One night this week 15 folks from our Embassy cooked a big dinner for about 30 residents of the Ronald McDonald House here in Wellington.  One long-term resident of the House told us that it was the best meal she had had during her seven-week stay.  The Embassy crew cooked so much that there were leftovers for breakfast and lunch at the House the next day.

A few of our Embassy iron chefs (from left): Gina, John, Myong Hee, Sara, Vinita, and Dr. Duane.

Located on Riddiford Street in Newtown, the Ronald McDonald House provides accommodations and other support for up to 12 families of sick, out-of-town children who face long stays in Wellington Hospital.  In desperate need of more space, the House is in the midst of a fundraising drive to build a new facility that will accommodate 34 families.  In addition to cash, any type of donation – including toys and blankets – that might make a family’s stay more pleasant are always welcome.

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One of the best things about my current job is that I meet interesting and exciting new people on a regular basis. One such new friend is Farah Pandith.

Farah is sworn in by Secretary Clinton, with her family looking on.

Farah is sworn in by Secretary Clinton, with her family looking on.

I met Farah in one of those hop-skip-jump ways only possible in today’s world. About a month ago, I received a tweet about a couple of cyber-diplomats named Alec and Jared who are plowing new ground in the State Department. I Googled them and pulled off the net a New York Times Magazine piece that discussed their work. Intrigued, I emailed them. A Facebook-like maneuver ensued in which we compared notes about people we know who might be of interest to each other. The guys introduced me to Farah, and she and I are now working on dates when she can come to New Zealand.

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I was charmed a week ago to meet my first kiwi bird, Chelsea.  I drove up to Palmerston North for meetings, and my friends at Massey University kindly introduced me to Chelsea during a tour of the university’s impressive veterinary facilities.

Chelsea and me.

After a brief period of indifferent chitchat (see photo above), Chelsea seemed pleased to let me hold her.  In fact, I don’t have any good pictures of myself with her in hand because she kept nuzzling my arm and sticking her beak into my pocket, like my first puppy used to do when I was six years old.  I have never before used “bird” and “charisma” in the same sentence, but Chelsea the bird does have charisma.  In case you’re wondering, she was in town from Mt. Bruce Wildlife Centre for an operation, and I hope that goes well. continue reading…

Democracy is muscle. If you don’t exercise it, it gets flabby and weak. You start taking it for granted. Until it atrophies. And then you’re sorry. And lame. And vulnerable to others with non-atrophied muscle who might not have the best of intentions. Which is bad.

So here’s a chance to get a little exercise.

Last month we asked folks around the world to complete the phrase “Democracy is…” with an original photograph. Approximately 1,000 photos were submitted. The entrants took a variety of different approaches including presenting examples of democracy in action, focusing on aspirations, portraying the outcome of democratic activity, portraying the absence of democracy, or attempting to capture the intangible feeling of freedom. continue reading…