Another Summer Christmas

new zealand christmas lily
Christmas Lilies

It’s been an interesting month since the earthquake. We had thousands of aftershocks and when it finally started calming down, there were about 5 noticeable shakes yesterday registering 5.5 or lower and one on Christmas morning. A few days after the big quake in November, I finally gained residency! It was a huge relief without much of a plan B in place for what I’d do had I not gotten it. I can officially call New Zealand “home” now and am happy to be here.

I can’t say that I’ve gotten used to being warm on Christmas or having the flowers and veggies starting to grow. My neighbour gave me a couple of stems from her Christmas lilies and img_0425proclaimed, “Now your house will smell like Christmas!” Well who would’ve thought anyone would associate lilies with Christmas instead of pine trees? I love the smell of lilies so I proudly displayed them as Andy sneezed and complained they stunk. She also gifted me at least a pound of fresh, large strawberries from her garden…the best I’ve ever had. The woman has a talent when it comes to growing.

My strawberries are now going through a growth spurt and are getting bigger leaves and flowers. They’re sweet and juicy and I love picking them while perusing the garden, still warm from the sun. The raspberries are also taking off and I’ve put baby mantises on them as well as on top of the flowering celery where flying bugs go wild. I hope to give the babies a head start on life and find them flourishing in the yard by the end of summer. I estimate that there were well over 800 babies born in this yard alone!

Baby mantis on the raspberry bush
Baby mantis on the raspberry bush

The tomatoes I started growing over a month ago have gotten huge and one is finally turning orange. I’ll have a bumper crop, ending up giving most of them away. The strawberries near them are also getting large.

Tomatoes and strawberries

The first bell pepper (or capsicum as they call it here) of the season is doing great! I have used seeds from one I bought at the store to make more. I’ve also got a red chili plant and am starting to grow jalapenos which are very expensive and rare here.

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As an interesting aside about the  major quake, I read that all non-fruiting vegetables immediately went to seed. Thinking they were under attack from the violent shaking, it was their way of making sure the next generation survived. Plants are so amazing!

My freaky cauliflower bloomed and I harvested it the other day. To me, it tasted nothing like cauliflower but it wasn’t bad. I grew it because I wanted to have something different. The first time I saw one was in California and was amazed there were actually plants in the nursery here, so I grabbed some.

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The red grapes are slowly making their way to maturity and I also found that we have some cherry plum trees across the street! I’d never noticed or heard of them before. A mix between, you guessed it, a cherry and a plum produces a large cherry looking fruit that tastes like a plum. The pit and flesh is just like a plum with a slightly sour skin. They’re a bit mushy when red, but hey…they’re free!!New Zealand cherry plum

My other neighbour enlightened me to loganberries…a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry. They often have a banana taste to them which blows my mind. They’re great in cereal! She had a huge crop and is more than happy to share those along with the lemons on her hundred year old tree.

New Zealand cherry plum loganberries
Cherry plums & loganberries

The feijoa tree has been blooming with gorgeous little flowers that remind me a lot of the pohutukawa tree blossoms, popular along the coastlines during summer. Lots of yummy feijoas on the way!

feijoa blooms

In other news around the yard, the calla lilies I also didn’t know about last year made an appearance….the most beautiful colour ever! A light purple mixed with cream and light green. I’m so fortunate to have them!

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purple calla lily

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was lucky enough to find an Angel Trumpet at the garden center too! These remind me of Central America, as they’re all over the place there. So majestic and beautiful, their aroma is strongest at night.

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For a very brief few weeks, a beautiful bunch of flowers appeared from out of nowhere with the most intricate petals. It reminded me of a swan.

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Another unexpected surprise was the appearance of a hedgehog living under the house! The dog alerted us to it one night by scratching and barking at the back step. I shined a flashlight in there and saw a bunch of quills so that was exciting! Apparently the hog was out before dark in the yard and the dog had a go at it. I have no idea how he manages to keep it in his mouth. The quills are very sharp and I came out to find him or her in the typical ball, waiting for things to calm down. I waited patiently and it finally uncurled and crawled back to the safety of the house. They are a great addition to the garden, eating slugs, creepy crawlies, grubs and other pests. As my mother said, “Your garden is magical!”

