Twenty-nine years of crazy cakes

Well, another year has come and since we are once again on the road we are again baking in a random kitchen. But Mekayla’s great birthday cake tradition continues. We took over her cousin Pamela’s kitchen for the day and then Mekayla, her Dad, and I cooked throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

This time the cake was a flourless chocolate torte. We of course decorated with a lot of fruit and chocolate shavings. And to kiwi-ify it another part of the cake was made from Grace’s Pavlova recipe. A Pavlova is essentially a type of meringue, but Australia and New Zealand argue over who actually invented this version. Grace swore us to secrecy and provided us with her secret family recipe for this event.

Now to answer the big question everyone is asking: What shape is it this year? Naturally the shape had to capture a bit of our time in New Zealand and the idea that we have been traveling a lot. So the shape this year is a Maori canoe, called a waka.

One of the great things about the word “waka” is it is now used in Maori for as the root word for any mode of transportation. So the word for plane translates as “canoe of the sky”. And the word for car “waka whenua” [wa-ka fen-u-a] translates to “canoe of the earth”. We gave our new car the nickname “waka whenua” also.

Before dinner we also continued to hone some of our Indian cooking skills and made what turned out to be a quite good vegetarian meal.


So our journey across the US has begun. We are now in San Jose, and today we leave for some camping in Yosemite.

Four days left!

We have a mere four days remaining in New Zealand, and are running through a mixture of emotions. We are looking forward to seeing everyone back home and exploring the US a bit, but we are definitely going to miss many things about NZ and a number of people here as well.

Our general route back to Boston goes like this:

  1. Hawaii: I can’t wait to get away from winter.
  2. US West Coast: We have weddings to go to in Seattle and LA in Aug and Sept, so we’ll be wandering down the coast.
  3. Colorado: Probably go up through Utah because it’s supposed to be scenic and amazing.
  4. Some random route through the southern portions of the US to the East Coast.
  5. DC, NY (state, probably not the city)
  6. Then Boston.

The general plan is to hit Boston before Thanksgiving. All of this is of course subject to change with no notification. 🙂 And it is interactive. For instance if you are in say Kentucky, perhaps you could alter our route in your direction by offering a floor to sleep on or a backyard to camp in. 🙂

But enough un-subtle hints.

We have also finished sorting through and editing our 15,000 New Zealand photos (I am not exaggerating). We’re going to spread out the posting of the best of them so nobody is overwhelmed (us included). The first set takes you through all the places we have gone tramping (backpacking). And features such pictures as this:
The second set are various special occasions (like my 30th birthday) and look a bit like this (this is actually Grace’s picture):
You can view them all from here. We will probably put up some more just before we leave, and then put up the rest after we reach the West Coast (of the US, not the rain soaked paradise of New Zealand’s South Island).

Happy 4th of July… It’s snowing.

While everyone is enjoying the summer sun we thought we would break your revelry of northern hemisphere chauvinism (I read that recently in a book) with some greetings from our wintry wonderland.

Of course, really snow here in Christchurch isn’t quite the same. Being on the coast means even at 45 degrees south latitude it is still somewhat temperate. For instance when I said it was snowing, I should point out that none of the snow stuck to the ground because both before and after the snow it rained. It rained a lot. And there were some great 130 km/h wind gusts to keep the rain falling at a 45 degree angle. (I think most of the snow was falling up earlier). Of course a few hundred kilometers away there are glaciers and mountains where the snow never melts.

So tomorrow when you walk outside and bask in the sun’s glow for 16 hours of the day please spare a thought for those of us on the other end of the world who just finished celebrating the WINTER solstice.

Most of these pictures have nothing to do with winter, but we were fairly cold in all of them so, here you go.

Mekayla and Caleb under a water fall in Milford Sound.

Me walking on clouds on the Kepler track:
Our hike on Franz Joseph Glacier:

Thinking Forward

Hurrah!
I’ve landed a job with Landcare Research, a top NZ environmental research organization. Much of the work that they do is scientific in nature, studying the natural environment (plants, animals, soils, etc), but they also think about how we as humans could be living our lives more sustainably. I’m working in their Sustainability and Society group.

