Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Upside of the Downside.

The only real downside of moving to New Zealand has been the fact that we are so far from family and friends. Sometimes you forget just how far away we are from everyone, especially when you can chat face to face over breakfast to everybody via Skype. However nothing compares to seeing people in person and being able to give someone a hug. So we have been absolutely thrilled that my Mum and Dad have made it over to us in time for Christmas.

We have been in New Zealand almost 9 months so its been a long time since we last saw them. Waiting at the airport brought it home just how far they have to come. For the previous day I was bombarded with questions about where Nan and Grandad are now, as if I could give them exact grid co-ordinates describing where the plane was at that particular point in time. In the queue at Pack N save "Wheres Nan and Grandad now?", "Er somewhere over North America". "Wheres that then Mum?"....and so it went on for 26 hours!

Waiting at the airport gate it was clear that the plane was loaded with Grandparents as there were other children waving banners with slogans like "Welcome Gran and Pops". Its clear that New Zealand is full of everyones grandchildren. I felt a bit remiss at not making a welcome banner myself but the girls gave Mum and Dad a great welcome and I thankfully managed to hold back the tears. We have been so busy over the last 9 months that I haven't had time to remember just how much I miss everyone.

The one good thing about living so far away is that when people come to visit you they have to come for a decent length of time. It costs so much and the distance is so great that you can't exactly just pop in for the weekend. This means that the time that my parents get to spend with their grandchildren is fantastic quality time and far more than they would likely to get if we lived around the corner from them. J has introduced Nan and Grandad to all her teachers and school mates. She will be taking them in for Show and Tell next! Of course it also means that my parents can come over for the summer weather and get to see New Zealand at the same time.

I must admit that I love having the extra help around the house and live in babysitters which has meant that P and I have had our first night out in over three years! The only thing that I am not looking forward to now is having to say goodbye to my parents - that is not going to be easy. However we are already planning our trip back to the UK next September so at least we know when we will see everybody again.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nan & Grandad Arrive in New Zealand

After nine months of talking to the grandchildren on Skype the day finally arrived when we would see how the two girls were surviving in their new home, New Zealand. As we circled Wellington the pilot advised there would be some turbulence as we approached the airport, having seen the various horror videos on U Tube we braced ourselves and checked the seat belts.

Unfortunately we had arrived on one of the many days that Wellington experiences gales and after the first drift to the right and then the left everyone fell silent and white knuckles were the order of the day. I can only say the videos on U Tube do not do the landing justice, it is much more terrifying!

Even when the plane came to a stop the wind rocked it gently back and forth. It was really interesting to watch two burly porters trying to hold onto an elderly lady in a wheelchair as she appeared to kite surf off across the tarmac.

All I can say is, it was well worth it to see the family and the old hearts need a bit of kick start now and again.

First impressions are good and we like being asked if we have good day, the Kiwis have a way of making it sound genuine, must be the rising inflection at the end of the sentence. Not too sure of some of the favourite sayings, such as ‘too right mate’ or ‘no worries’, but my favourite so far is the one used by Kiwis women during most conversations ‘ I was gutted’. Somehow they manage to slide this one in regardless of the subject under discussion.

It is great being referred to as a ‘guy’ in restaurants and shops and you soon feel relaxed and at ease, nearly as laid back as the average Kiwis.

The access to the countryside is amazing and you cannot help but be blown away by the landscape which is every bit as beautiful as the tourist guides indicate. It was not long before we were off on our first hike into the forest following the adventurous route across rope bridges and paddling in freezing cold streams. We watched as our daughter and son in law show the children what fun it is too paddle in the river, the resulting sand flea bites which consumed several tubes of antihistamine cream over the next week were an unexpected hazard.
Oh it’s great to be old and wise!

If you visit any country park it soon becomes apparent that public enemy number one is the poor old Possum, an Australian the Kiwis would evidently prefer had stayed at home.

Warning signs abound advising all visitors that poison has been laid to kill the Possum. Something called 1080 appears to be the poison of choice but I notice not all Kiwis agree with the use of this chemical and there is rising concern over possible unknown side effects of such wide use.

Visited Wellington for the second time this week and cannot help but be bowled over by what is a really interesting city, clean air, great facilities and a great variety of people. It is a real mix of cultures that integrate in a way you rarely see in other cities in the world. The city has obviously had to adapt to the change and develop facilities for new business and commerce, but to and independent observer it has done this sympathetically without losing its character or heritage. The waterfront development is a good example of the changes implemented whilst retaining the heritage too which Wellington owes so much.

Had lunch on the waterfront yesterday, never seen so many joggers of various sizes and shapes using there lunch hour to repair the damage of late nights and good food. Could not quite understand why two elderly joggers were wearing life jackets, but perhaps they had fallen in the harbour on previous outings.

