Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Best day ever

(Alternative title: Sandcastles in the Sand)

Actually, any day I don't have to work is a pretty good one. But since today is Christmas (and nothing is open), we headed to the beach. Going to the beach with two small children is more difficult than going to the beach without two small children. I had to choose between bringing my surfboard or a gazebo to protect my northern beauties from the sun. [Aside: A gazebo in New Zealand is like a tent without walls, and not something you might court your lover in if you were both starring in a Broadway musical.]

Zooey spent her first beach day the way she spends most days. Why yes, those are real alligators. If you ever get bored, I highly recommend going to an IZOD store and asking where they are keeping their alligators.

And then the crowds started to arrive.

The Kingdom of Jancie was destroyed shortly thereafter. History will likely note that while her short reign was the result of numerous factors, her fear of getting within three metres of the water tended to leave the castle(s) vulnerable to an attack by sea.

I almost forgot, there were these dolphins...which I suppose is not particularly unusual if you live near an ocean, but is still sort of a neat thing to see swim by. Unfortunately, I never seem to have the correct lens with me, so this is closest you will get to them.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Maui Dreaming

I just realized that our first trip to Hawaii predates our first digital camera. I was using a Pentax ME Super at the time and was never able to take particularly good photos with it; though after looking through the stack of prints, I was much better than was Nicole. I see that we liked living dangerously even before moving to New Zealand.

Speaking of living dangerously: There was this blowhole thing that shot water like a hundred feet into the air when a wave hit it right. This is as close as Nicole would get to it. Notice the expertise involved in setting up the photo. I then risked life and limb to get a little closer. Note: the effect of getting hit by a 100 foot wall of water is only slightly more pleasant than sitting in the front row of the Shamu Show at Sea World.

Nicole did manage to injure herself at the gentle Olivine Pools. The pools are very calm...except when suddenly they are not. Do not ever invade a country by sea with Nicole. A single wave will hit her, and she will be unable to move or speak. 

And finally: I had forgotten the Jeep was red. In my head, it was a boring beige colour. I first decided to move to Hawaii after returning the (only slightly) wrecked Jeep to the airport; all they said was, "Nobody wants that on their vacation." I kept expecting to receive a bill, but never did.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Zooey Pania Lasko (7 pounds 13 ounces; Born 12th October, 2013)

I am having so little luck photographing this baby. We (let's say Nicole) forgot to bring a camera that is not also a phone. Having only a camera phone would probably be okay, except we have really cheap phones. So I get a very kind coworker to bring in a pocket digital camera...somehow (I don't want to come out and blame Jancie directly), all the pictures got erased. So I go back today with the Sony. These were the best I could do.

Here are a couple of self portraits I tried to take with Jancie at the Hasting's Market while we were taking a break from the hospital. Janice will not drink milk, except with a spoon (like a weird dairy gazpacho). She will also not drink a white fluffy, except with a spoon. Which would be okay if the farmers' market had spoons. Drinking a white fluffy with a coffee stirrer is a time consuming process.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Nicole does not remember the last time I fasted on Yom Kippur. Does that mean I haven't since we've been married, or does it mean she has not been paying attention. I vividly remember fasting while in Israel (in 1989)...or maybe not so vividly. I remember discussing whether tooth brushing and sleeping with a pillow was allowed. I remember getting the "regular food" at at the end with mi amigo Shamir only to find out minutes later that there was better food for the people who had fasted...then trying to figure out what to do with our trays so that we could get new food. [Note to Shamir: Update your blog, or I'm taking your link away.] I know that I had fasted before that Israel trip, and I'm pretty sure I have fasted since, but I could not tell you when.

So the problems with fasting in New Zealand are:

1) It's a four hour drive to Wellington. You will get dehydrated during this drive. Attempts to make up this water deficit before sundown will prove futile.

2) Services (at least at Temple Sinai) start before sundown. Unless you want to arrive late or eat in the synagogue, you will not be eating at the last possible moment you would otherwise be allowed to be eating.

3) Your pregnant wife and 22 month old daughter are allowed to eat. If you hang out with them during the day, you will also want to eat, so you are better off spending nine hours in services. [Nine hours in services? That never happened when I was growing up. We would arrive casually late, and leave casually early...]

4) Rabbi Adi Cohen is a very mean man. He lets his children decide when we get to eat again--and since they were not fasting, they are not terribly concerned if there are four stars in the sky instead of only three.

