Belated surprise

on December 30, 2010

There are some traditions that I really love. Christmas calenders for example. Year after year my mom keeps asking me "Surely you're too old for that stuff now, aren't you?" - But of course I'm not. For some things you never get too old.

So year after year I would hang up my very special Christmas calender that my mom had previously filled with all kinds of chocolate and sweets that she knew I liked. No matter if I lived anywhere near home, further away in Germany (I'd make her come and visit me before December to make sure my calender gets to me on time) or even overseas (like the US). My calender was always there.

Not so this year. My mom had earlier tried to send chocolate to New Zealand - the parcel took EIGHT WEEKS and by the time I received it the chocolate had gone all manky :-( And she didn't even ask about me wanting a calender this year. Some people suggested I just buy one for myself - but see, you just don't do that. You buy Christmas calenders for someone else. But you don't buy them for yourself. It's just wrong...

Christmas has been over for almost a week now. I did survive without a calender, of course. But imagine my surprise - and my pure joy - when I received a letter yesterday from my former neighbors in Leipzig which also included A CHRISTMAS CALENDER *woohoo* Sometimes it's amazing how much pleasure small gestures like this one can bring =D Thank you so much, lovely ex-neighbors!

Meet the family

on December 27, 2010

Christmas 2010 is officially over. I had a wonderful weekend though it never really felt like Christmas should feel like. At least when it comes to the atmosphere, the cold, the snow, ... you know what I mean.

But it surely felt like Christmas in the sense of spending time with loved ones, bringing each other joy and happiness. After all Christmas is the season of love. So what did I do? I started Christmas Day with a yummy sparkling-wine-and-salmon-breakfast with my host family. After that the kids finally got to open their presents. Gosh were they excited! So many wrapped parcels under the tree...

But you'll never guess which of their presents the kids actually liked best... Just look at this picture...

Pia and Philip got me a beautiful necklace that perfectly matched my outfit for the day...

Of course I also had something for them. Since they've been really awesome host parents I had wanted to say thank you in a special way - and decided on a piece of art. I'd taken a picture of a shell where I'd written something upon... put that on canvas... then with the help of my soccer friend and local artist Kathy Mortimer added some more personal touches to the picture. et voilà - here is the result :-)

The rest of the day it was not "Meet the parents" but "Meet the family". Since Daniel's parents and sister with family are in Australia there was "only" the less immediate relatives to meet. We started with his mom's side for lunch. How awkward... After being single for so many years I had completely forgotten what a terrifying feeling it can be to meet the family. But I think it didn't go too bad...

The afternoon was a bit easier because I already knew someone - Dan's cousin Ryan an his fiancé Amy whom I also play soccer with. The two of them had even got me a birthday present - as had Dan's grandpa. He gave me a piece of Kauri gum which might be about 1000 years old? He turns that into pieces of art like jewellery and such. I'll have to have a look at his collection and show you some pictures!

With our tummies full we finally came back to the farm for dinner at Paul's and Helen's place. It was "only" leftovers but HEAPS of them... Daniel fit in really well I'd say. Philip's brother Noel told me today that he thinks Dan's a really nice guy. Isn't that sweet :-)

Also managed to talk to my family back home on Skype for the first time since I left Germany! So far it's only been phone calls. Everyone seems to be doing fine back home and they are looking forward to coming over here next year. Yep, it's true - my mom and my brother are actually flying to New Zealand in March. I still can't believe it!

German Christmas Eve vs. Kiwi traditions

on December 24, 2010

Every country has its own traditions during holidays such as Christmas. In Germany Christmas Eve is the most important day of this festive season. We'd put up the Xmas tree in the morning and decorate it. When I was younger my mom would actually lock herself into the living room and not let anyone in until the job was done. I later adopted the same routine - I would lock her and my brother out until the tree looked exactly as I wanted it to be :-)

If we hadn't already done so the days before we'd bake some Xmas cookies - "Vanillekipferl" - and of course prepare the food for the same night and the following days.

Christmas Eve we'd always have potato salad and Wiener Würstchen (Vienna Sausages) at approx 6pm. We couldn't wait for dinner to be finished - because afterwards finally Santa would come and deliver our presents. Yes - in Germany (and many other European countries in fact) Santa already comes on Christmas Eve. And he doesn't slide down the chimney either. We get to see him in person =D As kids we always had to recite a poem, sing a song or do something like that in order to get our presents.

And guess what naughty kids get instead of presents: a sack of coals and a whip on their bottom with a brach of the Christmas tree. So you better be good =D

Today I had my first Christmas Eve in New Zealand. Normally in Germany by this time I'd be anxious and excited and full of Christmas Spirit. But I'm afraid Christmas in the summer time just doesn't feel like Christmas. More like a summer party - but then that's just what it is down here...

I spent my morning at the physiotherapist to work on my whiplash/concussion problems that I've had for a while now. Went to town after that to get my last presents sorted out, then back home to do some more cooking, clean the house and spend the afternoon with the kids, watching the puppies and relax a bit.

Then we headed over to the gliding club for a Christmas BBQ with family and friends. It was really nice. We had mussels *yummy* and steak of course, sausages AND POTATO SALAD (which I just had to make to not break with tradition entirely). Then there was cake and ice cream afterwards. So much food... and it's just the beginning...

I didn't open a present today. Not sure if I'm getting any *lol* But I got a nice card from Daniel and have another one to open tomorrow... Only one more hour til Christmas Day *woohoo*

Playdough Adventures

on December 23, 2010

The last few days the weather has been rather awful in the mornings so I thought about some fun stuff for the kids to do. We all kinda got tired of playing "The Amazing Moa/Mammoth Hunt", "Monopoly" or "Muumin Lotto" all the time. So today I made my first ever playdough with a recipe that Pia always uses.

It's rather easy - just mix up the following ingredients:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
2 tbs oil
2 tbs cream of tatar

Cook it in a pot on medium heat and stir around until it's stiff. Let it cool down, knead until the dough has the right consistency and add some food color. Ready to play =D

Just make sure you use gloves while adding the color otherwise your hands will end up like mine...

There are more playdough pictures on Facebook...

