Saturday, December 27, 2008

And so this was Christmas ...


Christmas got off to a flying start on Christmas Eve morning, when our lovely complex manager U. dropped by with a special delivery.
U. not only keeps the place ticking over nicely, but often intercepts parcels on our behalf when we're not around (saving me an inconvenient trip to the post office), or brings in the garbage bin for me on rainy days. (Erm, that would be most days then).
Now, he doesn't have to do that, so we gave him a card and a box of Cadbury's finest a few days earlier to say thanks.
Anyway, on Christmas Eve U. dropped by with some traditional German gingerbread his wife had baked, to say thanks for the thank-you. The kids loved them!


The rest of the day was spent just chilling, watching a few Christmas DVDs, swimming, and wrapping last-minute presents.
I cooked for once, and excelled (if I do say so myself) by searing some NZ scallops in butter, garlic and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, served with pasta. Mmm, NZ scallops...
All too soon it was time to leave shortbread star cookies for Santa, milk, and carrots out for the reindeer. (Don't know what Santa thought of the milk ... pretty sure he would have preferred a beer, but the kids were adamant!)
This is all the Big Man left, though H. was concerned the reindeer didn't eat all their carrots!
C. was the first one up on Christmas morning - 5.45 am. Which was a sleep-in by previous years' standards. I managed to keep him from tearing into the presents for about, oh, 15 minutes, before I let him wake H. and Husband!
Even though we didn't spend as much this year, (some of the presents are from grandparents, and aunties and uncles, and of course, Santa), the kids seemed delighted with their haul - a Nintendo DS for Missy, a Playstation 2 for him, games, and toys.
In answer to so many questions, it was surreal spending Christmas away from home. In my younger days, I spent my share of Christmasses away from family, including overseas. But when you have kids it's a much bigger deal. Not only are you depriving loved ones of YOUR company, but you're depriving them of the kids as well. And vice versa. Plus, you're missing out on the whole family experience - Christmas morning church, the big family lunch/dinner, cricket in the backyard, and playing with cousins.
So yes, there was a touch of sadness at being away from home.
But on the plus-side, our Christmas was pretty stress-free. It was nice not to have to drive for hours on busy roads, and it was lovely not to be sweltering for once (Christmas here was warm but not hot). And for the first time ever, we didn't have to keep the chocolate Advent calendars in the fridge!
We were able to spend the afternoon helping the kids to enjoy their new toys, and arts and crafts presents, and yes, fitted in another swim.
After Husband's delicious lamb roast dinner, we spent the evening watching Home Alone 2 as a family. It was the first time the kids had seen it, and they thought it rocked!
Kiwis seem to treat Christmas much like Aussies do. There's either a big family lunch or dinner (sometimes both), and it's either roast turkey with all the trimmings, or a BBQ. And yes, they do throw prawns on the barbie, as well as the ubiquitous mussels (shudder). Oh, and much drinking of alchohol for the grown-ups.
Boxing Day involves either hitting the sales, or hitting the beach/great outdoors.
We couldn't face the horror of shopping just yet, so headed to nearby Point Chevalier beach.
The Pohutukawa trees line the seashore and provide plenty of shade. Lots of naked kiddies frolicked happily in the shallows (so different to home, where we're all so worried about paedophiles, kids have lost that innocent childhood pleasure.)
It's sad that Christmas is drawing to a close, but we're looking forward to making up for lost-time by catching up with our family and friends in Queensland next year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

School holidays? They're a walk in the park!

Keeping kids entertained during school holidays, particularly with the excitement of Christmas looming, is always tricky.
Yesterday, I decided we'd check out another of Auckland's fabulous parks, and give the chance to burn off some of energy as well.
This time it was Western Park, in Ponsonby.
It's a gorgeous park, with loads of winding paths, trees straight out of fairytales, and soft green grass. There's also a fab (and slightly dangerous!) playground. NZ laws are obviously not as over-the-top as back home, and parks still have monkey bars, roundabouts, and some huge-arsed slippery slides as well. So kids still get to be kids, and parents get to worry and sooth the inevitably bumps and bruises later!

See why we needed to get out of the house? They're unstoppable!








C. and friend check out one of the slides

















My own human monkey






The Pohutakawa or New Zealand Christmas tree. So-named, because it blossoms every Christmas. Settlers used to decorate their homes with it instead of holly. They are gorgeous and in some areas turn hills and mountains red! The flowers when they fall leave a carpet of red underneath.

