Sunday, December 25, 2016

2016 Christmas Greetings

        Christmas Greetings

Our year is drawing to a close, the garden is burgeoning, our house is nearly completely revamped and ready for sale. It’s been an extremely unusual year, we have been out of our home while the government EQC has been very, very slowly fixing our earthquake damage and then they handed us back a completely empty house that has taken us six months to restore. It now has a new paint, new kitchen, new bathrooms and floorings as well as new gardens, lawns, concreted areas and an asphalted driveway. The next step will be to sell it. Whew and after that we don’t know.

Peter has continued his work as a relief teacher as well as his regular preaching in the city square and at several old folks’ residential care homes. Concurrently he has spent a great deal of time working in the house and garden to achieve the excellent results we are now enjoying.

Michele has worked at Lincoln High School for a stint and as a document editor at another time for her uncle’s engineering company. Meanwhile she has assisted in the works at the house and has arranged scores of quotes and visits from contractors.

We lived most of our year boarding with a kind friend near our house, so that we could focus on the project. So hospitality has been almost nil; so strange for us, and a constant feeling that something precious is missing.

Trips away this year began with a road trip from Auckland via Tauranga, where we alway manage several soaks in the delightful natural hot springs. Hamilton to my aunt, Taihape to a very dear and now departed old friend, and Palmerston North where our South Island farming friends have moved onto a pretty new farm, thence to Blenheim, and another elderly aunt, and Nelson, where we caught up with Simon and Cora just before their first child arrived. She is Aria Isabel, and is very bonny and sweet. Lydia & Alex & Francesca were in Nelson too and also Nathan so it was a good time to catch up and a first to travel about the fascinating district and visit lots of special places. Simon and Cora are both involved in running the Organic Grocers near central Nelson and Simon’s retail expertise has been put to very good use in transforming and making this business successful.

Michele made a few trips to Timaru with the arrival of Lydia and Alex's second daughter, Adelaide Rose, on Waitangi Day (New Zealand Day). Peter was able to get down too. Alex has bought a yacht and likes to sail on the harbour whenever he can find a second crew member. They have a continual stream of happy house guests so Lydia keeps really busy. However that have just accepted a job offer in the North of Wales and so are making all the preparations to go; including sadly handing on their ducks and hens.

We have house-sat in various places for variety and sanity! For friends nearby and also in Pegasus Town, North of Christchurch. And while house-sitting in Tauranga in October we lost a very dear friend at this time in tragic circumstances that has left us to re-evaluate the brevity of life. We are currently house-sitting again over the summer, after two months of living in our garage. We’ll certainly be glad when we can be settled once more.

Andrew and Daena and the boys were here in June for three weeks and made a road trip from Auckland to Christchurch via Taranga, Taupo and Nelson so Daena could see more of New Zealand. We met them at Picton, having driven two cars up to meet the ferry and then all spent a few days with Simon and Cora. Andrew drove to Christchurch along the coast road through Kaikoura, which has subsequently sustained a huge earthquake, cutting it off from the rest of New Zealand by road, as that road wound around the cliffs above the rocks, at the foot of the Kaikoura Mountains, overlooking the wide Pacific Ocean. The sea floor has been lifted a few metres by the earthquake. It was along here that they stopped to watch the baby seal pups playing in a deep rock pool, which has now been lost. We all had fun together in Christchurch and then they popped down to Timaru to stay with Lydia for a few days. Andrew has been exceedingly busy working on the election campaign in the US; they are very pleased and rather shocked at the surprising result - who knows what it will mean? Hopefully fewer dead babies. They are now expecting their third child in April next year.

Nathan has moved back from Nelson and is now flatting in St. Albans; so we see him quite a bit more often. He works in sales training for a nationwide telecommunications company. He has just to travelled to Chicago, where he met Andrew in Daena’s hometown, for Christmas. He and Andrew plan to road-trip back to Washington DC via New York City, which sounds like fun; although a rather cold time of year to attempt it.

We have learnt a lot this year about the current commercial world and the long-term effects of catastrophes. We are thankful for surviving this strange season in our lives and can still smile; we look forward to a more settled future – well maybe.

It would be great to hear your news when you have a moment.

