A quick reminder:
You can click on any photo to view it larger.
A quick reminder:
You can click on any photo to view it larger.
31 January 2014-
So...Abel Tasman has been breathtaking....magnificient...amazing. Alas, even though we'd love to stay we feel that we need to keep moving. Our goal is to try and make it all around the South Island in these short two weeks we have and the only way we're going to accomplish that is if we get a move on.
Where to next? How about we head over to the west coast and drive south? We'll see where we end up!
Hey...check out the water level. Do you remember my morning jog? This was a mudflat this morning!
Have you heard of sandflies?
Weeeeellll....let me you - they're tiny nasty bite-y flies. And they'll EAT YOU ALIVE!!!!
Okay, so this river is GORGEOUS but I do think we need to make a hasty retreat back to the campervans!
Oooo!!! Yummy blackberries! (okay, so perhaps they were worth a few sandfly bites...they are tasty)
Guess what? It's time to get back on the road...
views from the road:
Just up ahead there's something on the map - it says that there is the Longest Swingbridge in New Zealand.
I'm sure you've figured out by now that we're DEFINITELY stopping and checking out this bridge. Right?
We've paid our entry fees so let's go ....carefully....stroll across the bridge. They gave us a map at the front desk that details out the history of the bridge and the surrounding area. Isn't it incredible to think this area has washed away in a flood? Can you see how high off the ground it is????? WOW!
Is there gold in the sand??? It sure appears there's something shiny in the sand.
Check out these awesome rocks!
Don't these rocks look like dinosaur bones??? Or dragon bones?????
Time to hit the road!
We made it to Westport!
We need to pick up more groceries but honestly, going shopping with the Minions kids isn't exactly our idea of fun. So...how about Mark takes the kids down to the beach while Ray, Beth and I go speed shopping and restock our supplies.
Creating mud pits:
It's been another awesome day. We sure do have a lot of those here, don't we?
23 February 2014-
Dear Darling Avi Baby,
How is it that today you're EIGHT YEARS OLD?????
I keep saying this...and I'll keep saying it - time flies by too quickly these days. I just wish I could make time stand still -even for just a moment- to sit back and enjoy you as you are now.
And who is Ava now????
She's a vivacious, vibrant little girl with unruly golden locks (we often ask you if you've combed your hair with an egg-beater). Your blue eyes, your gappy-tooth wide grin and your unique sense of fashion are just some of the parts people see when they look at you. You have a bubbly personality that fills us ...and everyone around you...with joy. You're quite verbal. And by that I mean you're a bit of a chatterbug and I love you all the more because of it. You also have an ability to reach out and grab peoples' attention with your superb speaking talent. It's absolutely wonderful to watch others react when you're up on stage and speaking in front of an audience. You breathe life into your roles.
Then again...you also are an incredible little mechanical engineer. You love taking things apart and building things with your Daddy. So....will you end up a mechanical engineer like your Daddy???? (personally, I'm secretly...or not so secretly... hoping for that.)
You're also our dedicated Waffle Maker. Whatever would Saturday morning breakfast be like without you and your waffles? I don't even want to think about that.... And what would Saturday morning waffles without a dose of Phineas and Ferb be like? Also unthinkable!
Ava, I know that you admire and adore your Big Sister, Annika. (I mean, hey...what's not to admire about Annika? She's amazing in her own right too!) HOWEVER - I sincerely wish that you didn't feel the need to follow your big sister's every whim. You ARE your OWN person. It's okay to love the things YOU love and it's OKAY if they're NOT the same as your sister's loves. Really. (at least we know you love horses...and your sister doesn't. That's a start!)
You are the most amazing, wonderful, fascinating eight-year old I know. Don't ever stop being you and don't ever stop with the surprises. Just be you. And I can't tell you how grateful and happy I am that I get to be your Mommy.
I'll love you til the End of the World...and beyond.
(PS. engineers make pretty good money. I'm not sure if acting brings in that kind of money...you could do acting as a side career.....that's just my opinion though! ;-) I'll stand by you with whatever you choose to do. ...engineering!!!!)
