14 September 2018

Hey, Lucie ...

I gotta' feeling
That tonight's gonna' be a good night
That tonight's gonna' be a good night
That tonight's gonna' be a
Good, good night
- The Black Eyed Peas I Gotta' Feeling

Nikon D750 + AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR @ 35mm, f/8, 1/20, ISO 2000     Photo: RGH 

I have always had an interest in photography (Link: Portraits of a Life), but that waned a little as I got older. My interest was re-kindled when I started traveling with Kari. She is an avid and talented photographer, but suffered a little from a lack of good equipment. One of the first "family" gifts I purchased was a better camera, and one of the first gifts I gave Kari was a higher-end point-and-shoot. Still, our interest and skills quickly outstripped these devices. After traveling to New Zealand on holiday in 2014, and in anticipation of moving here permanently, in the winter of 2015 we finally bought high-end camera gear. Sadly, as we struggled to learn how to use the camera, we still shot in Auto mode ... in essence, we had a really high-end point-and-shoot with fancy interchangeable lenses. Still, we played with the camera and learned, and eventually our photography started to improve.

One of our first trips with the new camera was to the mountains of North Carolina in Dec '15 ...


In Sept 2016, we made our home in New Zealand, albeit only briefly. We were here for a 1-year work contract, and while work was our reason for being here, our raison d'ĂȘtre was to get out and explore as much as possible. Those of you who have followed this blog from the beginning have been with us on just about every adventure. Through that year the writing on this blog got a lot better, but so too did the accompanying photography. I eventually posted two blogs with our favourite photos (Playing Favourites & Caution! Wide Load). They are heavily skewed to our later pics. Since then, our "favourites" file has changed significantly with only a few remaining and the rest overshadowed by much better photos.

Kari and I both got away from the camera's auto modes and starting taking control of our images. Along with our increasing technical abilities, our vision and composition improved as well. Having a great camera helped, but I would argue that what we learned translated to our cell phone photos also. Talented musicians can make great music with toy instruments. Athletes can translate their skills to many sports. Great photographers often "see" the photo before they shoot it. The tools they use are less important than their vision and execution. I ain't gonna' lie though ... good equipment has helped my execution more than a little bit. Along with learning how to use the camera, and how to see the composition before pushing the shutter button, I have also expanded my repertoire. I explored street photography in Wellington (Link: Keep Welly Weird) and here in Palmy (Link: Street Beat). We even dragged Little Highstead into the family hobby, sometimes as a reluctant model, but a few times as a photographer (Link: Strike a Pose). Back in the U.S. this past year, we didn't spend as much time behind the camera as we would have liked. Still, we kept trying our hands at new things ... wildlife photography, indoor sports, and portraiture (Link: Caught In the Camera Eye).

Nikon D750 + AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR @ 16mm, f/8, 1/640, ISO 100     Photo: RGH

We recently had the chance to try our hand at another new-to-us discipline ... shooting a large, indoor event. Little H plays football (soccer) at several levels, including club football with Ruahine AFC. I have previously shared game-day photos with the other parents for her team, and with the club. Two years ago, some of my photos were used during the end-of-year Prize Giving (awards ceremony). A week before this year's event, I was involved in the following e-mail exchange:

R-AFC:   Hi, Grant. The club was hoping to get some candid photos at prize giving this year and wondered if you might be up for the challenge? 
RGH:   What kind of photos are you looking for? I am happy to give it a try, but please understand that I am not a professional photographer in any manner and I can't guarantee results.
R-AFC:   We don't need professional, just would like to capture some of the awards, teams, and maybe some natural shots of the moments. If you are happy to give it a go, that would be awesome!
RGH:   I am happy to give it a go. Again, please understand that I am not a professional and can not guarantee results that everyone (anyone?) will be happy with. The best I can say is that I will try my hardest, but you can expect what you paid for. (since I would be volunteering, what they were paying for was nothing)

This is a pretty big event in a big venue. They recognise 19 teams who all walk onstage to receive medals and certificates. They also award prizes to the best Junior Team, best Junior Coach, best Senior Team, best Senior Coach, "Leaving" players (aging out of club level football), best Leaving Player, as well as a number of individual awards to players, coaches, and club organisers. They wanted photos of all of the prize givings and candid photos throughout the night. I went online to see how to organise myself, get an idea of what kind of equipment I would need, and look at photos from similar events to see how to compose them. I quickly realised that the task would be difficult for a single photographer experienced with these kinds of events, and impossible for me alone. Kari and I talked about it, and I recruited her to lend a hand. I would focus on shooting the happenings on stage, and she would shoot the "crowd" shots and candids. We decided to use only equipment we already owned, despite the temptation to go shopping. The only concession we made was to buy a flash. We showed up an hour early during set-up to practice our shots and make sure we got the lighting right. I'm really happy that we did; some of my favourite shots of the night were taken at this early stage. Putting together an event like this takes a lot of time, hard-work, and vision. What happens behind the scenes is just as important as the final product we all get to enjoy.