5) Breaking the fast in an NZ restaurant can take a very, very long time. Apparently, a congregation member owns a nearby hotel and usually hosts a breaking of the fast. Due to some communication/scheduling problem, he ended up calling the owner of a neighboring hotel to host said breaking of the fast (several days before). When we arrived with a group of 20 very hungry people (which I guess includes Nicole and Jancie), nobody at the restaurant knew of our booking. After scrambling to set up tables and quickly taking our orders (at least by New Zealand standards), we waited an hour for Nicole's food...which Jancie found unappetizing. To keep her entertained (and quiet), I took her for a walk outside, which turned into a walk through the hotel lobby, then back into the restaurant, then back outside. 30 minutes and a few circuits later, a rather drunk man (watching the All Blacks--this was not a quiet place), yelled an obscenity at her. We felt obliged to leave, and started packing up when my food finally arrived. They boxed it, and after the 20 minute walk back to our hotel, I had gone 28 hours without eating.

We will see how I am feeling next year at this time. Right now, I could go a few more years without fasting again.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Seventeen years went under the bridge. Like time was standing still.

 I may have underdressed for this date...

I used my Ford Festiva as a tripod for this photo. (It was shot during a cool black and white phase).

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Snow Day

In a country with few impressive buildings (at least from a Eurocentric perspective), Chateau Tongariro was an unexpected surprise. I am pretty sure we could not have afforded to stay there, but I felt obligated to snap a photo on the way up the mountain. (Apologies: all photos in this post were taken with the Sony, so they might not be up to usual quality standards.)

I am pretty sure she was throwing a snowball

As I write this entry, I am trying to remember the last time I saw snow; and a quick search reminds me of one of the reasons I bother keeping this blog. Although I grew up within a reasonably short drive of ski resorts, I only remember one or two family trips to the snow. Both of my parents came from very cold climates, and I am guessing that neither felt the need to drive an hour to see winter. I probably never learned to ski as a child because it was so expensive, and I probably never learned to ski as an adult because the Kaiser I worked at was the regional rehab center for Northern California. Every winter it would fill up with 25 year old men with broken necks.
My family will probably like this one better.

But after a day (make that one hour) in Whakapapa, I am thinking I might take up the sport. Compared to all the other ways to get injured in New Zealand, skiing does not seem that dangerous anymore.

Jancie had a great time until her hands and feet got cold. Note to Nico: Cover your daughter's ankles! I never think to take pictures of her during a temper tantrum. I might want those some day.

Things you should not let your pregnant wife do

Friday, June 21, 2013

The only Americans in Hawke's Bay

I was recently asked by a NZ Immigration website that I sometimes frequent to contribute something about the experience of moving to/living in New Zealand from an American perspective. Here's what I've come up with:

I get asked a lot why we decided to move to NZ (Both in NZ and in the US). I don't have a great answer...or rather, I don't have a short answer. Nobody here can believe that I don't have a Kiwi partner or some other family already here. My title exaggerates a little; we are not the only Americans in Hawke's Bay. There are something like 300 of us, but I have yet to meet any who are here "permanently" that are not married to locals.

So the short answer: There is no voice of reason in my marriage. I can come up with something crazy (like let's move to New Zealand), and my wife says: "Why not"? We were both getting a little tired of California; we had been living in Newport Beach, California (one of the most expensive cities in the United States) for the past 8 a tiny condo. We thought about getting something bigger, but that would have meant moving further away from the Ocean. California was in a bit of a budget crisis, and my wife (a public school teacher) was constantly being threatened with down sizing. I had been planning a move to Hawaii in my head for a few years, and even went so far as getting licensed to work in the state (I am a pharmacist), but we never got past the dreaming stage. In 2009, we took a (well supported, luxurious) tandem bicycle tour of New Zealand. Everything was beautiful and green, people were remarkably friendly, and at $1 (US) to $2 (NZ) we could buy a 6 bedroom house on the Queen Charlotte Sound for $300,000 (US).

