these things not just in generic form, but specific to New Zealand.  I had to search in several stores before finding a few selections of stationary depicting kiwis (the birds) wearing Santa hats and red jandals (flip flops). Ah yes, a bit of Kiwiana mixed into my Christmas. That’s what I was after.  But really, they were all pretty ugly cards. I wasn’t sold. The choices are so limited that I have begun to think New Zealand itself is perhaps working on embracing summer-Christmas. Ask the locals and they associate Christmas with barbeques, beer, beaches and jandals.  But go by the decorations, cards and gift wrap, which are all covered in snowmen, snowflakes, dark wintery scenes with twinkling lights, and I think that perhaps, just perhaps, even Kiwis know that Christmas in summer is just WRONG.

I mean different.

And, while looking for said stationary and gift wrap, the stores weren’t even playing Christmas music.

That’s different too.
The cards I finally settled on.  Depictions of Kiwiana Christmas!

November 26, 2010

Let the Pictures Do the Talking

My last few posts haven't involved any photographs.  And who doesn't love photos?  I do. So this entry uses several recent photos to depict a bit of my life here in New Zealand. Some of the pictures I took deliberately with this project in mind.  For others, I realized after taking them, that they say a lot...

So here it goes.

I get to enjoy this view, from the Staff Club at the U of Otago, several times a week.  It's a quintessential Dunedin, NZ view. The oldest buildings on "campus" (a word that I rarely hear NZ'ers use but am seemingly unable to delete from my vocabulary!) are local icons, the green hills are good representatives of the landscape and the "tussocks" (the plants on the deck) are common both in the wild hills and in urban landscaping. Sun makes sitting outside the club particularly enticing and I realized it is one of my favorite spots in all of Dunedin.

November 2, 2010

"Hello, Molly!"

I moved to Alaska in summer, 2001. I left when winter rolled around, unsure if I’d ever go back, but before I knew it I was working on an assembly line in a paper factory in rural Missouri saving up the money to return. From then on, it slowly but surely, wonderfully, became the place I call home. To steal the descriptive phrase an immigrant used to describe her homeland to me, returning to Alaska after a short vacation or a year in New Zealand, soon felt like “entering a warm bath.” Ahhhhhhhh.

But of course, though I loved it there right away, it took a little time to feel that good. I remember thinking, in the early days, that when I had a particular experience, I could officially be considered, and consider myself, an Alaskan local. What was that experience? Seeing someone I knew while waiting for a flight to Juneau in the Seattle airport.

One airline flies into Juneau – Alaska Airlines. Note: after landing at the Juneau Airport, the flight attendants do not say, “We know you have a choice when considering airlines and we thank you for choosing Alaska Air.” No, they don’t say that. Or if they do, the entire plane snickers. There is no choice, and believe me, the cost of flying into Juneau will make you believe in capitalist competition.

In addition, if you want to fly into Juneau, you will not only be on Alaska Airlines, but, with the exception of a few options that go through Anchorage, you will be routed through Seattle. For this reason, after spending the majority of the last 10 years in Juneau, I have joined the ranks of locals who view the Seattle Airport as an extension of our town. I know which restaurant will give me an extra taco for only $2.50. I know which hot chocolate is the best. And, after months of shopping only at Juneau’s Fred Meyer for everything I could possibly need, I get freaking excited about the Seattle Airport’s shopping opportunities. I choose itineraries with long lay-overs so I can get lost in Borders, check out the clearance rack at Ex Officio and be simultaneously disgusted and intrigued with the expanding variations of Crocs.

October 13, 2010

Looks and Sounds Like New Zealand

A few days ago, a public New Zealand figure put his foot in his mouth. His name is Paul Henry and he is known to do these things. He co-hosts New Zealand’s morning news show (Americans - think, “Today” on NBC.) The controversial moment came when Mr. Henry commented, while interviewing the Prime Minister, John Key, that New Zealand’s Governor General, Sir Anand Satyanand, a born and raised New Zealander of Fijian-Indian descent, does not look or sound like a New Zealander. He went on a bit more in this vein, including asking the prime minister if he planned to choose someone who “looked and sounded more like a New Zealander” as the next Governor General.

But it gets worse.

TVNZ’s spokeswoman, Andi Brotherston, defended Mr. Henry by saying that New Zealanders love him because “he says the things we quietly think but are scared to say out loud.”

September 29, 2010

Thanks for coming, Mom.

For some reason, my husband and I always seem to make the cross-Pacific journey separately. In this case, his work contract did not finish until after I was expected to be at uni starting my PhD program. So my mom saw an opportunity: accompany me to New Zealand and help me get settled. Without James around, it seemed like a good time for her to stay for 3 weeks, a little longer than she might otherwise. Personally, I think she could stay as long as she’d like regardless, but she values being what she thinks is a considerate mother-in-law. In addition to helping me cart all my things from North America to New Zealand, and the opportunity to watch reruns of the Gilmore Girls without annoying my husband, what my mom perhaps didn’t realize was that by coming with me, she was also my little piece of continuity, a thread to sew my two worlds together.

September 13, 2010

A Warm Welcome

From the minute we boarded the Air New Zealand plane we noticed a different attitude. The flight attendants were happy! They gave us a genuine welcome, made small talk with passengers and generally paced the aisles with a smile. A far cry of difference from the US Airways flight attendants on our previous flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles. Those flight attendants were fine; Nothing better or worse than what I would expect on a jam-packed domestic flight. They looked tired and slightly grumpy and I didn’t blame them. They are most likely underpaid and overworked. Most American airlines have been financially struggling for years, as manifested in their repeated staff cutbacks, pay cuts and increasing surcharges for everything from baggage to bathrooms. Many internationally based airlines, however, are partially subsidized by their government. Less pressure to make a profit means better working conditions which in turn lead to happier flight attendants. It also means more perks on board which leads to happier passengers. Freshly settled into our seats, slightly disoriented by the pleasant optimism of these accented flight attendants, my mom and I looked at each other with an “Is this dude for real?” expression when the “onboard concierge,” Mark, announced that he was available to advise passengers on navigating the Auckland Airport or on what to see and do in New Zealand. I mean seriously, that’s a little unsettling.

