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New Zealand – Round Boulders and Penguins!

Hi there.  Yes, I know I’ve been gone for QUITE SOME TIME.  Things in my life have been in a bit of an upheaval, to say the least, so posting has been non-existent.  Things have happened.  We’ve been living life, and even went to CHINA (!) which I will be blogging about soon.  I promise.  However, for now, you get some more New Zealand coverage.  As if you’re not sick of that already.  Oh well, it’s my blog, I do what I want.


After a grueling few days in the relentless rain, we rounded the bottom of the south island, and arrived on the east coast in the town of Omaru. Just before arriving, we stopped to see the Moraki Boulders.  These are sperical boulders that have parted ways with the sandy cliffs behind them, facing the sea.  These monster boulders have landed on the sand, and have become quite the tourist attraction, probably because they are so weird and out of place.  These boulders are massive, may of them bigger than me, and we had a fun time photographing and playing on them.  Unfortunately, we had a lot of unruly company at the boulders that day, but oh well.  You can’t pick who comes to your tourist attractions.

After leaving the boulders behind, we headed to the town of Omaru, home of the Blue Penguin Colony.  New Zealand had three species of native penguins, and we saw two of them on this trip.  We started off going to the Blue Penguin Colony, which is an organization designed to create a protected habitat for the tiny blue penguins, and a place for scientists to study these funny little birds.   During the day, we took a tour to visit the grounds and view the penguins in their little habitats, which reminded me strongly of hobbit houses.


After leaving the Blue Penguin Colony, we headed to a beach where supposedly we would be able to see the rare yellow-eyed penguin, as they nest on these beaches.  We were high on a bluff overlooking the beach, but we did see some penguins!  We also saw a very lazy seal basking in the late evening light.  It was a beautiful spot, and we felt a bit like the seal, soaking up the long awaited sun’s rays.

That evening, after wandering around the somewhat creepy town of Omaru, we went back to the Blue Penguin Colony for the nightly penguin viewing.  This complex has a set of grandstands where spectators can sit and watch the penguins arrive at dusk from their days spent in the water.  The little penguins come in “rafts” or large groups, crash into the shore on waves,  waddle up the ramp the group has constructed, and rush across the path to their homes.  It was hilarious to watch.  Sadly, there is no photography allowed during this time, as it distracts the penguins.  Luckily, as we were leaving the complex for the night, we spotted some groups of penguins coming up in different areas, and crossing the road!  They were super cute, and funny to watch.

That night stayed at a super fun and funky backpackers on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.  It is one of the most beautiful views from lodging I have ever had.  Lovely.

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New Zealand Photos…

Well hello there!  Yes, we went to New Zealand.  I took something like 1,100 photos, all of which need to be gone through and processed.  Slowly 🙂  Thank you for all of you who are asking to see them.  They will be posted here first, then I will be taking the time to blog about the different adventures.  Thanks!

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Visiting West Virginia


Sorry for the absence.  There’s been work, grad school more work, and, oh yea, a VACATION!   We went and visited our family on the east coast for a week during my October break, as we will not be going for Christmas, because we’re going to New Zealand!  The first stop on the list was to West Virginia to see my Dad, Sharon and my grandma, who has just moved into an assisted living community minutes from my Dad’s.  The visit was short, but we packed in lots of fun stuff couple with good family time.  We got to spend several evenings hanging out and visiting with grandma, which was one of the highlights of the trip.


After arriving on the red-eye, all we wanted to do was shower and chill.  Luckily it was Sunday and the Steelers were playing.  So chill time happened.  Yay!  However, the next day, Tom, Dad and I visited the West Virginia state capitol building.  Tom and I have a thing for capitol buildings, we find them interesting.  Because we’re nerds. 

In front of the building there is a beautiful war memorial dedicated to all of those West Virginians who have served in previous American wars.  It was very moving.


The capitol building its self is quite imposing.  It’s dome is coated in real gold leaf and the structure is made of imported marble.  The whole inside of the building is marble as well, and the huge chandelier is made of Czech crystal.  We took the tour to learn all of these fun facts and more.  Because we’re nerds. 



Later that evening, Dad cooked us some yummy steaks on the grill and we had a lively conversation about politics, where the conservative east coast folk shook their heads at those silly liberal west coasters.  And vice versa. 