And so one year to the day after that tandem bicycle trip, we found ourselves again landing in Auckland, buying a car at a Turners Auction, and checking into a hotel room. I had not imagined how quick/easy it would be to buy a car, otherwise we would have driven to Hawke's Bay that day. I won't bore anyone with the details of the immigration process up to that point; unless you are a pharmacist, your experiences would be different anyway. The very brief summary: we took a reconnaissance trip in June 2009 as I had to take a exam (offered 4 times a year in Auckland, London, or any city in Australia); I also wanted to look into job prospects and to scope out places to live (during winter). The trip was successful: I passed the exam, and ended up with two firm job offers and one: "Call us when you have a more definite time table". I did not take any of those offers for a variety of reasons: Two were in Auckland, which seemed overwhelmingly expensive relative to the income offered, and one was in Wellington, where we would not have minded living, but the job seemed like much more work than I was currently doing in the US. I suppose I should mention: Pharmacists in New Zealand make a ridiculously small amount of money compared to pharmacists in the US. It is not an unreasonable salary for New Zealand, and as NZ pharmacy school only takes four years it is really not a valid comparison to the US (where most pharmacists do 8 years at University). All the same, I was embarrassed to tell my (American) coworkers about the pay cut I would be taking.

We had not visited Hawke's Bay on either of our first two trips to NZ. I had seen a job posting online, and ended up getting an offer through email and a phone interview. The area looked very good online: the climate is supposed to be Mediterranean, with a climate warm enough to grown red wine; there is sailing, bicycling, and did I mention wine? Also, houses seemed to be cheaper than anywhere else on the North Island. My employer was kind enough to hold the job open for six months while we applied for/waited for residency.

Our condo in Newport Beach sold too quickly; I was tied up at work for a couple more months, so we had a few garage sales and had everything else packed into a container for storage/shipping. We rented a tiny furnished studio, and slowly said goodbye to everyone and everything. On the day before we flew out, my wife dropped my car off at the Port of Los Angeles for shipping (it was considerably cheaper to ship separately from our other belongings).  Note: The law changed while the car was in transit--a left hand drive vehicle can no longer be registered in NZ, in most cases. The container ended up beating us by a couple of weeks (read: large storage bill at the port); the car took months and months, and even more months to get it registered (see law change above).

February is not the best time to look for a place to live in Hawke's Bay. Everything is full of holiday goers and migrant farm/vineyard workers. We ended up using a rental agent who showed us one house in Havelock North, which we took. A little about renting a house in NZ: 1) If you use an agent, they charge you a "letting fee", which corresponded to one week's rent + GST. 2) Your dealing with said rental agent might be the first time you notice that a lot of Kiwis do not have an American work ethic. 3) The rental agent will want references; I ended up using my boss (I had not met him yet) and the two people we had met on our previous trips 4) Your rental will not be very clean when you move in, but you will still be charged a cleaning fee if it is not very clean when you move out. The house was nothing special, but the back yard looked out onto a reserve, and it was a short walk to town. The house was heated by a wood burning stove and a chipper (which is a small wood burner). There was no insulation, and it was unbearably cold in winter. We bought a humidifier, and it pulled gallons of water out of the air every day.

To get out of the cold house, we spent nearly every weekend going to open homes. I still don't understand the real estate buying process here, and I suspect most Americans will also find it odd. There are no "buyers" agents. You can find an agent who will take you around to look at houses, but depending on how the property is listed (e.g. who gets paid a commission), you may only be taken to homes with that agent's company. It is made very clear that all agents are representing the seller, and that they are required to get him/her as much money as possible. The law requires real estate agents to "treat the buyer fairly". So I did most of the searching myself. We ended up bidding on a house at auction--we were the highest bidders in the room by $100,000, and still did not get the house. We later put in an even higher offer, and the seller responded by taking the house off the market. We put in a couple of offers on a lifestyle property (with a restored 100 year old home on 3 acres); the amount of money separating us from the seller was very small, especially in US dollars. I think we found something off putting about the real estate agent constantly calling to get a little more money out of us. We finally ended up purchasing one of the first houses we had looked at...after 4 or 5 months of sitting empty it had gotten cheap enough that we could afford it. The house was actually under contract with another buyer, but they had been unable to sell there own home. We were able to purchase it for even less as we had a "cash" offer. We felt a little bad about stealing the house from some other family who had their heart set on it, and I kept thinking that this would be the stuff of lawsuits in the US. We now live in an Art Deco home in the Art Deco Capital of the southern hemisphere. I was not particularly familiar with the style before moving here; my wife has most definitely embraced the movement. If you should find yourselves in Napier during Art Deco weekend, we'll be the very well dressed family at the Gatsby Picnic.