Nikon D750 + AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR @ 35mm, f/8, 1/15, ISO 8000     Photo: RGH

Nikon D750 + AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR @ 70mm, f/8, 1/40, ISO 5600     Photo: RGH

Nikon D750 + AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR @ 29mm, f/8, 1/15, ISO 1000     Photo: RGH

Nikon D810 + AF-S 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
70mm, f/7.1, 1/60, ISO 560                                   50mm, f/7.1, 1/60, ISO 6400
Photos: KAH

Nikon D810 + AF-S 24-120mm f/4G ED VR @ 58mm, f/7.1, 1/60, ISO 6400     Photo: KAH

Of course, the entire reason for the event, and the reason we were asked to photograph it, was to celebrate the players, teams, coaches, parents, and supporting caste. Trying to get each and every player, team, and award recipient on and off the stage in a timely manner is a monumental task that was made to look easy. Trying to get them to stand still long enough for a photo was like trying to herd cats, made even more difficult by the request that I set up my camera at the far back of the auditorium ... about 50m away! I did sneak up to the stage for the individual photos, though.

Nikon D750 + AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR @ 35mm, f/6.3, 1/50, ISO 5000     Photo: RGH

Nikon D750 + AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR @ 35mm, f/6.3, 1/60, ISO 4500     Photo: RGH

Nikon D750 + AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR @ 24mm, f/6.3, 1/50, ISO 5000     Photo: RGH

Nikon D750 + AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR @ 16mm, f/8, 1/50, ISO 8000     Photo: RGH

Nikon D750 + AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR @ 27mm, f/6.3, 1/50, ISO 8000     Photo: RGH

Nikon D810 + AF-S 24-120mm f/4G ED VR @ 24mm, f/7.1, 1/60, ISO 5600 Photo: KAH // Nikon D750 + AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR @ 35mm, f/6.3, 1/50, ISO 8000 Photo: RGH

Nikon D810 + AF-S 24-120mm f/4G ED VR @ 38mm, f/7.1, 1/20, ISO 1400     Photo: KAH

This was a huge undertaking for us, but so rewarding and so much fun. I spent countless hours online trying to figure out how we were going to pull it off. If not for the encouragement, support, and photography skills of Kari, it never would have gone as well as it did. I am immensely proud of her and of us. It really did turn out better than I could have hoped or expected. Thanks, too, to Fiona and Hayden Burmeister for giving us the opportunity. I already have ideas about how to make it better next year ... and what new gear we're going to need.

... we're home.

09 September 2018

My Word!

There is just one moon
And one golden sun
And a smile means
Friendship to every one
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It's a small world after all
- Sherman & Sherman It's a Small World (After All)

Tararua Range

We bought another new-to-us vehicle. This time it was something more practical ... a Toyota Landcruiser Prado VX. We also got good (and bad) news on the BMW. It's fixable, but the parts have to come from Germany. They will take at least 2 weeks to get here, so we won't have the car back until the end of September.

When I wrote about buying our first car in New Zealand (New Wheels and New Opportunities), I didn't go into much detail about the purchasing process. I did mention that we bought it from a public lot where people leave their vehicles for sale, but the post was more about the person from whom I bought it than the way in which the transaction actually happened. As it turns out, there are many options for buying a used vehicle in Palmy; online auction sites, online private sales, local dealers, etc. There are also cars for sale at one of the local parks. For a $10/wk permit fee, people can leave their car at Memorial Park and post a “for sale” poster in the window  (max 4 sales permits per person per year). The selection of vehicles in the lot includes clunkers, luxury vehicles, and even camper-vans. When we bought our SUV, we had a very limited budget and were focused on the clunkers.

We found what we were looking for, surrounded by much nicer vehicles and looking a little sad, but it was exactly what we needed; 4WD, diesel, roomy ... and under $3000. I called the number written on the flier and arranged to take it for a test drive. Our first surprise was that the owner didn't want to ride with us for the drive. He handed me the keys and off we went. It was beat up and smelly, and a lot of the little plastic bits on the inside were broken or missing, but it drove well. The next step was to ask the owner if I could take it to my mechanic for an inspection. This time the owner came with me, and while the car was being inspected, he and I had a coffee. The inspection went well and despite the dings, scratches, and welds on the body, the drive-train and under-carriage were in great condition for what we wanted.

Chumba at the Tongariro Crossing

The last step was to negotiate a price, and that’s where we had another surprise. I handed the man an envelope of cash and he gave me the keys. No paperwork, no title or registration, nothing to sign! That's not to say I didn't know anything about the pedigree of the car. In New Zealand, if you know the plate number and/or VIN, you can go online and learn a lot about any car. I did a police check to make sure it wasn't stolen, an ownership check to see when it was imported and how many owners there had been, and I could even see when it had failed any Warrant of Fitness (WoF) inspections and what was done to bring it up to code. I could also see that the odometer wasn't accurate ... at each ownership change and WoF inspection, the odometer reading is recorded. Somewhere along the way, someone had either replaced the odometer or disconnected it (a dodgy practice some in NZ employ to avoid paying road usage taxes). I registered the car at the post office and waited for the title papers to be mailed to me. After having my mechanic fix a couple of minor items, and putting on a new set of tyres, we were the proud owners of a beat up 1996 Nissan Terrano 4x4. Chumba-wamba (gets knocked down, but gets up again), was named by one of my oldest friends during a visit to the South Island (The Long Walk) and made the trip, including two ferry rides, without a complaint.

