The Boy is back! p.s. While you were gone…

It is so good to have my Boy back.  So incredibly good. 

3 weeks was the longest we have ever gone being apart, but we got through, and are enjoying being in one another’s presence again.  Though we both have a lot on our plate these days as far as work and school go, it has been ever-so tempting to spend the evenings chatting away.  Evidently, there has been much to catch up on.

Brendon came bearing a suitcase of gifts from loved ones back home.  Pretty much all for me.  It was an awesome, heartwarming surprise!   It felt like Christmas, although much better than vege-box Christmas.  Thank you SO MUCH to all who slipped little packages and cards in Brendon’s suitcase.  I definitely felt the love.

In the days preceding Brendon’s return, I was madly trying to tie up all the loose ends on projects I had started during the holidays.  Since I hadn’t done much to personalize our little place yet, I thought it would be the opportune time to do a bit of decorating, and a fun surprise for Brendon to come home to. 

Being a fairly indecisive person when it comes to home decor, let me tell you that it takes long time for me to actually get anything up on walls.  I usually rely on the keen decorative sense of my sister, Alli, or sister-in-law Nicole, but in their absence, I had to make all the calls myself. 

In my decorating pursuit, I was really missing my favorite scapbook paper store back home, Treasured Memories.  Luckily, I was thinking ahead and brought  few pieces with me for decorating purposes, and was able to round up a couple more at a local craft store, although the selection was incomparable.

Here’s a little peak at the projects that finally worked their way up onto the walls of our home:

A few covered canvases in the dining area

And this tiled canvas for the living room.

With the addition of a few throw pillows, a clock, a lamp, and a forlorn tree branch I snagged after a recent storm, our place is really starting to feel quite homey.

Some photos of loved ones  on these magnet boards I painted helped too.

On a different note, Kiwis don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.  Come to think of it, they don’t really get into many holidays, with the exception of Christmas.  While Brendon was able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with my family, the best thing I could pump out in honor of the Canadian harvest holiday of thankfulness was pumpkin muffins.   I call them “October Muffins” because I find they are just perfect for the month of October in Canada.  They’ve got all the wonderful flavors of fall, and jam-packed with nutrients and fibre.  I made one batch on Thanksgiving weekend, and another one for Brendon’s return.  This was the first time I had made them here in New Zealand, using real pumpkin instead of the canned variety.  They turned out just as good- moist and flavorful.  Here’s the recipe for those of you who are keen to make a batch yourself:

October Muffins (Moist Pumpkin Bran Muffins)

Those of you who are into “whole foods” will especially enjoy this recipe.  Instead of sugar, this recipe calls for honey to give it just a subtle sweetness.  The pumpkin puree and apple sauce give the muffins their soft, moist texture, without added fat.  The flax seeds offers loads of Omega-3, and from the pumpkin seeds, iron and zinc to help boost immune function.  These muffins make a hearty, nutritious, delicious treat, especially when served warm on a cool October day.

1 ½ cups Whole Wheat Flour (180g)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

¾ cup Wheat Bran (45g)

½ cup flax seeds, ground

½ cup pumpkin seeds

¼ tsp salt

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cloves                                                                                                               

½ tsp all spice

1 tsp nutmeg

1 15oz can of pumpkin (or the equivalent amount of fresh pumpkin roasted and pureed)

1/3 cup honey

2 eggs

¼ cup unsweetened applesauce

½ cup non-fat unflavored yogurt

¾ cup raisins

rolled oats for topping

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2.  Combine flour, bk soda, bk powder, salt, ground flax, bran, and spices in a medium-sized bowl.  Set aside.

3.  In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, eggs, honey, apple sauce, and yogurt.

4.  Pour the dry mixture into the wet mixture.  Add in the raisins and pumpkin seeds.  Stir until just combined.  Do not over mix.

5.  Spray 2 muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray.  Evenly distribute batter over 24 muffin cups.  Sprinkle with a bit of oats and a dusting of cinnamon.  Bake for about 20 minutes.

(For an indulget variation, substitute a bar of chopped dark chocolate for the raisins!)

