Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Oh My God.

I'm sitting at work, at my normal work computer, looking out at normal NZ-August weather, reading normal emails and sorting my normal desk, having a normal day in my normal NZ life, when the thought dawns on me...

A month today, we're getting married.

(Uhm, what happened to that nearly-two-year-engagement that was supposed to elapse beforehand??)


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Part 12

Grab-A-Seat deals.

These are daily specials on the website of New Zealands' major airline, and they give you opportunities to travel in a fun, spontaneous, and incredibly affordable way. How affordable? Try between $29 and $59 one way, most or all taxes in.

How this works is like this: every day, early in the morning, Air New Zealand makes a fixed number of seats available for specific routes, in specific date ranges. Once these seats sell out, your outta luck -- so needless to say, it's been a part of my morning work routine to check the daily deals.

Usually it's domestic flights on sale, but every once in a blue moon, there's a fantastic international special. One time, Wellington to Tokyo was on sale for $450 per person... taxes in, and including return. What a deal!!!

Because of these deals, we've seen a HUGE amount of New Zealand, which has been wonderful. It was even this deal that allowed me to take Dave to French Polynesia as his Christmas present. Thank you, Grab-a-Seat!

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Seamier Side of Weddings

In November of 2005, the wonderful then-boyfriend Dave proposed to me. We were in Manhattan, New York, bringing an entirely perfect day to a close over martinis at 3AM. In the dim light of The Spice Market, he reached into his inside pocket and produced the little velveteen box that made my heart leap. He asked me to marry him, I sobbed "yes". It was magical.

Since then, I've been heavily involved in the much-less-magical task of wedding planning.

  • Phase one is where everyone bombards you with questions -- what's thedatewheresthewedding howmanyguestsdoyouhave adressletsseethering!... AUGH. That was November - December of 2005.

  • Phase two is when you start deciding things, largely to get people off your back. That would be January 2006.

  • Phase three is when you reel back in horror at how insanely expensive everything becomes the moment vendors smell a wedding. That lasted from January - May 2006.

  • Phase four is when you just learn to accept it, making meagre savings where you can. (I love you, Ebay...) This period was from June to about October 2006.

  • Phase five is when you rise above all that, and decide to just make it happen as best as can be done, with as minimal stress as possible. November 2006 until about now.

The moral of this story? That this process has lasted a long damned time. It's been educational, it's been a crash course in project management, and at times it's even been fun. (At the risk of inciting stereotypes, I reluctantly admit that dress-shopping with my parents has been the most fun part thus far.)

So, for your amusement, let me share with you the nuttiest parts of the wedding planning process.

Bridal sub-culture can be absolutely bizzarre. This is not news, given the fairly recent introduction of the term "Bridezilla", but what may be news is how insidious and prevalent this subculture actually is.

For instance, did you know that wedding-related issues can irreparably damage relationships between otherwise-sane people? On the bridal bulletin boards I frequent -- for advice and tips, honest! -- there's no end of women crying like children about how someone had the NERVE to wear some outfit (black, white, cleavage-y, whatever) to their wedding. "Don't they KNOW it's MY DAY?!?!" Or others who stopped being friends with their maid of honour due to the latter not perfectly performing imposed duties. Or others causing permanent rifts with moms or mother-in-laws for having different expectations for involvement. Or guests never forgiving some honest oversight in the guest list. This stuff really happens! Insane, eh?

So, when planning a wedding one must carefully navigate this emotional minefield. Having to keep this in the back of one's mind all the time is taxing, to say the least*. It's nuts.

Another crazy thing is the conspicuous absence of grooms in any bridal/wedding imagery. The only time a bride and groom are pictured together is in tux ads. Otherwise, it's bride-bride-bride. Magazines solely show brides on the cover; even Bride & Groom magazine features a title where BRIDE is written in 10cm-high-font, and the afterthought "& Groom" is hidden away in 2cm font. YES, I understand the marketing is geared towards women, but here's two compelling reasons why men should be included:

  1. If you are a bride, there's probably a groom. Marriage is the act of uniting two people. Without two, there is no marriage. Marriage is all about two... so when did this become THE BRIDE-ONLY SHOW?**

  2. When appealing to a single-gender audience, involvement of gorgeous members of the opposite sex is a good thing. Gillette and Budwieser understand this principle... why don't bridal vendors get it? Let's get some beefcake in those ads!
And, saving the best for last, the craziest part of the wedding experience are the models in the advertisements. Considering that weddings are still marketed to women as being the best/happiest/most important day of your life, one would think the visuals would correspond. They do not. Instead, the visuals present sullen, underfed girls moping in their veils, glowering in their lavish dresses, and generally giving off the impression of being utterly miserable.

