29 December 2006

Kiwi Christmas!!

A very low key Christmas Day was spent at our house. Mum, Dad and my sister Claire were here for the day. We started off with hot baked ham, eggs, potato bread, soda bread and tomatoes for breakfast. When we lived on the farm Mum would often set the Christmas ham baking overnight and we would wake to the smell of it cooking... hot ham and eggs was a treat and Mum had been craving for it several years now!

After that was the present opening which didn't take long as we had all brought one present and then drew a number to see who would get what.
Contacting other friends and family followed that and some general relaxation ensued.

Dinner was served around 2 (or 3 ... it blurrs a little). Followed by more relaxation and a quick dose of The Princess Bride to round off the day.

So... why weren't we at the beach? Well, we were saving that for Boxing Day when we met my brothers and their families down at Devonport for a family picnic!

That's more like it!!

4 November 2006

Big weekend...

It all started with a big trip on the plane! This was the second time Libby had flown up for a visit. This photo was actually taken when she arrived after her first flight ever (all by herself!!) back in September. She seemed a bit shellshocked by it all initially but was soon telling us all about how the plane goes up... up... up!!! The latest trip arrived on a Thursday evening and Tommy picked the wee jet-setter up from the airport..

On the Friday morning Libby went to see all her friends at the daycare centre. The staff love to see her when she is in Auckland and Libby loves to catch up with everyone! We picked her up in the afternoon and hit the road to Waihi Beach where we would be going to a party celebrating my Great-Uncle's 80th birthday on the Saturday.
When we arrived we set the tent up on the lawn and set about meeting everyone. There was quite a crowd about so there was some initial shyness with Libby hanging out with Tom until she sussed everyone out.
Sleeping in the tent was a whole new experience and terribly exciting! Tom stayed in the tent while Libby settled in and ended up not emerging again...
We woke in the morning with a very excited little girl telling us "I did it!! I slept in the tent!!"
We emerged and went 'next door' to have breakfast in my parents motorhome... sleeping in a tent... breakfast in a bus... what would be next? It was promising to be a big day! After breakfast and a bit of football on the lawn, the three of us went for a drive into Waihi township to have a bit of a look around. We headed up to the mine and discovered a big truck... and a big mother hole in the ground... everything was big around here... even the bugs! We found this gum emperor moth hanging out in the sun. These are massive... the wings would have easily covered my hand if he'd sat on it.
We headed back to Waihi Beach and of course had to stop and take a look at the beach. Libby 'talked me into' having a paddle in the water while Tom stretched out on the warm sand had a short snooze in the sun. After that we went back to the house where we discovered people were arriving thick and fast. My sister - Claire, brother - Brendon, and his wife - Vicky, had arrived and we were teated to news of another impending family memeber - Vicky & Brendon are expecting. After they headed off to check out their accomodation we had some quiet time snoozing in the tent before the party.
A little later my youngest brother, Robert and his family (Stacey and the kids - Tialia and baby Braxton) arrived. Libby had first met Tialia on our family weekend to Rotorua earlier in the year so was very excited at this development. We went down to the camp complex where the party was being held and where the rest of the immediate family were staying in the bus and rented cabin. This was great as it gave the girls time to catch up on the latest fashion tips and gossip. The formalities out of the way it was time to rev things up... there was a big field outside the cabin that had to be tested out ....

Woohooo! Party time! We had a fantastic meal and great time at the party. It was all over so quickly in the finish and the next morning we headed north again to drop Libby back at the airport and head home to wait for the next visit!

7 September 2006

Neverending Birthdays!!

Do you remember when having a birthday was something REALLY special and not something to shudder about?? When you could pretend it was your birthday everyday?? A couple of weeks ago we were going to visit Libby and the day before we left a parcel arrived....

5 September 2006

Kayak fishing trip

The kayak lads heading off from Awana Beach in light surf, it was a different story coming back!

Well we couldn't have asked for better weather to go to Great Barrier Island for a kayak fishing trip. Stunning blue skies and warm weather considering it is barely the end of Winter.

