Friday, June 17, 2016

Trip to New Zealand

Last month Liam and I went on holiday to New Zealand. The country is incredibly diverse, and we were only there for three weeks, so it’s difficult to put into words everything we saw. Whatever I write is only going to scratch the surface.

New Zealand is comprised of two islands, North and South, and is approximately the size of the eastern seaboard of the United States, (think of it stretching from New York City to Florida, about one state wide)

Compared to living in the US, New Zealand is the opposite:
  • The celestial pole is north in the northern hemisphere and south in the southern hemisphere, so it gets hotter as you go north, and colder as you go south
  • Our winter is their summer and vice versa
  • If you are looking at the equator in the northern hemisphere, the sun moves left to right, in the southern hemisphere it moves right to left
  • Their night sky is dominated by entirely different stars—no “Big Dipper” or “North Star”, instead they have the “Southern Cross,” a constellation of stars represented on their flag. 
All of this means it can be more than a bit disorienting.


We were lucky enough to get to stay with a family of “Kiwis,” the nickname for New Zealanders. We arrived on the North Island, landing in Auckland, their largest city, then flying to the port city of Tauranga where our friends live. Tauranga is on the east coast and is a very fast growing community due to the traffic coming in from the sea.

Tauranga sits on a large harbor, the aptly named Bay of Plenty. Container vessels and the largest cruise ships can all dock at Tauranga.
Mount Maunganui, seen in the distance in the picture of the harbor, is a persistent landmark, visible throughout the city of Tauranga.  
More pictures of Tauranga

Mount Maunganui

Mount Maunganui is the name of an extinct volcanic cone that rises above a peninsula on the north-east of side of Tauranga.
It's a very popular destination for both tourists and locals.
In Tauranga, Mount Maunganui is affectionately called The Mount.

Many people walk around the base of The Mount, some climb to the top. 
We walked the base twice, and once climbed up to the very top. It nearly killed me, but the view was simply spectacular.
More pictures of Mount Maunagnui (The Mount)

Gate Pa

Our friends live in a part of Tauranga called, “Gate Pa.” Gate Pa is the name of a famous battle that took place in New Zealand between the Maori people (New Zealand’s indigenous people) and the English (white) population. The battle was fought in 1864, and the Maori’s defeated the English soldiers.

There is a park at Gate Pa, with a number of Maori carvings commemorating the battle.

Carving of a Maori Warrior.

Rotorua / Taupo Volcanic Zone

We traveled 45 minutes south and east to the town of Rotorua. This is a geothermal area in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand. It’s much like Geyser park in Yellowstone, but there is a community of Maori people living there. They settled the area hundreds of years ago because the boiling pools and hot steam provided warmth in the winter, and easy methods of cooking food. 

We watched a woman put cooking utensils into a box built over a steaming opening in the earth. The heat from the steam cooked her food.

As a country, New Zealand harnesses this natural energy to provide 13% of the country’s electricity.

More pictures of Rotorua

Taupo and Huka Falls

Lakw Taupo lies in the caldera of the Taupo Volcano and is the largest lake in New Zealand. It is drained by the Waikato River. . 

We walked down the sky blue river. It is autumn in New Zealand and the colors were just stunning. 

This picture is looking back up river at the town of Taupo.

Halfway down the river is Thermal Spa Park. Super heated water pours into the river from several small water falls. Next to the falls the water is extremely hot, but as the water flows into the river it cools down--just find a spot where the temperature is perfect and lay back and relax.

The river narrows from approximately 300 feet across to 15 feet across as it flows into a rocky canyon. The is called Huka Falls.

See more pictures of Taupo and Huka Falls

Traveling through the center of the North Island

One of the truly amazing things about New Zealand is its variety. Everywhere you go the landscape is shaped by its history of volcanic eruptions, some only 150 years ago.

These beautiful green, rolling hills are a result of thousands of years of erosion of this volcanic material.

Huge boulders, flung far by massive volcanic explosions, tumble across the landscape.

