Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Useful yarn bombing

Now this is a yarn bomb that is actually useful -- the soft cover keeps one from scratching one's bike frame on the rack.

Seen in downtown Sunnyvale this morning.  All the racks up and down Murphy Street got this treatment.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Emus are funny

When we were in New Zealand, I made a point of choosing accommodations that were small and featured animals to amuse Nimue.  It turns out there there are quite a number of home stay/farmstay/B&B accommodations, so it wasn't hard to find these.  Over the course of the week, we saw, fed, and petted cats, dogs, a pig, a pony, a donkey,

chickens (many of which provided eggs for our breakfast),

sheep and goats,


 and emus.

Nimue got to feed the emus; at one point there were five of them all pecking at the food bowl at the same time.  Up close, they look quite dinosaur-like.

The emu farm had a gaggle of juvenile ones penned away in a separate area.  Cute and fuzzy, right?

Also very, very, very curious

and unable to resist pecking at shiny things

Including my camera.  Emus are funny.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What would you do with these?

The first place we stayed in New Zealand had a kitchenette, which of course meant we cooked our own dinner for a few nights.  Arriving jet-lagged at the grocery store, I couldn't resist buying these:
They were labelled "Red Yams".  I know not everyone responds to unknown foodstuffs with an irresistible urge to try them, much less cook them jet-lagged after a red-eye flight, but we do...

Lacking any real knowledge of how they are normally cooked, and also limited to the small number of things we got from the grocery store, I opted to slice them up and butter-steam them on the stove.

Add the rest of dinner: lamb gobbets, spinach, and NZ red wine.  Yum.  It just encourages my bad habits :)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Chief Chad

While we were in New Zealand, we wanted to be sure to see some vestige of Maori civilization.  Certainly there are a lot of things that carry into the modern day, with something like a quarter of the population speaking Maori, and many of the place names being based on that language. Funny names like Whakapapa, Mangawhai or Otorohanga, which probably are easier to remember and make sense of if you know the root words they come from.  We don't, leading to navigational comments like "Turn left at Whaka-whosi-what's-it," and "If this is Ngongo-whatever, slow down and look for Route 5 at the next roundabout."

At any rate, I wanted to see some Maori carving and give Nim a chance to learn some history that she might not otherwise, so we went looking for a Maori cultural site and ended up at the Waitangi Treaty  Grounds.

This is the location where an agreement between the British crown and the native tribes was negotiated and signed in 1840.  The British saw this as an expansion of their empire; the Maori saw it as a way to assert their land rights in the face of incoming colonists and a way to allow the British to enforce laws and control various foreign ne'er-do-wells. Despite some misunderstandings and resultant war skirmishes in the early days, the treaty of Waitangi is seen as the founding document of modern New Zealand.

We took a guided tour, which was a good choice, as our Maori guide was irreverent, full of information, and liked to tell a good yarn.  After a compressed version of 19th century New Zealand history in the museum, we headed out to the waka house.

Waka = ceremonial war canoe.  Most excellent.  In this case, it was Ngātokimatawhaorua (all the canoes are named), a 35-meter behemoth that weighs 12 tons and requires 76 paddlers.  The largest ceremonial war canoe EVER.  It was donated by the Maori for the 100th anniversary of the signing of the treaty.  They do actually take it out on the water once a year on the anniversary in February, which has got to be quite a sight.

Our tour guide seemed to revel in the canoe's name, rattling it off at high speed and with great easy as he told his stories.  Ngātokimatawhaorua.  Ngātokimatawhaorua. Over and over and over again.  It probably would be fun to say, if I actually could.

The canoe was full of fun carvings.

It was made of wood from three massive kauri trees; you can see the joints.

If you know not the kauri, they rival any of the big trees we're familiar with in California.  This is the stump of one of the three used for Ngātokimatawhaorua.

There were also several other waka at the site.  Most photogenic.