We are hear for the next three months so we hope to see more of New Zealand and if I am lucky M may let me use her Blog again to report on how we view life in the new world.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why Kiwis are called Kiwis.

Its been another busy week in the Brunt household and the weather has gradually been showing signs of improvement. So much so that J has to wear a sun hat whenever she goes outside now at school. This seems to be the policy in all New Zealand schools from Labour Day onwards. It appears that NZ is renowned as being a country where you are likely to get sun burnt really quickly - so all the Mums I have met tell me. My two girls certainly caught the sun last weekend when I forgot to take sun cream and hats on our walk.

So I decided to do a little bit of research on the affects of the sun in NZ. (In other words I googled!). I couldn't find a great deal of info, but what I did find suggested that you have to be very careful of the sun in this country as you can get burnt remarkably quickly. NZ has very clean air with very little pollution to filter the suns rays. There is also apparently a small hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica which, at certain times of the year, can affect New Zealand. This can lead to heightened levels of UV radiation in the atmosphere and also means you have to take extra care in the sun. So as a result I have stocked up on sun cream and extra wide brimmed hats in the vain hope that eventually summer will arrive!

I have finally found the answer to a question I have always wanted to know. Why are New Zealanders known as Kiwis. I have been reading "The Listener" magazine this week and there was an interesting article by Sarah Barnett on the Kiwi (the bird) as it has been voted "Bird of the Year". In the article she states that "we became known as Kiwis in World War I, when New Zealand soldiers, cooling their heels in Wiltshire waiting for ships to bring them home, carved a 6000sq m chalk Kiwi on Beacon Hill".

All the time we lived in Wiltshire we never spotted a large Kiwi carved on the hillside so I assume it has now disappeared. I think thats a great shame - it would have added an international and exotic element to the scenery in the area.
I like the response that the author of the article gives to the question of whether New Zealanders like to be known as Kiwis. "Of course we like it - its one of the few birds in the world with two functioning ovaries. In other words, a national emblem with balls. Go Kiwi!"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sunshine and Shows.

We have been so busy over the last few weeks that I have not had much time to do any blogging so I thought I would make myself sit down over this long "Labour Day Weekend" and catch up a bit.

"Labour Day" in New Zealand (according to Wikipedia) is always the fourth Monday in October and apparently commemorates the agreement of an eight hour working day for tradesmen in 1840. For us it is a great excuse for a long weekend of picnics and walks in the sun.

We really need this long weekend and after, what has been for us, a year of winter we are in desperate need of some sun which has finally deigned to appear. In fact it was so warm yesterday that the girls needed sun cream and hats. Our first taste of New Zealand summer I hope! We spent it walking along the beach in Queen Elizabeth Park and eating Ice Cream on the seafront in Paraparaumou.

A writing in the sand - with a very long stick.

All the flowers were out. I keep forgetting its Spring not Autumn!

Its a serious business building sandcastles.

J has been extremely excited over the last week as she has been appearing in the WOW show at her school. This is the World of Wearable Arts show and involved the children making costumes and outfits out of recycled material and performing a fashion show. It was a great way of allowing every single child in the school to take part and be involved. It was fantastic and the kids all thoroughly enjoyed it. The light show and stage production was really professional and A's favourite bit (which she kept reminding us for hours afterwards) was when an Aliens eye fell off and bounced on the stage. This is obviously really amusing and memorable for a 2 year old!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Staglands, Tsunamis and Robots.

My youngest daughter has gained fame at a young age. She was in the local paper this week along with her best mates from next door. Our local playgroup had a Wearable Arts day where we were invited to construct some sort of wearable art work together with the toddlers. We decided to make robots but some of the ideas that people came up with were quite innovative. We were surrounded by mermaids, princesses, aliens and warriors.

The World of Wearable Arts (WOW) show is held every September in Wellington and attracts and audience of 35000. Designers from all over the world submit designs to the Judges and 150 are selected to compete for a prize of over $100'000. I thought our Robot designs were fairly good and maybe next year we will enter the show! First the local paper - then the world....

We awoke earlier in the week to Tsunami warnings on our local radio station following the earthquake in Samoa. It was quite a wake up call in a way as the threat of Tsunamis is not something we have really thought about before. We can see the sea from our house but we are fairly high up and probably not at risk. However P works in Wellington and travels on the train that passes directly by the low lying coastline.

In the end all we saw of the Tsunami was a 40cm wave by the time it hit Wellington, not really that impressive. In parts of NZ people were actually prevented from going near low lying and exposed beaches. There were numerous articles online about scores of people heading down to beaches to see if they could see the Tsunami approaching. Even though I recognise that this is rather a dangerous activity, I have to admit that I would probably be one of those people if the opportunity arose!