We traveled by train down the center of the North Island, straight south to the city of Wellington. Along the way we saw the very picturesque Mt Ruapehu and Mt. Ngauruhoe.

You may recognize the classic cone shape of Mt Ngauruhoe as Mt Doom from the “Lord of the Rings” movies.


Wellington is the furthest point south on the North Island. Wellington is the capital city and second most populous urban area of New Zealand, after Auckland. It is located at the south-western tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range.

This is the view from the city's botanical gardens looking down from one of the many the hills that encircle the harbor and the city. 

We rode up on the famous Wellington Cable Car.

From Wellington we took a ferry from there to the South Island.

This map is rotated, North is to the right. It shows the path the ferry takes as it crosses the Cook Straight. The straight is named for Captain James Cook who explored this part of the world in 1769.

This picture shows us coming into the Picton harbor at the end of the ferry crossing. At Picton we got back on the train to Kaikoura.

More pictures of the Interislander ferry 

Kaikoura and Whale Watch

We traveled down the east coast of the South Island, past vineyards and salt works.

Much of the trip was along the rocky coastline.

We stayed overnight in a lovely little town called Kaikoura. I got up early to watch the sunrise. New Zealand is one of the first places on earth to see the dawn.

There is a deep sea trench just off the coast of Kaikoura. We took a whale watching trip and saw a sperm whale, dolphins, seals and many seabirds.


The city of Christchurch has not fully recovered from the devastating earthquake in 2011. 

Cathedral square was particularly hard hit with many beautiful old churches destroyed. They are trying to figure out how to save the main cathedral since it means so much to the people, but seeing its crumbling devastation is a terrible sight.


More pictures of Christchurch and Kaikoura

TanzAlpine train

Everyone told us "this is THE train trip to take" and having done so, I would not disagree. You cross the country from one side to the other, traveling over the southern New Zealand alps.

The train leaves the coastal city of Christchurch, and in just a few minutes you're on the plains leading to the mountains.

The views only get more spectacular as you enter the foothills.

The train travels on trestles over deep chasms.

The scenic vistas go on and on

In the middle of the trip you stop at Arthur's Pass. The temperature had now dropped to almost freezing, but we enjoyed getting out for a few minutes and walking around. 

After Arthur's Pass you descend out of the mountains. The humidity increases and wreathes the tops in clouds. 

The landscape turns warm and almost tropical as you get to the marshlands of the west coast.
I can't say enough good things about this part of our trip. The train trip was beautiful from start to finish. The extra pictures from this part of New Zealand are particularly beautiful.


New Zealand is very proud of their native son, film director Peter Jackson. You can do entire tours of the country and just focus on “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” locations. I was very excited to visit the place where Peter Jackson created the village of Hobbiton for his movies.

It’s a bit embarrassing that this was one of the places I looked forward to seeing the very most--but it was so worth it. Paths meander up and down the rolling hillside, going past each decorated doorway. There are gardens and trees, and a thatched-roof stone mill and pub from the story situated on the lake.

Although I saw places that were more beautiful, this one stole my heart.

And I got to stand outside Bilbo Baggins front door (Ask a LOTR or Hobbit fan why this is a big deal)

Without a doubt New Zealand is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Everywhere we went was breathtaking. The citizens take great pride in their country, and are doing all that they can to balance the export of their natural resources and tourism with protecting the beauty of their land.

I took almost 3000 pictures. I am in the process of going through them to pick out the best to share. You can see all the pictures I have posted so far on Flickr.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sourdough Pita Bread

I posted pics of how to make sourdough pita bread on Facebook.Check it ad tell me what you think.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Black Keys

OK, I have absolutely and completely fallen for the Black Keys. (Thanks Dylan and Caroline)

I'm SOOOOO way late to the game. These guys have been around for 10 years. But man, oh man, can they play Blues/Rock.

I am a sucker for the Blues.

