Here I Go Again….

Hello again.

As I sit here tonight with my fire going, I can’t help but think ahead to September 14…when I once again hit the skies…this time heading towards a new adventure…Africa.

As you’ll know, I came back from the USA, a sad and slightly damaged un/adventurous kiwi. I’d had my American experience and while I learnt so much from it…ultimately, it didn’t end as I thought it would. BUT as the old saying goes ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you strong’…and strong I am.

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Off to explore the wilds of deepest darkest Africa!

I have a wonderful new man in my life and we’re determined to have adventures and make the most of every minute of our time on this wonderful planet. So on Sept 14, I’ll board a plane bound for Sydney, then Africa. We’ll spend 3 weeks in Botswana in game reserves, seeing animals and experiencing adventures that are totally beyond my comprehension. I was asked by my lovely Hennie how I felt about sleeping on top of our 4 wheel drive…I asked why that was important…’well’, he said, ‘otherwise you’ll be ripped apart by hyenas’…sleeping on top of the 4 wheel drive suddenly sounds good to me!

Then we’ll have a week in South Africa, land of my ancestors, the Van Blerks and Van M/Niekerks (forgive my spelling). It’s almost like going home.

I’d love to share my new adventures with you. Right now, I’m trying to decide whether the typhoid and hep A injections were really worth while…stay tuned!

Viva Las Vegas and An Adventure Ends.

I guess all adventures have to end.

I find myself back in New Zealand, back in Greytown, back in my wee house I bought and moved in to week before I moved to America. Did I anticipate this turn of events? Not even remotely. Am I happy? Well that depends on the moment and mostly…well to be honest…no. Would I change a thing? Only the end bit. Do I feel like the adventuring is over? Not even remotely.

I loved my few days in Vegas. It was freezing cold…then warm…and it was sunny. I stayed in a hotel/casino…didn’t even gamble once, somehow it didn’t seem exciting. I saw the Hoover Dam, jumped off a perfectly stable tower, watched Celine Dion in concert and was blown away with Jeresey Boys…I’m still hummimg the Frankie Valli songs.

Outside Paris, after Jeresy Boys.

Outside Paris, after Jeresy Boys.

The Bellagio by day.

The Bellagio by day.

Inside 'The Venetian'.

Inside ‘The Venetian’.

The fountains outside Te Bellagio..at night.

The fountains outside Te Bellagio..at night.

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

Bypass Bridge at Hoover Dam

Bypass Bridge at Hoover Dam

Stratosphere Tower...I jumped off it...it was fun!

Stratosphere Tower…I jumped off it…it was fun!

I’m not sure how to explain the past week, to me it’s inexplicable. BUT so many people have told me I’m strong and I guess ultimately I am, even though I perhaps didn’t know I was. Who knows what the future will bring. So far, my few days back in G’town have shown me that I have wonderful friends who don’t mind me leaning on them for a short time…arohanui to you all.

What will the next adventure be? Well who knows, for a while I’m going to to enjoy my cats, clean the pool and unpack some boxes…then…stay tuned!

Thank you all for your comments and support. I’ll be back!

I’m leaving on a Jet Plane.

I love watching aeroplanes take off and land.

Hartsfield Jackson International Ariport...my local.

Hartsfield Jackson International Ariport…my local.

So you can understand why, when checking into my airport hotel today, I asked for a room overlooking the action. Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport is the world’s busiest. I always thought it was JFK or Heathrow, but no, our local it is.

I’m lying on my bed, with the curtains open, marvelling at the comings and goings and listening to the roar! There are 5 runways, so there are many comings…and goings…and roars! I imagine that by about 2am tomorrow morning, the novelty may’ve worn off, but for now, it sure beats back to back to back to back reruns of Criminal Minds.

I’m actually on my way to Las Vegas for 3 nights, but due to my 8.00am flight and the weather (the Significant Other is as I type, on his way to Toronto so unable to deliver me to the world’s busiest airport in the morning), it seemed more sensible to head over this way ahead of time. The plane watching is a bonus I hadn’t anticipated!

