Friday, August 18, 2017


Good night, Westley.
Good work.
Sleep well.
I'll most likely kill you in the morning.
- William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Kari and Grant playing in the lights. Palmerston North.

So this is it, our last regularly scheduled blog post. Please bear with me ... it's a bit of a long and rambling one.

Our journey began on a whim and with a little leap of faith (Link: Small Steps). Some time in early 2013, Kari made the suggestion that we jump out of our comfortable life in Myrtle Beach and try something new in New Zealand. Not being completely irresponsible, we planned a family vacation to the Land Of the Long White Cloud and spent two weeks traveling about in a caravan (Link: Around New Zealand in 14 Days Part 1 and Part 2). We fell in love with the country and the culture almost from the moment we landed for our extended holiday. We realised, of course, that living here would be something very different from spending a couple of weeks driving around like the Scooby Doo gang in the Mystery Machine. The biggest hurdle would be getting here in the first place. Putting our U.S. lives on hold for a year, while being about as far away from the U.S. as one can get, took a little planning and logistics (Link: Breaking Up is Hard To Do and Home Automation). Our transition to life here in New Zealand was aided by following the advice of friends who had forged this path before us. We were standing on the shoulders of giants, and little did we know at the time how much we would come to appreciate their friendship and open arms.

Virtual wine tour with Alyssa and Ryan. Napier Wine Centre, February 2017.

I've never been a writer, nor had much of a creative side. I have certainly never been one to share my thoughts, feelings, or emotions with others, so I have no idea what possessed me to attempt a weekly blog. A few weeks just prior to leaving, I told Kari that I was considering writing about our soon-to-be life in NZ. I think she was as surprised as I was by the suggestion. We were in the car on our way to the mountains and we started brainstorming some ideas. The first thing was to come up with a name. We wanted a title that would be uniquely Kiwi, but easy to understand and remember for our family and friends in the U.S. and Canada. I had something in mind, but can't for the life of me remember what it was. I kept rejecting other ideas from Kari and Little Highstead, then Kari threw out the title "Jandals and Togs". We tried a few others on for size, but it was perfect and it stuck ("Jandals" is Kiwi slang for flip-flops, and "Togs" are swimsuits).

I'm no Jonathan Livingston Seagull

I had no idea what I was committing myself to. Only a few months in, Kari starting referring to the blog as my other wife. Between generating an idea, research, writing and editing, formatting and adding photos, a typical blog post takes 10+ hours of work spread out over several days. Of course, some of the posts have taken much less work. The Most Dangerous Game and Apocalypse Now were conceived, formatted, and written in my head during a 30 minute walk from work. Once I got home, all I had to do was sit down and write them out. I got in the habit of carrying a small notebook to scribble thoughts, ideas, song quotes, and particularly appealing turns of phrase. I would turn to the notebook for ideas when the well was running dry. My goal was to post something each week, and I have more or less hit that target, but I did take a break from writing for several weeks just after the new year. Of course, I hadn't promised anybody anything. I could have quit at any time and just faded away, but I held on with a certain tenacity. I'm proud of the fact that I set this goal and saw it through to the end, but I would be lying if I said that some part of me isn't glad to be looking at it in the rear-view mirror. It's been tough.

It would seem that many of you have found it tough as well. For the first month or two, most posts were read by well over 200 readers each week. Settling In, posted 7 Oct 2016, saw the most hits at 288. Lucky (1 July 2017), did get 260 hits but I suspect that had more to do with all the people I tagged when I posted it rather than any inherent merits. And one of my more recent posts, Street Beat (4 Aug 2017), garnered 251 distinct hits. The general trend over the last 2-3 months, however, has been a drop in hits to about 30-70 for any given post. I'm definitely disappointed to see readership fall off as it has. I feel like my writing has improved as the year progressed and my later posts have been much better written than the earlier ones, though I suspect that my writing has also become somewhat formulaic. Most recently, one of the nurses at work called my writing "scholarly". It really wasn't what I wanted to hear, I'm going for "entertaining", but it certainly echoes earlier critiques.

Himatangi Beach from Chumbawamba's driver seat

I'm most proud of our photography. We bought our first "grown-up camera" knowing that we would be moving to NZ and wanting to do it justice. I had a rudimentary understanding of how a camera works from my attempts at underwater photography using a Nikonos V about 20+ years ago. This was a 35mm manual film camera with an optical viewfinder, and it was pretty much state of the art for underwater photography when I was using it in the 1990's. The digital revolution made it obsolete and the model was discontinued in 2001. I shot slide film and had to process and mount the slides myself. It was a great introduction to every aspect of image making. Sadly, while the camera was mine, the images I generated were owned by someone else and I have none of the several hundred pictures I shot.