And guess what??? Today we're going to celebrate your birthday with a BANG! (not like last year when we made you fly back to China from a fantastic North Island New Zealand vacation on your birthday. Even I have to admit, that's a sad way to spend a birthday)
Let's start it with an AVALANCHE of balloons that will topple down on you once you open your bedroom door:
We've invited several of your friends today (and a few of Annika's) for a small party. Your sister created this Schedule of Events for your party - eight events ...to correspond with your eighth birthday. Very clever! Did you remember to thank your Big Sister for creating the Treasure Hunt???? She did that all on her own - without our help.
Milla and Tilda: Here we've got Clara, Silke, Fernanda and Mimi hard at work drawing...something. Girls, how did you decide what it was everyone was supposed to draw? You said it was random...but somehow I don't think it was quite as random as you think.
Mimi, Anna, Anais and Annika busy drawing. Is Ava supposed to be the judge?
The colorful, stripey pinata!
Okay...Annika is keeping the party moving along at a fast pace- gotta stick to the schedule. And what does the schedule say it's time for???
Bashing the pinata!!!
We've arranged the kids from youngest to oldest (except Ava gets to go first even though she's not the youngest in this crowd):
Improvise, improvise, improvise!!! We don't have a good location to hang the pinata from (no trees...plus it's just nasty outside) so Mark has created this make-shift arrangement with a stick. Just hope the stick is strong enough for this bashing experiment!
Amazingly enough the pinata lasted through all the little girls...it's Lachlan's turn.
he knocked it out of the ball park! Hooray for Lachlan!!!!
The After Math:
It's a frenzy of kids making a mad dash to get all the candy, notebooks, and other mish mash I managed to scramble together and stuff inside the pinata. Not to worry - we tried to divide it evenly.
What time is it now???
Some of the interesting creations:
I made vanilla cupcakes using this recipe from The Cupcake Project. I substituted plain yogurt for the sour cream. They were perfect! And I made classic American vanilla buttercream frosting (here's a recipe...it's super simple to make). To make the project easier on the kids and less stressful for the parents I scooped the frosting into quart-sized Ziploc baggies. To use: just cut a corner off the baggie and squirt away! The kids had white, pink, teal, blue and purple colored frosting to choose from. I really love gel food coloring for my baking projects! The sprinkles come from all over the world - some from the USA, some from Austria (yes, Austria!) and some from China. It's amazing what you can find especially when you're not looking for it. LOL!
So we've decorated the cupcakes ...what's next?
Ava and her rainbow. Why is it that the Skittles packet doesn't have blue candies????? How can you taste the rainbow if it's not a complete rainbow?????? I had to sneek in a M&M candy to make it a rainbow.
Here are a few of the parents that helped us celebrate. Let's see...from left to right...there's Jen, then Silke's parents (Ellen and her husband), Andy, Claudia and finally Julia. Missing are Agnes, Robert and Annika (Tilda's mom....yes! Her name is Annika. How cool is that????).
Ava got so many wonderful and thoughtful gifts from her friends. Thank you so much!!!!
What a fabulous party!!!!
Guests are heading home...so sad. But to soften the blow how about petting a labrador puppy????? Oh so soft! Oh, that puppy smell!!! Sooo....how is that softening the blow??? I MISS OUR MOCHA!!! (we've got a labrador in the USA. She's one lucky pooch- she gets to live on the farm with Grandpa and Grandma!!!) This puppy belongs to Clara's family. (do you think they'll notice if it goes missing????)
That was seriously a fun party! Now it's time to settle down, chill out and attempt building this LEGO crane. Good luck with that girls! I might not be able to help you but I know someone that can (here's looking at you Jen! LOL!!!).
Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who helped make Ava's day a special day! Also thank you to Sam and Frances - both of whom couldn't join us today (they were in Harbin enjoying the Snow and Ice Festival).
EIGHT is GREAT!!!!
31 January 2014-
Hey! Are you awake? Want to go on a jog with me????
