Thursday, December 27, 2007

Knitting in Nelson

When winter greeted Nelson, it was especially freezing for a California family whose warmest jacket was made of recycled plastic bottles. One sunny clear morning as the kids were riding to school in a warm heated car, I got on my bicycle and rode down the hill and headed for the city. Not even down the first hill, my bare knuckles and face were splashed with freezing air. I thought of going back home, but the idea of having to walk up my bike on the steepest hill of my bike ride convinced me to continue riding to the city.

My body warmed up from biking, but my knuckles were cracked, brittle and dry. When I finished my errands in town, all I could think about on my bike ride home was that I needed to go wool shopping. Our first month in Nelson was spent exploring random places. One of the random places we visited was Grape Escape. Coincidentally we visited on Grape Escape's 10th Anniversary. I think it was 10th but was definitely an anniversary. There was a jumpy castle in addition to balloons and play structures. Also, child size picnic tables alongside regular size picnic tables.

Next to Grape Escape Cafe were about 6 other shops. One shop that i especially liked was Cruellas. The yarn is locally knit and dyed. The scarf and poncho I ended up buying was made with a combination of wool and alpaca. It was super soft and after removing the poncho, I wanted to put it back on because it was warm, and light in weight rather than bulky. Cruellas also offers instruction once a week for $10. The insruction is on what ever project you want help on. Included in the fee is tea, coffee and baked treats. I've never been to the tea and instruction but saw the baked cakes on the table and it looked very tempting.

The coffee at the cafe is pretty good and definitely a good idea if you want to enjoy a coffee while the kids are running around the play structures.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Zurich trip report

Zurich Trip Report

The dramamine did work :). However it did not put her to sleep as I expected. So mari and maya spent a large part of the flight doing various painting and cutting projects. It was a short 7 hour flight across the pond (atlantic) and we landed in a cold frosty zurich early saturday morning. We flew Swiss Air for the first time. Air NZ and Singapore airlines spoil you a fair amount (video on demand, good travel pack for the kids). Swiss Air did not meet their high standards. However the child meal was not too bad (veggies, mashed potatoes, chicken strips).

We did not have to fill any of the stupid custom/immigration forms that most countries make you fill up. So customs/passport control was a breeze, we got our bags and headed off to rent a car. Rented a car from EuropCar along with a GPS navigation unit (which is so so useful). We typically tend to avoid renting cars for short trips, but for some strange reason, I figured a car might not be a bad idea on this trip.

We drove to the youth hostel near Lake Zurich and checked in. Had our first cup of bad, weak coffee at the hostel. We love the common spaces that are so common in hostels but unknown in hotels. The common space and steps saved us the next two nights. We then headed off to Shopville/RailCity which we assumed would be indoors. We also assumed there would be some activities for kids as advertised. We were wrong on both counts :(. We did spend a few hours there moving constantly between the semi-cold and very-cold places. The kids had a sausage for lunch while mari and I shared an excellent mozarella tomato sandwich and a good latte. After a quick afternoon nap, we then headed to Planet Magica which is an indoor playground for kids (similar to Chipmunks). The kids bounced around for two-three hours before we headed back to the hostel. Maya was jetlagged and did not want to goto sleep. So mari and i took turns doing various projects with her. We finally made her climb the steps in the hostel (5 floors) a few times to tire her out. She finally went to bed at 12:00 am or so. PJ seemed to have had her rest by this time and decided to get up. Luckily for us, we coerced PJ to go back to sleep after an hour or so. Maya had two semi-big falls from the bunk bed at nite which made things even more interesting. As parents, you need to deal with the combined jet lag of you and your kids, which makes travel even more fun and interesting. Hopefully it will be a bit better in India.

The next day we went to Kinder City (older kids should check out technorama) and spent a few hours there. Its quite a large indoor spot with lots of interactive activities. Its a bit like exploratorium. Maya got a bit car sick and was not well for the first couple of hours. She finally threw up and then felt much better. The cleaning staff at the museum were not very pleased with us :( (obviously they dont have kids!). We had a great thin crust cheese pizza at kinder city. Maya and PJ then enjoyed the big kids exhibits for another hour or so. There were additional activities like bread making, dinosaur sand blocks, chocolate making which we had to skip, since we did not know how good/bad maya felt. Its quite amazing to watch her bounce right back and continue playing before/after she is sick. Zurich is really cold (-2 degree cent), so we cannot spend a lot of time outside. We have a fair amount of warm clothing but dont have all the things like mittens and ear muffs etc. The kids start freezing and are unhappy after 5-10 minutes outside.

Our next destination was trampolino, an indoor playground similar to planet magica but much bigger. It was also quite crowded, but the kids had a great time jumping and doing various activities. Its kinda cool to see them persevere in various things and keep trying till they get it. For one of the slides, i had to jump in and help them climb up. We hoped to exhaust them before bedtime. Unfortunately, i did not have time to do any research with regard to food places, so we did not really eat any good swiss food. PJ was also quite tired by 6:30 pm or so, which made getting dinner outside even more difficult. We got some good bread/cheese/smoked fish/salmon roe/meatloaf from the grocery store (coop is one big chain, migros is the other) and had a pretty good dinner. Gave the kids a bath to get them in the sleepy mood. This worked great for PJ who was out by 8:00 pm. Maya stated that she was not tired but was kind enough to keep herself entertained for the next hour or so. She ended up making a fair amount of noise which woke PJ up and now we had 2 jet lagged kids to deal with. Once again, the common spaces in the hostel and the steps saved us. After making the kids climb up and down three times and a few games in the lobby, we headed back to sleep for a couple of hours before we got on the flight to Mumbai.

We had to get to the airport a bit early, since we had to find our way there and to the rental car return. We also take our time to feed the kids at the airport, do lots of postcards with them and in general get them physically and mentally tired (hence i can type this blog post, while they snore next to me!). Maya was nice enough to remind us of her "dramamine" medicine, even though she does not like chewing the tablet.

Onto India and more fun travels. We'll start using some of the home schooling material that we've lugged half way across the world. More home schooling stories coming up in future blog posts.

New York trip report ..

We flew into new york on dec 18th on United. The flight was quite comfortable and turbulent free. However, Maya got sick on the plane, for the third time in a row and threw up. I suspect plane travel does not sit well with her. The kids decided I was their favorite parent and wanted to sit next to me the entire time. We had a 3-1 seat configuration and mari got to chill for some time. We spent most of the time playing melissa and doug's pattern travel game. Its a bit too easy for maya, so will need to get her something more challenging for the next flight.

We spoke to a pediatrician in New York, who recommended we give her Dramamine before take off which will dull her balance sensors (they are behind the ear). They seemed to have worked well so far (writing this on the Zurich->Mumbai flight). However, she did throw up on a car trip yesterday when we did not give her Dramamine.

This has been our first trip with two kids who are grown up (relatively speaking). Its a lot of work with kids at this age which makes travel quite hard and different. When the kids were younger, we could carry them on backpacks and pretty much do things we liked, wander the city, stop at cafes etc. At this age, we think more about what activities will entertain and educate the kids. So we basically hunt for discovery / exploratorium museum equivalents in various cities. Both New York and Zurich will be cold this time of the year and will limit any outside activities

We got into NY late friday. The kids were glad to be in a spacious one bedroom apartment and we spent the evening doing various projects. Mari, Lara and Frank went to dinner at Frank's Italian restaurant in the East Village and came back with a pretty good report. The next morning, i had an excellent CiviCRM meetup with some of our users and consultants. The kids wanted to stay at home and do school, which is what Mari did using some of the home schooling material we have. We went for lunch to Momafuke, the noodle bar in east village. We got the sashimi appetizer, the hot mushroom bun and the squid salad. The squid salad was exceptional and definitely worth getting. The other two appetizers were quite ordinary and a bit disappointing. The portion size seemed a bit small. For the main courses, Mari got the chicken ramem, kurund got the shrimp and rice, and I got the pork and poached egg ramen. All three courses were quite good and devoured by us (with some help from the kids). The pork pieces were quite fatty (which makes the soup tasty). Its kinda ironic that restaurants are going back to using the "good parts" of an animal to prepare food. This is quite common in my Mom's home cookin. We then took Metro North to visit Kavya, Esha, Suhrud and Chayya. We had a delicious indian meal at their place (baingan bharta, cholle and upside down veggies). The kids took care of themselves for most of the visit. Kinda nice that the kids can entertain themselves at this age.

The next morning we headed to the Museum of Natural History (MNH). We met Mari's cousin, Rona there. On our way there we managed to lose Kurund in the subway. For the next three hours, the kids were quite sad and kept mentioning that Kurund is lost and they will not meet him again. It did not help that MNH is a very hands off museum (see, read but dont touch) and the kids got bored there pretty quickly. MNH does have a discovery center which is open ONLY from 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm. Not sure why such a large museum has such limited hours for something which all small kids like. MNH was very crowded and the noise level was so so high, seemed like all schools in NY decided to visit it that day (or so it felt). Overall MNH is not a great museum for kids under 5, IMO. The one thing that did excite the kids for 30 mins or so was the evolution of man (from chimpanzee to neanderthal to man). Maya went around checking which one was male and which was female. PJ was quite happy to see monkeys.

We then went over to Time Warner Center for lunch at Bouchon Bakery. We were a large group and bought food from the takeaway. The menu is quite limited and we tasted most items on the menu. The sandwiches (tuna salad, roast beef, turkey, vegetarian) were made on some great bread and the quality of ingredients was high. The focacia sandwich was the tastiest which yummy bacon on top :). The desserts (macaroons, chocolate chip cookie and chocolate cake) met our high standards. The chocolate cake was as good as any of the chocolate stuff from tartine, if not a wee bit better.

We then visited Elin Waring and Manhattan Country School (MCS). Elin has deployed CiviCRM at MCS. MCS is a small progressive school on Upper West Side. Diversity in NY is so so different than diversity in San Francisco. While all the SF schools make a strong attempt at being diverse, it still means that 60% of the kids are white. The kids at MCS were like a mini-UN (borrowed from lara's description of a subway car in NY). Visiting MCS made me think that staying in NY for the spring / summer / fall might not be a bad idea (assuming we figure out what we will do with the kids education). NY in winter might be a wee bit too cold for my liking. Our final destination of the day was Manhasset, Long Island. We took LIRR and the kids entertained (or tortured) the other passengers by playing phone the entire ride over (30 mins). We had another great indian meal (alu gobi, dhal and shrimp curry) and the kids used frank as a jumping bag.

