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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Boxing Day Musings

All right, it's time to break open the Donations Box here at Brooksie and spread the wealth and good cheer on this Boxing Day.

*smash*

Hmm, well it seems that all that's in here is a bit of lint, some pennies that I dropped in here to get things started, and a slip of paper.

I'll just hand these pennies round, toss out the lint, and read this slip of paper, which just so happens to be from a fortune cookie:

"Always remember to pillage before you burn."

Wise words, indeed, but that's a mistake only a rookie would make. As if!

Well if I had to spend Christmas Day away from family, I really don't think it could have gone any better than it did. I was welcomed into my friend Andrew's home yesterday, a lone yank intruding upon a Kiwi family Christmas. Actually I never felt like an intruder at all, as they welcomed me to their gathering as if they had been expecting me all along.

Not only did I partake of the excellent Christmas dinner (duck, ham, carrots, stuffing, mushrooms and yams) but I also had my first sampling of pavlova, that lovely dessert created by New Zealanders in the 19th century. It is exceedingly tasty and addictive, and I don't doubt it packs the calories!

But who cares? Christmas is a time for a bit of indulgence so I checked my guilt at the door and threw in with the rest of them when it came to snacking on pavlova or lollies or plum pudding with cream. I did share a nice after-dinner walk with Andrew and Vicki as we strolled across Greytown to feed some chickens, owned by friends of theirs who were away on holiday for Christmas. So I burned off at least a good 20 or 30 calories right there.

Their friends live in a rambling farmhouse, complete with great wrap-around porch, on the edge of town. We were also there to feed their two cats, one of whom was a sweet ginger cat who seemed perfectly content to hide under the porch. He only crept out the slightest of distances to snack on his dinner before retreating hastily as we strolled by. Cows grazed and trudged about lazily in a neighboring paddock on this mostly sunny day, the heat of which was mitigated every so often by a nice cool southerly breeze.

Greytown is up and over the Rimutakas, a low mountain range separating the Hutt Valley where I live from the Wairarapa Valley, which is where Andrew and Vicki live. Often, the weather will differ quite dramatically from one side of the hill to the other. When I left Upper Hutt in the morning to drive over the hill, it was muggy and overcast with no hint of sunshine. Yet when I arrived in Featherston, the first little town you encounter after scaling the Rimutakas, I was greeted with sunshine and the lovely drive through scenic farmland, heading north towards Greytown.

Although it was completely unnecessary, Andrew and Vicki and his family had all bought presents for me. I was really touched by this gesture and was at first speechless but I made sure to thank them all profusely for their kindness. Fortunately Mom and Dad had sent me a nice gift box from a company in Auckland, so I had at least one present to open and wouldn't be left out. As it turned out, my hosts had thought of me anyways, and I really wasn't expecting this although it was much appreciated.

The gift box from Mom and Dad contained a nice bottle of tawny port, lots of chocolates including some cashews, some salmon pate which I've never had, and some tasty looking biscuits as well. Other booty included a nice picture book of Wellington from Andrew's parents, which is doubly interesting because the book contains photos from the early '70s and it's a great window back in time. The refreshing thing is that Wellington hasn't really changed all that much in the past several decades so it has maintained its unique character over time. Andrew and Vicki got me Bic Runga's latest CD, Birds, and his aunt bought me some chocolate-covered cashews.

With Andrew's two young children playing with their various new toys throughout the day, we all sat and talked about this and that. As it turns out, Andrew's dad had lived in Texas for a few years, working for Price Waterhouse, so he regaled me with lots of stories about his travels through the States and asked me all about what I thought of New Zealand. Like many Kiwis, they were curious about what I thought of their country and its customs, as well as curious about what life back in the States was like.

Their friendliness and generosity put me in mind of... well, it put me in mind of other Americans. One thing one of them said - which I happen to agree with - was that Americans were for the most part very friendly. You could strike up a conversation with any one of them and they'd treat you like old friends, though you had never met before. Andrew's dad talked about how friendly lots of his Texan co-workers were and that they insisted he be a guest at their dinner table and home on a frequent basis.

So even though I'm in a different hemisphere and in a different country, I still managed to make Christmas feel a bit like home yesterday.

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