Llama,llama, red pajama!
I bet you're wondering what's in store for you today. I'll give you three hints:
Have you got it figured out?????
No? Yes? Well, you can think about it while we drive over to the parking lot.
Where? We're at the Kahu Kayak parking lot. That's right....we're going on a half-day kayaking trip this morning! So get your swimsuits on and load up on sunscreen (it does look like we're going to need sunscreen today!)
See? The kayaks are YELLOW and they are BANANA-shaped, right????
We're taking a break from kayaking - we've landed on a beach. The kids can have some play time and we can get a snack to eat. Anybody want a cookie?
Ah yes, that water is very cold (but that doesn't stop Mark and me from going on a short swim).
Time to pack up and head back - we have to head back to Marahau.
Annika is a strong paddler! (we did have some issues early on with her trying to tell me WHERE to go...sigh. She's just as stubborn as I am when it comes to telling people where to point the kayak. LOL!)
Last shot of the gang with the big yellow boats:
And that's the end of our morning kayaking trip! Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
30 January 2014-
Rise and shine sleepyheads! Let's go for a jog...
Do you see the little quail I'm "chasing"??? Well, I'm not really chasing it but it sure is running frantically to and fro in front of me as if I was chasing it. Little bird - if you don't like me jogging behind you then how about you move to the side and pause for a moment??? Perhaps the "bird brain" stereotype holds true for these birds!!! LOL!
Check out the beaches!!! Too many beaches, too little time.. I'm up for exploring any and all beaches that come our way. How about you?
View heading back into Kaiterteri:
January 28-29 -
After a picnic lunch in the parking lot in Kaikoura it's time to head back out on the open road.... our destination for tonight? How about Picton? It's on the north eastern coast.
The drive north is taking us through some beautiful scenery:
and through wine country:
through lots and lots of vineyards....
We made it to the Top Ten campground in Picton....and Mark has offered to cook us dinner! Wahoo!!!! We bought some fish at a local fish market in Picton and we bought some Hokey Pokey ice cream (and caramel cashew ice cream) at the grocery store. Sounds like the makings of an excellent dinner, right?
Mark has just come from the campground office - the receptionist has just booked us a boat for tomorrow morning - WE'RE GOING FISHING!!!!!
It's time for the Morning Jog. Who's with me????
And here's the campground we're staying at (hey! That's a bunch of fuschia growing along the building!):
ready for a boat ride??? This is going to be fun! Ray and Gregory are relaxed and ready for the ride:
Mark is MOST DEFINITELY ready for this fishing trip:
Leaving Picton in search of fish. This fishing charter includes the use of fishing gear, bait and cleaning the fish we keep. Sweet deal for us (since none of us has any fishing gear with us)!!!!
Bait is on the hooks...time to get the poles in the water and start catching us some fish!!!
Ava and Gregory have their lines in the water too...thanks to Mark and Aunt Beth:
We're getting lots of little nibbles and we've managed to hook or snag a few fish but so far they're all too small to keep. Gotta keep trying!
This barracuda was trying to eat one of the fish on our line....and our captain just stabbed it with a spear!
Can you see the sharp teeth in its mouth????
Any chance we're going to catch some fish that we can keep and eat for dinner?????
Nope. Not yet. However, I managed to catch this miniature beast:
So...guess we have to have the traditional "holding the fish" photo, right? The captain mentioned that I shouldn't touch the spike near the shark's tail and that the shark would try to reach around and bite me. Yep...it does look like it'd like to eat me:
Rats. We have to toss that little bugger back into the ocean.
Lily snagged a shag!
Lily snagged a commorant (they call them shags here). The commorant was trying to get to the fish on her line but got tangled up in the line instead. The captain untangled the poor beast and let it go. If ever a bird could have a look on its face - that bird did. It looked pretty miffed about the situation. I don't think that stopped it from going after the fish again!
We finally did manage to catch some keepers. Now, don't ask me kind of fish these are but they are big enough to keep and we'll eat them for dinner! And our captain is filleting them as we speak. Such a sweet deal!