The fishing wasn't bad with half a dozen or so kahawai caught and 4 snapper. Enough for a feed! Also a weird and wonderful looking thing called a parrot fish, brightly coloured and similar shape to the snapper but according to Nick, a pain in th ass to fillet. Super sharp gill plates and quite a slimy skin making it hard to hold in place.
It was my first time in a sea kayak so as is the custom I fell in a few times to baptise myself. Coming back from a day on the rocks fishing was interesting, we came in at Awana Beach, a popular surf beach!!!!!!

This photo was in the morning, by the time we came back around 5.30pm surf was up and looking more like double what it was in this photo. The others all managed to get back dry, not me.......I will blame inexperience and the fact that I caught the perfect wave without meaning to. Warren and Dave had told me what to do if caught by a big wave, dig the flat side of the paddle in and surf in. It went well for the first 3/4 of the wave, then splashdown. I got dragged under and turned upside down a few times before popping up like a cork, paddle in hand! The paddle is attached to the kayak and fortunately I had tied everything on properly so I didn't lose any gear. Also managed to keep the camera dry!

We had a good feed of fish and everyone was pretty tired by now so we gave the club a miss and went straight back to the bach. Being a novice at the hunter gathering thing, Dave and I became "house bitches" for an hour doing the dishes and digging a hole for the fish guts and frames. (Great for the garden). Warren and Nick filleted the fish and I think Kelly supervised!!

We had a fine banquet of fish a la frying pan in butter along with plenty of slices of bread and butter, washed down with a beverage of choice, either Jim Beam and coke or a cold Heineken or Steiny. Yum yum pigs bum.

An hour or so of talking and having a laugh over the days events and then one by one the heads hit the pillow. There aren't many better ways of spending a day than being out on the water, in the fresh air, chasing fish and being away from everyday shit. It makes for a well earned, deep sleep. Unless of course you are unfortunate enought to be within 50 metres of me if I start snoring. Warren reckoned it was like a 2 stroke chainsaw. Luckily it only lasted an hour. I wouldn't know, I was asleep at the time!

Sunday morning started with a decent view from the deck.

After another feed of fresh fish left from the night before it was decided after committee meeting to not go with the kayaks due to time pressure. The ferry was due to leave at 3pm. Instead we packed all the gear away and went for a tiki tour before making our way towards Tryphena. There was a reef not too far round from the jetty that was accessible on foot, so we grabbed some basic fishing gear and spent a few hours on the rocks. The fishing was slow......ok totally crap but the views were stunning, the weather great, beers cold and company bearable. :)

20 August 2006

Getting Laid...

... Don't panic!! It's all quite "G" rated!! Things have been a bit up and down for us the last week or so... different things going on that have left both of us feeling a bit stressed. Nothing to worry about though, just life!
Anyways... Tommy arrived home Friday afternoon and told me he had some Lino for me to look at, I had to go down to the van to do it because he wasn't going to drag it upstairs unless I liked the look of it and thought it would go well in the house. I do have to say Tommy has a real eye for colour because it only took a fraction of a second to decide that I liked it! And so the house is a wee bit more ahead on the re-decoration plan.
We have used the lino he got to replace the manky stuff in the bathroom, toilet and kitchen... and so we have gone from this.....

To this....

... Yay!!! The new stuff is a wee bit greener than the colours in the photo (but that probably depends on the settings on your computer). I have to say I'm very impressed!!

27 July 2006

Happy Birthday Libby!!!

You're getting very grown-up now!!

9 July 2006

We all live in a yellow submarine!!

Well.... that's a bit of a fib, but on Friday afternoon we pretended we did for a while.

We took Libby to visit Kelly Tarlton's for the afternoon. Tom had never been and it's been years since I last went! I have to admit I was really looking forward to it!

Sadly only part of the complex was open as they were still repairing damage to the underwater tunnels. Despite that we still had a really fun afternoon.