The next day, we went over to Blenko Glass Company, which makes hand-blown glass products.  They have this cool viewing area where you can see the discarded glass from broken projects, as well as the guys who are actively blowing the new glass vases, pitchers, etc.  It was very cool…erm  hot, actually.  They also have an incredible gift shop and we took home more than a few items and gifts.  If you happen to be near Charleston, West Virginia, it’s worth heading out to Blenko Glass, or checking out their website.  They make beautiful work.



After spending some time shopping and another wonderful meal, we sadly off the next morning.  We had a wonderful time with Dad and Sharon and  can’t wait to see them again soon! 

Next up…we head down I-64 to Lexington, Virginia to see Tom’s parents’ new house!

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Ok, so I might be a little excited that The Pioneer Woman is coming to Seattle this weekend!  I read the food portion of her blog pretty much daily and have cooked many of her delicious recipes, have have been looking for an excuse to actually purchase her cookbook.  Ohhhh  shiny, glossy pages with pictures of FOOD!  How can it get any better?  Needless to say, I will be trying to go to the book signing and maybe snag a photo of two and hopefully not come off too terribly creepy in the process.  Head on over to her site, I promise your tummy will be glad you did.

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My Favorite Things…OR…How to Make Your Own Silver Lining

Recently, I have felt like my life has been full of bad news.  I’ve been doing a lot of moping, and whining and crying, and really, it’s not done me a whole lot of good.  So I’m trying something different. If life isn’t going to give me a silver lining for all the recent not so fab news, I’m going to make my own.  So instead of making a list of all the things that have not gone the way I would have planned them, here is a list of some of the wonderful things I am thankful for in my life.

We’ll start with bacon.  ‘Cause really, bacon is pretty damn wonderful.  And since you shouldn’t just eat bacon, we’ll add all the other fun, messy and tasty cooking I’ve been trying my hand at recently.  It’s been really satisifying to make things that people actually want to eat AND that they think are tasty!

I also think that mountains are pretty amazing.  I love where we live and all the wonderful things we do here out in nature.  We are so lucky to get to enjoy scenes like this all the time.  This particular beauty is Mt. Baker in the North Cascades, and the trail is the Ptarmagin Ridge trail, which has become an annual favorite.

We love to travel. We are so lucky that we have both the means and the time to adventure to interesting places so frequently.  Last year we traveled to Hawaii, Ireland, Scotland and England.  This year we’re slated to explore three national parks in Utah, (Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef), and hopefully to travel down under to New Zealand around the holidays.

We have an amazing family.  Between our 6 sets of parents two siblings and several cousins, we have more love than we know what to do with.  And while we are saddened by the recent loss of my Uncle Wayne, his memory lives on, and we rejoice in those who are still with us to share our lives.

We have the best friends anyone could ask for.  It’s not even possible to show pictures of them all here, or this post would be several pages long.  Our friends have stood by us through thick and thin, though all the wonderful times and all the terrible times.  We love you.

And finally, I’m thankful for you, Tom, my dear husband.  The one who’s always there, always ready to pull me back from the brink, to make me laugh and make me dance.  Love you babe.

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What’s Cookin? Spaghetti and Meatballs!

The weather has turned from sunny and beautiful back to rain, reminding us, once again, that we live in Seattle.  Oh well. We must embrace winter in all of it’s wet glory, and adapt the best that we can.  My version of adapting often involves food, specifically carbohydrates. That is why this post is not about the lemon curd I was supposed to make.  No, tonight we needed some comfort food, and it came in the form of spaghetti and meatballs.  I found a wonderful recipe over at The Pioneer Woman, and decided to give it a try since I had never made meatballs before.

The tricky part was browning the meatballs in the pan without having them break apart, thereby turning your meatballs into meatbits.  Since you brown them just a few at a time, the first ones were pretty much a fail, but they got progressively more ball-like as the process went on. I think it had something to do with the fact that I was rather liberal with the olive oil.  Now, AFTER I made dinner, I found out that I could have just browned them in the oven, but it was kind of fun to brown them in the pan.    After making the meatballs and setting them aside, the recipe calls for making the sauce right there in the same pot.  I like this.  Fewer dishes.

