Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

So 2010 is nearly over, and 2011 is nearly upon us. Well, at least upon those of us who are currently in New Zealand, one of the first (if not the first) country in the world to welcome the New Year. It is 11:13pm and a group of drunk(ish) teenagers are walking down the street outside with a guitar, singing a very broken version of “American Pie”... similar to the commotion of barking dogs and squealing tyres that I was treated to last night, but with a whole lot less swearing.

I am absolutely stuffed from the dinner Fay and I made, although it was more the dessert than the dinner that caused the stuffed feeling. We made breaded chicken tenders and battered potatoes for the main course, I made a salad for the side, and for dessert we had strawberries and whipped cream, cream puffs, and brandy snaps filled with (you guessed it) whipped cream. I think I have eaten about five brandy snaps, and while they are decidedly delicious, my stomach feels like a balloon inflated just past its limit. Methinks breakfast tomorrow will be something nice and light!

I didn’t start the day off with light food, either - I made another omelette (it didn’t fall apart as spectacularly as the one last night: in fact, if I hadn’t overstuffed it, this one would have behaved itself and worked). Nevertheless, if I end up staying somewhere with a supply of eggs, I can add “omelette” to my list of potential meal options.

Today doesn’t just mark the end of 2010 for me; it also marks the end of my stay in Napier, and the beginning of my wandering, vagabondish ways again. Tomorrow morning at 7:45am I board a bus for Wellington, and by 6:25pm at night I will be on the Interislander ferry heading for Picton. A long day of traveling, and everything I need for the next few months I will be carrying on my back... I’m leaving my blue suitcase behind here at Fay and Frank’s, along with a substantial number of my clothes. I have two reasons for doing so: a) it’s summer, I don’t need to carry around three hoodies, and b) I have a 60-litre hiking backpack, its space is finite, and I definitely need to bring my tent, sleeping bag, and food. I’m going to miss the creature comforts of staying in one place for an extended period of time; something of a routine, getting to know my surroundings, and perhaps most of all, the glorious luxury of having a room to myself where no one is snoring!

This morning when Frank and I went out shopping the supermarket was a hive of activity, as everyone rushed out to buy things for their New Year’s Eve parties tonight. My left elbow is also less than happy with me; playing my usual trick of unlocking my car door by snaking my skinny arm down the gap between the window and doorframe, I got my elbow wedged inbetween the two and couldn't get it back out without a struggle! I suppose it serves me right.

I think I’m going to go take a walk out to Marine Parade now (it’s 11:30pm); apparently fireworks are going to be set off at midnight. I’ll be back...


It’s now 12:48am. Happy New Year! I exited the house, trying to be as quiet as possible (Frank and Fay were already in bed), and made my way down Nash Street to Nuffield Avenue, then out onto Ellison Street and Marine Parade. A large searchlight was making passes across the sky, reflecting off a few low-lying clouds, and extending out toward the Eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean along Napier’s beachfront, as if searching for the rapidly approaching New Year. When I got to Marine Parade I could see bonfires dotted along the beach, where groups sat huddled around the flickering orange light, some singing, many drinking (apparently the public liquor ban is only enforced in densely populated areas...). I settled down off the path on the pebbly beach stones with the dull roar of the crashing waves on my right, and checked my watch... 11:58pm.

I don’t know exactly when the New Year began; my watch is several seconds fast, and the waves drowned out any noise from the bandshell and town that would have given me hints (apparently Mayor Barbara Arnott rang the Veronica Bell just before midnight). My watch read “12:01am” when fireworks started to detonate from the beach close to the bandshell. I’ve never watched fireworks from that far away; while sometimes breathtaking in their beauty, illuminating the skies and the sea in a shimmering glow, I was more intrigued by the sound/sight discrepancy; I heard the noise of the fireworks several seconds after I saw their explosion. Knowing that sound travels at 343 m/s at STP, my Mus 401C Acoustics brain kicked into action, and I calculated I was about 1.2km away from the source of the fireworks. That's when I knew it was time to go home to bed... but then again, how typical of me, ringing in the New Year with math equations!

Anyway, it is now almost 1am, and I must get some sleep. Happy New Year / Ngā mihi o te Tau Hou from New Zealand, everyone!


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Note to self: Learn to make omelettes, not just eat them.

Were it not for a breeze that got a little too ambitious at times, today would have been a perfect summer day; a few high clouds in the sky, a temperature hovering around 24ºC, and a slight wind to take the edge off the sun’s heat. I opted to spend much of the morning outside, sitting under the shade of a shrub with my laptop and mobile internet key, sending e-mails back and forth with several people concerning details of the Heaphy Track and my upcoming WWOOFing experience in Granity. The devil is always in the details, they say, but fortunately the details for these particular excursions appear to be working out (for now).

This afternoon I also spent outside; I brought in one load of laundry and hung up another, then sat on the lawn and read my book, Tiger wandering back and forth every now and then for some petting attention before running off and chasing a bird, bug, or butterfly. Two white pigeons watched me warily from their perch high atop the birdbath Frank fills with bread crumbs every morning; apparently I am not someone to be trusted because I consort with their mortal enemy, the stealthy orange and white feline.

Once again I set up my tent in the backyard; this time, to make sure the footprint I bought for it yesterday at Kathmandu does indeed fit the bottom properly (it does). No sooner did I fetch the tent’s bag from my room, however, then the wind began to pick up, making laying out the groundsheet and pitching the tent a challenge. I suppose it’s good practice for less-than-ideal conditions on the track, but still, it’s bloody annoying to have everything blowing helter-skelter when one is trying to peg corners into position!

Dinner tonight was omelettes; much to my surprise, Fay doesn’t normally put anything in them, just eating egg with parsley, onion, and garlic chives mixed into the batter and cooked in the frying pan. I sliced up zucchini (or “courgettes” as they’re called here) and a red pepper (“capsicum”), for mine, along with a cold sausage from last night split between Frank and I's omelettes. Unfortunately, my experience in cooking omelettes is rather limited; mine fell apart rather spectacularly when I tried to flip it. Oh well, it tasted pretty good regardless. When I started to eat it I felt myself suddenly jolted back to the last time I had an omelette, in The Naam on West Fouth Ave in Kitsilano with Ron and Dee the morning after the Reverend Horton Heat concert. *That* omelette was definitely just as delicious, but the presentation was markedly better than my messy attempt (it was also lacking in sausage; The Naam is a vegetarian joint. :-)

As I did the dinner dishes Frank and I started talking about dancing and music; he lamented for the days of yesteryear when dances were the places young people went to meet and socalise, and expressed his dislike for hip-hop, rap, and modern clubs with their “masses of bodies jumping up and down”. While I can appreciate how talented some breakdancers are, I agreed with him for the most part; I love dances that require more of the individual than simply bopping up and down to the beat and incorporate partner or group dancing (any sort of waltz and “Home for a Rest” are the first two that come to mind). I brought out my computer and put on a mix of The Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Al Jolson, Nat King Cole, Bobby Darin, and Frank Sinatra, and we sat and talked and laughed and reminisced. Songs have so many memories attached to them; it’s one of the beautiful joys of music. Faye came in a bit later, and I played for her choirs I have been in singing “Loch Lomond”, “Danny Boy”, “Hallelujah” (from Messiah) and "Moon River", which reminded her fondly of Stefan playing it on his cornet in recital. I must remind him to play that for me when I return home to Canada.

Now it is 10:15pm, and I’m yawning like crazy, so I’m going to turn in. Tomorrow will be spent packing (how exciting!), and enjoying both my last day in Napier and the last day of 2010. I’m in one of the very first cities in the world to welcome in the New Year!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Setting Plans in Motion (But not Perpetual)

The weather around here just can't decide what it wants to do; today it was (mostly) cloudy, but started off intensely sunny before moving into partly cloudy, and then totally cloudy by mid-afternoon, to the point where they are calling for a smattering of rain tonight (the garden certainly wouldn't complain). I figured it would rain, as I chose this morning to do laundry, and if there's one thing I've learned on this trip it's every time I decide to do laundry it clouds over and rains... Carolyn + laundry = good weather's kryptonite.

Thankfully, however, I was able to get my load of wash through the machine and hung up on the line without any water falling from the sky. I was just hanging the last of it out to dry when three visitors arrived here at the house; two men to fix the leaky water tap in the bathroom (mom, dad, should I send them up to Canada next to fix the kitchen sink?), and a woman named Debbie who has been coming once a week to vacuum and clean. Debbie was very talkative, and especially complimentary when she found out I was from Canada, as her son is an electrician who is currently working there (I don't think she really understands how big Canada is, however; when I asked if he was in British Columbia, she said, "Oh, yeah, maybe, he said he was going to drive to Niagara Falls for a day at Christmas".... ).

I spent the rest of the morning attempting to organize the upcoming week (this time next week I'll be hiking the Heaphy Track!); I booked the bus to Wellington, the ferry to Picton, and accommodation overnight in Picton. I also e-mailed Sally, the woman whose family I am doing the hike with, and she got back to me later this evening saying all systems go, so I'm feeling a bit more at ease with things. Now to begin the task of packing; I've already started sorting things into three piles: a) Definitely Not Taking, b) Definitely Taking, and c) Maybe Taking. Thankfully the "Definitely Not Taking" is the largest pile (so far).

My Christmas card from Grandma Wright arrived today! Thank you, Grandma, it was a very nice card, and I miss you, too. I enjoyed your letter, and I read it aloud to Fay. She says you are a very kind and outgoing person, which I think she meant literally because she was referring to you and mom attending Palm Court Orchestra and Victoria Symphony concerts. And don't worry, if I can make it through a midnight eucharist communion mass, you can make it through a Baptist Christmas service. :-)

This afternoon Frank and I went into town to buy groceries, and I managed to mystify him by unlocking the trunk and putting the bags inside before he had even come out of the supermarket with the keys: my skinny arms were able to fit down the gap between the partially-opened window and doorframe, unlock the door, and then open the trunk... but I let him sweat it for a few seconds that he had left the car unlocked. I likely shouldn't play such mind games with an 86-year-old man, but he seems to like my sense of humour.

