Five on Friday- Feb 2015

Saturday, February 28, 2015
This year I've decided to join in with Amy from Love Made My Home, with her Five on Friday meme. While it is technically Saturday here in New Zealand, the Five in Friday originates in England, and it's Friday there, so that is my disclaimer!

1. Last week we went and had fish and chips on the beach with our niece Kristina, from Auckland, and I allowed my son to have a play with my good camera, a Canon. It wasn't until a few days later when I was looking at the new photos downloaded onto my laptop, that I was stunned with how good he is at photography. He always seems to get an interesting, unique angle on things.

2. We have had quite a few big bills come in at this time of the year. School fees, birthdays, sports fees, uniforms, the extra cost of my son having to learn French through the Correspondence School (long story, but if you are a friend on Facebook, you will have heard my rants on that), along with the usual bills of rent and petrol and power and food. So this week, food was way down the list and I've been using up what was in the pantry and freezer, and so grateful for family who live near by and have established fruit trees so we have had fresh fruit to pop into the kids' lunchboxes. And there is nothing prettier than a little grove of bountiful fruit trees.

3. It is still very hot here in New Zealand. I am a creature who prefers the cold. After studying my ancestry this week, I think I know why..... my ancestors hail from the Orkney Islands in the far north of Scotland, and Stewart Island in the far south of New Zealand. Hardy people from harsh environments. So after school, on the days that we can make it, we've been going up to my brother in law's pool to cool off. Diving into the water I can almost hear my body breathing a sigh of relief.

4. Since my husband Rob started his new job he now works from Tuesday to Saturday, which means we get Monday all to ourselves while the children are at school. It is awesome! So this is what we did last Monday. Had a luxurious hour by ourselves at a local cafe, Nourish. When you have 4 children these times are treasures.

5. Funny little notes written by a six year old.

Linking in with Amy:

Downton Abbey - my advice to Julian Fellowes

Friday, February 20, 2015
Dear Mr. Fellowes,

Thank you for creating Downton Abbey.
Thank you for providing a reason... a very valid reason.... for me to not do my housework so I can catch up on episodes, and to go out and buy pretty dresses, and to dream of hiring servants, and to pretend for a fleeting moment that the basement in my house is my very own Downstairs and that dinner will be served promptly.

And thank you for making me feel good about not hiring a Nanny.

I have forgiven you for killing Matthew. It took me two whole seasons, but I have. Truly.


As one of your millions of viewers, I wondered if you'd be interested in my humble opinions

Downton Abbey gives us a little escape from the madness that is the modern world. It sweeps us through the ages gone, back to a time in the world in which my grandfather always described to me as a 'golden era to grow up.' The 1920's.



Have you ever given any thought to what era in history you would like to live, if you had the chance to choose?

For me it would be the 1920's, based purely on my grandfather's recommendation, and the clothes that they wore. I realize that, given our current time in history, we know that the second world war was just around the corner for those who lived then, but is any time in world history safe? Maybe those born in the 1950s and 1960s have had the most peaceful and comfortable time in history, but those children may yet live to see their grandchildren caught up in a terror fight against the evil that is rampaging across the middle east at the moment.

So please don't stop writing this loveliness that is Downton Abbey.


So Downton Abbey gives us a blissful escape back into a world of order and beauty and we love it for the sheer humanness of it, where the struggles of the people then are similar to the struggles we have now. Human nature never changes. We still want love and happiness.

So Mr. Fellowes, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for creating this series, this escapism, these indulgent hours.

But (and there's always a but, isn't there), here is some free advice for series 6.

1. Please, please, please can we dispense with the storyline that sees Anna and Mr Bates heading off to jail at every other episode. It's getting very tiresome. I think they are due some happiness, and if they are not, can you please find something different to torment them with.  It is done now, Mr. Fellowes. It is so done.


2. Could someone, anyone, please give Mary some better lines. Poor girl always looks like someone's holding a gun to her back for every word she speaks. The lines need to be longer than one sentence, also.

