29 November 2014

The Khagan Weekly: Droppin' The Mike Since 2014 (Issue 6: 11/30)

From Writing to Revising
The process of writing is, in a sense, infinite, but that doesn't mean it can't have milestones. Today, at roughly 6:00 p.m. NZDT, I finished writing the first draft of Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Now, I still have A LOT of work ahead of me, including heavy revision of some articles; hundreds of photos to edit, crop, insert, and caption; and a fair amount of formatting and layout work. But being done with the writing is such a load off my mind it is amazingly reassuring. Here are some of the stats:

Current page count = 271
Current word count = 121,160
Total articles = 68
Current cited sources = 120 (including newspapers)
Total number of people I have to thank when this is done = Indeterminate

So stay tuned on my santacruztrains.blogspot.com blog for future updates about the project. I posted just this week an extremely popular custom Google Map of all of the railroad lines in Santa Cruz County. I recommend anyone even remotely interested to check it out at the link above. I also have been continuing my weekly articles, with Aptos and New Brighton the most recent on www.santacruztrains.com. Lastly, if you live in the San Lorenzo Valley or Scotts Valley, I've had articles published in the Press-Banner for the past few months, so be sure to watch for me. I usually have an article every 2-3 weeks, and I had the front page about a month ago. So check them all out and keep new information coming if you've got it! This book is turning out to be great. I can't wait to see it with all the photos and station boxes. I'm sure it will be popular.

Two Dinners for the Price of Two
Thanksgiving is not a thing in New Zealand, and because of that, Kara and I ended up going to two dinners this week with two different groups, both of which were somewhat Thanksgiving-y. The first was with Operation Friendship, which is a bunch of older folks feeding a bunch of college-aged folks from around the world. It was a potluck-style affair, but the guests weren't required to bring the food. We stayed quite late and were encouraged to talk to various different people. Kara was having a blast and I met a Kiwi guy who volunteers at a number of local historical associations, including a railroad one. They are working on making the New Zealand Railroad Museum in Christchurch, so I may get involved with that. We didn't get home until nearly midnight, which was something we haven't done in a very long time.

On Saturday night, we had Thanksgiving dinner with the Americans in Christchurch group and it was not quite as exciting. We hung out with two Brits who had lived in the US for years before moving to New Zealand. Their kids were there too and it was rather funny because both were raised in the US but trying really hard to adopt Kiwi accents. They were pretty good at it too, I must say. The event wasn't as well organised as that of the previous night but the food was good. They even had non-lumpy mashed potatoes, which is my favourite. We didn't linger, though, and came back to get some work done. What's Thanksgiving without doing chores, right?

Growing in the Antarctic
Plants grow surprisingly well in this land down under. Perhaps it's because it is always green here and rains at least once a week. Perhaps it's because the weather rarely drops below 0˚C. Perhaps it's because the soil is volcanic and generally rich. Who really knows, but virtually everything we're growing is doing well. Our little garden out back has a ton of weeds in it, but all our stuff is growing right beside them. We aren't even sure which is which entirely. Out front, the grass grows without every needing water and a row of purple flowers have never gone out of bloom despite us only tending to them recently. Next to our garden, a row of weeds have been cleared out revealing strawberry plants that are actively growing berries! Kara pulled about a dozen small red berries just this afternoon. And on our porch, my jalapeño bush has over a dozen fruits growing on it, some getting quite large, while everything else has also sprouted from its seed form into something noticeable. We fear leaving or going on vacation because of all these plants, but we are happy they are doing so well. Our mint bush is so big you can hardly tell it's in a pot!

The Campus of Loneliness
Nobody is on campus these days. Uni let out about two weeks ago but we were preoccupied with various things during that time, so this is the first week where we've realised just how empty the campus is. Few lecturers are around, the library has reduced hours, the common areas are mostly vacant, and even the dining areas are mostly closed with just the deli and posh restaurant open. It is quite nice for getting work done—few distractions and all—but it also gives off this feeling that nobody works here. Kind of a ghost town vibe. Very off at times, especially when the weather is being weird. Like, there was a thunderstorm on Thursday morning and I thought it was construction machinery until I realised that nobody was working right then. Then a big clash woke me up from my confusion. Earlier in the week, we had horizontal rain that danced around with wind and clear skies. Then two days this week were super warm and nice. They call it a nor-wester, which means its comes from Australia. The combination of the ghost town environment and the weird weather will probably make the march to February, when school resumes, quite long and sometimes isolating. We'll make it through, though.