Nikonos V underwater camera. For me, where it all began ... and ended.

When we finally got ready to purchase our DSLR, I spent a lot of time researching our various options and took the advice of photographer friends. We wanted a camera system that would allow us to grow into it for many years, but still be manageable as beginners. We started out with a camera body suited for serious amateurs and pros, but not top-of-the-line, and a standard lens. Along the way, we bought a used wide-angle lens. The glass was better and the speed of the lens was an improvement, but more importantly, it forced me to think about composition and lighting. Teaching myself to use a wide angle lens, I also learned more about how to use my standard lens. Some of the gains I made with the DSLR even translated to improvement in my phone pics. Link: Playing Favourites and Caution! Wide Load.

As I worked to hone this craft, I discovered that there are differences even within photography itself ... who knew? I had thought that I preferred landscape/nature photography ... it's the environment in which I am most comfortable. When starting to explore the capabilities of the new lens, I found that I actually preferred street photography and candid portraits. With Little Highstead playing soccer, I have also taken a special interest in sports photography. I'm just beginning to understand how these disciplines require their own specialized approach, and every time I learn something new, it only reveals the depth of my ignorance. Kari recently took a one-day photography workshop and I was green with envy. As she and I have become more adept and accomplished, it has served to whet my appetite for more.

Artsy pics, candid portraits, street views, and soccer have each provided new challenges as I fumble my way along.

During our year here, we have made almost monthly journeys away from Palmy. Our favourite destinations have been Wellington and Napier, but we have managed to travel pretty extensively throughout both the North and South Islands. I can't neglect what brought us here in the first place, however. I have never defined myself by my job and my job title is not who or what I am. That being said, my vocation as an emergency medicine physician is what has allowed us the time, opportunity, and financial stability to travel and work abroad. Even when practicing in the US, I frequently took moonlighting gigs. Working in a different hospital, with different staff, and sometimes different expectations from what I am used to is a great way to keep me learning and keep me interested. Even before arriving, I was excited to practice medicine in a new country and a (new to me) socialized medicine system.

Palmerston North Emerg Dept (A&E) ... an insider's view

Healthcare training in New Zealand is fundamentally different from that in the United States (Link: Training Docs Down-under). It follows, then, that the practice of healthcare is also very different. Ostensibly "socialized medicine", healthcare in New Zealand is actually a hybrid public/private system. ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) covers all expenses assoc with "accidents", including car accidents, accidental trauma/injuries, and some medical conditions (e.g. seizures). It is funded by taxes on employers, employees, petrol, and vehicle registration. This is a true single payor system.

Everyone in New Zealand has access to the public, single payor system for hospital level care; however, private insurance can be purchased or people can pay out-of-pocket to bypass the public healthcare system and enter the private system. This dual pathway is common for certain specialties (e.g. Orthopaedic surgery). Primary Care (GPs, Family Doctor, etc) on the surface are part of the private system; patient's pay a co-pay or insurance to cover, but their care is actually govt subsidized.

Sign outside A&E in Gisborne, NZ. In Palmy, much like in the U.S., we tend to see all comers.

New Zealand spends about 9% of its GDP on healthcare. In comparison, the US spends approx 17% of GDP on healthcare (the next closest in the world is Switzerland at about 12%). In absolute dollars, that is about $9450 USD per person (NZ spends approx $3400 USD per person). You would think all that additional money would lead to better care, but outcomes for the US are not so great when compared to other OECD countries. Some of that cost difference has been attributed to the difference in attitudes with respect to end of life care. Initial analyses do not seem to bear that out. (Link: End of Life Care).

On one of the forums that I frequent, someone had said not to go to NZ for the money, and that has certainly born out to be true. We made far less money here than in the US, and financially we are much worse off than we were just a year ago. We changed the way we lived, in some ways out of necessity. While we didn't accumulate wealth while we were here, and I contributed nothing to savings or retirement, I was very happy with my work environment and thought the pay was fair. We lived much more simply than we were accustomed to and were much happier for it. If anything, this was the biggest lesson we learned while being away. Hopefully, we will take this new attitude home with us and our life in the US will continue to be as simple as it has been here.

"Home" in the U.S. and NZ.