Tub, Spotty-Wotty, Rascal & Co.

on December 21, 2010

Our puppies are now a little more than four weeks old and getting bigger every day. After moving them into the garage where they have more space we started letting them out a few days ago. And they are LOVING it!!! They're very adventurous and exploring their surroundings. But we have to watch out - they now have teeth and are using them whenever possible. Toes, ankles and anything else they find will be licked and then chewed on...

Oh - and we started feeding them too because Tip's milk is just not going to be enough anymore. Look how they are enjoying that...

You'll find heaps more puppy pictures on Facebook...

Name and address, please...

on December 16, 2010

What happens when two foreigners join two Kiwis for a pub quiz night where most of the questions are New Zealand based? Right - they lose... Tonight's quiz night was far from successful, but at least Johanna and I actually got a few answers right AND our team scored 9/10 in the geography round. WOOHOO!

Had another first tonight, too: On the way out of town I actually got stopped during a routine police control and had to give my name and adress for the alcohol test. That was exciting =D I did pass by the way...

And I'm slowly getting into the Xmas mood. Started some baking yesterday after my mom gave me her recipe for traditional German Vanillekipferl. They turned out so yummy I had to make heaps more today. Since Eliza is already on holiday she helped me make them and did such an amazing job!!! Here's the proof...

And here is the recipe for Vanillekipferl - try it, it's soooo yummy!!!

400g butter
560g flour (it works perfectly with gluten-free flour mixes, just use approx. one teaspoon of Xantham gum for every 100g of flour)
120g sugar
200g ground almonds
120g vanilla sugar (4 packages in Germany)

* knead the dough until all the ingredients are combined
* roll out little mountain-shaped Kipferl as shown in the picture below
* bake for 15 to 20mins in the oven at 180°C until golden yellow
* let Kipferl cool down, then roll in a mix of icing and vanilla sugar
* enjoy :-)

Oh Du Fröhliche...

on December 14, 2010

There is a saying in German called "Die Vorweihnachtszeit ist die schönste Zeit" which basically means that the time right before Xmas is the best of all. Well true - somehow. It gives you enough time to get yourself in the right mood for Christmas, think about the year that's about to be over and make wishes for the one to come.

However, the pre-Xmas-season is also one - if not THE - busiest time of the year. How on earth could I ever think things are slowing down now? They are not - actually the opposite is the case. That's one of the reasons why I've been slacking a little with my writing lately.

Another reason is - life *lol* Or kind of like a friend of mine said today. "Rather fill your life with wonderful experiences than just writing about them." So I'll just tell you briefly what's been going on around here lately. The kids had swimming lessons the last two weeks. Funnily breast stroke is not the first style they learn.

I also went to another pub quiz night and guess what - no, we didn't win again. But we came third *heehee* got us a 10-dollar-voucher for dessert next time. Which will be this Thursday. After that - as basically all the activities I've been doing in the past few weeks and months - there's no more quiz nights until whenever. Soccer finished last week too, we lost again ;-/ I didn't play...

That reminds me of another reason why I haven't been writing much lately. I had to go the doctor's again last week after spending yet another two days in bed. My personal goal - seeing less doctor's over here - hasn't worked out so far as I've needed medical aid five times in the last five months. That's actually worse than in Germany!!!

But at least this time I actually have reasons to go. What happened this time? I woke up last Tuesday and my whole world was spinning. No matter if my eyes were open or closed. I felt like having emptied three bottles of whiskey - only there had been no alcohol involved at all. Yet that condition lasted for several hours and only slightly got better. I couldn't get up without getting really dizzy and queasy and sick. When walking I was staggering along having to hold on to the walls for balance. My neck really hurt too and felt sore and stiff.

The diagnosis: concussion and whiplash (for the Germans: Gehirnerschütterung und Schleudertrauma). And all from a soccer injury that is almost 1.5 months ago ;-/ Now I'm swallowing a couple of different pills and get physiotherapy hoping it'll soon be better. I still feel dizzy most of the day but at least I can walk normal again. Just feel constantly slighty drunk - only without the fun of consuming any alcohol... doctor said it could take up to a couple of months for all the symptoms to disappear. Hallelujah ;-/ But I guess I can be happy nothing worse happened!

Well, it's getting late and I should head off to bed. Just a few more short things before I go. We decorated our Xmas tree last weekend and the kids asked me to put the star on the top. That was sooooo sweet :-) Also Eliza had prize-giving at school last night and she won a cup!!! She's the best artist in her entire class *proud* She also got a very good end-of-year-report and will be in year 3 next year *woohoo*

Will be going to Rotorua next weekend with a few friends who are doing part or full triathlons. I'm just watching just so you know *lol* Will stop at the mud pools there and probably go to Lake Taupo on the way back. So next week I might have some more adventures AND pictures for you. Still have to upload a few from last week. Will let you know once they're published...

News on the puppies...

on December 06, 2010

Tipi's puppies are now 14 days old and they have grown sooo much! Some of them started to open their eyes so I thought it's about time I took some more pictures. They are so cute and cuddly and adorable and I can't wait for them to start crawling around and be old enough to play with.

This is just one snapshot...

You'll find heaps more on Facebook.

Bon Jovi live in concert!!!

Went back to Auckland this weekend to see Bon Jovi live in concert *woohoo* The tickets were only 100 NZ dollars (approx. 50 Euros) so I didn't have to think about it much. And what shall I say - IT WAS WORTH IT EVERY SINGLE CENT!!!!!

Of course the concert at Vector Arena was completely sold out. And thanks to YouTube I can give you an idea of what it was like... The video was taken from near where I was sitting so you see what I see. Here is Bon Jovi's final song of the concert - Living on a prayer...

Considering that Jon Bon Jovi is getting close to 50 (less than 2 years to go!!!) it was AMAZING how he rocked the stage. Looking at his face you can tell he gets older - but man that guy still has the moves and the groves and he can jump and shake and wiggle... I really enjoyed the show and he did all his great songs like Bed of Roses, Runaway, Shot through the Heart, Keep the Faith, It's my Life, We weren't born to follow and many, many more. I've never considered myself a big fan, but I sure do love the music and don't regret going to the conert at all.

By the way... would you have thought that the first time Bon Jovie ever played in New Zealand was already in 1987?!?!?!?