Red Friday, Confused Saturday, Utterly Lost Sunday
Black Friday and "Gray Thursday" are big things in America, but in New Zealand there's isn't such a thing. Sort of. Shopping is more continuous but seems to begin at around the same time. One local store which has a red theme like Target decided to go all out and declare "Red Friday"! Apparently the "black" part of Black Friday is lost on them. But, if they want their business to stay in the red, they are well on their way to that. All their doorbuster sale items were right inside the store. No need to browse or go elsewhere, just grab and go. Convenient, but I think they missed the point: you are supposed to hide the prizes so that people will find other things not on sale along the way. Silly Kiwis. They'll figure it out someday.

Being 21 hours ahead is causing me my own problems, though. Like right now, it is still the Saturday night in California, but it's Sunday evening here. For Black Friday, all my times were wrong for trying to get stuff online. Target and Walmart were completely sold out of everything I wanted before I even had a chance to grab something on sale. Amazon just has its stupid hot deals all day everyday until about a week before Christmas. I can't be checking that all the time!!! I missed out on about five movies I had in my cart just because of bad timing (and a lack of other items to bump over my shipping). Christmas: sometimes you love it, sometimes it drives you nuts!

The Khagan Weekly is the unofficial news outlet for an American living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Anything he says can and may be used against him. His statements should be taken as factual, except when they are not. All rights reserved, except where prohibited...like in Russia. They prohibit everything there. Psh. Punks. Let's start a punt Putin day. That'd be fun.

23 November 2014

The Khagan Weekly: Pretending To Care Since 2014 (Issue 5: 11/23)

French for Dummies
Kara found a great little book on learning to read French for me. It only arrived on Thursday, but I quickly began working through it. There are countless problems with the book, especially since it is geared toward a science student, but overall it has a nice feel. The book focuses on learning the important aspects of reading, such as understanding which word types are which. It also isn't overly heavy on vocabulary. Did you know that half of the French language is composed of English cognates? That means words that look like and mean the same as English words. Unfortunately, the other half is a maelstrom of words, some of which are partial cognates (multiple definitions, only one of which is the true English cognate) or false cognates (looks the same, is totally different). The book focuses on the gendered issue of French a bit more than seems necessary, though I have partially learned Spanish, French, Latin, and German, all of which are gendered languages. Perhaps people unfamiliar with this concept will have difficulties. Honestly, it rarely seems to matter in trying to get the gist of something anyway.

Vocabulary is the thing I have the most difficulty with and this book throws new vocab around like I'm a sponge. Hint: I'm not! It also doesn't have answers to the section conclusions, which usually consist of reading a few paragraphs in French and then answering questions. How do I know if I got the answers correct? Who knows!? I certainly don't, and in the last two chapters I had some questions that I couldn't find answers to. I find this a bad thing. The book also doesn't always translate things into normal English, choosing to give as literal a definition as possible, which often sounds strange. Au contraire, some of the sections are so not literal that I have no idea how they even came up with that translation. Consistency is apparently lost on these guys. Oh, and this book could have easily catered to a more balanced audience. I know Marie Curie and Pierre were great and everything, but let's pick some examples of sentences that don't involve math and science terms I don't understand even in English!

Public Speaking Tips
We went to the Postgraduate Showcase on Wednesday, which was a meeting of postgraduates from Canterbury, University of Otago, and Lincoln University (all in the general area). We were decidedly not amused. It was a 8-hour day of people giving 15-minute speeches and some of these people truly need help in delivering their information. The full gauntlet was here, from people that didn't even seem to understand their topic to people that knew it so well they forgot we don't. From people that are so afraid of public speaking that I think they wet themself to people so confident that they seem to have forgotten to stay on topic. Some speeches were decent, but none were great. At least none that we saw. And the Humanities were not at all represented. No English, History, Political Science, Law, Language, Music, Drama, etc., student bothered to show up. The two History students that I knew who were going dropped out at the last minute. While Humanities is definitely suffering at the Uni, this is a bit ridiculous. At Point Loma, this speech was required to earn your honour's stamp on your diploma; it should be required here too. Academia in general here is rather lax on a number of things and participation, even when required, rarely has a major impact if you don't do it.