This is all quite exciting for me because I’ve been spending quite a lot of time during our travels trying to explore different aspects of sustainability through reading books, interviewing people, taking courses, and just keeping my eyes wide open. My hope is to figure out a bunch of different ways of how I might be able to focus my work more into this area.

But maybe I should back up a little. The word sustainability gets thrown around a lot these days, but what does it mean? First of all, it’s more than just ‘environmentally friendly’. When we think about sustainability, we think about what it will take for us to live in a way that meets the needs of today’s people and environment without jeopardizing that of future generations. This takes into consideration the environment, yes, but also economic and social factors.

In any case, trying to make our society more sustainable pretty much always requires change of some sort. Change in the way we think, change in the way we act, change in the systems we build… it all depends. So, my job is to help think about the best way to bring this change about. In order to do this, you need to understand the people that it would impact. By doing this, you can design ways to bring them along instead of causing more problems or contention.

The particular project I’m looking at is in the commercial building sector. How to encourage and spread the uptake of sustainable building practices. If you have ideas, or examples of people doing this well, let me know.

Here’s a few photos since it’s always fun to have photos in a post. They’re from the Earth From Above exhibit, which was on display in cities across NZ. Check out more of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s work on his website ( http://www.yannarthusbertrand.org/index_new.htm )


Ko wai koe? No hea koe?

It seems I just can’t be satisfied coming to another country without learning another language. At first, I thought it would be enough to focus on learning to understand the Kiwi’s crazy form of English. It’s been no easy feat to get to the point where I can come out with proper responses to phrases such as “Bob’s your uncle”, “Good on ya”, and “sweet-as”.

However, in addition to English, there are actually two other official languages in New Zealand: Māori and NZ sign language. While I’ve always been interested in learning sign language, I decided to focus on Māori for the time being. Those of you who have visited NZ will know that many place names and signs are in both English and Māori. However, this is a relatively recent change. Māori only became one of the official languages in 1987. Prior to this, and the start of several Māori-language recovery programs, there was actually a fear that the language would be lost. There were many reasons for the decline of Māori speakers, among them the fact that for many years Māori was forbidden in the schools and all proceedings in Parliament were conducted in English. Many Māori felt there was little reason to teach the language to their children. At present only about 4% of the NZ population speaks Māori. However, knowledge and interest in the language (and culture) is on the rise in both official and personal settings.

One of the first things we are learning is “Ko wai koe? No hea koe?”: “Who are you? Where are you from?” It seems like a fairly basic question, but traditionally the answer would include a whole description of lineage and family history. When we first introduced ourselves, we were asked to give our name and place of origin, as well as “our” river and mountain. It’s added a whole new dimension to some of the discussions Greg and I have been having lately about identity.



*Photos courtesy of my mom. Hopefully we’ll get a post up about our travels with her and Robert soon…

30th B-Day’s Deserve Ice Cream Cake!

I have a wee birthday tradition of having a Carvel ice cream cake on my birthday. Doesn’t happen every year, but it seemed like my 30th was a good year not to skip. Unfortunately Carvel seems to have not expanded into New Zealand quite yet. So I ventured into unknown territory, inspired a bit from Mekayla’s tradition, and decided to make my own ice cream cake. Fortunately the web is filled with ex-Carvel employees who are addicted to making their own cake and provide some great recipes to start from.

I should emphasize at this point that this “cake” is composed entirely of ice cream. There is no spongy cake layer to detract from the ice cream experience. Here, in exquisite detail, is my cake starting at the base:

  • layer of chocolate ice cream (ahh, I wish they sold coffee ice cream in NZ, maybe next year)
  • layer of crunchies (oreo’s mixed with Magic Shell Chocolate, this is a KEY ingredient)
  • layer of vanilla ice cream with M&M’s mixed in (this was actually a mistake, the M&M shells melt off too much, and they lose their crunchiness)
  • all frosted on the outside with freshly whipped cream
  • blueberry colored whipped cream to decorate the edges
  • M&M’s to write “30” with.
  • More crunchies (including some made out of delectable Tim Tams)

The cake had to go through 4 freezing steps over the course of two days. We were freezing it out in the freezer in the garage, so I had to break out the head lamp occasionally to fetch it.


