Tuesday, May 31, 2011


For years, I've been a blogger and a blog reader.
Not lately.
At the moment, I'm ridiculously hooked on pinterest! I joined a few weeks ago, and there is no end to its fascinating array of images and its potential as a time-suck. Oh my. This must be what it's like for people who love facebook.

In case you are curious, let me know and I'll send you an invite.
I have only just begun to pin...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bay of Islands

Hi everyone! I saved the best New Zealand spot for last, and then I left you hanging. My apologies. I mentioned before that we came back with colds, specifically Ellie came back with a chesty cough. After several days of coughing in my face, it seems the germs successfully transferred. I lost my voice a couple of days ago and have since done my best to be useless once Markus comes home in the evenings. Nothing serious. Just a cold. In the meantime, I uploaded almost 200 photos from our trip to our flickr account for your viewing pleasure. I haven't added comments yet, but if you want more visuals from the trip than you are finding here, head over there and check it out!

Now, Bay of Islands!

As the person who booked and planned the trip, I was most keen on Bay of Islands. It's the area at the northern tip of the north island. It is "perpetual summer" there, though it's New Zealand summer so it's not too hot, not too cool. We were lucky on our first day because the hideous cold rain followed us from Auckland, but the first day it was crystal clear and absolutely breathtakingly beautiful! We drove out of the rain about 2 hours north of Auckland, and I started snapping away with the camera as we drove. The light was simply stunning!

To treat ourselves big time, we stayed in one of four holiday cottages on a 150-acre organic pastureland about 25 minutes from Kerikeri.

The Takou River runs through the property, and the owners (Anna and Ian Sizer) keep a boathouse filled with kayaks and assorted goodies available at any time. Of course, we had to get out in a canoe first-thing. The girls had never been in one, and it was pretty hilarious. It was low tide as we paddled upriver, meaning we got stuck on some rocks more than once. While stuck: Markus and I laughed as we pushed and pulled and scooted to free us; Ellie clutched the gunnels until her knuckles were white, screaming and wailing until her face was red as if we were going down on the Titanic; and Stephanie stood up from her post in my lap and grabbed hold of my paddle, calmly announcing that she would get us out, don't worry Mama. I wish I could have a video of it, because it makes me giggle just thinking about what a picture we must have made.

For lunch, we stopped at the Ake Ake Winery and enjoyed to a beautiful meal while the girls played happily in the grass and stones.

Later that afternoon, Markus couldn't resist another paddle, so he went for a solo kayak ride while the girls and I relaxed in the cottage. In her hallmark of comfort, Stephanie stripped bare the moment we stepped through the door. She hid under the table with the iPod for a while before joining Ellie on the fantastic fluffy yellow beanbag chair (it looked like a giant dandelion).

Markus got some incredible shots--some of my favorites of the trip--on the point-and-shoot camera he took along with him. We don't use PhotoShop, so what you see is what he saw. The light has a magical quality to it. Our assessment is Middle Earth is every bit as stunning as the movies portray it.

Of course, the rain started not long after sunset and lasted until we left. Good thing we maximized that first day! A highlight (despite the rain) was when we drove to a nice forest walk and checked out the ancient Kauri trees.

The rain was a bit of a bummer, but the Bay of Islands was our favorite spot nonetheless! We feel lucky we opted to stay there. It was a toss-up for a while. It meant a fourth place to stay, the most driving for our non-driving girls, and it wasn't on the beaten tourist track most people follow on their first visits to New Zealand. I'm so happy I was insistent, because it was beautiful! We can only imagine how fantastic summers there must be. Apparently, Aucklanders just sail up there and hang out. Lucky dogs.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Auckland - Waiheke Island

We have a distinct lack of enthusiasm for city travel with kids, so we opted for a short stay in Auckland. It was a transition from Nelson (direct flight) and a good starting point for the drive to the Bay of Islands. I didn't want to fly in and drive out immediately, so we stayed for two nights. We arrived on a beautiful sunny afternoon, but it was pouring cold rain by nightfall and rained until we drove two hours north, two days later.

The part of Auckland I most wanted to see wasn't Auckland at all; it was Waiheke Island. Waiheke Island is only about a 30 minute ferry ride out of Auckland. Ferries leave very regularly and are not expensive. The island has a population of around 4000 people year-round. That population explodes during the summer months because of the beaches and the fantastic wineries.