The next morning we had coffee and breakfast at Araca (with lara and rona) on 7th Avenue. This place (another Lara find) was started by someone who worked at Blue Bottle Coffee in the Bay Area. The coffee was obviously quite excellent and the food was very good (poached eggs on fry bread, chile poblano sandwich with avocado salsa, egg and potato quiche). This place was so so small that only 4-5 people could stand inside at any given time. There is a bench outside so we rotated people and food from inside to outside on a regular basis (was quite cold that morning). We then headed to Children's Museum of Manhattan (we wanted to goto Children's museum of art, which opened a bit too late for us, 12:00 pm). I took a 90 minute walk along the riverfront while the kids enjoyed the museum. We also purchased some Kapla blocks as a present. Seems quite an interesting set and we'l probably purchase a set for our kids when we get back home. We were running a bit late and to mine (and rona's) disappointment we had to skip Katz and settled for H&H bagels and cream cheese for lunch.

Now off on another plane ride to Zurich. Maya is getting a bit tired of planes and has mentioned a few times she does not want to get on a plane to goto europe. The postcard game is quite entertaining (and a great diversion) and we spent an hour or so writing postcards to all our friends in NZ and other parts of the world.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The evolution of Maya and PJ

Its kinda cool to see a kid grow up and evolve. We've seen quite a few changes in Maya since PJ became part of the family close to two years ago. Its fascinating to see how they interact with each other and how maya has adapted in how she deals with PJ. Initially, there was the timid Maya who did not really know what to do with PJ. These days, we see a Maya who gets on the offensive a bit more than needed. PJ knows maya's soft spots and does not hesitate to use them at times. Not sure if its the younger kid syndrome, or PJ's character, but she does like to needle maya. Most of her attempts are when she thinks no one's watching. Unfortunately for PJ, maya does not take this lying down any more. So fireworks typically follow such outings. Kinda reminds me of the line of control between india and pakistan.

With PJ's influence (or so i think), maya has become more social and interacts with people more easily. She had two children sessions by herself at two schools in SF recently. She enjoyed both the sessions quite a bit, and had a pretty distinct spring in her step after the second session at Live Oak. However, when we visited the other two schools where PJ is also a potential student, Maya was quite reserved and was glued to our sides. Mari's theory is that Maya thought it was little children's work since PJ was there, and hence did not participate

Maya has taken an interest in computers these days. We've started spending some time on a computer and she sits on my lap typing the various numbers and alphabets. We then do a bit of spelling on the computer where she decides what words she wants to spell. Today she decided she wanted to learn how to spell stinky and yucky. She seems to find great humor in this.

Another fascinating topic for her these days is death and dying. Need to do a bit of research on what our responses should be, but we do have good conversation about this. She mentioned earlier today that only people died and animals did not. Mari explained to her that a pig had to die for her ham and cheese pastry earlier today and fish need to be sacrificed for her sushi dinners.

The private school admission experience ...

So we've applied to 4 private schools (San Francisco School, San Francisco Friends, Children's Day School and Live Oak) in San Francisco. The supply / demand curve is completely out of whack, and as such there are approx 100-200 applicants for approx 10 spots. We have PJ who's applying for the age 4 slot, where typically schools have between 0-2 vacancies. As such, i suspect our chances at those schools (SF and CDS) is quite low. Our chances at the other schools is probably a bit higher. The schools were very accomodating and scheduled us for both parent and kid interviews before we took off. That does give us some hope :)

These four schools are part of the group of small progressive schools in san francisco. Overall the type of education they offer is quite similar across the schools. Differentiated education, small class size (approx 8-12 kids / teacher), focus on arts and music, emphasis on the environment and community, a focus on diversity at multiple levels (ethnic, income and family orientation).

Last year we visited SF school and I was quite impressed with it. This year, i had a slightly different outlook. Maya and PJ attend Richmond Montessori, an excellent program in NZ. The teachers are friendly and interact with the kids in a very nice supportive manner. I also spoke to my friend Smita who is home schooling her kid Amitav. So I spent the first few weeks on a couple of home schooling mailing lists (post on home schooling coming soon) and learned a bit more about home schooling. While the private schools were still quite impressive, I was not as enamored of them as I was last year. I think home schooling is definitely a option and compares quite favorably to the private schools. We hope to visit a public school before we head out. The SF public lottery system is not ideal, since you dont know if your child will get into any of the schools in the neighbourhood

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Life in San Francisco and my poor old knee

Our life in San Francisco seems so so busy on this trip. Between school appointments, tours, open houses, visits to the doctor/dentist and work its a constant stress machine. We need to figure out how to slow things down a wee bit when we come back. Maybe we'll do a better job on the next trip

A couple of interesting things to note on this trip. Decided to get my knee checked by the good folks at kaiser. We discovered pretty quickly that my left knee ACL was non existent and an MRI revealed a potential tear in the MCL. The doctor thinks the MRI might be wrong with the MCL tear since i can squat without pain. Had some good visits with the physical therapist, Brian Soo, who gave me a few good trip on strengthening my quads, hamstrings and glutes. I've not lost a lot of strength/muscle on my left leg, which is indeed a good thing. Most likely, i will opt for ACL surgery when we revisit the US in July 2008

Our going back to NZ has hit a tiny little snag. We failed to get an extension to our visa at the NZ embassy in LA (since there is no concept of a visa beyond a year). Hopefully our immigration paperwork will come through before Feb 9th

Its time for us to start thinking about a potential school for Maya / PJ in the city. The supply/demand equation is totally out of whack. I've been chatting with Smita about her home schooling experiences with Amitav and am more convinced that home schooling is a saner/safer/more efficient option. More details on our school visits in the next post

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Headed back to SF via Auckland ...

So we are headed home early tomorrow morning (actually in a few hours from now). We are spending the day in auckland before boarding the late evening flight to san francisco. The strategy is to get this kids exhausted by making them walk / play in auckland, so they sleep for most of the flight home :)

Since we are spending the day in the big city, i had to do some research to find out what to eat and where :) Here is a list of places from NZ Herald. They should do a better job highlighting articles like these on their main food page. It took me some time to find the article even though i knew exactly what I was looking for. I combined this with the Best Cafe List from Cafe magazine (great magazine, crappy web site) to come up with the following list of places under consideration:

Satya, Ponsoby
17 Great North Rd, Ponsonby

Handmade Burgers
455 New North Rd, Kingsland, ph (09) 849 4590

Renkon Express
2/175 Ponsonby Rd, ph (09) 376 3090;

240 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, ph (09) 376 9303

Raw Power
10 Vulcan Lane, City, ph (09) 303 3624

Otto Woo
47 Ponsonby Rd, ph (09) 360 1989

3 Lorne St, City, 09.303 4301

57 Fort St, City, 09.308 9338

Yes, its a long list and we only have 2 meals to eat, but i'll figure out where to go by the time we land in AKL :)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Off around the world ...

In a few days we'll be starting a round the world (RTW) trip. The RTW trip made sense since we had to go to San Francisco, India, Phillipines and back to NZ. We were pretty lucky to find a good travel agent at the Nelson Air NZ offices who got us a Star Alliance RTW fare with changeable dates etc. Here's our schedule in case you want to meet with us :)

  • Nov 21 - Dec 17: San Francisco
  • Dec 18 - Dec 21: New York
  • Dec 22 - Dec 24: Zurich
  • Dec 25 - Jan 25: Mumbai and other destinations in India
  • Jan 25 - Jan 27: Singapore
  • Jan 27 - Feb 5: Manila
  • Feb 6 - Feb 8: Hong Kong
  • Feb 9 - ???: Nelson
We have decided to spend some more time in NZ and Nelson and are part way through with the immigration paperwork. Hopefully things will work out and we will be allowed to return to NZ :)

We have friends staying for a few weeks at our place in Nelson. If you are interested in using the house / car while we are away, send me email

Food in Nelson ...

Continuing with my trail of living in nelson. The past couple of posts and this one are primarily for a friend and his family who will be in nelson while we are off travelling the world (see the next blog post for details)

It is good to go a bit early to the Nelson Saturday Market. On a good summer day it gets quite crowded and makes it a bit less fun. We try to get there by 8:30 am or so at the latest. Our friends Nilakshi, Alec and Tameko are typically done by 8:30 am!. So most locals get there quite early. Here are some of our favorite stalls (the stall are not named, so you'll have to look around and find them)

  • There are quite a few good organic veggie and fruit stalls. We typically pick what we are in the mood for and whats in season. The good stalls run out of fruit/veggies by 10:00 am
  • Fresh Organic whole salmon or salmon fillets from the Marlborough Sounds farm
  • Mussel and Oysters from the stall next to the salmon stall
  • Eggs (from belgrove farms) / Half baked baguettes from the stall on the other side of the salmon stall
  • Small / Family sized pies from the My Pie cart
  • Billtong (dried south african jerky) from pete (next to mussels)
  • Pears/apples from poppy's pears
  • Cheese from Cheesemongers
  • Great walnut-raisin Bread from the stall next door
  • Cannon bars / Teriyaki Sauce / Satay Sauce / BBQ sauce from Carl and Shannon
  • Ciabatta, Whole Wheat, Chocolate Chip Cookies from Artisan Bakery
  • Salad mix from stall behind artisan bakery
  • Manuka honey from mountain valley honey
  • Whitebait sandwiches
  • Olive oil from kakariki
  • Cashews/Almonds snack pack
  • Great coffee from divine coffee cart
  • Good crepes at Kaffay. Good olleberry (donut) from stall next to crepe(s)
  • Sausages and german meat products from doris
  • Smoked Fish / Salmon Pate from Nelson Nature smoke
  • Sheep cheese from Neudorf Cheese
  • Good wooden toys from Limpopo
We get most of the stuff at the market (as evident from the list above, and i suspect i missed a few of our favorite vendors). For the other stuff
  • Meat from O'Neills Butchery and Deli in Richmond Mall
  • Fish from Guyton's at Richmond Mall or Haven Road
  • Atomic Coffee for Plunger (kiwi term for french press) from Morrison Cafe
  • Bulk items (rice, lentils, cereal) from Bin Inn (Richmond or Nelson)
  • Fresh Choice, New World and Woolworths are the grocery stores we visit (typically decided by what park we are taking the kids to). All the grocery stores pretty much carry the same range of items

Friday, November 09, 2007

Places to eat in the Nelson Region ..

