Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Familiar faces (continued)

Holy Chris, I'm behind on this blog! Right. Where was I? Oh yeah. Katie, Melissa, and I were on our way to Wanaka. First thing on my agenda was to correct my guests' pronunciation of my new home town. Kiwis, I've found, pronounce quite a few words and names differently than Americans would. 'Wanaka' is definitely among those. I imagine that, like me before I arrived here, most Americans would think Wanaka was pronounced so that it rhymed with 'banaca'--you know, the fresh-breath spray?--but no, it's actually pronounced so that it rhymes with Hanukkah--you know, the Jewish Festival of Lights? Correct pronunciation established. On with the trip.

We arrived in Wanaka after about an an hour and a half drive through some very pretty country. We passed more than a few vineyards along the way. Some quite picturesque. But none nearly as breathtakingly gorgeous as my workplace, which I was itching to show my former coworkers. And, after checking the girls into the motel, that's just where I took them. First stop, the tasting room. We sampled the entire range of Rippon wines, from Osteiner to Pinot, and there was much rejoicing. A wander through the vines and the requisite picture taking with the lake and mountains as the backdrop followed. I was so glad the weather was nice--we hadn't seen the sun once during the preceding nine days due to a most-stubborn inversion layer that had settled over the valley. But it cleared up brilliantly for my out of towners, and there was much rejoicing. After snapping a number of pics, it was up to the Winery for a tour, which Bret, the Assistant Winemaker, was more than happy to provide. He gave my guests (and me) quite an education on the process of wine making that was so much better than the tour I would've provided, i.e. "There are the tanks. There are the barrels. Any Questions?" Bret even provided us with a bonus tasting--straight from the barrels! We got to sample from two or three of the 08's and from two of the 09's, including from the barrel "Steve the Texan" named for yours truly (an entry on the naming of barrels, and how it is I got one named for me will be coming soon) and there was much rejoicing.

After the tour of my workplace, we went back to my house where Katie and Melissa took over the kitchen and prepared a most delectable Mexican food dinner. What a treat! They had read somewhere that I had been desperately missing good Mexican food and were so sweet to bring with them some much needed supplies. Although their beans got confiscated as contraband from Customs upon their arrival, they came through with flying colors. Our taco dinner was Grade A, muy delicioso, and there was much rejoicing.

After dinner we met up with Shannon down at the bar Woody's, where my friend Mike is the Manager. Jenn and Michelle joined us shortly thereafter and we had a fun night out, and there was much rejoicing.

The following day, the sky had reverted back to the grey palor it had maintained for most of the previous fortnight, but even so, the beauty of this place was little diminished so we took a long walk along the lakeside. About midway through our walk, it began to snow. The novelty of experiencing snow in July, especially for a couple of visiting Texans who, three days prior, were experiencing triple digit temperatures back in Dallas, was something to behold. I don't think it would've been possible to wipe the bewildered smiles from Katie's and Melissa's faces. I wouldn't have wanted to even if I could.

After our walk, I got to introduce the girls to one of my favorite Wanaka pastimes--drinking Brewskis at Kai. Kai is the cafe/bar on the busiest intersection of town, and if you sit outside long enough, sooner or later you'll see everyone you know. Shannon, Mike and Dean joined us, and for the next couple hours we all drank Brewskis, talked, laughed and greeted the multitudes of passersby we knew. Mostly I just sat back and watched as Mike and Dean kicked their 'entertaining out of towners' engines into high gear. Dean, an angry (not really, it's all an act) Welshman, and Mike, an affable (not an act, genuinely affable) Kiwi are quite the story tellers, and they had us all in stitches for hours. Just get Dean going on a diatribe about the French and you've got an afternoon's entertainment that's second to none. I really couldn't have asked for a better afternoon to show my guests just why this place has become so special to me. And there was certainly much rejoicing.

Come suppertime, we retired back to my house where Paula had prepared a traditional Kiwi dinner of lamb shanks, roasted veggies, and kumura. It was alright, but, frankly, not really worth writing home (or blogging) about, so I won't. There was only a little rejoicing.

Theirs was an extremely short visit--only a few days--but I'd like to think that Katie and Melissa had a good time. I know I certainly did. It was so great to see friends from back home, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to play tour guide in my new little corner of the world. My only regret is that we never got a chance to make it to Puzzling World. Maybe next time. **Sarcasm heavily implied here. Brad knows, but for the rest of you, Puzzling World is the local, cheesy tourist trap.**

So, to sum up: good friends (both visiting and local) + good scenery + good weather + good wine + good food + inclement (but fun) weather + good beer + good conversation + good laughs = one helluva good time...

...with much rejoicing!


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I feel the earth move under my feet

I was planning on writing about the Wanaka portion of Katie and Melissa's visit tonight, but that's going to have to wait.

