Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Story Continues

For more of the continuing saga of Alexander Atticus Trick (with his parents in supporting roles), see the new blog Growing Up with Alexander, which picks up the story at the airport in Auckland as we return to the US.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Quick update

Just a quick note that we are working our way back to Pittsburgh. We had a great time in Disneyland, and are now freezing in Winnipeg. Back to Pittsburgh in a couple of days, when I will finish off the blog for the year, and announce an all-new Alexander blog!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Time to go

It is our last day, and we spent it packing and shipping of course. A few final tasks, including selling our car (to Hannah, our babysitter after Karin), and then a final drive to the ferry (after the ferry, our friend and colleague Andrew Mason very kindly offered to drive us to the airport). At the ferry we were met by a final "goodbye" committee. Shawna was a true highlight of the island. She was nanny to Livvy, Alexander's number 1 girlfriend, and the driver of "Monkey Music" on Monday mornings. She also showed up on the island in various guises through her dancing. Hannah was our babysitter for the final two months. And Karin was wonderful with Alexander for 3 or 4 months of our stay, teaching him a number of bad habits: I fear he will spend years wondering why putting his hands over his head pretending to be a tree does not hide him from others. It was wonderful to see them all before we left.

But then it was time for our final ferry ride to Auckland, ending our year on Waiheke and in New Zealand. I think it will take some time to gain a perspective on our year. At times we loved it here, and at times we couldn't wait to get back home. The sense of community we found on Waiheke in such a short time was unbelievable, and we will miss the people we have met. I think we are surprised at the roots that went down in such a short time, and perhaps we learned a bit about how to strengthen our roots in Pittsburgh, or wherever we may end up. It was wonderful watching Alexander grow from a 2 and half year old to a 3 and a half year old. His resiliency was amazing. I suspect he will never have such spectacular playgrounds again!

At the end, we are grateful to the people we met throughout the year, both on the island and at the university. We felt very much a part of Waiheke and of New Zealand.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Winding down and time for a last swing

With our time almost over, there are only a few things left to do. First, we need to do some packing. Unlike our move over here, we have decided to ship a fair amount back. Unfortunately, the post office no longer sends things by ship (6-8 weeks, real cheap) so we have to send things by air, which is a bit pricey. But it is much better than trying to drag everything onto an airplane. The key to success in this is to work with the older, less attractive worker at the post office. The "cute one" enforces rules a little ... strictly.

The second thing to do is to give Alexander some swing time. The weather has been pretty bad, so hanging out on the beach and swimming is not very appealing. But the swing always works. I don't think we can count the hours on swings Alexander has spent in New Zealand: it is easily in the hundreds. On the plus side, you will never find more spectacular scenery around playgrounds than in New Zealand.

We also went back to our original home in Onetangi and visited with Don and Gayleen. Although the house did not work out for us, they are a delightful couple and we are very happy to have met them. One thing they put in was a ramp up to the laundry lines. I fell down the hill early in our stay when collecting the laundry, but the ramp will make it easier for others. We'll call it the "Mike Trick Memorial Ramp".

Our final days are also filled with final visits with people we have met on the Island (Ilona and Judith are pictured, with Judith being a member of the Historical Society Committee). I think it is a sign of our sense of community that we put an ad in the Gulf News thanking the Island for our year here.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Busy Final Saturday

It is our last weekend on the island, and we are trying to make the most of it! The morning started off beautiful, so we did a beach morning. We have found a boogie board for Alexander, which he loves, though he won't play with it "properly". He loves to stand on it, which requires two of us to balance him and to hold the board under his feet. But, by the end of the outing, he was sitting on the board and letting the waves take him to shore, which is a bit closer to the accepted usage.

Next up in the afternoon was the Christmas parade on the island. It is really hard to hear Christmas carols ("Dashing through the snow...") right after baking on the beach, but this is the Christmas people are used to. The parade was the height of island life: bellydancers (including our friend Cat) and schoolkids, and people on motorcycles, and protest signs. The highlight was a group of men in gumboots (rubber boots) with wheelbarrows, doing a choreographed routine involving spinning the wheelbarrows and moving in complicated patterns. Very kiwi! But there was a Santa at the end, sweating in his heavy coat. Alexander thought about this a long time, and the next day declared that the Waiheke Santa is not the real Santa, since the real Santa is in Pittsburgh: I'm really happy that we scheduled our trips so he can see the "real Santa" at the Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh on December 23. I've put together a quick movie of some of the pictures we took of the parade.

Finally, we invited over a number of island people for our final goodbye drinks at our house. Lots of kids playing around, and Alexander in the middle of it all. We will definitely miss the sense of community we have found on this island.

The day ended with a beautiful rainbow (which never comes out in pictures, which is a shame: the rainbows in this country are glorious).