Christmas in Kiwiland

on December 05, 2010

Usually when I think of Christmas I have pictures in my mind of building snowmen, having snowball fights, Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets) with Glühwein (mulled wine) and Feuerzangenbowle (basically flaming spiced rum), woolen hats and scarves and gloves and the permanent wish to snuggle up in front of a fire to escape the cold. When I think of Christmas I certainly don't associate that with beach, sunblock and BBQs.

Yet that is exactly what the Christmas Party I've been invited to on Saturday was all about. We played cricket at the beach, went for a swim, later had a BBQ with sausages, steak, salads and lots of sweets. it was FANTASTIC!!!!!

We also did a secret Santa. Everybody was supposed to bring a present worth 5 to 10 NZ dollars. Since there were mostly girls on the list of attendees I got the following...

Too bad there was actually one little girl participating. She must have been two or three, not more than that. And guess who got my secret santa present ;-) That was SOOO hilarious! She actually got to keep it - only they filled it up with juice instead of whiskey *lol*

I got a few little things in my present - among it a little teddy bear which found just the right new owner. Since my last stuffed animal is still somewhere between Germany and New Zealand I was really happy to receive this one. I didn't think I'd miss Wuschel that much... but how did a friend at the party put it? "It's nice to have something familiar in a strange bed." How true...

Anyway... even though Pia has put most of the Christmas decoration up and the kids request Christmas songs almost every single day it still doesn't feel like Christmas. And it's less than three weeks away... At least I've bought most of my Christmas presents AND I'm planning on making some Vanillegipferl - typical German Christmas cookies. Just waiting for my mom to send over the recipe as her's are the best =D

By the way... did you know that New Zealand has its own version of Jingle Bells? The chorus goes like this...

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way
Christmas in New Zealand on a sunny summer's day, ah!
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to have a Kiwi holiday!

I love my kids!

on November 25, 2010

Pia and Philip are in Auckland tonight for the U2 concert so for the first time I'm all alone with Lukas and Eliza over night. I wasn't afraid of it but I surely didn't expect it to got that smooth =D I had a soccer game in the afternoon so Louise took the kids along with a kilo of chicken nuggets, a pot of pasta and some cinnamon cookies I had made earlier.

2.5 hours later I picked them up (we've won the soccer game 9:3 - we absolutely trashed them *heehee*). They were just finishing Toy Story 3 and were already in their pyjamas. Took them home, they brushed their teeth and hopped into bed. We read one chapter of their current bedtime story and got some reading time on their own afterwards.

I was going to check on Tipi and her puppies in the meantime, feed her and let her out for a little walk.

Ten minutes later I come back inside to turn off the light and send the kids to bed. And what do I find? The light is turned off and both kids are fast asleep. It was not even 8.30pm.

Lukas and Eliza, you are absolutely adorable *kiss*

I'm planning my future

on November 23, 2010

It's been a little quiet around here lately. That is not because nothing has happened. On the contrary. Life has been full of events, everyday adventures and problems. But I didn't consider most of the things extraordinary enough to be mentioned. Who cares whether we've lost at soccer or won a pub quiz, whether I've been drunk and sick as at a friend's place or am going for a swim in the Pacific almost every weekend.

My mind has been preoccupied these last few days and weeks. If you're reading my blog regularly you already know I have fallen in love head over heels with this country. Sometimes when I'm at the beach or even just driving around I could not only jump for joy but almost cry or scream out loud because it so feels like coming home, having arrived. It's hard to explain this feeling inside.

The longer I am here the more I come to understand - as I have already done in the past - that Germany is not a happy place for me. I don't fit, I feel out of place there. I've always longed for something else, like my most favorite quote explains perfectly:

Every dreamer knows it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you've never been to. Perhaps even more homesick than for familiar ground.

Now that I'm in New Zealand I don't feel "homesick" anymore. I feel like I have finally come home. Sounds weird, doesn't it? Thinking that I've only been here for 4.5 months. Yet that is exactly the way I feel.

A friend of mine is just trying to extend her stay here and has applied for a work permit. But the conditions are very tough and I'm not sure whether she'll make it. I've put a lot of thought into that lately wondering if I can stay here, under what circumstances and what kind of life I'd want to live. And I've come to some interesting conclusions that might suprise, maybe even shock some of you.

Ever since I was ten years old I wanted to be a journalist. I've done heaps of internships, freelance work, got my university degree and worked a few years in what I always thought was not only my favorite profession, but a passion. Realizing - and accepting - that this might no longer be the case was tough.

Being an Au Pair and working with kids almost full-time has changed a lot of my perspectives. I am seriously considering a career change - and to become an Early Childhood Teacher here in New Zealand. The last few days and weeks I have spent researching online, talking to people, weighing my options, calculating, making phone calls... and I'm slowly seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Meaning there really might be a way to make this work.

Studying over here is very expensive - especially for foreigners who sometimes pay more than three times as much on fees as kiwis would. Getting permits - to study and/or work - is just as tough and requires lots of paperwork. I downloaded probably 40 pages of information brochures, application forms and whatever else today and am still fighting my way through it.

Luckily I have eight more months to work things out. But my decision is made. Let's see if I am meant to walk this path...

Kua whānau mai tōku kuri i ngā kuri pēpi i tēnei rā

on November 22, 2010

For all of you who are not familiar with the Māori language - that means: "My dog just had some puppies today". I know, Tipi isn't my dog - but we haven't learnt the word for "our" yet so this will have to do.

Anyway... YAY WE HAVE PUPPIES =D I think it's only a week ago that Lukas said Tipi is probably having babies soon. And that clever little boy was right. Yesterday just after noon Pia and Louise found our two year-old bordercollie with nine little baby doggies in the shed. Six girls and two boys. Can't wait to see them grow up. Their eyes are still closed and it will take up to two weeks for them to open them up and start crawling around. But they are already the cutest things ever!!!

It's like Old McDonald's right now with all the baby animals around...

You'll find more pictures on Facebook.

Why housework should be banned!

on November 09, 2010

Originally today's (second) post was supposed to be about baby animals. Because of those I had seen a lot today. First of all Louise (my host mom's sister in law) has bought a kitten on the weekend and Ozo is such a cute little thing =D I want a kitten, too *lol*

Today Noel (Louise's husband and my host dad's brother) has also brought home a little baby rabbit that almost got run over with the motorbike on the paddock. They'll try to keep it and hopefully it will survive...