Once we arrived on the island, we hopped on a hop-on, hop-off touring bus/van that took us around the populated section of the island, pointing out various spots along the way. The driver recommended we eat lunch at Wild on Waiheke because it was the most kid-friendly. There was a playground and pizza oven. Done. The driver was a big fan of the fruit beers there, so we sampled the beers and wines on offer.

Of course, it was raining so Stephanie got soaked going down the playground slide (there was no stopping her). A man who worked there kindly offered to pop her clothes into their dryer along with the tea towels, so she was mostly dry by the time we left. From there, we visited an art gallery for the island local artists and then enjoyed seriously gourmet desserts at the Mudbrick Vineyard restaurant (the girls had ice cream sundaes).

As much as we love good food, we aren't gourmet people and are skeptical of artsy food. Markus didn't know what to make of his dessert (the latter one above), but he could not stop raving about the flavor. He still lists that as the highlight of our Auckland visit, so there you go. The wines at Mudbrick were outstanding. We brought two bottles home with us (one is already gone).

While we enjoyed our desserts, we enjoyed a little visitor who had flown in through the nearby open door. He's a fantail, probably related to the Willy Wagtail we have in Perth. He talked to us quite a bit and stayed atop the mirror near our seats almost the entire time we were there, much to the girls' delight.

Stephanie concentrated heavily on her ice cream. Not a drop was wasted, I assure you.

The next day, we stopped at the Auckland Zoo before driving out of town. Did I mention it was raining and cold? Okay then. Still, it was a really nice zoo. I wish we'd been able to enjoy it more. It was there that we saw the only kiwi bird of the trip. The conditions in his nocturnal house were so dark for his comfort that we only made out his silhouette, but I can say he was bigger than we expected him to be. The zoo also has two hand-reared cheetah brothers. They are so accustomed to people that they go for walks with the staff each morning before the zoo opens. When all other animals are in their indoor enclosures, the cats are let off their leads to run! I can't imagine what it would be like to see that, but I'm guessing I'd need clean pants afterwards. I'm just saying.

Since you know I have to talk about food...
Auckland itself provided the best restaurant for our family of the entire stay. Prego on Ponsonby was a hit with all of us, but most especially (and remarkably) with Ellie. She loved the garlic bread and the pizza. She couldn't get enough! Luckily, it was the first place we tried. We ate there again on our way out of town, and then again on our way back in days later. Food that goes over well with our non-eater should not be ignored.
For everyone else, I tell you not to miss the 20 minute pancake at Kokako in Parnell. Yes, it does take 20 minutes. YES, IT IS WORTH IT. Amazing. My normally polite and selfless husband stole my food. It was that good.

The day she adopted the word "fart"

Over a year ago, I read in a parenting book the following analogy about sending your children to school:

You have a canary who sings beautifully. Because you believe it is a healthy choice and the canary will enjoy it, you place the cage outside in the fresh air for a few hours each day. After a while, the canary's song changes as it starts imitating the other birds. Sometimes, you find the sounds quite crude, and you may experience pangs of regret for placing your canary outside in the first place.

This analogy was brought to mind this afternoon. Ellie has been zooming around the house on the balance bike for over 30 minutes (no, I'm not exaggerating), chanting (incessantly):

Mickey Mouse had a house
Beside the movie
When the movie started,
Mickey Mouse farted.
What color was it?


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Thursday, May 05, 2011


On to Nelson!

We took a brief flight from Wellington (at the bottom of the north island) to Nelson (at the top of the south island). Most people make this trip by ferry, and the views are said to be spectacular. However, the ferry ride is three hours long and if there are swells (and there often are), the seasickness is also said to be spectacular so we opted for the 30-minute flight.

We checked in right away at our motor lodge, which has a very different connotation in New Zealand than it does in the US. It was really nice! Everything was brand-new and tastefully decorated. Each room had a kitchenette, a large bathroom with eco-friendly products, flat screen TVs and DVD players, and free wi-fi (the only free wi-fi of the trip). We opted for a suite with lounge and a separate bedroom. Standard hotel rooms just don't work for us for many reasons, but mostly for one very cute reason: Stephanie (she simply cannot rest when we are all in one room at bedtime).

From there, we set out on foot to find some lunch and explore Nelson. Markus commented that it was like being inside a miniature railway. There were large hills (small mountains?) all around, covered with trees that were turning their autumn leaves.