This Saturday, as the weather is still frustratingly not good enough to go camping, we went to Staglands. This is a wildlife reserve in the Akatarawa valley to the north of Wellington. Its is a fantastic day out even though you have to drive along another twisting, winding, sheer drop on one side, road. They seem to specialise in these type of roads over here. If you suffer from a fear of heights, New Zealand is not a good place to drive.

The valleys in this area was apparently logged extensively in the past and it still appears to be going on in places. Thankfully it has also been heavily reforested in recent years.
J and A sitting in a replica logging station.

This Ram refused to move or let us pass until he was fed, he then followed us around until we ran out of food.

An amazingly hungry pig.

Spring is clearly a good time to visit as all the baby animals are available for cuddles.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Life takes over.

I have decided that one of the signs that you have truly begun to settle in somewhere is when you are rushed off your feet and have no time for things like blogging. The last few weeks have gone by in a blur of school drop offs, coffee mornings, application forms and late nights.

J has really settled in well at school. Her new teacher is very nice and she is beginning to make good friends amongst her new class mates. I think the transition from Kindergarten to School has been harder on me than it has on J. I have transformed into one of those very pushy Mums who wants to be involved in the school so they can keep an eye on their precious first borns. I have now volunteered to help out in the classroom and come in to do reading with some of the children. I really need to get back to work!

I think, from what I can tell so far, that school in NZ is not all that much different from the UK apart from the fact that they are far more relaxed about access to school grounds and the classroom environment is slightly less formal. I can just wander into the school at any time to help out in the classroom and no one stops me. There is no intercom or high fences as you see in many inner city UK schools. J has been told just to stay behind the red line in the playground, that is all that stands between her and freedom!

It is however a bit disconcerting when you come to pick up time. They are all just released from the classrooms and no one checks whether parents are there or not to collect the little ones. J has been instructed by her teacher to return to the classroom if no one is there at pick up time. At this stage however I am making damn sure I am there on time as I am not sure I trust her entirely to return to the classroom and not panic. I am probably worrying unnecessarily. The fact is that everyone outside the school knows each other. Its such as small place that in two weeks I recognise everyone waiting at the school already, so hopefully if J ever wandered off there are plenty of people who would look after her. The trust, freedom and responsibility that is placed on these children at such a young age can be a bit difficult for someone coming from the UK to get used too.

Spring is apparently here but its not coming soon enough as far as I am concerned. We have had two winters consecutively and now we are desperate for some proper sunshine. We have seen fleeting glimpses of summer but not enough yet for us to try out our new tent. So the last couple of weeks we have made do with some good local walks.

Pauatahanui wildlife reserve is on our doorstep and is a great place to see wading birds and other wildlife. I didn't manage to get any decent pictures of birds this time so here is a picture of A with some sheep we met on the walk.

There are hides dotted all around the reserve which are ideal places to spot birds from - providing you don't shout out every time you see a duck.

Pondering the complexities of life.

Looking towards Whitby.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Endings, Celebrations and New Beginnings.

It has been a momentous week in the Brunt household. Our eldest daughter has had her fifth birthday, her last day of Kindergarten and her first day of school. She is thoroughly exhausted and so are we. It was all far too emotional and her birthday party which was great fun, was also very hard work and mentally and physically very trying!

Thursday was Js last day at Kindergarten and they have a "Celebration" ceremony which involves making a special crown, being in charge of ringing the bell and stamping everyones hand as they leave. This is clearly a very big responsibility and J took it very seriously! It was actually a really nice way to say goodbye to her friends at Kindy and we were given a fantastic record book of her time there. It was filled with photos of J taken since she had started at Kindy and showed her playing with all her friends and all the different activities she had taken part in. She loved her time there and is really going to miss it.

Friday was then her first day at school. This was a very big deal, especially for me! I still think she is far too short to be starting full time education. But J was very enthusiastic about the whole thing and couldn't wait to go in the morning. She has to take a packed lunch as the school doesn't have a Kitchen and she had a new bag and (thanks to her Great Grandparents) a new outfit.

When I picked her up she was limping and looking a bit sorry for herself. She had apparently fallen over at lunch time and she very proudly told me that she had needed "two whole plasters" to make it better. Her teacher came out and told me that she had been very happy all day apart from the falling over incident and seemed to be settling in well.
The school is not a very big one and all the staff are very approachable and friendly. It is much more open than most UK schools as you can wander into the school without having to go through reception and you are welcomed into the classroom at the start of the day. I really like the fact that the start of the school is made such a special event and all the children I have met are really looking forward to starting. J was welcomed by her teacher, her head of department and the Head Teacher himself. All individually came and welcomed her. It was a really good start to her school life.