Vegas will be an interesting change of pace! And unfortunately, it will also be a lot colder. Yesterday it was 39 F (3.8 C), tomorrow, when I arrive, it’s set to really heat up and reach 49 F (9.4 C), today it’s a mere 37 F  (2.7 C). I sincerely hope I’ve packed enough thermals! Not that I intend to be out doors all that much, I have a couple of shows planned (maybe Jersey Boys and Celine Dion), I will probably venture into a casino or two, there’s a ton of shopping and my hotel, The Stratosphere has a 1,149 foot tall tower to which I have free access. So if all else fails, I will spend much time riding up and down the elevators to the top and back. Stay tuned for my LV adventures.

I say it will be an interesting change of pace because to be honest, since returning from Florida, I’ve been very lazy.

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Other than a trip to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History to see the Genghis Kahn exhibit, various dinosaurs and an IMAX movie about Alaska, I’ve done very little that could be classed as exciting. I did have a rather short haircut (finding a new hairdresser and doctor are the SCARIEST aspects about moving!) and I’ve bought some new clothes, but those of you who know me well will remember that shopping malls and I do not go well together!

We’ve been to a few live music gigs; open mikes so David could bang away on his cajon drum, and to see our favs, the Jacob Jeffries Band (New York based) who somehow manage to be wherever we are on a semi regular basis…fortunately for us. We discovered Steve’s Live Music, a small live music venue really close to where we live and open every night with a different theme, so I’m feeling rather musically spoilt. Last night’s treat was JJB at Grocery on Main, an old grocery store turned into a small, semi-private gig venue, with a surprise visit from a guy named Rex Hussman who amongst other things, plays a gyil – a sort of Ghanaian marimba…amazing! I wish, I wish, I wish I’d practised my piano and guitar when I was a kid!

Well, it appears that the nearest runway has become the landing spot of choice, so I’m off to indulge in a spot of Planespotting. Vegas, here I almost come.

I’ve Got Florida on My Mind!

I love summer!

One big dread when coming to the US in October was that I’d be leaving our winter, to arrive to an Atlanta chilly season. As readers of my past posts will know, Atlanta was kind to me for the first few weeks, in fact I was even able to work on my tan.

When Florida was mentioned as a possible holiday destination (I was opting for the Bahamas or perhaps a spot of sunbaking on a beach in the Virgin Islands…or maybe Brazil), I was intrigued, but not ecstatic I must admit, but Florida it was and Florida truly ‘came to the party!’. Sun, beaches, warmth, palm trees, food and alligators – what more could a girl ask for?

We left on the Friday before Christmas with a plan to travel south, then west…then up towards the Florida Panhandle, which as it happens, skirts the Gulf of Mexico kind of at the bottom of Georgia and Alabama. Wouldn’t you know it though, just as we left a mega cold front swept in and nasties such as tornadoes, thunder storms, freezing temperatures and general yuck-ness were forecast for the Panhandle area over Christmas and beyond…a quick rethink took place!

Florida Map

So, we mostly stayed on the east coast and first spent a night in Saint Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied European-established city/port in the continental USA  We explored a bit the next day, but it was really cold, with a real ‘Wellington southerly’ blowing through, so off exploring further south we went. Our drive took us through Daytona Beach…VERY commercialised with huge condos and hotels lining the beach, down through Cape Canaveral, with a quick stop off at the JFK Space Center. Unfortunately this rather grand establishment wanted $50 each to go in, so I took some photos of the rockets outside and we continued on.

You know what it’s like…when you’re just driving, there are eating and sleeping places lining the road…and when you want to eat and sleep, there’s nothing around. Well we drove and drove, through places that advertised themselves as ‘wonderful beaches’ (but in actual fact were again lined with condos and the beach was pretty much inaccessible unless you paid $300+ a night to stay at a hotel), through Cocoa Beach and Melbourne…nothing. Finally, when darkness had fallen, stomachs were grumbling (and perhaps so was I) we made it to Vero Beach and found a cheap, comfortable Howard Johnsons…and a fantastic diner called Toojays where I tackled possibly the biggest meal I’ve ever seen and failed.