The mechanic I liked worked at a branch of Manawatu Toyota on the hospital property. In the 8 months we had Chumba, he got to know us fairly well. One shift, I left my lights on and walked out to a dead battery. The mechanic towed Chumba to the shop where it was put on a charger overnight. When I went to pick it up the next day, he wouldn't charge me. He told me to "bring us some pies or something", and so I did. They liked the pies so much, the next time I was in they asked where I got them (Sony Bakery on the corner of Ferguson & Albert). In one of those "small world" moments, I discovered that my mechanic's daughter is a NZ trained doctor now living and working in Canada. He had always wanted to visit Canada, and his plan was to retire soon and go for a visit. When we returned to NZ last month, I discovered he had retired and was gone from the shop. I hope he made it across the pond.

My new girlfriend

A typical blog post takes me about 6-10 hours to generate, from conceptualizing and researching, to writing and formatting, and then finally posting. Quite obviously, I don’t do this all in one 10-hour marathon session. Rather, I work on it a little bit each day. During our last stint here, I averaged about 1 post per week and Kari used to joke that my blog was “the other woman” in my life. Our new rental has a wood-burning fireplace insert, and I have a new girlfriend. Using the firebox is a lot different than a traditional open fireplace, and I have spent an awful lot of time trying to figure it out.

When we were in New Zealand two years ago, we were in a wonderful little house with amazing landlords who also happened to be great neighbours. It was a cozy home with an open and connected kitchen, dining area, and lounge. There was a fireplace in the lounge, but we couldn't use it. I can't remember if it hadn't been inspected or hadn't passed inspection, but the end result was the same ... no fires. In the winter, the house was heated by a combination of a single heat-pump in the kitchen/dining area and portable electric heaters. Electricity here is expensive (~$0.22-0.34/KWh), and older Kiwi homes are built in such a way that you can close of sections of the house, only heating the areas you are using. In the evening, we would heat the common areas. At night, we would turn on electric bed warmers and bring the portable heaters into the bedrooms, shutting off the heat to the rest of the house.

Normal fireplaces are aesthetically pleasing, provide a nice warm glow, and give off a distinctive and attractive aroma and sound. Unfortunately, their efficiency is only about 10% ... the vast majority of the heat they generate goes up the chimney. Fireplace inserts can have efficiencies >80%. They burn HOT! Not only does less heat escape, but they burn cleaner, meaning less soot and gases are released into the air. In NZ, heating with wood using a modern efficient woodburner is also relatively less expensive (~$0.14-0.20/KWh if you have to purchase your own wood ... much cheaper if you have your own wood lot like friends of ours). On our arrival to our new home, one of my tasks was getting in a supply of firewood.

Gum Tree wood ... neatly stacked.

Much of getting things done in New Zealand is more about who you know than what you know. It is a country of relationships. As my retirement/insurance agent said to me, "There are only about 5 million people here. Everyone knows everyone else, and everyone knows who pays their bills and who doesn't." We had experienced this during our last visit here. So often Kari would be looking online to find somewhere to stay for our various adventures. A few times, she found that nothing was available. She would call the local iSite and be told ... "Oh, so-and-so down the road has a room for hire but doesn't advertise it. I will have her contact you."

The same is true for finding firewood. One of our friends gave us the number for the person they use. I contacted him, but he didn't have much. He had plenty of wood for next season, but we are toward the end of this season and he didn't have anything that he thought was good enough to sell to me. Another friend hooked us up with his wood guy. That guy only had two trailer loads left and was happy to sell one to me. On a random Tuesday morning, he showed up in my drive and we chucked a trailer load of wood into the garage. We have a 1-car garage that was now full of wood. When I got a chance, I would spend 20 or 30 minutes stacking it, but it was going to be a week or more before we could use the garage again. Imagine my surprise when I came home from work on the Friday before Father's Day to find all the wood stacked up against the garage wall. I was chuffed! Kari and Little H had given me the best Father's Day gift I could have asked for.

2005 Toyota Landcruiser Prado VX

Buying our newest vehicle was another adventure in Kiwi culture. When speaking with my insurance guy, he asked “only one car?” Not going into too much detail, I told him that I was waiting for Kari to arrive from the US and then we would be looking for an SUV. He mentioned that one of his other clients had an older Landcruiser for sale that looked to be in pretty good condition. A couple of days later, I got an email from the owner with a description of the vehicle and pics. It has a petrol (gasoline) engine, and we really wanted a diesel, but it was pretty much everything else we were looking for. I made arrangements to meet him and take it for a drive. Again, he offered me the keys and was ready to let me take it for a ride. I was in an unfamiliar place and told him he better come with me because I might get lost. The truck drove great ... steering was tight, no rattles or shakes. I warned him I was going to drive it a little aggressive, and he was game. I had no real problems with the truck, but it was going to need new tyres (a huge expense here), and I really wanted a diesel, so I passed.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and the day before I wrecked the BMW (Under the Weather), he called me and told me he was going to lower the price from $15K, to $12K (or $13.5K with new tyres). At that price, I was a little more interested, but I didn’t want to commit to buying Kari a truck without her driving it. I told him I would talk with Kari when she arrived in a week. We discussed it, and decided that we couldn’t beat the price. It’s an older truck, but we could drive it a short while and get something newer and exactly what we want in a year or so. We called the owner and agreed to meet again for Kari to give it a squiz.