A doggie dumpster. The council provides free litter bags, and a doggie bin to put the bags in later.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas lights

Last night, I took the kids to see the famous Franklin Road Christmas lights.
Now, as a rule, Kiwis don't go in for the whole 'deck the halls' fuss that Aussies do. So Franklin Road, refreshingly close to where we live, is unusual.
Basically, nearly the whole street chooses to decorate their homes, apartments, and businesses with lights and decorations.
And families, groups of teens and romantic couples, young and old, like to visit the street at night, ambling up and down, admiring the displays and perhaps enjoying a hot chocolate or coffee from one of the vans that set up each evening.
Bearing in mind that it doesn't get dark here until after 9 pm - way after kiddies' bedtime - we chose to wait until school had finished for our first visit. We learned long ago that late nights and school days don't mix!



We took a detour to the Victoria Park Christmas tree first, where the kids made yet another phone call to Santa and watched their 'wish' travelling up the tree and off to the North Pole.


















The kids had a fab time on Franklin Road, and even talked me into coughing up for a Big Thumb each. A Big Thumb is an ice-block which you can wear on your thumb. Except the kids, of course, asked for a Big Bum when it was their turn to be served!
Our evening followed a disastrous trip to the shops to do last-minute Christmas shopping.
As in Brisbane, the stores are packed this time of year. What's weird though is you walk outside without being immediately being knocked back by hot, humid air. In fact, as we walked back to the car, H. whined: 'I'm cold'.
It was rainy, windy and cool - no surprises for Auckland, but it would never happen this time of year back home, when even the rain is warm!
Kids were fussy, and we ended up coming home empty handed. (Though we did enjoy a lovely Japanese lunch.)
We still have a few presents to pick up, so that's going to be interesting over the next few days with two kids in tow.
If only they had 'drop and shop' like they do at our former local shopping centre, Mt Ommaney!
Christmas will certainly be different this year, but at last it's starting to feel a bit more like the festive season.









Friday, December 19, 2008

Look out Auckland! Here we come...


Oops!


This week, I helped out as the Grade One’s from H’s school visited Auckland Zoo.
Now the trip was to have happened a week ago, but had to be cancelled on account of horizontal rain and high winds that day. (Horizontal rain – where the wind is so strong it whips it onto you and under umbrellas, soaking your clothes and lashing your face. All too common in Auckland).
This zoo day, the skies were fine, and we piled into the bus.
And then I had a revelation.
NZ buses/schools obviously don’t have the same safety laws as we do in Australia. The bus could have been the one I rode, many years ago, on the bus run to Kingaroy. There was no air-conditioning, no seatbelts, no loos, and wind whipped in through the open windows. And the driver was a maniac! (I mean that in a nice way – just that he was speedy, there were many bumps, and kids (and I) almost ended up on the floor on a few occasions).
And then there was the noise. The kids were hyped. “That’s my Daddy’s work!” screamed H. on one occasion, as we careered around a corner. Then “ooooh” as we went under an overpass. And much cheering and giggling as we caught up with, and dragged, another bus. And did I mention the singing?
But we got there in super-quick time.
In true Auckland style, the minute we pulled up outside the zoo, it started raining. Luckily I’d packed coats, umbrellas and the like, and we spent the next few hours taking them off and putting them back on – Auckland is like that. One minute it’s burning hot, the next it’s pouring down.
I had forgotten how demanding it is to supervise loads of kids, and don’t remember much of the zoo at all. I think it involved multiple toilet visits and carrying lots of bags.
Still, there were some funny moments. Like when they saw their first animal, still outside the zoo gates.
“Look a rooster” they shrieked, rushing towards the terrified creature. Later, inside the zoo, we were gazing at the lions, when one of the kids shouted: “Dad! Why are the lions dead?” (They were sleeping).
And when we saw the lemurs, the whole class started singing: “I like to move it, move it” from Madagascar.
I’d love to go back to the zoo on another occasion, when it’s less-rushed and I only have to keep my eyes on two kids!
In other news, the kids finished school for the year yesterday. I felt quite teary saying goodbye to their teachers, who were so lovely and talented. It feels like only a few months ago that we were saying goodbye to their teachers in Brisbane, who were so lovely and talented … hang on, it WAS only a few months ago!
We’ve been so blessed to find a similar-style school here, where the teachers are all gifted, enthusiastic, and clearly love their jobs.
The best thing is that C. is finally reading at the level of his peers. That’s a huge achievement, because he has a reading and writing disability, and when we arrived here a few months ago, he was still only at a Grade 1 level. With the help of the school’s magical reading recovery teacher, he is now reading Grade 3 level and finally picking up books at home, and, er, READING them! You can’t imagine how proud I am! (Now we just have to work on the hand-writing.)
We also had Husband’s work Christmas party – a posh affair at the Auckland City Hall, and a chance for Grown Up Time while our French babysitter entertained the kids. I even wore heels and didn't fall over once!
Poor Husband still has a couple of days left of work, while the kids and I are officially on holiday.
All I can say is Auckland better watch out!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Walking in a Kiwi Wonderland

With the arrival of the Man in Red pending, we decided to take a walk into the Auckland CBD so the kids could visit Santa.