Another baby animal that still isn't safe is Piepsi, a little chick that was found at a friend's place this morning. It's born too late, way after its siblings, and therefore probably too weak to survive among the other chicken. So now it's found a new home with Katrin and she'll try to coddle it up.

But anyway... the post was only MEANT to be written about baby animals. Instead I'd like to write about Guardian Angels today and why housework should be banned... I've always been a bit clumsy but lately there have been too many incidents that make me wonder whether my Guardian Angel is taking a vacation right now.

Just last week I bumped my head (and my butt) real hard while playing soccer. Could barely move my neck for a few days so stiff were the muscles from absorbing the fall.

And then today...? I was vacuuming the house and was almost finished when somehow I managed to drop one of our heaters right onto my foot. Oh I don't know if I have ever felt such pain... It was so bad I got all queasy and thought I had to throw up. Luckily Pia was already home. Don't know what I would have done with just the kids around. Though Lukas and Eliza were really sweet - fighting over who can bring me a glass of water, some pain relief... Lukas brought me a stuffed animal to squeeze and Eliza took my hand. They are soooo adorable!!!

Pia took me to the doctor so I could get an X-ray, see if it's broken. Lucky me it isn't =D It'll just be sore for a few days until the swelling goes away. So now I wonder whether my Guardian Angel is actually a really good one because I'm just too clumsy in general and he prevents me from getting seriuously hurt. Or whether he is taking a short vacation right now because all these things happen in the first place...

You've got mail!

Today one of Pia's friends came over for lunch and guess what she held in her hands... MY MOM'S PARCEL!!! The one I have been waiting for for almost a month now! I didn't think it would appear anymore and now it's here =D

Anne said she had it delivered to her mailbox yesterday. Now the funny thing is - Anne lives about half an hour away from here on a farm just as remote as ours. Her last name doesn't match Pia's, the roads don't sound similar... what on earth was that mailman or maillady thinking?!?!?

Anyway, it't here now - and I can finally have my yummy Uelzena cappuccino again =D

It's time to...

on November 08, 2010

YEAH!!!! I made it... Sometime last night (New Zealand Standard Time) my blog welcomed its 5000th visitor!!! Therefore I would like to thank all of you for following me, reading my posts and every once in a while even recommending it to others. That's the pure joy of writing a blog like this - to know that it's being read and appreciated =D

That is me sausage!!!

on November 07, 2010

Just got back from another great weekend exploring beautiful New Zealand. This time we (Gritje, Sophie and I) went to Kerikeri where Gritje's host mom's brother David lives who had "invited" us to a BBQ and let us stay at his place for the weekend.

Unfortunately I missed Sunday dinner with my host family because it had been rescheduled to Friday this time due to Guy Fawkes Day. Back in 1605 a group of "terrorists" tried to kill the British King with a bunch of gunpowder barrels. The plot failed and Guw Fawkes who was supposed to be its leader was executed. Since then every year on November 5th there are huge bonfires all over Britain (and obviously New Zealand as well) remembering that day when the King was saved.

I missed the fireworks with my host family because we were leaving for Kerikeri Friday Night. But we had our own bonfire (mostly lit with the help of diesel, diesel and more diesel) and David had supplied some fireworks which to German standards are rather weak I have to admit. But we had heaps of fun anyway roasting marshmellows over the diesel fire =D

We spent Saturday in Paihia, called "The Jewel of the Bay of Islands". There's heaps of stuff to do: kayaking, horse-riding, skydiving, walks, helicopter rides, ... Paihia is one of the first settlements in New Zealands and nearby you find historic Russell and Waitangi where the treaty was signed that led to the country's "birth".

We spent all day long at the beach looking for beautiful shells, going for a swim and doing some shopping. Life can be so wonderful down here. Makes you wonder how anyone would ever want to leave again! The same thought occured to me again today when David took us on a boat trip to Cape Brett and the "Hole in the Rocks".

The night before I had asked David how the chances to see some dolphins are in the area. His answer wasn't very satisfying: "They swim around, sometimes they are here, sometimes they are not." The happier I was when Gritje actually did spot some dolphins while we were cruising around! THEY WERE SO BEAUTIFUL! Quite huge, too. It was an unforgettable sight seeing those graceful animals floating through the water, playing with the waves. At times they were as close to the boat as maybe five meters!!! What a joy =D

Once they were gone we went to Urupukapuka Beach for a swim and do some kayaking. The water at first seemed quite cold but after a while it was actually a lot more comfortable being in the water than out with the wind blowing stronger and stronger.

The water was getting a bit rough, too, when we made our way back to the coast. David was enjoying himself on the wheel going quite fast so our bodys were shaking around with each wave. I wish I had a boat - I'd be out on the water every free minute! I so enjoy it and lucky me I was allowed to drive for a bit. Of course David turned the speed down before he handed over the wheel. Too bad ;-/

We also did some fishing today - or at least Sophie and I tried to. Unfortunately the only thing we caught were two unhappy seagulls that somehow managed to get tangled up with the hook ;-/ David and Gritje were trying to help them which wasn't easy because those poor fellows were fighting for their lives hacking and biting anything that came close. But in the end both were freed and I hope are by now happily munching on fish again...

By the way for all of you who understand a bit of German... We were thinking about a few German idioms this weekend and translated them into English word by word. I put my second favorite down as the headline for this post. Can't tell you my favorite as it's a bit naughty *heehee* FYK would be the abbreviation for those who want to know send me a message :-)

P.S.: I didn't take any pictures this weekend but Sophie did. You'll find them - as always - on Facebook by clicking here...

Back on the field

on November 04, 2010

Back in Germany I had promised my soccer coach I would try to find a team down here to keep in shape and don't forget how to play. Well - unfortunately soccer season in New Zealand only lasts during the winter months. There is, however, a less serious league where anyone can play during the summer months. And I have found myself a team *yeah*

A few weeks ago when I went to the prize-giving of Tikipunga Soccer Club - where I played the last two games of the season - I met one of the guys who plays for Tiki and he let me join his team "The Llamas". They lost the first game last week 3:4 - I wasn't there because I had been in Auckland *lol* This week I finally made it and was looking forward to kicking the ball again =D

The field we play on for this league is quite small and each half is only 20mins. Each team needs to have at least one woman on the field (or two?), there's five players each on the field all together. We didn't start too good and were soon one goal behind. BUT we were getting better and better. In the end the score was 7:3!!!!!!! We kicked ass =D

Even I could have scored - but I was too busy tripping over the ball when trying to shoot from what seemed to me a perfect position ;-/ Landed very hard on my butt and then on my head. Didn't know what hurt more... Still feeling a little dizzy.