This is where things went full Kiwi. Fraser is a giant of a man ... big bear paws for hands. But he is the nicest, kindest, most soft-spoken kind of gent. Kari looked the truck over and we were good to go. I pulled out my phone to transfer money to him, and he said “nah”, didn’t have much time. He was on his way to Hawaii for a couple of weeks and had to get going. He handed us the keys, a sheet of paper with his bank info, and said to just transfer the money when we got home. “Just don’t leave the country or anything” he joked as he walked away. Let me make this perfectly clear ... on our promise and a handshake, he handed us the keys to the truck for which we had just agreed to pay him $12K, gave us his bank account information, and said “Pay me later. I’m going to Hawaii for two weeks.”

It gets even more Kiwi ... Fraser told us he was going to learn to surf in Hawaii and I mentioned that I wanted to go to the surf camp in Raglan NZ. That’s when he mentioned that he had a mate with a house in Raglan. He said we should call him when we are making plans to head up to Raglan and his buddy would hook us up with a place to stay. “I mean it”, he said ... and I am sure he really did.

Cowabunga ...

28 August 2018

Under the Weather

It was a dark and stormy night;
The rain fell in torrents
Except at occasional intervals,
When it was checked
By a violent gust of wind
Which swept up the streets
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton Paul Clifford


So in my last post, I had written about how much fun my new car is to drive. I had also written about how I see a lot of road fines in my future. What happened after owning my new car for only one week was far more mundane ...

It was a dark and stormy night. I have previously mentioned the weather here in Palmy ... cold, dark, windy, rainy. This night was no exception. The day started out ok ... I worked the 7a-5p shift and rushed out a little early so I could get home right away for Little H’s parent-teacher meeting. I had tried to book a late meeting, but the latest I could get was 5:30p. I collected Little H right after getting home from work and off we went. It happened to be a Thursday night, and so we had a special treat in store after our meeting. One of the local food trucks sets up in a park on Thursday nights. They serve the best burgers, and Little H and I had been planning this stop all week.

There had been a good amount of rain off and on for the past several days. It wasn’t too bad on our way into the school, and had let up walking out to the car after our meeting. During the drive over to the food truck, however, the skies opened. I was stuck on a side street trying to make a right turn across two lanes of busy traffic. There were few gaps in traffic, but when I finally spotted one, I pulled out. Visibility was bad ... really bad ... and I was looking straight in the direction of oncoming traffic, but through the rain and headlights somehow never saw the car coming from my right until it was too late. Fortunately, because of the rain, I had pulled out slowly. I suspect the other car was likely traveling at something less than full speed. Their front left smashed into my right front. No one was hurt, and after exchanging info, they were able to drive away. My steering rods were broken and the car was pouring out oil. I was barely able to pull the car to the side of the road; after which it was undriveable. How ironic that I joked about how many speeding fines I was in for and my accident was at less than 10 kph.

Not such a scary corner ... under clear skies, in broad daylight, and with no traffic.

I just sat there. I couldn’t believe it. I have been driving for 31 years, and I have never been in a significant car accident. I didn't know what to do. I saw a woman get out of the passenger side of the other car, and seeing that she was all right, told her that I would pull my car out of traffic. She was quite shaken up but was walking and talking just fine. After pulling my car over, I walked to the other vehicle. The driver had gotten out and also appeared well. He climbed back into his car and also moved off to the side. We then set about exchanging information. As I mentioned, I have never been in an auto accident before, so I wasn’t sure how to proceed. We exchanged personal information and I asked if we needed to call the police. The woman and bystanders assured me that we had 24 hours to file a police report. I have since gone through the rules and laws and found this to be correct. In instances where people are injured, police must be called immediately, otherwise the report can be filed later.

The next thing I did was to call a tow truck. Again, not sure what to do, I just looked one up online and called. They stated they were on the way. What I probably should have done before calling the tow truck was to call my insurance company, which is what I did next. My admittedly limited previous experience with these kinds of incidences is what led to my next series of mistakes. First off, I did gather the other person’s personal information, but neglected to get their car registration number (license plate number) or insurance info. When my insurance claim agent asked for this info, I did not have it (I did get it from the other person later). Second ... only afterward did I realize that I was getting all of the information from the woman passenger and none of the info from the driver. I quite honestly don’t even know his name. Thirdly, I had said “I’m sorry” and “It was totally my fault” on several occasions. Apparently, this is the exact wrong thing to do.

In determining who’s insurance company will foot the bill (and who’s insurance premium will subsequently take a big hike), who is at fault becomes quite important. Everything that I read online about dealing with an auto accident in NZ said to never accept blame. Simply gather all the information and submit it to the police and insurance companies. Leave it to them to assign blame. Partial fault can be assigned across two or more parties, but by saying “it was totally my fault” I may have inadvertently shouldered all of the blame ... and all of the cost. The night was dark, and raining heavily. Was the other car traveling too fast for conditions? Possibly, but I had just said “it was my fault”. Being even more naive, when the woman asked me to write down my description of the event, in essence I said that I caused it. Not a lot of wiggle room there. Was I mostly at fault? I would say so. Was I completely at fault? Again, I think so, but possibly not and I have not left much room for arguing that point.