About three hours ago, I was over at Shannon's house with Shannon, Mark, Michelle, and Paul watching a DVD of season one of Flight of the Conchords when, all of a sudden, I felt kind of weird. Sort of dizzy. Just the slightest bit queasy. Almost drunk even. I wasn't the only one feeling that way apparently. All five of us, all at once, just looked at each other for a few seconds, bewildering, confused looks plastered on each of our faces, trying to comprehend this strange sensation. What's going on? Why does it feel almost like we're on a boat? Why are the clothes hanging from the drying rack all swaying back and forth like that? Is this? Can it be? Yep, it sure is. This is an earthquake!

That's right. I just experienced my first earthquake. It was really trippy. There wasn't anything falling from the shelves or anything like that, and we didn't go running in terror to huddle under the nearest door frames. We all just rode out the three- to four-minute rumble smiling and laughing, not quite believing what we were experiencing.

I'm finding it exceptionally hard to describe. The best I think I can do is to say that it felt like we were on a boat in particularly rough waters. But still, that doesn't really nail it. Because there's just something so completely indescribably strange about the ground, you, two seconds ago, took for granite as being immovably rock solid, moving right under your feet.

We learned from the news shortly thereafter that it was a 7.8 magnitude quake, with the epicenter being some 250 kms southwest of us and 5 km deep in the ground. It's amazing that even that far away we could feel it as strongly as we did. What's more, there were reports of tremors being felt as far away as Wellington, which is on the North Island!

I tell you, I'm glad I had four other people around when it happened. Had I been by myself somewhere when it happened I most likely would've been scared out of my mind, but for some reason, because I was amongst friends, and it was a shared experience, it turned out to be the highlight of the evening. It was certainly more memorable than your average Wednesday night, that's for sure.

Granite, get it? Granite? Rock solid? Huh? Huh? Anyone? Is this thing on? Oh sod off, I thought it was funny.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Familiar faces

I recently had the great pleasure of hosting my first visitors! Katie and Melissa, a couple of friends from my old office, got themselves some fantastic airline-employee discount tickets and escaped the apparent blast furnace that is Dallas, Texas these days for the cooler climes of the southern hemisphere for a week. After stopping in across the ditch in Australia for a couple days, they found their way over to New Zealand. I met them at the Queensown airport, which, based on watching a couple of planes land there, has got to be one of the coolest airports in the world to fly into. The planes come in over the lake and literally land in a valley between two mountain ridges. It has to be an absolutely breathtaking view from a window seat.

After a mini Odyssey locating their rental car, it was time for Katie to take 'driving on the left 101.' She got more than her money's worth, I'll tell you. You see, I was driving the Chariot and Katie and Melissa were following in their rental, and I initially missed the driveway to the hostel where we were staying and proceeded to do a couple loops around town--through more than a few roundabouts--in an attempt to find our way back. Knowing what to do in roundabouts usually doesn't come up until 'driving on the left 201,' but despite her beginner status, Katie passed with flying colors!

We dropped our bags in the room and went for a wander about town. This was my first time in Queenstown, so it was all new to me too. Queenstown is a gorgeous, if slightly over commercialized, ski resort town. We had a great stroll along the waterfront and through the town; ate some yummy sushi; witnessed an elaborate Mardi Gras parade; found said parade to be completely random, given that Lent and Easter are both long since over; found a bar called The Lone Star--being Texans, we found that neat; freezed our buns off as soon as the sun went down; warmed up a bit in front of the fireplace at a local bar; listened a bit to a free outdoor concert; found a gelato shop that specializes in hot gelato drinks--brilliant; and called it a night. A very fun day.

Before setting off for Wanaka the following morning, we took the gondola ride up the mountain overlooking town. The vistas from the top (above some clouds, by the way) were absolutely stunning! The gondola is a must do if you ever find yourself in Queenstown.
Now, Queenstown was fun, but I was anxious to get to Wanaka, as this was my first opportunity to play tour guide for a couple of days. There's just something about sharing a place that's special to you with others that just feels really really good. You'll have to stay tuned for the recap of that part of their visit--I'm tired and I'm freezing, and my electric blanket has by now had sufficient time to get up to temperature, so I'm gonna go climb into bed.
Cheers and Good Night!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


A couple Mondays back, Nick came to work and announced he'd been up to Diamond Lake the previous weekend and that it was completely frozen over. He seemed particularly excited about this fact, and I soon found out why. A completely frozen Diamond Lake means curling! Several of us decided that would be a fantastic activity for the upcoming weekend, and we gave ourselves a mission during the week to make eight perfect curling "stones." All we needed was eight 2-liter ice cream containers, eight choice cuttings from the grapevines, and some water. We had zero problem rounding up the containers. With my bowl-a-day habit going strong for several weeks at that point, there was no shortage of empty ice cream containers at my place--I never throw them away, they make perfect storage containers/lunch boxes! Finding the perfect handle-shaped cuttings from the vines proved to be little of a challenge either. We filled the containers with water, stuck in the handles, popped the whole lot into the deep freeze and, abra cadabra, eight perfect stones. Or eight really big ice cubes with branches if you want to see it that way.