With our love,

Peter & Michele

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Far over the misty mountains cold ........ We must away, ere break of day

“There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.” ― J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit

Eventually and sadly our time with the Andy Moores in Dallas had to come to an end. The trip home to Hobbit land was a long one consisting of 4 legs; Dallas to San Antonio to the south, San Antonio to LA, LA to Auckland and Auckland to Christchurch. Whew!

                                                                         Next up I was back to work at Hornby High, and this time I took up 3½ hours per day and as well my private students. It was great to see all my colleagues and students again. School needed to help some students attain their required NCEA credits so the time there was entirely hard out but very satisfying to see the students 'make the grade'.

As our home was otherwise occupied (rented), we stayed with our good friends, the McCartneys and the Guos, two weeks each. How precious your friends are when you are in a tight spot!

Driving north on Saturday 9th March we clear weather and a smooth crossing of Cook Strait. We rarely drive the route to Auckland so this was a brilliant opportunity to meet up with some dear friends and relations.

After stopping over in Hamilton with my Aunt, Judith, a much younger sister of our centenarian uncle, Frank, we popped into the famous Hamilton Gardens where there are many individual themed gardens of an extremely high quality and really delightful. Our travels then took us through Morrinsville and Te Aroha. This is the first time I'd ever been to these country towns and it was quite exciting for me as they had long been on my 'Must Do' list of places to see. I have three friends from Te Aroha and my Grandmother's step sister, Aunty Tui married a much older man, Algie Gifford, who had been the pharmacist in Morrinsville when she was a child. He had been a frequent visitor to their mission home in the King Country at Taumaranui and had waited for her to become of a marriagable age before proposing to her – quite a love story but very difficult to picture as I'd only known him in his latter years, propped up in bed constantly painting the view if the Manukau Harbour from his window, somewhat like Dickens' Mr Dick in 'David Copperfield'. Anyhow the countryside in these districts is truly lovely and the towns are very pretty too and full of rather antique shop fronts of all shapes and sizes.

From here we made a short stop in Thames, and finding the Tapu route we'd intended to use, closed for service, we took the usual route, the Kopu Hikuwai, through the swathes of astoundingly beautiful native bush and past Tairua and Hot Water Beach. It was now early evening so we had some tea before calling on my dear Whitianga friends, Beth and Ash Cumings. Beth has been a mentor of mine since my childhood, although we didn't use that fancy phrase back then. And Ash was my Standard 4 teacher and a pal of my dad's. 

 They took us the following day to see how much development was taking place in the local environs and then on to Opito Bay, over the infamous Black Jack Hill where we had the advertised segull-free picnic. The nearby lookout afforded views of the Mercurys as well as Great Barrier Island and the a string of tiny islands running down the coast and out of sight – just another reminder that New Zealand is perched precariously on the active inter-tectonic plate boundary.

 Beth and I went out for a familiar walk and came across some almonds, splitting out of their peach like coverings, just lying on the path; our botanical discussion at this point was rather amusing as Beth is a local plant expert, but having cracked and tasted some, they were indeed sweet almonds. On the following day we did some over-spraying with Beth's wonderful floral paints and were able to restore a pair of my shoes, a handbag and a necklace so I was very thankful and a lot tidier!

Driving north and across the Coromandel Penninsula we reached the Coromandel township, a delightful village that would have been interesting to investigate further. South of here, having passed many small bach settlements over the next 40km, we came to the small coastal town of Te Puru. Here right on the beach with lovely views and plenty of sun we settled at Alex's family's cottage for the next few nights while I attended a family reunion, just a further 15mins South.

Over the weekend of 15-17th I attended the reunion of the Wiltons in Thames. My mum had written a huge tome about the family history a few years earlier so it was with much excitement that we all met to hear more of the Wiltons, hailing as miners from Cornwall. From here we drove south a little to Tauranga where we did some work on my mum's house AND had a dip in the Ocean. It was far too hot for the hot mineral pools.

Then in at Clark's Beach on the south side of the Manukau Harbour we saw my uncle's new home that he'd moved to having left his Charolais beef breeding behind in Onewhero across the Waikato River.  While there we also took in a local church fete on the Saturday morning, it was very pretty on the beach front with colourful tents and bunting.

