“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Goodbye Love

My Rottweiler, Fargo, who came with us from San Diego, CA, was beaten by the cancer growing in his liver and adrenal gland.  He was 12 years old, and was an excellent dog. I miss him terribly.
I had been asking myself when would be the time to euthanize him. No one could answer this or help with this question. Fargo's vet had told us some time ago that there was nothing that could be done for him. He was still eating, and able to conduct his day to day living, but his gut was just not functioning properly. That couldn't have been comfortable for him. He had been doing well for awhile, but seemed to decline fairly rapidly after we returned from Wellington in August.
We decided that we had to be strong for him, and decide what he could not- to end this mortal coil.  I am ultimately happy that I could release him. We were there with him, when he went, and it felt like a relief. That sounds bad, but it is not- he had peace and comfort at the end. 
I have Zeus and Ruby to keep watch over me.  Zeus is quite a collector. He brings all sorts of stuff onto the front porch to play with. This includes logs, plant pots, plants, watering cans, and other assorted detrius. He especially loves LOGs and rocks.  In the house, he likes to tear up stuffed toys, and after we stopped buying these, he moved on to pillows and his dog bed.
I found this amusing, but not so much when I had to pick up all the fluff.
I bought more fabric to make him a new bed, but I am fairly certain that this was a waste of money.  We'll see. I haven't made it yet.
What better to soothe the soul than a walk in the woods? Or bush, as we call it in NZ. To contemplate the giant Kauri, hear the falling and running water, to touch the fuzzy moss- very nice.  The poto is from Fairy Falls, a walk that's about 15 min from our house.
The Rugby World Cup is in New Zealand this year, and we're seeing lots of upgrades to Auckland.  One is the new Wynard Quarter, formerly known as the Tank Farm.  The highlight is the pedestrian bridge that draws up for passage of boats in/out of the marina.  The bridge goes from the Viaduct area, which is full of restaurants, to this newly developed area, with more restaurants.  I was amazed at the number of people there. This will likely drop off as the novelty wears off. 
Happily, it gives greater access to the seafood market, which is the freshest shop in the city. But is this good? I recently watched the doco, The End Of The Line, the premise of which is that if the world population doesn't stop supporting the work of large industrial fisheries that rape the ocean of inhabitants, we will all rue the day. I'm thinking, it's too late, we're all doomed. Enjoy it while you can, everyone!
So it's September now, and that means Spring is here.  I'm so OVER winter- sick and tired of wiping muddy dog paws, thank you very much.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What the hell happened in July/August 2011