The area greatly appeals to artists, and there were galleries throughout the town. The first one was passed was a small jewelry shop next door to a glass blowing studio. This small jeweler, Jens Hansen, was the creator of the One Ring for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We're big fans, so that was fun for us. He had to create 40 rings to fit all of the different people who wear it during the movie (the magic ring adapts to fit the wearer perfectly), including one huge ring for the opening sequence so the cameras could film it well. That one was made of gold-plated steel, to make the size possible. Just a bit of trivia for you.

On our last day, we drove up into the hills around Nelson and got this view of the town:

There's no getting around the fact that it rained A LOT, and we weren't able to do as much as we had hoped. The trip was saved by coloring and the great magnetic toy "Ball of Whacks", which the girls brought out every time we sat down.

Still, we made the most of it, despite the drizzle. From Nelson, most people head over to Abel Tasman National Park. There is only one road around the perimeter. The rest is trails or access by boat, neither of which was a real option for us. Instead, we drove about 1.5 hours to Nelson Lakes National Park to walk around Lake Rotoiti, one of the twin glacial lakes at the northern tip of the Southern Alps. Among the more accessible trails, there was a 15-minute walk which connected half-way to an hour-long walk. The girls did so well on the short trail that we carried on and did the bigger loop with them. This was their first real nature walk, and it was fantastic (though toward the end Ellie did become rather obsessed with a fear of being eaten by a large ferocious beast; funny because there aren't any in New Zealand, not even snakes)!

We drove to the area of the other lake, but the girls were too annoyed with the car travel to attempt another walk. The day involved a bit too much time in the car for everyone, though we were able to make a beautiful scenic stop on the way back to Nelson:

There, Markus was engaged in a serious debate with Ellie about the fairness of him carrying Stephanie on his shoulders and making her walk.

There was only one resolution possible: tickling.

It worked.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Sorry for the delay between posts. Jetlag hit us in a big way around here, which surprised us given that it was only a 4-hour difference. We've all been rather sluggish and tired. Luckily, we were able to enjoy some extra family time at home before the girls went back to school and Markus went back to work on Wednesday.

Ellie is now in Middle Primary, the next age group at school. Montessori schools have mixed-age classrooms, so she has moved up to the (roughly) 6-9 year olds. She is THRILLED! She asked every day of our vacation if we were going home tomorrow. When we asked why, she invariably said that when we went home, she'd go back to school and when she went back to school, she'd be in middle primary, and she couldn't wait to be in middle primary!

Stephanie is now set to attend every day in the Junior Primary classroom she used to share with Ellie. Ellie is so good at soothing her (so sweet!) that it was a wonderful gift for Stephanie to be able to start last term with Ellie in the same class. I have my reservations about her attending every day now (she still starts objecting in a big way not long after waking up in the morning), but we're going to give it a good go and reevaluate in another month or so.

The school day for 3 year olds at our school is from 8:30 to 1:30 five days a week, but I think that's a big ask for a new 3. We started Stephanie out for two hours, three days a week. We decided to up that to four days a week by the end of last term. Now, I upped it again to three hours, and her teacher wants all five days. As much as Stephanie objects at home (and I'm talking about tears and fuss from 6am), she does beautifully when she gets into the classroom. She loves to work, she makes herself right at home, and she seems to be friends with every child in the class. On her first day back, her teacher told me she wished for the first time that she had a video camera in the class just to show me how well Stephanie does. Two of my mom friends from the same class have done observations for their own children last term, and they too have reported back that Stephanie is happy as a clam in there. Whew. She's always happy when I pick her up and she has yet to be waiting by the door for my return, so I think we're good to go.

Both girls were exhausted from their first day of routine yesterday. Ellie, thrilled though she was about middle primary, started crying as soon as we got to the car about any little thing. I had brought the wrong snack. The wind blew her hair. The sun was too bright! WAH! Poor girl! She was soooo tired. Stephanie didn't do any crying when I picked her up earlier. She was happy and chatty. We came home, played, ate lunch, danced, puzzled, dressed up, and got back into the car to fetch Ellie. I gave her some crackers to snack on and I heard enthusiastic CRUNCH CRUNCH CRrrr... She was out like a light before we'd even left the driveway (cracker dangling from her lower lip). Tee-hee.