Appparently, Santa has digs in Auckland, and we were able to wander through his enchanted forest and visit him in his cosy sitting room.



Half of Auckland seemed to have the same idea, so after a lengthy wait involving lots of starvation and thirst (the kids can't go five minutes without eating or drinking something apparently), C. and H. were firmly planted on Santa's lap and trying to persuade him they've been good all year. (Chance would be a fine thing...)
I have to admit Santa was probably the loveliest I've ever encountered - very jolly and warm with a lovely voice. I swear he was real, though C. remains to be convinced. Anyway, he was much better than some of the fresh-faced Santas we've seen lurking around the shopping centres here lately. Honestly, one of them looks about 12.



Visiting Santa was so much fun!














Then it was time to refuel at Wendy's. C. ate an entire Baconator, just like his Dad!

On the way home, we stopped at Victoria Park where Telecom have erected an awesome tree of lights. They provide bean bags and deck chairs so you can lie on them at night and gaze up at the lights.
There are also phone booths where kids can dial the North Pole and leave messages for Santa.


"And Santa, can I please have a pony?"















"Would you prefer beer or milk to drink on Christmas Eve?"






Speaking of alcohol, here is my Wine of the Week. It's one I shared with L. and Nana when they were here. Always a sucker for marketing, the temptation of winning a trip to Australia helped twist my arm!
The Stables Ngatarawa chardy was very pleasant, with it's ripe citrus flavours and smooth palate made from a blend of Gisborn and Hawke's Bay grapes. Apparently Ngatarawa (pronounced naa-taa-ra-wa) is Maori for between the ridges. The winery is housed in former racing stables, hence the name.
Cheers!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

We ran away with the gypsies (kind of)

Did you know there are gypsies in New Zealand?
Neither did we, until we came across a gypsy fair recently.
Of course, we had to stop and investigate, much to the excitement of the kuds (kids).
It was much like a normal fair, except the stall holders travel in gaily-coloured gypsy caravans - no surprises there.






And I guess you normally wouldn't be able to buy a wand, or get a tattoo or piercing at a normal fair.



We didn't plump for the tatts and other gear, but we did give the kids a pony ride. They also tried their hands (mouths?) at blowing darts. Can you believe it is legal to sell them here? Weird. And no, we didn't let C. take one home.

A jumping castle session, and a merry-go-round topped off our day with the gypsies.


















And finally, in place of the Wine of the Week, here's proof that my son has gone to the dogs since we moved here. Mmm ... all the goodness and vitality of Chase in every can!





Monday, December 8, 2008

Our weekend of 'bach-ing' it

Kiwis in the North Island call their holiday homes baches. (Pronounced 'batches'). In the South Island, they're cribs.
We enjoyed our first bach experience this weekend, when Husband, kids and I took a day off work and school, and took Nana to the Coromandel Peninsula to explore another part of New Zealand.
As Bach Virgins, we really weren't sure what to expect, so we were thrilled when our chosen beach house was even more gorgeous than it appeared online. Take a look at http://www.bookabach.co.nz/holiday_homes/dsp_listing.cfm?bachId=4911&kwt=New%20Perspective
The owner was delightful to deal with and gave us a really good last minute deal.
Set across from the beach on Thornton Bay, New Perspective was a rambling home, with a huge deck which was perfect for kicking back and enjoying the scenery. It had all the comforts of home and more, with lovely artwork on the walls, comfortable pillows and duvets (we brought our own linen), a well-stocked kitchen, fireplace and electric blankets (which we didn't need to use). There were even bean bags for the kids (which they did use!)
The nearby town of Thames was a good spot for bargain hunting, particularly the Saturday markets, where we picked up some local bread, raspberries, blueberry pie and other goodies for lunch.
The house and beach were so relaxing, we were happy to spend most of the weekend at our home away from home, wandering the beach, collecting shells, reading, and watching the world go by. The kids loved having a garden to play in again too.







All too soon, the weekend was over, but something tells me we'll be back ...
Collecting shells


Beachcombing











Check out the bowling action!









Feeling right at home ...



Crikey, look at this little beauty (C. catches a crab)










What we thought when we had to leave ...





Low tide at Thornton Bay









Collecting driftwood for a sandcastle















It wouldn't be the beach without fish and chips












Sunset















Shags on rocks














Mmmm, ice-cream