Having seen art/weapons/boats from both, I'm not sure who would come out ahead in a hypothetical Maori vs. Viking head-to-head.  The boat making and navigational skills certainly appear to be evenly matched, as might ferocity.

Our tour included a "cultural experience", which looked to be a music/dance/war skills performance in the carved meeting house.  What we didn't know was that there was some audience participation.  When we got to the meeting house, our group was asked to choose a chief.  No one else stepped up, so Chad, being a good sport, became our chief, and after a small amount of instruction, set forth to see if our "tribe" was welcome to visit.

First, don't flinch when this fellow comes out bellowing and wielding his spear.

Second, accept the token of peace and slowly lead the tribe forward as the scary dude backs up.

Third, sit in the seat of honor up front, listen to the very loud welcome (trying not to flinch at brandishing of blunt weapons), respond to welcome speech, and press noses in greeting with the resident chief.

Chief Chad performed his duties admirably.

Then relax and enjoy the music and the rest of the cultural skills demonstration.  As wife of chief, I also got to sit up front and try not to flinch at spears being brandished in my face.

Afterwards, we took a few pictures showing Maori faces of aggression.  Apparently men stick their tongues out (you see this in a lot of the carvings) and women just bug their eyes out.  We did ok, I think...

Then more exploration of the site.  Nimue enjoyed running around the flagpole set at the site of the treaty signing.  Note that there are three different flags -- the 1834 flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, the 1840 Union Jack, and the New Zealand flag instituted in 1902.

Touristy?  A little bit.  But most enjoyable and interesting, and we picked up a bit more history than we might have otherwise.  And I just like carved boats.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ziplining fun

Yaaay more New Zealand stuff c: This time it's about ziplining,  an awesome sort-of sport that we experienced in the most epic way possible during our stay in Rotorua.

When you zipline, you're attached to a line that is strung from platform to platform, so when you jump off the platform you're on, you "zip" to the next platform, and so on and so forth. Like this:

See, there's Mom having fun and making wood pigeon noises. Awesome, right?

So, normal ziplining is fun, but this was probably at least ten times as exhilarating as regular ziplining. Why? Because we were fifty feet up, zooming on ziplines at least one hundred feet long. It was a) AWESOME, b) AWESOME, and c) did I mention AWESOME? We had so much fun!

We also saw some local wildlife, including silver tree ferns

and tomtits.

There were not only ziplines, but also bridges, swing bridges, and trails. It was great!

Monday, July 7, 2014

hiking with Uncle Andrew

More vacation stuff -- this will continue to drip out in completely random order as the whim strikes us.

For our last full day in Australia, we went on a hike with Andrew up in the Blue Mountains near Katoomba, east of Sydney.  I was encouraged on the way to the trailhead that we drove right past the tourist stop at "Scenic World" and hared off down a dirt road to find our starting point at the Golden Staircase trailhead.  After being in the city for a few days, the need for things like dirt roads starts to take over.  Our destination was a rock formation called the Ruined Castle.

Going into it, I knew nothing other than that the name sounded promising.

Immediately past the signboard, the trail immediately plunged 600 feet down, with an average gradient of something like -35%.  Despite being tacked on the side of the cliff, the trail was mostly stair-stepped, and was quite reasonable to navigate.

And there were views

Big, open huge sky views.
After the first plummet, the trail flattened out, countering through some pretty lush vegetation.  The most interesting part was all the bird noises, including one stretch that seemed to be filled with bellbirds chirping their approximately uniform single pitch in surround sound from all directions.  Couldn't see them at all, but the aural effect was very cool.  Sadly my voice recorder chose that moment to run out of juice.

If you don't know what they sound like, this youtube video has some, though in real life it is a much more ethereal eerie sound environment with the chirps ringing from all directions.

Oddly, though this stretch was easy hiking, Nim got hungry and turned into grumpy kid.  She now sports a lovely black toenail acquired when she tripped over her own foot trying to run away from her  excessively cheerful parents.