July 2011 has been full of events. It featured the 5 year anniversary of my thyroidectomy, my birthday on the 17th, and the 43rd New Zealand International Film Festival.  The birthday overlapped with the NZIFF, so I saw a film that day and had dinner with my sweetie at Dine, Peter Gordon's swanky restaurant downtown.  I ordered the twice cooked free-range pork belly, and it was divine.  
I commemorated the thyroidectomy by having another (unrelated) surgery. This also was during NZIFF and prevented me from attending a few films I had tickets to. I also missed 4 days of work. I had seriously underestimated the recovery time, and 3 weeks later, it is still giving me some niggling pain. I had convinced myself that it would be no big deal- outpatient surgery, nothing serious. I was wrong, I felt really wrecked and  I hope I don't have to do that again. I did manage to see many films, despite this. I was a volunteer usher again this year, but only ushered a handful of films so that I wouldn't burn myself out. You can visit the NZIFF website link above to find out more information about the films if you want. The films I ushered were (category and comment in parenthesis):
  1. Animation Now (my favorite was a mash-up of artists called Guard Dog. Others were hard to watch)
  2. Supinfocom (also animation, some excellent work)
  3. My Reincarnation (Framing Reality. I liked this better than I thought I would. A documentary about an Italian born son of a Tibetan Buddhist master) 
  4. Pina (Framing Reality. A 3D contemporary dance film that worked really well as 3D. Beautiful.)
  5. The Last Circus (Incredibly Strange. Beautiful Spanish film about killer clowns. A death match on top of a giant cross. I would have paid to see this one)
The films I bought tickets to were:
  1. Cold Fish (Incredibly Strange. Japanese dark comedy horror. Took awhile to get going but was awesome- shocking and creepy!)
  2. The Innkeepers (in the Incredibly Strange category, but didn't fit definition IMO. A ghost story- really good, not cheesy.)
  3. Snowtown (New Directions, for new directors. Disappointed in this Aussie feature depicting the true crimes of serial killer, but too much unexplained.
  4. Sleeping Beauty (New Directions. So disappointed. So pointless, so, so, annoying that I sat in the horribly uncomfortable Sky City Theatre seat through the whole thing, expecting it to go somewhere. Another Aussie film)
  5. Hobo With A Shotgun (Incredibly Strange. Brilliant!! Technicolor mayhem and gore with a great story and spot on acting. Loved it. Check out the trailer in the link for a preview. Ha, I just watched it again- still funny.)
  6. The Future (New Directions. Miranda July's second feature. I loved her first: Me, You, and Everyone We Know, and this one was equally as endearing and thoughtful and funny, but more sad than the first.)
  7. Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (Inside Stories.  Fun and interesting)
  8. Sons of Perdition (Framing Reality.  Documents the lives of boys exiled from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints cult. Sad and compelling. 
  9. Nosferatu (Big Nights. One of my favorite films of all time, the first vampire movie by FW Murnau. It is silent with dialogue in text between images, and the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra played the score. Shown in the Civic Theatre, it was quite something. Unfortunately, it gets quite warm in the upper seats where I was, and having seen this film many times before, I dosed off repeatedly.) 
So that totals 15 films. It was a good fest.
Fast on the heels of the Film Fest was Beervana, a craft brew festival in Wellington. We got to see Mt Taranaki from the plane window, which is usually covered with cloud. It has a cap of snow at this time of year. I like how it rises off the flat land and is framed by the ocean.
Darin and I put the dogs in the kennel and flew down to attend the awards dinner on Thursday and the Beervana event on Friday. My sister and her husband were also there. The dinner was excellent, with many different kinds of NZ beers and ciders for drinking. I enjoyed it more than the Beervana event, because Beervana was crowded and the people pouring the beers couldn't answer some quesitons I had about what I was tasting. 
Wellington has great food. I've eaten at the restaurant Sweet Mother's every time I've been to Wellington (3 times), it's become a tradition. We also found some great Mexican food, thanks to my sister. This place is tucked into the  back of an alley off of Cuba St. No burritos here, only enchiladas and tacos. The guy said that burritos are not what people ate in Mexico City. His mole sauce was terrific.
I also did a bit of shopping (new hat, wallet, and tried on boots) and bummed around the hotel room, eating sushi and watching How To Train Your Dragon (twice). I like that the Night Fury dragon looks like a cat.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Fargo!

My Rottweiler Fargo had a birthday party today, and we were so pleased by all the people who came to see him! Seems like such a frivolous thing, to have a birthday party for a dog, but 12 is OLD for a Rottweiler. In the photo, I am holding the liver cake that I made for him (minced liver, apple, carrot, oatmeal, olive oil, and flour). I honestly didn't expect him to live this long. Just 5 months ago he had an ultrasound showning neoplasms on his liver and adrenal gland, with no reasonable treatment.  He's gained back the weight that he lost, and his gut seems to be working normally, so YAY! He is a very cool dog- relaxed yet still playful.  He went to Murawai beach a couple days before his birthday to celebrate. 
This old boy used to get so angry when we helped him into the truck, but now he seems to understand it is necessary for him to go anywhere, and is more tolerant of our assistance.  He doesn't get to go off property very often, as he has poor control over his rear legs, but he didn't fall down at the beach.  Best of all, he wasn't sore afterwards. 
Below is Zeus at Bethells beach. Bethells is just south of Murawai, but you can't drive directly from one to the other. You have to make an effort to drive to these west coast beaches, along twisty, narrow roads. Both beaches have areas that allow dogs off leash.  I look foward to the day when he is as obedient and reliable as Fargo.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April, aka Autumn in Auckland 2011