Defining the Objective
On Thursday morning, I met with my PhD supervisor for the fourth and last time for this year. He is going on an extended two-month vacation/work trip to Europe and will be out of contact for most of that time. He has a habit of getting off track and I had a long agenda to cover, so naturally only about half of it got done. After asking him about various things, we got into the meat of the topic: my timeline. Apparently I hadn't given myself enough time to work on each chapter, so he suggested I spread it out more. That brought me perilously close to the end of the third year, though, so I'm going to have to try and keep my own schedule that is more abbreviated. Hopefully I can stick to it.
We weren't able to cover all topics that I wanted to touch on, but we made some good progress at least. I had to write him a follow-up email later just to cover the last few points. At least he liked my genealogies I wrote for my PhD. I'll post them up here at some point for all your viewing pleasure.

Cooking The Hard Way
After weeks of difficulty, Kara and I are finally managing to make some foods successfully. Last Sunday night, we made a scrambled egg casserole for the entire week and it worked magnificently. We dropped bacon from our diet and switched to two eggs per morning. We toss some nice mozzarella and Colby cheese on top to add to the flavour.

On Saturday, I successfully made my first batch of sourdough here, using the bread machine for the actual cooking cycle. It let it rise for 24 hours without adding any sugar, which means only the gluten in the wheat was there for the yeast to eat. In the end, it may have been too much. Low gluten bread doesn't rise as much, which means the bread is much heavier. But the lack of gluten makes it quite a bit healthier overall. The next thing I am trying to fix is the sour quality of it. Even after 24 hours, it isn't sour enough and doesn't taste very...San Francisco-y. So I tried adding a special type of yoghurt instead of water to my new starter to see if that works. Fingers crossed!

On top of those, last week I made my first home-made salsa. I used bottled jalapeños because my own aren't ready yet, and food processed them with onions, vinegar, and a few other bits. It really needs cilantro but we haven't found that here yet. It came out less flavourful than I was hoping, and our food processor is not very good, so we may buy a Magic Bullet blender and try again with that. The price of the Magic Bullet, though, is a fortune and they only seem to sell the large box version here, which we really don't need. Regardless, we have enough salsa to last at least two months, I think.

Finally, we made a batch of tomato basil soup today from scratch-ish. We used tomato paste as the base and just started mixing cream, water, basil, pepper, and salt until it tasted good. It wasn't perfect and it may need garlic and onions to really bring out the flavour, but it was quite tasty with my new sourdough bread.

Boxing Day vs. Black Friday: Fight!
Christmas is coming and in New Zealand, there is no Thanksgiving/Black Friday to flag the start of the race. Instead, it just starts. Slow at first (Christmas stuff has been in stores since mid-October) and eventually taking over (Santa started at the mall today). Sales are not as spectacular and there is not much to say about door busters, but Christmas music is playing at the mall and you can feel the spirit growing in the air. One thing that is strange, though, is that everyone keeps talking about their Christmas barbecues rather than their Christmas roasts. That is something we're still getting used to.

Instead of Black Friday, there is Boxing Day, a national holiday the day after Christmas where all the stores try to clear their remaining inventory by the end of the year. It is apparently just as big or bigger than Black Friday, and we've never experienced it because in Wales, we went home for Christmas. This year we'll be here and we are waiting to see if we want to try it out. It may be a good chance to get some needed things, but do we want to go into that chaos? We'll see. As it is, I have already been buying stuff online for Black Friday week even though I won't see most of it in three years. Do I have the money for this? Probably not. Do I need it? Probably not. Can I refuse such discount prices? Absolutely not!

The Khagan Weekly is the unofficial news outlet for an American living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Anything he says can and may be used against him. His statements should be taken as factual, except when they are not. All rights reserved, except where prohibited...like in Russia. They prohibit everything there. Psh. Punks. Let's start a punt Putin day. That'd be fun.

15 November 2014

The Khagan Weekly: Ignoring Road Signs Since 2014 (Issue 4: 11/16)

Working Hard & Hardly Working
This past week marked our first full work week. Like 9-5, five days a week. It was pretty intense. My schedule most days was:
9:00 – 9:30 — Email, Facebook, troll the internet
9:30 – 10:30 — French Reading
10:30 – 1:00 — Book Reading
1:00 – 1:30 — Lunch
1:30 – 4:00 — Academic Journal Reading
4:00 – 5:00 —Train research
Yeah, so a lot of reading was involved and it will continue to be involved until I start writing, which will probably begin around the end of December. French is going okay but I am waiting for a how-to manual on learning to read French. Right now, Google Translate is being my good friend in helping me get past the harder passages, which is most of them.