Oooh, black toenail.  She's very proud of it.  It matches the black eye she got on the 4th of July when she threw a bottle opener up in the air in such a manner that it came down and hit her on the eyebrow.    these things just happen to 11-year-olds.  But I digress.

While she was grumpy, I found a tree that made a nice chair.
Eventually, we headed straight uphill for a couple hundred feet, followed the crest of the ridge, and came out on a vertiginous rock formation with spectacular views in all directions.  What you can't see in the pictures below is the crazy wind that came up, adding to the challenge of the rock scramble.

Our intrepid photographer
I could have played on the spires of rock here for hours, or we could have continued the hike to the next pinnacle of Mt. Solitary, but as we ate our lunch on the outcrop at the Ruined Castle and Nim cheered up, the wind continued to pick up and the sky completely clouded over.  Since there was some chance of rain in the forecast for the afternoon, we decided to head back towards the car.  Good choice, too, as the sprinkles started to fall at about the point we started back up the Golden Staircase.  Hard to believe given the nice weather at the start, but a good adventure nonetheless.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Family Portrait

For those of you who might enjoy a family portrait, here's the whole crowd of us from the recent visit to Sydney.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I'm Feeling Lucky

As I was making edits on some of the vacation photos in Picasa this evening, I was struck by this picture.  Sometime during every trip, Nimue gets an unexpected espresso drink.  This year, it was at a restaurant on the harbor next to the Sydney Opera house.  Picture this:  long table with 10 people seated for lunch, kids not necessarily seated near parents.  Older cousin orders a mocha without negative parental intervention.  Ma thinks "Crumbs!  Now I can't say 'No' to my own kid when she orders the same," so Nim got one too.  Later on when the drinks arrived, cousin was asked by parent "Who said you could have a coffee?...." 'Doh!  Score one for the kids.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Return from Backwards Land

So it's been a day and a half since we got back from the other side of the equator and date line (New Zealand and Australia), and we're still adjusting from the return from backwards land.

There's the obvious time zone difference.  Poor Chad found himself unable to sleep at 8:30am Sydney time last night.  Aside from the giant dark circles under her eyes, bouncy Nim appears to be unaffected. I'm just hungry at all the wrong times, and suffering from caffeine withdrawal (I drink decaf at home, but vacation rules are different).  I clearly need our typical New Zealand lunch of a meat pie and a flat white about now:

Also for Chad, there is the readjustment to driving on the right side of the road rather than the left.  Much concentration was put into driving on the correct side of the road, especially around the many roundabouts.  As I've noticed on other trips, the hardest part of driving on the other side of the road (at least in cheap rental cars) is that the windshield wiper and turn signal levers are reversed, leading to much spurious windshield wiping at inopportune moments.

I finally got adjusted to "other side of the road" effect as a pedestrian just before we left, and am now confusing people on sidewalks around here.  One wouldn't think this is hard, but it is.

Weather differences are also apparent.  New Zealand was full of rainbows; here in California, the grass has turned brown, it hasn't rained in what seems like forever, and the daytime highs are around 90 degrees.
But the weirdest thing for me at the moment is the abrupt shift in light levels from winter to summer.  We were used to it getting dark around 5pm (often before the end of the day's adventures).

Late afternoon view from Flagstaff Hill, near Russell, a small town known as the "Hellhole of the South Pacific" during colonial times.  Awfully nice now.

Waiting for the 5:00 ferry back from Russell.

View of Manly, Australia, from Dobroyd Head at approximately 5:00 pm.

Crazed kids after a full afternoon of walking. Pictured are Lexi, Aiden, and Nimue + Austin (before getting in trouble for sitting on the convertible).  I think Addison was still enjoying the walk with the rest of the adults while I took these, so I missed him.

Right now at home, at about 5pm, it's bright and sunny and over 80 degrees.  It won't get to the dimness level of the above pictures for another 4 or 5 hours.  Most confusing to the jet-lagged...