At this point, we are looking around our rental house and trying to decided what to take with us and what to leave behind. Kari and I are both amazed at how quickly the year has come to an end. In an earlier post, we had written about how becoming friends with Kiwis is a slow process (Link: The Long Goodbye). One of my co-workers and his family emigrated from the U.S. just a few months before we did and disagreed with my assessment, while several Kiwis felt I was spot-on. Tom (the American) thought that their assimilation was probably aided by having several young children who were all involved in sport. Now that we finally have developed a bit of a social circle, mostly through Little Highstead's soccer (Tom wasn't wrong), it's time for us to pack up once again and leave. It seems this month ahead is filled with plans to catch up with people as we get ready to go.

As this adventure draws to a close, it means that our next adventure is just beginning. Our plan is to spend a month traveling through Asia and Europe before returning to the U.S. We will spend a few days in NYC then drive south, stopping to visit friends along the way. Just a few days before we left the U.S. last October, our cul-de-sac threw its annual outdoor movie night and block party (Link: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow). Funny enough, we found out that this year the block party will be held just a week after we return.

Thanks to all of you for dropping by every now and then, leaving your comments, and PMing me. While this is our last weekly blog post, it's not the last you will hear from us. We will attempt to post short stories and photos along the way as we visit Japan and then from our post-card tour of Europe.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Futbol and Life Skills

Here we go. Allez, allez, allez.
Go, go, go! Allez, allez, allez.
Arriba va! Allez, allez, allez.
Go, go, go! Allez, allez, allez.
- Ricky Martin La Copa De La Vida

Juventus FC International Academy, Jan 2017

In the United States, soccer has been played at some level since the late 1800's. The governing body, the United States Football Association, was formed in 1913. Despite this, baseball, football, and basketball have dominated U.S. sports while soccer has continued to fly under the radar. It wasn't until the 1990s that soccer saw a significant increase in participation and resources. While soccer in the U.S. has seen a major upswing in popularity over last 2-3 decades, it is still a relatively new sport in the national spotlight. It's quite a different story in the rest of the world. Globally, there are over 4.0 billion followers of association football and it enjoys a global sphere of influence.
Football is one of the most accessible sports in the world and there is hardly anyone in this world who has not kicked a ball at some point in their life. Football dominates sports headlines in some of the major countries in the world, including almost all European nations. In South America, football is more than just a game, it represents dreams and joy for kids in Brazil, Argentina, and other Latin countries. Let's take a look at some of the statistics which will put every argument to rest that Football is the biggest and most popular sport in the world.
Most watched competition in the world: The Football World Cup is by far the most watched sports competition in the world. 3.9 billion people tuned in at some point during the FIFA World Cup 2014, while the final match was watched by as many as 700 million people around the globe.
Highest paying sports competitions: $1.5 Billion is awarded in prize money and bonuses every year in the UEFA Champions League. In fact, four of the top five global sporting competitions with the highest prize money are football events (Champions League, FIFA World Cup, Europa League, UEFA Euro).
Most expensive sports TV rights deal: English Premier League football is the most watched professional sport league in the world. It is broadcast in 212 territories globally, with over 5 billion viewers tuning in to live action at some point every season. SkySports and BT Sports paid over £5.3 Billion for Premier League TV rights in the UK for three years, while another £Billion will be generated from  international rights.
Most professional leagues: Football boasts the most professional leagues in the world. Over 50 countries have established football leagues, and in most cases they have multiple leagues.
Biggest sport kit deals: Adidas pays £75 Million per year to Manchester United to be their official kit supplier.
Highest paid athletes: Top players are paid approximately £300,000 per week in salary by their respective clubs, while Ronaldo and Messi also feature in the top 5 of the most endorsed athletes in the world.
Richest sports teams: Approximately 30 football clubs fall among the 50 most valuable sports teams in the world. FIFA is the biggest and most powerful federation in sports.
Most popular sports teams on social media: Real Madrid and Barcelona are the most followed teams of any sport on social media with over 100 million followers each.
Most followed athlete: Cristiano Ronaldo is the most followed sports athlete with approximately 150 million followers on Facebook and Twitter.

Coach Stephanie and Coach Cora. Sorry, Coach "T", I don't have any pics of you in my photo archives.

Little Highstead has been fortunate to work with a number of great coaches associated with Coast FA in Myrtle Beach (the kind of great coaches I alluded to in Give Blood, Play Rugby). The organization was well structured and we watched Little Highstead progress through various stages as a player to the point where she was selected for the Player Development Center team. Her growth as a player was directly related to the level of coaching to which she was exposed. It was amazing to watch her confidence grow as her skills improved. We were happy to see that her coaches focused not only on developing those skills that would make the kids good soccer players, but also good team-mates, and good people on and off the field.