To cut a longish story short, we ended up at Pembroke Pines, just out of Miami, meeting relatives and spending a significant amount of time lying around on beaches with a quarter of the population of Canada and the northern states of the USA. The locals call them Snowbirds…anyone from the frozen north of the USA and Canada, who heads south like the birds for winter, to enjoy the beaches and thaw out…temperatures were generally up in the high 70’s early 80’s F – mid to high 20’s C.

Christmas Day was quite different for me, but truly awesome. We headed for Fort Lauderdale Beach, which was crowded but fun. One thing I’ve noticed here is the lack of public toilets in public places (and no hooks to hang your bag behind the door when you do find one!)! Perhaps that’s my road to vast wealth…writing a book on the public conveniences in the USA! So… once located, you park your sun chair on the beach as close as possible and hope against hope that it’s not closed for cleaning just when you need it! (a long story but I’m sure you get the drift).

We then headed to Market 17 restaurant for a very early 4.15 Christmas Dinner, because we’d booked to see Les Miserable at 7pm, back in Pembroke Pines – a 45 minute drive away. The whole meal experience was fantastic and sure beat cooking it all myself! We made it to the movie with less than 10 minutes to spare, to find the theatre FULL to bursting and locating 2 seats together was a challenge, so we had an ‘up close and personal’ viewing from row 2. GREAT movie, loved it and can’t wait to see it again.

The beach and a movie on Chrissie Day? I hear you thinking. It certainly seems to be the thing to do down in sunny Florida…both were packed! AND it was warm!

After a bit more lazing around on various beaches, catching Jacob Jeffries Band, our favourite musos playing at the Funky Buddha in Boca Raton and kayaking in Key Largo, we decided to try for the west again. The weather had settled and the crowds on the east made it hard to find reasonably priced accommodation anywhere near the beach.

I know other people’s holiday stories and ‘must see’ snaps can be a little tedious so here’re the highlights of our West Florida adventure:

  • Crossing Florida via the Everglades Parkway (Interstate 75) aka Alligator Alley and seeing real alligators by the side of the road (albeit behind keep the alligators in/keep the humans out fences).
  • An airboat ride through the Everglades…bucket list tick for me.
  • Window shopping at houses in Naples that cost $17 000 per month to rent over ‘the season’.
  • Lying around on Siesta Key Beach, Sarasota…voted ‘the best beach in the USA’…for good reason. Amazing quartz sand…somewhat like lying on icing sugar!
  • New Year’s Eve in downtown Sarasota – watching the midnight ‘pineapple drop’ with 30 000 of our closest friends.
  • Sarasota itself…a beach town that hasn’t been taken over with hotels and condos.
  • Amazing loooongggg bridges.
  • Being warm…temps in the high 70’s F ( 25ish+ C)
  • Did I mention being warm?

So after driving 2 000 miles (3218 kms), seeing some amazing things, meeting awesome people and staying in some ‘interesting’ establishments, it’s back to reality. We headed to Atlanta yesterday where warm is produced by our aircon on heat, rather than cool. It’s nice being able to do laundry (ahhh the simple pleasures) and open my wardrobe rather than my suitcase to choose something to wear. I look outside and see my favourite carpark rather than white sand and can’t help hoping that the lottery ticket I bought in a gas station out in the middle of nowhere yesterday was the winner!

Happy New Year! And may the sun keep shining in your part of the world. Arohanui.

Oh Christmas Tree….

Sometimes I forget I’m in America!

True! The other night I was sitting on the sofa watching something on tv and whammo, it suddenly struck me – ‘hey, I’m in America’! Just living everyday life (albeit a life of permanent ‘holiday’ at the moment), I could be anywhere, in any big city. Gosh, if it wasn’t for the:

Instant chocolate chip cookies.

Instant chocolate chip cookies.