Because, of course, that's exactly the kind of attitude that makes me wanna buy something! [snort] Yeah, right. Seriously, who makes up this stuff? These examples I found through a simple Google Image search... enjoy their silliness!

I can just see it now, if I turned up in that last getup... "Hey, Karla, I don't wanna alarm you, but a bird died on your head." LOL

*Luckily, due to the awesomeness of my family, friends, guests, etc, none of this unnecessary drama has happened... thank you! ^_^

**Note, I could also point out a related, but somewhat vulgar two-vs.-one parallel; the bride-only fixation on the singular is "causing it to go blind" (to the meaning of marriage). ;-)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Things I'll Miss about New Zealand, Part 11

The marked price is what you pay. For basically everything. Tax is included in the marked price, and tipping is unheard of.

Think about it. Envision seeing a sticker marked $15 on an item you want to buy. You remove one ten dollar bill (blue), and one five dollar bill (orange) from your wallet. You give these bills to a clerk at a till, he says "Cheers... bye!" and then you walk away with the item.

How anything could operate any differently defies sense, and seems quite dishonest. And yet, it is what I return to.

The Canadian method works as follows: Take the sticker price, add 14% for taxes, and then add another 10 to 20% for a tip if you're in a restaurant. (I don't actually mind the tipping -- all the best restaurant service I've ever had is in Canada, and the tipping-incentive probably has a lot to do with that. )

The end result: all of a sudden, that cheap fisch-and-chips-meal, or pair of pants, or mobile phone, they all become a lot less cheap.

It's not that I mind paying more. I mind being deliberately kept under an illusion of the cost being one thing, when it is actually another amount entirely. I had taken this monetary mind game so much for granted, it had only faintly dawned on me that things could work any differently. (Kind of like doomsayers who oppose discontinuing the penny... after now having lived without pennies OR nickels, I can confidently testify that the world does NOT descend into chaos without them. Rather, your wallet is slimmer, lighter, and more attractive.)

After having lived in this tipless, tax-included utopia devoid of unnecessary and largely worthless pocket weight, I now know it can work. Why on earth isn't Canada this sensible? There is a better way, and I am saddened seeing my beloved country be so archaic in this (or any) aspect.

I'm also not looking forward to the inevitable NZ-reflex at a Canadian retail counter. I can just see it now... upon presenting my lone twoonie for a $2 item, the clerk will tell me, "No, two dollars = $2.28". Gah. :-P

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter Update; Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Parts 8, 9, & 10

I officially have a copy of the final Harry Potter book, obtained precisely six minutes after it went on sale.

...Which reminds me of the Thing I'll Miss #8: I will miss being in the world's first metropolitan timezone. NZ lives in the future... literally! Since any given date (or time) happens here first, it gives me extra time to remember people's birthdays, something I'm normally terrible at. AND it means that NZ is able to sell its Harry Potter books before any other country, thus giving its residents the opportunity to own the book almost a day before the rest of the world. That's pretty neat.

I was almost late for the opening of the bookstore that I intended to watch, as I was intercepted by the world's friendliest cat (Thing I'll Miss #9). He's a sweetheart, and I can never pass him on the (186) steps without petting him. I've never known a cat to come running to you, meowing to tell you how happy he is to see you... but that's exactly what this one does. Especially if I've ever had a hard day, which he seems to already know. I am powerless to resist such a cute fuzzball.

On the walk to the bookstore, I try and make up for lost time by moving quickly. That isn't too hard, as Willis st (downtown) is a veritable ghost town on Saturday morning. Surely the bookstore would be equally deserted...?

I arrive, 5 minutes before it opens, to find barely a dozen people waiting outside the store. As per the original plan, I grab a coffee across the street, then sit down to people-watch. Seeing the people in line, and the staff opening the bookstore doors, I am reminded of the tenth thing I'll miss...