The intensity of youth sports in the U.S. is something to behold. Coaches, players, and parents take it very seriously and it's hard to argue with success. The USWNT (women's national soccer team) boasts an impressive international record: 3 World Cup titles, 4 Olympic gold medals, 7 CONCACAF Gold Cup wins, and 10 Algarve Cups. They won medals in every World Cup and Olympic tournament from 1991-2015, and have been ranked #1 or #2 in the world every year since 2003. While most of the players on the Ferns (NZ women's nat'l football team) play for clubs overseas, several play Div I soccer at major U.S. universities.

Little Highstead just steps away from scoring her first career goal. The resemblance to her older cousin is uncanny.

Gold Medal winners!  2016 Coast Classic soccer tournament.

Moving to New Zealand, we had high hopes for Little Highstead and her soccer development. We thought we would be coming to a country with a rich sporting tradition and a well designed system for the development of young players. And we did ... as long as that sport is rugby.

In New Zealand, "sport" is rugby, and rugby is king. To be fair, kids can get involved in other team sports such as field hockey, netball, cricket, and (surprisingly) basketball, but the best athletes are steered toward rugby. Rugby also commands the greatest amount of resources, from practice facilities and equipment, to coaching clinics, referee training, and player development. In the Emergency Department, when caring for patients who sustain head injuries while playing rugby, we can refer to specific protocols developed by NZ Rugby and by Manawatu Rugby, our local rugby union.

Winchester School summer football team.

Soccer, especially girls' soccer, in our area is considerably less well developed and supported. When we first arrived last October, the winter club soccer season was over and Little Highstead had already missed out on tryouts for the regional Federation Talent Centre squad. We tried signing her up for two different all-girls leagues, both an indoor and an outdoor league, but neither of them had enough girls in her age-group to form a team. She attended a skills camp put on by Central Football and we finally found a summer league team that was a couple of players short, so she joined them mid-season. It was through Central Football and the Winchester School team that she got her foot in the door.

Little Highstead is at a critical age for sports development. Girls as young as 7 start to become body conscious and lose confidence; half of all girls stop playing sports by age 17. She is every bit as good as, and better than most of, the boys she plays with and against, but to see her on the pitch you wouldn't know it. Her body language is closed and she physically separates herself from the boys on the sidelines. She plays on a mixed gender squad because that's her only option. With Coast FA previously, and now with the Central Football Talent Centre, she plays on a girls' team. She is much more open and relaxed. On the pitch, she is noticeably more aggressive chasing the ball and the game. At the end of a session, it is obvious how much more she enjoys the game when she is playing with other girls.

Juventus FC International Academy, Jan 2017

While we were waiting for the winter football season sign-ups to start, an amazing opportunity came along. Juventus FC is one of the most successful football clubs in Italy as well as on the international stage. They have a highly acclaimed youth development programme and have put together a series of development camps to export their methods. The Academies are designed to develop players' and coaches' skills through the Juventus training methods. Their International Academies are held on every continent, 36 programmes in 22 countries. This year they held an Academy in Palmerston North, NZ.

From the Academy website:
The principles underlying the project are fair play, having fun, sharing experiences, and learning to appreciate the importance of victory but also to accept defeat.
Juventus Academy aims to improve the youngsters' technical skills but also their personal qualities in line with the main guiding concept: "Develop people first and footballers second." 

Youth soccer in New Zealand follows many of these same principles.

She's got game.

Soccer development in New Zealand is a much more gradual process than what we have been used to in the U.S. NZ Football is well organized and regimented with specific skill progressions designed for each age group. It starts with First Kicks (4-6 yo). Players practice and play on the same day, and they are jointly coached by their parents. Each player's parents take a turn at coaching. Parents who are identified as having coaching potential are offered training to upskill their coaching abilities. In "Fun Football" (7-8 yo), training and matches are still organized on the same day, though additional midweek practices are optional. Coaches are still drawn from a pool of parent volunteers. There are intra-club matches, as well as inter-club matches.

Little Highstead plays for Ruahine AFC and she is involved in "Mini Football" (9-12 yo). At this level, coaches are generally well-trained and certified, though parent volunteers are still utilized in certain circumstances. Mid-week practices are still optional but much more common. Something that we found really interesting, and have really come to like, is the game-day schedule. Teams start out with a pre-game skills session, then swap ends of the field and engage in a skills session with the opposing coaches. After running through each team's skill sessions, the match is on.

Coach Greg with the post-game wrap-up after a tough loss.