And as if that isn't enough humiliation I ended up in a typical "stupid female"-situation after the game. I was sitting in the car wanting to go home - and that stupid key wouldn't turn to start the engine. I tried for about 10mins... nothing worked. Unfortunately my host family was about half an hour away - so what was I supposed to do? Of course - call a guy for help... One of the players came to my rescue - it turned out the wheel was locked, that's why the key wouldn't turn.

I feld SOOOOOOOOOOO stupid ;-/ Couldn't believe it - like in a really bad movie. What a day...

Getting to know your animals

on November 01, 2010

School in New Zealand is quite different from Germany. Not only do you start school the day you turn 5 years old - no matter if your birthday is in January, August or November... learning (from what I understand so far) also is a lot more individual.

When I started school in East Germany many many years ago (I was one of the few ones who started school at 6 rather than 7) we had our "Fibel" - the book that contained your letters and taught you how to read - we did our maths and biology, ... everybody learnt the same stuff at the same time. If you weren't fast enough you were just out of luck.

It's amazing to see Eliza who just turned 7 read book that have 20 pages or more, containing words like "gradually" or "hippopotamus". Lukas who will turn 5 in February knows how to write his name, can count at least to 20, often higher than that, and does easy maths (like 1 plus 1). Even Rachel who is only 2.5 can count. Was it like that when I was young? Can't remember...

Anyway... last weekend I experienced something else I've never come across at any school in Germany. Ag(ricultural) Day - or Calf Club Day. For weeks and weeks all the kids had to practice with a pet animal at home - either a calf, a lamb or a little goat. Learn about it - what it eats, how to feed it, how to clean it, when it was born, ... Lukas and Eliza spent a few afternoons leading their calves around, making the animals get used to them, brushing them, feeding them.

On Ag Day the whole school gets together. My family including Philip's brother Noel, his wife Louise and their kids Matthew, Ryan and Rachel plus two calves for neighbors' kids went here with seven calves!!! The kids all got a number to identify them for the jury and then everyone started preparing the animals.

Eventually all the kids gathered in groups to start the competition. They each had to lead their animal around a show course making circles, turns and stops to show they could handle their calf. A jury judged the performance and also tried to find out how well the children knew their "pet". Prizes were also given for good breeding.

Our kids did really well =D Matthew got third for Rearing and Eliza third for Leading. Even Ryan who attented Ag Day for the first time did a very good job. Here are the proud calf owners:

Matthew (7) and Sarah

Ryan (5) and Canada

Eliza (7) trying to convince Crystal to accept her ribbon :-)

The cutest thing, however, was to watch our little ones Lukas and Rachel handle their animals. Pre-schoolers are usually not allowed on the show course but Lukas wanted to have a go anyway. So he took Mustikka (Finnish for Blueberry) for a walk in front of everybody. Unfortunately Mustikka is more than stubborn and was dragging Lukas along the course rather than being led. But Lukas was very brave - he didn't let go of the leash until the calf had dragged im around a corner and ran off ;-/ Still he - and all of us!!! - was very proud when in the end he got a special rosetta for giving it a try.

Lukas (4) and Mustikka

And how about little Rachel? She dragged chockie (? - short for chocolate) around the course being determined to be the boss. What a little rascal =D

Welcome to Auckland =D

on October 29, 2010

Usually I only have weekends off to go travelling or do whatever... Last week, however, I left the farm on Thursday already to head down do Auckland. I was going to see Leonard Cohen live in concert!!! For those of you who don't have a clue who he is - this is a small excerpt of his bio from the official Leonard-Cohen-Website:

For four decades, Leonard Cohen has been one of the most important and influential songwriters of our time, a figure whose body of work achieves greater depths of mystery and meaning as time goes on. His songs have set a virtually unmatched standard in their seriousness and range. [...] His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), announced him as an undeniable major talent. [...] Part of the reason why Cohen’s early work revealed such a high degree of achievement is that he was an accomplished literary figure before he ever began to record. His collections of poetry [...] and his novels [...] had already brought him considerable recognition. His dual careers in music and literature have continued feeding each other over the decades – his songs revealing a literary quality rare in the world of popular music, and his poetry and prose informed by a rich musicality.

To be honest, until about two years ago I had no idea who he was either. Then one day i heard that song in some series I watched. And it deeply touched me. I had to google it, find out who's voice can give you such goosegumps. The song I heard was called "In my secret life" and is still my favorite.

The concert was more than worth it! It lasted almost 4 hours and the range of songs Cohen provided was unbelievable. But I enjoyed every single one. His voice is unique and though that man is 76 years old he still knows how to entertain. I am glad I got to see him and will definitely get some of his CDs.

Being in Auckland of course I also played tourist and had a look at the city. With 1.4 million people more than a fourth of the whole population of New Zealand lives here. But the most impressive fact is that Auckland is built on 48 volcanoes. Not all of them are dead - just sleeping. From the top of those volcanic cones you get an amazing view over the city. This picture was taken from Mt. Eden:

I started getting to know Auckland by hopping on the Auckland Explorer, the typical double-decker tourist bus that takes you across the city and stops at all the major attractions. The commentary tells you some interesting bits and pieces and you get a small discount e.g. to the Auckland Museum and Kelly Tarlton.

The Auckland Museum is definitely worth a visit.

It has some interesting exhibitions about New Zealand's past, how the country has developed over hundreds and thousands of years, where its people come from, ... You can wander around a Marae, the traditional meeting house of the Maori and for an extra fee you can watch a cultural performance.

Another must expecially if you have children is Kelly Tarlton's Arctic Encounter and Underwater World. You not only learn a lot about NZ sealife. There is an actual Arctic Station where you can hop on a snow mobile ride and watch all sorts of penguins up close. Or why not watch the sharks and stingrays being fed? An interactive area makes this a great experience for little (and big) adventurers.

Aucklands most famous landmark is the Skytower. You can go up to the top for pictures (haven't that this time), do a 360 degree walk on the outer ring of the tower or bungee jump to the bottom. Which one would you prefer?