Sunday morning: Shannon, Nick, Bret, Bret's wife Jo, two of Bret's kids, and I loaded up our hand crafted stones, a couple brooms, a portable grill, a package of sausages and some buns, a tin of brownies, a couple bottles of Shannski (Shannon's home brew), and a bottle of whisky and made the arduous journey (10-minute drive followed by a 15-minute hike at a slight incline) to the rink. After a few extremely cautious first steps near the shoreline we were out in, excuse me, "on" the middle of the lake. Trippy! Other than at the American Airlines Center or the Galleria, you just don't see ice in such mass in Dallas, Texas.

Right, time to make targets. Two screwdrivers and a string is all you need. Anchor one screwdriver in the ice at a center point with a string tied around it. Tie the string around the second screw driver and pull it taut at a length of six inches, and simply walk in a circle around your center point, carving the business end of the screwdriver into the ice. Repeat the process with the length of string at two feet. And again at four feet. Voila. Three, perfectly round, concentric circles of one-, four-, and eight-feet diameters--a perfect target.

Nick and I teamed up and took on Bret and Shannon. One team member pushed the stone and the other used the broom to sweep in front of the stone's path, or not, depending on if you wanted the stone to go faster or not. Then you switch roles when you come back in the other direction. We quickly determined that our "sweeping" had precisely zero effect on either the stone's speed or trajectory, but we kept up the pretense in the spirit of the great game that is curling. That, and for a laugh--it was not uncommon for the sweepers to take hilarious tumbles from time to time. You try sweeping while trying to run slightly in front and to the side of a speeding ice cube on a big slab of ice and see how long you stay up, huh!

Nick and I made a pretty good team, and we dispatched not only Shannon and Bret in that first match, but all comers throughout the day. We left with an undefeated record. But, to be perfectly honest, Nick didn't contribute all that much to our efforts. Yep, I was, hands down, the best curler on the ice that day, my friends. Which prompted an oft repeated question from my Kiwi friends throughout the week's retellings of events: "how is it the man from the land with no ice is the best curler in the bunch?" I just shrugged it off as beginner's luck. What I may have failed to mention, however, was that a few years back, I made up one half of an illustrious* shuffleboard duo known as the Ted Strykers who dominated** the tables at Strokers and the Inwood Tavern. And what is curling really, if not shuffleboard writ large, on a slightly bigger, slightly more frozen table?

So, if you ever find yourself with access to 2-liter ice cream containers, grapevine cuttings, a deep freeze freezer, a broom or two, a couple screw drivers, some string, and a frozen lake, might I suggest giving curling a try. It makes for quite an enjoyable and memorable day.


*The "illustrious"-ness of the Ted Strykers may have been slightly exaggerated for the purposes of this story.
**The amount by which the Ted Strykers "dominated" the tables might also have been slightly exaggerated.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Living the dream!

For several years now--nay, for the entirety of my life--it has been my dream to be able to eat ice cream every single day. Today, I can proudly say that I am living that dream. I've eaten a bowl, cup, or cone of ice cream every day for the past six weeks or so. And, I don't say that as an exaggeration. I literally eat ice cream every day.

Of course, I've always been physically capable of eating ice cream on a daily basis. It's just that in my old life I didn't burn nearly enough calories to do so without potentially ballooning up to 400lbs as a result. But no longer is that the case. Now it seems all the physical work I do in the vineyards every day burns enough calories that I can eat all the mint choc chip, hokey pokey, cookies 'n cream, caramello, and raspberry ripple I want and never gain a pound. My scale hasn't budged from the 180lb mark for close to two months now!

However, it's not all peaches and cream, this dream of mine. Mostly because peaches and cream doesn't exist as a flavor here. Which brings me to my point. As much as I enjoy my daily bowl, I can't help but wish I was dishin' it up from a half-gallon Blue Bell container. Now, don't get me wrong; Deep South, Cadburry, and Tip Top make some fine ice creams. But they're not Blue Bell.

I thought about delving into the human condition and exploring that which keeps us from being fully satisfied when dreams or desires are achieved or obtained (i.e. I'm finally able to eat ice cream every day but it's not the brand I'd truly prefer), but then I decided I'd rather just go and take this new white chocolate raspberry flavor for a spin.