A happy Christmas

"What are you doing for Christmas?" people keep asking me and I keep replying, with a huge grin, "NOTHING!" And it feels awesome :).

There are no Christmas decorations at our house, nor a tree; we don't do presents or big meals, really - instead, what we do for Christmas is a whole lot of lounging. We plan on waking up in the morning, every morning, having a leisurely breakfast and then deciding, what would we like to do today? And then after doing that thing, coming home so we can all have a midday nap together, and then in the afternoon asking ourselves the same question again, what would we like to do today? And we plan on doing it all through the Christmas and the New Year's period, for two weeks straight.

To go to the park? To visit the museum? To play on the beach? To go swimming? To get ice creams from the corner shop? To visit the just-finished Margaret Mahy playground which is quite possibly the coolest children's playground in New Zealand? The idea basically is that, for Christmas we do as little hassle as possible and as much joy as we want on any given day, and we'll continue like that for the entire two week period that The Man doesn't work during Christmas and New Year's.

And it's going to be awesome. It starts tomorrow :). So excited. Yay!

PS. Got a bunch of photos from my hiking buddy in regards to our recent Okuku-Pinchgut-etc trip. For some reason I absolutely love this one!

Questions and answers: my experience doing jury duty

"Millega lõpes eelmine nädal, ehk kas õiglus sai jalule?" Miss Positiivne

"How did last week end, did justice prevail?" Miss Positiivne

A few weeks ago I attended my local district court as my name had been selected - at random, amongst other 50 or so names, from thousands of New Zealanders who are either citizens or residents - for jury duty for that week.

(Because unlike Estonia, New Zealand has a legal system which includes jury - a random selection of "usual" people who make their ruling on whether the accused is guilty or not. If you've ever seen an American movie or a TV show that includes court proceedings, you've probably come across a jury.)

Either luckily or unluckily, I wasn't selected to sit on an actual jury though. My experience basically included showing up at the courthouse on three mornings that week, signing in with the administration person, and then watching 12 other people's names being pulled from a ballot box instead.

It's kind of like a lottery, really. There's an actual wooden box that has every person's name on a piece of paper inside, and then that box gets shaken around, and then an administration person pulls names from that box at random. www.justice.govt.nz/services/access-to-justice/jury-service-1/about-jury-service gives a pretty good overview of how it works, really, including a video.

I did have several interesting moments though.

One was the fact that when I was in the waiting room on Monday morning, they basically said that something had gone wrong with the trial, and that it needed to get fixed before the trial could start, and so we'd have to come back on Tuesday instead.

And when I then had come back on Tuesday to sit in the waiting room again, a bunch of people started complaining that they didn't really have time to deal with this stuff. One guy - some important IT guy - was especially vocal.

Though it's unusual for people to be excused on the day that the trial is due to start - mostly people who want to be excused need to contact the court several weeks before the trial - on this particular occasion a court person came with a piece of paper, wrote down names of all people who wanted to be excused, and said that the judge was so angry at how the trial was setting up to be that the judge didn't want to deal with anyone who didn't want to be on jury, and so they were just going to excuse anyone who wanted to leave.

And most of us probably looked at that court person, thinking, "Gee, I am not sure I want to be involved in that trial..."

And then of course as the "balloting" process was going on in courtrooms and names were being pulled out of wooden boxes, I watched how people's names would get called out, they would stand up and start walking towards the jury box, and one of the lawyers would loudly call out, "Challenge!"

It is basically a lawyer's way of saying, "No, I don't want that person to be on jury," and no explanations are given. It's a challenge and that's it - a called-out person needs to stop, walk back to their seat, and wait until everything is over.

Lots of names were challenged. One was an old lady who was taking such a long time to stand up and walk that I think the lawyer was trying to spare her the hassle of a trial more than anything else. Another was a social worker who later told me that she will probably never get picked onto a jury because she spends a lot of her professional life working with criminals, and lawyers probably wouldn't want her on a jury.

But yeah - it was interesting watching it all. And kind of nice I didn't have to stay for actual jury - all cases had to do with violent behaviours and I am not sure I would've wanted to hear all the details...

Besides, if I did get picked to sit on a jury, I wouldn't be allowed to blog about it anyway :).

Okuku-Pinchgut - Cattle Peak Route - Whare Route weekend hike

Too tired to write about the weekend hike apart from to say that it was fun, and hard, and fun, and hard.

The way in: Okuku river

Pinchgut hut

Morning porridge, 7 am

Drinking water straight from the stream without having to boil it. I love it about New Zealand and its many tracks.

Climbing up onto Cattle Peak Route and circling back to Pinchgut Hut via Whare Route

Looking back towards farmland and the ocean behind it

Looking back towards Cattle Peak Route which we climbed that morning - the route runs directly on the ridge of that mountain which tops at 1081 m above sea level

Beech forest

Lots of Manuka bushes amongst other stuff

Working my way down Whare Route which at times was a heck of a steep, slippery place

Evening at the hut, relaxing, before spending the night at the hut and heading home

PS. And upon returning home, when the weather changed, this is the view we got on our front lawn.

That's not snow.

It's hail.

Questions and answers: why New Zealand is a good place to live in

"10 (või rohkem, kui sa pidama ei saa) põhjust, miks Uus-Meremaa on just SINU arvates väga hea koht, kus elada ja 10 (või vähem, kui neid lihtsalt pole) põhjust, miks Uus-Meremaa ei ole see kõige parem koht elamiseks. Kniks. :)" Ave

"10 (or more if you cannot stop) reasons why YOU think New Zealand is a very good place to live and 10 (or fewer if there aren't that many) reasons why New Zealand isn't the best place to live. Cheers :)."

I will list them in the order of importance, to me personally.