The city also has some very nice parks. I spent a few hours in Albert Park near the university buildings just reading a book and enjoying the sun. However, in the end Auckland is just another big city that offers party, adventure and sights on the one hand but on the other hand lacks the beauty of areas like the Northland with its green hills and mountaintops... It's nice to have been there and experience the flair of the city. But I am glad to be back on the farm where things a a lot more peaceful and quiet :-)

You'll find more pictures from Auckland on Facebook.

Homework? What is that?

on October 26, 2010

After a long weekend (yesterday was Labor Day) the kids were back to school and kindy today. Usually for Eliza she gets a bunch of homework on Monday that is due back at school on Friday so she has a few days to complete it. Plus there is a book or a short story to read and some spelling to practice every day. But there usually isn't any homework during the weekend. So I found this little conversation we had this morning just before we were about to leave quite funny...

Mara: "Eliza, do you have everything you need for school in your bag?"

Eliza: "Yes."

Pia: "Did you get your praisebook back over the weekend?" - A praisebook is like a Hausaufgabenbuch in Germany where teacher and parents comment once a week on the student's progress, behavior, ...

Eliza: "No, I didn't. But we got some homework."

Pia and I: "Homework? Over the weekend?"

Eliza (happily nodding): "Yes. Some reading and spelling words"

I: "Why didn't you tell us?"

Eliza: "Oh, I forgot."


on October 25, 2010

It's Labour Day Weekend and finally summer seems to have found New Zealand. I spent most of the time outside enjoying the sun and a clear blue sky. Saturday a friend took me out on his boat with a few buddies and we headed to Whangarei Heads. The guys went diving while the rest of us stretched lazily on deck, getting a tan and going for a swim in the still cold but refreshing water. I even got a go at the wheel AND I went fishing - for the very first time in my life. Even caught something!!!

My Friend was laughing and making fun of me saying what a shame to take a picture with this tiny little thing. He's probably right - but hey, who knows if I'll ever go fishing again let along catch something. So this might have been a once-in-a-lifetime-chance *heehee* Anyway... we released the poor little fellow back into the sea after he had posed so nicely for the camera.

The most impressive thing that day was - once again - the landscape.

I just can't get enough of this country no matter where I go. The sea is soooo clean and a clear blue you think you can almost see the bottom. There were hundreds of birds - seagulls and another native NZ bird I've forgotten the name of. And there were litttle penguins just floating on the water. It was so cute. And then the hills, majestic and covered with trees that have such an intense green color... I know this sounds cheesy but I could have cried so happy was I just being there. How could anyone ever want to leave this place!?!

For dinner we had scollops the guys had caught - had some raw ones on the boat, didn't know you could eat them like that but they were soooo yummy! Sunday I went to the beach with some girls and we just let our souls and bodies rest in the sun. The beach (Pataua South) was surrounded by a nice scenery but we didn't feel like going swimming there. Too many sharp shells all over the place, little crabs and seastars...

Turned out we weren't actually on the right beach ;-/ Took a wrong turn somewhere and missed the right spot by maybe 200 meters. What a shame!!! Will go back though cos the beach IS supposed to be a lovely one.

Thursday I'm going to Auckland for a Leonard Cohen concert =D I'll be staying at a girl's place that I've only met a few days ago. It's amazing this network of Au Pairs. Somehow we're all connected and someone always knows someone else that you know, too. Friday I met four Au Pairs from Auckland - I'd spoken to one of them on Facebook for a while. Now they were in the area and we had a greaeat night out in Whangarei. I bought another bag at the Night Markets and we had some yummy food at a place called "The Fat Camel". Looking forward to meeting the girls again in Auckland later this week =D

Happy Birthday, Eliza =D

on October 22, 2010

Today was a very special day - because a very special girl was celebrating her birthday. Eliza turned 7 and had invited heaps of kids. For lack of space (and to safe the house from being turned upside down) the party was relocated to the Whangarei Gliding Club which is just next door. Pia had bought lots of party food hoping to satisfy the needs and fill the tummies of 19 children (!!!). There were chicken nuggets, sausage rolls, marshmellows, chippies, lollies, ... and cupcakes which the kids could decorate themselves as a highlight.

It's unbelievable how much noise 19 kids can make *lol* But as long as there was food on the table they were happy as can be. I remember my birthday parties in the little tiny appartment where me, my mom and my brother were living in when I was young. Sometimes it was so hard to think of something to entertain everybody. We usually ended up playing blind man's bluff or hit the pot.

But here there is so much space and the kids can just run around and explore - as long as they are not touching hot wires or possum traps... no need to worry they might break something or get bored too easily. They all had heaps of fun and I think the cupcakes really were the highlight of the day for many of them :-)

Lukas wasn't too happy though because Eliza kept getting all those fantastic presents ;-( He still needs to wait 15 more weeks (we count in Sunday dinners because it's still hard for him to understand the concept of time) until he finally turns five, gets lots and lots of presents - and starts school!!! Yep, over here you start school at the age of 5.

So while in Germany being 7 years old usually means you're about to start school or have just recently done so depending on when you're born Eliza has already gone to school, learnt her ABC and numbers for two whole years! Amazing... And she's getting so much better at reading, can can count to 100 and above, does easy multiplication... it's neat to see her making progress in different areas :-)

I am not Bear Grylls

on October 15, 2010

There is a polular show over here on TV hosted by Bear Grylls, the youngest Briton who ever climbed Mount Everest when he was only 23. The TV show is about is numerous expeditions through the wilderness in any possible place on earth. He gives advice on how to behave, how to survive and does the most extreme stuff out there.

Well, I'm a city girl - and in no way fit for the wilderness at all. As I had once again to acknowledge when Pia und Philip took me and three other guests staying at the farm on a "hike" to the waterfall that's on one of the paddocks. I had no idea at all what I was getting myself into. I knew it was not going to be a relaxing walk through the grass - but neither had I expected to have to balance over slippery stones to cross a river, getting wet and muddy all the way up to my knees, almost crawling through the forest, climbing uphill...

Of course I was neither wearing appropriate footwear nor the right jacket oder clothes at all to go on an adventure like this. I was worried sick about my camera getting soaked that was dangling from my shoulder, my feet were aching from the sharp stones I kept stepping on. Most of the time I had no idea where to step next because I couldn't see the ground anymore.