  • Wall-to-wall shopping malls.
  • American accents.
  • Hearing Spanish (not too much Spanish spoken in NZ).
  • Driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
  • Having to look left, right, left instead of right, left, right before I cross the road.
  • Advertising billboards that are bigger than a small house.
  • Cookie dough in a tube.
  • Tipping and ‘plus tax’ and…

…twelve lane highways, I could be back in Greytown.

Me and Gandalf...new BFF.

Me and Gandalf…new BFF.

There are things I don’t so much like about the USA (tipping…I REALLY don’t like tipping), there are things I don’t so much like about New Zealand (the roads really are bad), but I truly try to treat each day as an adventure. It’s easy to criticise and compare, but to my way of thinking, if I don’t like, I should go home. And I do actually like it here. People talk to me, they’re polite, they’re interested in New Zealand and I suspect that once The Hobbit has been widely viewed, that will be even more prevalent.

Speaking of The Hobbit (do you like the way I brilliantly changed tack), we went to a preview last Thursday…a 6.30pm 3D screening, just before the midnight opening here in the USA. I LOVED it, and I was so proud to be a New Zealander, I felt like I owned the movie. The scenery was stunning, I wish I could say I’ve been to all those places. I wanted to stand up and shout…’I live there and it IS that beautiful!’

My one Christmas card and pressies for our housekeepers, under the lamp :-)

My one Christmas card and pressies for our housekeepers, under the lamp :-)

So…I have lots of firsts and things in general to tick off on this USA adventure, and now my first American Christmas is almost upon me. It’s different I must admit. I don’t have a tree yet (I do have 3 rather lonely decorations), I won’t have family around on the day, and we’ll be travelling, so I won’t be doing my Christmas cooking. In some ways, that makes me a little sad, but in other ways, it’s just another adventure. It helps me to realise that Christmas is not about things, it’s about people, it’s about whanau and friends.

So, what will you being doing this Christmas?

On a completely different note, I can’t, I truly can’t post this blog without an acknowledgement of the horror that was visited upon a Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday USA time. As a teacher, my heart breaks, as a parent, my heart breaks. At Kahutara School we practised LOCK DOWN and our scenarios consisted of bulls in the field or perhaps another ‘agricultural’ event. Here now in the USA, there is talk of arming teachers/principals and locking students in. As Christmas looms, I ask you to hug your kids, and tell them you love them.

Arohanui from 12210.67 kms away.

Of Christmas, Cookies and the Circus.

I’m actually really and truly proud to be a Kiwi.

A random 'silly' sign.

A random ‘silly’ sign.

Last week, I was in a store downstairs from where I live. It’s called Ten Thousand Villages and it’s a bit like our Trade Aid stores. They’re closing down, so have a 25% off sale and I thought it might be a great time to buy some Christmas decorations…oh and some of the jewellery I’d been admiring for some time. An elderly fellow shopper was looking at what I thought were paua pendants…and I asked the assistant what it was…she replied ‘abalone’. I mentioned we call it paua and the customer literally squawked at me ‘are you from New Zealand?’ Surprised (as loads of people here have no idea either about NZ or where it is), I smiled ‘yes’. She then waxed lyrical for around ten minutes about what a fantastic, friendly and beautiful place we call our own. She and two friends had visited ten years ago and had even considered returning to live, (however they realised that getting a job in Godzone would be as difficult as me finding a job here – though the real kicker was the distance back to US based whanau),

I stopped by another shop right next door to TTV; Ali’s Cookies on Friday, to buy a couple of cookies for dessert (more about THAT later), and was asked by the shop assistant which part of South Africa I come from! I explained that indeed I was a NZer, and she too regaled me with her four day adventure in NZ (both islands in 4 days…epic!).