There are good things happening here.
Huge bag of onions! I do not fear you!

I broke into our MASSIVE bag o’ onions which I will defeat before they go bad, added them, some garlic and tomato products and eventually the meatballs.  Oh the yumminess.  Dinner was a huge hit.  This recipe will be made again, whenever we need some tasty, warm food to help chase the clouds away.

Happy husband!

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Valentine’s …plant?

Neither Tom nor I are all that big on Valentine’s Day.  We’d both rather treat each other well every day, than have to pick one day to show our love.  However, even with all of this self awareness, it’s virtually impossible not to be at least somewhat effected by the stupid holiday, and to be perfectly honest, I think I would be slightly disappointed if Tom forgot the holiday all together.  So in the past, we’ve usually “celebrated” by making a nice dinner at home, or occasionally Tom caves to societal pressure and I’ll discover beautiful roses on the kitchen table on my way to work.  This year, I told Tom that I didn’t want flowers, as they just die anyways, and that if he wanted to get me something, I’d like some sort of pretty house plant.  Now, around here “plant” is the magic word.  If you doubt this, head over to my dear husband’s blog.  The man loves plants.  I mean really LOVES them. To the point that I get jealous of them sometimes.  So he was slightly excited to get to pick out yet another plant for us.

::aside:: Last year around this time, we were in Maui.  This is painful to remember, as we are not currently in Hawaii, and that is a sad thing.  However, when we were in Hawaii, we were given a Giant Protea flower early in our jaunt around the island.  It was huge.  It became our mascot, went everywhere with us, and eventually came home with us, (how I was able to bring it through the department of agriculture screening is beyond me, but it was strapped to the outside of my backpack, so I wasn’t smuggling the thing or anything).

Here's me, with the giant flower!

Fast forward to this year’s Valentine’s Day.  Tom came home from running some errands and was SO EXCITED  to show me something. It was this beautifully strange plant, which is apparently some type of protea so that we’ll always be reminded of the wonderful time we had in Hawaii together.  Awww.  The plant has weird tentacle like flowers and its leaves are waxy like a succulent.  It’s strange, and so are we.  It’s the perfect Valentine’s Day plant.

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Tom, with the Vancouver skyline in the background.

I’ve been feeling the strain of winter recently.  The rain, the gray, the cold.  Normally, we would just go snowboarding or snowshoeing to get some endorphins going, but this year has been BAD for snow.  As in we haven’t hardly had any.  We have had plenty of rain though; not a combination for a happy Amy.  So, Tom and I go to talking, and we decided to head up to Vancouver, BC to shake some of the winter blues.  As many of you may know, the 2010 Winter Olympics are being held in Vancouver in just a few weeks, so we wanted to check out as many Olympic-related things as we could.  We were especially interested in the Olympic mascots, which are all cute, furry and small.  More on these later.

On Saturday morning, we grabbed our passports and headed for the boarder.  There was little traffic, and we had an easy boarder crossing, so we arrived in Vancouver around noon, and set out exploring and hunting for the Olympics.  Our hotel was on Robson Street, one of the main shopping areas downtown, and after some help from the concierge at the hotel, we had a plan.  We were going to try and visit the Olympic Village, go to Chinatown and see the “official” Olympic Store.  Right away, we found many stores selling Olympic goods, and many of the local stores were showing their Canadian pride.

After walking through many of the shopping districts on Robson and Granville Streets, we had made our way to a large bridge where, on the other side rested the Olympic Village.  Most unfortunately, the Village is closed to tourists.  As in, large fences and road barricades kind of closed.  Hm.  So we had to settle for taking pictures from the bridge.  It looks cool, and the high rises that were built to house the athletes will apparently sold as condos after the Olympics are over.  Next to the village, there was a HUGE parking lot filled with identical looking SUVs, which we theorized were for athlete transportation.

After the Olympic Village fail, we headed off to Chinatown.  We’ve been there before on previous visits, and it never fails to impress. There are so many unfamiliar and exotic sights and smells which assault your senses as soon as you cross under the large, ornate gate.  We stopped and got some yummy Jasmine tea, and were constantly taking pictures of the strange and wonderful meat and produce vendors which were spilling out of their shops and onto the sidewalk.  There are many different types of vegetables and dried fish on display, but since many of the prices are in different Asian languages, (mostly Mandarin I assume), we were unable to read the bright signs.