Comparisons with the White Strips are inevitable, but miss the point, I think. I love the Stripes, and what Jack White does on a guitar. My hus Bill has a shot of Jack White from It Might Get Loud, as White plays one guitar string, with a coke bottle, and the string is simply attached to nails on a board. And I love him for that. He rings so much feeling from just that one string. I can enjoy technical proficiency, but I adore a musician who plays from the heart.

Yet there IS room for more than Jack White...he can't be in every band. (although he's trying)

So Dan Auerbach plays some wonderfully tasty blues licks. In the way that Jack White does, Auerbach gets that heavy, buzzy bass sound from an electric guitar. But as much as I like Auerbach's guitar playing it's the SONGS and the vocals that make this band stand out. The Black Keys play songs that you are sure must be blues standards that you just haven't heard before...

That's so catchy! Who wrote that song?

But for the most part these tunes are their own. The Keys do covers, She said, she said by the Beatles comes to mind, but it's their own songs that carry the band.

Now I know shiite about good drumming. Well that's not exactly correct, I can usually tell a good drummer from a bad one, but I can't always tell you why or how or what. But Patrick Carney brings a big and distinctive sound and you can really hear what he brings to the Keys by listening to Auerbach without Carney on his Keep It Hid solo.

Keep It Hid is what made me realize what a great singer Auerbach is. When he plays with Carney the drums really take over a lot of the music (in a good way), but on the solo gig, you get to hear Auerbach's guitar playing and blue vocal stylings with less distractions, and that's when I fell in love with the Keys, because Auerbach is a great singer as well as good strong guitar player.

Anyway, hears[sic] the Black Key's from SNL last night. (I like the additional bass and keyboard players.) I love this tune. One of those that you go, "Who originally wrote this?" Then you realize it's theirs.

and I love Auerbach's vocals on this:

***Update***I hear a lot of influence from these guys on both Carney and Auerbach

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Musical Notes

I've always loved music. As I look back I realize it's been a big part of my life.

When I was growing up both my older brothers played in bands. Some of my earliest memories are of them rehearsing out in the garage. As a kid I remember hearing the Beatles music everywhere. Of course I preferred the Monkees. Don't hold it against me; I was only 5 or 6.

Through my early teens my brother Richard would bring home music when he came back from SIU. I remember listening to Happy Jack by the Who on an old record player out in the garage. I was dancing around and singing along. It was the Who’s second album, probably 1968 or 1969. Keith Moon was still alive and their music was fresh and very cool.

I remember buying Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy by Elton John when I was in 8th grade. I walked downtown from Our Savior’s school over lunch. I was pretty crazy about him then. He was a Superstar. LOL

In the mid 70's Richard bought me Bob Dylan's new album Blood on the Tracks and I think I wore it out. Richard helped me put together a stereo and he built me some nice speakers to go along with it. My teenage girl bedroom had my stereo on the dresser and I listened to a lot of music there. One night my Dad came into my room. He told me that he and Barb (my step-mom) were going to get a divorce. It's funny how distinctly I can picture it in my head and hear the music that was playing. Dad walked out and my life changed; Dylan has always been part of that moment for me.

I listened to all the music of my era: Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young. (BTW, I'm going to miss obvious stuff that I won't even think about till after I post) I complained that Disco Sucked, but listened to the BeeGee's and Donna Summers, and my first R rated movie was Saturday Night Fever, the movie that MADE disco (and John Travolta). I was 16. It was 1977.

The 70's were a wild time. The music (and everything else) got more and more excessive. With arena rock the music was often eclipsed by light shows and spandex and glitter.

Suddenly it was the 80's and there was this huge backlash against what was seen as too commercial, sold-out rock n roll. Punk hit the mid-west at least a year after it hit everywhere else, so by the time I heard about the Sex Pistols they were no longer together as a band. But the Clash, Elvis Costello, the Boomtown Rats and Talking Heads stepped in and carried on the new sound.

The era of Rockers vs Punks had begun.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Whatever happened to the First Amendment?

From UCDavis.

I am not OK with police in riot gear spraying students with pepper spray like they are bugs. These students are on a sidewalk with lots of green space around them, so although they are blocking the sidewalk they are not keeping anyone from getting anywhere.

