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

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.

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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 Lexington, Virginia

So after we left Dad and Sharon in West Virginia, we headed east towards Lexington, Virginia, where Tom’s parents have recently bought a new house.  If you recall, Lexington was where Tom and I got married, so it’s always nice to visit and now we’ll be visiting there quite frequently!  Tom’s parents are still in the process of doing a total remodel on the house, so they are still staying at the family farm in Goshen, which is about a half hour outside Lexington, when they are working on the house in Lexington.  The new house is beautiful and I can’t wait to see it in its finished state.

We spent two days in the area.  The first day, we went with Tom’s parents over to Wade’s Mill, a historical flour mill which still grinds the flour using a water wheel.  Very cool.  We got to meet the folks who run the place and they let us take a peek around the mill.  I’d never really seen how flour was made, so it was an interesting process.  One that I still don’t really understand, but that’s why they do it and not me.  We spent the night at the farm, which is one of our favorite places in the world.  We’ve been going there throughout our entire relationship and it holds a special place in our hearts.  It’s also where we had our rehearsal dinner and we hadn’t been back since, so it was a nice place to spend a few days. 

 

 

 

The next morning, Tom and I went for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and did a hike up there as well.  The leaves were all changing and it was literally a riot of color along the ridges.  We hiked the Apple Orchard Falls Trail, which intersects the Appalachian Trail.  It is what I call an “inside out” hike, meaning you hike downhill to your destination and then back UPHILL to get back to your car.  This is not my favorite kind of hike.  However, I was distracted by the pretty leaves, the rich smells of the forest that are so different from our forests here in the Pacific Northwest and by the amazingly beautiful waterfalls.  So I didn’t mind the “inside out” characteristics of the hike.  Too much. 

 

After our hike, we continued to drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Buchanan, where we HAD to check out a swinging bridge that Tom remembered from his childhood.  Now, I should include that Tom’s memory of this bridge is not a pleasant one.  In fact, it terrified him.  Apparently there was much crying involved the last time he had to cross this swinging bridge.  When we arrivied at the bridge, I could see how it could be scary for a child.  The bridge does not meet the side of the road at a 90 degree angle as it should.  Instead, it does this weird slanting thing before it levels out.  Truly terrifying indeed.

We stayed at the farm again that night, and in the morning we wandered around Lexington for a bit and paid a visit to my favorite bookshop of all time, The Bookery.  Now, I have a thing for book stores in general, but this one is truely unique.  Jam packed, wall to wall, floor to ceiling BOOKS.  I mean everywhere.  It’s kind of amazing.  Its what I secretly wish my house looked like. 

Later that afternooon we headed down the road to visit Mom and Charles in Richmond….

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Evil vs. Evil!

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.

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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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Making Blackberry Jam

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! 

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Remembering John

Last weekend, Tom and I flew to Maryland for the funeral of one of his oldest friends, John Merrill.  As is often the case, the details are sad.  John was killed in a landslide while hiking in Colorado with his dog Oof.  His dog refused to leave John’s body when other hikers arrived on the scene of the accident, and ended up staying all night on the mountain with his beloved companion until the SAR folks were able to recover John’s body.  Oof has since been adopted by one of the SAR workers.   His wife was pregnant.

 

These are the details.  The facts reported over and over in the papers.  Somehow they seem so empty.   They say nothing about the intelligent, kind, complicated man that John was.  That there was so much more to his life than the way that he died.  I only knew John for a short time, but I will remember him as a funny, quirky guy who danced in his kilt at our wedding.  I will remember how much he loved show tunes.  I will remember how much he loved America, Guatemala, animals and wild places.  I will remember what a good friend he was to my husband. 

 

In the past three years I have lost two friends to the mountains.  People who do not hike or climb always ask, “Why were they there?  Why were they climbing?  Why were they hiking?”  And the simple truth, for me, and I believe for those who I have lost, is that we climb, and we hike, because we must.  It is a necessity of our lives.  To be out in the wild is where I find my peace.  It is where I find myself. 

As John’s mother said at his memorial, quoting her son, “I climb the mountains to get closer to God”.

We will miss you John, but we will always remember you in the high, wild and beautiful places in the world.

For more information: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_16196657

Tom’s Blog post:  http://tomalphin.com/category/uncategorized

Photos: Don Mears Photography, Jane Merrill, Amy Alphin

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Cakespy

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

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Visiting Victoria

Over Labor Day weekend the weather forecast in the Cascades was for rain, as is the usual these days it seems.  Wanting to escape as much of the wet as possible, and still feel like we had a vacation, we turned our sites north.  To Canada that is.  We took the ferry up on Saturday morning under beautiful blue skies and landed in Sidney, just outside of Victoria around lunchtime.