When I talk to people about driving in NZ, they always ask about learning to drive on the “opposite” side of the road. I never really had much of a problem with it. That being said, I always thought that if I were in an accident, it would be because I was looking left when I should have been looking right. This time, I was actually looking right, directly at any oncoming traffic. Through the heavy rain and refracted lights, I just didn’t see that other car until it was too late. In the end, a car is just a thing that is fixable or replaceable. Most importantly, we are all fine. Still, I have been having trouble sleeping at night.

We never did get those burgers ...

20 August 2018

Howdy, Partner!

What do I do when my love is away?
Does it worry you to be alone?
How do I feel by the end of the day?
Are you sad because you’re on your own?
No, I get by with a little help from my friends.
- Lennon/McCartney With a Little Help from My Friends

Hey, baby ... what’s your name?

Kari arrives to New Zealand in just a few days, and while I have really enjoyed the past three weeks of me and Little H against the world, I am eager for her to get here. Be it a spouse, a lover, a boyfriend or girlfriend, opposite gender or same gender, in New Zealand that person is referred to as your “partner”. During our last tour of duty here, I initially thought “partner” was a very odd word for this person in your life, but I came to embrace it. In the US and Canada, we give so much weight to the title “husband” or “wife” and anything else is somehow seen as ... well, less. The deep commitment and importance of other arrangements are inherently excluded when we hold the terms husband, wife, and spouse to a different standard. A partner can be any of these, but they are also so much more. Kari is not just a person to whom I am married; in every sense of the word, she is my partner ... and sometimes my partner in crime.

I must admit, though, that it can make for some interesting cross-cultural miscommunication when a Kiwi is referring to their domestic partner and a North American thinks they are talking about a business partner (and vice versa)!


I have gone out and done something without my partner in crime, though. Sadly, the Highsteads have parted ways with our dear companion Chumba-wamba. I bought Chumba for a little over $2000, put another $1300 into new tyres, and got exactly what I paid for. Like an old and faithful dog, Chumba was a little beat up on the outside, smelled really bad on the inside, but was always there ready for the next adventure. In the year that we were away, Chumba lived a solitary life in a good friend’s barn, occasionally let out to drive around the paddock, then put away again. On my return, Chumba surprisingly started right back up and even passed a Warrant Of Fitness evaluation (miracles never cease). But with our now permanent residency in New Zealand, we needed a more reliable ride. Kari and I have always driven big pickups and SUVs. When we moved to Myrtle Beach, though, Kari’s Forerunner had passed it’s useful life. We got her a (slightly) used BMW 528i and proceeded to drive it into the ground. She was never really happy with that car, but I rejoiced in driving it. In the mean time, I got a Ram 1500 that I absolutely loved. When we were deciding what we wanted to drive in NZ, Kari announced that she wanted another SUV ... and that opened the door for me to get a completely impractical sports car.

The Ultimate Driving Experience

Enter the Highstead’s new whip (I am accepting suggestions for a name). It’s a stripped down 2011 BMW 335i ... whoever ordered it chucked all the options except the performance M package. No heated or electric seats, no iDrive, no tilting mirrors, no Bluetooth, no valet lock-out features, and no frills. There are only two pretty much useless cup holders, no USB ports, and none of the comforts we were used to in the 528i. What it does have is a sport-tuned engine and suspension, snug seats with side bolsters, a thicker/tighter steering wheel, and an automatic transmission. What? Who the hell strips a car down, goes for the straight hard-core driving experience, and gets an automatic transmission?

Driving it home from Welly the other day put the fear of God in me ... this car is fast, powerful, and way fun to drive. The Ultimate Driving Experience? Yep, I think so. It has a 3.0L turbocharged inline 6 cylinder engine that generates 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. It’s been lowered and sits on 20in tyres. I am most impressed by how it leaps from 100 to 135 with just a twitch on the gas pedal. It is way more car than I have ever owned and I see a lot of driving fines in my future ... all with a shit-eating grin on my face.


Teriyaki Chicken ... & ... Scotch Filet

Slow-cooked Texas-style Brisket

Growing up, I came to appreciate finer foods. My grandmother used to say that I had champagne tastes and a beer pocketbook. Once I moved out on my own, a beer pocket book was barely an aspiration. I quickly learned that if I wanted to eat well on my budget, I would need to learn to cook. By the time Kari and I met, I was an accomplished and creative presence in the kitchen and I would argue that my skills rivaled Kari’s (she might not agree, but this is my blog, so ...); however, Kari definitely had a broader repertoire than I did. At first, we combined to make quite a team, but Kari enjoys cooking more than I do, and she gradually took over kitchen duties. I was slowly demoted from my role as Executive Chef, to Sous Chef, and eventually demoted further to Chef de Partie. Now, I am barely even a Kitchen Porter. At this point, Little H and I have been on our own for nearly a month, and wanting to make sure she is well-fed and properly nourished, I have had to revise my role. I think we have done pretty well, and when asked, Little H agrees.

