Archive for the ‘whimsy’ category

New Zealand: Arthur’s Pass National Park

March 27th, 2011

Many abject apologies for the total lack of blogging recently.  We had some server difficulties which made it impossible to access pictures for about a month. Things are back online now, and there should be more frequent updates!

After leaving Abel Tasman National Park on Christmas Eve, we drove south through the interior and finally along the west coast…..and drove, and drove, and drove.  The south island is far less populated that the north island, and this is evidenced by the total lack of traffic, the overabundance of sheep and cattle, and the one lane bridges, (more on these next time).  Our destination was Arthur’s Pass National Park. The weather was volatile, as usual, but we did get some partial clearing and a rainbow or two along the way.

After turning away from the coast, and heading back towards the center of the island, we were aiming straight for the Southern Alps.  This is the mountain range that runs the length of the south island.  It is large, remote, wild, virtually uninhabited and has very few passes over it.  As you may have guessed, Arthur’s Pass is one of them.  Eventually, we started our climb up through the mountains.  It was late in the day, and a mist and fog was laced through the valleys and snaked around the peaks.  We started looking for Gollum to poke his head around the next jagged rock outcropping looking for the One Ring.

We finally arrived at the tiny village of Arthur’s Pass, and tried to seek out a Christmas Eve service.  As it turns out, the tiny chapel in town only has services on Sunday mornings, and Christmas is no exception.  So no Christmas carols for us.  This was  a pretty big blow for me.  I had never been away from family before on Christmas, and never missed the Christmas Eve church service.  To me, it’s an integral part of Christmas, and I wasn’t going to get it this year.  There were tears and I threw a pretty big pity party for myself.  Luckily, I have an amazing husband, who not only dealt with the pity party, but had a BACKUP PLAN.  The backup plan, aside from heroically offering to drive another hour back to civilization after we had already set up camp and night had fallen, was to bust out dinner and the laptop.  While I moped, Tom chopped vegetables for pasta sauce.  Now remember, we were camping, so making nice food is a bit harder.  We had a very yummy dinner of pasta with fresh veggies, which helped lighten the mood.  To top it all off, Tom had loaded a bunch of Christmas movies onto the laptop that we brought with us, and we watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Charlie Brown’s Christmas. As silly as it sounds, eating yummy food and watching fun movies really did make Christmas Eve special.

The next morning, we had our own little mini-Christmas with presents that we had painstakingly brought all the way form home to exchange on Christmas morning.  Tom got me a two person travel game that we played throughout the rest of the trip called Mr. Jack Pocket.  I got him a new pair of underwear!  Hey, I knew it would be about half way through the trip when we exchanged gifts, and I wasn’t exactly sure what the laundry situation would be.  It was nice to have a bit of Christmas, even if it was sunny and very far from home.  (The photos of Christmas Eve and Day aren’t fantastic…but they do tell the story!)

After our oh so delicious breakfast of Cadbury “breakfast bars”, we headed out to the ranger station. For long, strenuous hikes, the rangers like for you to register your intentions, so that if you don’t come back, they know where to go looking for you.  The ranger station was open for only 20 minutes due to the fact that it was Christmas Day, so we needed to be prompt.  When researching the hikes for our trip, the one consistently mentioned in the Arthur’s Pass areas was the Avalanche Peak Trail linked with the Scott’s Track to make a loop.  Now, the Avalanche Peak Trail was considered “very challenging” and the Scott’s Track, “moderately challenging”.  Since it was December and we were feeling a bit out of shape, we decided to go out and back on the Scott’s Track.  This was our first experience with the fact that Kiwis TOTALLY understate the difficulty of their trails.

We knew we were in trouble when the “trail” seemed to be more or less a stream bed, complete with rocks, roots and boulders.  In fact, the word “trail” is a bit of an overstatement of the situation actually.  However, it started in lush beautiful forest full of weird looking plants and more fern trees, so at least we had nice scenery to look at as we hoofed it up and up and up.  Eventually we broke the tree line and were rewarded with jaw dropping views of the valley below and the mountains above.  The higher we climbed, the better the views.  We were right in the middle of the island, and had quite dramatic vistas where the mountains dropped off to the east and west, and where they climbed further to the sky towards the south.  Magnificent.


