Monday, January 31, 2011

Back to school

Off to High School! Today was Caitlin's first day of Year 7, nothing like 40 degree heat* to start things off with a kind of molten whimper. The Principal and the Year Advisor both devoted part of their welcoming addresses to reminding the kids to drink lots of water and not run around in the sun during recess and lunch, I don't think they'd have needed much reminding - it was a stinker of a day.

Caitlin's first day at High School

My mum came over in the morning to pick up some stuff I'd printed out for her and to see the kids off to their first day back at school. Consequently most of the photos I have are of the kids looking at Mum's camera instead of mine.

Caitlin and Tom

Tom seems fairly cheerful about going back to school despite being convinced that Year 4 is going to be horrible. Someone seems to have told him that he might have to do some actual work this year.

Caitlin and Tom

Two down, one to go - David starts Year 8 tomorrow.

*For my USian readers: 40°C = 104 Fahrenheit (aren't I kind to save you having to go do the conversion yourself?)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sundays in My City - Last day of the summer holidays

Unknown Mami
Hosted by Unknown Mami

We started off with a lazy morning and a very late brunch, Adam cooked onion and bacon omelette with grilled tomato and mushrooms. Then we did a little bit of tidying up and hung two loads of washing out in the sunshine.

Next up was a game of Munchkin, I won (woohoo!) and lorded it over the others in true Munchkin style. I reckon that's the first game I've won in years, I usually spend the whole game failing to collect any useful cards and languishing on a level so low that most of the interesting monsters won't even bother to chase me.

After I'd finished gloating I took Tom to enroll in his drama classes and have put my own name down for the new adult drama classes that his teacher will be running this term. I blame the internet, it told me to do it.

Tom and I came home, changed into swimmers and the whole family piled into the car and headed for the beach.

We all went in for a swim and got thoroughly worn out fighting the slightly dump-y surf before retreating to the deep trough of calmer water closer to shore, then Adam went to get the camera while I stayed in with the kids.

Avalon beach

Avalon Beach

Me with the kids in the calmer water.

Swimming at Avalon Beach

Me again!

Mim at Avalon

Tom, having inflated his rash vest by blowing into it.

Tom inflated his rash vest

Bonus video with lots of wind noise.

Then we had fish and chips for dinner, followed by ice cream, and came home, tired, sandy, salty and happy.

To see what else people have been getting up to on their Sunday in cities all over the world click on over to Unknown Mami's place and explore the linked up posts!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Fragments

Mommy's Idea
Hosted by Mrs4444.

Friday fragments, all the bits and bobs from the week gone by that are rattling around inside my head. Far too noisy! Better get them out via the keyboard and plonk them down here instead.

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When I met up with the lovely Penny in Auckland she had a beautiful gift for me. It was a book of photography, New Zealand: Eye on the Landscape, which includes 6 of her husband Rod's photos (Rod on Flickr). I'm enjoying it so much, and it's doing an excellent job of reminding me that I managed to leave my present for Penny back in our hotel room the day we met up and it has therefore come all the way back to Sydney with me. D'oh! Note to self: go to the post office next week.

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Speaking of going to the post office, I will also be sending off handmade gifts to fulfill my Pay it Forward commitment in the next week or so - I still have 2 spots up for grabs there so click through and leave a comment if you'd like to participate. The last time I did one of these I took something like 8 months to get around to sending them! Won't be leaving it that long this time.

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Need a good laugh? Go read the comments on this article about Language faux pas.

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On Thursday morning I got up a little earlier than I really needed to, leaving Adam in bed. I checked my emails and then went to have a shower. When I came out of the bathroom Adam was sitting in the lounge room looking slightly put out. He'd dragged himself out of bed having woken from a deep sleep utterly convinced that he'd heard me yelling down the stairwell that breakfast was on the table. He was so disappointed to come upstairs and realise that he'd only dreamed it. Apparently his subconscious had been hoping for bacon and eggs!

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We almost hit the 1K mark with the camera while we were on holidays, there are 944 photos and 29 videos in my New Zealand album in iPhoto - unsurprisingly I didn't upload them all to Flickr, just a modest selection of 170 photos Here they are in a slideshow if you feel inclined to look at them all.

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And if you want to read the travel blogs from the trip they're here: Auckland to Wellington, Wellington to Rotorua, Rotorua, Whangarei Heads, Whangarei Heads and Auckland.