Continuing with our theme of stuff to do in and around nelson (or the top part of the south island)

Nelson / Richmond

  • Morrison Cafe
  • Hopgoods
  • Bar delicious
  • Sushi House
  • Haven Fish and Chips
  • Kaffey crepes at the Nelson Farmers Market
  • My Pie at the Nelson Farmers Market
  • Dellah
  • Steffano Pizzeria
  • Crema coffee near cathedral steps
  • Ambrosia
  • Bouterey's
  • Waimea Vineyard Cafe
  • Macmillan Ceramics and Cafe (kids do pottery while u sip a latte)
Beyond Nelson
  • Monterey House in Orinoco
  • Awaroa Lodge in Abel Tasman
  • Mussel Inn in Golden Bay
  • Norwester Cafe in Amberley (near Christchurch)
  • Hapuku Lodge and Cafe near Kaikoura
  • Nin's Bin near Kaikoura
  • Le Cafe, Picton
  • C4 Blenheim
  • Arnee Bajee, Christchurch
  • Bodhi Tree, Christchurch

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Things to do in the nelson region ..

Some ideas for short/long/day trips to do in and around nelson with young kids.

  • nelson -> westport -> punakaiki -> glacier (south west coast) and/or karamea (north west coast)
  • nelson -> kaikoura -> christchurch -> hanmer springs -> nelson
  • nelson -> picton -> wellingon (ferry ride) -> picton -> nelson

some shorter overnight trips are:
  • nelson lakes
  • golden bay
  • marlborough sounds / queen charlotte track
  • french pass / pelorus sounds / d'urville island
  • blenheim and wine country
  • abel tasman national park
day trips around nelson:
  • cable bay
  • mapua
  • kaiteriteri
  • moutere valley vineyards
  • havelock mussel tour

Other things to do around nelson during the day

  • nelson city saturday market
  • motueka sunday market
  • richmond aquatic center
  • hike to center of new zealand
  • tahunanui beach
  • isel park / washbourn gardens / queen gardens
  • hike to center of nz
  • grampians hike
  • nelson pool
  • natureland
  • rock climbing gym
  • chipmunks
  • nelson library
  • roller skating rink

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

AT&T sucks big time ...

AT&T is the worst telecom provider by a big margin

I owe an apology to Telecom NZ :(. AT&T makes Telecom NZ look real good. We wanted to get DSL at home to enable us to work from home. However AT&T's incompetence makes this fairly unlikely. After navigating through their fairly horrendous voice recognition system, you finally get put in line for an operator due to high call volumes. (on a weekday late evening!). When I do get the operator the call is mysteriously dropped and I get to repeat the whole process. I finally manage to get through, place the order and am assured that DSL will be turned on Saturday evening. Saturday comes and goes with no signs of DSL. Obviously their sales department does not work on the weekends, so I have to wait till Monday (since customer support informs me they have no records of an order)

I called back on Monday only to be informed by a super rude customer support personnel (gwen green) that the previous person did not know what she was talking about with regard to the Saturday date. She does the same thing and tells me it will be turned on Tuesday nite. Tuesday nite comes and goes and no DSL. We left for Seattle on Wednesday, so I just did not bother to call them. We came back Sunday nite, still no DSL :( Spoke to another customer service rep (after going through their crappy voice recognition software), and we tried trouble shooting with no luck. She told me that the line technician will check it tomorrow and they'll charge me if it is my fault. Will they refund me for the hours I wasted if it is their fault?

I'm not too hopeful that we'll get DSL turned on in the next week or so. I suspect I'll cancel the order later this week. What was Apple thinking when they chose AT&T/Cingular as their exclusive iPhone carrier. (bad reports are streaming in at a nice rate already!)

In general customer service across most large US companies have detiorated significantly over the past few years. Maybe its time companies started paying folks at the top a bit less and started improving their basic operations

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Back in San Francisco ...

So am on a flight again, this time to seattle. The kids are asleep and trying to get a few words in. We spent the last week in San Francisco, meeting old friends and the kids visiting their favorite museums and playgrounds (exploratorium, discovery museum, grattan playground). Its a bit strange to be in a relatively big city after seven months in Nelson. San Francisco seems to be quite crowded relatively speaking, a lot of traffic and just too rushed. I think i've gotten used to the quiet slower pace of life in Nelson :). While we do miss the various activities the kids can do in SF, I think we have it pretty good in Nelson.

Having to do a fair amount of work with no DSL at home and a few folks from india visiting makes life a lot busier than I'd like. I miss our regular swimming pool and beach visits.

However the food makes up for quite a few of the above things. We've eaten at quite a few of our favorite places. All of them still rock and definitely worth visiting (Shalimar, Viks, Sketch, Sartaj, Cheung Hing Chinese, Tartine). We also tried Bi-Rite Creamery and it indeed is delicious. The salted caramel and honey lavender are amazing flavors. I think Sketch is a wee bit better, the ice-cream a bit lighter and smoother, the flavors much more natural. However Bi-Rite has the location advantage of being close to where we love. Also recently saw EOS (a fancy restaurant in Cole Valley) offering home made icecream also with similar flavors to Bi-Rite. Looks like ice-cream is the trendy thing in SF this year (thin crust pizza was the trendy thing the past couple of years)

Some more thoughts on 7 months in NZ ..

Flying is a great time to update the blog. You have a few free minutes while the kids are asleep to get some work done and/or update the blog. WIne does not really help the work aspect, so updating the blog is a good alternative. As we are flying back to the US, here's a look back at some of the high and low points of our 200 days stay in NZ ..

We've decided to extend our stay in NZ till Nov 20 (this was when our visa runs out). A combination of us liking NZ and not getting into the schools we wanted in SF led us to extend our visit. I foresee some more travel for us in 2007 / 2008 (maybe a spanish language country?)

I think the biggest drawback is we miss our friends and family in NZ. We've been super lucky to have quite a few folks visit us in NZ (and we'd like to encourage even more people to come visit us!) and we've spent a fair amount of time with them. So overall I think we spent quite some time with our close friends and grandparents in NZ. I thought we'd miss the food and coffee, but NZ surprised me in both counts. I'm a bit scared that I'd miss NZ coffee in San Francisco now. The produce / fruits / meat / seafood is quite excellent and the quality is as good if not much better than the US. We've been doing much more cooking at home which is quite enjoyable. We travelled a fair amount in NZ but not as much as I expected. The summer was fairly cold and rainy that we did not go camping. The beaches in and around Nelson are so awesome that we felt driving a long distance to do something similar was just not worth it. With kids, the top three things you look for are: a beach and water, a play structure and a place to ride their bikes. Nelson has those amenities in plenty and as such driving a long distance to do the same did not seem worth it. We did go Northland and the Bay of Islands, Christchurch and Wellington. I'd like to otaga, southland and milford sound before we head back home to the USA.

I'm quite glad and happy that we did make the move to NZ. It is a great experience for all of us. We've spent way more time with the kids than we did in the US and have a fun time doing quite a few different things as a family. I liked our regular schedule of dropping the kids at school in the morning and doing an activity with them most days after school. At the same time Mari and I would get some exercise in (either a swim or a run). Work was a bit easier than I expected. I liked the fact that NZ is in between India and the US and I could spend a fair amount of time with developers in both India and US while working regular hours in NZ. My work schedule was much more flexible in Nelson than the US, and something I probably will carry back with me. I'm glad and excited that we learnt how to sail a yacht. I hope to get the next certification when its spring and the winds are steady and predictable. I'm also quite thrilled with my swimming progress and cant wait to get better in the TI technique.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Swimming class, day two ...

Today was the second day of the total immersion swim class. We dropped the kids off at the babysitter's place at 7:30 am before heading down to the pool. Its quite cold in Nelson in the morning (0 c / 32 f), so we were all bundled up and ready to go.

The first hour or so we spent watching video from yesterday and saw a few good things we did and a few things we needed to focus on and improve for the next session. Watching an underwater video is an awesome thing, gives u a much better perspective and idea on all the things that are happening and how you respond. I was quite surprised as to the many good things I do while watching the video. We hit the pool by 9:00 am and spent the first 30 minutes warming up and doing the drills from yesterday (relaxed back float and kick, fish, switch, zipper stich and linked zipper). Lionel was also kind enough take me to the deep end and work with me a bit on my kicking technique. The good thing from the class is we've got lots of drills to do when we go swimming on our own. At the end of the session, we were filmed again so we could analyze and improve for the next session.

After a short break and a video session, we got back in the pool. We warmed up a bit and then started linking zipper switch strokes to complete our free style motion. Lionel also introduced a bit of breathing technique in this session. This was the only part of the class which felt a bit rushed, i.e. there was no nice smooth progression to introducing this. We did a few lengths in the pool and finally got a stroke count. My initial stroke count was 40, using the gliding technique I came out with a stroke count of 16!!. To be fair, it was not a valid stroke count, since I was still getting the breathing technique and hence was quite irregular with my strokes and did a fair amount of gliding.

Overall the class was awesome. Lionel is a great teacher and coach, and we hope to use him more in the next few months in Nelson. TI was all what I expected it to be and a bit more :) A few things I need to practice include:

  • Relax more in the water and flow with it
  • Keep the lead hand at a good 4:00, fingers lower than wrist lower than elbow
  • Hand close to shoulder on zipper switch
  • Work on my balance
  • Work on my back float and comfort level
  • Practice kicking in the deep end
I'd highly recommend a TI class to anyone (and everyone). We hope to teach maya and pj swimming using quite a few of these techniques :). I would recommend buying Terry's book and DVD as a good way of getting started. I'll post videos of all our swims when I get them from Lionel :)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Returning to San Francisco ..

but just for a visit :) We'll be in the Bay Area from June 20th to July 17th. The kids are quite excited to go back to their home and have been talking about it for a few days now. Mari and I are excited to meet all our friends and eat at some of our favorite places in the Bay Area (Shalimar, Sketch, Pizetta 211, Tartine, Good Luck Dim Sum, Noriega takeout chinese) and also try some new places (bi-rite ice-cream!)

