Saturday, January 19, 2008

Summer Perks

This post is lifted from my teaching blog, It's a perntinent addition to this space, though, as it's a good summary of what I've been up to as of late.

"I wish I got summer vacation off." I hear this all of the time from non-teaching fellow citizens. On rare occasions it's prefaced with some comment about how easy the job must be if you don't do it for a few months each year. I try not to feel too slighted when I hear that some people out there are equating the energy levels required to do the job with how much vacation time you get. The statement implies that the more time away from a job you have, the less you have to do in any 12 month period. If I weren't in the teaching field I'd probably think the same thing. When I then tell these people that I work 50-55 hour weeks on a regular basis they simply say, "oh," and drop the conversation thread. Quietly, though, I still imagine that these people wish they had my job simply based on the "off" time.

I've found that these comments are rare here in New Zealand. This is either due to the national reverence Kiwis have for vacation time or that people here value teachers enough to think that we deserve all of that time off for jobs well done. While I'd like to attribute the absence of derisive vacation comments to the latter, I am pretty sure that the real reason is more than likely the former. Most of the strangers I talk to, upon learning that I'm a teacher, immediately ask how I'm enjoying the holiday. No comments about teachers being lazy or questions about whether we get paid during our off months. I don't hear, "I wish I were a teacher" comments mumbled at the pavement. I do get lots of questions about where I'm going and what I'm getting to do now that I have some time off.

This is a pretty interesting thing for me. After hearing all of the griping about teachers working short days and working as "glorified babysitters" back in the States, I was expecting to hear more griping about vacation time here. Being in New Zealand, though, I think I have the support of a country that mandates a minimum of 4 weeks of holiday time per employee in the labour laws. New Zealanders truly value holiday time for spending with family and recharging the batteries, especially at the beach. Literally sitting on the beach for hours on end. They don't necessarily have to do much beyond take the occasional dip into the water, throw a ball around, and bring snacks to enjoy during a full day out. Most of the country takes a few weeks off between Xmas and New Years, which means that a not insignificant portion of the businesses here are closed for that period of time. Relaxation is a keen passtime for many Kiwis and I think that teachers' holiday time is more respected for this reason.

It's nearing the end of my holiday now. I've had about 5 weeks off from school at this point. Next week I go back to the school and start hacking out syllabi and introductory activities and the other formalities that go along with the beginning of the year. So what have I been doing with myself these long, lonely five weeks?

I've been reading. A lot. Mostly I've been exploring authors that I might be able to use in my classes. Jotting down ideas for activities, notes, grammar integration blah blah blah takes up at least an hour of each day. I've also had time to chew on some weightier "personal reading list" books that I don't have the mental energy to attempt during the school year. I just finished American Pastoral by Phillip Roth. It took me a mammoth three weeks to finish simply because I wasn't used reading non-plot driven novels. It was fantastic, though, and a recommended read for those pondering the American condition. Chuck Palanhiuk has been a wonderful summer friend, as has Chinua Achebe and Fiona Kidman. Now that the academic year is closing in I'll be diving into Harper Lee (it's been so long I can barely remember the plot) and our IGCSE anthology for this year. I'll get to revisit Maya Angelou, which will be damn fun, and all in the name of sharing books and poems with teenagers. After having time to just enjoy books I'm remembering just what it is that I love about my job.

And of course I've been visiting the beach during the day. I don't swim or get much done but I think that means that I'm still learning how to be a kiwi. There's a ways to go, though.

Most unhealthy breakfast ever

No, it's not the Good Morning Burger (search for it on that link), or the Luther Burger, but it's pretty heart-stopping and ludicrously tasty.

I got the idea for this recipe after visiting Zigana, who incidentally make one of the most consistently awesome coffees in Auckland. (The Santini Coffee shop at the Devonport wharf is the other killer coffee shop that I've found.) Anyway, Zigana has a "Creamy mushroom and chorizo" breakfast that I felt obliged to reproduce at home. Here it is, but just remember that this, along with cookies, is a sometimes food.