3. Please don't kill off anymore spouses. Each one of those three little kiddos has a parent who has been killed off. The odds of that happening in one family, in real life, are pretty rare, so it's starting to look a little ridiculous.


4. Please don't ever, ever kill off Mrs. Hughes. I will stop watching it, if you do. She is by far the best character in this entire thing. And don't kill off the Dowager Lady Grantham either, if you don't mind.


5. It would be nice to see Mrs. Crawley find romance. She does it so well.

6. To be honest, it's getting rather predictable with all the love affairs and love children that keep popping out of the woodwork. Could we think of some more original story-lines now that those have been done to death? If you're heading into WWII you could really have some fun with thinking up new plot ideas. Lady Mary could join the Resistance. I bet she'd make a super spy making love to the enemy while stabbing him in the back at the same time. She wouldn't even wince.

And one final thought Mr. Fellowes....

What happened to Mrs. Patmore's bad eyesight? She never wears her glasses anymore.

Picture Source

The Romance of My Wedding Music

Sunday, February 15, 2015
It was Valentines Day here yesterday, and today my Facebook feed is full of my American friends celebrating.

Somehow I got to thinking about my wedding, nearly 18 years ago now. I was telling a friend this week who was at our wedding, that it will be 18 years, and they looked shocked. I feel a little shocked myself. Time flies when you're having fun... and busy!

I am a romantic creature by nature. I'd much rather look through rose-coloured glasses than the prosaic reality of clear. The world just looks more beautiful. My wedding was one of the highlights of my romance. The public declaration of love.

So when it came to choosing my wedding music, I wanted something beautiful, and fitting for the chapel that we were to get married in. The historic chapel at Kings College in Auckland, where my husband spent his school years. I'm only planning on doing this once, so something fitting to the ceremony was needed. The aisle is a bride's dream-come-true, and the college arranged for their organist to accompany the wedding.

So the music was to be a very important part of the ceremony.

Eighteen years ago weddings were still quite traditional. Mostly they were held in churches and our wedding services are a lot longer (in my experience) here than they are in America. Our service was an hour long which is considered a long time, but generally they are around 30-45 minutes.

The bridal procession is one of the most important parts of a wedding, and it's one I wanted to do justice to. I had four bridesmaids, a junior bridesmaid and two flower girls, along with two pageboys and a ring bearer. My sister-in-law called it the 'Grand Wedding'. And because of the setting It certainly felt that.

For beautiful, grand music you can't really beat Handel.  I chose two of his famous pieces for my wedding. For the entrance music; the music I walked down the aisle to meet my groom was Handel's Royal Fireworks. It was a perfect moment.

During the wedding ceremony my sister who was learning operatic singing gave us a beautiful rendition of Handel's Largo by Xerxes. I have a recording of the entire ceremony, but it is on an ancient video tape, so we are still needing to transfer it to a more updated file, but here is a youtube version of what my sister sang and she was accompanied by the organ.

The last piece of music to choose was the recessional music, or the music for when we would leave the church a married couple. We happened upon this hymn accidentally one day when we called in to the chapel with the videographer to look at lighting. The organist was practising and as I walked into this beautiful, dark chapel with its stained-glass windows and wooden pews and the high vaulted ceiling overhead and it's old, solemn atmosphere, the music sounded glorious and triumphant and we both looked at each other and knew that we had to have that in our wedding. Can you guess what it was? One of my favourite hymns. Prince William and Kate had it during their wedding also.

I know it is the trend at the moment to have more modern music in wedding ceremonies, but I love that we chose classical, timeless music for our wedding. I still love listening to all three nearly 20 years later.

I'd love to know what music you had for walking down the aisle. It's a very personal choice, I think.

The Over-night Trip to the City

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A couple of weekends ago, Rob and I travelled to Auckland for the wedding of a family friend and decided to stay overnight in the city as the wedding would be sure to run late.

As I have mentioned before, we have a tradition every year to get away on our own for a weekend. We do it for our marriage. When you have 4 children who are all so busy, it's easy to put your relationship to the side for the sake of practicality. So once the kids reached a certain age, (because we don't have grandparents living locally), we have to coordinate it in with my parents where they come and mind the children for us so we can get away on our own.