Moving further north I was thrilled to meet up with all three of my female Tilsley cousins; visiting two of their homes over night. It's always lovely to see them and to catch up on all their news.   A special treat was being taken by Alex's aunt to visit her mum, his Grandmother in Royal Oak.  Shona and Wally were marvellous as was our friend Barbara; we're so thankful we could have time with our friends.  In just a few days we saw lots of friends and enjoyed the Auckland environs until Tues 4th April when we flew direct to Perth.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Chicago - There and Back Again

End of Year Excitement for Hobbits on a Journey 

 Christmas was definitely coming, the temperature suddenly dropped dramatically; from balmy one day  to freezing the next.  Andrew and Daena took us to see homes decorated with lights in amazing displays in the richer suburbs, although there were many lovely ones in every street.  Folks pay workers to do their houses up and some of those roofs are high.

A single woman next door named Melissa asked Andrew to attend twice a day to the stray dog, Max, that she'd found a month before.  The trouble was she left him in a cage in a small room for the rest of the 24hrs each day.  We couldn't bear it so Andrew attached his lead to a secure run to  give him some exercise and sunshine; trouble was 'someone' cut the lead - now the chase was on and he was sure hard to catch.   Andrew and Daena exercised him in the adjacent dog park but he squeezed through the bars and took off into the night......  Meanwhile every night he found a new way to break out of his cage and wreck the room.  A lovely obedient dog who'd been well trained.  Whew!

I had found that the Denton branch of the Dickens Fellowship was only an hour away.  Then Jill, Daena's mum was going up there over night to tape a TV show and she kindly let me join her.  So I was able to meet up with some of the key members of their group in a coffee shop in the Denton Town Square by the old couthouse.  They were very excited to meet a Dickensian from New Zealand.  We swapped stories about our histories, our meetings and then I told them a little about New Zealand.  These folks frequently tour in Britain but had not been 'down under'.  Sandra, the secretary, took me to visit a few of the sights in the brief time that we had, including this lovely old 'Victorian' home.  Why do Americans use the term 'Victorian'?

We'd bought a Toyota Sienna van, (2004), so that we could drive to and from Chicago to celebrate the festive season with Daena's family.  That is a 1556 km drive and I was fairly apprehensive about it; such a long way and I'd been having back problems even on short trips. However the van was warm and comfortable and the drivers did a great job, swapping every 2 hours.

We made good time, driving north through to Wichita in Kansas, (and, no we didn't meet up with Dorothy, nor the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion or even experience a tornado though they are currently striking other parts of the US).

 Here we met with one of Andrew's pro-life mentors, Troy Newman.  He showed us around their offices, once an abortion clinic, that they had been able to shut down.

 It seems that much of this 'work' is a racket, where desperate, vulnerable, women are coerced into this 'final solution', to line the pockets of the unscrupulous while seriously endangering the womens' own lives.  I met a sad woman whose daughter had been killed in one of these legal abortions.

The place was in a disgusting state when they bought it; absolutely filthy and nothing like a hospital or health clinic.  No more details here but ask me if you want to know more about this.

  Driving west through Kansas we hit Kansas City which lies on the border with Missouri.  There we saw rolling prairie with lots of trees everywhere in the fields, all denuded by now of course, and all greyish-brown with some snow on the ground and very little undergrowth.  Tall slim silos could be seen next to barns on many of the farms.  Unbeknown to us we passed by very close to where my niece, Kristy Swift's in-laws live and where I think she lived when she too married an American a few years ago.

The motoring conditions were excellent on the freeway, (so called because it is not a tollway), and although the driving was relentless, having the two drivers made it all much more do-able. vAfter motoring for around three hours in the dark we stopped at a McDonald's, where as you may know there is free Wi-fi, and used this to locate some nearby accomodation.

The Quinta hotel that we took turned out to be a dog hotel!  Where many travellers stayed with their dog/dogs in the room with them.  Even though our room didn't have a doggy smell I found it quite challenging trying to navigate down the hall past the woman holding leashes to five bumptious, various sized dogs all at once.   There were dogs on leashes, dogs in cages, dogs on laps and dogs growling or barking at their rivals.  Small dogs were taking on huge dogs and red-faced owners were looking the other way while others were fiercely trying to gain control of their own unruly animals.  Avoid that next time.