I opted to remain in town while Frank returned home so I could go to the bank, and then over to Kathmandu to purchase a footprint for my tent so I don't end up sleeping on a damp floor. Walking back to Maraenui didn't seem to take as long as it has previously; I suppose that's because I now have a pretty good idea of the layout of roads in Napier and know where I'm going.

Late in the afternoon I phoned Ron; it's his birthday today. (Earlier I phoned the rail shop and ended up talking to Brian, which was an unexpected but pleasant surprise, and then phoned Dee, and we had a nice chat as well.) Wanting to commemorate the momentous occasion of turning forty, I could think of no better card to epitomize maturity than one featuring Thomas the Tank Engine. I suppose I should feel bad, but seeing as my parents got me a Thomas card for my 25th this year I had to inflict one upon someone else celebrating a milestone birthday. We had a good long conversation (how I love phone cards) and it was nice to catch up on all the news from the museum and talk trains with someone who doesn't think I'm slightly insane for liking them as I do.

I helped make dinner this evening; lamb sausages, scalloped potatoes, corn and peas with mint (mint peas? Who would have thought that would work?) and fresh new potatoes from the garden. After dinner we all sat around the kitchen table, talking, and I showed Fay and Frank a few videos on my computer, including one I made of the Fletcher kids all hunting for chocolate in the Ellison's basement during Easter 2007. Fay remarked, "You'd never be lonely, having that thing with you all the time; all the memories it can hold." She is partly right; while I do still get lonely, it is true that the videos and pictures on my computer can help to cheer me up and remind me of good times in the past.

It's off to bed for me now... the wind is picking up again, so I may be in for another night of the shrub slamming into the window by my head. Yippee... night!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

(Almost) Gone with the Wind

Holy Hurricane, Batman! Today was incredibly windy; I woke up repeatedly throughout the night as the shrubs outside my window slammed into the side of the house. The wind caused the clothesline in the middle of the backyard to spin around like a merry-go-round, and the sheets and socks and towels pegged to it to flap about crazily (thankfully, or perhaps miraculously, none of them blew away). It was in this auspicious weather that I decided to take a crack at setting my Lansan Light hiking tent up for the first time. Well, the first time outdoors... I partially set it up in Skye’s front room, but seeing as I couldn’t exactly bore pegs into the hardwood floor, this was the first time I saw what it will realistically look like when I go hiking.

I told myself that it would be a good experience to see if I actually could set the tent up in the strong wind, as I don’t know what conditions I will be in for once I get onto the Heaphy Track. My conclusions? Yes, it is possible to set the tent up in the wind, and yes, it will not collapse as long as it is pegged down properly. Yea! My only mishap was putting the fly on inside out the first time (oops). All in all, I’m quite satisfied with the tent; it’s light, functional, quick to set up, easy to take down and store in its carrying sack, and roomy enough inside for me, my sleeping bag, and my backpack and gear. (It’s a two-man tent, but you had better be prepared to get intimate with the person you’re sharing it with... kind of like Arthur’s 1-slash-2 man tent, which we always joked was more accurately described as a “half-man tent”.)

I managed to get my tent down and folded it back up in the living room (so as not to loose anything by having it blow away), and in doing so decided I should invest in a tent footprint, as the bottom of the tent is so thin I can’t see it keeping me and my sleeping bag dry if the weather turns rainy. I’m not exactly keen on starting a full day’s hike by waking up in a soggy sleeping bag...

This afternoon I decided to tackle cleaning the outdoor patio area; Stefan constructed a bbq table out of bricks and a wooden awning for Fay and Frank when he was around my age, and I took it upon myself to give it a good sweeping, washing, and dusting. This entailed sweeping out corners full of rotting vegetation, relocating two dozen snails, pulling up stubborn weeds, and sweeping out layers of dirt (which the wind then promptly and maddeningly blew back into my face, before having it settle back down right where it had come from in the first place). I also attacked and scrubbed the patio furniture with hot soapy water and a good rinsing from the hose. The result? A patio that may not look much cleaner (some of the markings are splattered paint from when the awning was repainted), but when you actually sit down in one of the chairs and have a look around is free of dirt and grime.

For dinner tonight I made salads (again) and shredded carrot with beetroot (I noticed, amusedly, that Frank picked most of the carrot out of his serving), and half a roast chicken from the grocery store. My parents called around 6:45pm; they were all out at Francie and Brian’s for the annual Christmas get-together. Unfortunately, they called me using the requisite we-must-burn-through-the-balance-on-this-pay-n-talk-phone mobile, forgetting that the cell phone reception out on Riverside Road is tenuous at best. The result was a mobile-to-mobile conversation with severe lag and distortion in the connection; after two dropped calls I called them back by dialing the landline, which resulted in a phone call that cost me money, but at least made the connection bearable. The most hilarious part of the cell=phone-to-cell-phone conversation was Francie giggling into the phone, “Hi Carolyn! We have to stay in one place to keep the connection, so I’m sitting on Bob’s lap!” Oh, dear...

It was nice to talk to everyone, though, if a little sad to realise they were all there celebrating Christmas, and I am so very far away. I’m working on my parents, though... we’re trying for a late February - early March traveling expedition across New Zealand. Here’s hoping the mill gets its act together with allotting holiday time!


Monday, December 27, 2010

32ºC... and I made "hot salad" for dinner.

This morning I was awaked at 7:30am by a convoluted text message from Stefan concerning fixing Emma’s new iPod touch (apparently it’s crashing their computer when they try to sync). While I wasn’t able to do much but ask which OS the computer was running and suggest turning off any anti-virus software, it did get me thinking about showing Fay and Frank what I do on my computer, and how some of the technology works. Over breakfast I pulled out my iPod touch and let Frank have a go at it, demonstrating for him some of its features and cool aspects of the user interface (he especially loved flicking his finger to scroll down a list of artists, and the beauty of browsing albums in cover flow). While Fay was far more tentative with the technology, I think Frank, with a little encouragement, could be coaxed into buying and using a computer; he certainly was fascinated by everything my iPod could do.

After breakfast I made it my mission to walk into town and purchase a few things I will be needing for my hiking trip in January. It was a gorgeous sunny day today, and already the temperature was in the high 20s as I strolled along Marine Parade (at one point sandwiched in between a slow-walking German family and two mushy Kiwi love-birds). Since I couldn’t remember exactly where the Kathmandu was, I decided to wander down Emerson Street, and ended up seeing Jullian (Astrid’s husband) from Waipawa: he was busking, playing his Renaissance recorder! I said hello and put all the change I had (a measly 20 cents) into his hat. Continuing on down the street, I ended up in Clive Square, where I was treated to my second musical experience of the day; a giant metal harp-shaped carillon containing suspended bells playing Christmas carols! Its sound was similar to the carillon by the Royal BC Museum, but its appearance radically different... and either way, I couldn’t see how it was being played or controlled.

Finally locating the Kathmandu, I purchased a combination lock, a sun hat, and a small pot and pan set (one pot with a lid, one very small frying pan, and a teeny tiny 125ml mug), all made of anodized aluminum and very compact and light. I also went to Kiwi Outdoors, where I purchased a tasty selection of freeze-dried meals (mmm, honey soy chicken) for the track, a pair of fingertip-less wool gloves, and a length of cord for lashing my sleeping bag in its compression sack to my backpack, should the need arise. Walking into those outdoor stores is a bit of a minefield; there are so many different gadgets and pieces of equipment they try to convince you that you need or else you are will suffer a horrible fate on your hiking adventure!

Another goal I had for today (that went unrealised, sadly), was to find a store that sold yarn and knitting needles so I can practise my left-handed knitting. It’s a sign of the times and the economy when one can’t find a knitting supply shop in downtown Napier, a town whose port processes a huge percentage of New Zealand’s wool exports.

My last stop of the day was the Countdown supermarket, where I purchased ingredients for dinner: yes, I made dinner tonight! I bought chicken, peppers, zucchini, carrots, lettuce, and stir fry sauce, along with bandaids, hand santiiszer, and lip chap (again for the hiking trip).

By the time I got home with all my purchases and groceries I figured I had walked about 8.5 km in total, most of that in blazing intense sunlight. Thank goodness for sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses! Even so, I spent most of the afternoon inside, away from the glaring intensity. I started assembling dinner around 5:30; I hadn’t counted on it being so hot today (32ºC in the shade!), so I felt rather foolish for choosing to make a chicken stir-fry, but I did make a salad as well, which was cool and refreshing. Either way, Fay and Frank were most impressed with my meal, even complimenting me on its appearance (which made me snicker, as I never went to the Stefan Fletcher School of Culinary Presentation). For dessert we finished off the pavlovas, and I was proud and pleased that I was able to prepare a whole meal for the three of us where Fay didn’t have to do anything; she normally works so hard to cook and prepare food for Frank and I, and I felt she more than deserved an evening off.

Now it is still quite hot out, and I haven’t had the energy to do much more than put my capri pants in the laundry to soak (I managed to spill oil on them while stir-frying), read a little of my book, and now write this blog entry... I think it’s time to brush my teeth, lie down on my bed, and hope the room decides to cool down over the course of the evening. Night!


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day

Boxing Day today; just like in Canada, today finds all the bargain-hunters lining up early at stores to hit those after-Christmas sales. I’ve never been one to partake in Boxing Day sales myself, so it was with a little trepidation I headed out with Frank this morning to go pick up a few groceries. Thankfully, the Pak ‘N’ Save was relatively civilized; the most trouble I had was running through the automated self-checkout, accidentally taking a package of paninis off the bagging counter, and having the computer system yell at me, thinking I was stealing! 

It was a different story entirely when we headed over to The Warehouse (New Zealand’s answer to Wal-Mart) to buy a new clothes peg holder; we had to circle the block to find a parking space, which was my first clue that things were going to be busy. To put it bluntly, the store was a madhouse: we joined the continuous line of people streaming into the store (trying to avoid being trampled by those hurrying out the door, purchases in hand), and entered into a world of jostling shoppers, harried-looking clerks, and merchandise in various states of disarray on the shelves and racks after being repeatedly picked over. Thank goodness Frank knew exactly where to look in the store, as it would have been difficult indeed to wander around with that many other people competing for aisle space. I had a brief look at sun hats (I need one for the Heaphy Track, but the style of hat I wanted they only had in the men’s and boy’s sections, and the men’s were too big, and the boy’s too small), and having lost Frank in the process I feared I’d never find him again in the crowd. Mercifully, just as I was going to make a break for it and head back to the car I spotted him at the front near the checkout, so we purchased the peg holder (and a bathrobe and set of pjs for Frank ;-) and escaped the bedlam. Perhaps Boxing Day Sales do bring significant savings, and perhaps they are more bearable in Canada where it is not 30ºC outside on the 26th of December, but either way I’m not motivated to find out. 