The focus on the pitch, and in school, here in NZ is on developing good people and good citizens. At this age-group, there is an attempt to keep it non-competitive. When LH attended her first Central Football Talent Centre training session last week, one of the parents asked if the girls would be coached in specific aspects of the game and positional play. The response was that they were more concerned about developing the players' skills and confidence. The focus is on fun, not competition. As we prepare to return to the U.S., we contacted LH's middle school to make sure she would be enrolled. They asked for her grades and test scores. I'm not sure how they are going to respond when we tell them that her school doesn't do grades or test scores. They barely do homework!

We were so used to the high pressure, high stakes, aggressive school/sports environment in the U.S. that we were a little taken aback by the attitude here. We were wondering how LH was ever going to progress in her skills as a player when the focus wasn't nearly as intense. I suspect the high-pressure atmosphere of school and sports in the U.S. leads to higher rates of anxiety and burnout in young students and athletes. Early on, I'm sure we came across as typical obnoxious American sports parents, yelling from the sideline. We eventually came to adopt the Kiwi way ... I worry, though, how we are ever going to assimilate, and how LH will respond, once we return; although it likely won't be long before we are yelling from the sideline once again.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Street Beat

You're the most beautiful,
Exciting thing I've ever seen
In my Life
And I don't know anything about you.
- American Graffiti (1973)

Numbers (Anton Parsons, 2007)

We have previously written about exploring Wellington and discovering hidden street art (Link: Keep Welly Weird). We have also spent quite a bit of time exploring Palmy (Link: Palmy Rocks! and Up Hill, Both Ways!). Street art here isn't quite as abundant as that in Wellington. One advantage ... most of it is centrally located in and around the Square. Most of these pictures were taken on the same day as I prowled Palmerston North's streets and alleyways.

This appears to be an exhaust outlet adjacent to the Library. I'm not sure if it's functional or just visually appealing. Either way, it's a cool piece of street art.

All Creatures Great (Paul Dibble, 1996) stands outside the Library entrance, and this mural tops a doorway across the alleyway.

This stairway leads from what I think is a fire exit at the Library. While not really street art, I love the glass enclosure. 

Traveling by caravan (camper van) is the Kiwi way, and most cities in NZ have one or more free or low-cost caravan parks. Painted onto a long wall at The Campbell St motor home park, this mural is one of Palmy's newest additions and allows campers to park along the river ... at least in spirit, anyway.

Cuba St and George St are lined by some of Palmy's oldest buildings and home to some of our funkiest shops, cafes, and businesses. This mural is on the side of Sublime Coffee Roasters.

This mural was down a blind alleyway on George St, across from the Library.

Flying insects book-end the (caterpillar?) painted on this long wall leading up Taonui St from Cuba St. Right next door is Hell Pizza.

Palmerston North has tons of hidden alleyways some with enough room for small businesses. This mural sits at one end of Regent Arcade, down which there are several drinking establishments including The Celtic Inn, Bubbles, and The Fish.


Berrymans Lane, connecting Broadway Ave and Main St, sees heavy foot traffic. The city commissioned local artists to liven it up a little and these murals all went up on a Saturday in June of this year.

Not unlike Wellington, Palmy also has painted garage doors tucked down alleyways. These two edgy murals were around a dodgy corner. I had to step gingerly around all the dog bombs!

Searching for somewhere to capture a view of George St, I found some windows on the second sotry of the Library that did the trick.

The Regent Theatre building was completed in 1930 and is home to the City's centre for performing arts.
Ladies Rest was built in 1937 and is still in use today. Kari and LH assure me that it is quite posh inside.

Returning Column (Greg Johns, 2008) sits in the centre island of a roundabout near the library.
United Divided (Phil Price, 2010) is a kinetic sculpture ... the sections of the "lozenge" on top move with the wind.

Who's Afraid (Paul Dibble, 2011) sits outside the Regent Theatre and features a dancer facing down a tuatara. With the overcast sky and deep shadows from the covered walkway, it was quite tricky to get this photo just right.

Nga Huruhuru Rangatira "the feathers of the chief" (Bob Jahnke, 2016) was created by a professor of Maori sculture and visual arts at Massey University. The sculpture sits on a prominent corner on the Square.
The feathers and cutouts are meant to evoke the extinct Huia bird. Prized for its feathers and beak, the Huia bird succumbed to the dual pressures of hunting and habitat loss.

During our year in New Zealand, we have gone out and explored far afield. When I took on both this blog project and set a goal to improve my photography, I was forced to open my eyes to what was right in front of me all along.

It's a lock ...