"Well, did you notice he was trying to drown it before he started beating it against the rock?"
Now you don't often get posed that kind of a question while out for a Sunday drive with the family, but there it was: and in fact, I had.
We were on a day trip to Makara Beach, a one-hour drive from our house, where we had read there was an excellent kid-friendly hike to a fort above the beach. Brandie had been wanting to try it for some time now, so since we had spent yesterday morning indoors (watching Wall-E, more on that in another post) and the weather promised to be fair we decided to give it a shot today. We packed some snacks and a nice picnic lunch (complete with the salami & cheese sandwiches Grammy Barbara used to make for picnics when Brandie was little), wrangled the kids into the car and off we went.
The way out to the beach wasn't very well-marked, so we missed a few turns downtown and had to loop around a few times before finally getting on the right track. Always eager to explore new territory, we drove through quite a few neat little neighborhoods with nice-looking cafes and shops, and discovered the location of a bakery Brandie had been interested in finding. At the crest of a steep hill the suburbs trailed away and we found ourselves on a windswept, winding road not unlike Coastal Highway 1 near Bodega, CA. Once we were down on the flat a small coastal stream ran alongside the road, which wound through very steep hills dotted with grazing farm animals.
We had started pointing out the animals to Sophie, but they were mostly on Josie's side of the car so she couldn't get a good view; Josie hasn't been feeling well and started snoring before we left the suburbs, so thankfully both girls were spared the sight (and we the uncomfortable questions that would naturally follow) of a farmer apparently trying to reduce the feline population of his farm by one.
Brandie & I first noticed a pair of dogs circling around a man standing in the coastal stream: the man pulled something out of the water and threw it onto the shore while the dogs barked excitedly. The man then climbed out of the stream, grabbed the thing by its tail and started beating it against the rocks. When he was in up-swing you could kind of make out four outstretched legs that were recognizably feline.
We weren't going very fast to begin with as the road is very windy, but I'm sure the car slowed down as Brandie & I stared in slack-jawed disbelief at what we were seeing. I snapped my attention back to the road and picked up the pace, hoping Sophie hadn't noticed. "Did you just see-" Brandie started to say, and then looked like she was going to be sick. From the backseat Sophie said, "Did you see those dogs, Mommy?" but didn't mention seeing anything else.
A few minutes later we arrived at the beach, still a little stunned at what we had seen. Despite the weather forecast it was still quite overcast, and
powerfully windy. In previous jaunts to the western coast the weather
has cleared and calmed just north of Wellington, but here the wind grew
stronger once we left the suburbs. As soon as I opened my door the wind swept through the car and woke Josie up with a painful ear-ache. We decided to just grab some hot chocolate and french fries from the beachside cafe instead of our hike, and headed back home for naps shortly after.
So far all our weekend excursions have been well-worth the effort, but I guess it's like The Dude says: sometime you get the bar and sometimes, well, the bar gets you.
Spring has sprung here in the Southern Hemisphere. And aside from the usual things that excite me about spring like buds on the trees, losing layers of clothing, and seeing the girls in light colored skirts there are some new things that excite me about this, my first spring in New Zealand.
First of all, this is the first time that I have endured two winters in a row. Granted, a winter in upstate New York is far colder than a winter here, but keep in mind, during the winter here we experience winds that are categorized as hurricanes at home and the locals would just say "it's a blower". In fact getting a Kiwi to actually admit that it is windy is something I have yet to see. I'm not about to say that the bad weather is over but they sun has been out for about 4 days in a row and that is plenty for me to celebrate.
The girls and I have been celebrating by taking more walks around the neighborhood. We live in an older subdivision and there are quite a few older people who have lived here their entire adult lives. Many of these folks take great pride in their gardens. There are so many beautiful flowers in bloom, some that I recognize and others that are totally foreign. The girls and I have enjoyed looking at the flowers and then returning home to look them up online to learn what they are. It's also been nice to see many of our neighbors on these walks. Most of them have grandchildren who live out of the area so the girls get extra attention when we meet them. We'll have to do some baking and take a walk one day to deliver the goods.
So far, my favorite feature of this spring is the sun sun sun! It is lovely and comes up early. We get to watch it peek over the hill from Seatoun way. Jake and I have a high window above our bed which we like to leave uncovered so we can wake with the sun. We all monitor it's progress in the morning from the breakfast table. "Now it's touching the neighbors house, now the lemon tree, now our fence, now the deck, now it's inside!". The sun (and lack of rain) has made my laundry drying efforts much, much easier. Before I would be lucky to get two loads of wash dry on one day. So far, I've got three loads dry just today and there's one more load in the wash getting ready to be hung out. I love it!