I made lunch for the three of us (paninis with avocado, tomato, cucumber, and green onion, and watermelon afterward for something sweet), and then I spent the afternoon reading and playing with Tiger before beginning work on compiling a list of train photograph locations. For a Christmas present (I can finally write about this now, as it’s Christmas back home!) I made a calendar using photos of my Mainline Steam trip all across New Zealand, and this afternoon I compiled a list detailing the date, description, and location of all the photos I used for each month’s illustration. This was a lot more work than it sounds; I had to go into iPhoto, locate the date (and more often than not, the time of day) each photo was taken, then using the other photos on each roll, my blog entries, and my New Zealand Railway and Tramway Atlas, extrapolate exactly where and on what rail line each photo was taken. Do that repeatedly for 39 photos, some in obscure locations, and you can understand why it took me the better part of the afternoon! 

Around 5pm my mom called my cell and then called right back on the landline here at the house, and spoke to Frank for a little before passing the phone over to Grandma; as such, Grandma had a nice conversation with both Frank and Fay before Fay handed the phone over to me. I think they both really enjoyed talking to Grandma; they don’t socialise very much, and it must be nice to speak to someone whom they have met on multiple occasions and is a significant part of their son’s life (and mine as well). I also heard Frank and Grandma discussing gardening.... that took all of about five seconds to come up in their conversation, te he. I spoke to Grandma, Jack, Mom, Arthur, and Dad in turn, as I sat here on my bed in a t-shirt and capris with the sun streaming in the window, they around the dining room table at home, in the darkness of night as the rain fell outside. 

We had pizza for dinner tonight (I choked back the many mushrooms so as not to look rude... ugh), and hokey pokey cookies for dessert; afterward I did the dishes, and then I went and sat outside with Tiger, reading my book, and tried to keep from getting devoured alive by mosquitos. Tomorrow night I am going to cook dinner... as such, I think I’m going to be heading into town tomorrow morning to purchase a few things (I’m thinking a stir fry; I have rice and oil and sauce, all I need are some veggies, and Fay has some sausages I could throw in to the mix). It’s times like this I wish I had a bike, as it would make getting into town a whole lot easier (it’s so flat here in Maraenui bikes are an ideal way of getting around), but then again walking is good for me, provided I wear a hat and sunscreen. 

Bedtime for scheming would-be chefs. Merry Christmas to everyone back home, and good night! 


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day

Meri Kirihimete from Aotearoa (Merry Christmas from New Zealand)! After my late night adventure involving communion, cockroaches, and not getting to bed until 2:30am, I lazed around in bed until 9:30am this morning, then got up and had breakfast with Frank (for him it was second breakfast, having eaten his first one at 7am this morning). Fay was quite embarrassed to have overslept; she stayed up late last night waiting to hear when I got home, and as a result slept in until 9:30am as well!

After breakfast I put on The Chieftain's Bells of Dublin on my computer, which reminded me of home; it's my favourite Christmas album, and I think Fay enjoyed it as well. Around 11pm we opened presents; Fay was quite overwhelmed with the pile of wrapped gifts on the table for her to open, and was particularly happy to receive the brandy snaps, greeting them with a smile of, "Oh, now this is what I really wanted!" In return she and Frank gave me two pretty necklaces, and a beautiful pen from Taiwan. I also received a homemade pamphlet entitled Essential Communions of visible and invisible forces and The Sevenfold Peace from the ancient Essene tradition" written and illustrated by Skye. My friend Kelsey Lang also sent me a card, and Dee, Ron, and Kaiti sent a card and a facecloth with an embroidered train and a bar of soap shaped like a train, which made me snicker. My mom, Jack, and Grandma Wright have also apparently all sent cards, but they didn't arrive in time for Christmas; I imagine they'll show up over the next few days.

For lunch we had home-baked croissants, something I have never had before: Fay bought the dough and let them rise sitting on top of the hot water tank overnight (for the extra heat), and then we baked them to golden brown perfection in the oven. Accompanied with cheese and ham, they made a wonderful Christmas treat.

After lunch I lazed around in the beautiful summer weather; the skies were sunny and clear today, with a refreshing breeze, and temperatures around 26-30ºC. I sat out on the patio, Tiger the cat curling repeatedly around my ankles, reading the illustrated edition of The DaVinci Code. Lest you feel too much envy for my experiencing Napier's beautiful weather, allow me to relate a little incident: I went into the neighbour's yard to pick a few lemons from their tree (we have permission), and the moment I went to reach for a good-looking one up high, two birds dive-bombed out of the tree, and one pooped all over my shirt! Fay tells me it is good luck to have a bird poop on you, but I think it's just annoying, as I then had to change into another top, scrub the poop out of the t-shirt, and hang it on the line to dry. Sigh, Christmas cockroaches, and now Christmas crap...

Later in the afternoon Dee and Kaiti called Fay and Frank's landline, and not soon after that my mom and dad called on my cell phone. Both sets wished me a Merry Christmas, and we're going to talk again tomorrow, when it is actually Christmas back home in Canada. No sooner had I got off the cell phone with my mom then I came back into the house and Fay was on the phone with Peggy, so I got to speak to her as well. She relayed the message to Stefan that the Operation Christmas Hamper had gone off successfully, and told me my mission for the next few days is to introduce Frank to the internet and all the wonderful tools for communication it possesses... Stefan is angling for Frank to get a laptop and internet connection so the Fletchers in Canada can stay in contact with (and send photos to) the Fletchers down under.

Dinner was definitely not your standard North American Christmas dinner, but then again, why should it be? We're in a different country, hemisphere, and season, after all! We had prawns and crayfish on a bed of shredded lettuce and onion (keeping in mind New Zealand crayfish are a saltwater animal, not the same as the miniature freshwater animals of the same name back home), and the brandy snaps full of whipped cream with dessert. I was in charge of whipping the cream in a bowl with a self-cranked hand mixer, and when the gears jammed I foolishly lifted the beaters out of the bowl and gave the handle a good yank: cream went spraying all over me, the counter, and the kitchen sink! Oops.

We also had strawberries and pavlova for dessert, which was simply sumptuous; pavlova is considered a traditional holiday treat in New Zealand, and is believed to have been created for the Russian dancer Anna Pavlova on her 1926 world tour visit to Wellington. It tastes similar to meringue, but with a slightly crunchy outer layer concealing a softer, moister interior; it's kind of like eating a giant meringue-flavoured marshmallow. It's the perfect dessert to compliment a light, cool, and refreshing New Zealand Christmas dinner; in summer's heat, it simply doesn't feel right to be cooking a turkey or roast ham and eating a bunch of heavy food.

After dinner I did the dishes, then Fay went off to watch the evening news and Frank disappeared into his room to read the paper; I went outside and sat with Tiger for a while, typing on my laptop and giving the cat an affectionate pat every now and then in response to his/her (I'm not sure which!) gentle head-butts and nuzzles for attention. The sun has just set, and I am now back in my room (hopefully cockroach-free!), watching dusk descend onto 28 Bright Crescent.

I suppose I should perhaps feel more melancholy than I do about missing Christmas at home, but the reality is it feels so unlike Christmas here (due to the weather) that my mind can't really accept that it is indeed December 25th; it feels like July back home, and as such I feel like I've entered some quasi-limbo state of perpetual summer. It's also true that being here with Fay and Frank and making their Christmas a little more special (I hope!), as well as experiencing an alternative style of Christmas festivities, has made today unique in my mind, and something I am glad to have done. I am also lucky to be living and travelling in an age where I am able to talk to my relatives and friends back home relatively painlessly via the phone, and post my thoughts and impressions for all the world to see and read on my blog here pretty much instantaneously, so I don't feel isolated or excluded from what is happening back home in Canada. After all, I will be heading home to the Northern hemisphere eventually, and there will be other Christmases in my life; it was nice to experience one that has been decidedly different from all the others.

I am simply exhausted from my late night at the cathedral yesterday (the three glasses of Lindauer sparkling sauvignon blanc might have something to do with it, too), so I am off to bed. Merry Christmas to everyone back home; it's just after midnight on Christmas Day there now. Here's hoping it is as pleasant for you as it was for me.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

At 9:30pm tonight, the last rays of sunlight faded to a faint purple over the hills, allowing me to say that the "eve" of Christmas Eve has truly arrived. Even now I have trouble believing it's almost Christmas, as every other Christmas I have experienced has started with a sunset before 5:30pm!

This morning I got up at the positively late hour of 8am (as compared to my 6am starts when I was living in Waipawa), had a shower and breakfast, and then Frank and I headed out to brave the Christmas Eve Day shopping hordes. Our first stop was the corner butcher shop, where the owner didn't even ask Frank what he wanted, but promptly wrapped up six sausages... Frank's a regular! Secondly we went downtown to the library, where I returned the DVDs Skye had signed out of the Hastings library like she asked me to, and Frank let me sign out a book on his card along with his own selections (I got out an illustrated edition of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. Hold your tongues...).

Our third stop was the Countdown grocery store, and here we experienced the greatest throngs of holiday shoppers whizzing up and down the aisles (I tell you, I do not envy checkout clerks working on Christmas Eve!). It was here that I let Frank in on Stefan and I's scheme for he and Fay's Christmas present; Stefan usually sends a hamper, but was unable to organise it this year, so instead I bought a selection of things, and even though Frank knows about it it will still be a surprise for Fay. I bought a Whittaker's milk chocolate bar, strawberry jam, marmalade, cheese crackers, tasty cheese, brandy snaps, and a bottle of cream (to make whipped cream). I also bought (or attempted to buy) a bottle of Lindaur sparkling sauvignon blanc, but when we went through the checkout I was asked for ID and the woman couldn't accept a BC driver's licence as proof of my age (and my passport was back at the house), so Frank ended up purchasing it! (I paid him back.) Sigh, I'll be getting carded in my 30s, I just know it (to add insult to injury, the drinking age here in New Zealand is 18... do I *really* look that young?).