The weather has finally turned wet and cool, which gives me an excuse to sit inside in front of my computer to update my blog.  Obviously the weather was really nice, in the photo above, taken at Karekare beach west of Auckland a few weeks ago. It is probably my favorite beach because it is so beautiful and quiet.  It's huge too.  I took Zeus with me, and we explored the exapanding sand. He is now nearly 7 months old, and is the star of his puppy obedience class. We're continuing our effort, and making excellent progress. He has outgrown his collar and is bigger than his mum Ruby.     
We have 3 feijoa trees in our yard, and have had a massive crop of fruit this year. 
The fruit grew bigger than I have ever seen them before.  When I picked them up off the ground, I would tear open any bruised fruit and squeeze out the tasty insides for Zeus to eat. It didn't take him long to determine that he could do this himself. I've been finding peeled feijoa skins all around the porch and yard. 
 There's more than enough to share. I've taken multiple bags of them to work to give away, made several batches of feijoa and ginger jam, and many batches of feijoa and date loaf.  I'm not sure why they call it loaf, when it is more like cake. It's like banana bread- that too is like cake, and yet it's called bread.
Last month, my sister received her New Zealand citizenship. You must be a permanent resident for 5 years, and be a citizen in good standing. I think they make you explain any driving or parking violations.
She's still able to keep her USA citizenship, but she did swear allegiance to the queen. The ceremony was not too exciting, but it was very impressive to hear that people from 29 different countries were receiving their citizenship that day.  Mys sister was the only American there. People were encouraged to wear national dress. I wished there was a tea and biscuit afterward to have a chance to visit with the other new Kiwis, but apparently there was a planning oversight. Really- to not be offered tea and a biscuit (cookie) is very UN-Kiwi. 
I had this cake made for her. It is the North Island of NZ (on it's side- the top is on the right) with various kiwiana symbols on top. Note the long white clouds, gumboots, jandals, Mt Taranaki, sheep, pig, dogs, kiwi, windsurfer and Sky Tower.
There were fern fronds decorating the sides. I surprised my sister with it at work, at the start of our weekly group meeting.  Her husband and my husband were hiding in the next room with the cake, and wheeled it out on a cart, so we shared the joy with our coworkers.  
Of course we went out to dinner afterwards, and had a really enjoyable meal at a new restaurant called the Foodstore.  We liked that it sourced most of the ingredients from New Zealand, used free range chicken and line caught fish, and had a seasonal menu.  For dessert, one of us ordered the pavlova, which is a very Kiwi. It was the best one I've ever had. Unfortunately, when I went back with my husband a week ago, we didn't enjoy it as much. The menu had changed and I just wasn't that impressed with my chicken.  It was served with a mild applesauce, which I thought was boring. It should have been served with a nice chutney instead. My feijoa chutney, for instance. The other new restaurant I tried recently is KK Malaysian. This place has no decoration, crap interior, and a tiny kitchen crammed with people cooking and preparing the food, which is exceptional. People will line up outside to wait for one of the few tables. The KK Special chicken is amazing, and the chicken laksa was also great.  I'll definitely go back.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Where in the world is Karamea?