 

We went directly to Goldstream Provincial Parkto make sure that we got a campsite for the night.  We decided to camp the first night, as the weather was supposed to be nice.  The campground was very pleasant, with wide sites and a beautiful forest, and our tent was right at home.

The afternoon was spent eating lunch, and wandering around the harbor side in downtown Victoria, looking at all the Britishish architecture.  We ducked inside the ivy-covered Empress Hotel, decided that the tea was way too outrageously expensive, and decided to visit the gift shop, and return for the free tour on Monday instead.

 

That evening, we headed over to Butchart Gardents, though we were unclear as to how the flowers would look at this sometimes awkward time between summer and fall.  I’m glad we went though, as the dahlias were in full bloom and stunning.  There was also a beautiful rose garden, Japanese garden, and manicured “sunken” garden.  It rained on us a bit, but the well trained workers at the Garden were quick to hand out adorable clear umbrellas to everyone.  Butchart Gardens is a very well oiled machine, with helpers always at the ready to hand out an umbrella, direct you to the nearest hot chocolate stand, or give away “blanket weights” for holding down your picnic blanket for the fireworks later in the evening.  The fireworks show was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and it left me wide eyed as a little girl, as fireworks often do. 

    

 

 

The following day we hiked up Mount  Finlayson, which was in the provincial park we camped in. The trail was noted as being “steep, rugged, and hard to follow”.  Since many trails in Washington are labeled as such, we didn’t figure it was much of a problem, so we weren’t really prepared when our “hike” tuned more into a Class III scramble!  After much huffing and puffing, we pulled ourselves up to the top and took in the view. 

Later in the afternoon, we checked into our hotel for the evening, The Oswego.   The room was nice, though it had a weird, pull-down, Murphy style bed.  After a short bike ride, we decided to check out a fish and chips place we had seen on our walk around the city the day before.  The shop is called Red Fish Blue Fish and is run out of what looks like a shipping crate and positioned right on the docks in the harbor.  We had thought it must be good to have such a large line the day before, and we were definitely proven right.  Everything we at was spectacularly tasty, especially the coconut curry fish chowder.  NOM. 

 

Our final day was filled with rain and tours.  We stared off touring The Empress, with an adorable tour guide named Margaret who was dressed in Victorian garb and an English accent.  So CUTE!   After visiting The Empress, we headed over to the Parliament buildings for their tour.  The architecture and art were quite impressive.

 

 

Later in the afternoon, it was back to the ferry we went, and back to Seattle.  It was wonderful to get away and finally visit Victoria. 

(Sorry for the long post, we did lots of stuff and I take lots of pictures.  Plus, brevity is overrated.)

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Hiking to Blanca Lake

Whee!  Sorry the posting has been “light” (read: nonexistent), it’s the beginning of the school year, and all that entails.  Which is mainly sleep deprivation, stress, and less exercise.  But oh well.  Let’s talk about this wonderful little hike instead.  Yee!  It was in August!!  Yikes, I’m behind.  Oh well.  I digress.

Ok.  Blanca Lake.  I had been wanting to do this hike for a while, as I was inspired by the beautiful photos of sea-glass green water surrounded by towering peaks.   Have I mentioned that I enjoy alpine lakes?  It also spans two seperate wilderness areas, which is  kind of cool.  The hike is steep, steep, steep, but oh so very worth it.  The first few miles climb relentlessly, but you’re surrounded by an ancient old growth forest which shrouds you from the sun, and is something pretty to look at whilst you huff and puff your way up.    There are also huckleberries and blueberries for your nibbling pleasure. 

 

Eventually the trail crests the ridge and there are some beautiful views of Glacier Peak in the distance.  As you can see, we didn’t have the clearest day, but our views weren’t so bad either. 

After ridge walking for far too brief a time, the trail descends, steeply again, towards Blanca.  The Washington Trails Association crews had been out the weekend before, and had done some spectacular work on this side of the trail.  Unfortunately, much more work is still needed.  In contrast to the well maintained, relatively smooth trail on the way up, this side is root-filled, rough, narrow, and did I mention steep?  First you encounter tiny Virgin Lake, then continue to descend towards Blanca. 

The lake is green.  And blue.  It doesn’t look real.  It’s kind of amazing.  We had lunch on the logjam halfway across the output of the lake for optimal viewing pleasure.  The weather was rolling in, so we didn’t stay long, but man, this place is gorgeous!  I can’t wait to come back on a sunny day to actually go swimming!  Tom swam, of course, but he always swims.    So the hike is steep, hard, and dirty, but the lake was more than worth the effort.

 

 

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