The higher we got, however, the more exposed the trail was, and the wind was really whipping.  There was some rain forecast to come into the pass in the afternoon, and we could literally watch the storm starting to come in from the west coast.  Eventually it got a bit too windy for this red head, and I called for a lunch stop to reassess our situation.  After dining on sandwiches and chicken flavoured chips, (yes, that’s a real thing, and yes, they are delicious), we decided that the summit was just not in the cards for the day.  It was still over a mile away with probably another 1,000 ft of elevation gain, and we could see the rain coming.  I think Tom would have been up for it if I was willing, but he wasn’t too fussed about turning around.  The views had been amazing, and we were ready to call it a day.

After our decent, the rain began, and we took refuge in the town of Arthur’s Pass on the front porch of a convenience store, which conveniently, (hehe), had wifi that we could use to call our parents via Google Voice.  Crazy technology these days!  While we rested our aching feet, we were visited by several curious kea.  These are the indigenous alpine parrot that lives in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.  They are incredibly intelligent, very curious and often quite mischievous.  They have been known to rip open tents, carry off hiking boots and unzip backpacks to get at hiker’s hidden treats.  They’re fun and quite beautiful.  It was fun to watch them fly and climb around.

We spent one last evening in Arthur’s Pass before heading back to the west coast.   Up next, Franz Joseph Glacier, Queenstown, the elusive kiwi bird and even more rain!  Stay tuned!

New Zealand Days 4 and 5: Tongariro, Wellington, Te Papa and Weta Cave

January 23rd, 2011

The morning after the glowworm cave adventures, after eating another fabulous breakfast made by our wonderful hosts at Somersal Bed and Breakfast, we headed south to Tongariro National Park. We had been planning on hiking the “Alpine Crossing”, which has been dubbed the “best day hike in New Zealand”.  We were super excited.  However, the weather had other plans.  It poured down rain on the drive there, and when we arrived, the rangers stated that they were not advising hikers to go up into the pass due to 120 km per hour winds, very limited visibility and driving rain.  Frustrated, we asked about some short day hikes, then went over to an Internet cafe to assess our options.  We had planned on staying two nights in the park, then to head down to Wellington for a day and take the ferry to the South Island.  Since we were no longer going to stay in the park, we decided to head to Wellington a day early, spend the night and following day there, then take the ferry.  While this doesn’t seem that complicated, it did involve changing our ferry reservation, rental car drop-off and pick-up, and two hotel reservations. 

We did manage to do two short day hikes before we left the park.  First, we hiked down to this surging waterfall, which was only made more powerful by the influx of rain.  Afterwords, we did the “Mounds Walk”, where these mounds come out of the volcanic plane due to some sort of long ago volcanic activity.  While these hikes were interesting, the could not really make up for the fact that we didn’t get to do what we set out to do in this park, so we ate our sandwiches and got back in the car. 

 

 

We arrived in Wellington several hours later with enough time to check into our hotel and head to the closest brewpub.  We were exhausted, and a little frustrated, but there was a cool lunar eclipse, which did help, as did the killer view from our hotel room!

The next morning, we visited the Te Papa Museum, which is the national museum of New Zealand.  There is a very extensive collection of Maori (the native NZ people) artifacts and architectural pieces.  The Maori did a lot of work with the jade that is found in the rivers on the west side of the South Island, creating weapons, tools and ornamental jewelry.  There is a wonderful collection of these types of pieces as well.  There were also more modern exhibits on more recent NZ history as well as a very extensive natural history section, complete with a creepy giant squid.  It was a very cool museum, one of the best I’ve been to in quite some time.

 

 

Later that afternoon, we caught a bus over to the Weta Cave, which is in a suburb outside of Wellington.  For those of you non-nerds out there, Weta Workshop is a special effects and props company.  Most famously, they did the effects for the Lord of the Rings movies.  They have also done work on Avatar, District 9 and several other high profile movies.  They can’t offer tours of their workshops due to the fact that they are working on movies that have yet to be released, but they do have a visitor’s center of sorts.  There is an interesting video about the history of the company and some information about the different design areas that they work in as well as different movies they have produced effects and props for.  There are also many different replicas of orcs and swords for Lord of the Rings,  and a mini-museum of different minatures that have been created of different characters from various films.  Tom was excited when he got to hold one of the alien blasting guns from District 9 and pointed it around.  It was a wondefully nerdy experience. 