We'll be visiting Seattle from June 27th - July 1 for Ryan and Julie's wedding. We are also planning on doing a couple of camping trips around the Bay Area / Sierra's

Total Immersion swimming ...

So this weekend mari and i are taking a 2 day swimming class at Riverside Pool in Nelson. The class is basically about how to swim efficiently using Total Immersion Techniques

We've been spending a fair amount of time in the water in Nelson. The kids love the pool and like to swim, so we figured we might as well become better and more efficient swimmers. I've been interested in the total immersion technique since it seems quite logical and scientific.

Today was day 1 of the class. It was a six hour class from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm. We managed to find a babysitter for Maya and PJ for these two days, so off we went bright and early to the pool. We met the other two students and our instructor Lionel. Lionel is quite an excellent instructor, very patient and works within your swimming ability (mine obviously being quite poor!)

We had two 90 minute sessions in the pool. Saw some video clips of our swimming and practiced balance on the water and how to move more efficiently. To some extent swimming is both a complicated sport since any movement / tension can cause drag and the goal is to minimize drag (and hence maximize speed). TI basically approaches swimming like skating, so the goal is for you to skate thru the water while minimizing drag.

We pratices skating and switch skating. Tommorrow we'll do the zipper switch and more fish like swimming strokes. Mari got a wee bit sea sick from all that time in the water (which is ironic considering that our yachting class we had much rougher water!). Personally I need to work on getting much more comfortable in deep water and learn how to thread water a bit more effortlessly. Overall the class is just awesome and highly recommeded

Thursday, June 07, 2007

3 days in Christchurch.

Not so early in the morning, we headed for christchurch. On the way, we stopped in Blenheim for breakfast at the Golden Arches. We had our usual egg mcmuffin, hashbrow, coffee/orange juice. There is a very nice indoor play structure that M and P enjoyed playing in. There are even cubby holes for the children to put their shoes in before entering the play structure. P is 3 now and tall enough to climb up and down and return on her own.

While P and M were burning off their extra Mickey D calories, Lobo went to CPR to pick us up some real coffee-2 flat whites. We enjoyed our daily caffeine while M and P screamed (mostly laughing) and ran around in the playstructure. The coffee is worth it if you're going to be in Blenheim.

Back in the car and on the road. Before Kaikoura, we picked up some cooked crayfish at nin's bin (it's a permanent trailer that sells fresh crayfish. Our next stop was Kaikoura where we met up with Stephen, Ivy, Frei, Reia and Janaki, Venkat, Sarayu. They saw dolphines and whales. We had a bit of lunch at the dolphin encounter cafe. After lunch the crayfish eaters had some ok crayfish. It wasn't as tasty as some yummy crab i've eaten. The kids had fun throwing rocks in the water. The beach in Kaikoura is filled with smooth, soft round rocks from pure white to dark grey. We took some back to color

We started to head back to christchurch around 3pm. We arrived at our accomodation, addington motel in time for dinner. We ordered pizza and falafels from Souvlaki's. Their falafels were great and the pita is home made and tasty on it's own.

Early Saturday morning we headed for Lytleton Farmer's Market. I bought 3 jars of Rasberry Valrohna Jam. I've been looking forward to buying her Jam since the last time we were there. There's a shop in Nelson selling her Jam at double the price. She does phone orders : ) Other things we ate were stuffed olives, savory pies and coffee. I also bought 2 loaves of ginger bread. It's the best ginger bread that I've ever had. Last time I just bought one. Silly me.

Next stop - downtown Christchurch. The kids hung out at the museum in the botanical garden, while the adults went wandering around the arts centre and craft market. We also had lunch at the craft market - a variety of food - greek, chinese, thai, crepes, sausages. Later in the evening we went to QE2. It's an awesome swim centre with a wave pool, lap pool and large toddler pool that's warm. There's a jacuzzi too.

Sunday we had dimsum for lunch. It was our second time there and just as good as the first time. We hung out in Cathedral square and watched an entertaining street show under the sunshine. We also kept warm while listening to an oregon recital in the Cathedral.

I realize i enjoy visiting the big cities like Christchurch. I looked forward to the dim sum and the option of other ethnic foods to eat. There's more driving and more traffic, but also more things to do. Besides going swimming and to a playground, other things to do in Christchurch is go to the museum, walk around different neighborhoods, window shop, eat ethnic, try more cafes and explore different open spaces.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Into the bay we go (on a boat ..)

We took a 5 day Competent Crew Sailing Class from John Moore at Sail Nelson. John and his partner Woodi also run the fabulous boutique Wakefield Quay B&B. At the end of the course we would get our competent crew certification and if possible maybe even a day skipper certification.

Its fall in NZ, so the wind is not very reliable. The seas are also a bit calmer than the summer time. John was quite accommodating and tailored the course to our schedule. We split the course into a 3 day / 2 night session, a few days break and then a 2 day / 1 night class.

Maya and PJ were gracious enough to let us escape for that time. The grandparents were awesome and took great care of the kids. For the second part of the class, Maya and PJ were not too sad to see us go. They had a great time with both sets of grandparents and I suspect were quite spoiled also. Maya wanted to take them to Boathouse since we had not taken them there. Mari's dad did not know where it was, so Maya directed them there. They saw the door shut and thought it was closed so drove away (it was open, but since it was super windy they shut the doors and windows). Maya was very sad that they could not have a seafood meal. Instead she had to eat bad chinese at the food court in Richmond Mall.

Overall the course was quite nice. We got a lot of practice sailing in decent winds. We motored for a fair bit too. Handling a yacht is a bit easier than handling a small dinghy. The first trip we went and stayed opposite Adele island and we had penguins as our campsite mates. They are quite noisy at night, luckily we were exhausted both nights and fell asleep quite quickly. We learnt how to rig the boat, get the sails up, a bit of navigation and how to operate the VHF. We came in pretty late at night and it was quite challenging (and a bit scary) to get the boat into the marina at night. Overall the first part of the course was quite uneventful. I think we could have covered quite a bit of navigation, tides and anchoring while we were motoring. I normally dont like too much structure, but I suspect some planning and structure during the slow times would have made the course more informative and challenging.

The second part of the course turned out to be quite an adventure. The forecast was for gale force winds, and John gave us an option to delay the course till later. However due to various scheduling issues, we opted to sail under those conditions. We practiced some maneuvering in the morning and learnt how to tie the boat to the jetty before we took off towards Marlborough sounds and Crousells harbor. The wind was slow at first, but kicked in after an hour and we were flying at a good healthy speed of 7-8 knots.We got into the harbor at 4:00 pm or so and started making our way into the bay and past quite a few mussel farms. We were supposed to tie into a Nelson yacht club mooring far in, but could not find a mooring after a fair amount of searching in the dusk. We put down the anchor, hoped for the best and cooked a decent meal. At this point in time the rain was coming down quite nicely along with decent gusts of wind. Our anchor did not hold, so we had to lift it up and re-anchored the boat. We thought we had done a good job and were having a good time chatting and laughing, but 30 minutes later we ran aground after being pushed by the wind. We dressed up and went out into the horrendous weather and pulled up the anchor again. Its quite difficult to navigate in the night with only a little flashlight with no moon light or stars!. Not sure how John managed to pull it off, but we reanchored again. He was not too happy with it, so we pulled the anchor up again and attached the second anchor to the first one and put it down one more time. This time we seemed to be holding pretty good and managed to have a depth of 10m or so for most of the time. It was past midnight and we decided to sleep a bit. John was awake for most of the night making sure things were ok. He took a short nap just before daylight. When he woke up we were in the mussell beds and he tried to get us out of it with the little flashlight. Unfortunately he lost the light and gave up, decided to tackle the issue at daylight. Dawn came soon enough, we got out of the mussel mess and a few of us snoozed till 9:00 am. Mari and i were enjoying the scenic sounds :)

We searched the next day for the buoy again with no luck and headed back to Nelson. John was not his chipper self, a wee bit nervous, and the rest of is were quite low energy. We basically tried to get home at a reasonable hour and made it back by 5:00 pm. We then went over to the B&B where Woodi graciously fed us a few good snacks and a good wine. Overall we had an excellent time and learnt a fair amount. John did mention that the course felt quite disjointed because of the way we split it up. I would have liked to have gotten a bit more out of it and learn more advanced navigation, tides and anchoring. I guess we'll save that for summer and invite the grandparents over again :)

Monday, May 07, 2007

nelson's best restaurant

the cut, nelson nz

fish soup, mushroom risotto, double layer chocolate cake made w/ valrhona. complimentary chocolate truffles. martini

It was a cold night so sipping a martini warmed the body faster than the portable heater. I've never liked martini's but this one went down smooth, no after taste and kept you warm for awhile.

We shared the fish soup so that we could enjoy the valrhona double layer cake. The fish soup was tasty, savory. Bits of vegetables and very flavorful. It came with a couple thin sliced baguette pieces. We said that we'd share the soup so they went out of their way to split it into two bowls. "They care : )" A perfect choice for a rainy, wet and cold night. I ordered the mushroom risotto because i love risotto and haven't ate it in 6+ months. The portion was good - not too much and not too little. Plenty of mushrooms.

Dessert was excellent. Double layered chocolate made w/ valrhona. I was pretty happy with the whole meal, but get this, they gave complimentary truffles. They make them! The only negative thing about The Cut is that they're not open for lunch. They did say we could bring our daughters and just have dessert. : )

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Some pictures ..

So lots of folks have complained that our blog is text heavy and picture light :(. Unfortunately we are not really photo people and dont take the time to clicks lots of snaps. I think our kids will cuss us when they grow up.

In the meantime, here are some photos from our friends who visited us recently

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Our parents rock ...

So Maya and PJ have both sets of grandparents visiting at the same time. They've been with us for a little more than a week and are in NZ for 4 more weeks. I suspect most of our non-asian readers are thinking: wow, thats a long time. Are the parents getting along nicely with each otehr? Are we getting along well with them and living in peace? Suffice to say, we are all having a very good time. I'm seeing a side of my parents i've never seen before and am quite dazzled by the experience. Here are some highlights and cute things they do ...