No, not that kind of ketchup - Sophie insists on calling that "to-mah-to sauce" now anyway. At least Wattie's, the big national brand of tomato sauce, is owned by Heinz so we're keeping things somewhat in the family! Anyway (sorry, this post is already meandering and we're still in the first paragraph) I've been keeping a list of things I've wanted to blog about and it's not getting any smaller, so I thought I'd wrap up a few of them in one fell swoop while Brandie is out for "ladies night" at a friend's house.
"NZ's original yeast spread" (as opposed to Vegemite, the Australian brand) looks like the most delicious dark chocolate icing you've ever seen. Only it's really salty and loaded with vitamins. Kids here eat it on sandwiches like we eat peanut butter back home.
Unlike Steve, I love it. Total convert. Slap a little on a cracker with some avocado and maybe a slice of tomato, you've got one tasty treat. You just have to go into it realizing it's not some new version of Nutella and it won't be a shock. Some Kiwis claim Vegemite is less strong and more enjoyable (probably at risk to their citizenship), but I'm happy to stand by New Zealand in this case.
I'm a cereal hound, ask anyone: my favorite part of college was having cereal with every meal. So it came as a major surprise to discover that the most-beloved breakfast cereal of New Zealand (the packaging claims 330 million are consumed in NZ each year) was completely inedible. Add milk, instant slop. Even crumbling it over yogurt you wind up picking more out of your teeth (it turns chewy and sticky) than in your belly. Thankfully I've discovered Vogel's line (including my favorite, the delectable Summer Crunch) or I'd probably have sworn off cereal altogether by now.
Growing up, I walked past maple trees hung with buckets every day on the way to the bus stop. Our neighbor at the bottom of the road collected gallons of sap and boiled it down every year to sell for a pittance (by NZ standards) every spring. It never occurred to me (or even if I was told this directly, it didn't stick) that nearly all of the world's maple syrup comes from North America, and must be shipped everywhere else. Now that we are here, that fact is painfully apparent: the stuff is expensive! My sister just shipped us a bottle (32oz of Vermont's finest) that would easily have cost us NZD$40 - thank you, Sarah Boo! We'll be savoring every drop.
Last winter (the northern hemisphere one, with average lows of 15˚F and snowfall often measuring in feet), my step-brother updated the thermostat in our house so we could set different temperatures depending on our schedule. We usually warmed up the house in the morning by bringing the heat up to 70, ran it on 68 for most of the day and let it run down to 66 at night. Brrr, right? We thought we were being pretty conservative and energy-conscious.
Fast-forward to Winter #2 (southern hemisphere, with 90mph winds, sideways rain and occasional frost). Insulation is only just catching on here, and most houses rely on multiple space heaters cranking round the clock to call themselves habitable. Some people just "harden up" and go without, like my office-mate who remarked one day "I woke up this morning and looked at the thermometer: it said 41˚ so I went back to sleep." That's inside his house. On the other hand, there are horror stories involving unsuspecting transplants like us getting billed $1000 for a month's worth of utilities.
Josie is still prone to lose her covers in the middle of the night so we're not quite ready to go without heat altogether, but neither are we living with the extravagance of 70˚ mornings: the house is set to 16˚C most of the time (right around 60˚F) and on special occasions we crank it up to 17. Our extraordinary house (thank you Marilyn!) has insulation and central heat, and we still have a pretty hefty utility bill.
Ok last one here before I bore you to death: cheers to anyone who's still reading! I've mentioned before I have a bad habit of buying books - the bulk of our move from California probably could have been sent book-rate and saved us a few bucks. New Zealand has wholly cured me of this, at least for the time that we are here: books are prohibitively expensive (close to NZD$30 for a nice paperback) so we've been hitting the library pretty hard.
That's it - back to my list, and I'll try to upload some new pictures before calling it a night here. The girls have both been sick for the past week or so, so sleep has been more precious than maple syrup here and I'll probably regret staying up even this late tomorrow! Sophie seems to be mostly over it now, but Josie is still having a hard time and waking up every hour or so in pain - she was already up once while I was writing this.
I finally got up this morning and took a walk over the hill to watch the sunrise over Seatoun Beach. I know what you're thinking. "You live 10 minutes from the beach and you JUST took a walk over there?". I mean seriously, could I ask for anything more inspiring to get me out the door for some exercise in the morning? Whatever, it was amazing and my flabby middle section thanks me. The hill is straight up and the vistas that open up on the top are amazing. How did I end up here in this country? Is this really my life where I can get up leaving my daughters and husband sleeping quietly and go for a walk to the beach? Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd get out of Idaho when I was a kid. I think riding in a limo was on the top of my wildest dream list. :)
Anyhow, during my walk this morning I drank in all the signs of spring. Freesia, lilies of the valley, hyacinth all pushing their way out to the sun. As I passed other people out for their morning walks I realized I didn't know what to say. How do you greet other folks here in New Zealand? This sounds silly right? That was exactly what I told myself. So I just said what I would say at home, "Morning!". It's a declaration and a greeting all at once. Everyone except an older gentelman said it back. He said "Good Day." And it is indeed.