   

After leaving Weta, we gathered our luggage from our hotel and headed to the ferry terminal.  The Interislander Ferry looks like a small cruise ship.  It is far larger than any of the Washington State Ferries, and quite nice.  There were several passenger levels, a cafeteria and cafe as well as a movie theatre.  The ferry ride is three hours long, and moves through the Cook Straight , which is very choppy.  Let’s just say I am capable of being sea sick on a completely calm day on the Puget Sound, so I didn’t handle the rough Cook Straight all that well.  Luckily I had purchased seasickness medicine, which helped a lot.  Eventually we cruised our way into the Marlborough Sound and the waters calmed a good deal, enough so that I was able to go out on deck and take some pictures of the beautiful islands and pennisulas of the South Island in the setting sun.  We finally ended up in Picton that night, and were ready to begin our adventures in Abel Tasman National Park the next day.

Up Next:  Backpacking on the Abel Tasman coast.

New Zealand Days 1-3 : Planes, Cars, Glowworms and Mud

January 19th, 2011

OOOOk.  Are you ready?  I’m not sure I am.  Here we go.

Tom and I went to New Zealand over the Christmas holidays, and the question that inevitably is asked by everyone is, “How was your trip?”.   The answer I’ve been giving everyone is, “It was bipolar”.  When it was great, it was really really great, and when it was not so great, it was really really not so great.  There was rain, brilliant sunshine, a few torrential downpours, an earthquake, national flooding and blue skies.  We ate weird food like chicken flavoured chips, fancy McDonalds,  hokey pokey ice cream and lots of different Cadbury products.  We visited the mountains, the lakes, the glaciers and the beach.  We went to five different national parks and slept under the brilliant stars.  We saw the Southern Cross.  We experienced a wide range of emotions, from crushing disappointment to manic glee and everywhere in between.  In short, our trip to New Zealand is not one I will soon forget.

 

 

We left Seattle on Friday afternoon and flew down to LA with our two large backpacking packs, camera gear and “toy bags” for the plane.  The LA airport is it’s own special Hell.  The domestic terminals and the international terminals are not in the same building, and we had to shlep all of our belongings through two parking decks and across many busy streets to arrive in the international area.  It was also raining…I thought it never rained in LA??  After finally finding our correct gate and killing some time eating overpriced Burger King, we finally were ready to get on the plane.  We had a direct flight from LA to Auckland, New Zealand, so we were in it for the long haul.  The flight is every minute of 13 hours, which is a long time, if you were wondering.  We were in coach, which while being worlds better than flying coach domestically, was still the “low rent” district of the plane.  I was entertained by the safety video for Air New Zealand, which features their beloved national rugby team, the All Blacks.  They did serve us two full meals on the flight, (with complementary beverages, which were necessary after around hour 8…), and we had our own little screen thingys on the back of the seat in front of us which provided a nearly endless supply of movies.  Tom slept for most of the flight, and I spent most of the time trying to not to think about the vast expanse of open water thousands of feet below.

 

Another “program” on the tv screen was the “flight information” program which had a little icon of an airplane that you could watch creep slowly around the world from LA to Auckland.  After what seemed like days (which technically it was), the totally out of scale airplane icon arrived at New Zealand, and sure enough, there was LAND outside of our window!  Real LAND!  After getting off the plane we were processed through customs.  We had to declare our tent and our hiking boots for inspection due to strict regulations on soil contaminants being brought into the country.  As we were taking out our contraband, a man behind us in line says, “Do I have to declare these?”, and holds up two compressed fuel canisters.  Since these are so far against the normal rules of what you can bring on an airplane, they were of course seized immediately and the guy was taken aside for questioning, still looking baffled about what he had done wrong.  Luckily, our tent passed inspection, and we were ready to take on our rental car!  Don’t laugh too much at the pale person next to the car.  She lives in a world without sunshine in the winter months.