  • Mari's dad is so so good with the kids. Maya will go upto him after dinner (or after school) and request in a cute voice: "Grandpa, can you please play with me?". She'll then drag him to the living room and they'll play for 30 mins - 3 hours. He took the energy and trouble to get a few things that they could play together with. Thanx grandpa tilos
  • PJ likes to goto bed with my dad reading her stories. PJ tends to fall asleep on her own. So we read her a few stories and we leave the room. My dad is not aware of this and reads to her till she falls asleep
  • In the morning the parents make an oatmeal breakfast for each other every day!. They then sit and plan their activities for the day (with some help/advice from us). They try to leave by 9:30 am or so and get back by 4:00 pm. They are way more adventurous than I expected them to be. A lot of the time they are outside they are on their feet walking around the town/beach/destination for the day!
  • Sometimes they will come back home and complain about how tired and hungry they are. They will then cook some noodles or a sandwich and swallow it down while complaining all the time about how much they walked!
  • They love to exercise! We have a set of 380 steps a block away from the house. Their evening walk consists of climbing all 380 of those steps. If its a bit late, they will try to go upto the half way point (where there is a nice bench!). The first time they did it, they struggled a bit. I suspect they race up it now. At the end of the day they are typically so tired they crash at 8:00 pm, a few mins after the kids!
  • We (mari and me) get to go on bike rides and have some time to ourselves!. We went on a dinner date to "The Cut" last week. We had a wonderful time, the food was awesome, review coming soon
  • They walked to the center of NZ. Its a pretty steep climb!
  • I was really scared that my parents will be bored out of their mind, since we dont have TV or get any Indian channels. To prevent this, I called Andrew (our landlord) and asked him to subscribe us to the SkyTV package and the Indian channel (Star Plus). Once every other day, my parents will watch 30 mins of StarPlus. I expected to get way more usage, but considering the current pattern, we'll cancel SkyTV pretty soon!
  • A few days after coming here, they realized that Nelson was too small a town for their wandering and they'll get bored quickly. So they started looking around and decided they wanted to visit another country (Fiji) since they are so close and might as well see a few more countries. (yes, they do believe in the germanic style of travel and ticking off places they've seen / driven by). They are off to Fiji next week for five days
  • A few days after deciding on Fiji, they realized taking the ferry to wellington might be fun. So now they've started planning a trip to Wellington. I had to remind them that they were here to spend some time with the kids.

Friday, May 04, 2007


Feijoa facts -
Common Names: Feijoa, Pineapple Guava, Guavasteen
Origin: The feijoa is a native to extreme southern Brazil, N. Argentina, W.Paraguay and Uruguay where it is common in the mountains.

I love going to the farmer's market. I look forward to buying cake, sampling the fresh fruit; (feijoas and apples right now), having savory breakfast crepes and browsing through the local craft stalls.

Wouldn't it be fun to sell something? At the Friday market they allow people to sell their excess fruit. And there's no charge to be a seller : ) I told my neighbor about it and she was happy to let me sell some of her feijoas. We (Maya, PJ and I ) sold 210 to be exact. It was fun. I chatted with my stall neighbors, cut up feijoas for people and Maya and PJ to sample and bought baked goods from my other stall neighbors. I was happy to sell the last bag after an hour or so.

You either love feijoas or not. I'd offer people passing to taste and some would say, " No thanks. I know what they taste like. "

Something to think about: What about feijoa zest with butter milk scones ....sounds YUM

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Visitors, Visitors and more Visitors ...

We've had quite a steady stream of visitors starting late march and continuing into early June. We then return to the US for a few weeks before coming back here and the visitor stream continues.

Its really awesome to have folks visiting us. The kids are entertained, the parents get a break and in general everyone has a good time. There was a period of 3 days when we did not have anyone around, the the house was so quiet, that it was a wee bit depressing. Currently we have both sets of grand parents visiting us. Mari's dad plays a lot with the kids and the kids enjoy his company quite a bit. This gives us a fair amount of free time to go biking etc. We hope to take a fair bit of time off from the kids over the next month.

We've been doing a fair amount of cooking at home. I made my famous mussels in white wine sauce for lunch yesterday (Phu/Joon: this was way better than Spin Inns version). Mari's mom made a tasty filipino dish, arroz caldo, a chicken and rice dish. The kids had multiple helpings of the dish (and so did the adults). Mari has been doing a fair amount of baking from the Tartine book. She recently made gougiere, scones and banana bread. Maya and I are craving the taiwanese pork chop dish from spices, so we are planning to make it this week.

Winter is moving in at a bit too fast a rate. We've started using the propane heater and will start the wood burning stove this week. Just need to get a gate to prevent the kids from running into the fireplace. Its gets pretty chilly in the morning (single degree celsius) before warming up to the late teens in the afternoon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

back home - looking at pictures

we got home on Saturday afternoon Pacific time. Since we left Auckland Saturday evening and spent 12 hours in the air it was nice to gain a day coming home. Of course on our way to NZ we completely lost a saturday - so it all evens out. We are missing the lobos and so we are compensating by looking at pictures of them. here's a link to phu's photos on flckr. if you can stand the delay - they are fun to look out.

The kids are still going to bed late and trying to sleep late every morning. We drag them out of bed to go to school hoping they'll wake up on the car ride there and maybe eat some breakfast. Grace talks about all the things she did on the trip quite often..while Jason is still disappointed that our rental car didn't have a sliding door. He is now quite fascinated with mini-vans with sliding doors - don't know why. We are heading to Cape May in a week and he is looking forward to our rental.

This weekend I am hunting for fejoias! maybe one of the farmers markets here will have them..

Monday, April 23, 2007

swimming with dolphins

When we arrived in New Zealand and started talking to the lobos about what we wanted to do on our trip - I didn't have a clear idea of what we were going to do or where we were going for that matter. As each day went by, lobo and mari started to telling us that we should book a trip to swim with the dolphins. I told them it sounded fun but really had no idea what they were talking about. I pictured going to an aquarium or something and getting into a pool while dolphins did tricks and ate fish all around me. It didn't sound very good so everytime the lobos would bring it up I just pretended I didn't hear them.
So then they told me more about it and it turns out that you go out on a boat into the ocean and jump off the boat wearing a wetsuit and actually swim with wild dolphins in the ocean. This sounded better but as I looked at the ocean and the wind and the rain outside, it didn't seem much like boating and swimming weather - it was cold and raining. So I said, yea, we should do it. And hoped that it would keep raining. One day when we were in Russell phu actually called to book the trip and while I waited - listening to him talk to the tour operator - I was relieved to hear that no boats were leaving that day because of the weather.
Well we finally plotted out the rest of our trip from the day when we would leave the lobos in Nelson and we planned to stay one day in Kaikoura - just so we could go swimming with the dolphins. We booked a trip for Thursday morning at 8:00am that would return us 3 1/2 hours later. so it was done.
We arrived in Kaikoura on Wednesday night. We had a really good meal at a restaurant called 42 degrees on the main boulevard in town. Over dinner phu and chi mapped out the plan for the morning - we were leaving the kids with chi to watch while we went on the trip and so chi had to account for every minute between our departure and our return. She was equipped with 3 sets of legos, a dolphin video and various other paraphernalia to keep the kids occupied.
That morning we had breakfast at our bed and breakfast place (terrible spot that I can't remember the name of) and then headed out to Dolphin Encounter - the outfit running the dolphin trip.
Dolphin Encouters did a really good job. They have this dolphin stuff down to a science. When we arrived they had already done one trip that left at 5:30 in the morning. They reported good clear weather and dolphins at only 25 minutes from the shore (a good sign). We were called to go get "wetsuited" which meant getting into a wetsuit that fit snugly. I had no idea what that meant, but I wasn't about to go asking for help in the state I was in (a wetsuit that felt tight and not snug). Wetsuits are not not something I want to wear ever again unless I lose 20 pounds.
Anyway, we eventually got on a bus and into a boat and although I was anxious and nervous about the whole ordeal - like clockwork - they spotted a huge school of dolphins about 20 minutes after we left. The organizer on our boat explained that once they spotted the dolphins we were to sit on the edge of the boat and when they sounded the horn, we jump in the water and swim in the direction where they told us the dolphins were swimming. All the while we are wearing a scuba mask and snorkel - so you can only breathe through the snorkel - not your nose. I will admit this caused me some anxiety. I like to have all my breathing options open to me - especially when I don't know what I'm doing. But I figured I would give it a try - so I practiced with the mask and snorkel thingy on the boat before jumping in...breathe in ...breathe out..not from my nose. So once I had to jump in my heart was pounding a mile a minute. I didn't much care about seeing any dolphins at that point. I was just hoping to get back on the boat alive. Breathing was the main point. So I did a belly flop into the water and just to get the hang of it I swam around for a bit just kicking my fins and breathing. Then I saw some dolphins underneath me..just a flash. Then some more - swimming in circles two and three at a time around me. It was truly exhilarating. I was laughing under the water. Sometimes it seemed like they could hear me and were looking at me too. When I looked up I could see fins and sometimes you could see dolphins jump up and do flips.
After a few minutes I wasn't seeing dolphins anymore and the only thing I saw under the water was a lot of blue. So I tried to make my way back to the boat which felt like a long way away. Kicking and breathing hard I got back but at that point I felt like I was about to die. I pulled my tired body back onto the boat. When they spotted the dolphins again and told us to jump in, I went back and ending up going in for 4 more swims. After that the crew served us hot chocolate and cookies and once we got into warm clothes we just cruised around a bit so we could take pictures of the dolphins and watch them do their acrobatics from the boat. I was very tired and cold, but it was all worth it.
We got back into town and the kids were happy to see us. Jason ran into phu's arms and Grace ran towards me to give me a hug. Jason asked us, "so, how was the dolphins?"

Sunday, April 22, 2007

See you tomorrow

We've had a lot of friends pass through these last few weeks. J.D., Lisa, Sophie, Matt for one weekend. Jill, Marley and their friend Lynn for one week and then Phu, Tamar, Jason, Grace, and Chi the next week. We were lucky to get a visit with Joon-Suk, Julie and Devin in Nelson, and for a couple days in Russell. It's been super fun to have good friends to talk with, laugh, and talk to again the next day and the day after, and after. If there's anything to miss, it's all our friends and family. After weeks of traveling, cooking, eating, talking, etc. with friends, the house was quiet. Maya said, "Why is it just us in the house?" PJ asked, "Where's Grace and Jason?" We told her they took a plane to San Francisco. The next thing we hear is PJ crying in the hallway. PJ and Maya are looking forward to the sleep over at Jason and Grace's house in June. We love you and to all the friends and family that have yet to visit, see you real soon. Totally looking forward to it.