Karamea is on the west coast of the south island of New Zealand, around the corner from the Abel Tasman park. To get there, you have to first get to Westport and then drive north for about an hour and a half, through twisty, winding mountains and along the Tasman Sea.  I flew down to Nelson and rented a car from there. Why did I choose to go there? Because I'd seen photos of the area, and it appeared to be a wonderland. Also, Air New Zealand had a "grabaseat" fare for relatively cheap, and I could get the time off work.  Drive time from Nelson was about 5 hours with stops. I picked up a couple of young women hitchiking, who were going to Karamea to hike the the Heaphy track.  One was another American. 
On arrival, I visited the information center for maps and directions to my lodging, the wonderful bed and breakfast, Kuaka Cottage.
It reminded me of some of the places Darin and I stayed when we travelled to Alaska. One of the owners, Mark, grew up in Homer, Alaska, so that figures. He and Hanne built this out of the local limestone. They were very helpful and welcoming to me, and served excellent breakfasts and dinner, much of it from their garden. Hanne recommended I drive to Kohaihai beach for a swim in the river after my long drive. It was absolutely gorgeous and with only a few other people around, I felt like it was my own private paradise.
This river empties into the ocean, which is just off the left side of the image.  I walked the beginning of the Heaphy track, up the hillside in the picture above, to view Scott's beach on the other side of the hill. All of the walks I did in the Karamea area were extrememly well maintained, with excellent bridges, easy grades, and well marked paths.
The next day I drove into the Oparara Basin, which is about an hours drive from Karamea  in the Kahurangi forest. The drive is primarily on a rough gravel road with unending curves and steep climbs, which was doubly adventuresome for me as the rental car I was driving was a manual (stick) shift. I used to drive a manual in the US, but using the opposite hand for shifting was a bit challenging at first. I had arranged a tour of the Honeycomb Caves, as this area is only accessable by tour.  The reason for restriction is that it's full of moa bones, and already several tons of bones have been removed. It's also 13 kilometers long, so someone could easily get lost or hurt. There are 70 entrances, and only a few are easily accessable, meaning you could accidentally fall into a hole, as did the moa, and never get out alive.
Obviously, the bones in the next photo were reassembled into the shape of the moa, which was a flightless bird that was unique because it lacked vestigial wings (that is, evolutionarily, it never developed wings in its history).  The other cool thing about moa is that there were eleven species at one time, and their only predator was the (also extinct) Haast eagle. In the Oparara basin, the cave guide said no native Maori people lived and hunted this area.There were 6 or 7 different species found in just the Honeycomb Hill Caves.
After the cave tour, we had a picnic lunch and I walked to the other amazing parts of the park.  The Oparara Arch, the Moria Arch, and two other caves (much smaller, easily accessable) were all relatively close together. I spent the day going "WOW!" and taking photos. 
There is so much old growth forest here, I could totally imagine moa and dinosaurs running around.  Despite the perfect weather during my visit, this area gets 6 METERS of rain a year, so it is a rainforest. The other thing I love about the Oparara is that there are giant carniverous land snails here. Doesn't that sound primeval and frightening? It's a bit of a misnomer, the name "giant snails", as they fit in the palm of your hand. I like to imagine them as 7 feet tall, slowly, quietly, sneaking up on you in the still forest, sliming you as your screams are drowned by soft, cold flesh. Ah, I must write a screenplay! Then I can have an excuse to go back to Karamea to film there. In fact, though these snails are endangered, they can be found very near my home in Swanson, in the Waitakere hills west of Auckland.  I have not seen one in the wild yet, as they are nocturnal. 
I had time for one final walk on the way back to Nelson.  The Charming Creek Railway walk follows an old private small railway, used to take coal (I think) out of the mountains, via a stunning gorge. This walk has tunnels and a high, narrow wire rope bridge to a gorgeous waterfall.
Again, it was all for my private enjoyment, as I passed only one person on the way in, and two on the way out.
I stopped in Westport to buy some of the excellent Blackball salami products. They are from the west coast of the south island, so hard to get in Auckland. The other thing I found in Westport was an apple variety called Smitten. I ate this apple on my walk to the Oparara arch, and it was an ecstatic experience. According to this blog article, it's been developed for export, and this explains why I've been unable to find it at any of the markets in Auckland.  I certainly hope this changes, because I want more. If you're lucky enough, you might find it in North American markets soon. 
To finish off a great trip, my flight from Wellington (where I had to switch planes) to Auckland was on the fancy new All Blacks plane.

 Very nice plane inside and out.  Too bad the woman behind me insisted on changing her kid's diaper on the seat. She did it as the plane was loading and didn't want to go back to the toilet area. Then when she tried to get the stewardess to take the dirty diaper when collecting trash, she was told to take it back to the toilets, which of course she didn't.  I guess I should't be annoyed by this behavior, considering that I have seen parents holding their children to piss next to cars in a parking lot of a pet shop, and signs in some toilets that say "please do not stand on the toilet".  I guess I should get over it, as I'm planning a trip to southeast Asia at the end of the year.  There, I expect I'll tolerate all sorts of weird cultural norms. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Melbourne is crazy awesome.