On Monday, I spent most of the day also working on my timetable for my PhD to discuss with my advisor next week when we have our last meeting of the year. Then he's abandoning me for two months while he goes galavanting around Europe. Psh. Meanwhile, Kara and I just hope to go anywhere this winter.

Next week: more work!

Gifts from the New World
We received in the mail on Saturday a special treat from my parents. It was a packed-to-the-brim US Postal Service box with NZ Inspected stamps all over it. Yeah, they aren't our best friends right now for multiple reasons. When we opened the bowing and warped box, we found the goods in shambles and the included letter (that Kara knew about) buried in the middle. New Zealand Customs had found it necessary to confiscate all but one of the seed packets that my parents had so lovingly included, with a proviso that we could either pay $55 NZD to have them shipped back, or customs could destroy them free of charge. Sheesh, what an offer. They let us keep a packet of parsley seeds...because they actually sell those here. Freaking customs. We were really looking forward to growing our own Romaine lettuce here since they don't grow or sell it in New Zealand. There were some other fun foods in there too. Word of warning: don't try to import seeds to New Zealand. They won't like it.

The package also came with a bunch of other treats that did make it through including Kraft Mac & Cheese packets, pumpkin bread ingredients, Christmas stockings and gifts, and assorted gardening accessories. My sister also sent me allergy meds and a ceramic sheep that had been occupying the back-right seat of my parent's SUV since time immemorial (c. 2000). Oh, and best of all, they sent me a packet of sourdough bread thereby completely destroying my gluten-free diet for the week. I made that bread ASAP and have been eating it a lot! It came out really good in our previously-unused bread machine. Note to anyone visiting us, bring Krustez Sourdough Bread machine mix and I'll love you even more (yes, that is possible. I will love you even even more if you also bring Pasta Roni White Cheddar Shells). Thank you Mom and Dad for a great gift box!!!

Kara is scolding me for that last comment, but I'm not removing it. We're still waiting for a big batch of vitamins and whatnot that we bought nearly a month ago now, but we assume customs is thoroughly inspecting it for...something. Kara's afraid we're on their watch list now.

Dining in Vietnam, Kiwi-style
On Wednesday night, we went to see a lecture by a Cambridge professor and were invited to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant afterwards. Neither of us had ever gone to a Vietnamese restaurant before and I generally am really picky anyway, so finding anything on the menu worth eating was a huge challenge. To make things more difficult, the faculty host was pushing for us to buy a 10-course meal at $30 per person. Neither Kara nor I wanted anything in that meal except the rice, so we tried to back out, with the group eventually choosing a slightly cheaper 8-course meal and the two of us ordering separately. Did I ever mention I hate eating out in big groups when I have to pay? The whole concept of group meals just goes against my style in general, but my pickiness makes it impossible. Add to that the high cost of meals here and I just wasn't playing that game. Our combined meal ended up costing $6 less than an individual meal would have, so I'd say we won that contest. We also may have lost future networking opportunities with that specific faculty member, but you win some, you lose some.

The meal itself was fun. It was a group of history faculty and students (plus Kara). There were only eight of us total, so the group was manageable. I history/law master's student was beside me while Kara sat on the other side. The guest professor began the meal on the opposite side of the table, so Kara and I talked with the host faculty member who had some very interesting insights in general. We switched about half-way through and Kara ended up monopolising the guest, asking him all manner of questions. I decided to network with my colleagues and peers instead, which may work out in the long run. We'll see. Near the end of the meal, it began hailing REALLY hard outside, a surprise considering it wasn't supposed to rain until the following day. That's New Zealand for you.

Hiking in Scotland in New Zealand
I've mentioned before how New Zealand resembles the highlands of Scotland at times. Well that is especially true in regard to the Port Hills just south of Christchurch. A long time ago, a pair of volcanoes erupted creating two beautiful bays—Lyttleton and Akaroa—surrounded by relatively high crater walls. The northern crater is flanked on the north by what have since been called the Port Hills. Sheep and cattle roam these hills that are green year-round. A dirt service road between the city and the summit road acts as a popular trail for hikers and bicyclists, despite the fact that sheep wander through it incessantly.