By the early afternoon it was quite warm; I was in capri shorts and a t-shirt and was still feeling uncomfortably hot. However, in the afternoon the wind picked up, and it is still quite windy outside, occasionally causing the house windows to rattle even as I type this. Our hope is the wind will blow away all the clouds, and tomorrow will be beautiful and sunny. At the very least, the northernly direction of the wind allowed Frank to burn some of the yard waste in an oil drum out back, as the smoke rapidly blew out and away from the direction of the house.

I had planned to attend the "midnight mass" at the Napier Cathedral this evening (which isn't really a mass, because it's an Anglican church, not a Catholic one, and held at 11pm, not midnight), and when I told Fay of my intentions to take a taxi she became all concerned and started trying to remember the name of a woman who sang at Peggy and Stefan's wedding, lives nearby, and is a pillar of support for the cathedral who would most likely be going to the service and could possibly give me a ride. I ended up texting Stefan at Fay's request and asking for her name, and he responded with not only her name but the street she lives on, so we were easily able to look her up in the phone book. Fay gave her a call, and while it turns out she is in Taupo with her sons for the holidays, she was overjoyed to hear from Fay after so many years, and sends her love and Christmas wishes to Stefan, which we will be sure to pass on to him tomorrow when he calls.

Frank drove me downtown to St. John's Cathedral for 10:30pm, and the Choral Eucharist began at 11pm with the singing of carols. Thankfully there was only one I didn't know ("On Christmas Night") and one that I knew in another form ("Angels  from the Realms of Glory" is essentially "Angels We Have Heard on High"). Within the service itself were several more carols, including "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", both sung to alternate melodies I have never heard back home in Canada. Thankfully by now I have sung both alternate melodies enough that I was able to sing through them without any trouble.

It was a magical moment as the service began; the lights dimmed, leaving us sitting in the flickering glow of our handheld candles, and the Cathedral Choir at the back of the sanctuary started singing "Ding Dong Merrily on High"; it was the first live performance of Christmas Carols by trained singers I have heard this season, and warmed my ears and made me miss being in a performing choir that much more.

For the second time in my life I took communion (the first time being during the Easter service at the United Church in Duncan back in 1995 or so). I didn't intend to; I just sort of got swept up into the line getting up to let the people beside me get out of the pew row. Call me paranoid, but the idea of sipping from a cup that forty other people have just put their lips on - even if the servers do wipe it off immediately after each person - heightens my germophobia.

The sermon and the blessing performed by Bishop David Rice spoke of the traditional nativity scene; how we are all familiar with it, how it is a symbolic rather than historically accurate depiction of Christ's birth, and that however things may have really been two thousand years ago, hope, faith, and potential were certainly present that night. The Bishop reminded us that we are all full of hope and potential, and should go out into the world in peace and to do good. His accent was not one of a New Zealander; at the end of the service, when I shook his hand at the door, he told me he was originally from the north-eastern United States. He thanked me for coming, and when I told him I was here for six months touring around the country he told me with a big smile that he hopes I "have a blast".

I got back to Fay and Frank's around 1:30am, brushed my teeth, came into my (Stefan's) room, closed the door... and what was merrily climbing up the back of the door but a cockroach! UGH! I knocked it to the floor, crushed it with repeated whacks of my shoe, and put the pieces in a paper towel to throw in the bin. Oh, yes, my Christmas cockroach, lucky me. I just hope there aren't any more lurking around in here; I'm going to keep telling myself there aren't, otherwise I'm never going to be able to sleep.

It's now 2:15am here, Christmas Day, so I'm off to bed. Peace on earth; goodwill toward men.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bound for Napier Once More

My time in Waipawa with Skye and Finn has drawn to a close; I find it hard to believe that three weeks have passed so quickly. I started the morning by feeding Tiger one last time, and then Skye put me to work clearing the concrete path along the side and back of the house of the weeds growing in the cracks.Even using a knife to dig in amongst the concrete slabs, it’s still nearly impossible to get the root systems of clover or dandelions out completely, which makes for very frustrating work. I also had to trim back some sort of aloe vera-like hedge plant that was overhanging the pathway, and it leached a goopy substance onto my shirtsleeves, promptly staining them and forcing me to do laundry again before I left.

Packing up all my belongings took longer than I expected it to (and not just because my parents called to chat halfway through the process): how did I manage to accumulate even more stuff? Jogging my memory, I recalled Skye gave me a shirt and a coat, I bought eight shirts from Op Shops in Waipawa and Hastings, I bought a tent and walking pole in Hastings, and I have a book and two DVDS Skye asked me to take back to the Napier Public Library for her. Add in the fact that it is summer and I can’t wear my coat, pants, sweatshirt, and hiking boots like I did when I arrived here, it all adds up to claiming precious space in the backpack.

Nevertheless, I got everything crammed into my hiking and school backpacks, and put the tent, walking pole, and sleeping bag in another gear bag. I said goodbye to Finn (he gave me a hug and wished me well on the Heaphy Track), and then Skye drove me down to the bus stop on High Street beside the museum. She gave me a big hug as well and then was off, as Finn had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. I am sorry to leave the two of them; their place really was a home so very far away from home for me.

In true New Zealand fashion (and just as Skye had predicted) the bus to Napier was over half an hour late, leaving me waiting in the swelteringly hot bus shelter, watching as the shade rapidly disappeared as the sun travelled across the sky. Seeing everyone walk by dressed in shorts, tank tops, skirts, and jandals (or barefoot), my mind simply can’t accept that it really is the 23rd of December!

As the bus pulled out of Waipawa, I put on my iPod and listened to “Take it Back” by Barenaked Ladies; a fitting ending to my time in Central Hawke’s Bay, as it was the song playing on my iPod when I arrived there on December 2nd. I shared the song’s lyrics with Skye (she was always asking me about what bands and songs I was listening to on my iPod while I gardened), and she liked the words to the bridge the best:

Long lines and warning signs
Think of all the lives
Saved by plastic knives

It’s naïve but make-believe
We will never lose
If we remove our shoes

I arrived in Napier at 4:18pm, with Frank waiting for me at the bus stop on Dalton Street; he gave me a big smile and hug when he saw me. When we got back to the house I had hardly been here two minutes when Fay started to brew up up a pot of tea and set out a tray of cookies. As someone who has seen very little in the way of processed sugar on the table for the last three weeks, the cookies were a wonderful treat, and the dinner of hamburgers (with corn on the cob, mom! Just thought I’d throw that out there) was delicious as well.

Now I’m settled back in my Uncle Stefan’s old room once more, and Fay has instructed me not to get up early, as I deserve to have a sleep-in on my Christmas holiday. In the morning Frank and I are going in to town to the butcher’s and the baker’s and the library, and somehow in there I am going to figure out how to purchase a few things to make a gift basket for Fay and Frank for Christmas (Stefan and I have been scheming). I’m yawning like crazy, so I’m off to bed. Night!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Still Muggy, but the River Provides Relief

I started my morning again today like yesterday's: by walking up the hill to feed Tiger, and by the time I got back to Skye's at 8:45am already sweating from the humidity. This was only made worse by my first gardening task of raking up all the lose pea gravel from a path (Skye wants to return the path to lawn) and carting it across the garden in buckets to dump on the remaining gravel path. Not to state the obvious, but rocks are heavy! I was almost glad to return to my regularly scheduled gardening of ripping grass and weeds and daisies out from the garden bed along the fence line. I also weeded the front garden where I began my work when I started WWOOFing here at the beginning of December. It was disheartening to see how quickly the weeks grow, but amazing to also see how rapidly some of the plants - particularly the sunflowers - have shot up!

As Skye had a hair appointment this afternoon, she had already gone for her midday siesta when I came in for lunch. I ate by myself at the table (likely a good thing, as I was dirty and sweaty), reading Bill Bryson's At Home (I've made it to the chapter on the bedroom, lucky me). I have also begun the slow and somewhat monumental task of organizing my photos, so I did a little of that his afternoon, too. And I did laundry! Such excitement.

At 3pm I walked down to the library and photocopied a half-dozen Christmas carols out of The Treasury of Christmas Music so I could return the book to St. Peter's. An interesting point of trivia: standard paper sizes are different down here in New Zealand! Actually, what is really going on is the entire world (save for the US and Canada) uses the ISO paper size standards. The most common size of paper here is A4, which is  8.27" x 11.69", compared to the Canadian/US "Letter" of 8.5" x 11". This is somewhat annoying, as the extra .69" (1.8cm) of A4 papers is enough to make them stick out the end of my Letter-sized clipboard, resulting in crumpling (which when one is as nuts about neatness as I am can be very trying!).

Exiting from the library I was greeted with a blast of hot, humid air, and that was enough to convince me to go for a swim in the Waipawa River. After stopping in briefly at Maria and Mike's to check on Flash (who was happy to receive a little attention) I headed on down to Coronation Park and fairly threw myself into the river. Cold water has never felt so good...

Thoroughly refreshed, I walked back up the hill and spent the half an hour before dinner pruning lavender bushes in the front garden and listening to Great Big Sea's live album Road Rage on my iPod. They've always been one of my favourite bands, and I find listening to Canadian music always puts a smile on my face and reminds me of home, even if I am from the other side of the country than "the tropical island of Newfoundland" as Alan Doyle introduced his homeland. :-P

Due to the heat we ate dinner sitting on the front steps instead of at the table on the porch at the back of the house; as we ate, Skye told me about how different the front yard had looked when she moved in compared to now, and brought out pictures to illustrate: where now sits a beautiful garden, there was once only lawn and bark mulch! While it is a chore to keep the weeds under control, I completely agree that it looks much nicer as a garden than as a vast expanse of lawn. I took a picture of the three of us sitting on the steps; I don't think I've ever posed for an outdoor picture taken in December wearing a t-shirt and capri shorts.