Thing I'll Miss About New Zealand #10: Wellingtonians will take ANY excuse to dress up in zany costumes!

About half of the people there, and of those turning up, are dressed up as wizards, fairies, Hogwarts students, princesses, you name it. The staff are in magical cowls, capes and caps, some more elaborate than others.

After a browse, and hearing the news that the book could not be legally sold before 11:01 AM (just under two hours to go), I plunked myself in line. Having brought reading material of my own (100 Bullets, volume 8), and having most of my coffee left, I was well-placed for a wait.

People filed in slowly at first, and by 10:00 the place was very busy. The line was now all the way around the store, and various radio stations showed up to do interviews and offer prizes. New Zealand candy companies -- including Whittaker's, the local chocolate-makers -- sent representatives with brimming baskets to keep the everyone fed. There was even a hired magician doing fun tricks and making balloon animals. Later, an impromptu costume competition took place. It was a great time.

I noticed a familiar accent from the girl in front of me, who turned out to be American. She was thrilled to be getting her copy so far ahead of her friends in the US, and we laughed gratefully at the short line (compared to any we'd face at a North American bookstore). Behind me was a groovy grandma with her adorable 15-year-old grandson, each waiting for a copy of their own. They strategized with each other the pace they'd read at, so they could call each other up at intervals to talk about what was happening. Seriously, how cute is that?

Between chatting with the others in line, and reading my comics, the wait went by quite quickly. (The fact that I was only fifteenth in line didn't hurt, either...) At 11:02, the line was moving, and I had my own copy of the book (in a special bag, even!) at 11:07. I was almost sorry to leave the festivities behind, but who am I kidding -- I wanted to go home and read!

So that's what I'm off to do now. (New Harry Potter book + hot cuppa tea + Poang chair = BLISS!)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Part 7

When you only have 4 million people in the whole country to compete with, you can get tickets to virtually anything. And for non-exorbitant prices, too!

Our U2 tickets, which certainly would have cost a mint in Ottawa, we obtained via TradeMe.co.nz (NZ's Ebay) for a price only marginally off the actual, printed ticket price. We walked into the Rolling Stones the night of, and were "scalped" for a whopping $20 more than the ticket price. I attribute this savings to the limited number of people my dollar competes with, and I am wholly grateful for it.

But do the benefits of a smaller country end at tickets? Nay, say I! During an aforementioned Nerd Convention, I got to meet several of my favourite science fiction stars, and even had time to chat awhile... there was no need to hurry, as the line was minimal. Even better, there was NO LINE AT ALL for meeting the incredible Mr. Brian K. Vaughn (author of Y: The Last Man, writer for later episodes of Lost, and partner of the godlike Joss Whedon in the highly-anticipated Buffy Season 8 comics). Brian was especially cool, and Dave and I talked with him a good while about life, what kinds of things each of us were up to, where we were from, Brian's Canadian wife, etc.

Anyhow, my point here is, would Dave and I ever have had a chance to have a substantial discussion with someone this high-profile at a public event in Canada? Heavens no! Instead, it would have resembled more, "Uh, hi! You're Brian K. Vaughn, right? I love 'Y', it's so, like, smart! Will you sign my book?" {hiss to person behind me, "Quit shoving, fartknocker!"} "Thanks! Uhm, bye!" {get pushed aside by fartknocker, try not to get trampled as I make my exit.}

The lower demand-pool also manifests itself for consumer goods. Besides event tickets, I mean. Wanna see a movie on opening night? No problem. (Note, you may in fact be stuck next to vile minions of Satan who yap, fart, and seat-kick through the whole thing... so maybe waiting for an emptier theatre is still better.)

But all this theory will be put to the test this week, when I camp out in a nearby coffeeshop and observe a specific social phenomena... the release of the final Harry Potter book.

The Experiment: Hypothesis Phase

In Canada, I envision people lining up, dozens or even hundreds deep, to get this book. I see a bright, sunny day where the lines spill out of the stores. Parents are getting it to occupy their kids at the sordid halfway point of a stressful school-free summer. Teens are waiting in line themselves, perhaps in groups, happy to have somewhere to be that's not school, or someones' basement. The remaining adults will stand in line, alone, and when asked they will stammer something about the book being for some (potentially make-believe) relative. The latter are possibly the group most often caught peeking in the book whilst in line.