Let's face it - I'm a wimp. At some point I was close to breaking down. I sent my boots flying along the river not giving a damn about anything anymore. I was ready to sit down where I was and wait for a helicopter to pick me up again. Sounds pretty lame, doesn't it? If it wasn't for Pia who stayed with me and gave me a hand every now and then I probably would have done just that.

But - in the end I made it. All the way to the waterfall. And looking back (at the time I was there I was too mad at the world to appreciate anything) it was definitely worth the "hike". Or what do you think?

Now that I know what I'm getting into I might actually do it again. But just maybe... Wanna see more pictures of the Falls and the farm? Follow this link to Facebook :-)

I won't miss you...

on October 14, 2010

Lukas is full of surprises and though he can be quite a troublemaker sometimes he's somehow the cutest four-year-old I've ever met. Lately he's been talking a lot about his last au pair Marie - also from Germany - and that he misses her. So I asked him today whether he'll miss me when I'm gone. His answer came straight away: NO!

*Humpf* was all I thought at first, but when I asked him why, I was really touched: I won't miss you Mara, because you're coming back. That's what the little boy said. For my birthday he's going to give me a biiiiiiiig present (because I told him if I don't like my present I'll leave early) - it's going to be a bike as big as the house all the way up to the sky. So that I can fly to Germany and then back to New Zealand whenever I wanted to. Also I wouldn't have to pay that much with that bike.

Oh, and while I'm in Germany I have to buy some soccer shoes for him and Eliza. In the right size of course - size 4 for Lukas and size 7 for Eliza. Because she'll be seven soon. And then I am to come back to New Zealand to give the shoes to him and his sister.

I don't know what else to say to this. I'm speechless =D


on October 09, 2010

Being a soccer fan and player myself I was so happy when Vicky asked me to join her on a trip to Auckland with her host family to see New Zealand's national team (called the ALL WHITES) play live at the stadium. The opponent was going to be Honduras and even though none of them are "big players" on an international level I thought it would be quite interesting to see just how teams in the southern hemisphere act on the field. And I was in for a few surprises.

First of all the stadium was rather small. Compared to German/European standards at least. 18.000 tickets were sold - I don't think the stadium would have fit more than 20.000 people anyway.

Second - there was barely any security! You could walk all the way down to the fence and in fact just open the gate and walk right onto the field. Well, I guess you weren't supposed to do that. But you could have, since the gate was not locked and were no more than ten security guards all along the fence.

We had really good seats and both of the teams were seated only a few meters away from us. The game itself was interesting - but frustrating, too. New Zealand had so many chances. They just couldn't bring the ball into the net. I was so reminded of my team back home (no offence girls, I know you're having a hard time right now).

They finally did score in the very last minute (second?) of the first half. Honduras managed to even out during the second half. For some reason both teams were allowed to substitute more than three times. I know it was a friendly game. But I did think certain rules applied anyway. Maybe not down here *lol*

New Zealand had the biggest chance to turn the game into a victory when they got a penalty kick - once again at the very last minute. But to the disbelief of all the 18.000 people THEY MESSED IT UP!

Yet it had been worth watching and the best thing happened after the game was over. Something that I don't think would ever be possible seems to be normal in New Zealand. For all the All White players came to the fence to shake hands with their fans, give autographs AND even have their pictures taken. Unbelievable! I got a few signatures, too. Even that of the president :-) What a nice souvenir!

There are a few more pictures of the game on Facebook.

Exploring the Northland - Just me, myself and I

on October 06, 2010

Last weekend I spontaneously decided to go on a trip. The last bigger one has been a while. Wasn't sure yet though where to go so I found some Couchsurfers in the Northland region, texted two of them and thought - if one is answering me on such short notice, this is where I'm going to. Took only an hour until Graham told me he'd host me. He lived on Karikari Peninsula about half an hour northeast of Kaitaia so I took my Lonely Planet and wrote myself a trip itinerary.

Since I spend the night at Gritje's place who lives close to Highway 14 that leads to Dargaville this is where I was starting at. My first stop was Baylys Beach on the West Coast.

According to the Lonely Planet it belongs to Ripiro Ocean Beach which stretches along the West Coast for as much as 100 kilometers. It's a nice spot, there were some people on horseback enjoying the sand and others on motorbikes. You can also drive along the beach in your car but should only do so if you have a 4WD. So I stayed at the edge where the road just ended and the sand was still hard and firm. It's said to be New Zealand's longest drivable beach and there are supposed to be many shipwrecks just off the coast.

Maybe half an hour north along Highway 12 are three freshwater lakes called Kai Iwi Lakes.

It didn't look as nice as the guidebooks said when I was there but then it's not summer yet. It might also have looked a little rough because there was a lot of construction work going on. A lot of the pine trees along the shore had been taken down probably because they were too old and about to fall down. Also for that reason the campsite at Lake Taharoa, the biggest of the three, is closed until further notice.

Leaving the lakes going further north I eventually entered Waipoua Forest. It houses some of the oldest and largest Kauri trees in New Zealand. The road winds through the forest for about 18 kilometers - most of the time you can't go faster than 30 or 40 kilometers an hour because it is so steep and windy that everything above that would throw you off the edge.

There are a lot of walks you can do in the forest and signs will lead you off the Highway to any of them. The shortest I did was to see Tane Mahuta - the Giant Kauri.

It might not look like it because the picture lacks another object to compare sizes... But this tree is more than 50 meters high and the trunk's girth more than 13 meters. Yet, the most impressive fact of Tane Mahuta (The Lord of the Forest): It is probably more than 2000 years old!!! That makes it the oldest Kauri tree in NZ.

This giant stands at the northern end of Waipoua Forest. Further south is a lookout and a carpark from where several other walks lead, such as the Four Sisters - four giant Kauri trees grown rogether at the bottom - or Te Matua Ngahere (The Father of the Forest), the widest living Kauri.

You can also stop at Trounson Kauri Park just half an hour inland from the Highway. There is an easy half-hour loop walk starting from the car park that leads you through the forest. I even saw a wetter there - one of New Zealand's ancient bugs. They are quite huge, look a bit like a long-legged spider with antlers... NASTY!!! Wouldn't want to come across those in the wild...