Going up to the wedding was not the planned weekend that we usually have - it was supposed to be just an overnighter before coming back home, so after we had arranged a sleep over for the kids at a cousin's house, we decided to treat ourselves anyway, and went for a mystery voucher bought online. Once we had purchased it, we'd be told where would be going. We knew it would be a hotel in the city.

We struck gold, and I was clapping my hands when Rob told me we were staying at the Hilton Auckland!

Last time I stayed at a Hilton was in Turtle Bay, Hawaii, 22 years ago!

My husband loves Auckland. It's where he was born and grew up. Me, I like it, but I don't love it. It's not home for me, even though I lived there from the age of 13. Home for me is Marlborough, where I was born and where I spent my wonderful childhood.

The view from the Hilton Reception.

We pulled up outside the lobby of the Hilton in our red Suzuki Swift. (So glad we didn't travel up in our people-mover)! Haha!

Our room was lovely, looking out onto the pool area.

We barely had time to freshen up before heading to the wedding reception, and it was after midnight when we returned. The nightclubs were buzzing. There was a huge line of people outside one club, and a traffic jam of cars. We had to wait in the queue to drive quietly down to the hotel, which is perched out on a wharf over the ocean. It looks a little like a ship from a distance.

I have to say the beds at this hotel are amazing. You just sink into them. We had set the air-conditioning really low, so it was quite cold by the time we returned from the wedding. For the first time this summer, it felt so nice to curl up under the blankets rather than having to throw them off.

The thing I love about this hotel is the late checkout, which meant Rob and I could go and have a leisurely brunch in the hotel restaurant before leaving.

We checked out after our breakfast and headed into the city, with one shop in mind. Smith and Caugheys and Starbucks.

We had to take photos of every flash car we saw, for our car-crazy 10 year old son.

Before heading up to Queen Street, we stopped and wandered around the Maritime Museum. Always, always looking for the old Viking, the classic NZ yacht my Grandfather and Great Grandfather lovingly tended for many years, and who we used to play on when we were children and she was anchored in a little bay in Marlborough Sounds. But she is no longer there at the Maritime Museum, though she once was, many years ago, when we had afternoon tea on board with her owners.

As we walked up Queen Street, we were waiting at a pedestrian traffic light, when a group of Italian tourists came up to me. One of the ladies asked me in her beautiful Italian accent where a good place to eat was, because, as she said, "we are Italians, and we like to eat good food."

We headed to our favourite Department Store and wandered through, and bought a very beautiful vase to put in our new house. And then we finally headed for Starbucks for a coffee before hitting the road to go home.

It was such a lovely little respite for us, this quick jaunt to the city, that I am planning our getaway weekend up here later in the year. Rob was disappointed to see Queen Street looking so shabby and run down, but it was nice to visit Auckland again and to have a few hours just to enjoy this part of the city without distractions.

Rekindling the Romance with Reading

Monday, February 9, 2015
When I was a child and a teenager, my favourite thing to do was to read.
I devoured books, and I scoured second hand book shops. Honestly, I was so bad, every time we even passed a secondhand book shop in the car my father would just say 'no' before I'd even have a chance to ask. My husband (sometimes) bemoans the fact that our garage is full of boxes of books collected from these second-hand jaunts. (I can't wait to get our house built with plenty of shelving installed for them).

Now, when my life is full of children and school and timetables and committee meetings and cooking and writing, reading has taken a back seat. Second hand bookshops are only for times when I'm on my annual weekend getaway with my husband.
And I miss having the luxury of time for reading.
So this year I've decided to allow time for that. Even if it's just half an hour with a real book.

I'm rekindling the romance.

I've brought myself a whacking great diary for this year, and I put everything in it, even down to scheduling reading time. With life being so busy I am having to slot my work and my leisure into a much more organised time frame than I have previously been used to. I have 5 books to finish writing this year alone!

One of the benefits of being in a large family like my husband's, is that I have nieces and nephews who are adults and so sometimes I manage to get caught up on the younger, modern generation and what's hip at the moment. So when my niece Angela told me over the weekend that she was joining in with the ModernMrsDarcy's reading challenge, I was keen to hear more!