By the second day I think I was on a sugar high from eating too much whipped cream, as were the cats.

It turned out very well in the end, and even the Kiwi flatmates who were particularly horrified during this whole process seemed to enjoy the final result.

Of course Mekayla did try to melt the entire cake by insisting on putting thirty candles on it, but I swiftly averted disaster by blowing them all out (after basking briefly in their glow).

Thank you everyone for the birthday wishes. Now, if you will excuse me, there is left over ice cream cake that needs my immediate attention!

The Matzah Boat is Late

After my experience trying to find Hannukah candles in NZ, I decided I should start early in my quest to find Matzot for Passover.

Thanks to the genius of the World Wide Brain*, I tracked down the one store in Christchurch that does actually carry matzah. Not only that, they carry matzah meal and matzah Balls as well!!

If only I were so lucky… When I called before making the trek to the store, I was told “usually we have those items several weeks in advance, but we’re pulling our hair out right now… the Matzah Boat is Late!”.

I never realized that there was a single boat that sailed the seas in preparation for passover, delivering matzah to the Jews of the world. I hope they aren’t soggy.

*The Internet to those who aren’t familiar with Grace Dalley’s (our illustrious flatmate) terminology

More Tramps

Elizabeth and Caleb visited us from Boston recently. This visit had been in the works for months and was all planned around us getting to finally do the Routeburn Track, which is quite justified in being called one of the best walks in the world. At the last minute, we got a surprise: another visitor! Eva (who lived with Mekayla and her mom for a year in 1995) decided to come visit all the way from Berlin. She had no choice but to join the intrepid trampers.

It is about 32km over three days. It turned out to be a lot easier than we thought it would be. I originally read the elevation change to be 1200 meters. Mekayla and I had done one walk recently that was that steep, and it was grueling. We were surprised by how quickly we arrived at the first hut until we realized that the map we had was nicely translated into feet for the foreigners. Apparently I now think using the metric system. 1200 feet is a lot less daunting than 1200 meters.

But even though it was not as difficult as we had expected, it was really magnificent. So without further ado:


Mekayla and I are heading off tomorrow to tramp the Kepler Track. It also should be amazing.

What in the world have we been up to?

My, how time waddles. Time is flightless here just like many of the birds. For instance, the penguin:


We’ve been exploring all over the South Island the past two months, both on our own and with various visitors who have accompanied us. Tomorrow we head off again to meet up with more visitors, so we thought we’d try and post a few pictures before we leave again.

We went kayaking up in Kaikoura.


Where we walked through a vast colony of seals (and took 300+ pictures).

We went tramping in Arthur’s Pass where we stayed one night in this great little hut.

Mekayla attended a Permaculture Design Course (which she says she’ll post on eventually) up in the Tui community near Abel Tasman NP. Here is one of the houses there. Unfortunately we never saw it while the dragon was smoking because it wasn’t cold enough yet for them to be using the fireplace.

And here is a vast set of sand dunes near Farewell Spit at the northern tip of the South Island.

These photos are just to whet your appetite. We spent the past two weeks sorting and editing all of the photos we have taken in New Zealand. 7500 photos has now been reduced to 1600. When we get back from the two week trip we leave on tomorrow we’ll start uploading sets of them for people to enjoy.

Super(bowl) Tuesday

It’s been quite entertaining trying to answer questions about the American primary process. Many people over here are quite informed about what’s going on in the US (wow, in other parts of the world they actually have news about what’s happening in other countries!), so their questions can be quite detailed and specific. Overall, it’s made me realize just how confusing and convoluted our system can be.

However, the most recent question definitely tops the list…

I was hurrying out of work to go catch the end of the superbowl (yes, it was already Monday afternoon here), and one of my coworkers said, “Superbowl? Now, remind me again, is that the same as Superbowl Tuesday?”

Oh dear. All though, come to think of it, they do have a lot of similarities…