Some cool things that we did and saw with our friends.

Lisa and I took a glass paper weight making class at the Hooglund Glass Blowing Gallery in Nelson. It was a one hour intense, and heated class. It was nerve racking for me because I didn't want to accidentally burn myself. Our teachers were calm, ready to lend a hand, easy to understand, and super friendly. They made sure that you didn't get burned. They teach you by example, so after you watch them, it's your turn. The second time I went there, we brought all the kids. Tamar was the only student and Maya and PJ and Jason enjoyed watching for 15 minutes or so. I also had a bag of fejoas (10) that they gobbled while watching tamar create her masterpiece. There is a large garden on the gallery grounds. There were two kinds of pear trees fillled w/ ripe pears. It was nearing lunch time so the kids were eager to eat the fresh fruit. I ate one too : ) Juicy. There's a little bridge thing for kids to walk around and balance on, a pet peacock wandering around. There was also a whole row of fejoa trees. The fejoas were still small but maybe in a week or two I can bring someone else to the gallery : )

On Jill, Marley and Lynn's last day we had lunch at Waimea Winery. I also had lunch with Cecile there on her last day. "Cecile is training for a marathon in June!" Can you tell I like the food. It's yum, and vegetarian friendly. Earlier that day, we went to the shop of Motueka Gold. They make tasty lip smacking jam. We got a fill and taste of most of their jams. If you have a sweet tooth, it's worth a visit if you're over there wine tasting anyway.

A surprise find was the doughnuts and fried banana fritters from our favorite fish and chips shop. Thanks Lynn, Jill and Joonsuk for ordering it. It was delicious.

We flew to the Bay of Islands/ Russell. It's a small little town- 2 blocks of shops. There was a library that entertained the kids for 45 minutes on one of the windy, cold days. It sold paperbacks for 50cents. The beach was rocky but clean. The kids were happy. A 10 min. ferry ride will take passengers to Pahia, the big Town. After roaming around Pahia, it had a little china town in one of the alleys. The playground by the beach was better than Russell.

If you would like to learn more about the maori culture/ new zealand, a trip to Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a must. The scenery from the site is breathtaking. If you watched the movie, "Whale Rider" , the scenes were taken from Waitangi. There is a cultural night show at Waitangi that's worth seeing.

While Jill, Lynn and Marley were here we cooked a lot. Jill is the master cook and so we had to make our best meal. Thank you for being inspired to make some tartine goodies while you were here as well as main course meals. Lynn introduced us to home made ice cream. She made honey lavender and it was the best ice cream in new zealand. I made a chocolate chip ice cream and used my stash of valrhona bars for the chips. It's really good.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

leaving nelson

tomorrow morning we will head out from Nelson and continue our trip in New Zealand without the lobos. We have been here nearly 10 days traveling from Auckland to the Bay of Islands and then to Nelson. Our kids have had lots of fun hanging out with their new sisters Maya and PJ. Jason already looked at me with shock and disbelief when I told him that Maya wasn't coming with us to Koilhkara and Christchurch. I think he believed that the lobos adopted us and we were staying in New Zealand forever. Besides playing with Maya and PJ, I think the favorite parts of New Zealand so far for the kids are the beaches. From Auckland to Russell and now in Nelson, we have really been blow away by the beautiful beaches here. The kids love to run around and throw stones into the water and dig holes. And, argue over who gets which shovel. The kids also really enjoy the Kiwi steamed milk drink here called a "fluffy." Not only is it fun to do what all the other kids are doing, but a "fluffy" in New Zealand comes with a complimentary marshmallow. Of course the marshmallow is really the main reason why Jason and Grace are adopting this drink as their own.
Today Mari convinced me to do a glass blowing class in Nelson. So I went to a glass blowing studio with everyone and got scared to death while a very patient glass blower showed me how to make a paperweight. The paperweight turned out quite nice mostly because the teacher corrected all the work I did. Thankfully I was careful enough not to burn myself or the teacher. After I was done the teacher let the kids blow a glass bubble into a long tube. Jason blew a big bubble..PJ blew a tiny one..more like a big tear trop. and Maya didn't feel like blowing at all.
Lots of good food here in New Zealand as well. We have been having great meals with lots of snacks in-between. But if you stay at the lobos, just be careful of the coffee. Since you need to be a good guest, you can humor lobo a bit and congratulate him while he carefully whips up a batch of french press coffee.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Nelson is quite beautiful

We are in our second leg of our New Zealand trip, having flown from the Bay of Islands to Nelson. We will be staying here 3 days before driving south to Kaikoura and finally Christchurch. Nelson is a very cute town, with all the conveniences of a modern city, yet the weather and beach and views of the sea is simply breath-taking. We got here Saturday night late, and on Sunday, we set out west towards Motueka for a very nice farmer's market, and then off to a stunning golden sand beach called Kaiteriteri. The kids had a great time. The water was a bit chilly, but I jumped in and took a dip anyways. Today, the weather was a bit colder, so we stayed around Nelson. We visited the town center, went to Lobo's favorite coffee place, and just checked out the city. Later in the afternoon, we went down to the beach and playground, and the children had a blast. Chi decided to venture out on her own around town, and walked home around 5pm.

Still thinking through what we will do tomorrow.


Russell (Bay of Islands) trip report (part one)

We spent 5 days in Russell with Phu, Tamar, Jason, Grace and Chi. We were joined by Joonsuk, Julie and Devin for the final 2.5 days of this adventure. In our past visits to NZ, we had never ventured north of Auckland, so we figured we'd take advantage of the easter break and explore one of the few places we've not seen in NZ. Exploring a place with kids is very different from exploring a place with packs. With kids you get to spend quality time in playgrounds, beaches and just any open space.

We chose Russell based on wonderful reports from various books and our friends (the briggs family) who had lived here for 3 months a few years ago. We booked a four bedroom house with Russell Cottages. The house was a 5 minute walk from the beach and across from a school with a great playground. So it was indeed a great location. The house was quite modern with enough sleeping space for all of us (5 adults, 4 kids), a good swimming pool and very friendly and attentive hosts. I'd definitely recommend the place if you are looking for family accommodation in Russell. Russell is across the bay from Pahia. Its a short passenger ferry ride, and a relatively long car drive away (via okiata and opua). Staying in Russell is not a great idea if you want to see quite a few places by car primarily because it is a bit remote from the main route. However it is much less touristy and more laid back than Pahia.

We flew into KeriKeri and picked up the rental cars at the airport. We spent the afternoon at KeriKeri near the StoneHouse at a nice cafe next to the river. The kids had a blast running around and playing various games in and around the trees. They also mingled with some other kids present there. We then picked up some groceries at New World in KeriKeri before heading south into Russell. Chi made us a wonderful pork noodle soup and I cooked some fairly spicy grouper vindaloo which was only appreciated by Phu :) (it was a bit too spicy for everyone else)

The next day we lounged around Russell and visited the two beaches in Russell. We also spent some quality hours at the school playground. We had pretty good Atomic coffee at Waterfront. Tamar also purchased a local coffee blend (Tiger Mountain Coffee). We had a friendly wager as to who could make the best french press coffee. Being a participant and the judge, I declared myself the winner by a big margin. (the trick is to preheat the coffee carafe)

San Francisco food update from Lynne (Gialina pizza review)

Our friend Lynne has sent us another wonderful San Francisco food and restaurant review which is definitely worth a read :) Without further ado, here's lynne ...

hello! i was just checking in on your blog and reading all your talk about food and restaurants made me really miss you guys. i thought you would want to know about the new pizza restaurant in glen park and various other eating adventures back here in sf.

gialina opened recently, right across the street from the new canyon market in glen park (was this open before you left? the bi-rite folks have a stake in it, i think they do the produce/groceries, and the other partners do the deli/butcher shop. it's basically like a j.v. bi-rite). i went early on a friday night (5:30ish) with my friends graham and katrina and their toddler Elias (he's almost 2). gialina's nice inside, a long and narrow space made lighter with windows and light-colored walls and wood. the menu is all pizza with one special non-pizza item per day. everything sounded very delicious, but in the new-standard bay area pizza way, as in, now one expects to see wild nettles on a pizza menu and so they don't really stand out anymore. after some negotiation (graham doesn't like vegetables), we ordered the meatball pizza, a wild nettle-prosciutto pizza, and an asparagus-potato-truffled pecorino pizza. we tried to sell graham on the dandelion greens-italian sausage-fontina pizza, but he wouldn't go for it. the meatball pizza was very good, especially if you like spaghetti and meatballs. the crust is thin and crispy in the right places but with a nice chewy quality (not as good as pizzette or delfineria, but so much better than A16). sadly, the saltiness of the prosciutto totally overwhelmed the taste of the wild nettles and i considered it a waste of wild nettles, especially after we all know how good they can be a la pizzaiolo. what's the point of using wild nettles if you can't taste them? i thought the asparagus-potato-truffled pecorino was the best one, with the rich truffley flavor nicely offsetting the asparagus and pecorino, and the potatoes adding a little creamy counterpoint. service was a little over attentive in that anxious-new-restaurant way (i got the strong sense that the waiter was one of the owners, and i don't think anxiety about the success of a business needs to be so apparent to customers). they also seemed a little cheap, as in we asked for bread for elias, and they said they only made enough to go with the special of the day and they couldn't spare it. a pizza restaurant that can't spare a little bread for a baby? in a neighborhood filled with families?

if gialina was in cole valley, or if i lived in glen park, i would be very excited and would probably eat there a few times a week, but since it is in glen park and i live in cole valley, it's not really the kind of place i would go back to. on the bay area pizza scale, i give it a 6.5.

other pizzas of note: i had a great roasted cauliflower-fontina pizza at pauline's a few weeks ago. pauline's remains a very solid pizza institution. really you can't go wrong there.