I'm still trying to understand where and how the First Amendment was repealed. "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

If these students were violent, if they were harming others, if they were trying to hurt the cops, then I could understand the police using non-lethal means to subdue them. But to just casually walk up and spray them directly in the face is unconscionable.

Here's the entire video. It's hard to watch.

There are calls for the UCD Chancellor to resign. She apparently authorized "Use of Force" against peacefully demonstrating protesters.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A sports interlude...

I was reading a blog last night and came across a post on Joe Frazier vs Mohammed Ali. Hearing about the death of Joe Frazier this week brought back some memories that I thought I'd share.

I grew up watching boxing: my father was a sports enthusiast, and the 1970’s with Joe Frazier, Mohammed Ali, Ken Norton and George Foreman was an exceptional era in boxing.

I was born in Jacksonville, Illinois in 1961. My father was a local physician. He loved medicine, but he would get sidetracked into these extravagant side projects, usually involving sports. He had money and an outsized personality. He owned Sprint cars and his car won the USAC Championship in 1967. All this to give you a bit of background: boxing was a short leap for my dad.

Besides that we had a personal connection.

Those of you who know boxing may have already see this coming. I said I grew up in Jacksonville, IL. Another person with that same hometown is Ken Norton.

I remember John and Ruth Norton, and their son Ken, and his son Kenny Jr. from when they started coming to our house. Ken must have been making a name for himself as a boxer, and my dad began to follow his career. I remember the huge excitement when Ken Norton beat Mohammed Ali. It was “hometown boy does good”.

In a rematch, Ali defeated Norton, and then George Foreman defeated Ali making Foreman the Champ.

In 1974 Ken Norton fought George Foreman in Caracas, Venezuela for the heavy weight title and my family traveled there for the fight. I was 12 years old. I remember the excitement, I remember the celebrities and I remember the circus atmosphere. It was a pretty remarkable time.

In the days leading up to the fight, there was a lot of talk about how Foreman was trying to psych Norton, to intimidate him. Everyone was a bit worried, because although we were sure Norton would win, this development concerned us.

Then I learned first-hand just how intimidating George Foreman was.

Caracas of that era didn’t have too many high-end hotels, so everyone was staying at the same one. I can picture in my mind walking across the hotel lobby; George Foreman and his crew were walking toward us and I suddenly came face-to-face with him. I’d seen big men. I knew Ken and I had seen him spar. Statistically they were not that different, both were 6’3” and although Foreman outweighed Norton, it was only by maybe 10 pounds. But I want to tell you that the difference in demeanor, the difference in expression, the difference in the way they carried themselves was remarkable. Go back and look at the expression on Foreman’s face when he’s in the ring with Norton and you’ll see what I mean.

I remember looking at Ken, and for the first time wondering if he would lose the fight. George Foreman looked absolutely invincible.

The night of the fight I stayed at the hotel. I don’t remember if I wanted to go or not. At that point in time, bringing a 12 year old girl to a boxing match would have been unusual. My Dad and John Norton went, and I stayed in the room to watch the fight on TV with Ken’s mother Ruth and his aunt. I remember Ruth saying she never watched Kenny’s fights. As a mother, I can understand why. But they wanted to know what was happening, so it fell to me to be the play-by-play announcer. They sat away from the TV, wanting to know what was transpiring without actually having to see it.

The first round was pretty even. I just re-watched the fight on YouTube and there’s nothing too remarkable, just two boxers testing each other without landing too many punches. Then the second round starts, and if you watch you’ll see Foreman land a single punch that obviously hurts Norton and then follows it with a series of fast, hard punches to the head and Norton falls into the ropes.

I remember yelling, “He’s down! He’s down!”

They said, “Who’s down? Foreman?”

I said, “No! Norton. Norton is down!”

Ken gets up and gets an eight count and the fight restarts, but it’s over in another 10 seconds. Foreman continues to land punches and Norton is knocked to the mat again. When he gets up his legs can barely hold him. Foreman is declared the winner.