One book a month! I'm pretty sure I can handle that!

I've already missed January, so rather than try and catch up, I'm going to start in February.

This month's suggestion: A Book Published This Year.

I'm trying to decide between two books.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins


A Spool of Thread by Anne Tyler

Two books of very different styles and genres. One is a thriller and one is about a family.

I am not familiar with either of these authors - have any of  you read either of these books, or even other works by these authors, and can give me your opinion? I'd love to know!

Do you have a reading challenge for the year? Do you even set one? I've done these before, and generally find that failure sets in a few weeks later, but this one seems achievable, and I'm looking forward to getting back my love of reading.

I plan on ordering the actual books to read. Even though so much of my life is online at the moment, you can't quite beat the feeling of real paper between your fingers. No more torch under the bedcovers for me anymore, though, as I did as a child, though it might be fun to try it like that again just for the sake of nostalgia.

What do you think?

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Lost Without You - remembering our dog Cricket

Sunday, January 25, 2015
After all my New Year resolutions to blog more regularly, something happened last week and I knew I wouldn't be able to write about anything until I had written about this, and it's taken me a week to have the fortitude to do it.

In the last of the afternoon sun, lying in his favourite, shady spot at our family beach house, our dog refused to get up. We were heading down to the beach for a late afternoon swim and Cricket our 12 year old dog, loved his swims. Just a few days before, he was surfing in the low tidal waves, swimming out for his stick and swimming back, shaking the water from his black coat. He loved the water, our dog. He was a Labrador, after all. Food and water and people are what they live for.

He was getting old though, even while trying to pretend he wasn't. He didn't grey much at all in his later years, just a little tuft under his chin, but he still liked to think he was a young dog. It wasn't until this summer that I really noticed him starting to slow down for the first time. He wouldn't run down the steps to the beach like he used to, and due to the gradual onset of his degenerative myelopathy, couldn't walk very far, for very long.

But Cricket refused to get up. He turned his head and looked at all of us. We were all there on the deck waiting for him. This was so unusual for him to not get up and come with us, that my instincts kicked in and I ran for the phone to call a vet. But Cricket being Cricket had it his way. There would be no vet clinic for him, and no long goodbyes. He just died.

The beach property was always his favourite place to go. He was free here to swim, to rummage around in the bush and even the weekend before he died baled up a Possum who dared to come onto our deck. So we buried him there. High on the hill, overlooking the house, under the shade of the trees, with the sound of the ocean below.

I've always been a dog girl. Some people are cat people and some are dog people. I'm a dog person.

But this dog got under my skin. More so even, than my childhood dog Prince, who I loved so much he slept on my bed every night. I even wrote a book about him. But Cricket was a special dog to me, and I think it was because he loved my children so much. I know that he would have protected them with his life, if he had to.

We bought Cricket from a Labrador breeder in Dunedin in 2003. He was a purebred with a long lineage of beautiful, celebrated ancestors. We picked him out from a visit to the kennel when he came running towards us out of a large litter of little black and golden puppies. My oldest son, Hugh, who was 3 years old at the time took an instant liking to him. He seemed perfect for us.

One of our first jobs as his owner was to give him his pedigree name. We must have been in our Jane Austen era at the time, because we eventually named him Knightly of Prior Hill. Prior Hill was the name of our house and 20 acres that we had just recently completed building in Earnscleugh,  Central Otago.  We  lived in the foothills of the Old Man mountain range, and the name seemed apt for this little dog.

There are a few memories that stand out for me about Cricket.

Our vet has always called him a 'real dog'. And that is the truth. Cricket loved the outdoors. As he got older we would bring him inside at night because we thought he would prefer it, but we should have known better. We should have remembered how he was when he was younger, for 2 hours into the night, he'd be scratching at the door and whining and wouldn't stop until we had let him outside again.

One of Cricket's last swims. 

