A bright 2012.

2012 is upon us, and looking bright!  We rang in the New Year last night in downtown Auckland, under the Sky Tower.  At midnight, a round of blazing fireworks were set off from atop the tower, and we were in perfect viewing position (although our necks were a little sore from looking up.)

Earlier that evening, we enjoyed a stellar 4 course meal prepared by our Canadian friend, Tanya, and two other lovely Canadian gals, Nadia and Veronica.  A spectacular way to welcome 2012!

2011 was a phenomenal year, with many blessings and memorable times.  A highlight for Brendon was being accepted into the PhD program, and a highlight for myself was printing my first postcard set.  Communal highlights include times with loved ones who crossed the Pacific Ocean for a visit, as well as our trips to Melbourne and Queenstown.  As we stare into the dark void of 2012, it appears it’s actually not so dark after all.

In just 4 weeks, I will take on a new class of Y5/6 students, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting already.  While I am definitely content with savoring my summer break at the moment, I am also looking forward to the challenge of another year of teaching ahead.  In July of this year, I am due to receive my full registration as a teacher in NZ, which will hopefully transfer over or mean something when we return to Canada, but I have yet to verify this.

With two weddings scheduled for for early 2012, I am pumped about the way my photography business is going.  My passion for photography only continues to grow and expand, and I have been thrilled with the numerous opportunities I have had recently to photograph people.  Being someone who highly values photographs, I find a lot of joy in being able to give people the gift of photos that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Brendon is currently plugging away at the first chapter of his thesis. He aims to finish the first chapter this month, then present it in front of a post-grad committee in February.  If all goes as planned, Brendon will officially be a PhD candidate.

And in a couple of weeks, we look forward to a visit from our dear friends, Matt and Amy Cairns!  We have some awesome adventures planned for our time together, and are stoked for a Neilson-Cairns reunion.

As we look back on a 2011 that has been very good to us, we realize it has not been so good for everyone, including the people of Christchurch.  Here’s hope for a year without earthquakes and the courage to move on or start over after many lives have been overturned, yet again, by the movement of tectonic plates.

Thinking of family and friends in North America as they ring in the New Year this evening.  Sending love across the Pacific, and wishing you all a 2012 filled with adventure, growth, yummy food, and good coffee.


A Kiwi sort of Christmas.

It was the night before Christmas and all through the tent, not a peg was missing, and not a pole bent. 

The citronella candle gave a scent to the air, in hopes that the mossies would soon not be there. 

My wife in her jumper and I in my shorts, had just settled down when we heard a noise of sorts. 

A rustle outside… could it be a possum?  Or a wild hedgehog… now that would be awesome!  

We fell soundly asleep to the sounds of the sea, waves crashing ashore just meters from me. 

When morning came, I awoke to a sight:  A miniature tree in the bright sunlight. 

Adorned with hearts and a girl with some poi, I knew that I must be an extremely lucky boy. 

The sun shone down upon gifts below, messages from loved ones surrounded by snow. 

After a savory scramble and a slice toast, we were off to the beach that Mel loves the most! 

Maitai Bay is a gem of place, where the water is turquoise and warm on your face. 

Lathered in sunscreen, we took to the waves, where we swam and floated in conditions one craves. 

Then back to our camp for a Christmas feast: grilled mushrooms, asparagus, and pork tenderloin, at least. 

We raised our glasses and in good cheer, said, “Merry Christmas to all, and to the Southern Hemisphere!”

Hot weather, beaches, kids on scooters, ice cream. It feels exactly like… Christmas?

I would like to begin this blog post with a quote from my incredible Kiwi friend, Beatrice.

We were walking down the street in the beach town of Pauanui a couple of months ago, and she said something like, “Look at the kids on scooters!  It is starting to feel like Christmas!”

Summer/Christmas is upon us here once again in the Southern Hemisphere.  This combination still feels odd to us, and according to a parent in my class who migrated here over 10 years ago from Ireland, it can take decades to get used to it.  While we are looking forward to cozy and magical white Christmases of North America again someday, we have decided to embrace the season over here and head out on a Christmas camping adventure.  For the next week, we will be living like the Kiwis do: camping, beaching, and enjoying the beauty of New Zealand’s northernmost places.