Tom drove on the left side of the road when we were in Ireland and the UK last summer, so I wasn’t to worried about his driving ability.  We plugged in our trusty GPS that we have dubbed, ”Penny”, and were off.  We decided to head south to our bed and breakfast where we would be staying for the next few nights.  Somersal Bed and Breakfast is a lovely little place with lushly landscaped gardens and incredibly kind hosts.  We were greeted with a warm smile and a cup of tea, which was nice, as it was raining, (you will sense a theme here).  They also had a few sheep, which everyone seems to have, and which also happened to be grazing right outside our window.  Quaint.  That night, we ventured  down to the local pub, where people kept wandering up to our table to chat, simply because we looked “new”.  The Kiwis, as the New Zealanders call themselves, were all very nice to us totally strung out and jet lagged foreigners.

The next morning, we feasted on a delicious breakfast prepared by our hosts, which was very similar to the “British” breakfasts we got at so many B&Bs in the UK, but there was bacon, so we weren’t complaining.  We then headed down to Wiatomo to visit the famed glowworm caves.  These caves are known for having millions of small, blueish pricks of light sprinkled along their ceilings.  These lights are the “worms”, which really aren’t worms at all, but larval stages of a type of fungal gnat.  Glowworms sounds better in the marketing material though.  There are many different outfitters who work in the area providing all manner of adventurous ways to experience the caves, but all we were really interested in seeing was the glowwoms themselves, so we opted for a more calm tour.  We booked with Spellbound Glowworm and Cave Tours, which gave us a three hour tour of two different caves, one wet, with the glowworms and one that was a drier, more traditional, limestone cave with all the formations that are typical to these types of caves.  Our guide was very knowlegable and gave us lots of details about the worms and caves.  In the glowworm cave, we walked for a bit and were able to see the strands the larve drop down to catch their pray who are drawn to their light.  We then boarded a rubber raft, turned out our lights, and our guide pulled us through the grotto hand over hand using a rope fixed overhead.  It was very peaceful in the dark with the little blue lights splayed out above us like so many strange and unfamiliar constilations in the night sky. 

 

The dry cave was also very interesting.  There were your traditional stalactites and mites and other beautiful limestone formations.  There were also several places where sinkholes had broken through into the cave, and the sky above was exposed.  These holes are dangerous traps for animals though, and there were the bones of a few unfortunate souls who misstepped.

Later that day, after we emerged into the land of light, (and rain), we headed up towards Rotorura to visit some of the active geo-thermal sites there.  We arrived too late to visit the Thermal Wonderland we had wanted to see, but were able to find the bubbling mud pools!  Let’s just say, you should be thankful these photos are not scratch and sniff.  The sulpher smell was nearly overpowering, as if a million eggs had all spoiled at once and you were forced to breathe it it.  Or as Ludo says in Labrinth  “SMELL BAD!!!”  The bubbling, burbling, squirt and  belching mud was pretty need though, even if it was noisy and smelly. 

 

 

Next up…Tongoriro National Park and Wellington!

Note:  The photo credits for many of these early photos go to Tom, as I was too jetlagged and crazy to take pictures…  

Note #2 :  These posts are long.  I am sorry. 

Note # 3 :  More photos can be found on my Picasa site or Tom’s Picasa site.

Evil vs. Evil!

November 24th, 2010

Ok, so I don’t normally re-post stuff to my blog, but this one is an exception.  As many of you know, I have a slight obsession with Harry Potter.  Well, I also have a bit of a Star Warsproblem as well.  So imagine my amusement when I saw this come up on one of the blogs I frequent.  LOVE.IT.  I personally think that Darth could take Voldy any day, I mean, he does have the FORCE and all, but I still think that Voldy is way scarier.  Discuss.

 

 

Originally from Geekologie.

Making Blackberry Jam

October 22nd, 2010

It all started when I thought it would be a good idea to buy a flat of blackberries.  They were a deal, and I was able to bargain (!) to get a lower price.  So then we were stuck with all.these.blackberries.   Right.  Not to be discouraged, I exclaimed “Let’s make jam!”  Tom and I have made jam before, and it’s usually a sticky, messy good time.  However, in the past, we have never had the quantities of berries that we were faced with this time.  This was going to require two batches of jam making to happen at the same time.  Now, this wouldn’t be a problem on a normal 4 burner stove, because you would have one burner for each pot of berry mixture, and one burner for steralizing your equipment and one burner for processing the jars.  Here’s the rub:  we only have two burners.  Oh, and this weird induction plug in thing that kinda acts as the third burner.  But no fourth.  Hm.

