Coming home (for a visit).

We are soon to be Canada-bound!  In about a week, we will be heading home to Edmonton – not permanently, just for a visit.

While we are there, my brother, Jeremy, is getting married to a lovely girl named Sarah, so we will make the loooong journey down to Muscatine, Iowa by car with the rest of the Goodall fam to attend the wedding.  They were kind enough to time the wedding with our planned trip home, and we are so stoked we will be able to be there.

Something like 3.5 months ago, my brother Jeremy called me for the first time (in my whole life).  He is actually the second family member to call me since we have been over here in New Zealand, so a phone call from any family member is a pretty exciting thing.  When I saw his name show up on my phone, I knew it was something big- either really bad, or extremely good.   “How’s it going, Mello?” greets my long lost brother.  “Good… is everything ok with you?” I ask, sensing that he is too relaxed for there to be anything wrong.  “Uh… yeah… so want to come to a wedding in Iowa this summer?”  Next, what followed were a few shrieks of excitement and disbelief (though minimized because I was out doing an observation at another school).  Little Jer… getting married.  Pretty crazy.

Aside from the wedding, we are also massively looking forward to reuniting with family and friends in Edmonton.  Although Brendon returned home in September of 2010 for his grandfather’s funeral, this is my first trip home, and I am pretty stoked to hang out with people I havn’t seen in years.  Many/most of our friends in Edmonton have had kids since we left, so there will be many new little people to meet for the first time, some of which who include (but are not limited to) Anna, Naomi, Henry Richard, Makinley, Joah, Saedy and Jayce.  Brendon’s sister, Nicole, is also pregnant with her fourth and is due just a couple of weeks after our departure date, so if Baby decides to make a bit of an early arrival, we may also get to meet our new niece or nephew!  It will also be special to stop in and see my grandmother in Saskatoon, on our way back from Iowa.

I have to say, I am quite looking forward to perusing Superstore’s Joe Clothing department, and we are both excited to return to the phenomenal beverages and people of Transcend Coffee.  It will be nice to be in Edmonton in the heat of summer… In a typical year, July seems to be the month when the city is at its best, so will be neat to (hopefully) take in part of a festival or two, stroll through the river valley in all its glory, and maybe even hit up a market.  I am curious to see what has changed since we left (and what hasn’t).  We have had so many conversations about what it will be like to return home (when we do), so this visit should answer some of those lingering questions.

Edmonton, see you in a week!! (Photo courtesy of Ken MacDonald)

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Current food fetishes.

I have two current food loves which are turning into slight obsessions: canned black doris plums, and pearl barley.

I first encountered the black doris plums while we were staying with our new friends, Gill and Wayne, in New Plymouth.  Gill put out the most fabulous spread for breakfast everyday, one might even say it was my ideal breakfast: plain yoghurt, homemade museli, rhubarb compote, and a dish of canned plums.  Now these are no ordinary plums; they possess the deep, rich flavour of summertime cherries, and the perfect mix of tang and sweetness of stonefruit.  In my opinion, they are a whole other canned good unto their own, and do not compare at all to any other canned fruit experiences I have had in my lifetime.  Surely, these canned delicacies will make it onto the list of items that I will miss when we finally leave NZ.

My love of barley was cultivated when Brendon purchased a bag of it on a whim.  Not entirely sure how he was going to use it, other than in a soup, Brendon did some perusing online, and came upon a recipe for a barley risotto.  I found the idea intriguing, and the end product even more pleasing.  Barley is less finicky than arborio rice when it comes to making risotto, so the constant stirring is not as crucial.  Being a whole grain, barley is also more wholesome than white or brown rice, and contains a decent amount of protein, fibre, potassium, and folate.  A versatile dish, risotto is so easy to customize depending on what ingredients you have on hand.  One evening this past week, we enjoyed a tomato cream risotto, loaded with roasted crimini mushrooms and courgettes, along with some feta.  Hearty and incredibly flavoursome, this dish is one of my new faves. (I had hoped to include a photo, but it seems we tend to make this dish in the evenings, and unfortunately the sun goes down a good hour before we usually have dinner ready.  Oh winter lighting woes.)

Creamy Tomato Barley Risotto (adapted from Oh She Glows)

2 cups pearl barley

1 onion

1 clove garlic

1 can (400ml) chopped/diced tomatoes in juice

5 cups + 100 ml chicken or vegetable stock

2 tsp Italian seasoning

1 cup milk

1 cup zucchini, sliced

4 portobello mushrooms, sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup feta, crumbled

1 cup grated old white cheddar/tasty cheese

2 cups baby spinach leaves

Salt and Pepper, to taste

1.  In a saucepan, combine chopped tomatoes and stock.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, then stir in milk.