Love we send to our families- we wish we could be with you guys on this occasion that is special to all of us.  And love we send to friends- thinking especially of those who will be celebrating first Christmases with little babes… and who are expecting new babes very soon!

Whichever continent you find yourself on, wishing you much love & peace as you celebrate the meaning of Christmas in ways traditional or not so traditional.

Love Brendon & Mel


Advent wreath, a modern take.

Growing up, one of our family traditions around Christmas, and particularly the season of Advent leading up to Christmas, was the lighting of an Advent wreath at family meal times.  I have fond memories of the soft glow of candles, arguments over who got to light and blow out the candles, and picking hardened wax off of the greenery on the wreath.

This year, I wanted to bring back the tradition of the advent wreath in our home, and found inspiration for a modern take on the advent wreath online.

While it’s not very traditional with its red candles and lack of greenery, I am enjoying this creation and the things it calls us to reflect upon.

To make this modern version of an advent wreath, all you need are 4 wine bottles, white spray paint, some ribbon/string, and a small amount of cardstock- both plain and patterned.

Cover each wine bottle with two coats of spraypaint, then let dry.  Create tags from the cardstock, layering a smaller white tag on top of a larger one that is colored or patterned.  After hole punching, fasten the tag to a ribbon or string which can be tied or draped around the bottle- there are infinite ways to do this- get creative!  Shave down four pillar candles so the bases fit into the mouth of the bottles.

To make your advent wreath extra-portable, place on a tray so it can be easily moved off the table to an alternate location when more space is needed.  This advent wreath is also easily disposable and can be recycled if you havn’t got the space to store it!

I’ve been looking around for some good Advent meditations and reading to do with this season of waiting, and so far have come across some shorter, more liturgical advent meditations, along with some contemplative art and reflections by artist/writer/minister Jan L. Richardson through The Advent Door.

If anyone has any other suggestions for good Advent resources, I would love to hear about them!

School year experiences.

I love this time in the school year.  Reports are in (after 60 plus hours of work).  Marks are entered.  The pool is open.  Year end celebrations are planned.  Summer is (almost) here.  Both kids and teachers can taste the excitement of the impending summer holidays, but have to wait two more weeks to fully seize its goodness.

Though I am definitely looking forward to Christmas break, it has truly been a phenomenal school year.  A was entrusted with a very special group of kind, crafty, enthusiastic students this year who most definitely grew very dear to my heart.  We shared a lot of awesome times together over the past 10 months, but one that stands out in particular was a recent fieldtrip.

As part of our social studies unit, “Connect + Contribute = Community,” I recently had the pleasure of taking my gorgeous class on a fieldtrip to visit another school in South Auckland.  Prior to our visit, we began first by researching the school as our focus community, and then communicating by email with another class of Y5/6 students.

Our visit to the South Auckland school ended up being an even greater success than I had hoped.  It was a really neat experience for my students to visit another school community, especially one much more culturally diverse than their own.  Though I think everyone was a little nervous at first, the two classes warmed up to each other, and we were made to feel very welcome by both students and staff in this very special South Auckland school.

The day began with some introductions and a collabroative art project.  This was followed by a sharing of dance:  We taught the other class a hip hop dance, and they taught us a Samoan dance.  The kids did a fantastic job of taking leadership of this component and did all the teaching themselves!

The exciting announcement that our home-made pinatas hanging in a tree lit up eyes and grew huge smiles on faces.  While it was probably the highlight of the day for many, this operation was quickly shut down when numerous injuries resulted from the uninhibited lunging for lollies.

After a tasty and enlightening shared lunch where students had the opportunity to try many foods that were new to them, including taro and chop suey, we spend the final part of our day doing some buddy reading with younger classes under a tree.

The whole experience was truly special.  I got some great pics of the children interacting, and really wish I could share them with you so you can see their gorgeous faces!  It was truly beautiful watching the kids form friendships with one another.  After taking some time to debrief with my class, it is neat to know that they did get some awesome learning and new understandings out of it too.  Here are some of the things my students had to say…

“I learned different types of things to do to make new people at our school feel welcome.”

“The highlight of the trip was learning the Samoan dance because my partner encouraged me to come up to the front and just do it!”

“I feel more confident about meeting new people now.”

“I feel more appreciative of other cultures.”

I think it will be an experience that none of us will ever forget!