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My garden where I find hedgehog digging spots
My garden where I find hedgehog digging spots

Another trip to Pollard Park found the roses in full bloom (over 800 different bushes!) and some wild blue flowers that looked fake coming off of a large succulent.

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Gigantic roses

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Tequila Sunrise roses
Tequila Sunrise roses

I have no idea where they come up with rose names but a lot had to do with drinks like Hot Chocolate, Raspberry Ice and this Tequila Sunrise.

 

 

 

pollard park roses

These zinnias and lilies were happy in the sun!

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It’s amazing the work that goes into making these huge flower beds in the park. This time it was for The Lions Club.

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It’s been nice to have over 15 hours of daylight but the weather continues to be unpredictable. We actually had to start the fire yesterday afternoon! It’s time to get in some exercise after many, MANY months of hibernation! I hope everyone has a great new year and that America’s new leader will make a change for the better.

 

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Grab a seat, I’m going to be here a while

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Another year down and a long term visitor’s visa approved! I’ll be living in New Zealand for an additional year. It was a nice Christmas present to receive after waiting four months for a decision. This past year was spent between Australia and New Zealand and the total is in: $11,917 spent living abroad. It felt REALLY expensive, but looking back, my time in Central America for the year cost me only $2800 less. Now that I have a stable place to live, it shouldn’t cost me near that amount this coming year. It’ll be interesting to see how it tallies up.

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It’s been a great year. Camille and I came out with our first book, “Two Brauds Abroad,” which chronicled her time living in Ghana and mine in Costa Rica. For us, it was a success and something we’ve both wanted to do. Financially, not so much. Our goal was to help people who wanted to jump off the bandwagon and live abroad, so hopefully we inspired someone!

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I had been in Australia for the new year and got to visit Australia Zoo which was established by the Irwin family. It was a beautiful zoo and I was able to see Teri and the kids performing with the crocs.

The Irwin family
The Irwin family
Komodo resting at Australia Zoo
Komodo resting at Australia Zoo

My mother and her husband came out to New Zealand again and I met up with them in the beginning of February. We traveled the South island for a few weeks and we got to see one of the most amazing spots — Milford Sound. The drive there from where we were staying tops my list of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken. It was great to see mom and Ed again and I owe it to them for showing me more of New Zealand.

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The next two months had me staying in Blenheim once again with my boyfriend and deciding to work on the long term visitor’s visa when I came back in a few months. We celebrated my second year on the road by going to Yealand’s vineyard. It’s a beautiful and extensive land, operating at zero carbon output and winning multiple awards for their wine. It is such a ‘feel good’ place that I like to visit it every once in a while and am privileged that I can.

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Yealand’s vineyard

2015 had me checking off one of the main items on my bucket list. Ever since I can remember, I had always wanted to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. The first place I went upon my return to Australia was Cairns. Within a week or two, I was out on the reef and it was just as spectacular as I hoped it would be. I had wanted to see it a few times, but it was quite expensive to get out there. I did manage to return when I went to Magnetic Island.

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IMG_1266Another place I wanted to see were the Whitsunday islands, south of Cairns. I had the best luck doing a great house sit an hour away in Mackay on Blacks beach. When the sit was up, I took a few days “off” and stayed in Airlie beach. I took a 30 minute flight over the Whitsundays and it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen. The artistic natural swirling of white silica sand with the incredibly clear blue water makes this place one of a kind. It’s where the rich and famous vacation and berth their yachts and backpackers party until dawn (I was neither one of them). I’m completely in love with Australia and plan on going back as soon as humanly possible.