 Missouri seemed to go on and on but eventually at St Louis, (pronounced Lewis not Lewy), we crossed into Illinois then suddenly the landscape changed.  Now we saw very few trees; only a few standing next to farm houses and huge, red barns together with fatter, squat silos.   The other defining feature of the landscape here are the vistas; all around the land is flat and the horizon is extremely low so that you can see for a long way in any direction and there appears to be so much more sky.   Many of the fields contain the remnants of a corn harvest; grey, sad stubble. This must be good arable land where every bit is well utilised.   Now and then we have spotted nuclear power stations with their characteristic fat chimneys and in other places, fuel burning ones, all with billowing clouds of water vapour pouring forth, forming clouds, and this makes them easy to spot.

 Chicago is in Illinois and lies at in a very strategic position, which has been a large factor in gaining its prosperity.  And it certainly is wealthy.  When you consider that the city was founded at roughly the same time as Wellington in New Zealand and has now grown to 9.8 million.  It is a monstrous city filled with elegant, tall and giant buildings, many taking up whole city blocks, these structures go on and on as you drive north, up the side of Lake Michigan, (pronounced like Michele not Mitchell, as I have discovered).

 Jill had lots lined up for us and her family over Christmas and the days we were there.  She took some of them to overnight at a swimming pool hotel.

 We'd arrived on Peter's birthday so Daena, who had flown up to Chicago the day before, was kind enough to bake a cake for Peter.  He was quite chuffed.

The day we were given a tour of the city by Andrew's mother-in-law, Jill Stanek, the Lake was grey-brown and whipped up furiously with large, frothy waves.

     I visited a church called Hope in the morning with Andrew; it was very similar to our own church.

On Sunday afternoon Daena's brothers arrived with their families and we had Christmas Dinner then with them.  Christmas meant the traditional breakfast at the Double Yolk restaurant for the family - so there we were, eleven of us, all eating double-yolkers, well for all but Levi.
As we drove we were overwhelmed by the staggering number of magnificent sky scrapers, such an assortment of ages and designs.  You really have to respect the people who achieved so much in only 180 years. 

 On our tour we visited China Town and it really was like old China.  I bought some bau here; these are those white, soft, steamed buns which have pork filling.

Parking underground below the Millenium Park in the center of town, we went up top to see a large 'bean' there with a mirror coating, on which it was fun to see our contorted images.

Next up was the 'must do' Deep Dish Pizza Restaurant, 'Lou Malnati's', a big speciality here in Chicago.

That afternoon we drove East to Indiana where Jill's parents live beside a picturesque lake.

 This is also where Jill's family have lived for generations and we were driven around the lake and shown some of the especially memorable places.   Her granddad, Jack Hollar, is very skilled in woodcraft and has produced many lovely pieces of oak furniture, including a highchair that converts into a rocking horse and a desk.

Grandma Mylene, I already knew from Facebook so it was super to catch up with her properly.  She and her family put on a lovely Christmas meal for everyone.  Another day Peter and I visited the Oriental Museum of the Ancient Near East.   There we were amazed to see what a huge amount of archeological work the Americans have carried out in those countries.  On the same day we went to the SMART Museum at the University of Chicago where there were great exhibits of Frank Lloyd Wright and many famous artists as well.   In a western suburb we found a gigantic fabric warehouse to 'blow your mind'.   Here Peter was greatly impressed and had a long chat with the manager who was very proud of his establishment.  

 The following day I went alone by double-decker train into Chicago so that I could see some of the architecture close up and also the Art Institute of Chicago which has an immense collection and is currently showing an Impressionist exhibition.  There, I also saw some gorgeous Chigal windows and what I was very pleased to get up close to was the famous painting called 'American Gothic' which is so often satirised.

Soon enough it was time to be heading south again, this time via a night in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This time there were five of us in the van plus all the gear.  The roads were clear of snow after the blizard so we were safe and made good time. And were thankful that Levi travelled exceptionally well.

Chicago, we've been there and back again and all before 2013.