After dinner we drove up the road to the small town of Pukehow (Pou-kee-how), home to Christ Church, one of the oldest churches in the Waiapu diocese (it was consecrated in 1859). Here we were treated to "Carols by Candlelight"; everyone present was given a candle (mounted in a plastic wine glass) to hold and sing with. They weren't really necessary until dusk started to settle in around 8:45pm, but there's something timeless and consecrated about the atmosphere of singing carols in a church by candlelight. (I have sung more carols with the community here in New Zealand than I ever have back home...) The other highlight was the brass quintet + woodwind duo (two cornets, one French horn, one euphonium, one tuba, one clarinet, and one flute) who accompanied us; their musicianship and tone were impeccable. I was in such good spirits my voice even cooprerated and allowed me to sing all the high notes; I was soaring effortlessly up to F#s and Gs like a good lyric soprano.

There was a little reception afterward where I talked again with Adrian's WOOFers, Marielle and Nicholas from France, and we all enjoyed the shortbread, juice, and Christmas loaf (thankfully the crust wasn't held down with glue, although I did play Sharon, Lois, and Bram's version of "Ms. Fogarty's Christmas Cake" for Skye last night and she loved it). There is something surreal about chatting outside under the shadows of stately oak trees, watching the sunset over the rolling pasture hills, wearing light summer clothing, and knowing that it is December 22nd!

On the drive back Skye took me past two houses that seem to be in a Christmas light competition; Christmas lights are not common at all down here (likely because the days are so long, what with it being summer and all), which prompted me to show her this video when we got back to the house (I still crack up every time I see it).

Tonight is my last night in Waipawa! While we didn't get to see the lunar eclipse yesterday, the moon rise this evening was absolutely fantastic (there are so few lights here to interfere with star gazing). Tomorrow I am on the 2:45pm bus, heading north to Fay and Frank's and a Christmas in Napier. I've enjoyed being here at Skye's so much... and wouldn't you know it, I haven't started packing at all yet (at least I did the laundry!). Guess what I'll be doing tomorrow morning... night!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cat Keeping and Humidity

The thermometer hit 30ºC today, and when combined with the low hanging thunder clouds, the humidity was formidable. Even walking down the street was enough to work up an uncomfortable sweat that would not evaporate, and thus left me feeling sticky and clammy... so you can imagine what it was like to work in the garden all morning in a long-sleeved shirt. Even as I type this now it is 8:21pm and the temperature is still up around 26ºC.

Today is the longest day of the year down here in New Zealand (which makes sense if you think of it as being opposite to Canada having the shortest day of the year at the same time). First thing this morning I walked up to Warwick and Elizabeth's to feed their cat, Tiger, and then came back to the house and had my duel with the yarrow plant near the compost. It proved tricky to remove as the root mass was growing through an old mat Skye had previously laid down with the hopes it would prevent weeds from spreading; instead, it just made digging the roots out a pain in the butt.

For the rest of the morning I dug up the remaining yarrow roots out in the far back garden, and then started practising my masonry work; I built a rock divider between the lavender and the rest of the garden soil, and then a small retaining wall around a hollow in the bed that Skye wants to eventually turn into a pond. Right now the clay soil is holding some brackish water in the bottom due to the rain we have had as of late, but I think if it were dug out and lined properly it would make quite a nice pool.

After lunch I walked into town to return a library book and buy a CD-R; for Christmas I have decided to give Skye and Finn Charlotte Diamond's A Christmas Gift as a Christmas present and to say "thank you" for making me feel so welcome here in Waipawa. (Seeing as indie Canadian singer-songwriter CDs are a little hard to come by in New Zealand, much less Waipawa, I bought it off of iTunes and I am going to burn it for them.) The walk downtown left me hot and sweaty and generally wishing I had a nice cool refreshing body of water to jump into.

This afternoon we listened to The Canadian Brass and Mormon Tabernacle Choir's album A Christmas Gloria, of which several numbers brought to mind what I think Christmas carols would sound like if written by John Williams: large, loud, and dramatic. I was afraid it would be a little too boombastic for Skye, but she likes large choirs, so it went over well.

My evening was a repeat of my morning: I walked up the hill to feed Tiger dinner, and then back to the house and started weeding a patch on the side of the house up against the chain link fence (how I despise pulling grass out of the chain link fence; it's tedious and boring). The three of us were a little sluggish at dinner... the heat and humidity can be so draining. Poor Skye had a headache, and went outside and lay down on the lawn after dinner while Finn and I watched Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. (It worked; her headache is gone.)

I have one more full day of WWOOFing here, and on the 23rd I leave for Napier. It's hard to believe I've been here for almost three weeks! My time in Waipawa has just flown by. Well, it's easy to say that sitting here inside; when I'm outside in the heat and sun, bent over a patch of stubborn weeds, the morning can easily seem to drag on for an eternity. :-) I'm off to a shower and bed now... night!


Monday, December 20, 2010

Shopping in Hastings and Wandering around Waipawa

Well, after travelling through it twice by train, twice by bus, and twice by car, today I finally visited the largest town in Central Hawke's Bay, Hastings. The Hastings district is known as the "Fruit Bowl of New Zealand", as a lot of apple, pear, and stone fruit is grown in the area; New Zealand's red wine industry is also based here. Because of all this agricultural production Hastings has a close relationship with the Port of Napier, and the two are often referred to as the "twin cities".

After driving past the library where we would meet at 11pm, Skye dropped me off on Russell Street close to the bus station at 9am, and then headed off to her appointment. I walked down the street to the famed railway fountain (the one with the rail line running directly through the centre, as I described in this blog post... amusingly, as I type this, I can hear a train clickety-clacking over the Waipawa River bridge!). I now have several pictures of this fountain - albeit without a train in them - but they will make a nice compliment to the photos I have taken on board J 1211 as we passed through on the 23rd of October.

Continuing down Russell Street, I headed into Kathmandu (The New Zealand Equivalent of Mountain Equipment Co-Op) and purchased a walking stick and a tent for my Heaphy Track hike in January. When I booked the Heaphy I could only get a bunk in a cabin for one of the four nights, so the other three will be spent in my Lansan Light tent. Although I'm not too keen about having to carry it around, it is very light (1.85kg, or about 4lbs), and may even provide a welcome respite from mosquitos, sandflies, and snoring coinhabitants of the huts (earplugs are definitely going to be a must).

I headed back down Russell Street toward the library and explored Hastings' downtown (which reminded me a little of old-town Duncan). I wandered down Heretaunga Street into Seekers, a thrift store, and bought four shirts (for gardening and dealing with the humid weather) for a grand total of $16 (I love $4 shirts). I then treated myself (or rather, Skye treated me, as she insisted on giving me some money to buy a coffee and snack in thanks for my singing and contributing to the community yesterday) to a mocha at Taste Cornucopia Organic Café. The café is attached to Cornucopia Organics, a store Warwick told me about that he and Elizabeth do a lot of their shopping at (and Skye has things delivered to the house from there as well). The mocha was indeed delicious, but it did have the nasty effect of leaving me anxiously wired for most of the afternoon (I never learn).

At the library I picked out Toy Story 2 and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit for Finn, met up with Skye, and we drove back the 45km to Waipawa. By the time we got back the caffeine in the coffee had really kicked into high gear in my system, so after lunch I went for a big walk up Matthew Street, down Abbotsford Rd, onto Tikokino Rd, down into Coronation Park, along the Waipawa River, then back up the "wrong side of the tracks", one could say, and into town. It was overcast, but the humidity was formidable... I was in a t-shirt, and felt uncomfortably hot. I haven't been in humidity this high since I was in Hong Kong, and I don't like it any better here than I did there.

When I reached the New World to buy milk, yoghurt, and tomatoes I was crashing, and by the time I got back up the hill to Skye's place I was exhausted. I made myself a cup of tea and flopped down on the bed for a short rest, and nearly fell asleep, but was woken up by Finn cutting the grass with the push-mower outside my window. I dragged myself out into the backyard (feeling rather guilty because I hadn't done any work today) and set to pulling weeds out of the paths on the sides of the garden, gradually moving to ripping dandelions out of the lawn with a garden fork. There are a lot of them, however; I fear if I tried to do the whole lawn there would be more dirt showing than grass!

After dinner Finn and I watched Toy Story 2, (which he rated 7.5/10, so Skye told me I had made a good choice). I hadn't seen it since I saw it in the Duncan Caprice theatre in 1999, the same night that my middle school band teacher went, causing him to call me "Jessie" for the next few months. It was as good as I remembered, and made me want to watch Toy Story and Toy Story 3 again. :-)

Now I'm off to bed... apparently tomorrow there is another clump of yarrow waiting with my name on it that Skye has decided needs to come out. Good decision! En garde, monsieur yarrow! Je te tuerai!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Church, Sapin Noël, and Left-Handed Knitting

Singing today at the church service went fairly well. The whole service was devoted to dressing the Christmas tree (or as I learned from Adrian's French WWOOFers, the sapin Noël). Skye and Finn and I got there early and helped set up the sanctuary and Christmas tree. My duties included stringing lights around the tree, tying it to the pulpit so it didn't fall over, and and wrapping the top few branches of the poor pine tree up with twine so the star had a firm enough base to be wedged down upon. While using a pair of scissors to cut excess needles and branch tips out of the way, it occurred to me I was literally trimming the tree!

St. Peter's is too small to employ a minister, so several members of the church parish take turns leading the service. Today it was Rosalie who presided, and she led us through the different aspects of the Christmas tree and their meanings. After each item a member of the congregation would step forward to deliver a relevant bible passage reading, then the congregation would sing a carol, and the children present would come up and place the aforementioned objects on the tree, as follows:

Lights - Symbol of Jesus, the light of the world
Bells - Symbol of good news
Peppermint Sticks - Symbol of the Shepherds
Star - Symbol of the Wise Men
Gifts - God's Gift to Us
Coloured Balls - Symbol of the fruits of Christ's coming

Once everything was on the tree, I stood up to sing; the words to the chorus were printed in the service sheets, so the congregation joined in, which was quite nice. I felt my voice was somewhat shaky, but I received many kind comments during the tea and coffee after the service, so I imagine it didn't sound too bad. Adrian told Skye he felt my voice was beautiful and mannered, but still retained the innocence and purity of a child's, which made the song that much more poignant. I think he may have been laying it on a little thick, but it's always nice to receive a compliment. :-)

The weather was miserable again this afternoon; after a mid morning wind and a few promising patches of sunlight, a blanket of heavy cloud swept in over Waipawa, and rained steadily up until 7pm or so. Take ten degrees off the thermometer and the weather would be comparable to back home! I spent the afternoon reading, and finished the quilt of squares I had been working on (that makes three I've finished in the time I've been here). 