I returned to Blenheim in July which was the dead of winter. Hard to get used to after being in such pleasant weather and almost literally, being on a beach every single day for three months. The good news is that I did survive after extensive weather proofing of windows and doors and buying multiple loads of firewood. Spring arrived but it sure didn’t feel like it, as did summer. Only recently has it started becoming warm during the day (I hesitate to say “hot”). I planted a veggie garden and have only been able to harvest lettuce, spring onions and some very thin celery so far. One tomato plant is crowding out the rest and the broccoli was shading my pepper plants so a few had to be moved to a different bed.

The garden before
The garden before
The garden now
The garden now

In other news, Christmas was a warm one here (finally). We fed the eels some leftover ham in the morning then hit the beach while it was still deserted. The weather is still fairly unpredictable with one day being cold, the next one being hot and the one after being mild…not necessarily in that order.

We went back to Lake Rotoiti to check out the large eels so I brought along some ham. At first there were only a few hanging around the dock but when that first piece of ham hit the water, they all showed up! Some were huge, almost 5′, unlike the ones up the street from us. It was fun watching them squirm around each other.

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On the drive back, we came across a garlic field, something I’d never seen before! I noticed one up the street from us but wasn’t sure what it was. I saw some NZ garlic in the store the other day and it looked great…not like that stuff from China.

A vampire's nightmare - a garlic field
A vampire’s nightmare – a garlic field

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It was a very tame New Year’s Eve here. We went to Picton for the promise of some bands (which they did have), but the turnout of people was unremarkable. There were more there on any typical weekend than last night. There was something going on in Blenheim but when we went there, it was completely dead! Odd. We managed to stay up until 11:48 (hey, at least we gave it a go) and I didn’t hear fireworks or anything!

We silently rang in the new year and here it is…2016 already. It should be a new kind of year for me, without the constant travelling and stress of wondering what’s next. I’ll admit, I’m missing it in a way, but relieved also. We’ll be working on the next step of the journey which could lead us to living in another country before the year is up! You may not see as many blog posts this year, but if anything exciting happens, I’ll be sure to talk about it.

I wish you all a fantastic year ahead!

 

Thanksgiving in New Zealand

Turkey sticker shock
Turkey sticker shock

I was looking forward to having an actual turkey this Thanksgiving after two years without one. It’s usually been Chinese food (sort of like ‘A Christmas Story’ movie) or pizza. But this year, it would be different. Weeks ahead of time, I searched the frozen section of the stores. The big store here had quite a selection. And then I saw the prices. Keep in mind this is in New Zealand dollars, so it’s not quite as bad as it may look. That $108 turkey is $78 USD for 14 lbs. I settled for the $43 one at a different store which came out to $28 for a 7.7 pounder. I feel like more of a Butterball than this thing.

Who's the REAL turkey here?
Who’s the REAL turkey here?

Yep, looks kinda like a chicken, doesn’t it? Once it cooks down it may become a ‘cornish’ turkey. I was able to find jellied cranberry sauce (my favorite) in a jar(!?) which ended up oozing instead of slipping out. Bought some potatoes, corn, rolls and made a rhubarb/strawberry/blueberry tart for dessert. The Pepperidge Farm stuffing I ordered from the American grocery store in Wellington even showed up today!

It’s odd feeling this connection to a holiday back home being over here. I have such fond memories of Thanksgiving with my family with all the chaos and decibel levels nearing heavy metal proportions. It was always a good time to be around everyone enjoying themselves. I miss it and it’s just not quite the same this year.

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A Rhublustrawberry tart
A Rhublustrawberry tart

On to my favorite current subject, THE EELS! Last you may have read, we went to Nelson to feed the tame eels. Just up the street from us is a caravan park with a huge sign talking about ‘Home of Eddie the Eel’. That would indicate that there are indeed eels in this creek, so we went looking one day. We never did see any (saw a trout though) and I decided to come back with food next time. Doesn’t it always do the trick? Sure enough, within minutes the eels started appearing and a new past time was created for me. Here’s quite a long video showing some of the eels. There are usually around 8 that appear, all different sizes. I’ve even started naming them (yes, I can tell them apart). Of course I can’t resist naming the big one Lucille (heh heh…get it?).