- 1.5 Tbsp butter
- ~1 pound mushrooms of your choosing, sliced into chunks or pizza-style slices
- 3 spicy chorizo sausages, sliced into little oblong disks (Use hard Spanish chorizo, not Mexican chorizo! For a size estimate, the chorizos we get are roughly hotdog sized)
- 3/4 tsp of smoked paprika (Go to a spice shop to find this. The McCormick paprika is a totally different thing. If you haven't tried real paprika, you are going to feel cheated that you haven't before.)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream

Start by melting the butter in a skillet over medium heat and then fry your chorizo until it starts getting a little brown and crispy on the sides.

Next, add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms give off their fluid. You should be able to deglaze the pan once this happens. Let the mushrooms cook for another minute or so.

Add the cream and the paprika and stir constantly until the cream reduces to a nice thickened consistency.

You can serve this with some kumara or sweet potato hash browns and it's damn yummy.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Shameless blog promotion

Hi, all. Though I go for long stretches of blog-death, I'm trying to be more active on my personal blog. Content may not be suitable for young children. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Stop by sometime if you're in the bloggerhood.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Goat Island, Round 1

As most of our readers may know it's basically summer vacation at our house. Peter still has to work but I'm off until later this month. Peter hasn't seemed to mind, though, as he had two three-day weeks back to back, what with the public holidays kicking him out of the office and all. He got Xmas Day and Boxing Day off and then New Years Day and January 2nd the following week. So what are we doing with all of this time off? We've taken a few day trips here and there but mostly have been enjoying lazy summer activities.

I don't see why people take time off between Xmas and New Years around here. Most places are closed except for tourist locations, and even then things are insanely crowded because they are the only places open. Take Goat Island Marine Reserve as a prime example. We've heard about this marine reserve a while back and decided to take one of Peter's freebie vacation days to explore. It was a beautiful day and we figured there wouldn't be a better time to do it.

The one hour long drive turned into a two hour drive as we hit a traffic jam on the highway just outside of Auckland. I guess everyone else decided to get out of the city for the day, too. It wasn't bad, though, as Peter had never been up that way and you have to go past some pretty scenic outlooks to get to the marine reserve. First gear makes for easy viewing out the window. Our plan was to get out there, take a glass bottom boat tour and then explore the shore a bit before heading home. If you follow the link to the boat tour you'll see a good shot of the beach when it's empty. By the time we got there it was shoulder to shoulder, shuffle your feet so you don't step on kids, couldn't find a spot in the shade to save your life crowded. We managed to make our way over to the section of the beach where the boat would land and found a card table with one person sitting behind it manning the little metal cash box. At this point we're pretty much used to paying with cash card everywhere, even for little things, as that's what everyone does in New Zealand. Everywhere. The boat tour turned out ot be a smaller operation than we predicted, and since we didn't have cash we couldn't take the tour. We did manage to see some fish from a perch on the rocks and a ton of snorkelers. There were more fish visible in person than on our video, but at least you can get to see a few samples of the kinds of fish in the reserve.

We looked out over the crowds and realized that it wasn't going to happen for us that day. Too crowded, blisteringly hot and nowhere to go because of the throngs of people. We snapped a few photos to lure potential visitors down soon (ahem, you know who you are) and then hopped back in the car. The day wasn't a loss, though, as the drive back was nice and we stopped for a beer at the Sawmill Cafe. They brew their own stuff and had some decidedly funky music playing. Interesting note: While this popular marine reserve didn't make it onto our NavMan's pre-programmed Points of Interest list, the Sawmill Cafe did. Figures.

This is the view of Goat island from the beach. Yes, there used to be goats on it but they aren't there anymore. As you can see, it's a small place with lots to do. We were also able to see Little Barrier Island from the beach which was pretty nice.

I definitely want to go back again. Maybe during the off season and with cash and a snorkel.