Christmas in New Zealand and other exciting things

Hello once again my lovely travelers. I have more updates for you!

We’ve just left the holiday season behind and are now transitioning into New Year festivities. This was my first Christmas away from home, without all my friends and family. It was certainly different and a little sad, also there was no snow, which just doesn’t seem right. But I had a fantastic day just the same.

I spent Christmas Eve in Tauranga with a friend. We had a drink or two with a few of his mates before grabbing a bite to eat (vegan nachos, very tasty) and heading to the beach. It seems I have very bad luck going to the beach on a nice day. Like my first visit to Tauranga, it was rather rainy and overcast on Christmas Eve.

But this didn’t stop us. We sat in the car park for a while enjoying another drink and watching the waves flop over onto the beach. After a while we did get out and walk on the beach, but just for a minute as it was rather windy and cold. I picked up a couple of shells and saw lots of sad, beached jellies, and got properly soaked because that’s what you do when you go to the ocean.

Christmas Day started off with me treating myself to pancakes and having a nice long Skype session with my family. I opened my Christmas presents and we all sipped on sparkling cider while we all chatted. After that it was time to party!

The Head Guide at Hobbiton, Teresa, hosted an Orphan Christmas for all of us here without family. So I spent the day with a group of fellow Hobbiton peeps. We all spent the day drinking and eating and playing games until the sun went down and we were all sufficiently knackered.

Gatherings like this help you learn a lot about the people you work with. For instance, I work with a bunch of heartless murderers. While playing a game of Mafia, I was ruthlessly killed because everyone thought I was the Mafia (apparently I looked really suspicious) and was out to get them. To be fair, I kind of deserved it. I had instigated the murder of two innocent villagers in previous games. But still! Not cool, guys, not cool.

(That last one is Scotch in a plastic, because I’m classy like that.)

I also learned that AJ, Shaun and Beth are solid frisbee partners, Emily will always bring top notch Scotch to a party, and that Teresa and her family know how to throw a rockin’ party. (Also there was a house with lots of Christmas lights across the street.)

This all brings us to today, my travelers. Today was a good mail day for me. I got a very nice Christmas card from my mother as well as a shirt I ordered a few weeks ago. Check it!

 

I came over with a small collection of stickers and have recently acquired two more. Do you think people will know I’m from out of the country based on my car?

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I also thought I’d post a few photos of Hobbiton just so you all have definitive proof I work there. Plus it’s gorgeous.

The money is a tip one of my work mates got and we both thought it was so cool they had music on the note. So I took a couple pictures.

That’s all the big news to report for now dear travelers. Thanks for keeping up with me. There will be more updates to come.

~Ren

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Review: Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

c8a64c6031cfc8a0db2d3f6dcc51a3e3.jpgThis is the first Christmas I’ve had where I wasn’t with my family and there wasn’t snow on the ground. It’s been weird to say the least and overall hasn’t really felt like Christmas. But I came prepared. One of the few books I brought with me down to New Zealand was Tolkien’s Letter’s to Father Christmas. 

I made reading this a sort of present to myself. Once December began and I started my new job at Hobbiton I picked this up, even though there were lots of other “more adult” books that I could’ve given my attention to. If you don’t know the premise of the book, basically it is a collection of letters Tolkien wrote to his children as if he were Father Christmas because he’s a BA like that. The letters are hand-written in a flourished, albeit trembling, font accompanied with illustrations.

Like his other works of fiction, there are many characters in these letters, not just Father Christmas. You meet FC’s helper North Polar Bear, his elf secretary Ilbereth, as well as the Snow-elves, Snow-men and less savory characters. Copies of most of the original letters are included, along with typed versions of the text, and most are paired with the related illustrations.

Reading through the books is actually a bit sad. The letters start out simple. Not too long, nothing too descriptive. The earliest letters are addressed to John, the eldest son, and as more of Tolkien’s children are born, their names appear in the text. And just as new names are added, old names begin to fade away. The children grow up and out grow Father Christmas. They no longer hang up their stockings.

The stories begin to become more detailed and we learn more about Father Christmas’ friends as the years go on (he continued to write the letters for over 20 years). Many of the tales Father Christmas relays are about Polar Bear’s misadventures and skirmishes with the goblins. All the stories are fun and light-hearted and sometimes tinged with sadness.

I think I love this book so much because it is such a gosh darn cute thing for a father to do for his children. So there. Another thing that makes me love Tolkien.

~Ren

Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

17225311So there is a bit of an interesting story that goes along with me deciding to read this book. I first spotted its not-so-subtle cover on the desk of my coworker. Being curious and always getting a good laugh out of overly explicit romance novels, I picked it up to see what it was about. It wasn’t quite what I expected.

Tampa is a novel about a 26-year-old English teacher who takes a job at a middle school with the sole purpose of seducing 14-year-old boys. Whoa. It’s no wonder it is one of the most controversial books to come out recently.

Many of you will know this isn’t my usual fare. The only reason I did pick it up for a read is because several weeks later, after I had arrived in New Zealand, I met a music teacher from the States and during one of our discussions about books, he brought up this one. He’s the one that convinced me to give it a shot.