Well, here’s the cool part. I had a really long branch of bamboo which I was using to skewer the pieces of meat onto. The eels have bad eyesight but their sense of smell is pretty good. Most of the time it could be right in front of them and they wouldn’t even notice. My tactic was to softly brush the bamboo against their bodies and they’d follow their way up to the food. It worked really well! I used the bamboo stick on three separate visits.

So the one day we went back, it was just for a quick feeding and I didn’t use the bamboo. I just threw the pieces into the water and within minutes, they all showed up. Then I saw two different eels run into small branches stuck on the creek bed and they bit at them! One followed the branch to the top and opened his little mouth! What smart eels! They learned!! What’s even more impressive is that they remembered. Well, they were disappointed of course because it wasn’t my bamboo stick and there was no treat at the end of it.

Being that there are hardly any animals in New Zealand, this is about as good as it gets for me. So please forgive my enthusiasm over the eels…this is life in the slow lane!

I did take a nice trip out to Kaipupu Point which is a nature reserve that was created to give native wildlife a chance to flourish. In 2008, they constructed a fence around the 42 hectare section of this peninsula ‘island’ to keep out rats, mice, possum, stoats, etc. It was quite an undertaking and you really have to give it to these folks for wanting to save the natives. They may introduce kiwi here eventually and they’re hoping the little blue penguins show up one day as well.

Kaipupu point
Kaipupu point

Our group, who got to go out here for free and attended a two hour lecture beforehand, climbed up to a lookout of the Sounds and took a lovely stroll through the forest.

Lookout on Kaipupu Point
Lookout on Kaipupu Point

Here are a couple of photos of the predator free fence, one which leads down to the water.

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Trapping box

IMG_2174_1 We heard birds singing and I was able to spot a couple of quail but they were pretty elusive and I got a bad shot of one. It was a really lovely day here and I was grateful to have had the opportunity to get out there and see what this place was all about. The admission is free (donations suggested) and you must take a boat to get there which can cost around $30 round trip. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a more affordable way of getting there, but maybe in the future they will figure out a way.

Tree ferns
Tree ferns

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In other news, my little veggie gardens are finally starting to produce some PRODUCE. I have three beds with tomato, lettuce, celery, bell pepper, (soon to plant jalepeno’s), rhubarb, strawberry, spring onion, parsley and broccoli. Plus a few little weeds in there that are relentless.

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My rock garden out front is taking shape and the colors are popping!

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The mandarin tree has started making tiny fruits and the lime tree has even bloomed! You can barely get limes here for love nor money so hopefully they come out good…this could be a revenue stream for me!

Tiny mandarins
Tiny mandarins

Summer is less than a week away and I’ve never been so ready for it in my LIFE. At least I don’t have to light the fire in the mornings lately and I don’t sleep in layers anymore. So, bring it on, New Zealand!!

Step Into My Office

My kids confined in boxes but being fed well and they get a daily cleaning.
My kids confined in boxes but being fed well and they get a daily cleaning.

I don’t believe I’ve given you a peephole into my world over here.  I now have a zero minute commute to work which is great!  I open my front door and there I am! No more traffic, lights, groggy people or parking lots.  Above is the lab I go into first thing in the morning to check on the larvae, eggs and pupa that are growing in those boxes and cups.  The table is where I clean boxes, change out food, transfer new kids to their respective boxes or remove pupae for hanging.

The lab i live in for a few hours a day
The lab I live in for a few hours a day

So when I get up and walk out my door, work awaits me.

My house
My house

Here are the grounds:

Looking toward my house from the yard
Looking toward my house from the yard
Casita where the goodies get made during the day
Casita where the goodies get made during the day
Side of the flight house and into the driveway with mountains in the background
Side of the flight house and into the driveway with mountains in the background
Walking in from the parking lot, cafe on left, Flight house on right
Walking in from the parking lot, cafe on left, Flight house on right
View of the mountains from the parking lot
View of the mountains from the parking lot

It’s a big yard, takes a while to water and tend to.  But I saw a cute iguana today by the gate all fat and happy.