in bi-rite creamery news: i'm only one punch away from a free ice cream on my bi-rite creamery punch card. i've also ventured out from the salted caramel (it's still my favorite). they have this amazing malted vanilla ice cream with vahlrona-chocolate covered crispies in it, and the mint chip is fantastic, especially when sandwiched between two dark chocolate cookies in one of their ice cream sandwiches. cookies and cream is appropriately creamy; roasted banana is good but very sweet, it's best cut with another flavor. hmmm. i had sworn off the creamery for a few days (i'm going to nyc tomorrow) but now i'm thinking i might need one last scoop before i go.

there's a new restaurant downtown on mission btwn 1st and 2nd by the town hall folks: the salt house, a kind of san francisco version of the gastropub. i ate there with thomas rogers recently. they have a great salty version of poutine, the montreal dish of french fries, cheese, and gravy. in their version, it's thick, wedge-cut fries, gruyere, and short rib gravy. very tasty indeed.

and finally, you will be happy to hear that i ventured out from yummy yummy and ate at dragonfly the other day. everything was good, but i did miss the pork bunh with imperial rolls.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Auckland: Day Two with the Hoangs

The Hoang / Fructman clan arrived pretty early in the morning from San Francisco (the flight lands at 5:30 am or so!). I was awake and ventured into the lobby to meet and greet them. The goal was to keep them on their feet for most of the day to avoid jet lag and fatigue. After a quick breakfast and coffee in the hotel bar, we headed out. We took a tour of the inner city on The Link bus and went through Parnell, Ponsoby, New Market, Newton before getting down at the quay. We walked around the quay and Viaduct harbor for some time before proceeding to a dim sum lunch. Our original choice was Ocean City dim sum which had received an excellent review in Cusine magazine. On our walk there, we saw Sunshine which had won Best Chinese Restaurant award in 2005 and 2006 and we saw quite a few folks entering this place. We decided to chance it which was an excellent decision. It was quite ironic that their first meal was yum-cha in NZ since the Bay area has got excellent dim sum also. The dim sum was quite good (our expecations in NZ are also a bit lower than SF), specifically the turnip cake, the beef ribs on squash, the shrimp dumplings, the scallop dumplings and the egg tart. This was definitely the best dim sum we've had in NZ (the other two were in Christchurch and Wellington).

We then took the ferry to Davenport to get a view of Auckland from the water. Davenport basically is the Sausalito of Auckland. We spent a few hours at the playground and beach while the adults took turns walking along the beach and upto North Head for some spectacular views of Auckland and the hauraki gulf. For dinner we decided to get fish and chips at FishMongers in Parnell. We had an excellent driver who managed to squeeze us all into his minivan cab. Unfortunately the Parnell location was closed for Easter Sunday so we went to their Remuera location. We ordered a sampling of various fish and chips, grilled salmon and tuna, and a thai fish cake. We also got some Kumara chips. Unfortunately it was late and there was not enough seating out there, so we did not enjoy the meal as much. The food was quite good and well worth a visit. The same cabbie came and picked us up an hour later.

Maya and PJ were quite excited to play with Jason. So the three of them stayed up pretty late playing with play dough. Tomorrow we leave for Keri Keri and the Bay of Islands. I reserved a super shuttle van to take us to the airport tomorrow. I did this online, but did not trust the reservation process, so I called them to double check. It was good that I called, since the online system had messed up both my name the pickup time.

Auckland: Day One ...

We decided to spend a couple of days in Auckland before going further up into Northland. We planned to spend a day with Jill and Marley in Auckland and then meet up with Phu, Tamar, Chi, Jason and Grace in Auckland. The kids were quite excited to go on a plane again. We had heard pretty good reviews of Kelly Tarlton from the Dierkings, so we decided to spend the afternoon at Kelly Tarlton's. We took the Super Shuttle from the airport to our hotel, The Quadrant near CBD. The one bedroom apartment was a wee bit too small compared to some of the other places we've stayed at. I guess, big city hotels also mean smaller rooms.

We took the shuttle from Sky City to Kelly Tarlton. The penguin encounter was quite cool and amazing, but the rest of the aquarium was quite mediocre. I would definitely not recommend it for a short visit to Auckland.

Being in the big city, we felt like ethnic food. Having dined at Wagamama in London 8 years ago, we decided to revisit this chain restaurant. In retrospect it was a big mistake, and definitely not recommended. Maya got the kids ramen with chicken noodles, PJ and Marley the chicken katsu curry, Mari the salmon miso ramen, Jill the Chilli Chicken Soba noodle and I got th spicy beef noodles. Except for Mari's dish the other dishes were disappointing to awful. In specific, Jill's noodle dish and PJ's curry were plain awful. The atmosphere however is quite excellent for kids, since its more a cafeteria style place with a high noise level. We walked back to the hotel and bid adieu to Jill and Marley since they were leaving for Brisbane early the next day

Monday, April 09, 2007

Some more sights and sounds around Nelson, NZ

We had lunch at Waterfront with Lynn, Jill and Marley before bidding farewell to Lynn and her wonderful icecream making abilities. We had the scallops, moroccan spiced turbot and the calamari. Waterfront lunch is definitely a good deal and great value for money. Jill and Lynn wanted to have the banana dessert from the fish and chip shop, but it is open for lunch just a few days of the week.

It is good to have folks in the house that like to eat food and also cook food. We spent quite a few hours talking about food and all the places we miss while we had visitors. This also made everyone hungry, so Jill decided to make scones from the Tartine recipe book. This decision was made at 9:00 pm. Unfortunately we did not have any lemons in the house, and the grocery stores were all closed. However, our neighbours across the street have a good lemon tree. We had borrowed a lemon from them in the past. Since it was too late, we decided to get a few lemons from them and inform them the next day morning. So Mari and Lynn crept up to their house with a flashlight, scaled the wall and grabbed a few of the exquisite Meyer Lemons which promptly went into the scone mixture.

We also decided to visit Nelson lakes with Jill and Marley. We stayed overnight at Nelson Lakes Motel (aka The yellow house). Nelson Lakes is a beautiful area with supposedly lots of wonderful hikes. However without a good adult / kid ratio its really hard to take advantage of the place and go on long hikes. We hope to do a few long hikes when mari's parents are in town. The kids spent hours at the lake throwing stones into the lake. There were quite a few ducks at the shore who seem to be very well trained for visitors and tourists. They would immediately swim to a new group of people as they approached the lake and try to look cute. Unfortunately a few people do feed them which reinforces this bad habit. Lake Rototiti also has these humoungous eel which are supposed to be the oldest eel's in NZ. They take 90 years to mature. Its illegal to fish them at the lake, so we saw a couple of them at the jetty. The kids were quite excited to see such big fish.

More adventures in NZ with visitors ...

On Friday evening, I picked Jill, Marley and Lynn from Nelson airport. They came in via Queenstown -> Christchurch -> Nelson. PJ and Maya were quite excited and awaited the arrival of their neighbour and friend Marley. We were waiting from the window of the house for their plane to land. Its so convenient to have the airport literally at your doorstep (a 5 min ride). We had a leftover dinner that night which includes some lamb, chicken adobo and rice.

The next day we went to the Nelson Saturday market and had our regular crepe breakfast from Kaffeys (8/10) along with Divine Coffee. Joonsuk, Julie and Devin arrived earlier in the morning from San Francisco, so I biked over to pick them up and get them to the market. It was so good to see and talk to familiar faces. We spent some time at Riverside playground, before walking down to Morrison Cafe for a late lunch. Morrison Cafe has so far met and exceeded expectations and has been a hit with all our visitors. We decided to cook a big meal at home that night. Jill made a fabulous moroccan lamb stew, Mari made a great big tray of veggie lasagna with yummy portabello mushrooms, Lynn made vanilla and honey icecream, while my contribution was yummy brown rice :) (actually Joonsuk and I took the kids to the playground for an hour to give the cooks some peace and quiet).

The next day we went to Motueka farmers market on our way to Kaiteriteri beach. Jill and Lynn took the scenic route and went half way to Murchison before turning back and coming to Motueka via Motueka Valley Road. Jill had some delicious muffins from the Muffin Madness in Motueka, while Joonsuk, Julie and Devin feasted on German sausage. The weather was nice and sunny (in contrast to our visit with JD where it was a bit cold and cloudy). Since we had a good adult / kid ratio ( 6 / 4 ), we decided to take advantage of the numbers and rented two double kayaks from Kaiteriteri Kayaks and kayaked a bit of Abel Tasman. Since Mari got her exercise doing some laps in Tasman Bay, I got to go on the kayak trip. Joonsuk and me were in one double, while Jill and Lynn were in the other double kayak. We headed towards Marahau Bay and it was good to be out paddling. Been quite a few years since I did it, and I suspect we'll want to do more of it, now that the kids are getting older. We had a good time in the water and headed back to the beach and the kids. Maya and PJ met some friends from school at the beach. The older kids found a couple of dead crabs and decided to hold a funeral and memorial service for the crabs. PJ and Marley were quite serious and grave faced at the service, while Maya was happy doing her own thing.

Since it was pretty late, we decided to have a fish and chips dinner and took the group to the Haven Fish and Chips place. We got an assortment of fish (Blue Cod, Blue Nose, Tarakihi, fish kebab, scallops, mussels, crab sticks) and chips. We also ventured into dessert this time and got fried bananas. Mari reprimanded me for not including this in our previous dinners. The weather was quite nice, so it was a good treat to be eating newspaper fish and chips overlooking tasman bay.

The next day Joonsuk and Julie drove to Havelock. They had the mussell platter at Slip Inn and also took the Green Mussell Cruise from Havelock.It was a good trip since they got to see a fair amount of Marlborough sounds and did not have to drive all the way into Picton. We offered to babysit Devin that night while they went and spent some quality time at a restaurant, but they were a bit too stuffed from the mussell trip. We had another good feast that night. We made Lamb tikka masala, rig fish in teriyaki sauce, and stir fried pumpkin and sweet onions (which were delicious). Lynn topped off the meal by making lavender icecream. We bid farewell to Joon and Julie and will meet them in 10 days in Russell (Northland)

Visitors galore ...

Apologies for the sporadic entries on the blog. We've had a lot of visitors from the San Francisco area the past couple of weeks and things have been very hectic between making them feel at home and getting some work done.