2.  Saute onion and garlic together in frying pan for a few minutes, until onions are clear.

3.  Add barley to pan with onions.  Add a small portion of the liquid (ie. two ladle scoops at a time) to the barley, stirring often.

4.  While barley is cooking, chop zucchinis and mushrooms, and toss onto a pan with a little olive oil to roast in the oven.  Season with salt and pepper.

5.  Continue ladelling the liquid mixture into the pan with the barley, adding more liquid as the barley soaks it up. When barley has NEARLY absorbed the last portion of the liquid, stir in roast vegetables, cheeses, and spinach.  Serve immediately.  Yields 4-6 servings, depending on portion size.

Within the past two days, I have made two batches of these heavenly morsels.  (Don’t worry, I didn’t eat them ALL myself, there were friends to help.)  So I suppose you could say that Frisky Lemon’s Raw Cookie Dough Balls are my newest fetish.  Gluten free and naturally sweetened, they are a health-conscious cookie dough lover’s dream.  Thanks, Frisky Lemon, for this new-found fave!

Raw Cookie Dough Balls 

Ingredients:

3/4 cup almond flour

3 Tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut

2 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp coconut flour

1 Tbsp vanilla

1 Tbsp raw honey

1 Tbsp coconut milk

pinch of salt

chocolate chips to your heart’s content (I used 1/2 cup chopped 70% dark chocolate)

Directions:

Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl, and then roll the dough balls together.  It’s that simple.  Refrigerate if you wish, or consume without guilt immediately.  For the extra “wow” factor, drizzle with some melted dark chocolate.

Life in my classroom out West.

I have been enjoying life at my new school in the western suburb of Titirangi.

The staff and students alike have welcomed me warmly, I am gradually figuring out my way around all the new systems, and I am starting to feel “at home”.  The kids in Room 6 are really sweet, and they have welcomed me with open arms (along with adorable hand-made cards).  We had a great first week together getting to know each other, and I think we are going to get on very nicely with each other.

Being here really confirms that this school is a good match for me, and I have a real peace about being here, although adjusting to a new environment is never really easy.  As a teacher, I think it is great for me to have the opportunity to work at and experience the systems of another school, in order to obtain a broader perspective on how things can be done.

My new school campus feels much larger than the previous one, and is surrounded by bush.  There is a shallow creek that runs beside the school yard which they actually allow kids to play in and around.  They even let kids climb trees.  This school really embraces their environment and natural surroundings, and it’s neat that they allow the kids to do that too.

The view out the front windows of my classroom is out to the senior court area.  Out the rear windows is a small courtyard with lush greenery towering over.  There is a flock of Mallard ducks (yes, apparently Mallard ducks don’t only live in Canada!) that roam around campus and scavenge for lunchbox scraps. On my first day, there was a duck that was nibbling on a nutella sandwich inside the cloak bay.  I gave me a bit of a fright when it got spooked by my presence and flapped madly, trying to escape.

One of my favorite rooms in the school is the staff room.  With windows spanning the length of the room and a balcony that wraps around the outside, you feel as if you’re out in some secluded lodge in the woods.  At break times, the staff room is packed with staff who come to congregate over a warm “cuppa”.  The vibe is bubbly and inviting.

Though there is quite a bit to do and get sorted, my heart is at peace.  I am trying to use this time to gain a good start with my new students and really get to know them, though it is hard at times to not think about the students that were still mine just a week and a half ago…  Students have a way of etching themselves in to your hearts, making them impossible to forget.

The thing about winter in NZ.

Winter in New Zealand, or specifically winter in Auckland, has its moments of being quite “cold.”  Lately, it’s gotten down to 2 degrees overnight, meaning that there’s frost to scrape off the windshield with a credit card in the morning (or melt with a bucket of hot water- if you’re a Kiwi).  While 2 degrees is nothing compared to the -40 degree days that we have experienced in Edmonton, when the insides of buildings are nearly as cold (or sometimes colder) than it is outside, you do feel the “cold” of the NZ winter.  Space heaters, slippers, and hot water bottles are a must during this season, as are ample warm beverages.

