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I am way behind on blogging. Again.  I decided to skip a few weeks and post about Thanksgiving, but I’ll post the missing weeks later.

The week leading up to Thanksgiving was pretty stressful.  We started planning about three weeks beforehand, but we hand to change a lot close to the date.  We had to plan the dishes we wanted and would make, and then had to move our plans up a day to make sure everyone could come.

I got the recipes for my favorite dishes from my grandma and looked up short video clips on how to make a turkey and gravy.  I also took responsibility for some other dishes that had not been claimed, which began to worry me.

The day of our dinner arrived.  I woke up by 8:30 to prepare for the big day of cooking at my host family’s house.  Cooks arrived by 8 pm. The turkeys arrived at 10:30, and were much smaller than expected.  We thought we’d have to cook them all day because someone else bought them, we didn’t know how big they were, and we didn’t know how to convert kilograms to pounds (although the internet could have helped).

We reviewed the short clip on how to prepare a turkey.  I removed the giblet packet, and thought something was funny in the body, but didn’t know what it was and couldn’t pull it out. We looked online and a blog said to remove the neck, but we didn’t know how.  I washed the turkey in and out with warm water to clean and thaw it a bit more.  I tried removing the thing in the body again and pulled out the neck!  We finished preparing the turkey, which involved liberally seasoning the inside and separating the skin to apply seasoned butter, and put it in the oven in an oven bag.  It turned out delicious and not dry.

We began preparing the rest of the meal.  For grandma’s fried onion, mushroom and green bean casserole.  I had to pan fry the onions because there were no frozen fried onions at the store!  I put everything together in the dish and something looked funny. There was a lot of milk at the bottom, but I put it in the oven and I thought it would evaporate.  I cooked it for the amount of time necessary, then finally realized that I had forgotten to add the cream of mushroom soup!  I added the soup and mixed it together and put it in the oven.  I was really sad because I thought I ruined the dish, but it was still delicious!

I don’t think I made my grandma’s stuffing well, but part of that was because we didn’t stuff the turkeys with it because we thought they’d take too long to cook.

We planned to make another stuffing dish - cornbread stuffing, but that was an adventure…  I didn’t see cornmeal at the supermarket and thought they called it corn meal here, because that was all that was in the store.  But when we looked online later we discovered that it is not the same, and would make the cornbread rock-like.  We looked online for a solution and learned that you can make it with corn.  One of the cooks walked to the store and all they found was creamed corn.  We made the cornbread with creamed corn and it was amazing.

For all the trouble it was to plan, Thanksgiving in New Zealand was awesome.  The weirdest part of the day was the weather: 70 degrees and sunny, with green trees outside; completely opposite to the weather in New York, where I usually go for Thanksgiving.  I can also now say that I have prepared and cooked a turkey!

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After the first part of our program ended, we had a week long vacation.  Some people traveled alone or WWOOFed (wwoof.org), and a group went backpacking for the week. I and four others went to Queenstown and stayed in the lovely Black Sheep Backpackers Lodge.

We arrived at the airport way too early.  Security was very different than the U.S.  We were all surprised when we weren’t asked for ID once (even when picking up our tickets), we didn’t have to take off coats or shoes to go through the metal detector, there didn’t seem to be restrictions on liquids, and we were directed onto the tarmac when boarding the flight.

Queenstown is in the southwest of the South Island.  As we moved south we moved closer to Antarctica, which meant we decided to go to an alpine environment for SPRING break.  It smelled like snow when we stepped off the plane.

We rented a car and drove to Wanaka on some super windy roads through snow covered mountains.  After visiting Puzzle World, Becca and Courney went to a movie and the rest of us went to shoot stuff.

The next day we went to Arrowtown and considered panning for gold, alas the pan rental shop was closing in 15 minutes.

Queenstown is the home of the bungy jump, which is really awesome for someone who is afraid of heights. Not.

In Queenstown there was an art gallery, and it was filled with elaborate portraits, landscapes and sculptures of dogs.  The collection was “The Lonely Dog,” which was inspired by a painting of a dog standing on a dock watching his owners leave.  The paintings were lovely, but they were dogs as people.  It was weird.  Eventually we were looking through the original sketches and the woman managing the gallery came up to us to tell us all about the collection, including the recently published children’s book and movie in the works.  I didn’t take any pictures of the gallery, but when we got back to Auckland we found the Lonely Dog!

It was an awesome vacation!

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Our last and final stop was Wellington, the windy city.  Or Wellywood, if you prefer.

We met some amazing people in Wellington.  The most interesting person we talked to on the entire trip was Nicky Hager (http://www.nickyhager.info/).  He is an investigative journalist and has helped organize political campaigns, including those which protected native forests and made New Zealand nuclear-free.

We stayed at another Base Backpackers - it was the best of all, which isn’t saying much.

We visited Breaker Bay - the location of protests against U.S. nuclear war ships.  People jumped into the water in front of the boats to bring attention to the ships existence.