We took our first hike through there today and made it nearly to the top of the grade (the road) before my left knee decided it wanted a rest. I hobbled back from there. The walk was very beautiful and except for the occasional views of the city or the beach town of Sumner, you wouldn't even realise you're in New Zealand.

Confusing Words for Everyday Foods
New Zealanders don't like to call things what Americans (or even Brits) would call them. Instead, they make up fanciful names for them that are either absurdly simplistic or just plain confusing. Things such as:

  • "Tomato Sauce". This is not Ketchup, but it is pretty much Ketchup. It's kind of like a light Ketchup with a bit more tomato and a little less spice. Australia has something similar. Oh! You wanted actual tomato sauce? Like a puree type thing? Good luck, mate. We ain't got that rubbish here. We only 'ave the good stuff.
  • "Courgette". Want a zucchini? Good luck with that, but they've got amazing courgettes here. You'll never know the difference (because there isn't one).
  • "Salads". A descriptive term defining a meal food or a general description of items that could go in a salad? Your guess is as good as mine. They call everything from lettuce to broccoli to salad dressing "salads". A BLT does not have bacon, lettuce, and tomato, it has bacon, salad, and tomato. Who woulda thunk it?
  • "Noble". A type of reduced fat cheese. Apparently the more noble among us are the ones that eat it. It does mention that it's cheddar somewhere on the labelling, but it's not obvious.
  • "Trim". See Skim. Refers to the fat content in milk. However, Trim ≠ Non-fat. Just as with U.S. skim milk, there is actually a little milk fat still in "Trim" milk.
  • "Chips", "Biscuits and Crackers", "Lollies" — See "French Fries", "Cookies", "Candies (all varieties)". 

The Khagan Weekly is the unofficial news outlet for an American living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Anything he says can and may be used against him. His statements should be taken as factual, except when they are not. All rights reserved, except where prohibited...like in Russia. They prohibit everything there. Psh. Punks. Let's start a punt Putin day. That'd be fun.

08 November 2014

The Khagan Weekly: Snoozing Through Alarms Since 2014 (Issue 3: 11/8)

The Last Train to Midnight
These past weeks have been quite busy for numerous reasons, yet I have not slacked once on my duty to complete my book, Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I still plan to get the darn thing out by the end of February, but that task is not easy. In that time, I will also be writing the first chapter of my PhD thesis and my supervisor is on my back constantly to get working on it. I've read some material, but it's really hard to find time in all the various tasks I've set up for myself. The major writing portion of my train book will be done by the end of November, but then I have three months of editing, formatting, rewriting, and advertising, all while working on my PhD and traveling. Traveling, to be honest, is probably going to be short trips to locales in the South Island. We just can't afford financially or time-wise to go further in this first summer here.

Writing has also taught me that I can be quite repetitive with my word use, so I am constantly trying to find ways to work around using specific words. Oddly, the words I feared overusing the most rarely come up, usually no more than once or twice an article, while other words such as "remain", "survive", and "while" appear quite frequently. I'm not looking forward to finding all those errors. I also plan to print this entire thing in mid-January for a thorough editing and read-through, which I'm not looking forward to paying for.

A Final Bout of Classes Before the Long Slog
This week was GradFest, put on by the Academic Skills Center. With this being the second straight week of classes on postgraduate programs, it was quite a bit less helpful with numerous redundancies throughout. The students varied each day, though a few from our previous week's program showed up intermittently. John from Sweden joined us for the first two days, while Chong from China was there the first three. We also met a few other Americans, though none of them seemed overly excited to hang out with Americans, which is depressing.

The main thing that everyone seems to keep saying, though, is start writing early and often, even if you don't have the information needed to actually write properly. This fact really bugs me. As an historian, I feel that I shouldn't write until I have a firm grasp on the concept and a solid collection of data from which to pull my ideas. But everyone who spoke with authority at GradFest and the previous week event, as well as my supervisor, say I need to start writing within the next few months. I mean, I collected my data for Santa Cruz Trains over three years before I started to write, and now I'm chugging out pages a day. The entire book will have been written over the course of three months writing only 1-2 hours per day. Why can't I do the same for my PhD? I'm not sure but it's starting to get to me. Perhaps its just the expectation of results, or the desire for our supervisors to be given plenty of time to read through drafts, but this aspect of the PhD program is really not my cup of tea.