The first thing we did was get into one of the snowcats so we could be taken through the penguin enclosure. At one point we were driven alongside the side of the aquarium so we were below the water level and could see how the penguins "fly" underwater. Funny, I always think of penguins as small wee fellows but the two species at Kelly Tarlton's made me realise that they aren't all quite so small. They were really amazing to see up close and we had to go back and have a second trip to get another look.

Next we stopped for a coffee break and icecreams. We were sitting right next to where the stingrays get fed and while we were there one of the staff appeared in the tank in to talk about the rays as he fed them. When dinner time was over we spent quite a bit of time watching them swimming about at the deep end of the tank.

After that we stopped in at the interactive centre where Libby made herself a mermaid crown and then very patiently helped Tom to colour in a picture.

It was certainly something different to do - we'll have to go back some time when the tunnel is open again!

8 July 2006

60 years, 60 hours, 60 challenges!!

Last weekend was my father's 60th birthday. He had told my mother he didn't want any parties but we couldn't let a 'big O' slip by without doing something special. I don't know quite how we managed to keep it all so secret and despite Dad having a few suspicions he didn't know what we were up to.

We packed him off on a 'mystery weekend' to Rotorua and eventually we all joined him there on Friday for a family weekend. The challenges were all pretty harmless really and just a bit of fun so he got into the spirit of things and started going through the list. There were the kiwi icon photos that had to be taken:

and the signs that included a '60' or 'sixty'...

You have to hand it to him, he was a pretty good sport about it all... until the challenge that involve 60 seconds pretending to try on lingerie!! Eventually though he cracked that one too... twice!! And then went and purchased some... so what if it was for Mum... the shop assistants didn't know that! We considered taking points off because he seemed to actually enjoy that challenge a little too much!! Hmmmm.... might have had something to do with that 60oz of beer we had him drink in the hot-pools!!
We had a pretty awesome weekend together.... but of course we had one last secret challenge for him to complete on the Sunday... the grand finale!!

As we headed off towards the outskirts of Rotorua I'm not quite sure whether Dad noticed that we seemed to be following the signs to the airport.... but he soon figured it out... about the time he saw the huge signage on the side of one of the hangars... "SKYDIVE WITH US TODAY!".

I tell ya, he fair leapt out of the car, "I'm not jumping out of any bleeping plane!!"

Oh dear!! Stay calm.... no way was I throwing my Dad out of any plane... far from it... we had organised something far more sedate... A flight in a glider!!

The glider club offer trial flights to the public as conditions allow. I had called the day ahead to ensure that all systems were go and the weather was just stunning! When we arrived we were told that this was the first time they had been able to use the airstrip in 10 weeks. There had been a bit of flooding and weather conditions had not allowed the grass strip to dry enough up until last weekend.

They got Dad all strapped in and ready to roll... off along the runway they went.... up... up... and away!! Not long after the tow plane came back into the strip and was soon followed by the glider.... there had been engine problems so the flight was cut short and they came back in to check out the plane. We waited about for a while to see if they'd get it going again but then decided to head off and have some lunch. Everyone was pretty tired by then and we all had to think about the trip home. When I rang the glider club to let them know we were going to head home I was told that the problem with the plane was a major and they couldn't fly any more that day. Since then the weather has turned to crap and I wouldn't be surprised if the airstrip is out of action again.... it may have been a short flight Dad, but it looks like it's the only one for a while!! Gotta use those windows of opportunity while they are open!

I think everyone had a good time! It sure looks like it!!


21 June 2006

Walk like an egyptian...

or Turk... or Armenian... or...whatever takes your fancy.... as long as you're shimmying!!

I went to my first bellydance party on Saturday and had an absolute ball! If I wasn't hooked on the belly dance before I definately am now!! What a night!!

I really had no idea what to expect when I got there and I nearly chickened out even though I had been frantically trying to get a costume made.... not to mention the weather... it was cold and I really wasn't too sure about waggling my belly about in those temperatures.