At 5:30pm Skye and I headed up to Warwick and Elizabeth's to learn how to water their property and feed Tiger, as they leave for their other house in the Coromandel for Christmas tomorrow. Warwick gave me a big hug and thanked me again for playing and making music with him. He's such a sweet man; I do hope I manage to see him again before I leave New Zealand.

My challenge this evening has been teaching myself to knit (or at least attempting to). My Grandma Taylor tried to teach me once, years ago, and ran into the usual problem of me being left-handed; I was able to do it right-handed under close supervision, but when I took the knitting home and tried to keep going I ended up knitting backward and making a mess of things. I learned how to cast on stitches by watching a video on the internet and then mentally reversing it for myself, and then Skye showed me how to knit right-handed. I watched carefully, tried knitting right-handed for a few rows, and then ripped it all out and started over again, trying to get myself to perform the mirror image of what I had just been doing. (You may wonder why I didn't just keep knitting right-handed. Two words: very awkward.) I've ripped out and restarted at least ten times, but I think I'm starting to get the hang of it. Skye was most impressed that I was able to teach myself to knit left-handed; I just smiled at her. From shoe tying to conducting, while it may be a bit of a fight to get there, I know in the long run it will always be easier for me to do things the way my brain laterlization makes me naturally want to do them.

Tomorrow morning Skye and I are going to Hastings to do a little shopping... ooo, time in the "big city"! (at 75 000 people it's the biggest settlement in Central Hawke's Bay). After sleepy little Waipawa, even Chemainus would seem huge!


Saturday, December 18, 2010

La mer et Cirque du Soleil

My hate affair with yarrow continues; I spent this morning ripping out the last of the grasses and weeds and then using a pitchfork to dig up the extensive masses of roots hiding in the soil below. This task was made difficult and backbreaking by a) the slope of the garden, b) the slippery clay, c) the water that had decided to pool in the bottom of the garden that I kept stepping into, and d) the oppressive, humid heat. By the time noon rolled around and Skye came up to tell me lunch was ready I nearly passed out / threw up from heat exhaustion. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now about working in the heat, but no...

After lunch I flopped down on my bed and had a mini-nap, then read and browsed the internet. Skye came to me at 3pm and suggested we all drive out to Pourerere beach, about forty minutes from here. I was intrigued, but a little apprehensive because I had planned to spend some time this afternoon practising "The Giving Tree" in the church. The other source of my apprehension was the rumbling thunder that had been steadily building all afternoon, as dark, forbidding blue clouds rolled in from the southwest. Nevertheless, into the car the three of us piled, and drove east to the Pacific Ocean.

It was nice to smell the salty tang on the air again after being inland for two weeks, and walk along the sandy beach barefoot (decidedly more comfortable than the rough rocks on the banks and bottom of the Waipawa river). Skye had brought three sacks with her, and we spent twenty minutes or so collecting seaweed off the beach to take home and preserve (Skye likes to cook and eat it). As we strolled down the beach, flashes of lightning began to appear in the sky... using the tried and true counting rule we determined them to be about twenty miles away, then twelve, then eight... and by that point we had turned back and were heading for the car as the first fat drops of rain started to pelt down from the sky.

Driving back home on the narrow, winding rural road was definitely an experience; I don't think I have ever been in a car when it is raining that hard. We were literally reduced to a crawl in some instances because the rain was so heavy; it was sheets of water pouring down onto the car. And then just as quickly as it began, it was over, as the storm swept east on its journey out to the ocean.

We came home to a sopping wet lawn, and spread the seaweed out in front of the art studio. Skye and Finn hosed it down to remove most of the excess salt and sand, and I carried it, bunch by bunch, over to the blue plastic barrel for preservation. We filled the barrel with seaweed and water and an herb from the garden whose name escapes me to help preserve it, and then sealed the barrel shut. While I have certainly eaten seaweed before in Canada, it was a unique experience to actually go out and collect it myself!

After dinner the three of us sat down to watch a DVD of Cirque du Soleil's Varekai, a take on the Greek myth of Icarus. Having never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance, live or otherwise, I was blown away by the acrobatics and choreography. I had a little moment of Canadian pride, and then had to explain to Skye and Finn that Cirque du Soleil is Canadian, not French. :-)

Tomorrow morning I am singing "The Giving Tree" at the Sunday church service at St. Peter's, so I had better go have a shower (for some reason I smell like seaweed) and then head to bed. Night!


Friday, December 17, 2010

Pythagoras, Abba, and the Vinyl Café

I woke up last night to the sound of heavy rain falling on the roof, and when I woke up again this morning it hadn't ceased; the gardens are certainly happy, but it definitely doesn't feel like summer; more like May or June back in Canada.

As a result of the rain I spent the morning inside the back room of the work studio trying to develop skills as a craftsman: Skye tasked me with wallpapering the inside of a cupboard. The back of the workstudio is being converted into a kitchen of sorts; there is already a bedroom, and the idea is for WWOOFers to be able to live semi-independently out there. Since the workstudio is a converted garage, the kitchen area is what was once a toolshop / workbench area, and while the cupboards have been painted, they are still wood with no proper backing. Enter the wallpaper! My job was somewhat complicated by the permanent nature of the shelves (nailed in place, they didn't lift out) and the fact that my ruler was taller than the shelves were spaced apart. Wishing desperately for a tape measure, which would have easily bent and twisted itself to fit under the shelves, I found the only way I could calculate the correct height of the wallpaper to cut for the back wall of the shelves was to create an imaginary triangle using the ruler as the hypotenuse and then apply a little Pythagoras: a2 + b2 = c2 (or in this case, b2 = c2 - a2). Oh, and I didn't have a calculator or blank paper, either... I wrote my calculations out on old newspapers.

Between all the math I was doing, and then having to make other adjustments to the wallpaper pieces to accommodate shelf supports and such, it took me almost all morning to wallpaper the three shelves inside the cupboard; the most fun I had was playing with the paste, a gelatinous liquid made from a powder that I slopped onto the wallpaper with a paintbrush (pastebrush in this case, I suppose). For the remaining forty minutes until lunch I worked on the quilt, talking to Skye as she "touched up" a few of Finn's squares (sometimes the ending row is too lose to sew the square to another one properly, so she undoes them to redo the last few rows).

After lunch I walked over to Maria and Mike's to check on Flash the cat (since it had rained so much the plants didn't need watering), and read my book there while Flash sprawled on the ground in front of me, every now and then looking hopefully at his food bowl (Astrid, another neighbour, is in charge of feeding him).

When I got back Finn was in the dining / living room watching Mamma Mia; while the music certainly buoyed his mood and had Skye dancing around singing "Dancing Queen", it left me with an endless parade of Abba melodies marching through my head. Those insanely catchy tunes are musician kyrptonite....

Thankfully I was able to get most of the Abba out of my head tonight at St. Peter's: there was another carol singalong, although this one was themed more like a service, with several sermon-like speeches and prayers interspersed between the carols. An interesting inclusion (my musical elitism won't let me call it a highlight, because try as I hard as I can I can't appreciate choirs that don't sing in tune or with proper support) was a group of thirty men and two women from Samoa, who are currently staying in the Hawke's Bay area and were invited to sing a few Samoan Christmas carols for us. As the only Samoan song I know is "Minoi, Minoi", it was nice to hear a few other examples.

After the service was over Skye introduced me to a friend of hers named Adrian, who had brought his own WWOOFers to the carol night as well. I didn't catch their names, but they are from France, and were delighted to meet me as they said they had met someone from Vancouver and hadn't been able to understand him when he spoke; they were relieved they could understand me! I found that highly amusing, especially when I said, "Well, we have many Chinese and East-Indians living in Vancouver" and the girl shook her head vehemently and said, "No, he was a real Canadian!" How do I explain that a great deal of the Asians and East-Indians in Vancouver are just as much "real" Canadians as I am...?

When we got home Skye was feeling energetic and didn't want to go to sleep just yet, so I pulled out my laptop and played "Dave Cooks the Turkey" from Stuart McLean's Vinyl Café for her; she laughed a lot, so I think that's a good sign. Perhaps tomorrow we'll listen to "Polly Anderson's Christmas Party" or "Christmas Presents" off the same album, but now it is late and I am off to bed. Night!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Yarrow and Yuletide

Back I was in the garden again this morning. Today's challenge: weed all the clover, grass, and yarrow out from around the lavender and strawberry plants. Yarrow is quickly becoming even more despised by me than clover, due to its deep and extensive overlapping root system (at least clover's runners are above the ground!). I ended up using a shovel to dig some of the biggest masses of yarrow root out, which were so large they wouldn't fit in my weed bucket; I had to put them directly into the burlap sack of garden waste being taken to the transfer station.

Tired and hungry from my gardening, I came in and had lunch, then brewed myself a nice cup of tea with milk and sugar. I set it down on my desk, turned to move some papers, and when I turned back somehow managed to knock the whole cup over. Mercifully my computer was mainly spared, as was my iPod, attached to it and charging, but the tea sprayed rather spectacularly across the floor, desk chair, and wall behind the desk. It even managed to get into the desk drawer and seep back out and drip onto the floor (thankfully I don't keep anything in that drawer). So rather than have a nice relaxing cup of tea and a rest after my morning of slaving in the dirt, I had to spend another twenty minutes mopping up tea, washing the floor and desk and chair and wall, and cleaning my computer. I ended up doing a load of laundry just to ensure nothing was stained.

