Saturday, June 13, 2015

In case you missed it, we moved to Maui.

The most exciting thing that has happened so far: I bought a Jeep. I first wanted to buy a Jeep in 2000, but it was for Nico...and she wanted a Miata. 15 years later, and I bought almost the exact same vehicle. I knew buying anything this old would be expensive, but I did not understand how expensive Jeep ownership can be. The problem is that parts/accessories are so cheap and readily available, that making improvements becomes an addiction. Instead of buying seat covers, one cannot help but notice that new seats do not cost much more. And it gets worse from there.

My first purchase was a lot of tools; including a new bottle jack (original jack was frozen) and a new tire iron (original does not fit any of the current lug nuts).

Then I decided the seats were a little too nice, so I bought seat covers. (Turns out I was wrong. The upholstery is nice, but they're quite rusted and falling apart underneath.)

And then Nico got sick of constantly moving car seats around evwey time Jancie wanted to go ride in the Jeep. 

Shortly thereafter, I entered restoration mode and decided to do something about the dented tailgate. It is hardly noticeable, but it causes the spare tire to not fit very well (It had 6 pounds of air in it when I bought it. After inflation, only two lug nuts are holding it on.) Even though it was the wrong color red, I couldn't pass up a junkyard replacement. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it yet.

The previous owner put on a Sierra replacement top, which didn't fit quite right in a couple of places. I suspected the frame was bent, and today's project was to take the top off and see what I could fix cheaply. The side pieces (not sure what they are called) are definitely bent...or at least one of them is--they do not match each other. They are impossible to bend back without better equipment than I have. And it's not worth doing, as bow #2 (I think it's number 2) is rusted through. I don't know what's holding it together. 

I ordered the Bestop replacement soft top hardware kit from Amazon, but it appears they're not going to ship it for 2 to 3 months. Unable to find another source without spending over $450, I ordered a Bestop Safari Top from Amazon and a No-Drill Windshield Channel from 4wheelparts (Amazon won't ship the part to Hawaii).

In the mean time, I'm going to try to get the bent frame back on (after a trip to the hardware store for a few replacement screws...some of the heads were rusty/stripped, and I don't want to put them back in). 

Next up will be my first attempt at automotive repair. I'm going to replace the valve gasket cover to try to stop an oil leak. The picture below is almost two weeks worth. Also on the schedule for the next couple of weeks: Eastwood Internal Frame Coating, Por-15 for the outside of the frame, and possibly Monstaliner for the tub (the front and rear seat carpet is gone, and the back carpet is ready to be tossed).

I almost forgot my favorite upgrade. The top of the steering wheel felt squishy, or rubbery (I could sort of rotate the outside plastic around whatever provides the structure). A $12 cover with a Jeep logo solved the problem.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dear Family, Friends, and Co-workers,

Many of you are probably aware that the family and I had scheduled a move to Hawaii for later this month. Unfortunately, due to cutbacks at Maui Memorial Medical Center, our plans have had to change. Also unfortunately, I have already resigned from my current job.

Luckily, Akaroa Hospital is reopening at just the right time, and I have been offered the position of Akaroa Hospital Pharmacist. In my new role as Akaroa Hospital Pharmacist, I will be personally responsible for managing the drug therapy of the 6 patients that are too sick to be at home but not quite sick enough to seek help at Christchurch Hospital.

I am greatly looking forward to being able to provide intensive and individualized pharmaceutical care. I am worried about the weather, as I had already adjusted myself to spending this (Southern Hemisphere) winter in the Tropics. I agreed to accept the position only after I was assured that the Hospital has a state of the art climate control system.

Saturday, March 07, 2015


On the bike path from Arrowtown to Gibbston Valley
Every time I visit Queenstown, I am shocked by the number of tourists. Especially American tourists. Talk, talk, talk you Americans, always "let me say this" or "I think that". Somewhere around Queenstown I discovered that everyone on the South Island (except for the few New Zealand born people who live there) thinks we're Kiwi. I stopped bothering to add "originally Los Angeles" when asked where we were from. Even with Nicole, Jancie, and I wearing Gap sweatshirts (sorry Zooey), we apparently pass for locals. To get away from the crowds, we stayed in much quieter Arrowtown.
View from King George Bathhouse
View from King George Bathhouse if you crane your neck a little
Also every time I visit Queenstown, I am reminded of why there are so many tourists. Forgetting about all the dangerous things to do, sitting lakeside with a cup of coffee and a scone makes the entire trip worth it.