Leaving Chinatown, we were starting to get really hungry and decided to head down to Gastown, which, according to the Wikipedia, gets it’s name from, “named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Geordie seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the area’s first saloon“.  We found the Steamworks Brewing Company, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner and beer selection.  As we like both good food and good beer, this place was a hit.  Thoroughly exhausted by this point, we headed back to our hotel room to crash. But on the way, we stopped by the “official” Olympics Store at the Hudson’s Bay Company.  The place is massive, and filled with all things Olympic, with a heavy emphasis on the children’s themed mascots.  Unfortunately for them, many of the other “unofficial” stores had a wider variety of products, and we ended up buying more from other places.  Oh well, we still had fun playing with the toys!

The next day, after sleeping in, (yay!), we headed back to Gastown for brunch at the Alibi Room.  Tom, ofcourse, made friends with the bartender, and came back to the table with a “beer for breakfast” sampler.  He was in heaven. I was equally in heaven with a bacon (Canadian) and cheese sandwich and yummy salad!

After brunch, we headed down to Granville Island to check out their AWESOME farmer’s market.  Sadly, it’s illegal to transport produce across the boarder, but we were able to take some fun photos, and ended up coming home with some delicious handmade fudge!  We also stopped at the Granville Island Brewery to pick up some delicious chocolate stout.  We had a wonderful trip to Vancouver and can’t wait to go back!

For all of my photos from the trip, visit:  my photo page


Triple Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Ok, so in my world, peanuts are the forbidden fruit.  Since so many of our students have peanut allergies, some severe, our school has banned peanuts.  While this is good for students who would go into shock if they even thought about a peanut, it’s sad for me, because I really like them.  Tom also loves peanuts, especially when they are combined with sugar in the form of Reese’s products.  So, when we were at the store the other day, and Tom found the Reese’s peanut butter baking chips, he hopped up and down like a bunny on speed and grinned like a fool.

Last weekend, I made the Triple Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe from Williams- Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking, to date, the best “chocolate chip” cookie recipe that I’ve found.  I added 1 cup of the Reese’s chips, and halved the other chips (white, dark and milk), so the ratios kinda worked out.  The results?  Well, as I only got to eat ONE, and the others “disappeared” in less than 24 hours, I’d say they were a success!  Yum!


Woodland Park Zoo to Close Night Exhibit

So I found out today that Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo is closing the Night Exhibit, which showcases nocturnal animals in a very dark setting so that they are active for visitors to see. I have been to many zoos and have never seen an exhibit quite like this one. It is always the highlight of any trip I take to the zoo and one I have always found intensely interesting. And soon it will be gone.

According to their website, the WPZ needs to, “reduce annual expenses between $800,000 and $1 million”, and the Night Exhibit, “is an older building with very high operating costs and its energy use is one of the highest in the zoo”, therefore making it the one to go. Now, I understand the economy is hard, and cut have to be made somewhere, I just wish it wasn’t my FAVORITE exhibit that was cut.

Here is the letter I wrote to the zoo:

Dear Woodland Park Zoo, I have visited the zoo many times, and think it is a very important part of Seattle. When I first visited the zoo, it was with a group of preschoolers, and I have since visited with other classes I have taught, as well as independently and with friends. It is a place I always take friends and family who visit the Seattle area. The exhibit I am always the most excited to visit and share with others is the Night Exhibit. It showcases animals we would otherwise almost never interact with. The students are fascinated with the scurrying armadillo, the spookily hanging bats and the cute, large eyed bush baby. I understand that these are hard economic times, and some cuts need to be made, it just seems a shame that such a popular and unique exhibit would be the one to make the cut. Do you have a final date for closure set? I would like to visit the zoo before the exhibit closes. I will miss the exhibit, and feel the zoo experience will be “missing something” after it’s gone. Sincerely, Amy A

If you live in the Seattle area, and are upset about the closure of the Night Exhibit, I encourage you to email or call the zoo and let your opinion be heard. I don’t know if it will do any good, as it sounds like the decision has already been made, but at least they will know that people were not happy about it.

Press release:

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