After my own little Boston Tea Party incident it was doubly pleasant to phone up Warwick this afternoon and ask if I could come over to return the Christmas Carol music he lent me and play the piano. We ended up playing together for over 2 1/2 hours; he dug out an old duet book, so we worked our way through pieces by Mozart, Schumann, Weber, and Clementi. Those exhausted, we moved onto playing and singing four-part Christmas carol arrangements (he played bass and tenor, I played soprano and alto). It was great fun; I so rarely get an opportunity to play duets, and we had just as much fun chortling whenever we played the wrong notes or messed up rhythms as we did when we played things perfectly. I had such a good afternoon I lost track of time and had to run back to Skye's at 5:12pm as we were leaving here at 5:30pm to drive up to Waipukurau to sing Christmas Carols at St. Mary's church.

When I got back here I phoned my dad to wish him a Happy Birthday, and caught up on how their passport applications are coming along for their planned visit to New Zealand in the spring (well, Canadian spring, New Zealand fall). Skye overheard me on the phone and asked me to tell my mom that "You have a wonderful daughter", to which my mom responded, "Tell her I'm glad she likes my 'I'm a frayed knot' joke!" Sigh. I have a feeling the two of them would get along quite well if they met...

The carolling at St. Mary's was a lot of fun, as many people from the Waipawa Christmas Cabaret performance were there singing, and seeing as I had spent the afternoon singing with Warwick I was well warmed-up and ready to tackle carols like "Ding Dong! Merrily on High" and "Angels We Have Heard on High". Tomorrow there is supposed to be carolling and a picnic outside in the park, but the weather has been so miserable these last few days there is talk of moving the singing indoors into St. Peter's sanctuary. At least the rain keeps the gardens happy!

I'm exhausted from all my gardening and singing today, so I'm going to go have a shower and then hit the (metaphorical) hay. Night!


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Clay + Carolyn's Back = Bad

Oh, clay, how I loathe thee in thou's dry state... thou cements thyself to the root systems of all plants and makes it impossible for a soul to dislodge anything living from thy clutches. And whilst wet, thou ist mucky and slimy and heavy, sticking to everything and leaving a mess wherever thou ist shovelled.

The above sentence pretty much explains my morning; I am working on clearing out a garden patch on the hill in the backyard that hasn't seen some TLC for quite a long time, and as such is full of tall grasses with considerable root systems. Unfortunately, these roots are embedded in clay, which at the top of the hill is dry as a bone, and at the bottom wet and heavy and sticky. Either way, it's nearly impossible to weed, and my back, neck, and arms are not particularly happy with me.

I suppose I shouldn't complain too much... poor Skye had a dentist appointment today, and she came home feeling sluggish from the anaesthetic (she had a tooth pulled). I brought her her computer and a cup of tea so she could sit outside and do some work, and then later this evening she went to bed early, and I made dinner for Finn and me.

This afternoon I went to St. Peter's again with the intention of simply playing the piano, but I ended up singing Christmas carols as well. I found a couple books of carols in the church, including one I have at home that I got from my Grandma Taylor, which made me smile. The book I ended up playing and singing the most out of was The Treasury of Christmas Music, Ed. W. L. Reed, from 1961. It had some of my favourite carols to sing, including God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen", "Es ist ein' Ros' entsprungen", "I Saw Three Ships", "Lullay, Thou Little Tiny Child",  "Once in Royal David's City", "Past Three a Clock", "The Boar's Head Carol", "The Holly and the Ivy", "We Three Kings", "In the Bleak Midwinter", and "Lullay My Liking". (Too bad it was missing "Il est né" and "The Keeper".) I also sang the Vaughn Williams version of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" for the first time, and decided I like its melody better than the tune I have grown up hearing. There's nothing quite like singing in a church, and hearing one's voice echo back from the far corners and rafters high above. The book even had a piano arrangement of "Pifa" pastoral symphony from Handel's Messiah, so I had a go at that as well (it's gorgeous; my favourite piece in the whole oratorio, save for the Hallelujah chorus).

Before dinner I sewed a few more quilt squares and listened to a Frasier episode on my iPod, then made dinner for Finn and myself. We had rice with seaweed, hummus, tomatoes, mackerel (from a can), and broccoli. I had never cooked broccoli before (I don't like it cooked, so I've never had a reason to cook it myself), so I just put it in some boiling water for a few minutes and hoped that was satisfactory. Finn didn't complain, at any rate.

All the gardening and singing wore me out, so I am off to bed now. Night!


Monday, December 13, 2010

Clover, Clay, and Currency (How I love Alliteration)

My back today feels like it should belong to someone a great deal older than I; I spent the morning working on the topmost level of the vegetable garden terrace, stooped over ripping out clover. How I detest clay soil and clover's stubborn root system! My mood was matched somewhat by the overcast skies and light rain that fell on me all morning as I worked. I didn't mind; a little rain reminds me of home, and cloud cover means fewer damaging UV rays and a cooler temperature, both of which suit me for working outside.

Unfortunately, the rain caused all the clay and dirt from the garden to stick to the bottom of my runners, to the point where I was no longer walking on the tread of the shoes but on a layer of mud. To rectify this I went down to the river after lunch and washed the soles of my shoes, standing barefoot in knee-deep water by the bank. This is when I discovered some unwelcome co-occupants of the riverside that apparently left me alone yesterday when I was swimming because I kept moving around: mosquitos. They had a little feast of my bare arms and what was exposed of my legs; so now I have clean shoes, but welts on my forearms and knees. Whee!

My shoes clean but also wet, I put them back on, feeling some water squish in-between my toes (delightful), and went for a wander down an access road by the riverside. It dead-ended by the Waipawa Transfer Station (what in Canada could be compared to a recycling station, except they take yard waste, too), which I then had to walk out the gates of, looking as nonchalant as possible. From there it was about a ten-minute walk back to Rose Street and Skye's house, where I went to my room and flopped down on the bed for a forty-minute nap.

This afternoon was quite similar to yesterday; I went over to Maria and Mike's to do a little watering, played with the cat Flash a little, and then went up to the workshop and sewed together another ten or so squares for the quilt. After dinner tonight was somewhat interesting, however: I had found a New Zealand 2p (two pence) piece on the ground, and when I showed it to Skye she brought out her box of old coins and showed me other examples of NZ currency before the country converted to a dollar from the British pound system. In return I showed her and Finn the Canadian coins I have (everything but a twoonie) and my $5 and $20 bills. Skye was amazed that Queen Elizabeth II appears on Canadian money; I found I had a similar reaction when I showed people from the UK on the Stray Bus Canadian coins. "Really? The queen?" Canada is in the Commonwealth too, you know…

Here's hoping the weather is a little more agreeable tomorrow… this afternoon was cloudy and muggy, and being from Vancouver Island I don't deal well with humidity. Night!


Pirates, Pools, and Plants

This morning's grand outing was to Hohepa Farm, a farm and home for the mentally retarded, or as stated on the website, "a Registered Charitable Trust providing Intellectual Disability Services based on the principles of Rudolf Steiner". Over two hundred residents and staff live on-site, and take part in the running of the biodynamic farm and manufacture of products for the Hohepa Farm Shop, such as beeswax candles, wooden toy carvings, knitted blankets and scarves, and the best organic cheese in all of Hawke's Bay. (Aspects of Hohepa Farm reminded me of Providence Farm on steroids.) Music therapy is also a large part of life at Hohepa, and the reason for our visit this morning was to see their production of Pirates of Penzance.

I didn't go in expecting miracles, and that was likely the wisest approach. The lead characters were given to aides and care workers, but this only ensured the dialogue and storyline kept flowing at a (mostly) understandable pace, and that the other actors didn't wander aimlessly around the stage. (At the very least, they certainly weren't cast for their singing ability.) While I found myself trying not to cringe most of the time as I was subjected to one "musical" number after another, I could see how happy some of the resident were to be onstage performing; their huge smiles when the audience reacted favourably to something they did, their pride in their costumes and having memorised their lines, and the enjoyment they got out of singing and dancing were all readily apparent. While I still said a silent prayer of thanks when it was all over, I am glad I went, because it allowed me to glimpse an aspect of life here in New Zealand that as Skye said, "you wouldn't normally get on the tourist circuit".

After the play we were supposed to go to the beach for a swim, but halfway there Finn decided he had had enough stimulation for the day and just wanted to go home and have a nap, so we ended up taking a windy backroad home. It was muggy and stiflingly hot in the car, and I had really been looking forward to an afternoon spent at the ocean. However, I understand being sensitive to Finn's needs; it must have been very stressful for him to be surrounded by all those people in a relatively confined space for over two hours.

When we got back to Waipawa Skye and Finn went off for their afternoon siesta, and I headed down to the library to return a few items, and then over to the New World to pick up milk and tomatoes. By this point I was even hotter and craving a swim, so I brought my towel with me (I was already wearing my bathing suit) and went down to the Waipawa River in Coronation Park for a swim. A few days ago when I was there I discovered a fairly deep and calm pool that I thought would be ideal for swimming, and today I got to test my theory out. Conclusion: a perfectly satisfactory place for one to have a swim, albeit slightly cold, but that was more than welcome on a hot, muggy day like today.

Later in the afternoon I went over to Mike and Maria's to water their outdoor plants, and met their cat, Flash, whose age makes him neither very regal-looking nor very fast, but endearing nonetheless. Sadly I had no food to give him, as another neighbour is feeding him, even though he did follow me around expectantly every time I went near the kitchen door. The best I could do was refill his water dish.

This evening I was working in the garden until the low-hanging clouds finally started to drench us with rain (this always happens: I thoroughly water someone's outdoor plants, and not twenty minutes later it starts to pour!), so I switched to working in the workshop; I laid out another 49 knitted squares and started making a new blanket. If the rain continues, that ought to keep me busy for another three days at least.

I am incredibly tired right now (I'm going to blame the mental exhaustion of the play and hot car ride, as well as my energetic swimming), so it's off to bed for me. Night!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Creepy Crawlies, Cacti, and Christmas Carols

Well, glories of glories, last night I got to see my first cockroach "in the wild", as it were. Unfortunately, the "wild" was the bathroom wall above my head as I was brushing my teeth. Ugh! I couldn't find anything tall enough to whack it with (Skye told me this morning she usually uses the broom to knock it down then whacks it with a shoe) so I just left it there, but when I went back to my room I stuffed a towel under the door so it couldn't crawl in. Now I'm paranoid...