Out watering today I saw this little fatty iguana in a tree!  He must've been reall famous because he got down and tried to sneak away from the paparazzi that was me.
Out watering today I saw this little fatty iguana in a tree! He must’ve been real famous because he got down and tried to sneak away from the paparazzi that was me.

Then Fred, our dog, decided to hang out all day.  We often find him at the bar or hanging on main street around the action.  Although we never really SEE him in action, he seems to thrive in chaos.  He is typically horizontal and has really bloodshot eyes.  I saw him trying to pee against a pole the other day and he just stumbled over and didn’t even try.  We’re convinced he has a beer habit.  Or worse.

This is how he looks at any given moment of the day.
This is how he looks at any given moment of the day.

He’s spoiled now (he was a street dog) since I gave up part of my foam mattress topper.  Now his shoulders don’t hurt as bad as laying on hard ground!

Our overly relaxed dog.  We're pretty sure he's an alcoholic.
Our overly relaxed dog. I said we should name him Bed or Dead, not Fred.

Looks comfy, huh?  Spoiled boy.

Speaking of being spoiled, I’m starting to delve into making gelato.  The Sicilian type uses cornstarch which is kind of like eating frozen hot fudge.  Wow…it’s good.  Very creamy texture…silky, almost.  Then I made some the normal way with egg yolks and I did a couple things wrong in the cooling process.  I could feel the ice crystals in it so I’m being FORCED to make it again.  DARN!!!  I did make some mango yogurt popsicles tonight which tasted good in the un frozen form.  We’re hoping these things will sell better than the baked goods.

Mix Mix Stir Stir Married Young It's All a Blur.  These are espresso coffee grinds with the cream, milk and sugar.
Mix Mix Stir Stir Married Young It’s All a Blur. These are espresso coffee grinds with the cream, milk and sugar.
Add that yummy chocolate
Add that yummy chocolate
Mmmm chocolate espresso gelato.  My newest adventure.
Mmmm chocolate espresso gelato. My newest adventure.
Put it in an ice bath minus the ice because i didn't have much of anything
I put it in an ice bath minus the ice because I forgot to make some, so it was just cold water.

You have to mix it up every 45 min or so to keep ice crystals from forming.  I don’t think I mixed it enough times and it didn’t cool down quickly enough,  Lesson learned…next time I’ll do better!

Speaking of chocolate, I’m SUPER excited because I noticed our cacao tree has little flower blooms on the trunk!  That means cacao (chocolate) pods!!  How awesome would that be!?!  Now we’re talking organic chocolate making.  I think I’ve found my calling.  ha!

OOOO we have blooms on our cacao tree which could mean cacao pods one day!!  It's better to fall in chocolate than in love.
OOOO we have blooms on our cacao tree which could mean cacao pods one day!! It’s better to fall in chocolate than in love.
Cutest little flowers EVER
Cutest little flowers EVER

And since we’re already in the flight house, might as well show you what’s going on there too!

I was collecting larvae on the senna and didn’t even notice the two Sulfur’s sitting right in front of me.  Man, nature is freaky.  They really blend into that leaf.  Their babies are a bright yellow then turn green later on.

Sulfer's blending in well on the senna.
Sulfer blending in well on the senna.

Our little morpho’s are growing still:

baby morpho larvae
baby morpho larvae
Me moving the baby caligo larvae to the banana plant with Orlando, the tour guide.
Me moving the baby caligo larvae to the banana plant with Orlando, the tour guide.

Here I am in action moving some baby caligo larvae out into the real world.  We ended up moving them again though because the wind was too rough on them.

So at the end of the day, this is what I see before going into my house:

Whispy clouds with high winds
Whispy clouds with high winds