Shortly thereafter, the house started feeling too thing I knew we had a daughter...and then the next thing I knew, there was another one along the way. Children never seemed affordable in the US. How could we possibly survive if my wife was not working? Here I make somewhere between a half and a third (depending on the exchange rate) of what I made in the US, and my wife has so far decided to be a stay at home mom, yet somehow we are able to mange. I should reiterate that we came from a very expensive part of the US and moved to a moderately inexpensive part of New Zealand. I imagine that if we had come from Ohio the sticker shock of houses could have been unbearable. Aside from houses, there are a few things that  are cheaper in New Zealand (child birth, auto insurance, earthquake insurance), but not very many. When people ask about our standard of living, I usually tell them that we live in a house that we never could have afforded in California, we drink cheaper wine, and we don't eat in restaurants (well, very often). I usually leave off that, aside from Kiwisaver, we don't save for retirement anymore.There are a lot of 70 year olds at my work, and I do not want to be one of them. I would feel worse about not saving, but 10 years of 401k contributions have left me in much better shape than any Kiwis I know.

Housing revisited: With the baby, we needed to make the house warmer. We put insulation in the roof (Government rebate!), the previous owners had already done the floor. Heating is by two fireplaces (one is enclosed, and the other is an enclosed pellet burner). I felt like a real Kiwi when a coworker's partner took me out to a recently cut forest to collect firewood. I am not sure free firewood is worth it when you consider the labor involved, but it is nice to have the next two winters taken care of. Note: In attempting to buy firewood, you may once again observe that Kiwis do not have an American work ethic. Note 2: Pellets are unfortunately not free, but they are very easy to order/have delivered to your home making for a very convenient heating source. Note 3: The parts of our house that are not served by the fireplaces (the bedrooms) are terribly cold in winter. We run electric heaters in them, and suffer from huge electric bills ($300 this month, and we're only part way through June).

Back to my title: as there are so few Americans in Hawke's Bay, we were forced to make friends with the locals (and non-American immigrants). The British friends we have made think it is much easier to make friends with other Brits. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I think not having a clique to fall back on makes for a better transition. My coworkers were all very thoughtful at including us in things. Before the baby was born, we were probably more sociable here than we were in the US. If you don't like your coworkers, there are clubs for everything in Hawke's Bay. I showed up at the sailing club shortly after we moved here, got put on a boat for a race that day, and ended up crewing on the boat for the next year. (I then bought a boat, another item that seemed unaffordable in the US.) There is an absence of phoniness in people that still shocks me; if someone says: "we should have you over for dinner sometime", they actually mean to invite you over for dinner.

I could write pages about culture shock, minor annoyances, and major annoyances. I've alluded to a lack of work ethic a couple of times, and it is probably the biggest irritant for me. Example: Someone drove through a section of our fence last year. We submitted an insurance claim, and the insurance company needed us to get a quote before they would pay. After calling everyone in the phone book, a few people eventually showed up to look at it; most of them never got back to us, even after several follow up calls/emails. The one or two that eventually did provide quotes never showed up to do any work. After nearly a year went by, a friend came over and helped me do a very Kiwi repair (or actually, I bought materials, and he did the repair).    I have had similar experiences with tree trimmers, roofers, painters, mechanics. One of the things I love about New Zealand is that it is so relaxed...but sometimes it would be nice if it were not so difficult to get things fixed.

All in all, we are very happy we made the move. We are just getting into winter, so we are starting to think we would rather be somewhere warm, or at least somewhere with first world heating, but that will go away in September. I don't know if we'll be here forever, and if we ever do move it will most likely be for financial reasons. Not that we're struggling here at all, but at a certain point, someone in my situation is bound to start thinking: "I could retire a lot earlier if I were in the US".

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Nobody Walks in LA

Three years ago, it seemed kind of silly to get into a car and drive for a half hour (or longer) to go on a walk. [Note for those you do not speak Kiwi: A "walk" is what you would probably call a "hike"; except if it lasts longer than a day, then Kiwis call it a "tramp".] But since we're Kiwis now, we drive all over the country just to go walking; also, Jancie's favourite spot is getting a little boring.

And so we set off for the White Pine Bush Scenic Reserve, once again with Jason and family...and some friends of Jason and family. Asks friend of Jason: "Did you do much walking in the States?" I wasn't sure how to answer that question. Nico and I walked quite a bit: to dinner, around Chicago (or anywhere we were visiting, for that matter). Does city walking count? How long of a conversation do I want to have about walking while walking? So I told him I was from Los Angeles, then sort of described the scene from LA Story where Steve Martin gets in his car and drives next door to Marilu Henner's house. Anyway, I did not take many pictures on the walk, because Jancie would not get in her little piggyback carrier thing and insisted on walking most of the way (1.6 km). Here is a photo I have titled: "Jancie in the Forest".