We started out by cleaning all the berries and crushing them, four cups at a time in one of our larger pots.  We added kind of a lot of sugar, but it’s tastier that way.  Then we boiled the mixture, finally adding pectin at the end.  Then we poured this liquid magma like stuff into jars that have been steralized, added the canning lids, and dropped them into a boiling water bath for processing.  The jars came out sealed like magic.  At least, this was how the first batch went.  Nice and smooth.

   

 

However, we had to start the process all over again with the second batch about midway through the first batch.  About the time that the boiling mess of blackberrysugar needs pectin and pouring, the other blackberrysugar mess needed to go on the stove.  There were not enough burners, and very few places to put things because once the jars and utensils are sterilized, we try to interact with them as little as possible.  It was a three ring circus of blackberry jam. 

We did get both batches finished and canned though, with only one jar that didn’t seal correctly, but that’s not too bad, because we’ll just use it!  Oh, and for “clean up” we may have wiped the left over jam out of the pot.  It might have been amazing.

 

 I like how cute the jars look all lined up.  If you’re good, you might end up getting of of these for Christmas! 

Cakespy

September 23rd, 2010

So I’ve been reading cakespy’s blog for a while and follow her twitter feed because I think her cupcake art is just way too cute for words.  I knew that her shop was in Seattle, but hadn’t found it yet.  As luck would have it, as Tom and I were walking around Capitol Hill looking for a new board game store, (because we’re THAT cool), and we found cakespy!!  It was one of those weird moments where my internet life met my real life and there was a warp in the space time continuum.  I may have giggled a lot.  Anyway, I went in and promptly gushed to the owner and fabulous artist,  Jessie Oleson, about how much I love her adorable prints of happy cupcakes.  Of course I bought one too!  And there was much rejoicing. 

 

Photos from cakespy

Tom’s SURPRISE Party!

August 23rd, 2010

 

Tom and I had a wonderful time celebrating his birthday together, but I knew that he would want a party with all of his friends as well.  Several months ago, I contacted pretty much everyone we knew to see who would be interested and available to come to a surprise birthday party for Tom.  I also solicited ideas about where and when we should have the party. We decided on the weekend following his birthday,  and decided to have a big camping party.  In college, camping parties were a staple, and I figured it would be a nice throwback.  So I rallied the troops, roped some folks into helping out, and jumped into party planning mode with both feet.  It was not easy keeping the secret from Tom, and there were MANY logistical details to work out and coordinate, but with lots of help from friends, and some good luck from the weather gods, I was able to pull off the surprise. 

  

 

We ended up camping at Penrose Point State Park, which is south and west from Tacoma.  I reserved three campsites, and got as many people to come as possible.  Folks arrived around 4:00 to start setting up tents, food and of course, booze.  Tom and I arrived a little after 5:00, and everyone was there, waiting at the site, with party hats and noise makers.  He was totally surprised.  It was wonderful! 

 

We spent the evening with our friends, laughing, drinking, and grilling.  There was a dinosaur cake, cheese balls, snacks and many grillables.  There was a whole picnic table for drinks.  There was swimming in the ocean, and staying up late talking around the fire.  I was so glad that everything came together in the end, that so many of our friends were there to celebrate with Tom, and that he was, indeed surprised.  Thank you so much to all of our friends who helped out!  It was great!

Mom and Charles Came to Say Hello!

August 13th, 2010

 

Two weekends ago Mom and Charles came out to the northwest neck of the woods for a few days.  It was great to see them, since they live so very far away.  We’ve been really lucky to have seen lots of family this summer, and to show them many of the wonderful things we love about living in Washington.  The thing we wanted to do most with them was take a hike.  As you know, Tom and I love to hike, and to explore the wild places around our beautiful state, and we really wanted to share this with them.  We headed up to Mason Lake, which is on the Ira Spring Memorial Trail out in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  It was cloudy and cool in Seattle that day, but after we were hiking for a while, we got above the clouds and into the sunshine.  The weather warmed up and Tom and Charles even took a swim in the lake!

 

Another highlight of their trip was venturing into Seattle, and visiting the Olympic Sculpture Park for a picnic,  as well as Pike Place Market.  We packed a great lunch and were able to “use” some of the art as our picnic table.  (Don’t worry, it’s allowed.)

