Sunday, September 27, 2009

School's out!

School's out in New Zealand, but not after a hectic couple of weeks.
First there was the school art show - where the kids proudly displayed their work created during the term. As usual, there was a sausage sizzle, with wine and beer for the adults, and cordial for the kids.
It was great chatting to the teachers and other parents in such a relaxed atmosphere.
During the evening, teachers displayed their own art work and there was a silent auction so parents could bid on the masterpieces.
Bidding started slowly, with just $1 and $2 bids rolling in, until naughty Husband took over and started bidding in $15 and $20 increments to get things rolling. You would never have known that he used to be an auctioneer - not!
A few of the teachers were upset not to get any bids, so we put a few sympathy bids in too...and ended up picking up a painting for $10. Bargain, don't you think?
The final week of school wound up with a concert by C's class. He proved to be a dab hand on the bongo drums, and even sang the New Zealand National Anthem (I didn't even know he knew it!) H. loved applauding her brother and their friends.
The kids are growing out of their shoes and jeans, so we took them to Otara Market on the weekend. This is seriously one of the best places in Auckland to pick up cheap clothes, shoes, and ... well, pretty much anything really.
It was a pity about the weather - cold and wet - or we would have picked up some fruit and vegies too.
On Sunday, I put the kids to work, by taking them with me to see a film I'm reviewing, Ponyo.
It's so different to any other kids movies I've seen, like a storybook come to life. The kids were mesmerised and C. declared: 'It's not normally my thing, but I liked it."
Guess it will be getting the thumbs up then!

The painting we won, by the head of the junior school
One of H's pieces

And the Little Dude with another of his (he was rather prolific)!

Otara Market, where you can get just about anything - including contact lenses ...

I've always wanted a Mumu...

Big spender

Colourful stalls
Surveying the stalls
Missy and a Fluffie (babycino)

C. chose a hot dog. An American hotdog is a frankfurt in a bun. (C. looks like he's about to shove that stick up his nose. And I don't know what's wrong with Miss Crankypants! Look at the face...)

Coconut bread
Breakfast vans ... C. is wearing my jumper because he 'doesn't feel the cold). Yeah, right.
Hangi anyone?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Buon Appetito, Auckland!

This weekend, we ate our way around the Auckland Italian Festival.
Organised by the Societa Dante Alighieri, the day featured food, wine, and entertainment, and was a great way to spend a few hours of quality family time.
It was like Little Italy had come to Auckland!

Mmm ... gelati

Check out the body language! He had lemon-line, She had blood orange.

The jumping castle gave Husband and I time to scoff some divine eggplant bruschetta.

Gnocchi with lamb ragout...more please!

Pasta-making workshop

Mobile wood fired oven

Pizza dough resting

Mobile menu

The pizza. Chorizo, olives, onion jam and balsamic glaze. Buon Appetito!

Fun and games on the way home
(Apologies for crappy photo and text placement. I change it time and time again, but Blogger reverts back to this format ... have no idea why. If anyone more blog-savvy can help, I'd love it!)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Something for nothing (and the zoo for free)

Guess what? You can get something for nothing – at least in New Zealand.
The other day, I entered a competition run by the New Zealand Herald. It was for one of those fashion/hair/beauty makeovers, because apparently, I need it.
(Conversation with Husband the other day:
Him: You’re not wearing that are you?
Me: Why? Is it daggy?
Him: You’re always daggy …(and no, I haven't divorced him – yet!)
Anyway, of course I didn’t win. But the newspaper emailed me to say they were giving everyone who entered the competition a chance to have the paper home-delivered for free for four weeks. No catches, no need to cancel at the end of it. Just free. Try it and see if you like it. No questions asked.
Well, what do you think I did? I’m loving getting a paper home-delivered again. It’s not quite the same reading papers online, and plus, you can’t leave old copies lying around to irritate your husband. Where’s the fun in that?
But Kiwis are often offered things for free over here, and I'm still getting used to it.
For example, for the whole month of August, Auckland residents could visit the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) for free. Not restricted to one entry per address, mind, it was free entry for the entire family.
Their PR company told me it’s because August is traditionally a slow month – being wetter and colder, and they just like to give locals the chance to experience it. But still – to me, that’s just awesome.
And when Kashin, a much-loved elephant at Auckland Zoo, died recently, the zoo’s response was to open the gates for one day, so that residents could pay their respects and visit her burial site for free. In a world where so many companies are focussed on profit margins and budgets, I think it’s wonderful that organisations like this can put that aside for the greater good.
It’s not just the big corporate citizens that are generous either.
The other day, I passed a coffee shop on Ponsonby Road which was giving away their empty, divine-smelling coffee bags (gold coin donation suggested). They would probably end up being sold at markets back home.
At our lovely school – where about 23 different nationalities are on the roll – parents from other countries who are struggling with English, are given free language lessons each week. Again, how gracious that staff give their time and the board provides a venue so that parents can settle into their lives here so much easier?
And at Oratia Farmer’s market, which I blogged about recently, as well as generous tastings and samples, one guy was giving away perfectly good organic apples.
Even at our local New World supermarket deli, the friendly ladies always give the kids a free cheerio each. Just like Mum’s local butcher did when I was a kid! And I scored a free reusable shopping bag when the store recently celebrated a birthday.
Finally on September 25, ZORB Roturua is giving away Zorb rides to celebrate their 14th birthday. All day. For nix.
I feel so blessed to be enjoying life in such a warm, generous country.
Anyone else know of some great freebies - either in New Zealand or further afield?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When the boy's away....