The first group of visitors were the Dierkings from Sonoma, CA. JD, Liza, Sophie (6 years) and Matt (4 years) visited us for 4 days a week and a half ago. It was awesome to have more kids in the house and the two sets of kids got along very well. Sophie played the big sister role and took care of the other kids very well. The Dierking's had a whirlwind trip, flying into Auckland on Friday morning. They spent the day visiting the Sky Tower and the Kelly Tarlton Aquarium before jetting down to Rotorua. Did a couple of cultural activities and the geysers in Rotorua on Saturday and stayed overnite there before driving to Wellington Sunday evening. Then on the Interislander Monday morning to Picton and drove into Nelson. We had a good dinner of a rocket, avocado, blue cheese and egg salad, lamb shank with roasted potatoes and carrots and mac and cheese. The food and wine (Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc and Rimu Grove Pinot Noir 2004) were quite delicious. The next day they went to Morrison Cafe in the morning and had lunch at the Smokehouse cafe in Mapua. They had stayed in Ruby Bay when they honeymooned here 9 years ago. So this was more of a flashback. We met them at the Richmond wave pool and had a blast before doing our customary Sushi dinner on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, Mari and Liza crafted a glass paper weight at Hogland glass factory and then all of us went to Kaiteriteri Beach. Its amazing that kids are just so happy to play with sand, water and rocks and can spend hours doing that. We headed back to Nelson and offered to take care of their kids for the evening.

They visited our current favorite restaurant Hopgood's and came back with rave reviews (JD mentioned the duck was quite excellent, and Liza liked her fish dish). We took the kids to Steffano's pizzeria (above the State cinema) and had pretty good pizza. We ordered the kids an individual child pizza which we assumed would be fairly small. However the child pizza was pretty close to size as the regular pizza (its a great deal at half the price and each kid can have their own taste catered for!). The pizza was quite good and definitely well worth a revisit. We met them at the Boat Shed for lunch before they continued their whirwind tour of Blenheim, Kaikoura and Christchurch. The food at Boat Shed was very good, though the service left a lot to be desired. Mari and I also came to the conclusion that we've OD'ed on mussels and need to stay away from them for the next few months. They also visited the Bead Factory in Nelson earlier that day and mentioned it was a good place for kids Sophie's age and older. You need to be aware of what beads you choose, else you can end up making a very expensive bead necklace.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Looking for a place to rent in Nelson, NZ (apr 15 - jun 1)

This post is targeted to folks local to Nelson. We have quite a few friends and family visiting us from April 15 - June 1. Our current place is quite large BUT has only one bathroom which limits the number of folks that we can host comforably. So if you know of a place in and around Tahuna hills, send me mail to lobo at yahoo dot com

Monday, March 19, 2007

The weather in NZ ...

Its been a crazy past weekend with regard to the weather in NZ. Luckily, Nelson was one of the few places that missed most of the excitement. The past weekend NZ experienced:

  1. A lahar bursting from a crater. Apparently this is quite common and they have been more than 30 of such bursts in the past decade
  2. Hail and torrential downpour in Christchurch and Canterbury
  3. The heaviest downpour in decades in Westport on the West Coast of the South Island
  4. A large fire in Blenheim scorching 700 hectares (yes, this is not weather)
We had gone swimming at the pool saturday evening, and put our swim gear to dry on the back porch. The next day we could not find PJ's gear and we assumed the wind gods made off with it. Monday is swimming day at the Nelson pool, so mari went looking for swimsuits for PJ. Well, its no longer summer, and she could not find her a swimming costume!. She came back and called a few stores and the local pools and did not find any. Joys of living in a small town!. She finally called the aquatic center to check if we had left PJ's costume at the pool by mistake. Fortunately we did, and we could continue with our regularly scheduled swimming fun

The girls are getting quite good in the water. They are very comfortable and operate at two different levels. Maya is cautious but keeps progressing at a nice pace that she controls. PJ is the energetic one who loves to jump and get dunked in the water. She's also very willing to try stuff (especially with Mari) and experiment. Maya likes to control the experiment and decides what she will do and when. Two very different attitudes to life ..

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Top ten things to do in Wellington, NZ with kids

  1. Visit Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. Make sure you visit the kid store, discovery area, nature space and the bush walk.
  2. Have a South Indian meal at Roti Chennai. Order roti and lassi for the kids
  3. Take a walk along the quay and spend a couple of hours at Waitanga Park or some time at the beach a bit further down
  4. Now walk in the opposite direction and spend more time at Frank Kipps Park
  5. Take the cable car to the Botanic gardens and do a short hike to the playground in the gardens
  6. Take the cable car back to downtown and stop at the University playground
  7. Have Malaysian food at Roti
  8. Visit Wellington Zoo in Newtown
  9. Have some dimsum or yum-cha at Regal Chinese
  10. Spend some time in one of the cafes at Courtney Place or Cuba

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Windy Not

After 3 months of mellow yellow (sunshine) Nelson, off to NZ's capital we go. Also known as Windy Wellington. We lucked out big - weather was awesome - 24C. The main reason to go - canele, dimsum, indian/malaysian food : ) , Te Papa museum, cable car, different playgrounds, zoo, see more people (163,824; 2001 census)

fun fact: Wellington is the most "fully wired" city in the most "fully wired" country in the world.

The food was excellent. Roti had great roti's. The mango lassi was a hit with maya and pj. Lobo and I ordered the rose lassi and it was delicious. Petit Bordeux, the french bakery I found on the web was closed. Somehow Lobo managed to find another bakery, Bourdeux, that happened to be owned by petit bordeux as well. Thank goodness for the internet. It had good croissants, canele, and pastries. It was so yum, that we bought some to take home. After our fill of butter, we all walked down the street parallel to the train tracks. The girls ran up and down laughing and giggling.

The location of our one bedroom apartment on The Terrace allowed all of us to walk 15 minutes (maya and pj pace) down to to the waterfront, playground, cable car, roti chennai and roti restaurant. The waterfront was a great place to walk, and wander. Lots of people jogging, walking, and biking. Walking around Wellington, was like walking around San Francisco, many stairs and hills to climb. To keep PJ and Maya walking up, I made it fun to walk slow on their toes, run fast, then slow again.

I've been frequenting the $2 shops these days to keep Maya and PJ busy with interesting activities. There are a lot of craft things - glitter glue, paper, paint, little shiny things to glue, etc. During my wandering around Cuba Street I spotted a $2 shop and went in. Knowing that Maya will be awake when I return, I decide to buy some paper oval boxes and stickers. She keeps herself busy for 30 minutes. : ) She spent a lot of time cutting tiny bits of scrap paper to fill her box to the rim.

We could've easily spent a 4th night in Wellington eating and exploring. It's a great city to wander, and yum coffee to start everyday.

NZ weather report ..

We had fabulous weather in Wellington two days ago (25 degree C). Over the weekend a pretty strong weather front moved in and its drenching pretty much all of NZ currently. Its gotten quite cold and was 7 degrees C this morning. The kids had to be bundled up with jackets and beanies etc. Summer was quite short out here looks like :(. The radio station reported that there was a sprinkling of the white stuff (snow) on peaks of some mountains near takaka. Our fabuolous view is quite blurry right now, and no peaks are visible. Hey, might be a great winter ski season here!

Hopfully we'll have some good weather when all our friends start visiting later this month and into next month. Start praying to the weather gods folks ...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Wellington, NZ: Day Three

We had heard about a farmers / veggie market near Te Papa museum. We figured we might as well try to get some yummy food there. My previous night research on the web did not reveal much, so I was not very sure if we would find anything there. Wellington does not have a real farmers market. The one next to Te Papa is more like a commercial veggie market with a few producers with big veggie trucks. We did not find any interesting food, though we did purchase some good artisan bread. It was a windy wellington morning and we wandered over to the Dragon Boat races. Maya does not like speaker sounds, so she was a bit spooked at the announcements of the dragon race and insisted we go home. We compromised and went inside to Te Papa cafe where we had a mediocre flat white and some large fluffies. There was a fair amount of toys to keep the kids entertained while we waited for the museum to open at 10:00 am.

We are not big fans of museums (unless they are kid museums!), but Te Papa was definitely an amazing place and a must-visit attractions. Its well designed, spacious and has quite a few things for kids to do. We spent a fair amount of time at the Discovery Center and then at Nature Space exploring and checking out the birds and animals of NZ. The kids played with a few puzzles at Discovery Center (which we later purchased at the kids store). We then went on the short bush walk and ended up at the sandpit where the kids set up camp for an hour or so. By 11:30 am, the kids were quite tired and we headed to Wellington Market where we had head of a Maori stall. The stall unfortunately had closed down some time ago and the other stalls did not look too good. Roti Chennai has a presence there, but we were still stuffed with malaysian / indian food from our past meals. We had some decent mexican eggs and beans at Vive Mexico, the salsa was quite well spiced. I took the kids home for their afternoon siesta while Mari went exploring Courtney Place and Cuba St.

The evening program was more playtime and biking along the waterfront at Waitanga Park. We had dinner reservations at Bistro Breton in Kelburn and we headed there at 6:30 pm. We started off with an amuse bouche of good salmon pate on not very interesting bread. Mari had an excellent french onion soup as a starter and I ordered the smoked fish plate. Maya managed to scarf most of the smoked salmon and tuna while I got some more of the salmon pate and bread. The kids split the kids menu meal of an excellent pieced of grilled blue cod and some average thick cut french fries. They squeezed ketchup from a cute tomato shaped container. For the main course, Mari had the the Cotriade Breton. This is basically the bretonnese version of Bouilliabaise with musssels, shrimps, salmon and a white fish in a fish stock. The fish was a bit dry, the broth was quite flavorful and tasty. I picked the Potee Bretonne, which is also a traditional Breton Stew with pork sausages and bacon with green cabbage, turnips, carrots and potatoes. We thought the main courses were quite average. For dessert we ordered the Ile Flottante, which is creme anglaise and soft meringye, caramel sauce and grilled almonds. The kids split vanilla and cholcolate kapiti icecream (which was part of their kids meals). We also shared a bottle of French wine (basically I drank most of it, with mari the designated driver having an occasional sip). Overall I'd give the place a 6/10. It was good, but for that price range, your expectations are also much higher. Our meal cost us NZD $150.

Yet another excellent day spent in Wellington. We have a baby cot in the apartment (the playpen), and the kids take turns sleeping in it. We've nicknamed it The Cage. We had it when Maya was a kid and she refused to stay in it, but now they love sleeping on their own in it. The joys of seeing children grow and change :)