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When the Boy’s away…

I’ve been trying to “live it up,” as per Brendon’s request, as much as I can while he is away. 

By “living it up,” I’m talking about going to the beach and getting a tan, going for pedicures, and enjoying the good grace of my affluent husband.  Just kidding.  I’m actually talking about staying up as late as I want to work on creative projects and write report cards.  I’m also talking about taking spontaneous naps in the day, whenever I feel the urge (although I usually refrain at school).  Sometimes, this means more than one.  Late nights and daytime naps…brings me right back to the days of my crazy college years.  What great times those were.

I’ve been going for lots of runs and trying to capitalize on the sunny weather by sitting outside on our patio any chance I can get.    

It’s been wonderful leaving our large French doors open, to not only let more sunlight in, but also some fresh spring air.    

I have to say, however, that pizza for one is just not as enjoyable as pizza for two.  My desire to cook has been fairly low, so that means simpler meals, and thankfully our awesome friends have been inviting me over lots.  [This is to say that our subscription to the vege box has been put on hold until Brendon returns.]

And thank goodness for skype!  Even though I would much prefer Brendon to be here in person, the second best thing is to see his handsome face on the computer screen.  I’ve been able to talk to Brendon most days and he reports that he is doing well. 

The service for his grandfather was beautiful, and Brendon was glad that he could be there to take part in it.  His time in New Brunswick since has been filled with lots of good family time.  One of the highlights of this trip for Brendon was going out with his grandmother to her cabin.  The two went for a walk on the beach that evening and watched a beautiful sunset together.  The next day, Brendon was able to help Nanny with some repairs on the cabin that needed to be done before the winter.  It was special that Brendon could spend that time with Nanny, and to be able to help with some things. 

It was great for him to reconnect with his family, too.  The gaping 8-hour time difference between the East Coast of Canada and New Zealand makes it challenging to stay in touch as well as we would like. 

Brendon is now in Edmonton.  First stop on his list had to be Transcend Coffee’s new Garneau location.  I’m not sure which he enjoyed more: The glorious cup of clover-brewed coffee, the waffle with rosemary whipped cream, or the sight of familiar faces.  All 3 were pleasing to the soul, I am sure.

I know that Brendon has been throughly enjoying time in Edmonton, reuniting and catching up with our dear friends and loved ones.   It’s an odd yet comforting sight to see Brendon on skype next to our family members, whom we have missed so very much over the time we have been away.  Last week was a hard week, but perhaps this week has been harder, thinking of all the joyful reunions I am missing out on in our homeland.  My heart SO wishes I could be there.

It worked out well that Brendon could attend the wedding of our friends Andrew and Morgan, the Oilers’ season opener, along with Thanksgiving dinner with my family while he was back.  Talk about lucking out with timing.

He’ll be back soon- only 3 more sleeps!   As much fun as it has been to “live it up” on my own, I am sure looking forward to being on the same continent as my Boy once again.

Surprise!

This past week has been filled with a few unexpected surprises.

Surprise #1. In New Zealand, drivers are required to get their vehicles inspected to obtain a new Warrant of Fitness every 6 months.  Unfortunately, our car, Baby Shea, did not pass this time. I had no idea that I would have to deal with car issues while Brendon was away, which is really not my area of specialty. Leery of venturing into the sketchy world of mechanics, I waited to have our mechanically-inclined friend Brandon check out the car, and he couldn’t find any problem where the inspector had noted. We were all a little confused about what to do at this point.

Surprise #2. Baby Shea got towed! I mistakenly parked in a spot that was only legal to park in after 9am, and at 8:55am, I saw Baby Shea being dragged away by the tow-truck. I felt super sad going to pick Baby Shea up from the compound. It was like going to pick up your friend from prison. To see her in there in the dark garage behind the wired fence, it was not a happy sight, let me tell you.

Surprise #3. Being slammed with over $300 worth of fines for the parking violation and towage, as well as having an expired Warrant of Fitness. 

I am happy to report, however, that at a trip to the mechanic was scheduled, a washer on the break hose was tightened, and a renewed Warrant of Fitness has now been granted.  Baby Shea is now certified to be cruising the streets once again.