Confession time: We did something very naughty recently. We went out to dinner while C. was away at school camp!
I blame Husband, who came home saying that he wanted to take his Two Best Girls out to dinner. (Well, at least we are up there...)
And so, we trekked up the hill to Ponsonby and tried a cute little Italian restaurant called Gusto.
The service was friendly and efficient, and they were particularly lovely to Miss 6.
And as we are used to in New Zealand, there was no kids menu (prompting a pout from H.), but the chef was more than happy to prepare a bowl of her favourite, spaghetti bolognaise, just for her.
She pronounced it (and don't tell him): Better Than Daddy's!
High praise indeed.
With just one child (meaning no arguing or fighting) dinner was actually peaceful and relaxing. Almost like date night.
Or perhaps that was the wine...

Husband's pasta. His only criticism was that there was not more of it!

Vegie pizza for me...

You don't get better praise than this. Small child tucking into real food!

For the first time ever, Miss 6 chose to sit next to Dadda instead of me! (Sob - it's all downhill from here)

Mr 8 arrives back at school, unaware of the betrayal that has taken place..

Seriously, he was fine, but thirsty and starving, because apparently they don't feed kids at camp in New Zealand. (Joke: Totally not true! Apparently the meals were even better than mine ...yes, I know, that wouldn't be hard!)

After a few days in the wilds, he was desperate for 'technology'.
And don't worry, he's been for several meals out since then!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

To market, to market

We love a good market, and in NZ we're still discovering new ones, a year after moving here!
Most recently, it was the Oratia Farmers Market at Artisan Wines, Waitekere.
Like so many NZ markets, this one is small by comparison with Aussie markets. But hey, who said bigger was better? We were able to park onsite, for free, and although busy, it wasn't unpleasantly crowded.
The stall holders were extremely generous with tastings - which worked to their advantage, because I think we bought everything we tasted!
It was an expensive visit, but so worth it to try quality NZ products straight from the producers.
Even the kids enjoyed it.
And as a Mum, I loved that the stallholders offered the kids tastes. So often, the little ones are ignored, when let's face it, they hold the pester power in the parental purse-strings.
And if I know they will eat something, I'm much more likely to shell out for something, even if it is more expensive than the supermarket.
And so I did...

Quirky art

Hungarian bread, tomato, fetta and basil

Yes please!
(Sadly, no one obliged. Sigh)

Salami. Even Missy Moo loved this!
(Again - we wouldn't have bought it if the kids hadn't tried it and liked it. So kudos to the stall holder)

Wicked chocolates. By name and by taste!

Getting into the chocolate tasting

Mmm .. to die for is right!

You can get something for nothing in Auckland apples at a raffle stall

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Father's Day

How was your Father's Day?
We enjoyed a weekend of gorgeous spring weather so made the most of it.
On Saturday, we took a jaunt to Piha, another of Auckland's fabulous volcanic sand beaches.
I was glad I'd only partaken of two glasses of wine the night before, because the road to Piha was windy and steep. I spent half the drive gritting my teeth and squealing, as Husband revealed his inner rally driver.
Nevertheless, we made it there safely, and the crazy drive was worth it.
"Why is the sand glittering?," asked C. "Mumma, there are diamonds in it!" exclaimed H.
Later, we enjoyed lunch at Occam, a Grey Lynn cafe we've been dying to try for ages, as it's always filled to the brim with happy campers. Er diners.
True enough, the meal was fabulous, all the better for nabbing the table closest to the fire.
I am constantly amazed at how few NZ restaurants specifically cater for kids with their own menu - though it is rarely a problem to serve up a mini-portion menu of a main, or something else altogether if you ask. In some ways, I think this is better than the standardised kids' menu, because the kids end up eating and appreciating real food as opposed to more nuggets and fries!
Most recently, the kids have enjoyed reduced sized (and priced) fish meals, pizza, pasta, and also breakfasts - just like the grown-ups, but for little tummies. And they've loved it!
The price usually needs to be worked out, but we've never felt ripped off. In fact, we'd rather pay a little more for our kids to eat specially prepared, quality food than reheated, stereotypical, frozen meals. (Hey, they can get that home. At least if I'm cooking!)
Father's Day Sunday was a relatively lazy day spent mostly at home, though we did venture up the road to our local, The Drake, for their famous two-for-one Sunday meals.
As usual, it was lovely, and as usual, the kids were mesmerised by yet another fire!

He looks so serious!

Oh, is that a fry? Don't mind if I do ...

Pan-fried snapper with wilted greens, kipfler potatoes and capers ... at Occam. Faultless!

Eel Bridge at Piha ... a tribute to the eels which live below. There are golden eel railings ...