Since arriving in New Zealand, I have had to arrange utilities for our home, set up television and internet service, and get our cell phones sorted out. I got Little H registered and started at school, went to the college (high school) open house, and registered her for next year. I have organized a wood delivery to keep us warm at night and tried to fill in what was missing from our “fully furnished” rental. Little H joined a local football (soccer) club and was invited to play for the regional team. My partner has been stuck in the U.S. organizing our move, while I have been navigating our new country and new culture as a single dad ... a role made especially difficult by a schedule in which I sometimes work late into the night. We have been fortunate that many of our friends in New Zealand have taken pity on us, fed us, and taken care of Little H on short notice. I have had to rely on friends to take in Little H ... feed her, challenge her, entertain her, and shuttle her off to football practice and games. It truly takes a village to raise a child, and I am incredibly grateful to the village around me. The past three weeks would not have been possible without a little help from our friends.

Thanks to all of you collectively and to each of you individually.

Zoom, zoom ...

12 August 2018

Forever Home

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down
This unfamiliar road
And although this wave
Is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna’ make this place
Your home
- Phillip Phillips Home

We are back in The Land Of the Long White Cloud, and it took longer than we had hoped. We left NZ in Sept 2017 with the intent to return as soon as possible. Our goal was to have our house on the market by February 2018 and be back in NZ by mid-April. To be honest, we thought that goal was a little too ambitious, but we fully expected to be here by June. Now, two months over-schedule and over budget, and nearly a year after we first left, we’re back. So many things conspired to delay us; most significantly was our immigration application. If you have never tried to immigrate to another country, and you believe what you hear on American television, you might think it’s pretty easy. Far from it. Our application for immigration, with supporting documents, ran to 217 individual pages and cost us almost $10K. Leaving one country for another is never easy (Link: Run For the Border).

And while I say “We are back ...”, we are only partially back. I let my previous ED group know that I would work my last shift for them in mid-July and told the group in NZ that I would be ready to start work on 6 August. Packing up and moving a 3400 sqft (315 sq m) house is a 3 day event. The plan was to have the movers pack and load only a few days after my last shift, and for the three of us to fly out on 21 or 22 July. The movers couldn’t quite meet our timeline, so Little H and I drove to Houston, sold my car, and boarded a flight on 28 July, landing in New Zealand on 30 July (you lose a day crossing the International Date Line). Kari was left behind to jettison the last bits of detritus we had accumulated, deal with any problems that cropped up, and organize the move. She will arrive in NZ nearly a month after we did.

Over the 13 years we have been together, Kari and I have moved around quite a bit. We met, got married, and had a baby in Galveston TX. From there, we spent two years in the suburbs of Washington DC before heading off for three years of training in Iowa City. I learned to be an Emergency Medicine Physician and Kari learned to be a Nurse Practitioner. We left Iowa City to start our first professional jobs (well, not really ... Kari was a nurse for many years before becoming a NP). We left Iowa for Myrtle Beach, SC and to say that we were disappointed with where we landed is an understatement. If not for a fantastic group of friends and neighbors, and an amazing group of doctors (Palmetto Emergency Physicians) who took me in, we would have left SC five years ago.

On my last foray up to Canada to play golf with my brothers before permanently relocating to the other side of the globe, I had to clear U.S. customs and immigration in the Toronto airport. When the U.S. ICE officer asked me what I do, I replied “I’m an Emergency Medicine Physician.” He looked at me and said, “That’s quite a title.” I don’t really think so, but I’m glad I didn’t use my New Zealand title ... Emergency Medicine Consultant Specialist.

Taking a chance, moving away from friends, family, and everything we have always known is hard, but not as hard as I expected. Maybe that’s because we are running to something, not away. We are running toward a better future, a better life, and a better environment in which Little H can grow and explore. We probably could have found what we were looking for somewhere in the U.S., but we think we found it here. We return not as visitors, but as permanent residents, and hopefully, someday, citizens. This is the place in which we hope to grow old together. Don’t hold your breath, though; moss doesn’t seem to settle well on our feet ...

Y’all come back now, ya’ hear ...

05 July 2018

Run For the Border

Consideration for your fellow man
Wouldn’t hurt anybody, sure fits in with my plan
Over the border, there lies the promised land
So don’t tell anybody what I wanna’ do
If they find out you know that they’ll never let me through
It’s no fun being an illegal alien
It’s no fun being an illegal alien*
- Banks/Collins/Rutherford Illegal Alien

* This is the song lyric I originally chose for this post. In light of recent events, I considered not using it and replacing it with Marin Niemoller's First They Came. I chose to use the original song title and use a paraphrased version of the poem later in the text.

After almost a year of paperwork, application fees, medical exams, and a see-saw of emotions, we have finally been approved for residency status in New Zealand. So, this post was going to be a happy one. Unfortunately, recent events at our southern border caused by our government's heartless and brutal policies have caused my thoughts to take an ugly turn. Few, if any, of my posts have been political; however, I just can't write about my immigration journey without thinking of the journeys taken by others and how they are being portrayed in the news today. I previously wrote about our interactions with a group of Afghan refugees in New Zealand (Link: New Wheels and New Opportunities), but this time it's personal.