It was Js party on Saturday from 2-4pm, and that was definitely long enough! We had jointly decided on a Dinosaur theme. So we had spent all week cutting out numerous dinosaurs and footprints to decorate the house. Everyone we had invited turned up so we had 8 very excited little girls and one brave little boy running around the house at high speed. We are now experts in party games and can recommend the bursting dinosaur egg game (balloons with tiny dinosaur babies inside), hunt the cake (T-Rex stolen the cake which they have to find using photo clues) and the dinosaur egg and spoon race (decorated hard boiled eggs). One very important tip is to not scare them too much. We made a dinosaur cave out of a large cardboard box which I introduced by saying that they had to crawl through the box in turn and if they were in there whilst the music was on they would be eaten by the T-Rex. This, I now know, is rather scary for 4 and 5 year old girls and so they all refused to crawl through!

The party in the end was really good fun and as you can see from the photos, I think everyone enjoyed themselves!

We created a "jurassic atmosphere" with cartoon dinos and lots of footprints.

The birthday girl.
The amazing cake!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A view of NZ from 3 and a half feet.

This weekend we were lucky enough to borrow a kiddies digital camera from our local Toy Library. So my two girls have been busily recording our Sunday using the camera. The photos below are just a few of the hundreds of photos they took between them. I think it gives an interesting look into their world view!

It took me ages to figure out what this is a picture of. See if you can guess.

Yes my daughters are gorgeous.

Gosh that's a nice pink dressing gown.

Some feet and the dishwasher!

Rather a good portrait taken by the younger artist.

The younger "artist".

Some feet!

A self portrait.

A back seat view.

A child's view out of the car.

Yes, we are determined to use the barbecue as much as possible.

Interesting garden views.

They managed to take a lot of pictures of their tongues!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sheds and Schools

I have decided that I our house is essentially not that different from the tree house that my Dad built myself and my brother and sister. It moves in the wind and the rain thunders on the roof. You can also feel the gusts through the windows just like in the tree house which had no glass. Double glazing seems to be unheard of over here.

We have been having some very windy and wet weather over the last few days. The gusts have been between 100-140km/hr and the rain has been falling in sheets. I was lying in bed last night and I could feel the whole house rattle and shake. It was like sleeping in a rather rickety old shed. I now realise why all the curtains in the house are so well lined, its obviously to keep out the drafts, a kind of linen double glazing. This morning there had been another landslide across the rail tracks causing delays into Wellington again and the sea was a murky brown colour as opposed to the glittering blue/green it is most days.

I have not been able to post over the weekend like I normally do as we have all been getting ready for my daughters first trial day at school. She gets to go to school for an hour today, Tuesday and Wednesday, to meet her teacher, class mates and get used to the routine. This happens for two weeks until she actually starts school on her 5th birthday. I think I have said before on my blog that I really like the NZ way of starting school on your birthday as it makes it all very individual. Well after the next month I will be able to confirm whether it works as well as I think it will!

This morning we picked up J (my oldest daughter) from Kindy just before 11am and took her across to the school next door. We were taken from the school office to her classroom. It was break time so there were kids milling around everywhere. Her teacher Ms Griffin introduced herself and showed J were to put her coat. J then met all her class mates (there are only 13 in her class) who came up to say hello. Most of them she already knew as they had been to her Kindy. J was led away by a nice girl called Holly and taken to do some drawing at a desk. From this point on it was clear I was no longer needed. So I tried very hard not to show that this was somewhat upsetting and took my remaining baby to have a hot chocolate and a fluffy in the local cafe.

When we returned an hour later the first thing J said was "can I not stay the whole day Mummy!". I am now obviously completely redundant!

This afternoon we went shopping to get a new school bag and lunch box.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Royal Beach and Barbecue

The sun came out this weekend and so we headed off to the beach at Queen Elizabeth Park.

"Kids in paradise" is how the man we met on our walk described this photo - I tend to agree.

Rolling down hills is always great fun!

I have decided that I am slowly turning into my parents as we have started to tour DIY stores on a Sunday. This weekend we came back with a barbecue. Despite the fact that spring has barely started it appears that we are not the only lunatics buying barbecues at this time of year. There were loads of other people loading them into the back of their cars.

My husband got lots of help and guidance putting it all together.

Unfortunately having taken a few hours to put the thing together, the sun had gone behind the clouds by the time it came to cook. However the sausages tasted great even though we ate them indoors. Hopefully this was just the first of many barbecues this year!