So I did.

The book is very explicit and has a tendency to make you feel rather dirty and maybe a bit perverted as you read. But I don’t think I’d say any of it was written just for the sake of making the book gratuitous. The book was strongly driven by Celeste’s personal struggles: staving off a husband that repulses her, dealing with cantankerous coworkers and working to satisfy her over powering desires to be with these underage boys without being caught.

I certainly don’t condone pedophilia in anyway, shape, or form. But I think this book helps to remind us that people who do have a drive to engage in such acts are still, in fact, people. Maybe they can’t help how they feel, just like someone with a mental illness or some other health problem. It isn’t fair to simply demonize them. Perhaps instead we should help them, or at least try to understand.

That’s what I really liked about this book. It gives you the chance to look inside someone else’s mind, who thinks in a way so drastically different from your own. It’s only when we take the time to get to know someone else and see what they see that we open ourselves up to understanding something we didn’t before.

~Ren

6 Signs That You Work At Hobbiton (and other goings on)

Hello hello hello, travelers! Sorry it’s been an age since I’ve written you a blog post! I’ve been kept rather busy with work and spending time with work mates. But with the Christmas holiday just around the corner I’m lucky enough to find myself with a few days off. So I am going to write you a lovely big blog post about a few things that have been happening in my life.

I talked a bit about work in my last blog but I want to talk about it a bit more, this time with pictures! Over the last few weeks of working, I’ve noticed there are a few things nearly all the Hobbiton guides have in common. So I thought I’d put together a little list, a ‘You know you work at Hobbiton when…’ sort of thing. So, here goes.

1. The Hobbiton V. This is a distinct tan line found just below the collar bone. Those guides who like to leave a button or two undone on their shirts will likely have this etched in their skin for some time.

2. Tan lines in all the wrong places. Here you can see me sporting a lovely ring and bracelet set as well as a pair of stockings.

3. Callouses. (Maybe this one is just me since I’m new.)IMG_44094. Even if you’re not a hat person, you wear a hat all the time and are very familiar with hat hair. IMG_44145. During your work week, you have two fashion styles: oilskin or no oilskin.

6. You have the only nametag you won’t mind wearing because it says Hobbiton on it and who doesn’t want to flaunt that? Also, thanks to me, you’re probably also sporting one of these kickass badges.

When I’m not working, I’m taking almost every chance I get to hang out with my work mates. There are lots of cool people that work at Hobbiton. Usually we are out having a drinking, chatting and laughing and having a good time. There are a few musicians at Hobbiton as well, so I went out and got my live music fix.

(I’ve noticed a popular trend here seems to be taking lots of selfies when someone leaves their phone unattended for a minute. Those top three are a sampling from 22 photos. A big sorry-not-sorry to Harry and Chris. And Mr. Mike McKinley on guitar there on the bottom right. )

I had a particularly good day last Friday. My fellow nerds will know the new Star Wars movie was recently released, so I went with a coworker and his flatmate to see it and got to watch in serious style.

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Never before had I gotten to enjoy a film while sitting in a big comfy recliner. I had a footrest, too! And got to sip on Jameson while I watched! It was a good time. And the movie, while it hurt my heart a bit, was also good.

However, before I saw the movie, I had gotten something even better.

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That’s right. The first care package! And what a good one it was.

My mother used her badass Tetris skills and packed up this box with a few treasures I couldn’t bring with me. I can now listen to music not played through my phone or laptop AND I can listen to music in my car. I can also watch DVDs on my laptop, drink my lovely Strawberry Sunrise Rooibis tea in my wicked TARDIS mug and color my awesome dragon coloring book. And I even have some presents to open on Christmas.

My flatmates and mother can vouch for just how jazzed I was to see this box in front of my door.

Also, I got veggies from the Hobbiton garden. Are you jelly? Of course you are.

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If any of you are wondering how I’m handling Christmas away from friends and family, I can tell you it will be quite alright. The Head Guide at Hobbiton is hosting an Orphan Christmas for all of us far from home. And I’ve got some plans to see mates during my days off. Of course it won’t be the same as seeing all my loved ones back home, and there is no snow here, but I’ll enjoy it all the same.

I hope all my friends and family back home have a lovely holiday, as well as all my other readers. Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!

~Ren

Review: The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

TheWickedAndDivine_vol1-1I don’t read many graphic novels, but I picked this one up because a coworker recommended it and it sounded really cool. And it is pretty darn cool. It’s not cool that the first volume ended on a cliffhanger like that (it’s the second I’ve had do endure within the month and I am not super stoked about it) but let’s not talk about that.

It took me a while to really grasp what was going on in the book. The creators didn’t info dump, which is nice, instead they started off telling the story like you knew what was going on, which you kind of did, and slowly filled in the gaps naturally with dialogue. I actually flipped back through the first several pages when I’d finished the book to help make sense of the smaller nuances I might have missed on the first pass.