Guy Fawkes and His Attempt to Blow Up New Zealand
So apparently in 1605, Guy Fawkes not only attempted to blow up the English Parliament, but also the nonexistent New Zealand government. That's the only reason I can assume the Kiwis love the night so much. Firework sales begin on November 2nd and run until November 5th, and then they are outlawed for the next 360 days. But in that time, it is perfectly legal to fire off fireworks anytime you wish, you just can't buy any more of them. Thus, Guy Fawkes day is not just an opportunity to light up the sky with rockets, but a chance to stock up on supplies for the next year including such events as New Years Eve, Easter, Valentine's Day, Boxing Day, your grandmother's birthday, the day you graduate from high school, or a random Tuesday that just seems like it needs some flare.

We bought a big box of fireworks half off on November 4th (short sales season!) and tried desperately to light them off in freezing temperatures with wind. It mostly worked. The sparklers kept fizzing out and one of the bottle rockets was a dud, but the rest worked just fine. We forgot to leave any for later, so instead we just get to enjoy everyone else's fireworks which are still fired off each evening until everybody runs out or gets bored with it. Yay for silly New Zealand laws!

Making It Count: Gardening For Dummies
Our shopping spree of over a week ago got us a large collection of seeds from which we intend to plant a garden. Our decent-sized garden box was full of weeds, so Kara cleaned it out over the week and then we divided and add soil to it. We have eleven different vegetables we planted, as well as two fruits. It's too soon so far to see results, but no weeds have come back, which is a good sign considering there are dandelions consuming the nearby and downwind lawn.

My jalapeño bush, though, is doing great. It has over a dozen flowers and proto-peppers growing on it, and a few decently-sized ones. I hope no birds suddenly get a hankering for Mexican spicy plants. We planted some regular bell peppers and chili peppers, too, to make salsa. Woot!

Giving Up Is Hard to Do!
After a somewhat successful attempt and a second failed attempt to make refried beans, I'm tossing in the towel. I don't know if its our crock pot or the beans, but something just doesn't work here. We made them successfully from beans at Pak 'n' Save but they ran out of stock immediately afterwards and haven't brought them back since. The beans from the Cosco and Bin Inn both did not make great refried beans, unfortunately. I think they may just be too old. The mostly successful beans of last weekend were still hard in parts, not keeping that creamy texture I so enjoy in my refried beans. I also did the maths and realized that the cost of making the beans versus the cost of a can was negligible, thus making the decision to abandon the attempts more justified. I still want to make salsa and we have had pretty good success making tortillas, so we'll keep up with that.

The Khagan Weekly is the unofficial news outlet for an American living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Anything he says can and may be used against him. His statements should be taken as factual, except when they are not. All rights reserved, except where prohibited...like in Russia. They prohibit everything there. Psh. Punks. Let's start a punt Putin day. That'd be fun.

01 November 2014

The Khagan Weekly: Educating The Old Fashioned Way Since 2014 (Issue 2: 11/1)

Classes for the Weary
This past week, a three-day series of lectures was run by the Postgraduate Center called Surviving Your Thesis for primarily new PhD students. It was quite interesting over all. There were people who came to talk about careers, writing theses, researching techniques, ethics, the Kiwi culture, and just about everything else. And anything they missed will be covered next week by a similar series called the GradFest, which runs lectures Mon-Thur next week.

That all being said, much of what the speakers discussed regarded the sciences with only one other student there who was a College of Arts student. That was a bit disappointing and next week should be better in that regard since they have some Art-centric sessions. It was a bit surprising how little people seemed to know about ethics concerns with their science projects, even though almost everyone admitted that it will be an issue at some point. Another win for Arts: no test subjects, only reading and writing. Woot!

Learning French Is Not All Crème Brûlée
As a part of my thesis, I have to learn how to read French. I took a year of modern French back in 2008-9 but haven't touched the language since then. And, to be quite honest, that immersive environment from five years ago did little to prepare me for this. I have no class, now, no direction, no motivation except I need to learn the language. NEED! Yeah, with the ALL CAPS, I know. My thesis topic is about England and France in the late Middle Ages, and the bureaucracies of both countries were French at the time. My supervisor, thus, handed me a book entitled Les Temps de la guerre de Cent Ans by Boris Bove and told me I should just start reading it regularly. Like every day. And I've done that ever since. Each morning I grab the book and open my browser to Google Translate, and I start reading. Whenever I don't know what a word means (or, more likely, have forgotten), I look it up. Sometimes I have to type in entire sentences just to figure out what is being said. It's long and tedious, but it is slowly working. I began doing this at the beginning of October and haven't missed a day since except for two days while we were on vacation, and I read twice as much the following two days to make up for that. I don't read much, usually no more than two full text pages per day, but I'm catching on.