Tom (bravely?) said he would come along as my support crew... I didn't know what to expect for him either... would it be too girly... would he feel comfortable.... would there be other non-dancers there too?

I needn't have worried because as I've already mentioned we had a great time. It was in the format of a casual show. Different classes and got up and danced in groups as well as duets and solo performances. Then we'd have a general dance about and check out the trading tables ... a whole different market experience.... "I'll give 4 goats for that dancer!!" ... nah, just kidding it was all CDs, DVDs, costumes etc. Then rinse spin repeat a few times.

There were some amazing dancers there, all shapes and sizes and there was even one fella dancer. Ooooh and the costumes!! Wow... some great ideas and inspiration!! My costume will be getting some wholesale modifications before the next bash!

By the end of the night I was just buzzing. My teacher also belongs to a drumming group so those that were there started playing. It took about 30 seconds for everyone to get on the dance floor and away we went. Not all up and down simultaneously to the beat as with most dances but a swirl of different things happening all around you... the drums were infectious but eventually we all had to concede defeat and take a break.... there is only so much you can take before your abs are screaming for a rest.... damn you muscles!!

Mental note: must practice more to build belly stamina :)

And as for Tommy.... well he got beyond the whole "I shouldn't look, they'll think I'm a perv" and through to the "Hell they're bellydancers, they dress like this only purpose... I'm meant to look at the bods" stage he relaxed and I think he really enjoyed himself... Considering he was there and not watching the Irish vs All Blacks game has got to say something! In fact.... he said next time he'll dress up too ... as a sheik or sultan, and we'll take more friends next time and fill a whole table.... cushions and rugs and hookah pipes galore!!

Bring it on!!

12 June 2006

Do I have a guilty conscience?

Weeeee!!! Not me!

I'm actually doing it! My potato bread is vastly improved now that I know to make it thicker and my soda bread is a great success.... and so easy to make!!

Voila!! Ain't that a pretty sight!

I have to say though the tips from "my wee butcher" made all the difference! (Read on)

Despite Belfast being a reasonable sized city I experienced a real small town feel while I was there. It was a great novelty to walk up to the corner of the street and call into the butcher and baker to collect goodies to include in the breakast fry. It was not just the convenience of it but the banter that was part of the service.

My first visit went something like this...

My wee butcher (MWB) : Ach love how can I helpye?

Me: Good morning! I'd like half a dozen breakfast sausages, halfdozen slices black pudding, halfdozen white pudding and halfdozen of vege roll please.

MWB: Surely. Where's that accent from then? Australia?

Me: Nope.... New Zealand, I'm a kiwi!

MWB: Well then! What are you doing here now?

Me: I'm here to visit my fella's family and to learn to make a proper Ulster fry!! I'm an apprentice Frier!!

MWB: Well then - there's a qualification to aim for!!

..... and so the conversation moved on to explaining how we can't get the breads at home in NZ and that I would have to make them. I explained I now knew I'd been making my potato bread too thin and hadn't yet attempted making soda bread.

MWB: Oh!! Soda bread is the easiest thing in the world... it's so easy I don't bother my wifey with it and I can make my own. Just don't fuss with it, mix 'er up and pop it in the oven. Simple!!

Well... I gleaned a few more tips as well before I wandered back to the house to cook up the fry. What a nice way that was to start the day!!

The next time I visited MWB was a few days later. I was back to stock up on all the breakfast meats. I walked into the shop as it was opening to a warm welcome!!

MWB: Good morning! It's the apprentice fryer!! Well love, yer up early then aren't ye?

It was 9 o'clock in the morning and I'd been awake since dawn! These people have no concept of the early bird!!

Me: Early? Nah... I was up with the birds.

MWB: Why's that then? Have ye got a guilty conscience?

Ha!! Brilliant!! Again I got the run-down on the weather and a few more fry hints before I was off with my wee baggie o meaty goodness. If we'd stayed longer and I went to that wee butcher a third time I believe I'd have just about known his life story... although I don't beleive I ever got his name! It's certainly a refreshing change to the impersonal supermarkets and stores in Auckland and I have to say I miss it already. It is no wonder farmers markets are starting to flourish here in NZ.