The next two days are a blur of driving; trying to get to Picton for a 1PM Friday ferry (and a Purim party in Wellington that night). After arriving to Picton in plenty of time, we got to sit in the car for an extra 3 hours while they made some sort of repair to the boat...or possibly to the boat that was blocking the dock for our boat. Sitting in a car that is not moving for 3 hours is only slightly better than sitting in a moving car for 3 hours.

Franz Josef Glacier. I'm thinking there might be something to this global warming thing.

Goodbye Picton
South by South (sort of)

Jancie's favourite thing about the Moeraki Boulders? 
Getting her hands muddy, of course.
The thing about driving in New Zealand is that getting anywhere takes much longer than one might think it should. Queenstown to Milford Sound for example: It's only 50 km by crow, but close to 300 km by car. And although the speed limit is 100 km/hr through most of the trip, the road is so windy at times that all of your passengers will get sick if you actually drove that fast. 

After we left Christchurch, the vastness of the South Island become readily apparent, and we began to feel rushed (and confined to the car). If you're driving around with children (and you don't want to drug them), planning frequent stops is not a bad idea. The Moeraki Boulders, somewhere between Oamaru and Dunedin are definitely worth the time.

Probably the greatest invention ever. Part trampoline, 
part bouncy castle. Lasko Girls: You will never again bounce 
on one of these before getting into my car.

I was more than ready to call it a day long before we got to Dunedin, and were I planning the roadtrip again, I would probably cut out Dunedin entirely--not because it isn't worth seeing; but we had already been there, and it's a really long way from anywhere (except Invercargill, which we had to drop from the itinerary en route due to time constraints). From Dunedin, we made an overnight stop in Te Anau, which for some reason I was expecting to be a dot on the map with a few places to stay for the sane people that don't want to turn their Milford Sound experience into a 12 hour day by driving to/from Queenstown. Te Anau is a surprisingly nice town. Nicole preferred the supermarket to our own (except for the prices); there are three Italian restaurants (including one owned/operated by real Italians), and a beautiful lake. All very touristy, but so much nicer than Turangi

Milford Sound in the rain--yes, those are all waterfalls
Milford Sound in the wind. 
Notice the waterfall on the right is vaporizing halfway down.

The boat companies say Milford Sound is better in the rain. I am guessing they just want to make sure people show up on the 200 days a year that it does rain. The 12,000 extra waterfalls were indeed fantastic, but the visibility was so poor, I feel the need to return someday when the forecast is better.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Road Trip (Part I)

We used to take these expensive tandeming vacations to far off and exotic places, most recently (if you can call 2009 recent) to New Zealand. Since we are now on a Kiwi budget, we tend to do our cycling closer to home, and wait for tandems to come to us. This time around, we decided it would be a good opportunity to see a little bit more of the South Island.

Waikawa Bay boat sheds
A rare moment of sisterly solidarity on the Queen Charlotte Sound
After an early, early wakeup, a cross country drive, and an uneventful ferry through the Cook Strait, we found ourselves at Waikawa Bay. The next day, we bicycled 65 km from Picton to Marlborough wine country.

I seem to not have any photos, at least on the Pentax. In our prime, I did not mind carrying four pounds of camera on the bicycle. Although it probably matters less now that we are towing a hundred pounds of girls, the camera still seemed like too much work.

The following day found us on a cruise/very short hike around the Queen Charlotte Sound, and lunch at the historic Furneaux Lodge. The beauty of the Marlborough Sounds is impossible to believe. I had wanted to do a much longer walk on the Queen Charlotte Track, but tramping with little girls is even harder than bicycling with them.
Ohau seal colony --a giant seal bathtub

Shipping containers propping up buildings
As the tandem tour headed North, we drove in the opposite direction to Kaikoura, home to just about every type of whale imaginable. Unfortunately, Zooey is too young to get on the one whale watching boat, so we had to settle for alternate sea life. During seal season, there's a short walk up a stream to a waterfall to see baby seals playing in a waterfall. There were no seals in early March; the waterfall is pretty, but I won't bore you with a photo since we saw so many more waterfalls over the next few days.

In 2009, we started to drive to Akaroa. The road was very, very windy, so we turned around and went back to Christchurch. Though I had regretted not going for years, I was happy that we spent a little extra time in Christchurch before the city was destroyed. Four years after the earthquake, very little has been rebuilt. Lonely Planet called Christchurch the city to visit in 2013. They were way, way early. While some of the rebuild is interesting, most of it is just dirt lots.