 

 

Tom also prepared a wonderful dinner, which we shared with friends.  It’s great to have our house filled with our friends and family, it’s one of our favorite things of all.We had a great time with Mom and Charles on their visit!  We hope to get them back out here soon!

Happy Anniversary

July 9th, 2010

…a few days late.  But better late than never!  On July 4th, we celebrated our 1 year anniversary!  It’s been quite an amazing ride.  We’ve gone on trips and beautiful hikes, we’ve made delicious food and spent many wonderful nights with dear friends, we’ve continued to challenge, grow and love each other.  Marriage is not always easy.  It takes effort, attention and chocolate chip cookies.  It takes compromise and “I’m sorry”.  It takes admitting you were wrong. It’s flexibility, and allowance for your other.  It takes partnership, passion, determination and caring.  It takes love. On our wedding day, I asked a dear friend, “What is the secret to marriage?”  She responded, “It’s not 50/50, it’s 100/100.  You always have to give your full 100.”  Was she ever right.  On our one year and 5 day-a-versary, I promise to continue to give my 100%.  Love ya husband!

And now for some gratuitous wedding pictures. 

We got married at the House Mountain Inn, a small bed and breakfast in the Blue Ridge Moutains of Virginia.  I’m originally from Richmond, and Tom’s family owns property in Goshen, Virginina, also in the mountains near our B&B.  In fact, we had our rehearsal dinner at his family farm.  It is a place near and dear to our hearts.  Let’s see a picture from there shall we? 

 

I love “getting ready” shots.  It was great that the photographers we worked withwere a husband and wife team.  She could get right in there with us girls while we were all getting dolled up.  I got very emotional after I put on my dress.  I was finally realizing that I was “a bride”.  Then my dad came in.  Dad has had many health complications over the years, and one of the things I always prayed for when he was so sick, was that he’d be there, one day, to walk me down the aisle.   So when he walked into the room, looking all handsome in his tux, I pretty much lost it.  Like, total, hysterical crying mess.  I have never felt such overwhelming gratitute in my life.  I reverted to little girl mode.  I was so happy that my daddy was there for me on my wedding day.  It is a moment I will never, ever forget. 

 

   

Ok, so now I’m crying again.  Let’s move on to something a little lighter.  Here’s the wedding venue!  Stunning.  As we got married on the 4thof July, we were a little afraid that it would be like 150  degrees with 120% humidity, which was very possible, given that it was Virginia in the summertime.  And we were getting married outside.  We lucked out though, and we had a beautiful day, right around 75 degrees with a light breeze. 

 

We got married!  The pastor may have called us the “Dolphins”, to be “funny”, as it rhymes with our last name, and Tom may have cried so hard during his vows that I don’t think anyone understood a word he said, but we did it!  Afterwords, it was time to eat, cut the cake, and party.  And party we did.  We had so much fun at our wedding.  We danced almost every dance.  I have never felt so surrounded by love and joy.  It truly was the most amazing night of my life. 

 

Our wedding was amazing, but so is our marriage.  Here’s to many more years of fun and happiness! 

All photos are from Don Mears Photography in Richmond, Virginia.  Check them out.  They rock.  I’ll be writing another post about some of the details that went into our wedding.  Soon.

Etsy…my love affair

April 29th, 2010

I found a new etsy store today.  LiliSwan.  This could be bad for the budget…For those of you who don’t know, etsy is a website of wonderful, handmade, vintage, quirky and beautiful things.  Real things made by real people.  I found the site when we were planning our wedding last year. I wanted some details with a personal touch.  I ended up choosing earrings for the bridesmaids there (modeled below by beautiful matron of honor, Laura), and two gifts for my mom:  beautiful, hand painted wine glasses and a personalized embroidered handkerchief with our wedding date. I also found our ring bearer bowl there, which we were able to have personalized with our names and wedding date.

Wow.  All were a huge hit.  I’ve found many gifts on etsy, and it’s a wonderful place to get lost.  I love finding new vendors like the one I found today. This shop has some amazing jewelry;  I would like one of each please. Stop on by, you’ll be glad you did!

Oh…links and such:  handkerchief , earrings , wineglasses , ring bowl If you check out nothing else, look at the ring bowl page, from a seller called Paloma’s Nest.  Gorgeous.