In the meantime ... the butchers around here will profit for it as I try and recreate the experience here! I've already found one butcher that we enjoy the bacon from and another where we will get our black pudding in the future.... the search continues!!

1 June 2006

We're back!!!

We've been back in NZ for a week now ... and back to the reality of day to day life. We do however have a load of entries about the trip to try and catch up on as we get time ... so stay posted!!

27 May 2006

Land of the Giants

"Finn was here!" is what the rocks seemed to be screaming out to us. How could there be any doubt that the legends about the creation of the Giants Causeway are true? The shapes and formations created in the rocks are for too unnatural to be ... well ... natural. Just amazing! I couldn't help but kick off my shoes and walk barefoot over the rocks. Smooth and warmed by the sun my feet literally tingled to be walking in the footsteps of giants! We didn't spend a lot of time here and barely did it justice... you need to pack a picnic and spend at least half a day here to explore and appreciate it more fully. Next time we visit that is what we will do!

On the same day we also visited the Old Bushmills Distillery (which I've already written about) Dunluce Castle, Portrush, and the rope bridge at Carrick-a-rede. We had such a beautiful day and it was a bit of a shame our "hit and run" tourism didn't allow us to spend more time in each spot but time was of the essence and we were trying to see as much as possible with the short time that we had.

Dunluce Castle was really impressive! Once again I felt a bit dwarfed by the notion that where I was now walking, once people lived. The thought of engineering the structure of the place now is amazing let alone attempting it way back in the 13th century when they did not have the luxury of cranes, diggers and earthmovers.

On to Carrick-a-rede and the infamous Rope Bridge.... OH.MY.GOD!!! Words fail me! The walk over the bridge, whilst a bit freaky, was totally worth it once you got across to the island and checked out the view! I get tingles up my spine just remembering... it was quite overwhelming to see such a beautiful place! I really cannot do it justice with words so I can only encourage you to go look for yourself!

We had passed through Portrush on our way through on this trip and made a quick stop to photograph the 1st tee at the golf course. On the way back we took a bit longer stop because the Northwest 200 was coming up and practice racing was going on. We thought we should take the opportunity to look at some of the course and take in the atmosphere... and fumes!!

Looking back it's hard to believe how much we were cramming into each day and although I feel a bit sad to have not had more time I certainly would not have traded our day for anything!

17 May 2006

Hic.... hic....HIC!

I'm a qualified Irish whishkey tashter.....
.... I got the sherficitate to prove it.... hic!!

On one of our day trips north Tommy took me to see the Old Bushmills Distillery. We decided to do the guided tour so we could get a good look at the inside workings... no photos of that I'm afraid, due to the alcohol fumes we couldn't have any electronics ons. Of course if you took deep enough breaths..... ahhhh luffly luffly luffly!!

At one point during the tour the guide asked for volunteers... I had no idea what it was we were volunteering for but figured - what the heck! Boy did I score! As part of the ticket price you could taste one of their range of whiskeys at the end of the tour but I lucked out and got a lesson on the finer points of whiskey drinking. We got to sample 3 of the bushmills whiskeys and compare them to scotch and bourbon.... as well as our allowed sample.... phhhooooaaarr! Luffly luffly luffly!!

The only problem was acclimatising to the real world outside again!

16 May 2006

The end of the golden weather.....?!?!

We took off with Janet for a day trip to the Kingdom of Mourne , a visually stunning part of N. Ireland, though visibility was really low today. The miles and miles of stone walls dividing fields still blow me away. Not a great day for photographs. It was still spectacular to see the mist and rain rolling off the mountains and down the lough though. I think Janet thought it might be payback for when she and Terry where visiting me in New Zealand. I took them to Mt. Ruapehu to show them where a lot of the battle scenes from Lord of the Rings where shot......we couldn't see the end of our hand let alone the mountain!