One of the benefits of living in New Zealand is that Australia is relatively close to visit. I spent last weekend in Melbourne with my husband, for whom this was his first trip to Oz (I'd been once for a quick trip to Melb in 2009). We booked a glorified backpacker's hotel, (the Formula One) which was sparse but right downtown, quiet, and appeared to be secure. Melbourne has a mix of very old and new buildings, as the photos show.
 Melbourne was "bought" from the native aboriginals and grew up due to it's port and the gold mines. There's a nice museum at the Treasury Building, where you can visit the thick rooms where they kept all the gold.
There are frequent trams that go all over downtown.  We rode them to the St Kilda free music festival,
 where we saw awesome motorcyle stunts and I bought a lovely green opal directly from the miners, to New Quay with it's modern and expensive looking new developments, where we ate good Greek food, and to Little Italy where we had massive piles of pasta with a bottle of chianti. We were walking distance to the river, the Flinders Street Station (1910), Federation Square, where the visitor center is, Hosier Lane, where there's great street art,
and shopping, including a vinyl record store.There's lanes and alleyways t hat have unique shops and cafes, and with the excellent public transportation system, everyone uses it and walks places.  Unfortunately, I forgot my thyroid medication (Eltroxin), which I have to take every day, so we spent a good portion of Saturday trying to figure out how to get it. I only needed two days worth, so I asked at the pharmacy, where I was told that I had to have a prescription from a doctor in Australia and that I could only buy 200 pills. We managed to finally track down a clinic that was open on Saturday afternoon, but the asshole doctor said that he would have to charge me $96 for a visit. I explained that I only wanted the prescription, I can't get the cost of the visit reimbursed from the gov't since I'm visiting from NZ, and my travel insurance doesn't cover pre-existing conditions. He still said no, and I think he was a total A-hole for that. It's not like it's an addictive drug or anything. He could have charged me $30 or $40- I would have paid that. Instead I walked out.   
Then this street art sort of described how I felt. But, as I mentioned, Melbourne is crazy awesome so we had a good time anyway. And that should be the last time that I ever forget to pack my medication.
We also were impressed and very jealous of Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market, where sections of the market are devoted to seafood, meat, chicken, fruit and veg, dairy, candy, bread, deli, and cooked food.  Auckland has a historic old Victoria Market, but it's full of mainly tourist crap.
 Too bad this picture is a bit out of focus. That's Zeus (4.5 mo) on the left, Fargo (11.5 yrs) in the middle, and Ruby (3 yrs, Zeus' mum) on the right. I took it just before we left for Melbourne. Fargo had his belly shaved for an ultrasound a couple weeks ago, and this showed neoplasms on his liver and adrenal gland. He's still playful and has a good appetite, but has been losing weight. It feels like you can feel every bone when you pet him.  I've been boiling chicken and rice for him for probably 5 weeks, and I could probably do it in my sleep now. I've switched him over to browned ground beef now, and will see if there's any Science Diet kibble that he will tolerate (he has GI issues). I don't know how much longer he will live. The vet wouldn't give us any estimate, because every dog is different.  There is no treatment that is going to cure him.  He's the only one that hasn't pissed me off by waking me up this morning.
This street art from Melbourne makes me think of cancer- spreading, poorly defined, scary. One of the books I've just taken from the library is called The Emporor of All Maladies, a history of cancer. I've read a few pages, but have put it aside until I finish Johnathan Frazen's The Corrections (which is so intimate and voyeristic, funny and sad, and familar- really enjoying his prose, so like a painting).