We're back in Picton harbour and it's time to get off the boat. Check out these skates swimming so close to shore (what are they eating???):
Hmm....it's lunch time. We should grab some lunch before leave Picton. Hey...there was that chili hot dog vendor right there at the dock and Mark wants one. The kids can eat hot dogs. We have to try and be more vigilant about meals since the youngest in the bunch, Henry, was diagnosed with diabetes last fall. But that doesn't seem to be slowing him down...he's playing and having just as much fun as the rest of us!
We're all sitting...patiently waiting....for our lunch!
It's time to move on. We toyed with the idea of taking the ferry across to the North Island and visiting Wellington. Thing is - we'd be on the ferry for at least six hours and we wouldn't have that much time to spend in Wellington. Hmmm....I think there's enough to see on the South Island - let's just stick to that.
Actually, one of the places we KNEW we WANTED to see while in NZ is just a few hours away: Abel Tasman National Park. It's further up north....so let's head there next!
We're off to Kaiteriteri via Nelson.
Until we got to Kaiteriteri!!! There's a lovely looking beach with an inviting looking ocean. It looks enticing, doesn't it??? Trouble is - it's CCCCCOLD!!!! I'm not exactly eager to jump in...and neither are the kids.**Can I PLEASE just interject a comment here??? I am so FRUSTRATED with our internet here in China. I think it'd be faster to get this post delivered to you via carrier pigeons than with this so-called fiber optic cable that supposedly services our house. I am SO TIRED of dealing with this!!!! Okay..rant over. Back to NZ photos.....**
It's Our Catch of the Day!!!
I seriously have no clue what kind of fish we caught. I will tell you that they were tasty!!!!
Our FISH!!!!!! (with cajun seasoning courtesy of Gregory...he picked out the spice. Nice work, Gregory!)
Fish and veggies and fried potatoes. Yummy! Maybe even some L&P soda to go with it...
That was another fun day! What are we going to do tomorrow????? Any ideas?
(I've got an idea...wink,wink)
24 January 2014-
Did I say New Zealand? Didn't we go there LAST year? Why yes...yes we did. And it so happens that we liked it enough (or should I say "loved it") to do it all over again. But this time we'll visit the South Island (last year we stuck to the North Island) AND Mark's sister, Beth, and her family will trek half-way around the world and join us there!!!
This is going to be the BEST & most EPIC TRIP EVER!!!!
We're going to fly from Beijing to Christchurch via China Southern on Saturday afternoon. Yes, we could drive to Beijing on Saturday morning B-U-T (and this is a very big but) we would hate to expect driving on Saturday only to be forced to turn around due to weather or bad air constraints. These days it's not weather that causes trouble - it's the "fog". (no, it's not fog...read between the lines!) All that chatter means we're going to drive to Beijing on Friday night and overnight at the Beijing Airport Hilton.
Are you coming with us to NZ? I sure hope so! It'll be one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips that you'll talk about for the rest of your life. You DO want to come, right???? Thought so!
Bags are packed....checked, double checked and triple checked our flight information, hotel info in Christchurch and our campervan rental information. Looks like we're good to go! Passports- check! Credit card - check. Chances are good that if we forgot something we'll either a) be able to buy it or b) go without it while in NZ.
Mr. Li, our driver, is here. Time to load up! We're heading to Beijing - with a stop at Greap Leap Brewing Co. for dinner (they've got some of the best burgers and beer in China) before heading to the Hilton.
And laugh if you want...there wasn't any trouble driving to Beijing. The girls always love staying in a hotel so all is not lost. Plus, the burgers and beer at Great Leap were just as good as we remember them. Always a bonus! Our driver just dropped us off at the airport hotel...it feels strangely familiar. We've stayed here enough times they gave Mark a little parting gift and upgraded our room. Hmmmm....
Well folks, it's been a long day! If you'll recall - this morning we participated in the Temple Fair (CNY activities) at the school and we crammed everything into our suitcases as fast as we could. To sum up - I'm tired and ready for bed. Good night!!