Surprise #4. My hair is unexpectedly short again. Never again will I go to a training salon.  Not wanting to shell out $80 for a haircut (that’s what it costs here), I went to a hair academy training salon, where it is significantly less expensive.  I had gone there previously and had a positive experience, but never again.  The punk kid who cut my hair took 3 hours to give me a cut that was everything that I told him I did not want. The only part I like about it is my bangs, or “fringe” as they say here.  That’s because the head instructor cut them.  If only Katherine, my beloved and trusted hair stylist from Edmonton, were here to make things all better.

Surprise #5. The kindness and generosity of friends who are willing to go to great lengths to help out.  Enough said.

Not all surprises are bad.

Spring break roadtrip!

With Brendon away, I decided to take a roadtrip down to Mt. Maunganui to hang out at the family bach with Mark and Laurel during the school break.

Equipped with my energy drink of choice, Lift Plus, and a full tank of gas, I hit the road in Baby Shea solo style.  This would be my first NZ roadtrip alone, as well as the longest roadtrip I have ever ventured to take behind the driver’s wheel.  Baby Shea handled the NZ roadside well, and to my accomplishment, I also managed to stay awake the whole time!  

The drive was really quite spectacular- this was the first time I had been awake for the whole trip, and I have to say, there are some stunning sights to behold alone the way.

Part of the drive takes you through a gorge, where you are surrounded on either side by towering cliffs with trees, and a winding river that runs beside the road.  For several minutes, it literally feels like you are driving through the Rockies.

For another part of the drive, the NZ countryside became surprisingly flatter than the plains of Saskatchewan.  Fields that stretched on as far as the eye could see, dotted with cows, hay bails, and barn-like structures, very much reminded me of the land where I was born.   Throw a little bright-yellow canola in there, and the picture would be complete. 

One of the many enchanting towns I drove through on the way was Waihi.  I had seen this fascinating structure only by a distance before, but stopped in for a closer look this time.

From afar, I thought it must have been the remains of a church that had burnt down, but it turns out that this historic structure, known as the Cornish Pumphouse, is a relic of the original mine in Waihi – the richest gold mine in New Zealand (1878-1952). 

The Mount held some fun and relaxing times during the break, including many a stroll down Mt. Maunganui’s charming main street, some bocce ball on the beach, and lots of basking in the sunshine.  It was so nice to be in the company of good friends, and to know that I’m not totally “alone” in NZ, even while my Boy is away.

Laurel and I ventured out on a photo-taking excursion one afternoon to the Te Puna Quarry, eager to try out some new photography techniques we learned from the book “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson, which was given to me by my friend Natasha.

The quarry is basically a large hillside that had been mined, and is now turned into a collection of beautifully-landscaped gardens.   A maze of footpaths winds up the hillside, covered in a variety of tropical flowers and plants and artistic sculptures.

We came upon the largest orchid garden that I had ever seen in my life.

Seriously, SO many orchids.  Hundreds and hundreds, in a wide assortment of colors.  It was hard to capture the granduer of this sight in a single photo.  I could have spent hours photographing these orchids, but decided I should probably give the other floral varieties some attention too. 

The views from the top were pretty amazing. 

So were the views up close.

The fascinating species of plants that call the Te Puna Quarry home made pretty great subjects for us to practice our new photography learning on.

If you have a fetish for buttons, as I do, here’s a fun idea to put all those buttons you’ve been collecting to use.

Using her floral arrangement skills, Laurel helped me fashion this button bouquet out of a handful of buttons and some floral wire while I was down in Mt. Maunganui.  It was a simple project that didn’t cost a lot, nor did it take long to assemble, but will act as a versatile table arrangement that can be customized and changed up for different reasons and seasons.  

I’m not entirely sure what the rest of the break has in store, but I can say that my roadtrip to the Mount was filled with pretty much everything one might hope for in a spring break roadtrip: Sunshine, alertness behind the wheel, beautiful sights to photograph, the soothing sound of waves, good friends, some newfound learning, and even a little bit of craft time.