I first became an immigrant in 1990, moving from Canada to the United States. I arrived on a student visa, so the transition was relatively easy. I transferred schools, went to grad school, then changed visas when I went to work. Each and every time, there was a finite time window in which I would be considered a "legal" immigrant. I was on a student visa once again for medical school and then I got married and became a Permanent Resident ... yep, I have a Green Card! While I am definitely an immigrant, I am also a Canadian. When I moved from there, culturally it was not that dissimilar to the US. Kinda' like Kiwis and Aussies ... unless you are one of them, they are pretty much indistinguishable. Sweet as, I just pissed off three different nationalities in only two sentences!

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses
Yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
- Emma Lazarus New Colossus

I always intended to become a US citizen, but now that we are moving to New Zealand, that point is moot. Few of us have done anything to "earn" or "deserve" our citizenship or residency. We simply won the lottery through no effort of our own. Mostly, we are just lucky (or unlucky) to have been born on one side of a border or another. Becoming a US Permanent Resident took several months, about $4K, and the ability to take time off work to attend appointments and interviews. Becoming a New Zealand resident took almost a year, and our total output so far is close to $9K and still climbing. I suppose I could make an argument that I have "earned" my status by passing extensive background checks and spending thousands of dollars in the process, but I can not argue that my pathway has been made much easier by the fact that I am white, male, educated, articulate, and affluent. I know how to navigate the system. While I did not come the the US (or New Zealand) as a refugee, if I had been any combination of female, dark-skinned, poor, and did not speak English, I would be unlikely to be where I am today.

We should treat those who come seeking refuge/asylum with kindness, dignity, and respect. Not because it's right or moral. Not because God, or Jesus, or Allah, or The Great Spaghetti Monster In The Sky commands us to, but because it is who we ought to be. While we have lost our way and it is not who we are today, it is who we used to be, and it is who we should strive to be in the future. I am not advocating for an open border policy. I am saying that we should treat migrants like the desperate human beings they are, and if they don't qualify for amnesty, asylum, or immigration, turn them away. But be nice. "If somebody gets in your face and calls you a cocksucker, I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won't walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can't walk him, one of the others will help you, and you'll both be nice. I want you to be nice until it's time not to be nice."

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
-Martin Niemoller First They Came

I know from the process of becoming a New Zealand resident how difficult it is to meet criteria. It took months and thousands of dollars, and an incredible effort. I wonder how many of those who advocate for a “merit-based” immigration policy in the US would ever have been allowed in under those conditions. How many have visited a favela outside of Rio, not as a tourist but as the guest of a local, sitting and breaking bread with them as I have. Or how many have seen 14 year-old boys carrying automatic weapons and "guarding" a family business in Honduras as I have. How many have seen crude concrete walls and windowsills topped with broken bottles to help keep out intruders, behind which families barricade themselves after dark? And how many have seen people living in landfill sites, sifting through the day's detritus trying to find something of value that they can then trade for money to buy food.

These are desperate people fleeing desperate situations. The people I met made less than the equivalent of about $10 US per week. Can you imagine what it takes to save enough money for the journey, always afraid that your meager savings will be stolen or extorted from you? They often can't afford to take their entire family. Can you imagine the heartbreak when one parent has to grab their youngest child and flee while leaving the rest of the family behind? Hardship in the journey is not a possibility, but a guarantee. Can you imagine how terrible your life must be to risk rape, robbery, and murder along the way knowing that you might not be granted the asylum you seek? And can you imagine the horror when you finally arrive only to have your child taken from you and sent thousands of miles away from you with no hope of contacting them? These are the people who we see on the news. This is their plight.

I started this post a few months ago as we were going through our own immigration process, was motivated to finish it when we finalized our visa applications for New Zealand, then stalled out as immigration issues came to the foreground in the news. Today is now July 4th ... a day of celebration for the USA's earliest beginnings, and a day when we ponder what it means to be "American". While I moved to the USA 28 years ago, I never became a citizen. At first I was held back by the expense and logistics. Once we knew we would be moving to New Zealand, there was no longer an impetus to complete the process. So, while I have never been an "American", I have lived here and have been steeped in its culture for almost 3 decades. As such, I have a few closing thoughts, both for this blog post and as we prepare to leave to another country.

People who come to our borders seeking asylum, and those who cross the border illegally and then try to obtain legal status are not "jumping the line". Much like the grocery store check-out, there are many lanes that lead to legal immigration. I have known this to be true immigrating to America, as well as New Zealand. We choose the lane that best suits our circumstances and the speed at which our lane moves has no influence on, and is not influenced by, what is happening in the other lanes. On a side note, a curious quirk of the rules means that you must be on American soil to claim asylum. As we turn people aside at the border, never allowing them to meet criteria for entrance, some turn to crossing illegally so that their case can be heard.

Immigrating to another country isn't cheap, nor is it simple or easy. I am not saying that it should be. By necessity, it is an incredibly complex system. Those who profess otherwise either don't understand the system, or they are being purposefully disingenuous. It is a simple thing to be kind, respectful, and understanding. How we treat those less fortunate than we are who turn to us for help says more about us than it does them. The thing that has made the USA attractive to the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses, as well as the world's best and brightest, has been a promise. It is the promise of safety, security, and opportunity. Of late, we haven't lived up to that promise. We are losing out on an entire generation of immigrants ... people who helped to make America great in the first place.