After our guides left, we stayed in Wellington for a day before spring break.  A few of us went to a play, called Manawa (heart).  It was amazing.  During the month traveling the country we had learned about many of the topics that came up in the play, including native species conservation, perceptions of Maori and Maori perspectives.  I don’t think we would have understood anything in the play without this program and the people who led us through their country.

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I am about a month behind on blogging.  Sorry!

After leaving the lodge at Whakapapa we traveled to Palmerston North.  On our way we passed through Ohakune, which is famous for carrots.

We were less than impressed by the small city of Palmerston North.  There was only one or two streets with cafes and shops.  We spent a lot of time picking up the public library’s free wifi from the cafes and restaurants nearby.  Although disappointing overall, I did have two amazing meals at a restaurant called Tomato.

I took no photos of Palmerston North.  It was that unremarkable.  There was a nice park nearby which attracted all the birds, which I could hear from my window at sunset.

I did get a smoothie at a café below the library.  Smoothies in New Zealand more yogurt than fruit or ice.

We visited Massey University to have a few guest lectures.  Apparently Jersey Shore infiltrated the lives of New Zealand university students.

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We headed to Tongariro National Park and stayed at the base of Mount Raupehu.  It smelled terrible when we got there, like rotting eggs, because it is an active geothermal/volcanic area.  Fortunately the smell wasn’t as strong, except on the last day.

We had an entire day off!  I went for a walk with a couple others.  We saw an orange-bottomed river (orange because of the clay and mineral content, image 1).  A spiraled tree trunk (2).  And walked the path to Mount (Ngauruhoe) Doom (3).

We took a break to play in the snow on our study day (4).

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We arrived at the Tirorangi marae to stay with the Ngati Rangi people and participated in our third powiri (greeting ceremony).  There is a lot of protocol at marae: no shoes or food/water in the wharanui (meeting/sleeping house), no sitting on pillows or dinner tables (for hygiene), no hats on dinner tables.  There’s many more I don’t remember or don’t know.

Every morning began with karakia (blessing/prayer).  The first day we drove through a forestry operation on our way to a site special to the ngati rangi people: maunga raupehu.  The mountain is where the stars meet the earth.  They do not climb the entire mountain unless they are called by it.  We tramped (hiked) almost to the snow line, to a ridge where you hear a river.  Before we ascended to the point where we could hear the river, we participated in another karakia, this time it was with the mountain.

After descending the mountain our host, Kieth, showed us at least five intakes for river water that is being diverted to man made lake.  There are over 20 rivers that Genesis Energy is diverting to the lake, which has a dam at one end and a hydropower station at the other.  The dam is used to hold water for the hydropower station, to be released when energy demand peaks.

He also took us to the bluest rivers I have ever seen.  It is from the mountain snow and glacier melt.  It is also very sulfuric and is great for treating skin conditions.

The next day we went to another sacred site, the site of the dam and lake, which is within the boundaries of a New Zealand Army training site.  Kieth and Ngati Rangi have struggled for years to gain access to their special place which has been changed greatly by the dam.  This was the second year that he did not need an official escort to enter, and the first year that he was not stopped while on the base because of miscommunication within the army.  It was easier for the Lord of the Rings to get access to the army base to film the orc land scenes than it was for the Ngati Rangi to have access to their sacred sites.

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We headed to Tirorangi marae after eating way too much homemade pizza, fresh beets and salad at Awhi Farm.  Things got a little touristy…

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We stopped for lunch at Awhi Farm (pronounced “Afee”) on our way to Mount Raupehu.  We helped prepare logs for shitake mushrooms.  It was really easy, especially when compared to the market value of shitake mushrooms!

We started by removing any foreign objects from the logs, like lichen (image 1).  Next, we drilled holes two centimeters deep in the log four inches from each other all the way around (2).  We then hammered pre-purchased pieces of wood at $1/piece covered in mushroom spores and covered them with melted beeswax (3).  We leaned them against trees with their bottoms in moist soil (4).  In six years they will have produced the weight of the log in mushrooms.  Amazing.  A couple girls and I have decided to start our own shitake mushroom farm in the Twin Cities.

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I have not had time or unlimited wifi to blog in a long time!! Internet in New Zealand is charged per megabyte, which leads most cafes and public wifi spots to cap usage.

 After Raglan we traveled to Taupo.  We met Andrew, a beef farmer who is changing his practices because of the threat to Lake Taupo as a result of farming.  He has allowed researchers to use his farm for testing fertilizer leaching and alternatives.

We tried to get to the public library, which was just two blocks from the hostel, for unlimited free internet as much as possible.

On the last full day in Taupo we visited some hot springs and went to a Maori kapa haka (dance) competition.  It was really cool to see the little kids (as young as 5 years old) and the primary school national champions.

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Just another day at school :)

We are in Raglan on the west coast.  During summer (December to February) it is a big surfing spot.