And eels etched into the pavement!

Washing shells at Piha

Sibling love

Unspoiled beaches


Friday, September 4, 2009

Our New Zealand anniversary!

This week, we realised we’d been living in Auckland for a year!
Yes, it has been 12 months since we were belched off a very unpleasant Qantas flight and into the Brave New World that is Auckland.
I still remember the drive to our temporary city apartment. C. was so exhausted he fell asleep, and Miss 6. was so excited she kept describing everything as ‘funny.’ Including my husband’s boss!
After a quick shower and change, we ventured into busy Queen Street, where C. almost stepped into a puddle of vomit, and then dramatically announced this had been the Worst Day Of His Life. And we wondered: Had we made a massive mistake?
But as the weeks passed in a blur of house-hunting, car-buying, setting up bank accounts and settling into schools, we soon began to enjoy our new home.
And 12 months on, we have no regrets. Kiwis have been marvellously warm and welcoming, and living overseas, even just across the ditch, has been enriching for us as a family. We’ve enjoyed learning about different cultures, trying new foods, and exploring this breathtakingly gorgeous country. We’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
The worst thing about relocating a family overseas is missing your other family. We all miss our family and friends back home, and have our moments we feel homesick and sad. But we’ve been lucky enough to get home occasionally, and have really enjoyed getting visitors from time to time!
And of course, we hate not having pets – though regular readers will know we now have a kitty visitor who calls on us whenever she is hungry, thirsty, or in need of attention. So we get in a pet ‘fix’ every now and then with her.
Yes, moving a family overseas is huge – but it’s also exciting and fun. Here are some of the things we’ve learned:
· Get your kids into school/daycare as soon as possible. In NZ that’s tricky, because you need to live near your school before you can enrol! The minute our kids were in school, they settled down and relaxed. Okay, so it wasn’t quite what they were used to, but they were back into a routine and generally knew what was expected of them each day. That gave them an element of control over their lives, and gave us time to do the stuff we needed – like unpacking and dealing with red-tape - without stressing out the kids.
· Help make the move as ‘normal’ as possible. After arriving at our apartment, we immediately went out and bought soy milk, Milo, and a few other ‘comfort’ foods that we knew they would love.
· Stay in an apartment rather than a hotel while you find a permanent place to live. It’s not just about saving money (though that’s a help). After a couple of nights, eating out got boring, and the kids just wanted to chill out in front of the telly, like they would at home. Having a kitchen, meant we could cook up simple family meals like bangers and mash, instead of going out to eat every night. Not to mention, enjoying cereal and milk or toast in the mornings.
· Organise communication as soon as possible. It took us three weeks to get internet and phone at our new home, and I went slightly bonkers in the process!
· Reconsider a ‘relocation consultant’. They are expensive, and although my husband’s work kindly paid for one for us, to be honest, she wasn’t much help. She was a couple of days too late to take us on our tour of rental places (we found one ourselves in the meantime) and gave us horrendous advice about the best places for us to live. Worst of all, she didn’t tell us stuff we REALLY needed to know: Like registering for a doctor as soon as possible. (You need to be with a GP for at least 3 months before qualifying for reduced rates for visits and medication), and bringing in medication the family needs that is unavailable or hopelessly expensive here.
· Try to do most of the house-hunting legwork without the kids. Ours found it stressful and fairly boring being dragged from one place to another, but having just arrived, there were no family or friends to babysit, and we didn’t want to have them babysat by a stranger. Yes, they can still have a say if you like, but once you’ve narrowed it down.
· Obviously, your kids need to travel with any extra special toys, like teddies. Then, when the moving dudes arrive, make sure you set up their rooms first. The kids were at school during moving day, and when they got home, they got to add the finishing touches, and unpack their toys to their own satisfaction. .
· Bring photos, albums and pictures. We left many behind, thinking we wouldn’t have anywhere to put them. But the kids would have preferred to see familiar pictures in their own new rooms, and they constantly go through the photo albums we did bring.
· Let them have their home comforts. Miss 6 always has vegemite sandwiches for lunch, and Mr 8 likes his Tim Tams. It’s comforting for kids (or adults) to be surrounded by things/meals/drinks that they know. Luckily in NZ that’s easy, and their favourite things are readily available.
· Don’t trust the airline to deliver when it comes to food and entertainment. We were seated too close to the TV screens on Qantas for the kids to be able to watch the movie, and they ended up fidgeting and arguing for most of the flight. And the tiny pack of crayons and activities they were given was the same as they’d had on two previous domestic flights, so they lasted about, oh, all of five minutes. And don’t get me started on the food! Now, the kids always travel with a small backpack with DS games, activities, books and snacks. (Note: Not too many snacks, as you’ll have to bin any leftovers when you reach your destination). Usually forbidden treats like chewing gum works a treat. Also, I carry my laptop, and the kids watch movies and play games on that if they’re bored.

Has anyone else got any tips for relocating a family overseas?

Fire and ice ...

You can take the Brissie girl out of New Zealand, but you can't take NZ out of the girl. Or something like that. What I mean is that al...