And then last night, in training for our ‘The Hobbit’ adventure on Thursday, I decided I should probably watch the Lord of the Rings movies, since I only ever watched ‘The Fellowship of the Rings’, thought it was boring and possibly went to sleep mid-way through. Surprisingly to me, I truly couldn’t stop watching, and if it hadn’t been 2.30am when ‘The Two Towers’ finished (and my concern over the volume during the fight scenes annoying our upstairs neighbours), I probably would’ve done the marathon and watched ‘The Return of the King’ as well. The scenery is stunning, mind-blowing and I can’t wait to ‘show-off’ my country at the event on Thursday (David’s work Christmas/customer function is a sneak peak the day before the official US opening on Friday). Looking at Making New Zealand Middle Earth from http://www.stuff.co.nz, made me even more excited – looks like the best (scenery) is yet to come. (Also exciting because Carly’s partner is a stunt man in The Hobbit, so I will be enthusiastically scanning the credits for a glimpse of Winham ‘Mu’ Hammond’s name).

Of course, there are stunning things to see here in Atlanta too. On Thursday night, we visited the Atlanta Botanical Gardens for the Garden Lights, Holiday Nights display, and what a stunner it was! Over 1,000,000 lights set amongst gorgeous gardens – and of course, it’s actually dark by 6.00pm so they can be seen at a reasonable time (and being Atlanta, it wasn’t even cold).

The Christmas tree at Atlantic Station.

The Christmas tree at Atlantic Station.

Last week was a bit of a week of firsts…first ‘lights, first lunch out with an American friend – at a fantastic cafe called Inc Street Food in Roswell (no not the Roswell of ‘Roswell’ ‘Area 51′ fame) and first ever Cirque du Soleil show. And WHAT a show it was! We saw Totem- there’s a preview of the show at this site. We arrived early so took in the Christmas decos at Atlantic Station first and then wandered over to the ‘big top’.

We were two rows from the front; I thought I’d booked fantastic seats and they were, except for the very tall man sitting right in front of me, which saw me bobbing from side to side, to see anything that happened at stage level – I did feel rather sorry for the person behind me! The show was beautifully choreographed, the music was fantastic and the costumes were divine. I am truly amazed at what the human body can achieve! If you EVER get a chance to see one of the Cirque shows, do what you must – sell a kidney, trade in your car, auction off the family jewels – but go!

This was followed by a trip to one of my favourite parts of Atlanta, the Buford Highway (home of the Buford Farmer’s Market). Described by Wikipedia as a linear community made up of multi-ethnic suburban neighborhoods and shopping centers, most importantly for me, it has awesome, cheap Asian restaurants – the choice for the night was Cho Sun Ok Korean cafe…yum! Side dishes of kim chi, pickled this and that, fermented good knows what and radishes galore…and a  delicious beef and leek dish…a perfect end to a wonderful evening.

A bag of yumness! Snickerdoodle.

A bag of yumness! Snickerdoodles.

And food continues to be a theme – it’s Hanukkah and I decided to try and make something traditional on Sunday for David (oh well…and me too!). Potato latkes were suggested, so potato latkes it was. I’d also experienced my first ever heavenly snickerdoodle (recipe here thanks to Nancy – use butter instead of shortening) when I dropped into Ali’s Cookies and was determined to attempt those as well. Huge sigh of relief, both turned out brilliantly – cookies thanks to a second hand mixer we bought off a downstairs neighbour also on Sunday, for $10! We now have many snickerdoodles, no airtight container to store them in – so MUST eat them quickly to avoid spoiling!

And the firsts continue as we’ve just had my first Atlanta thunder storm/downpour…and I’d just been about to walk out the door to take a stroll to Party City, to buy elf ears for the movie on Thursday night (a poor substitute for Hobbit ears, but the best available I’m afraid). So what is a girl to do? I can feel a cup of tea and a snickerdoodle coming on!

If Music Be The Food of Love…Play On!

I love to sing!

As a child I had three quite different ideas about what I wanted to be when I grew up; bank robber, mermaid or the new ‘Suzanne Donaldson’ from ‘The Chicks‘. I’d lustily belt out ‘I Love You Timothy’ and try to emulate their groovy dance routines. Alas, my life took a different path – I worked in a bank rather than robbing one, decided sitting on a rock half naked wasn’t for me and never did quite make it as a pop legend.