In other news, Nico, Jancie, and I competed in our very first tandem race. Nico and I have been in plenty of organized tandem rides...and some of them have gotten a little competitive. But we were unprepared for an actual race. Some of the faster teams brought track wheels (with discs) for the time trial stages. We brought Jancie in a trailer. We were over an hour behind the winners in one of the road stages. We sat out the "Two across" stage which teamed up the fastest and slowest teams (and so on) because there was an odd number of bicycles. Here's some footage of the leaders.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

NZ Tandem Tour #3

Some of you may remember that Nico and I used to take these really expensive tandem bicycle tours. Sadly, since moving to New Zealand, airfare (let alone the tours) are well beyond what we can afford. Fortunately, the tour organisers seemed to know we are broke, and have been bringing the tour to us every two years.

One would think I would have a lot of fantastic pictures of biking around Rotorua, the Coromandel, and Waiheke Island...but most of the photos I took were of Jancie, who spent the week finally deciding that walking is the best way to get around.

Although Nico and I were never superb cyclists, we tend to have a definite age advantage over the average tandem rider (or at least the average tandem rider on a Santana vacation), but pulling Jancie around has more than negated our age advantage. We were not quite the slowest bike going uphill; but we were definitely at the back of the pack on the flats and downhills.

FYI: All the pictures in this post were taken on Waiheke Island, which is about a 40 minute ferry ride from Auckland. The Santana Tour does not include Waiheke, and we had been meaning to tandem it for at least three years. The island is far more populated than I would have guessed and a bit hilly, but still pretty tandem friendly. The main attraction has to be the 18 wineries (more if you count those without tasting rooms, though there are also some pretty nice looking beaches scattered about. Anyway, our 3 year NZ anniversary just passed. I am happy that we are still able to find new places to visit.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Deco III

Alternate title: When You're Big in Japan 

The Laskos ended up getting sick just in time for our third Art Deco Weekend in Napier...which kept us at home for most of the weekend. Fortunately, Jancie was feeling well enough to put in an appearance at the Gatsby Picnic today, where she proved to be extremely popular.

So anybody who's anybody brings a gazebo to the Gatsby Picnic. I was trying to remember what I would have called a gazebo prior to moving to New Zealand, but I cannot. A tent, maybe? Nicole had big plans for our gazebo this year, but it ended up looking pretty bare (we'll blame it on  our poorly timed illnesses). People who take the picnic seriously have gazebos that look like this one.

We did have a cool location next to the Tom Parker Fountain. However, we found ourselves unprotected when Adolf Hitler showed up.

And then something really weird happened. Swimming in this fountain is remarkably popular. I cannot really say why, as it's not like it ever gets uncomfortably hot in Napier. So then I start wondering: Does the city council keep this fountain extra clean since they must know that the public uses it like a swimming pool? Then I start thinking: This is New Zealand; Jancie's favourite playground has a zip line.

Friday, February 08, 2013

So I think there are about three or four people who still read this blog, and the three or four people happen to not be on facebook. So let me offer my sincerest apologies to the three or four people who have patiently been waiting nearly six months for an update. First let me offer an excuse: Jancie took over my office, which forced me to move the desktop computer's a long walk. And call me old fashioned, but I find it uncomfortable to blog from a tablet.
And now an update: Some of you have been wondering what country we're living in these days. We are still in New Zealand. We spent last winter (summer in the northern hemisphere) in the US, but now we are back in New Zealand. I had to quit my job to get three months off, but ended up getting rehired 9with a promotion) when we returned. And another excuse: We've kind of fallen into a routine...not necessarily a boring routine, but a routine that doesn't lend itself to particularly blogging. I remember when I was ten I started keeping a journal. All my entries were like: "Went to school. Went over to my friend's house. Had dinner." I'd say my life has gotten a little less dull, but not enough to write a book about.
Anyway, I'll try to start posting weekly updates, and I'll try to make them interesting. The cruise ship is the most recent photo from the Pentax. It was taken from Bluff Hill, when the largest cruise ship to ever visit Napier was on its way out. A remarkably large crowd (for Napier) showed up to watch. And this must be what Janice looked like at the end of November.