Today I spent a very hot three hours in the garden weeding while Skye and Finn went to church, and when they got back Skye took me over to see Marie and Michael, neighbours up the road who are going to Australia for Christmas and asked Skye to look after their plants while they are away. Skye promptly delegated this to me, so evenings now I will be looking after a dizzying array of potted cacti, tomato plants, and various fruit-bearing trees.

This afternoon I called Warwick to ask if he had any Christmas sheet music I could borrow (Skye wanted me to play some songs for she and Finn to sing along to in the church tonight), and when he called back in the affirmative I went up to see him. We ended up playing/singing a few carols and having a 1 1/2 hour conversation about everything from Canada-New Zealand differences and consumer culture to organic food and genetically-modified organisms. Warwick is quite friendly and fun to talk to, and it's nice to know I've made something of a friend in the neighbourhood. When I go back up to return the music in a few days we are going to play some duets; I threatened he has to find them and dig them out or we will be playing "Heart and Soul" in every single key.

Warwick says hearing me play last Wednesday night inspired him to start playing again, and true enough, when I sat down at the piano I saw a book of Chopin preludes open on the music board, with fingerings and notes written in. :-)

I finished the knitted square blanket tonight; all sixty-four squares are now stitched together. I took a picture, as even though I didn't knit the squares, I feel like I assembled and sewed most of the blanket, making it the largest crafts project I've ever completed. What do you know, I can be a little domestic...

Tonight after dinner Syke, Finn, and I went to the church and sat around the piano while I played my way through the sheet music Warwick had given me. We sang the usual Christmas classics, such as "The First Noël", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", "Good King Wenceslas", "We Three Kings", and "Silent Night", and a couple of my own favourites such as "I Saw Three Ships", "O Come Emmanuel", and "Once in Royal David's City". Skye even found "The Boar's Head" in a book of carols, and I eagerly pounced on it and sang it for a somewhat perplexed Skye and Finn, who didn't see what was so appealing about a Christmas carol about a severed head on a platter.

I was put through my sight-reading paces tonight, as after we had exhausted the repertoire of Christmas carols (there's something a little strange about singing "Frosty the Snowman" when it's 22ºC outside) Skye dug out the "Alleluia Aotearoa" hymnbook and had me play eight or ten of her favourite hymns. I'm afraid my brain doesn't cope very well with reading melody, figuring out appropriate chords, and trying to read the text for the additional verses down in the lower right corner of the page as well!

Tomorrow we are going to go to a play in the morning, and then in the afternoon, weather permitting, we will visit the beach in Napier! Here's hoping the clouds don't make it too cold. Night!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Windy Waipukurau & Waipawa >> Windy Welly

I got to go for a hike today! Skye and Finn were originally going to come, but then Skye decided with the party in Napier tonight she didn't think she would have the energy to do both. As such, I was the only one who went, but Skye kindly drove me up to St. Andrew's in Waipukurau to meet up with Dan (the leader) at 8am. There were only four of us on the hike in the end; Dan, myself, and two women: Sally (in her 50s), and Chris (in her 30s). (Chris is likely the biggest X-Files fan in all of NZ; she has the stylized "X" tattooed on the small of her back, her licence plate is "1 X-FILE", and she stood in line at the premiere of the second X-Files movie in London and met Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, and Chris Carter. We got along quite well, as you can imagine....)

Our ultimate destination was the Awatere Hut on the Makaretu River in Eastern Ruahine Forest Park, about a 2.4km, 1 1/2 hour walk from the car park. To get to the car park at the start of the hike was an hour-long drive from Waipukurau down to Kashmir Road, which turns into a rocky dirt path not much better than a tramping track itself! The Ruahine Ranges are not terribly tall, but seeing as they are significantly taller than the flat plains around them, are subjected to fierce winds sweeping across the land. When we climbed up onto our first exposed ridge, the blast of wind nearly sent me flying. At that point I was glad Skye and Finn didn't come along; I fear Skye would have blown off the edge!

The wind was so severe at some places along the ridgeline we had to duck or crawl down a few feet on the sheltered side and wait it out; I could tell several times Dan was contemplating turning back. The wind must have been blowing at at least 70km/hr, as it reminded me of skydiving: so intense the breath is sucked out of your lungs and your eyes feel like they are being pierced with little pinpricks. There was mist being carried on the wind, and I ended up putting an earplug in the ear facing the wind, as it started to experience an unpleasant prickling sensation. It certainly was exhilarating, however: several times I was literally blown off my feet, and other times I could lean all my weight forward into the wind and still be fully supported.

Once we started to descend down off the ridge into the beech forest along the Makaretu River the wind died down considerably, and we were able to breathe again. The Awatere Hutt was on the opposite bank of the river, but since there have been no major rainfalls recently it was fairly easy to traverse its rocky bottom and hop across to the other side.

Awatere Hutt is a Department of Conservation Hutt built in 1960; it is bright orange in colour and has three bedframes with mattresses, two tables, and a fireplace. Pretty spartan conditions, but with a little sweeping (and turning a blind eye to the chicken wire in the roof and some other grime) I could see it being a fun place to camp. We all wrote our names in the DOC Visitor's Logbook (regulation, even if one is not spending the night), and then proceeded to have lunch, even though it was only 10:15am. :-)

After eating Dan took us on a short walk down the riverbed to Black Stag Hut, a derelict shack built in 1936 for the deer cullers who camped in the area in the 1930s and 40s, bringing the large red deer population under control (they had been introduced for game hunting, but with no natural predators other than hunters multiplied rapidly and did extensive damage to the native beech forests). Compared to Black Stag Hut, Awatere Hut is practically Hôtel Ritz; it's a teeny place with just enough room for two narrow canvas cots and a fireplace. Nevertheless, given the choice between sleeping out in the wind, and sleeping in the musty old shack, Black Stag Hut wins!

The 2.4km walk back to the car park took longer than the walk in, mainly because there was a greater amount of steep uphill (climbing back out of the river valley to the top of the ridge). While I found Dan's pace to be quite slow and leisurely ascending the hill, Sally and Chris both needed to stop for "view breaks" several times (I will attribute this to Sally being older, and Chris being a smoker). As we stood on one of the ridges looking out at the view, a granola bar wrapper that I had stuffed into one of the side pockets of my backpack broke free and blew clean out of sight over toward Bald Peak... I'm sorry about the accidental littering, Eastern Ruahine Forest Park.

Having made it safely back to Dan's SUV, we drove back down Kashmir Road "toward civilization" as Chris called it, and headed over to Sally's house, where she graciously brewed us some coffee (tea for me) and we had a little snack of mince pies. It turns out Sally is booked to hike the Heaphy Track in early January, and I may be able to go with her and her family/friends! That would be wonderful, as it would be great to have others that I know to walk and socalise with. She gave me her e-mail address, so I'm sure we'll be in touch.

Sally drove me home, and I am home alone this evening as Skye and Finn have gone to a birthday party celebration in Napier (Skye saw me in my room lying on my bed, assumed I was asleep, and left me a very nice note saying she could see I was very tired and had decided to go without me. I'm more amused than disappointed). I ended up doing laundry, and spending ten minutes getting all the knots out of my hair (thank you, wind) before I could take a bath. Dinner was also fun; I concocted macaroni noodles with sweet chilli sauce and leftover chicken, and made a salad out of cucumber, carrot, chickpeas, avocado, and feta cheese, with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing. I also picked some beans from the garden and stirred a little melted butter into them... yum. Quite passable, if I do say so myself.

Skye and Finn just got home, saying that the gathering was nice but got a little too loud, so I imagine it's going to be another quiet night at home for all three of us. There's a fantastic sunset going on outside right now (owing to all the thunderclouds that have been ominously hanging around all day)... here's hoping I don't get so enthralled I forget to bring the laundry in!


Friday, December 10, 2010

"You've got a *scythe*? We've just got wooden scissors!"

For those not up on their Eddie Izzard, the title of this blog entry comes from one of his stand-up comedy routines called "Machines that Lie". I found that particular sketch continually running through my mind today as I set to my first gardening task of the morning: whacking and sawing down grasses and some sort of prickly plant (ouch) around the bases of the apple trees in the mini-orchard out back. For the job Skye gave a tool that was given to her by one of her former WWOOFers, a Japanese girl. It's a hand-held blade, shaped like a mini-scythe (about eight inches long), but with a serrated edge on the inside of the curve that makes it able to saw as well as be swung to cut things down. It's an ingenious little gardening tool for pruning, as it's much easier to just whack a blade at something then to precisely line things up over and over again and squeeze like one has to do with clippers. Skye doesn't know the proper name for the tool, so owing to its Japanese origins I have nicknamed it the "sushi scythe".

Regardless of how much fun I had with said sushi scythe, I think I had an allergic reaction to all the grass I slashed my way through today; my arms were splotchy red and itchy for the remainder of the afternoon, which led me to spend it quietly reading my book inside the house instead of adventuring out to explore. In the later afternoon I went up to the workshed and continued sewing knitted squares together; I figure another hour and that blanket will be done.

After dinner tonight Skye, Finn, and I got in the car and drove 7km up the road to the small (but still bigger than Waipawa) town of Waipukurau to see the Waipawa theatre ensemble's Christmas Cabaret 2010; the event was held at the Little Theatre in Waipukurau because the Waipawa Municipal Theatre is currently undergoing renovations.

It was in some ways your typical community choir and solo musical numbers (meaning the choir was painful to my elitist, choral-snob ears in places, and the music selections mainly pop tunes), but the spirits and obvious enjoyment of the performers was infectious, and I had a wonderful time. Amongst the performers there was some professional talent; a woman from Germany who had trained as an opera singer, and sang a solo number that made me feel like I was back at UVic again sitting in on a voice masterclass. After living in the world of university music, it is hard to come back down to community productions, and hearing her sing really made the evening worthwhile for me.

Now it is after 11pm; I am lying on my bed, yawning like crazy, and until about two minutes ago wanting to kill the fly buzzing around over my head that eluded my best efforts to catch it (I caught it and let it go out the window). Tomorrow morning I must get up early; Skye and Finn and I are going to go for a morning hike, and then in the evening we have been invited out to a party in Napier. I better get some sleep!