Time for breakfast! It's kind of nice that we can have a luxuriously long and relaxing breakfast....I don't think we've ever eaten breakfast in this hotel as our flights are super early in the morning.
Time to get ready for our flight! We're flying China Southern today - apparently they're partners with Delta which means we'll get frequent flyer miles.
Ready to go? Let's hop on the hotel-airport shuttle bus and make our way to Terminal 2 of the Beijing Airport.
We've found where we need to check in at China Southern but OH MY GOODNESS.....this could quite possibly be the most agonizing check-in we've encountered yet (actually, we had one time in Munich airport that was slightly worse). They keep telling us over and over again that we don't have the necessary visas to enter New Zealand. Ummm....we're NOT CHINESE! Hello???? We're American .... we know that we'll get our visas just upon entry in New Zealand. We did it last year. Talk about a few moments of unnecessary panic. Gee, thanks China Southern for starting our vacation off on such a "positive note". Not! After lots of going back and forth they *finally* listened to us (naturally having researched it themselves) and proceeded to give us our tickets. (FYI- I do think that Chinese nationals must have their visas processed prior to entry but the USA is on a short list of countries that don't need to have it done prior).
We're through security...and waiting at our gate. RATS!!!! Here I'd thought all along we'd go to the same gates as we normally fly out of at Terminal 2- there's a Starbucks there and a few great last-minute gift and snacks shop. Guess what though? Our first flight is to Guangzhou so we're not in the international part of the terminal. This side STiNKS!!!! Waaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!
Made it to Guangzhou. That flight was stinky. Let's get out of here!
This airport has got to be -hands down- the worst airport EVER!!!!! I feel like we're balls in a giant pinball machine - we're getting bounced all over the place. Up and down, through half-mile long corridors, poor signage. Dang! Oh, and how about stepping off the airplane, getting CRAMMED into a bus and riding for ten minutes or more until they dumped us off *somewhere*? That was freaking weird! Do they seriously not have enough gates to park this plane at a gate? This isn't exactly a baby airplane. So far this airport is leaving a distinctively foul taste in my mouth.
Thank goodness we got through that mess and getting ready to board our flight. And yes, even though we're flying a big airplane they're bussing us to it? Have you folks never seen or used one of those ramps (we like to call 'em People Suckers)??? They're really quite handy. You should try using one sometime.
REMIND ME: NEVER EvER FLY CHINA SOUTHERN again. Okay? I try to keep an open mind and try to make the best out of most situations but we this airline sucks. Don't fly with them! I only care one thing- that they help us to get to New Zealand.
All is good...we made it to Auckland! (Oh, did I forget to mention that we're flying to Christchurch via a stop in Auckland? No? My bad.) We're through customs....we've grabbed our luggage...and now heading over to the domestic terminal to get our New Zealand Airlines tickets. Boy howdy....what a difference New Zealand Air is from China Southern. Night and day difference in friendly & helpful customer service.
Yikes! There is a storm blowing through Auckland and several domestic flights have been canceled. Keep your fingers crossed that ours isn't one of them!!!!
We're boarding now......come on! Let's go!!!!!
I think I've previously mentioned that we're going to rent a campervan in Christchurch. However, the rental place closes around 4:30pm or so and since we won't get into Christchurch until after 7pm we'll need a place to stay for the night. We booked - as did the Mears Family - a room at the Airport Palms Motel in Christchurch. We need to find a taxi and get over to that motel!!!!!
'Cuz our family is there and WE WANT TO SEE THEM!!!!!
Whoops - how is it that we completely forgot to take photos of our arrival and meeting up with the family???? Just imagine FIVE noisy kids - some of which were getting close to sleep deprived - perhaps a wee bit crazy???? Naaaaah.... It felt like we hadn't been apart for the past five months or so. Awesome!!!
