31 December 2011

Greetings from 2012

We're 18 hours ahead of Texas time, and I am happy to report that all is well on this side of the date line. We went to a family barbeque with our hosts Chris, Paula, and their son, Noah, where we introduced armadillo eggs to a few brave kiwis.

After reading our friend Natalie's blog this morning, I was inspired to post a recap of our year in photos. It's making me nostalgic, and I can only hope 2012 will be as wonderful.

2011 has been a pretty great year, and we said hello to it with Sam's family in Charleston, celebrating his brother Harrison's New Years Day birthday (happy early birthday, Harry!) January came to a lovely close when we flew to San Francisco to spend a few days with some of our best friends. From coast to coast, it was a great month.

Thomas ran around it like Where the Wild Things Are
Christmas tree bonfire in Charleston
Silly photos in San Francisco

30 December 2011

Halloumi Kebabs

marinating kebabs

For as long as I've been making them, my halloumi kebabs have been making people swoon. At every barbeque or pot luck, they disappear and are replaced with oohs, ahhs, and requests for the recipe. The recipe is so simple and easy that I know it by heart, making it easy to share. Although they're a hit at barbeques, I prefer to make them in the oven, rather than on an open grill, in case some halloumi fall off. Thou shalt not waste halloumi.

29 December 2011



Sam & our host Chris brought home a small bag of jalapenos a few days ago from a farm stall down the road. I was thrilled, because they were the first fresh jalapenos I've seen in the four months we've been in this country.

24 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

We woke up this Christmas morning and went to a tiny -I'm talking living room sized- white church for a morning service. Since then, we've been lazing around talking to family and listening to music. I think I'm about to go make some famous Covington cheese wafers, but with walnuts instead of pecans. Wish me luck!

Shakin' & Bakin'

House sitting
We're back at Chris & Paula's now!

Yesterday afternoon, while lazily surfing the web, I heard an approaching train. Then I realized there are no trains nearby, right around the time I noticed the house was shaking.  The ceiling swayed from side to side, glass windows distorting images of the sunny yard as their frames contorted.

Sam and I looked at each other across the room, mouths open, before I snapped my laptop shut, leapt off the sofa and said, "C'mon, get in the doorway!"

23 December 2011

Gourmet Grilled Cheese

Gourmet grilled cheese

I'd like to take a moment to share a tasty recipe with you all. My mom and I have been making these for years, and I can't remember where she found the original idea. I've made all sorts of variations lately and I've found that it's a pretty flexible recipe.

21 December 2011

House Sitting

Christmas time

For ten days, Sam and I are house sitting for two families.  The first gig is on the south side of Christchurch, on what is called a "lifestyle block" or "farmlet."  We are taking care of Bella, the elderly bird hound, 7 alpacas, 15-20 chickens, and a partridge in a pear tree.  Okay, I made up that last one.

17 December 2011


I'll kiss it better
Graffiti by local artist Tony Cribb on the Knox Presbyterian Church

Christchurch, or CHCH as it is often abbreviated by locals, was hit by a series of devastating earthquakes this year, leaving 181 dead and much of the cityscape damaged. Historical buildings, businesses and homes still sit in ruins, awaiting repairs that might take years.

Head in the Clouds

I've never been the type to let nature pass me by. I'm constantly admiring plants, rocks, and the sky, sometimes taking photos to remember them with. Thanks to the internet, I have a cloud bucket list.

Often mistaken for UFOs, lenticular clouds are normally aligned perpendicular to the wind direction. 

lenticular clouds
 Clockwise from top left: Unknown, Unknown, Chris Picking, J.D. Rufo, Unknown.*

14 December 2011

Charles Goldie's Maori Portraits

Charles Frederick Goldie is one of the most famous and controversial artists from New Zealand, although I had never heard of him before coming here. When I first saw his Maori portraits, I was drawn to them, and I think many others have the same reaction.

Te Papatahi

Inspired: Vintage Photorealism

Three Vintage Fans

If you know me, you know how I feel about vintage, classic cars and antiques. Something about the colors and shapes of old things draw me in, along with the patina and charm they have acquired over their long life. On top of that I'm a sucker for photorealism, so when I saw Christopher Stott's oil paintings, I knew I had to share them here.

12 December 2011

Southward Seals


This Saturday, Sam & I drove from Nelson to Kaiapoi, outside of Christchurch.  It was the longest leg of our road trip so far, taking over 6 hours including stops. The scenery was nice through the Marlborough region, and along the scenic coastal drive. Our favorite part, however, was outside of Kaikoura.

Looking down at the rocks along the water, I thought I saw a seal. Upon closer inspection, I decided it was probably just a piece of driftwood. A minute later, however, I spotted what was definitely a herd of seals. I made Sam hastily pull over for a closer look.  I've only ever seen them in the wild from a boat in the highlands of Scotland.  I've never been able to walk up to them before.