What most of the Christchurch CBD looks like today
If you ever find yourself in Christchurch around dinner time, I highly recommend St. Germain. We ate there on our first trip to New Zealand, and it was one of the better meals we had ever had. In a new, post-earthquake location (a mile, or so from the old location), I can't say I was as impressed this time, but it was still very, very good. Try the chef's surprise (5 or 8 courses that the chef feels like making). I wish I could still say that I've never eaten snails. 

On the descent into Akaroa
The view from somewhere near our low cost accommodation
Back to Akaroa; it is hard to imagine a place more stunning. I had to stop the car at least once to take pictures on the way in. I see this entry is now turning into mostly pictures, so it must be time to stop writing.
Standing on a not too dangerous cliff above the lighthouse

Saturday, February 07, 2015


We have made plans several times to go camping since moving to New Zealand, but had not gotten closer than glamping until this weekend. And so we dug up the old tent, borrowed a few essentials, and set off for Gisborne for two nights of roughing it. Roughing it is relative I suppose, as we would be staying in a Holiday Park which promised bathrooms/showers, a kitchen, and unobstructed ocean views.

Sunrise from the tent
Just a note about unobstructed ocean views: they sound better than they are. When it's windy, there are no obstructions to block the wind. If you haven't used your tent in 15 years, you start trying to remember how much wind it can withstand. When the sand is blowing around, a whole lot of it gets in your tent. And the sound of the waves can be less than soothing at 3 in the morning. Complaints aside, the view will be hard to beat. East Coast sunrises still look like sunsets to me.

In case I ever want to publish a coffee table book on Kiwiana, I have started photographing the most Kiwi things I see. Launching your boat with a tractor is high on the list. The picture came out surprisingly bright; I took it just before sunrise.

My girls at the Gisborne Saturday Market. 

Since the weather was not quite perfect for playing on the beach, and even if it had been, the water temperature is less than ideal we headed into town a couple of times for a walk around.
The grapes at Wrights Winery look good enough to eat.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tongariro Crossing II

Discovery Lodge cabins and Mount Ngauruhoe

Chateau Tongariro and Mount Ruapehu
A visiting cousin seemed like a good reason to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing a second time. Actually, I wanted to run it, but I was vetoed. There are not a lot of accommodation options near the Tongariro Crossing. We opted for a cabin at the Discovery Lodge. They are slightly bigger inside than they appear. Next time, I am going with a bigger budget and staying at the nearby Chateau Tongariro. Maybe Nico can come.

Steven Lasko climbing Mount Doom
Because my cousin is an experienced mountain climber, and also because he is somewhat of a Lord of the Rings fan, and also, also because 19.4 km is just not long enough to walk for some people, our hike had to include an ascent of Mount Ngauruhoe. Hobbits aside, climbing Mount Ngauruhoe is less fun that in sounds. It is steep, sandy, and really, really high. 

When the clouds clear, the view from the top (or near the top for this picture) is unbelievable.
The most emerald of the Emerald Lakes

                                                 ` Total walking time was a little over 11 hours. I am so running next time.

Friday, January 02, 2015

At the bach with the whanau

We decided to get out of town for a low key Kiwi New Year's. Not too far out of town, but far enough to realize forgetting garbage bags was a bad idea. Our home for the long weekend (did I mention the day after New Year's Day is a public holiday in New Zealand?) was a bach in Porangahau belonging to my employer. The bach might be the only benefit I get through work. Notice the peeling door. The price was right, and after mopping the floors and cleaning the bathroom, it was almost livable.

Many consider Porangahau to be Hawke's Bay's finest beach. On the plus side, it is 16 km of sand and mostly deserted. The big minus for me is the gently sloping high-low tide zone. At low tide, it is a long, long walk to the water over wet sand so fine that it feels like mud. At high tide, there's hardly any beach. Probably if it had not been so windy all weekend, I would have liked the beach better. I took the surfboard out for about 5 minutes and caught a pretty small and poorly formed wave, just so I could tell people I went surfing.

Walking around the small beach town, I noticed a fundamental difference between Kiwis and Americans. In the US, if your family own a vacation home, you probably have a schedule with your siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles clearly noting when you can use it. In New Zealand, somebody in your family always owns a bach, and everyone just shows up together. There are about 14 vehicles parked in front of this one, including a tractor...because how else are you going to move your boat?

Here's Mr. Whippy--he stopped in front of our bach, much to the Lasko Girls' delight. Nicole thought Zooey sitting in our (peeling) doorway eating an ice cream cone looked very third world. Unfortunately, that photo did not come out very well.

Here is Zooey without an ice cream cone, sitting in our doorway and looking only a little third world.