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This morning my mum rang to tell me that Sylvia had died. Sylvia and Tony lived a few doors down from us when I was very young, they had 2 boys the same ages as my sister and I, David and Michael, we were best mates for years. We were in and out of each other's houses all the time and I remember being very sad when they moved several suburbs away. Mum and Sylvia had become good friends too and our families stayed in touch with fairly regular visits. I went to David's year 12 formal with him, we, and our parents and siblings, were at each other's weddings. Sylvia and Tony moved to Tasmania some years ago so it's been some time since I last saw her and I won't be able to go to the funeral, though my Mum and Dad are both going and my sister might too. When I think of Sylvia I think of warmth and hugs and love and good food and her smile. I'm glad I knew her and I'm sad she's gone.

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Don't forget to pop on over to Half-Past Kissin' Time and check out the other Friday Fragmenters' offerings! 

Pay it forward - Facebook edition

Back in early January I signed myself up for the Facebook version of the handmade giveaway meme that I participated in back in March '09.
Pay it Forward 2011
I promise to send something handmade to the first 5 people who leave a comment here. They in turn must post this and send something they make to the first 5 people who comment on their status. The rules are that it must be handmade by you and it must be sent to your 5 people sometime in 2011.
At the time I had 3 people sign up, and then Facebook moved on, as it does, and there are 2 spots still left up for grabs.

I'm offering those remaining spots here on my blog, so if you'd like a handmade gift from me and are willing to pay it forward yourself then leave a comment! 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

All good things must come to an end

After our beautiful day at Ocean Beach I was a little on the frazzled side and declined to make a return visit the next day, instead I stayed at the house and played Star Munchkin with David while Adam took Tom and Caitlin back to the beach. Emma, James and William went off for an explore of their own for the day, so when Adam came back with the kids we played a family game of ordinary Munchkin too.

Several evenings at the house were spent playing a fabulous role playing game, an invention of James' titled Waaargh, based on a d10 system and set in the Warhammer 40K universe. James was a terrific game master, he had the kids thoroughly engaged and they absolutely loved the game, as did Adam and I! We were all having so much fun that on the last night the kids were still up playing at midnight. Oops!

Some more pics from the Whangarei holiday.

The beach house

The beach house

View from the front deck - that field was full of Pukeko and their chicks
but they wouldn't stay put for photos

View from the front deck

Vegetable gardens in the backyard - we were told to help ourselves

Veggie gardens in the back yard

View from Caitlin's bedroom on the third floor of the house.

View from Caitlin's room on 3rd floor

Cuddly canine visitor

Cuddly puppy

Full moon over Mount Manaia - as you can see we haven't figured out all the camera settings yet

Full moon over Mount Manaia

Adam took photos of seagulls while Caitlin and Tom swam

Poor one-legged seagull

On our last morning at the house we packed everything up and went down the road and round the corner for breakfast, at The Deck, a rather nice little cafe where we'd bought fish and chips one night. Well ok, lunchtime, look, it had been a late night playing Waaargh! They had some very cute Kiwi prints on display, I was quite tempted to get the kicking kiwi one, might still be able to as they can be ordered via Backyard Kiwi. Pancakes and bacon and eggs and a pot of tea later and it was time to hit the road.

Next stop was the Waiwera Thermal Resort with its thermal pools fed by hot water springs and waterslides. It was cold and raining and yet again only Caitlin and Tom were tempted by the water. Adam, David and I watched as they and the McFadgens swam and Tom braved a waterslide, but only once. David and I eventually decided we probably should have gone in for a swim too, but by then it seemed too late to be bothered. Oh well, maybe next time. (Next time? I hear you ask. Yes, next time, I'm sure there'll be one.)

We got back to Auckland tired and hungry and after dumping our stuff at Chifley Suites we went forth in search of food, we asked the kids what they'd like for dinner and David said "Anything as long as it's not deep fried!" We found a completely deserted Japanese place, a circumstance that turned out to be due to only recently having started opening in the evenings - they were primarily a lunch venue - and not a reflection on the quality of the food, which was great.

Why oh why would you build a hotel with no cross ventilation in the rooms, no fans and no air-conditioning in the middle of noisy city? Yeah, I know, air-con isn't big in NZ and I can see most places don't need it - but this place did and it was pretty new so it wasn't down to its vintage and we were right above a big pub and could hear public transport announcements being made all night too. Closing the windows fixed the noise problem but I have an aversion to steaming gently all night. After a loud, hot and sticky night we began the day with breakfast at a nice little cafe across the road from the hotel and then walked the couple of blocks to the Sky Tower. The Sky Tower is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand,  I was amused by the info poster on the observation deck that answered the question "Why was it built?" with several points, the first being, if I may paraphrase slightly, "As a tourist trap." Of course it comes in handy for telecommunications of various kinds as well.