Why New Zealand is a very good place to live in

1. I like it here. I know, it's not really an answer, but... to me, personally, it's a combination of things which in a nutshell mean that I fit in here. I feel that in most ways I am able to just "be me" without having to contort into some... role of what the people around me expect me to be by an age x, y, whatever.

2. Freedom. It's got to do with its history and its physical remoteness and the fact that it is so ethnically diverse, but I find that New Zealand doesn't set many expectations on what a person "should" be like in order to live without the fear of stigmatization or persecution. The right of speech is upheld, criticism of the government is tolerated (even if not welcomed), there are many allowances to various religious practices. Same-sex couples (and marriages) are relatively common and I believe that within a decade euthanasia will be legalised.

3. Safety. In big cities like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch it is a little different already, of course - I think big cities come with a certain amount of crime by default - but when I was backpacking around New Zealand in 2009 and then living in Wanaka until 2012, in most places people didn't even bother to lock their cars or houses. I could regularly see people leave their bikes, prams and scooters outside shops, cafes and libraries without much fear of them being stolen. I often talk to passersby, make friends at children's playgrounds, loads of people hitchhike. Crime exists, yes, and even violent crime, but generally speaking - it is a safe place to bring up children.

4. Scenery. I could write about The Lord of the Rings and upload many photos of the places I've been to, but the bottom line is that New Zealand is so intensely packed with various forms of scenic beauty that it's almost ridiculous. South island - especially the bottom of the south island and its west coast - is basically mountains speckled with some towns and a scattering of farmland and the fact that it remains this way is both a nod to conservationist and to how difficult such a landscape is to tame, engineering-wise.

5. Outdoor accessibility. Kind of related to point 4: on the south island there is SO MUCH SPACE and so few towns that even from Christchurch which is a big city (360k people, if I remember correctly?) it's relatively easy to get out and go places. There is 27 000 km2 of national parks on the south island alone.

6. Healthcare. New Zealand has a public healthcare system and though for many appointments and procedures there are extended waiting times, (generally speaking) personnel are qualified, approaches modern, drugs accessible and hospitals well-equipped. And patient's choices and autonomy are respected.

7. Friendly, approachable people. I think it's got to do with a low level of crime, with an Australian kind of a manana attitude, with the scarcity of urban living, with an abundance of foreign travellers and migrants in the country at any given time - and many reasons more - but I find that New Zealand is a very easy place to talk to people and hang out. Making friends among locals is a little more complex than that, but when it comes to migrants, especially recent migrants - in New Zealand it is rather easy to make friends.

8. Education. As my children are 1 and 4 then I am not in the schooling system with them yet, only preschool, but I can see that there are very varied approaches to education available - and there is a lot of discussion around approaches, which in itself says to me that the system is adaptable and versatile. Public schools are zoned by people's home addresses (we are zoned for three schools of which I'll need to choose one) and private and semi-private schools are mostly zone-free, but can have hefty tuition fees. I'm still ambivalent about what I think about the size of schools though. Year 1-8 students are mostly in primary schools with rolls of around 400-500 students, but high schools (Year 8-15) can easily be over 1000 students each. I assume it would be kind of like going to university was for me, that everyone goes to their classes and has a separate schedule, but at this stage I simply don't know. Yet.

9. Standard of living. It depends on what I compare it to, really, but all in all I think New Zealand is a place where almost everyone can have an acceptable standard of living and an income. As I backpacked around New Zealand in 2009-2010, I worked mostly on farms and vineyards earning either minimum wage or close to it ($13-$15 an hour), but even with the minimum wage I was able to spend only 50% of my time employed and the rest I could use for travelling. I lived in backpacker's hostels, did a lot of hiking, paid off a credit card debt which I used for coming to New Zealand in the first place and had enough money to then travel home or go to Australia or whatever. Basically, got by, and had some left over. And if I had spent more of my time employed, I probably would've saved even better, though I would've travelled less.

10. Free time - a time off work commitments - is valued! Of course working is important, and it's nice to have a career that feels fulfilling, but! all in all it seems that in New Zealand people approach work as just something that has to be done, rather than a lifestyle in itself. People make time to enjoy themselves. They go camping, have Friday night fish'n'chips, a lot of men hunt or fish, houses often have large back yards, parks have picnic areas with tables, there's almost always people at children's playgrounds... Basically, here it is expected that I get to have time off work, and to enjoy myself, and do things. Kind of like I remember a French friend saying to me how bad it was when a French government wanted to make their 35-hour work week longer and how people marched streets to oppose the stuff.


Sorry, I haven't got time to finish it off. The Girlie has just woken from her afternoon nap. I guess I'll come back to the reasons of why it's not a good country to live in at some later time!

Going out!

The musty smell of hiking gear that hasn't been used in a really long time.

I can almost hear my packtowel say to me, "Thank you, thank you for taking me into the mountains again!"

The Dog is standing guard - or, laying guard as it may be.

"Don't worry, master, I'll protect your gear for you. I'll lay really close to it, like that, and then I'll be able to be close to your stuff. I love your stuff. It's got your smell on it."

I am so excited it's... endearing. Yesterday I even got out an old necklace and wore it for the evening, to remind myself of what life used to be like back then - you know, like, before kids.

Two nights out.

It's going to be awesome.

Christmas picnic with friends, New Zealand style

An old quarry has been turned into a park. On a Sunday morning a bunch of friends gather, bringing along food, chairs, tents and laughter. And kids, of course - lots of kids!

"Have you got any photos with you in them?" - "Nah." - "Give me the camera then!" Tadaa!

Yes, in that box candies are kept. You're very observant indeed.

Kids and dads, mostly, playing god-knows-what up the hill. Having fun, basically!

Christmas party, New Zealand style