Friday, December 7, 2007

Dinner at the Mason's

Now that our time is nearly up, dinner invitations are coming fast and furious! Andrew and Catherine Mason, on whose catamaran we sailed a few weeks ago, invited us to their place for dinner and "messing around with boats". The Masons are really blessed. Andrew's dad bought a spectacular water-side house years and years ago in what was a pretty shady area, but the area has transformed and they now live right on the water (the Masons live in the former boathouse on the property), surrounded by boats. We had an embarrassment of choices: kayaks or rowboats or sailing dinghies. We decided to put a small (2.5 hp) engine on one of the dinghies and putter around the area. For non-boaters like us, that was pretty exciting (Andrew sent us off on our own). Beautiful area, at least at high tide (low tide apparently reveals the discarded trollies and other junk). One boat got in our way, so naturally we rammed it and it sank (actually, it has been sinking for a few months now). Even 2.5 hp is enough when you are right at the water, and it feels like every turn will capsize the boat. After our puttering about, we had a wonderful dinner on their deck, literally right above the water: when one of the kid's toys fell over the edge, Mike had to wade out to get it. We are very glad we got out to see the place (just like Mike and Alexander saw the Ryan's place last weekend): it is good to see how people live in Auckland. It is a lot different than Pittsburgh!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Less than a week to go

We leave New Zealand on December 12, so there is less than a week to go. Since there is packing and cleaning to be done, naturally Mike went off to a conference (Melbourne, Australia), but he did try to come back quickly. The weather is terrible with lashing rain and high seas. We hope it gets better before we go: we need more beach time!

Despite the weather and the fact we are selling or giving away his toys, Alexander is still in pretty good spirits.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Yard Sale

Our year is coming to an end, and now we have to get rid of all the stuff we have obtained throughout the year. We decided to hold a "garage sale" (we would call it a yard sale, but that is not the normal phrase here) and we did about $350 worth of business. It is rather heartbreaking to see books that we bought for $30 (or about US$24) sit on the $5 shelf and still not sell, but we did get rid of quite a bit.

Alexander found it hard to see some of his toys get sold off, but we comforted him by saying that we were just making room for new stuff. We also warned him not to let the "Mickey's" near the sales tables, so he had something to concentrate on. It also helped that his favorite nanny Karin came back to stay with us for the final ten days.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Published photographers!

Today we were delighted when we opened the Gulf News and saw that our dolphin photos had been published in a two page spread. For the record, that means that Ilona and Alexander each appeared on the cover of the weekly, Ilona had a five page article on her, Mike and Ilona got photos published, Mike had a picture of him with a Harry Potter book in another weekly, and there were numerous other times when our names (particularly Ilona) were mentioned in one of the three weeklies. We really do feel part of the Island community!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Through Alexander's eyes

Pretty well every day, we walk down to the beach so Alexander can have a swing. Today, he took the camera and snapped a picture every few steps. I thought it would make a nice little movie. I took the pictures once he was on the swing, but he took all the rest. A regular Orson Wells in the making!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Night time over Waiheke

Some of the best scenes are on quiet nights with a moon over the bay, reflecting in the water. Taking a photo of that is more skill than I have (and perhaps a tripod and special lens/filters are needed), but perhaps this gives a bit of a hint.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

More dolphins

The dolphins were back this morning, bouncing and jumping about. At one point, they all disappeared into a frothing mass, when they must have been feeding on something. This time we raced down to the beach to get some closer up photos.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Walk to Fossil Bay

Now that the weather is better, we are taking more advantage of the numerous walkways available on the island. These trails are somewhat controversial, since they often skirt some of the multi-million dollar houses on the island, whose owners prefer not to see the smelly trampers. But New Zealand egalitarianism holds strong, and there are some beautiful walks in the area.

Today we went to Fossil bay, the next bay to the west of our house. The fossils found there are perhaps not that exciting (being bivalves: things that look just like the stuff you find on the beach every day) but Ilona's paleontological interests draw her there.

The first part of our walk is through private land (Ilona got permission), leading to a "stairway" down the cliffside. Mike (and Alexander) could not do the stairway down (it was essentially vertical with ropes to hold on to that prevent plummeting to one's death) but Ilona went down and found a fossil or two (the actual site is halfway up the cliff but enough falls down to be collected at the bottom). Ilona notes that these are Paleocene fossils.

We then took a walk through vineyards to a nice outlook over the coast and water. Alexander was a trouper for a while, but eventually his little legs gave out.

Monday, November 19, 2007


We have had the worst luck with dolphins during this year. If you talk to anyone else, when you visit New Zealand, you practically have to kick dolphins away if you want to go for a swim. Not for us. Two major areas for dolphins are the Bay of Islands and the area around Kaikoura. We visited both, and saw no dolphins. Up to now, only Mike has seen a dolphin, and that only at a distance.

Today changed all that. A pod of four dolphins entered Oneroa Bay and put on a show right in front of our house. They jumped and danced about for more than an hour. They were perfectly happy when people jumped in the water to play with them. After these pictures were taken, Mike went down to the water and stood with them (not quite side-by-side: they had moved about 30 feet off the beach). Two of them promptly did a "Sea World" style, side-by-side looping jump out of the water.

Between the stingray on the weekend and the dolphins today, we are really checking off the "to do before leaving New Zealand" list.