07 December 2011

Not-So-Sunny Nelson

Bill's house

Nelson, known for being the sunniest place in New Zealand, has been mostly cloudy and pouring rain since we arrived, but we've still managed to enjoy ourselves.  We've even had a bit of sunshine.  We're in good company with Bill, our HelpX host, his deaf old dog Bear and his feisty chicken Fuifui Moimoi. Fuifui was named for a rugby league player, in case you're wondering.

Fuifui coming in for a nibble
Fuifui stalking around Bear while he gnaws a fresh bone.

04 December 2011

A Ferry Nice Day

Goodbye Wellington

Cook Strait, which divides the North and South Islands of New Zealand, is known for being one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world.  We crossed on a beautiful, sunny day with calm waves.  A man we met on the ferry told us the water sometimes crashes over the vehicle deck of the ferry, but winds traveling in opposite direction from the water calmed it considerably.

29 November 2011

Nice Folks

We landed on the South Island on Saturday, but Anne & Roy gave us yet another reason to return to Wellington.  They're so warm and hospitable, with such lovely interests and friends, it was hard to leave.

Hurdy Gurdy
Anne's hurdy gurdy


Wellington is just as nice as I thought it would be.  Sam and I have only been in the city twice, but we did a fair bit of exploring.  We both think it looks like a great place to settle down after we see the South Island, unless we find a place we like better down there.

23 November 2011

Sale this weekend at Harbinger Co.


Harbinger Co. out of San Francisco has long been one of my favorite Etsy shops, ever since I first spotted their laser cut bamboo jewelry.  Their bold, graphic style belies a light, delicate material that doesn't weigh down the earlobes.  Within a week of buying a pair of earrings for myself, my friend Hillary sent me a pair in the mail.  What can I say?  She knows what I like.

The shop has since expanded its range to silver & gold jewelry as well as prints and laser cut boxes.  Lots of well crafted products, all made in the USA!

Otaki on the Kapiti Coast

The cottage in Otaki

A couple weeks ago, Sam and I were looking for hosts in Wellington rather unsuccessfully when an email appeared in my inbox inviting us to stay in Otaki, an hour north of Wellington.  We decided to go, and we're so happy we did because we met a very nice, hospitable family!  The Matlas have a small olive orchard, an appliance repair business, free range chickens and two very friendly dogs.  We were pleasantly surprised to find our cottage behind the house has its own kitchen and bathroom.  The family was so easy to get along with and we had a great time.

Periwinkle flowers

Serious chicken

Egg sign

One of our HelpX projects was building and painting a new egg sign to sit on the road outside the house.  Sam constructed it with a shelf to hold eggs and a money jar, while I handled the lettering.  The sign itself is coated with blackboard paint, with space below for Sonja to add olive oil & other produce when she has it.


Sonja took me to a local heirloom rose garden full of amazing flowers.  My favorite roses were the ones with the petals packed to bursting.  I've never thought much about having roses in my future garden, but after seeing how Sonja has incorporated them into her garden I have changed my mind.

Sonja's roses

Red on green

Crepuscule Roses

Some of the work hardly felt like work at all!  I got to help Sonja pick elderflowers from a shrub down the road and make elderflower cordial.  She sent us away with a bottle (as well as muffins and olive oil-too kind!), but I haven't tried it yet because it needs to sit for a week or two.  I also got to bake two desserts for Tim's birthday, including sticky date pudding.  I'm not a fan of dates, but sticky date pudding is delicious.  Somehow I left without the recipe, but once I get it, I'll share it.

Mopey Blaze

Aside from the dogs and chickens, the Matlas have a family of white doves whose hotel is outside the cottage.  Sam built a dividing wall inside to separate the apartments and end some family feuds, as well as a set of steps for Sonja to reach the back door.

Dove house

Kapiti Island

On our way south, we drove Jolene out on the beach (cars were allowed!) to see Kapiti Island. It was a chilly, windy day, with choppy water and only a few scattered birds enjoying the beach. Sam started doing donuts but I made him stop. Boys.

22 November 2011

Occupy Etsy

I've been thinking a lot about the upcoming holidays.  Sam and I don't know where we'll be yet, only that we'll be somewhere in the South Island of New Zealand, celebrating our first Christmas in the height of summer.  It will be a frugal year for us, and our first Christmas away from our families. 

Obviously Christmas is not just about presents, but if you're in the giving mood, I recommend buying from local or independent artists and craftspeople.  Not only does the recipient get a nice gift, but it's a perfect way to give back to small businesses and neighbors at the same time.

I haven't been on Etsy much in the past few months, mainly because I don't want to be tempted, but I went there today and saw a few things that caught my attention.  First, these vintage ornaments from Hindsvik in Canada.  They remind me of a few ornaments we have from my dad's childhood: fragile, glass and brightly colored like candy.  I love those ornaments and I would love to have some more like them one day.