The Mourne area was made famous by the Percy French song, 'Where the Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea'. Known to be sung by many an Irishman abroad, especially when full of alcohol and with a compulsory tear in the corner of the eye.....it does seem to capture a lot of the romance and feeling of the place.

The Mountains of Mourne through the mist.

Janet took us through a number of old villages and past historical sites then we came to Annalong, a small fishing town. We called into a place called the Harbour Inn for evening tea, yummmmmmm! I had the haddock and chips, Janet had haddock and champ and Janene had an awesome looking 8oz irish salmon with a chilli sauce and champ. Great combination!!!

Have lined up a game of golf with my brother Steven so I'm looking forward to that We seem to play every funeral and wedding, I wonder is he keeping score????

14 May 2006

Ever felt as though you're being watched?

That there is someone peering out from behind a rock or a hill or a tree?

Has your hair stood on end as you expect something big to happen at any moment?

That's how I felt as we walked into the Giant's Ring. The air is alive with the stories of people who have been there.

It is an awesome place to visit, the rocks in the centre were once someone's grave. They are worn smooth by the elements and the hands that have rubbed them. The magic is evident when you touch them, they are almost electric and the very thought of people moving them into position without heavy machinery is astounding.

My imagination runs rife ... I cannot even begin to explain the stories and legends that went through my mind. The lives that have been entwined in this place over time, it blows me away.

I do not want to leave but as we head back to the car park I know that a part of me has now been added to the story.

13 May 2006

It was an odd feeling to be at the funeral of someone I had barely known and yet heard so much about. The traditions and funeral protocols here are different to many of the funerals I have been to. The service for Tommy's mum was held at his sisters home and performed by someone who had known the family for a long time. Because of that it seemed a very personal service and most people agreed it was very fitting.

After the service the coffin is lifted and carried out with immediate family, sons, brothers, taking turns to carry the coffin and those wanting to show their respect walking behind. I joined in alongside Tommy's aunt and sister but discovered later that traditionally women do not take part in the walk. Whether it is because times are changing or whether it is a sign of the mettle of the women in this family, I do not know, but there were a good few walking behind us.

After the burial and prayers at the cemetary there were cups of tea and sandwiches back at the house. It was then that family connections are remembered. Photos materialise from handbags and pockets and along with them stories and memories of weddings, christenings, picnics, parties, holidays, mischievous antics and parties. It was an amazing experience, these people truly do have the gift of storytelling.

I have to say I feel honoured to have been a part of this and to have been made to feel so accepted despite being a complete stranger to most people there.

10 May 2006

The days are becoming a bit of a blur. We spent an evening of wine and good company with my brother Steven, his partner Patricia and beautiful wee daughter Kate. They live in a tranquil part of County Down called Hillsborough. HM the Queen, famous politicians and various other dignitaries stay at the castle . Some very important meetings have been held here apparently (though in reality they are just popping over for an Ulster Fry and a couple of pints of Guinness.) The photo above is the local church, not part of the actual castle.

Kate is very camera shy so it was quite a feat of trickery using 2 cameras to actually catch her for this shot. As she spun away from Janene's camera I got her with mine, hence the startled rabbit face. Well worth it though. Apparently before I got here she thought her Uncle Tommy had a ponytail and a bald head.........I sometimes wonder how my family talk about me while I am not here! Still a bit shy but took to Janene very quickly. She has a way with her!

Janene posing by the lake next to Hillsborough Castle.
Ach love... it's always nice to have a wee reminder of yer home....

but this is a bit overmuch....

cabbage trees everywhere, in gardens, in cafes, planted in the ground or in pots... there was even one in the forest walk we went on! Combine this and the occasional sighting of flax... and what appears to be toitoi...

and this weather...

I'm beginning to suspect a conspiracy. Was I drugged and lead to believe I've flown to the other side of the world? Maybe.... somehow.... I've been set up in some strange reality show... anyone seen the Truman Show??....hmmmm.....