After tiring myself out with all those walks I kept going north to Hokianga Harbor. At Opononi I saw this huge sand island (or was it just the other side of the harbor?)...

Later I was told by my host family that you can do all kinds of fun stuff over there: sandboarding (which I've done in Australia and absolutely enjoyed!), hire a quad, ... So I will definitely go back there later on.

In Rawene, a cute little seaside town, I took the ferry over to Kohukohu which cost me 16 dollars but saved me lots of driving time and petrol. Via Highway 1 I made my way up north via Kaitaia to Karikari Peninsula. To some of you that might sound familiar - that's where those 60 and more whales stranded just a few weeks ago ;-(

Finally arrived at my couchsurfer's place who took me to a family BBQ. Turned out to be what we called a "United Nations Barbeque" cos there were so many nationalities present! Besides me there was another German couchsurfer and two German girls woofing, two Czech couchsurfers, lots of Maoris, one "true" Kiwi, one with Irish ancestors, one Samoan and a little boy who was half Australian. What a mix =D

Sunday started rather lazy as we all didn't get much sleep. Were eating and drinking and talking until sometime in the morning *lol* The boys were thinking about going to Cape Reinga or collect some mussels at a nearby beach. I was happy to join them no matter what - but they just couldn't make up their minds! And I'm still too much German to just sit around and "go with the flow". Besides I had to be back in Whangarei in the evening and didn't want to waste my time just hanging around doing nothing. So eventually I took off again on my own.

Stopping at a few beaches I made my way back home along the East Coast.

This beautiful beach is called Cable Bay and belongs to Doubtless Bay - a popular spot for boat trips, fishing, diving, dolphin sightings...

In Kerikeri I stopped at the town basin and visited Rewa's Village.

It's the replica of a Pre-European Maori Fishing Village that also houses the Discoverers Garden with lots of indigenous plants. There is a 5 dollar entrance fee which is alright I guess. You get to watch a 12 minute video first that tells you about the early English settlements in the region and the interactions between Pakeha (White people) and Maori.

My last stop before heading home and getting ready for our weekly Sunday dinner was Kawakawa. There's nothing really there as it's just another small town. However, they do have one thing that's worth visiting - a TOILET!!!

Art fans among you might have recognised the typical design. And yes, you are right. The public toilets in Kawakawa are made by Friedensreich (Friedrich) Hundertwasser! In 1997 the Austrian architect was asked to design and build those. Since he'd been working on projects in New Zealand before of course he didn't say no to this one either.

By the way - did you know Hundertwasser became a Kiwi (a New Zealand citizen) in 1986? He's also buried in New Zealand - somewhere near Kawakawa where he had purchased a farm. The toilets were one of his last projects to finish.

You'll find more pictures of my trip on Facebook.

YIKES! - When your cookie comes alive

on October 05, 2010

Last night I was enjoying some cookies - until I came to the last one in the plastic box. I'd already eaten half of it when for some reason I turned it around - JUST TO FIND A COCKROACH UNDERNEATH!!!

The cookie went flying across the room and it's a miracle no one woke up from my screams. Took me a couple minutes to leave the state of shock and disgust.

I'm going to send a letter to the company selling those cookies because I surely didn't pay for that extra portion of protein...

Every kid loves holidays =D

on September 28, 2010

Friday was the last day of school in Term 3. Lukas didn't have to go to kindy and instead joined us all at the local Marae (the traditional meeting house of the Maori) where we attend Eliza's and of term assembly. It was very interesting being at the Marae and watching a proper Powhiri (meeting). I could even understand a few words the local Maori people used in their Mihi (Speech) to welcome us.

The weekend was rather quiet. On Saturday I got to feed Gritje's little lamb which she called Shaun-David. Shaun is a famous TV character («Shaun the Sheep») and David her host mom's brother. Unfortunately little Shaun-David will only have a very short life as he'll be Christmas dinner in a few months :-(

We also checked out the new club in town – Malbas, formerly known as danger danger. Wasn't really enjoying myself which is mostly due to the DJ. He really sucked, played one bad song after the other and wouldn't even play songs the audience requested. What a loser! If it wasn't for the pool tables I wouldn't go there again but Gritje and I had a good time playing some balls – I won ALL games *heehee* Only lost when Vicky's boyfriend played against me and Gritje – I guess she just was bad luck that night *lol*

Vicky's boyfriend was here for the weekend. We picked him up from Auckland airport Thursday night. That was a drive... Four girls in a little tiny car driving at night after a long day of work... We got to Auckland around midnight but Hussam's plane was delayed. By the time we had picked him up and were ready to leave it was 1am!!! Tried to get some sleep on the way back but qith five of us squeezed in one little car there was not much space to sit comfortable. Was back at my room by 4am so I got a little more than host hours sleep that night *uff*

Now the kids and I are enjoying two weeks of school vacation. Yesterday we went with Denise and her five kids to the beach (Whananaki South) and enjoyed the sun. The weather is getting better and better and you can tell that summer is coming closer. We had maybe 24 degrees, lots of sunshine and blue sky. The water still was too cold for the kids to go in but they had heaps of fun building sand castles and messing around in the sand.

I also finally wore the dress that Jenny has sent me from the UK a few weeks ago. I absolutely LOVE it!!! What do you think?

Today we went to see the Kiwi House and Museum where they were hosting a Butterfly exhibition. Unfortunately the Kiwis tend to exaggerate because when I hear the word butterfly I think of live ones flying around that you can see and observe. But no – no live butterflies here... just a little tiny section in the back of the museum with two or three dead ones pinned to the wall and lots of stuff to read. Very interesting for children... Waste of time and money...

At least we really did see a Kiwi bird so that was worth it :-) Little fellow was right behind the glass window enjoying his food. But still I don't know why I would have to pay 10 dollars (5 Euros) as an adult and 5 dollars (2.50 Euros) as a child just for that.

There are lots of walks there and old houses but overall I would say if you have little children save your money and -

... go to the Town Basin instead =D That's where we spend the rest of the day. Kids had some fish and chips and afterwards just ran around the big playground having the time of their lives.

Tomorrow we're going to the pools but I don't know yet whether that's a normal swimming pool or hot pools like the one in Ngawha. But I'll find out :-)

You'll find more pictures of our holiday adventures on Facebook...