Thank you, and goodnight ...

11 June 2018

Portraits of a Life

I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they’re real
I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures
Are all I can feel
- The Cure, Pictures of You

The smoldering intensity of Dan Sheehan - March 2018

A long time ago, in a life far, far away I carried a camera fairly frequently. Through high-school and college, I shot a lot of film. In graduate school, my research project relied heavily on underwater photographs. Immediately after leaving grad school, I stopped carrying a camera. Perhaps I was bored with it? Perhaps I couldn’t afford the film and development costs? I’m really not sure, but I didn’t pick up a camera again until I started playing with my wife’s camera at least 20 years later. By that time, technology had passed me by and what little knowledge I retained was pretty much obsolete. I fell into a pattern with my photography that was familiar and comfortable while I learned the mechanics of modern photographic equipment. Most of my photos were outdoors shots where people are secondary to the picture if they were in them at all. As I started getting more comfortable with the camera, I started branching out into “new” areas including street photography and portraiture.

What makes a picture a portrait? We all have dozens of pictures of people on our phones, but we wouldn't call them "portraits", right? I struggle with this. To me, a portrait conveys something about that person's personality. People who don't know the subject can see it, and people who do know them say "Ah, yes. That is SO him/her." I don't like people getting into my personal space, and I definitely don't like getting into theirs. Shooting good portraits requires getting right in and close with people, something I am not comfortable with. I find it easiest to do this with people I know well, and I am amazed at photographers who can shoot great portraits of someone they have just met, or don't know at all. How do they capture an image of a personality when they don't know that personality? I imagine they have to get to know them quickly, or they are just that intuitive about people.

There are no bad pictures;
that’s just how your face looks sometimes.
- Abraham Lincoln

If I were ever asked what kind of photographer I am, my immediate and flippant answer would likely be “a bad one.” If I had to answer seriously, I would probably say that I am a nature photographer, perhaps even a landscape photographer. Hiking, camping, climbing, and wandering the woods and mountains is where I feel most comfortable and where I am most likely to have my camera. Certainly most of my pictures from our year in New Zealand were of those types. I recently had reason to rethink this description of my photography.

A friend from high-school was interested in my old photo negatives. They were just going into the rubbish bin anyway, so I was happy to send them his way. Digitizing and processing the photos I sent to him, Joel breathed new life into old images. As impressed as I was with what he was able to do with 30 year-old negatives, I was equally surprised to see how many of my old photos were portraits. Some of them were posed, but most were candid. Clearly I was much more comfortable invading personal space back then.

Prior to 1989, high-school in Ontario was 5 years ... Grades 9-13. They were transitioning to 4 years (9-12) and eliminating Grade 13, but for my class you could finish in 4 or 5 years. Those of us who stayed for 5 years got two end of year formals (think "Prom") ... one in 1989 and then again in 1990. A curious result of this is that the 1989 formal combined both the Grade 12 and Grade 13 classes that year.

I have no idea who this is, but she is not too pleased ...

Whether it was on the school ski team, or just for fun, we spent a lot of time with boards strapped to our feet ...

Talisman Ski Resort, Dec 1989.

Ski team, apres ski, probably Horseshoe Valley, Jan/Feb 1990.

At the end of the fall rugby season in 1989, we had qualified for the OFSAA (Ontario Federation of Secondary Athletic Associations) provincial championships the next spring, and as a reward/pre-season training opportunity, we spent just under two weeks playing rugby in England and Wales. Each individual player was hosted by a local family, and we trained with / played against local clubs. We also had a chance to explore London, Cardiff, and a couple of castles.

Boys will be boys.

1990 was a busy year ... skiing in the winter, the tour to England and Wales, and the rugby championships in the spring. It was our final (Grade 13) year of highschool, and everyone seemed to have big plans when the summer was over. We had one last opportunity to all be together in June for our Graduation Formal. Held in a hotel in downtown Toronto, we all "pre-loaded" at a friend’s place before heading downtown.

I recently saw some current photos of these guys. The men they have become look much the same as the boys they were.

All of the photos above were shot on film with a manual camera. The camera itself could support an autofocus lens, but I didn't have one until I traded my manual fixed lens for an autofocus zoom much later. It surprises me sometimes how well many of the photos turned out. You would shoot and hope. Often the results weren't developed and printed until several weeks later. It was always a great surprise to find one or two "keepers" from roll of 24 or 36. As I mentioned earlier, not long after these photos were taken, I put down my camera for 20+ years. Once I started shooting in digital, the instant feedback and unlimited memory was a game changer. It does mean that I am a much more lazy, and much less cautious, photographer; but it also allows me to make instant corrections and not lose the moment.

Kari hates when Little H makes faces for the camera. I did, too ... until I decided that if portraiture is about capturing a person's personality, then these are perfect portraits of my goofy daughter.

Shooting portraits of those you know and love is much easier than shooting strangers.

Kids will be kids.

Family ...

... and Friends

So things come full circle. I have been working to improve my ability to shoot portraits and I am drawing inspiration from my past work. As I become more comfortable shooting in tight with family and friends, my next step will be to find that same comfort level with strangers. I just need to tap into that lost confidence and abandon of youth ...

Can a selfie be a portrait ???