It's morning! Did you sleep? Can't say if I did...I think I must have at one point. The lady at the front office suggested we eat breakfast at a near-by cafe that's walking distance away from the motel. Oooo!!! Eggcellent suggestion! (Mark and I shared an eggs benedict dish. Yum!)
9 January 2014-
Just as Westerners may consider Christmas the most important holiday, I think you'd hear most Chinese tell you that Chinese New Year (CNY;which is also sometimes referred to as the Spring Festival) as their most important holiday. And as we like decorating for Christmas so do the Chinese decorate for CNY.
Today a group of friends is visiting Ancient Culture Street in search of items to sell at a fair at the school.
It's a beautiful day! Clear blue skies....and BITTERLY cold!
As you can see there's a lot of RED and GOLD in CNY decorations.
Lots and lots of paper cuttings....lots of paper cuttings of horses (it is the year of the horse after all!) and also lots of fish and flowers. I think fish is a symbol of good fortune or good luck and is very common in Chinese decor.
Well, that was a fun visit to ACS! We managed to find lots of goodies. We found lots of qipaos (Chinese dresses) and a dazzling assortment of silk bags and gifts. I even got another wooden moon cake mould to add to my small collection. I do enjoy coming to this tourist-y spot in Tianjin!!!! Thanks ladies for a fun outing!
Except....there is one thing that happened during our short shopping tour - one thing I hope I won't have to witness again. As we were walking around a young girl in a trio of young Chinese women decided she was done with her bowl of noodles and instead of throwing the used container into the near-by trash bin - she TOSSED IT ON THE GROUND AND WALKED AWAY!!!!! How truly disrespectful of your country and its heritage. Like I said, I hope to never see that sort of blatant disregard and disrespect again. grrrr.....
19 January 2014-
Annika has a new love- baking. She can turn out batches of tasty cookies all by herself. Actually, it's a wee bit dangerous as nobody should eat that many cookies. ;-)
And if you know Annika she also loves to create opportunities to make a little cash...
Hence her idea for this Bake Sale.
She came up with the Strawberry Mice all on her own:
Annika created/baked EVERYTHING on this table: strawberry mice, brownies (from scratch), cookies (both frosted and frost-your-own & decorate-your-own). Ah, actually I take that back - I contributed the muffins:
Next time- let's keep track of costs and keep track of how much you earn. ;-)
13 January 2014-
Happy 41st birthday to me. (do I sound excited? No????)
This year I just didn't feel like making my traditional birthday torte (Malakoff Torte). Actually, I didn't feel much like celebrating at all. :-(
So, it was sweet of Mark and the girls to bake this chocolate cake for me and decorate it:
Definitely brought (what I thought would be impossible) smile to my face.
I LOVE MY FAMILY!!!!
24 January 2014-
It's that time of year....it's time to celebrate Chinese New Year and welcome the Year of the Horse!
This year the school hosted a Temple Fair for the students. They split the elementary school into two main groups- Grades 3-5 students (who had the morning sessions) followed by the Nursery - Grade 2 students (who had the afternoon session). There were lots of fun, hands-on and age-approporiate (the two groups didn't have all the same activities), Chinese New Year-related activities for the kids and their parents to participate in. (hmmm...that got a little wordy!)
The Temple Fair:
Annika working on her clay yellow bird:
Isn't it cute??? (And there's Annika with her best fake-smile!)
Want a snack? Some of the students are manning a snack booth filled with various nuts, candies and seeds. They carefully weigh the snacks using this hand-held scale (can't speak for its accuracy!) and then place your selected snacks in a paper cone:
Annika's class was in charge of serving traditional Chinese New Year foods. Here's a quick tutorial on how to order politely in Chinese:
Another station had paper mask painting (as in Beijing or Peking opera masks):
The Grade 2 students took turns telling stories...Adonia is telling story in Chinese using her fingers:
Ava's turn to tell her story:
Ava may or may not be a bit of a ham. ;-) You decide.
Ava practicing her Chinese calligraphy skills:
(to be fair she had less than five minutes to create it since the Temple Fair was coming to an end)
Happy Chinese New Year!!!!!