Another glass of wine, please. Thank you.

September 3, 2010

How To Pack Like Molly and James Do

How to pack like Molly and James do when moving from Alaska to New Zealand:

Step 1 – About one month before your departure, get your unsuspecting New Zealand-based family members to come for a "great time in Alaska!" Show them glaciers and bears and then send them home with 120 pounds of your stuff, crammed into 2 suitcases and 2 extra carry-ons. Convince them they don't need their own pair of old shoes anymore. Throw them away and jam a pair of your own into their suitcase instead. Never mind that they will be stopping to visit Vancouver for a couple of days along the way and now have an insurmountable amount of your crap to carry on their tour.

August 29, 2010

The Other Four Senses

It certainly is getting closer to the time when I must look forward, not back; the time when I think about where I’m going instead of where I’m leaving. So I’ll wrap up my little project of observing Alaska through all five senses. After last week’s entry on sight, here’s a quick look a life in Juneau with the other four senses.


Costco was already in Juneau when I moved here and I basically had no qualms about shopping there. But many long-time locals will tell you that in spite of the high cost of food and goods in Alaska they initially boycotted the giant cement block when it first infected the town. But eventually Costco’s prices won over many locals and their relatively unblemished tomatoes won over the rest. After all, anything other than the most strict subsistence life in Alaska largely requires importing food. A lot of food. From far away. That food arrives primarily by a multi-day barge trip and the produce shows it. I’ve received many-a-voice mail message sharing which store has just-ripe avocados or fresh, crisp apples; that’s treasured information.

August 17, 2010


In her essay, The Way Winter Comes, Alaskan author Sherry Simpson writes, "What I really want - others confess this longing too - is for the land to possess me, to name me." She considers that people spend a lot of time trying to figure out who they are, or how to belong. But perhaps the more important task is to consider the place. And so she gives up on her effort to belong by naming things around her and hoping the place will name her in return. Instead, she just offers simple descriptions of her immediate surroundings, which places her right there within them. And so I am inspired to do something similar – solidify my relationship with this place just by observing it, through all five of my senses.

I’ll start with sight because that’s easy: Alaska is feast for the eyes. A splendid wonderland of visual awe. Last week, a friend, Katie, called and before I could say hello she asked, in hurried tones, “What are you doing right now? Can you be down at the dock in 15 minutes? For a flight-seeing tour?" I issued a one word response, "Yes!"

August 10, 2010

A Beer at The Alaskan

“Home is noticed most when it is left.” I leave Alaska in 2 weeks. I’m looking around me with eyes both old and new: I’m noticing the breathtaking beauty all over again, contemplating my good fortune to have lived in such a place and seeing quiet details I haven’t noticed for quite a while. I'm strolling down Memory Lane as I go about daily life; every corner brings a tender, private smile to my face. I’m reminiscing.

Over the winter, one of Juneau’s favorite goings-ons is the Wearable Arts show. True to Juneau style, the show is a compilation of talent that ranges from: “This is uncomfortably bad but we’ll cheer awkwardly anyway” to: a prideful, surprised “Someone around HERE can do THAT? Who? Shouldn’t they be on a bigger stage somewhere? This is amazing!” Every community performance that I have been to in this town (and that’s a lot - it’s a looooong, dark winter, ladies and gentlemen) has included acts that induce both of those reactions and everything in between. But I’m not going to reminisce about the Wearable Arts show; I’m going to write about the bar scene afterwards.

July 29, 2010

Bring a Raincoat

I have hesitated to form a blog until now. Partly due to performance anxiety. Why take the time unless I have something interesting to say? (i.e. Please insert "Pearl of Wisdom" here.) And partly because it seemed a little self-absorbed. I heard somewhere that the trick to writing personal musings is to do so in a way that conveys some universal truth -- so that people might nod their heads, in their houses or offices, and mutter a little affirmation when some snippet of my life makes them think about some aspect of their own.

So which indulgent musing of my own life might ring a bell of truth for another? I am currently immersed in an ongoing experiment to define home. Ask someone where home is and you might get a quick answer. Ask why that place is home and chances are you'll be met with a pause. Home is an abstract and elusive concept and, in today's world of movement, it is being redefined. Yet home still resides at the core of the human experience.

My life currently takes me between two places: Alaska and New Zealand. I am testing modern travel and technology's ability to facilitate calling both of them "home" simultaneously. I moved to Alaska 9 years ago and it has become home in the way that a place does when it simply feels good. Alaska fits me like my favorite pair of pants. Now, throw Aotearoa New Zealand into the mix. This country of cups-of-tea, wild mountains, "can-do" friendly people, and yes, sheep, is my husband's home.

We have gone back and forth for the last 7 years. We have packing down to an art (which does not eliminate the stress of it), we know which airline gives you free earplugs and wine, we watch the exchange rate like some people follow sports and we adjust our accents and verbiage depending on the time zone we are in.

In less than a month, we depart Alaska for NZ and will stay there for at least 3 or 4 years, my longest stint yet. I'm joining the ranks of those who include the word "immigrant" in their sense of themselves or at least in how others perceive of them. I've been on this road for a while now and am beginning to realize that I just have to relinquish control and consider this journey as it unfolds. My two places both boast a lot of rainfall and this simple rule might be the only one that applies: Bring a raincoat.