Sky Tower

Sky Tower

We went up to both of the viewing levels where I alternated between taking photos and running interference as the kids squabbled over the little pair of binoculars we'd bought in the shop at the base of the tower.

Mt Eden - one of the many extinct volcanoes in Auckland

Mt Eden

Auckland Harbour

Auckland Harbour

Rangitoto - the youngest volcano in the Auckland Volcanic Field


After fighting our way free of the gift shop with only minor damage to the credit card (as I nobly left behind the possum/merino hooded cape I had developed an instant crush on) we went back to pick up the car with the intention of parking it near the public library where we were meeting Emma and the lovely Penny for lunch. Through a combination of misunderstanding and a flaky Navman that kept turning itself off we ended up parked way off across the Auckland University campus, but at least the walk was downhill and there were some pretty buildings to look at on the way. The kids and I made Adam go back on his own to get the car though, 'cause that was uphill all the way.

Emma, me, Penny and sprog.

We met up with Emma and Penny for lunch

We then made our way to the Auckland War Memorial Museum where David made a bee-line to the World War 1 and 2 exhibits and Tom kept doing the vanishing trick in his enthusiasm for moving on to the next room. We grabbed some afternoon tea in the cafe and then made Tom happy by looking through the Natural History exhibits only leaving when we were kicked out at closing time. For some unknown reason the only photos of the whole time we were at the museum are of this eel.

Eel, showing off its teeth.

Eel at the War Memorial Museum

For dinner I made Caitlin very happy indeed by finding a Wagamama's where she was able to stuff herself on edamame, rice and yakitori chicken skewers to her heart's content. Which was only fair as all she'd eaten all day was 2 slices of toast at breakfast, there'd been nothing she wanted to eat at any of the other places we'd been.

Our last day dawned grey and wet and windy putting to rest any thought of a ferry ride on the harbour. Plan B was to visit the Kelly Tarlton Antarctic Experience, as we drove along the waterfront we marveled at the choppiness of the waves and the spray of them breaking over the edge of the embankment and splashing on to the footpath. And then we were at the lowest part of the causeway across Hobson Bay and there was water over the road and the police were turning the traffic back. We made our way around the bay, at one point driving through more water over the road that was almost certainly deeper than that where the police were playing it safe, only find Kelly Tarlton's, usually open 365 days a year, was closed, presumably due to the weather what with them being right on the waterfront and all. Bugger. At that point we gave up and headed for the airport, driving back through the now slightly deeper again water over the road that the cops still hadn't found. We checked in, had lunch and wandered around the shops. The shops wandering worked out quite nicely - I now own that possum/merino hooded cape which I'd been coveting back at the Sky Tower, very soft and cuddly and VERY indulgent.

The flight home went well and my wonderful mother met us at the airport with our van. The kids expressed rapture over not being squeezed into a sedan any more and proceeded to bombard Grandma with accounts of the best bits of the holiday. Which apparently means the Hobbiton visit, the LOTR tour of Wellington and the RPG run by James. Mum eventually declared that they were allowed just one more minute of Waaargh stories after which they would have to stop before her brain exploded.

We were greeted with much doggy enthusiasm by Clara when we arrived home. Both my ears were thoroughly licked (Clara doesn't lick at all normally). My dad did not lick my ears but I think he was happy to be going home to his own place, though not so happy to be going back to being car-less! Mum and Dad stayed for a cuppa and to look at some of our photos then Mum left and we ordered Chinese for dinner.

New Zealand was wonderful, but it is good to be home.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Photographic Fragments from Whangarei Heads

(That title is far more alliterative than it looks, the "Wh" is pronounced "F")

We have just come back from five fabulous nights with the McFadgen family in a beach holiday house near Whangarei Heads. We met up with Emma, James and William at Orewa Beach for lunch on Sunday and then made our way up north arriving just in time for a quick swim at the very pretty but also very rocky beach just down the hill from the house.

Little Munro Bay

Little Munro Bay

Me sitting under the Pōhutukawa after a swim

Pōhutukawa at Little Munro Bay

We woke the next morning to discover ourselves inside the clouds, this shot was taken from the front deck of the house once the cloud had lifted a bit, we couldn't see the mountain at all for a while.