That happened last winter, and I remember laughing about it because when he was a young dog, and we still lived in Otago, where we would have very severe winters, we set Cricket up with a lovely warm kennel under the eaves of our house, along the porch outside the kitchen. I bought hot water bottles and would fill it with warm water every night to tuck under his blankets when he went to bed, but we went through so many hot water bottles before we gave up, for every morning we'd come out to find the hot water bottle shredded to pieces, scattered all over the frost or snow, and Cricket lying in the snow a few feet from his kennel. Oh that dog!

He was loved by so many people. Sometimes, when we were going away and weren't able to take him with us, we would have to book him in for a holiday at the kennels. Every single kennel he ever went to, the owners ended up falling in love with him.

Just a few days before he died, the kids dressed him up as a super hero.

Another enduring memory that I will never forget, and one that made me love him even more, is of a cold winter in Christchurch when we were renovating an old house. I was homeschooling at the time, and one day had all the children sitting around the dining room table, with Cricket lying under the table on our feet. Our builder, who we liked and who really liked Cricket (he was a dog person too), came into the room and asked if he could use our bathroom. As he passed us, he leaned over in his friendly way, to pat my oldest son on his head. As his arm came out, Cricket shot out from under the table and gave the most terrifying bark, jumping up at the builder as he did so. As if to say, "don't you dare to touch my boy."

We all were rather shocked, but the builder understood dogs and knew Cricket was just defending his 'pack', and fortunately Cricket only gave him a warning and did nothing to harm him. But that was when I really knew that Cricket would truly defend us if he had to.

I saw that instinct to protect so many times. Even last summer when our younger son was learning to kayak in the shallows of our bay. Cricket, faithful as ever, followed along behind him as he did laps up and down the beach in the kayak.

When the children were at school, he was my companion. Always there. Always ready to give cuddles and licks. He let me know when the postie had been, and I felt safe in my home. He always alerted me to anyone on the property.

Cricket hated cats. At one of our houses, the neighbour's cat would taunt him, sitting high up on the terraced garden, where the cat knew Cricket couldn't get him. He'd walk up and down, looking over at our dog. When Cricket deigned to notice it, he would give one bark and the cat would be gone, but that cat liked tormenting him. Cats were evil incarnate to Cricket. The temptation of chasing a cat would sometimes be too great, if we were out on a walk and we came across one.

So many lovely memories of this dog. He has been a wonderful part of our family. He has loved us, protected us and given us so much joy. I hope we gave to him as much as he has given to us.

He has been known to dig up a rose bush belonging to a friend, in her own garden, no less, and spend hours digging through the dirt mound of our building site looking for rats or rabbits.
Going to the vet clinic was an adventure in itself. Not because Cricket was afraid of it, but because he was too enthusiastic once we got there. Oh the smells. Oh the other dogs to get to know - often terrifying them, because even in his old age he was boisterous and huge. At our last visit I remember the vet and I laughing at him sliding all over the room on the vinyl floor, poking his nose into as many corners he could find.

How do you grieve the passing of a loved pet? It's hard. I found it harder this time than I ever have before when I have lost a pet. I miss him! I don't want him to be dead. I want him to come back. I still find myself going to feed him every night after we have eaten. I still have his kennel and dog bowl outside, and it just doesn't feel the same anymore without him.

I know he did well to live to 12 years. The life span of a Labrador is on average, 11 years. I was hoping he would last another year until we moved into our new house because apart from his slow paralysis he was an otherwise healthy dog. We always kept him in good shape and had very little arthritis in his joints. I was hoping that we could have made the transition easier for our children and another year would have given us that. Now we have to wait 12-18 months before we think of getting another dog, and it's hard being without a dog. I don't like it. Not one little bit.

Because we are renting, we cannot get another dog until we are in our new home. But I did feel a little better today after emailing a local breeder to put our name on the waiting list. Not to replace Cricket, because he will always have a special place in our hearts and memories always. But life just doesn't feel right without a dog, and I know I'll be counting down the months and weeks until we can get another.

Farewell old friend. We loved you and we are thankful for you and for looking after us so well and being part of our lives.

Cricket - the week before he died.

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