I do however love music and other people’s singing. So I was rather looking forward to Saturday night, when we were invited to a ‘house concert’…so called because it’s a concert…in a house. David plays drums and enjoys banging his cajon (box drum) at open mike nights. In Philadelphia, he met Orion Freeman, they jammed together a few times, and now Orion was in Atlanta touring (he stayed with us on Wednesday night and we ‘open miked’ in Athens, about 90 minutes drive away, my job was selling his CDs!). I wasn’t at all sure what to expect – a room full of ‘hippies’, a serious bunch of music aficionados – who knew?

David, Jimmy and Orion.

David, Jimmy and Orion jamming.

What an amazing night…it was a veritable United Nations…Americans were in the minority. The concert was at Louis (from France) and William’s house in an older part of Midtown Atlanta. We arrived and were immediately met by a bunch of super friendly twenty and thirty somethings (lots of students and recent grads from nearby universities), with names and accents that came from France, Costa Rica, Moscow, India, Belarus, Spain and other parts of the globe. For once, I was not really a novelty, although New Zealand was still a popular topic of conversation. Of the 40 or so of us there, maybe 10 were American. David and I were…let’s say, the most mature of the crowd (by a couple of decades!).

Jacob Jeffries Band - I didn't want to surprise them by using the flash...sorry!

Jacob Jeffries Band – I didn’t want to surprise them by using the flash…sorry!

The incredibly talented Orion entertained with his own compositions for probably an hour and a half, David was invited to play along on several songs – then seemingly out of the blue, some young men arrived, quite late in the evening. To cut a long story short, they are a group called Jacob Jeffries Band – and what an amazingly talented band they are. Jimmy picked up a guitar and played along with Orion and David (remember he hadn’t heard these songs before as Orion’s are all originals), I could only watch with my mouth open in that sort of ‘ohmigosh’ wonder. The band then took over instruments that just happened to be at the house and entertained us for another hour or so…again originals – not a cover version to be heard. What a fantastic experience. If you get a chance, pop over to their websites and listen to some of their music, I really like JJB’s ‘Crazy Under the Moon’ and Orion’s ‘Where We’re Going’. (click where the names are pink and the technology will take you straight there!).

We’d arrived there after a late afternoon trip into the city to enjoy the rather balmy winter weather (it’s been 21 and 22 degrees C here this weekend). We explored Pemberton Park and the next-door Centennial Olympic Park, both of which were absolutely gorgeous, having been decorated for Christmas. There were so many people out and about (there was also a huge NFL game on pretty much next door), enjoying the unusually high temperatures. The parks’ neighbours are the CNN Tower, The Atlanta Aquarium and the World of Coca Cola Museum, plus a bunch of huge skyscrapers, so they’re truly havens in the middle of the city – each a real ‘happy place’. Seeing children playing in the fountains, groups of young people dressed up for a ‘pop culture’ gathering and families strolling was great.

Remember if you click on one of the pics, it will bring them all up as a bigger slide show.

We didn’t get home until after 2am…yawn! Sunday was such a beautiful day though, we had to get out and explore some more of Atlanta. After a couple of false starts (green on the map doesn’t necessarily mean ‘park’), we headed back to another ‘happy place’, Piedmont Park. Each time I’ve been there, the weather has been different – and with the different weather type comes a different experience. Yesterday was still all about families, book readers, exercisers, people and their dogs – the dog walking parks within Piedmont are VERY popular, there were still runners, joggers and cyclists…and walkers galore. But yesterday the playing fields were FULL and I was so surprised to see rugby being played…and a lot of it! Touch and rugby in general are apparently very popular here, with the local Harlequins team being “The South’s Premier Women’s Rugby Team”. I did rather wonder about a tee-shirt I saw though, that said on the back ‘Become a chiropractor, Play rugby, Save the world’…wasn’t quite sure of the connection.

We finished off our Sunday with a movie, Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’…not bad, but somehow I don’t see it being a hit anywhere but the USA!

All-in-all, not a bad way to spend a ‘winter’ weekend!