Afterwards, all the talk was of how Ken had not been himself the night of the fight. Foreman had gotten into his head and it seemed like Norton was in a daze even before the first punch was thrown.

I don’t know if that’s true, all I can say is that if sporting competitions are decided as much by mental preparedness as by physical capabilities, then I think Foreman beat Norton before they ever stepped into the ring that night.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

So many people facing foreclosure...

Another foreclosure story. Erin has some very good, heart-breaking posts about what her family is going through.
This post about their attempts to keep everything together for the kids really resonated with me. And for my next trick....

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Banks Loan Modification Scam

Trial loan modifications are the way banks stretch out the process and pretend to be helping the borrower, when in reality they are killing your credit rating.

We have been trying to get a loan modification from our lender, Citimortgage for over two years. Citi is, of course, one of the "too big to fail" banks that we bailed out, and who are now reporting $3.0 billion in profits.

We bought our house in 1999, did some work on it and refinanced in 2002. In 2003 my husband was diagnosed with cancer. He underwent an surgery and returned to work. Six months later his employer (of 10 years) laid him off. Since then he has had another surgery and although he has finally returned to work, it is a lower paying job with no health care benefits.

My job does provide health insurance, but there is no employer match, so we pay $1200 per month. Yearly expenses are minimally $1200 for a CT scan and $400 for one dr visit. (We pay the first $3500 in out-of-pocket).

So our medical expenses are pretty high, but mortgage holders are not required to take these costs into account when they figure out if you qualify for a modification. So even if they do approve us, our gross income (about US median) means a mod of $1500 per month, which is what we are currently paying.

We have tried four times over the past two years. I can't even begin to detail how insane the process is. Lost paper work, no one able to give us an answer, and now finally this week we got two letters from Citi, one said, "Sorry you've been denied." The other said, "You have been approved for a trial 3 month loan modification of $1343."

Trial loan modifications are the way banksters stretch out the process and pretend to be helping the borrower, when in reality they are killing your credit rating. Because when you go on these trail modification plans, where you pay less, they still charge you late fees for the amount you are not paying, and accrue interest and fines each month. These are reported to credit agencies. So even if we could possibly get out from under our house, our credit rating has been ruined.

We can't sell the house, because, well you try to sell in this market. We're about $20-30,000 short.

The banks have no incentive to modify your loan because they already got paid. We bailed them out, remember? They get that money and they get to resell your house.

Please spread stories like this. It's the unseen crisis, and no one wants to talk about it. Homeowners don't want to because you feel like a complete jerk if you tell people you can't make your house payment and you're going to be foreclosed on. There is a huge stigma.

But there are many, many people in our situation. And no one talks about it. We are part of the 99%

My new most-favoritest quote

"One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. It's not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."
                                                --Rick "Don't google me, man" Santorum
Can you say, I'm going to alienate normal, non-radical people everywhere? Why yes, I think you can, Rick.

"Contraception is dangerous?" This is obviously spoken by a member of the species who has never been pregnant.

"Counter to how things are supposed to be" On what planet??? Country, this is your abstinence-only education at work, because all the things that I can think of that are (in someone like Rick Santorum's mind) "counter to how things are supposed to be" prolly wouldn't result in pregnancy. So why is this idiot talking about contraception?

Actually, why is what Rick Santorum says, in any way something of importance in our society? The man has zero, none, no credibility, other than he's a Republican in 2011. But I repeat myself.

Elections have consequences

Elections have consequences. Your vote chooses:

A Democratic proposal of a 0.5% surtax on income above $1 million would raise enough money over the next 10 years to cover the $35 billion cost of hiring and retaining about 400,000 teachers and emergency responders next year. That means if you net $1.1 million, on a gross income of $3 million, you would pay $500 more in taxes.


A Republican proposal, the "Ryan Plan" would cut Social Security and Medicare benefits,and lower tax rates on millionaires.

We could raise taxes on those most capable of paying, and those who have gained the most from our country over the past 30 years, or tax our most vulnerable. For me it's an easy choice.