This first volume really just scratched the surface of this world where gods are reincarnated and live as glamorous pop stars and are worshiped by almost everyone. We meet a lot of characters, including Laura, the narrator, but there is so much more to learn about them! This first volume got the ball rolling, and like I said, ended on that freaking cliffhanger! I’m excited to take the dive into volume two and really see what this world is all about.

~Ren

I’m not dead, I’m just working.

Travelers, about ten minutes ago, while I was sitting on the couch watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother, I was momentarily distracted by the large callus smack dab in the middle of the ball of my right foot. My left foot had one just the same, if not larger.

The start of December was also the start of my job at Hobbiton. Seven days. That’s how many days in a row I worked before my first day off, which was yesterday. Nothing I’m not used to. I was handling three jobs before I moved here. However the work is not quite like anything else I’ve done in the past.

A standard day at Hobbiton as a guide has you showing up sometime between 8:15 and 11:30 and taking three or four tours through the set over the course of the day. Each tour lasts two hours and, depending on how backed up things might be, breaks can be as short as 15 minutes.

The calluses on my feet, as well as the very odd tan lines I’ve accumulated, are badges of honor in my eyes. I’ve earned them and now I feel like I belong. Still, it’s only been one week and I’m working on adjusting to this new routine. That and I’m trying to strike a balance between spending time with my new coworkers and spending time on my own things.

I wanted to post this short blog to let you all know that things are still going fine down here on the other side of the globe. My feet are taking a beating and my back is a bit worn out, but there are lots of good things to come, I’m sure.

It’s only been a week, and I have enjoyed it, but I also find myself thinking about the future, wondering what I’ll be doing in five months when my time at Hobbiton is done. Will I try and stay longer? Will I move to the south island and look for another bookstore job? And where will I go after New Zealand? My life feels like the epitome of footloose right now. It’s a bit of a weird feeling for someone like me who always has a plan. Right now I don’t really, and I haven’t decided if I like it or not.

~Ren

Review: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

41DTOzISUVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_It only took me reading about the first five pages, the first five pages of the introduction, I might add, to know my relationship with this book was going to be of the love/hate variety. With a subtitle like, Some Instructions on Writing and Life how could it not be?

I’ve been writing since I was young. I studied creative writing at university, took every creative writing class I could in middle school and high school, and have started working on two projects I hope will be books one day as of writing this review. I have also been in a serious writing dry spell the last, oh say, several months to a year.

I brought Bird by Bird with me all the way to New Zealand with the intention of reading it in order to reinvigorate my writer’s spirt, which would then allow me to jump back into my writing while I’m living here in this amazing, beautiful, laid back place that’s just brimming with inspiration. And it has certainly reinvigorated me, but in both good ways and bad.

Anne Lamott does a very good job of delivering her writerly advice in easy, understandable terms with the right amount of humor mixed in. The book is light-hearted at the same time it is poignant and a little soul-crushing. Many of the bigger concepts and lessons she is describing in the book I’ve heard one hundred and one times throughout my own writing career (if you want to call it that). But another thing I know is that it never hurts, nay, it is probably a good thing to be constantly reminded of these facts, these rather unfortunate truths of being a writer.

I don’t have a vast collection of writer friends like Lamott seems to have. So I don’t have a whole lot of people to turn to in my times of writerly angst. But having this book on my shelf (now that I’ve actually read it and know all the comforting and not so comforting words it holds) feels like I’ve got some sort of paperback therapist I can call upon to talk me down in times of trouble.

I would recommend this book to new writers and veteran writers alike. Put it on your shelf next to things like Stephen King’s On Writing and The Elements of Style.

~Ren

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

13262783I’ve read several David Levithan books before reading Every Day, and I’ve enjoyed all of them. Every Day is no exception. Levithan has this incredible ability to cut right to the heart of things. His characters feel so real and genuine. That’s why I find Every Day to be such a fantastic piece of literature.

The story follows the character A, a person who, every day, wakes up inhabiting the body of a different person. When I explained the premise of the book to a friend of mine, his response was, ‘What was the author on when he thought of this?’ And I chuckled. The premise is a bit bizarre. But it is also rather brilliant.

This book allowed David Levithan to explore so many different kinds of characters. There are so many different kinds of teens that could pick up this book and relate to in one way or another. Teens from all different walks of life are given a voice here, however brief. I really respect Levithan for giving teens the benefit of the doubt, as it were. For not just assuming they are too young and too inexperienced to understand these big, so called ‘adult’ concepts and feelings. Adults had to learn these things somewhere, and here, as an adolescent, is where it all started. So why try and diminish that? More often than not, those younger than us can offer better, more refreshing insight into life than those that have become jaded by it.

The love story between Rhiannon and A is very sweet as well. Personally, it takes me back to the time of my first love, where you didn’t have to try to explain it. It was borderline irrational and completely naive but it felt right and to do anything else was out of the question. It’s a little sad that as we grow up we lose that certainty we once had. It’s bullied out by fear and doubt.

Enough of my philosophizing. Every Day was a great read and I would recommend it to teens and adults alike.

~Ren