Mount Manaia shrouded in cloud

Mount Manaia shrouded in cloud

With humidity so high that dry clothes got wet if you hung them up inside, we holed up in the house and played games and watched dvds and lazed around enjoying not being in the car for a change.

On Wednesday the sun re-appeared and we drove to Ocean Beach where the kids, under the expert direction of James, built a bridge out of driftwood, seaweed and sand over the, umm...creek, yes, let's call it a creek and not the stormwater drain.

David, James, William and Caitlin building a bridge

Building a bridge

Tom and Caitlin braved the surf

Tom and Cailtin

David narrowly avoided doing the same

David endeavouring not to end up on his bum in the water

When I took that photo I was kind of expecting a sequel with bum in the water and feet in the air but no such luck.

Rock pools were explored - William, Emma and David

William, Emma and David in a rock pool

Beautiful scenery was appreciated

David and Caitlin

Crabs were found - lots of them!


An anemone was poked and admired

Anemone in rock pool

And when we were at the house Mount Manaia had to content itself with looking craggy instead of mysterious.

Blue skies over Mount Manaia

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My children are now addicted to L&P, Caitlin feels she can't possibly survive back in Australia without it. Thank you New Zealand, I'm now stuck with a mission of obtaining obscure softdrink for a small child when back in Sydney. (Not really, she'll just have to go through withdrawal :P)

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Caitlin couldn't find her watch and new New Zealand charm bracelet when we were packing up to leave Rotarua last weekend. We searched the hotel room without success and eventually left saying to her they MUST be in someone's luggage somewhere. They were still missing after we unpacked at the beach house. Five days later as she dressed to leave this morning, she found them. In her shoe. Emma tells us this means she is becoming a true Kiwi - barefoot by preference!

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I'm linking up to Friday Fragments at Mrs 4444's place, 'cause with a title like that up there, how could I not? Click through to Half-Past Kissin' Time to see what all the other Friday Fragmenting bloggers have to offer! I'll be doing my blog visiting and commenting once we're back in Sydney - only two more sleeps of New Zealand holiday left, back to reality on Sunday night.

Mommy's Idea
Hosted by Mrs4444.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


On our first morning in Rotorua we drove to Matamata and joined a bus tour out to The Shire. Yes, that Shire, Hobbiton, which is all set up and just about ready for filming to begin. It looks absolutely fantastic and if you're anywhere within reach of the place you HAVE to go see it! We were allowed to take photos but had to sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to share any online. So this is all you get from Hobbiton:

As I was taking photos of [stuff I can't tell you about] Tom pointed at my feet and said "Look! A frog!"

And so it was.

Middle-Earth frog

Back at The Shire's Rest we watched a sheep shearing demo and bottle fed some lambs, had lunch at the cafe and coveted the collectible models and jewellery (David really wants a One Ring on a chain - a mere $800 worth, so not happening).

Sheep shearing at Shire's Rest

Bottle feeding lambs

The afternoon was spent with me watching the kids in the swimming pool at the hotel and Adam doing laundry.

That night we went to the Mitai Maori Village for a traditional hangi meal and cultural performance. It was, shall we say, touristy. But they put on a good show, the meal was nice and the glowworm spotting walk after dark was kind of fun.

Mitai cultural performance

Mitai cultural performance

On Saturday we drove out to the Hidden Valley, Orakei Korako, to see the geothermal park.

Silica terrace


Hot spring


Teeny tiny geyser


We took picnic lunch and shared our bread crusts with the ducks. We had hoped to have time to squeeze in a visit to the Buried Village before joining the last tour of the day at the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park but when we got to the Buried Village we decided we didn't have time to do it justice and had a Devonshire tea in the cafe instead.

We arrived at Rainbow Springs just in time and were treated to a behind the scenes tour of their Kiwi breeding, hatching and conservation project. We saw a one day old chick, fast asleep in its incubator, and Eggnog, hatched on Christmas Eve last year, who was taken out of its cage to be fed and given antibiotics. In the nocturnal enclosure there were 2 adult birds out and about foraging. Tom, all his deepest desires satisfied, announced we could go back to the hotel now, but we had a look around the rest of the park anyway.



Green tree frog

Green tree frog

There were streams and ponds all over the park filled with the biggest trout I have ever seen, no doubt this is due to the fact that food for feeding the fish is available at the park entrance. The kids duly fed the enormous fish and I attempted to take photos but none of them really came out.

Our day ended with a fabulous meal at the Cicco Italian Cafe, the food was so good and the desserts were magnificent!

David's dessert