10 November 2011

Taupo & Palmerston North

Cloud factory
Cloud factory, aka a Geothermal Energy Plant

The internet has been playing hard to get for the past week and a half, in case you noticed the lapse in blog posts. We spent a week in Taupo with a family that runs a kennel & cattery on their property. I could definitely operate a cattery, but the incessant barking makes the kennels less appealing. Sam and I had fun, though. I went on a baking spree and picked up a new cookie recipe that we quite like:

30 October 2011

School of Mines & Rotorua

Mineral Museum

We spent our last day in Thames exploring the School of Mines with Richard and Tony, the father of our host Patrick.  I was very keen to see their mineral collection!

27 October 2011

My life's to do list


Sam and I spent a couple days in Matarangi, on the north end of the Coromandel Peninsula, with a CouchSurfer named Scott.  The drive up the coast of the peninsula was beautiful, even though Sam likes to drive around curves faster than I do.  Much of the highway leading north snakes around the coast, and the places where the road turns inland are just as nice.

25 October 2011

Treasure hunt


Sam, Richard & I went hiking, or "tramping" as they call it here, in search of a good spot for gold panning.  While the boys panned, I poked around in search of crystals, and of the three of us, I found the most booty.

24 October 2011

Location tagging

I want to point out a new feature on the blog.  I've begun location tagging my posts, so you can see where we are on a map.  Some posts feature more than one location, so I chose one.  You can find the location at the very bottom of the post, underneath the share buttons.

A location will only appear if the post has been tagged.

Clicking the link will take you to google maps, where you will see our location pegged.  Cool, huh?

23 October 2011



Sam and I arrived in Thames on Monday.  Thames is at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula, known for its history rich in gold mining.  So far, Thames is our favorite little town in New Zealand.  The little shops lining its town center are eclectic and quaint, and the conifer-coated mountains springing up around it remind me of Colorado.  Perhaps it was because of the street market today, but the whole town has a great community vibe that we both appreciate.

17 October 2011

Moving South

I'm been a bit behind on the blog, because our internet connection has been up and down on the road.  A lot has happened in the last few days!  We drove south from Whangerei on Thursday, stopping along the way at a cheese shop and spending more than we should have on some very fine cheeses.  One, a walnut cheese, reminds me of pecan-crusted cheese balls from Smith family Christmas gatherings.  Being a cheese lover is an expensive habit, so after this moment of weakness we have resolved to return to our frugal budget.


13 October 2011

Abbey Caves

In Middle Cave

If this pony was mine, his name would be Fabio.

 Our visit to the Abbey Caves proved to be every bit as wet as I expected, and much more muddy! Reaching the caves entailed traipsing down a long, thick trail of deep, slippery mud. Sam decided the best course was to go barefoot, while I did a bit of light trespassing, jumping the fence to walk through a grassy field of grazing ponies.  I'm proud to announce I didn't slip and fall!

11 October 2011

From Pahi to Whangerei


Pahi was beautiful most days, although very rainy a few. We made steady progress on Elaine & Grant's house, and had a lot of funny conversations between the six of us.

04 October 2011

The Kaipara Harbor

Vegetable garden
Nearly finished, with only the fence remaining.

During our last two days at Naturally Alpacas, we transformed a small patch of grass and dirt into a large vegetable garden for Christine. It was hard, satisfying work leveling the ground, building the frames and moving the dirt and gravel into place.  I want one for myself someday!

29 September 2011

Inspired: Thread Paintings by Cayce Zavaglia



I'm blown away by the photorealistic embroidery of Cayce Zavaglia. I'm a big fan of Chuck Close, and her bold portraits have a similar presence, though mixed with the softness of thread in a way that makes them unforgettable.

26 September 2011

Naturally Alpacas with Christine & Steve


When I spoke to Sam about the next leg of our trip, he said, "but I never want to leave!"  We've both been enjoying our time on the alpaca farm very much.  Sam and I discovered we love building fences on the grassy green hills of New Zealand, surrounded by loud mouth steers, wild pukeko and curious alpacas. 

20 September 2011

Last days in Mangere

Sleepy friends
Sam cuddling with Karmin

Sam and I have had a wonderful time with our first HelpX hosts, and I'm looking forward to meeting our next few hosts, too. Tomorrow we'll be heading north to an alpaca farm outside of Kerikeri for a week or so before going to work for a lovely couple in Pahi who own a holiday park in Whangerei.  Those of you who know me know how much I love camelids, so the alpaca farm has me very excited! I haven't been up close to one since we hosted "Alpaca Day" when I worked at the RISD Nature Lab.

Llama friend
A llama I befriended in Texas on the drive to Austin.

Tonight we're attending an event called Pacific Night, where the Prime Minister, a few Members of Parliament and a whole lot of Polynesians will be congregating to eat, socialize, and watch rugby. I need to go paint my nails!

10 September 2011

Auckland Botanic Gardens


The weather was perfect this Saturday, so Sam and I hit up the Botanic Gardens.  The orchid show on site was a happy surprise and led to me taking more flower pictures than I should have.  I can't help but be inspired by their alien shapes, succulent texture and vivid colors!  Below is a small sampling of the photos I took, with more on my flickr page here.