For those that think that this material can just be taught in a class, though, let me clarify some things for you. In cultural-emersion courses such as those that are taught at virtually all secondary and tertiary places of education, they focus on the present tense first, then the future tense because it's easy, and then the various forms of the past. They also teach simple everyday words, only adding abstract words later. None of this will prepare you for a history program, I guarantee you. If you want to read history books in modern French, you probably need to do four years of French and then some.  The material I am reading right now is literally the end of the teaching spectrum for French courses, and it's my initiation. And it's hard. I've wanted to give up at least twice each week. Some sections of the book are also not nearly as interesting as others. That affects your reading ability as well.

The bottom line: learning to read history in another language is perhaps the true test of reading a language. It's not for the faint of heart.

This Is Halloween, This Is Halloween
New Zealand is not a Halloween-friendly country. People just don't seem to like it very much. Sure, some of the kids like the concept, but people just aren't game. There's no decorations around and few trick-or-treaters. Downtown is a bit more rowdy than usual, but that's not too surprising, especially since Halloween was on a Friday this year. We bought some candy ("lollies") for the kids but only ended up with one group, so we went over to Sam's and dropped off some for his two kids. They appreciated it greatly, though they already had had quite enough candy, to be honest. His daughter was bouncing off the walls!

We did manage to carve two pumpkins, butternut pumpkins since the traditional huge yellow type weren't available here. Kara bought some seeds to grow her own, though, so we have a chance. Next year may be different, but I doubt Halloween will be any more pronounced.

Do It Yourself Mexican Food
Mexican food is quite expensive in New Zealand, mostly because everything comes in from the US from Old El Paso brand. Refried beans are around $4.50/can, sauces taste like crap, salsas are very thick and need to be blended (and are also expansive). Only tortillas really maintain the same value, and that is just barely. There also is little variety. Thus we've been attempting, at least, to make some of our own Mexican food. Whole-grain flour tortillas are easy enough to make, though trying to make them roundish is really difficult. Salsa isn't too hard, though you have to use pre-sliced jalapeño peppers (until our home-grown peppers are edible). The refried beans seem to be the problem. We perfected a slow-cooker recipe a while back and tried it twice when we were at our first home stay. But since we got here, we haven't been able to replicate the results. The first batch hardly cooked despite sitting in the slow cooker for over 12 hours. We decided the beans were just too old. Today, though, we made our second batch and a similar thing happened. We ended up cooking the beans on the oven for nearly an hour until they finally were smooth enough to eat, though not nearly as smooth as our other batches. On reflection, we think our brand new slow cooker just doesn't get hot enough to properly cook the beans. We had hoped it was something else, but this has happened twice now and the results have been the same (different beans, too).

The lesson: budget wisely for your food and don't expect everything to be makable at home. Sometimes, the store is the best solution even if it seems to cost more. This is a sad truth, but one I think I'll have to accept. Or we need to buy a new slow cooker.

Niko Report
Niko has settled in to his new environs with the speed of a hungry cheetah. The very first day he started exploring every nook and cranny. He began almost immediately sleeping under the covers during the day, which he's never done before. When we got our new couch and lazy chairs, he moved into one of them, sleeping there most days now. But that doesn't mean he's not active. He loves the increased sunlight he gets here and also loves the hardwood. Most nights, he runs back and forth around the house, galloping like a freaking horse. Seriously, you'd think the place is haunted. And as soon as we go to bed, he hops on and sleeps...well, until he feels like waking us up at around 7:00 am most days. A bit earlier than our alarm, but better than 4:00 like the first few days we were here. In any case, he is doing well and he appreciates all the people who have asked about him.

The Khagan Weekly is the unofficial news outlet for an American living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Anything he says can and may be used against him. His statements should be taken as factual, except when they are not. All rights reserved, except where prohibited...like in Russia. They prohibit everything there. Psh. Punks. Let's start a punt Putin day. That'd be fun.