But I'm not in Canada, and I'm sorry to miss the event. Instead, I seek to gain some insight about how Wellington will receive the book. The possibilities go two ways:

1) Much as described for Canada, but with blue-lipped line-members standing out in the cold and the rain.

2) Same as it ever was... if the bookstore is at all busier than usual, the degree would be invisible to the naked eye. If this happened, it was likely caused by the following:
  • Kids aren't on school break, and will not have one for another 9 weeks. Therefore, this decreases the need (and thus demand) for giving them something to do.
  • The store I will visit will be a downtown Wellington store. Families tend not to live in downtown Wellington; they would likely visit a larger, suburban store nearer to them.
  • People who live in downtown Wellington likely walk by these bookstores on the way to work every single day. Why wait now, or even make a special trip, when you can pick it up with considerably less difficulty in a few days?
  • Downtown Wellington has a mere 200,000 people living in it, the majority presumably being young professionals. Only a fraction of these will have any desire to ever read the books, and even fewer will be seeking the book that day.
Thus, I have a theory that New Zealand's sparse population (and the benefits thereof), paired with the demographics of downtown Wellington, will reduce the Harry Potter phenom to zilch.

My plan of action is to sit at my local coffeeshop and watch the bookstore. If I am wrong, I will mock the poor sods standing out in the rain.

If I am right, I will stare longingly at the non-crowded storefront and try (and probably fail) to resist the temptation to just go and buy the damned thing.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Bet

Last December, Dave and I were visited by our parents. The way the timing ended up, the two sets of parents had a single overlapping weekend -- so naturally, Dave and I decided to make an event of it. We rented a beautiful country cottage in the Wairarapa, the nearby wine district, and all had a lovely time together.

As can be expected of a Helgason / Hume visit to a wine country, vast quantities of wine were bought and consumed. And it was over several bottles that the two fathers, both bemoaning their noticeable departure from their formerly rail-thin selves, made a wager. That being, should each of them fail to lose 25 lbs by the wedding (Sept 1), they would donate $1,000.00 CAD to their most despised political figure.

Ben has since deportlified to the tune of 50 lbs -- a "WOW"-worthy achievement if there ever was one! Short of going on a strict booze-and-butter diet henceforth, it's a fairly safe bet that Mr. Jack Layton will not be getting that $1000 from Mr. Hume. Way to go Ben!

My dear dad, Wayne, has also had great success with his loss of 20 lbs. However, this means that there's still 5 lbs to go, and not much time left to lose them in. I have absolute belief in my father, but I figure he could do with some extra motivation in the home stretch.

So, I decided to help in the best way I know how -- with Photoshop! Here is a motivational message, lovingly created for my dad:
C'mon dad! Don't let that spooky-eyed right-winger have your hard-earned money! You can take off those last few pounds... I believe in you!

And this is an invite to any readers who don't often comment -- leave a comment to show Wayne some support! We're all cheering for ya, dad!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Part 6

At work, I'll miss having meetings interrupted by an earthquake.

It's a regular occurrence here, not to mention a fantastic way to wake up during the drowsier parts of a boring afternoon meeting!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Part 5

I'll really miss brunch at the Chocolate Fish Cafe!

I know I've waxed poetic about it before, but it is wholly worthy of re-mentioning. The food is great, the service is friendly, the visiting birds are cute, the history is cool, and the view is absolutely amazing.

And lucky for Dave and I, our last ChocFish brunch was augmented with some excellent company -- one Mr. Tomas Ernst, a good friend visiting for the weekend. Luckier still was the cooperative weather Wellington decided to grant us, so we showed our guest the sights. We saw Dave play (and win!) a rugby game, we saw the heart-stopping All Blacks vs. Springboks game, and did a fair amount of partying and dancing.

Tomas was even so generous as to take us to dinner, and he even let us crash in his spacious -- and heated!!!! -- Intercontinental room. Best of all, Karla even got a chance to have a much longed-for bath whilst the boys pontificated nonsense in a nearby pub.

For more pictures of the visit, see our Flickr site. Keep an eye out for a particularly amusing photo of Tomas's being unamused at our flat's lack of heat.