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Big days out: Summer 2011

 I'm continuing to work 3 days a week, which is awesome. I took a Friday off in January to attend the Auckland Big Day Out, a multi-stage music festival that travels around Australia (but starts in Auckland, NZ). This was my first BDO, and I went mainly to see Grinderman. (Grinderman is Nick Cave's most recent band.) I also would have liked to see Tool, but they were playing just before Grinderman on a different stage. Since there was no seating, and I had difficulty seeing over peoples heads and shoulders during Iggy and the Stooges, I got to the Grinderman stage about 2 hours early so I could be right in front, so I could see.  It was totally worth standing for hours, getting harassed and shoved around by an obnoxious, big guy during Primal Scream, and enduring one of the most boring bands I think I've ever seen, Primal Scream.  You would think a band with such a cool name would be fun, but none of them smiled and their music was lame! Being up front for Grinderman was awesome, because they are such talented, energetic, and engaging musicians.  Oh yeah, it was raining too! I was pretty pleased with myself because I'd stuffed a light rainjacket in my backpack, so I didn't get as cold and wet as other people. I also saw the Deftones, who I love. I remember seeing them back in San Diego at the Van's Warped Tour in about 1999. Wolfmother played a cover of The Who's Teenage Wasteland, which is my favorite Who song ("I don't need to be forgiven!"). I like this band and have one of their albums, and they sound a bit like Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin (remember them!?)- retro hard rock- you can hear Wolfmother's song Woman on YouTube if you click here.

Darin's birthday was celebrated in early January with a flourless chocolate cake (with sprinkles!) and a glass of port- yummy!
We took the ferry to Waiheke Island and rented scooters the day before his b-day. We visted Obsidian winery, swam in the warm Pacific ocean at Onetangi beach,
and had a charming lunch at Casita Miro. Our visit was over much too quickly!
We also went snapper fishing recently.  I was a bit concerned because the weather had been very windy, which can make the water quite rough in a boat. But it was fine- a bit choppy later in the afternoon, but calm all morning. We took a boat charter out in the Hauraki Gulf (Dr Hook) for a full day.  Between us, we caught 16 snapper, of which I filleted one of them! I caught the biggest one on the boat that day, 8.5 pounds, and all the other fishermen were jealous- what a great feeling.  That gave my arm a real workout.
Snapper are delicous! 

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Happy new year 2011

Happy New Year! Summer is in full swing in New Zealand, and I've enjoyed a few trips to the ocean. Christmas day I hiked a big hill with my husband, sister, and her husband to White's beach, which is north of Piha and south of Anawhata. The tide was up and the surf was big, so we just waded in the water and enjoyed the soft black sand massaging our feet. There were only a few other people there. We had some wine and a picnic lunch.
It was hard to see the pups go. The pups have all found homes except for one, Lime girl (now known as Valkyrie, "chooser of the slain" in old Norse).  She is really cute, smart, and playful.  I would really like to find a great home for her.  In the meantime, she is getting a great puppyhood here with Ruby, Fargo, and her brother, Zeus.
Zeus, AKA Pink Boy, is shown below at 12 weeks.
Our Toyota Hilux Surf diesel wouldn't start after Dogsport training one night, and my mobile phone battery was dead. Another club member let me use his phone to call AA (Auto Assoc, not Alcoholics Anonymous), but they told me my membership expired- yesterday.  They let me renew this with a credit card over the phone- whew!- and sent someone out to try to start it.  He tried a variety of things but couldn't get it going, so called me a tow truck.  AA covered part of the cost, so it was only about $40 for a flatbed truck tow from Mangere to Swanson (about a 45 min drive).  The first garage we took it to had it for a couple days but couldn't fix it. We then had it towed to Western Diesel, where they took 1.5 weeks to figure out what was wrong and fix it. Basicallly they took the engine apart and put it back together. It cost us a whopping $1700- ouch!
My husband gave me a new smart phone before Xmas, and on New Year's Day, I lost it. I am GUTTED! I put it in an unsecured pocket in a new backpack, and it must have fallen out without my notice at the beach with Ruby. It was a spectacular location, with lots of people and dogs, so I suspect someone picked it up and kept it.
We saw some good movies over the holidays: Megamind, Four Lions, and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.  We saw the Social Network a few months ago, and that was really good.
I've also had some excellent hikes and walks, including to Waiheke, below.