But the thing about winter in New Zealand is that it also holds some GORGEOUS days.  By gorgeous, I’m talking about days where the sun is out, your sweater is off, and you’re wearing a t-shirt.  On these days, it’s still comfortable enough to go to the beach (maybe not in the water though- especially if you’re not wearing a wetsuit).

We experienced one of these days recently, and were astounded that we were officially into the season of “winter” and we were picnic-ing by the water.

A beautiful winter’s day called for a trip up to Matakana, a vibrant little village brimming with life, about a 50 minute drive north of Auckland.  Matakana is the site of a charming farmer’s market held every Saturday, and although we have been here for nearly two and half years, we had never actually been up to Matakana on a Saturday to experience the market for ourselves.

With the sounds of live music, the hum of spirited conversation, and the sizzle of local delicacies, the market had a lovely vibe to it.  Situated by a picturesque creek, the market has a permanent structure to it, with wooden stall and signs that stay up during the week, even when the market is not running.

We decided to purchase some items for a picnic lunch that day, and picked up some fresh rocket macadamia pesto, a loaf of kumara bread, some ripe tomatoes, and a bag of mandarines.  By the lapping shores of Tawhiranui Beach, just a short drive from Matakana village, we enjoyed these local delights in the sunshine, pondering how we are ever going to return to the snow and frigid temperatures of winters in Edmonton.

Sweet baby 13.

Today, my sweet little sister, Morgan, turns 13 years old!!

I can’t believe how quickly time has flown and that sweet baby girl I used to take to the park and watch Blues Clues with has blossomed into this gorgeous little teeny bopper!!

It was pretty incredible to be older and have the experience of caring for and helping to raise this beautiful child.  There was too much of an age gap for any sort of sibling rivalry or quarelling, so it was a neat sort of relationship we had.

I have awesome memories of setting up photoshoots, trying to teach Morgan to speak French, sneaking her “bon bons” and watching her eyes light up, and taking her for walks to the park multiple times a day.

I just adored Morgan, and still love her to bits.

Things I love about my Sister:  Her thoughtfulness.  Her quirkiness.  Her sneakiness.  Her beautiful hair.  Her creativity.  Her gentleness.  Her love of cupcakes.

One of my favorite traditions is planning her birthday party together every year.  Not brag, but Morgan has had some pretty stellar birthday parties throughout her 13 years of life.  There was the Highschool Musical birthday, the “Price is Right” birthday, the spa birthday, oh, and the year we hired my friend Mark the magician to surprise her with a magic show.

My personal favorite was probably her “wedding birthday,” in which we did the nails and hair of the girls at her party, made bouquets of fresh flowers, and took all the girls outside for a photoshoot with the “bridal party.”  Haha… what fun.

When Morgan told me she wanted to wait to have her birthday party until I come home in July, I couldn’t have been more thrilled.  Thanks, Morgan!!  It will be SO special to be able to celebrate your 13 years of life with you, with a vintage picnic party next month.

Sweet Morgan, I love you so!!  Happy 13th Birthday to a very special sister that I love and miss so dearly!!

A new home for the owls.

Goodbyes are hard.  This past Friday, I had to say goodbye to a group of kids that I had spent 5 out of 7 days a week with for the past four months.  They are a really awesome group of kids, and I am truly sad to have to leave them, especially in the middle of the year.  With the way things worked out, we didn’t have a lot of time to process the transition that would take place either, but we did have some good discussions around change, and I know that they will be ok.  Some of my highlights of our time together included creating and performing a whole class dance to Feist’s “1234,” conducting the “Rice Experiment” in our classroom, reading the kids’ hilarious letters written to my father in order to convince him to come to NZ (which they successfully did!), and hearing deep and thoughtful ponderings on life as we listened to and discussed a new song as part of our weekly “Music Monday” sessions.  Ah, good times indeed!

The decision to leave the school I had worked at for nearly two years was certainly not an easy one.  I made some good friends on staff there, and especially loved working next door to my lovely friend Gina.

We had become an awesome support system for each other, would share resources often, and would sometimes do joint theme weeks and film studies with our classes.  I had the pleasure of working with some truly stellar people.

Breaking the news to my kids was not easy.  I tried to be as open as possible about it, and let them ask questions.  Questions quickly turned to concern over classroom decor.  “Are you going to take the owls?  Will the vinyl records still be on the walls?  What about the poster with your picture on it?  Will you leave something for us to remember you by?”  Bless their little hearts.  I will leave one owl, I told them, but will likely take the others over to my new classroom out West.

To celebrate our time together and achievements up to this point, we jam-packed our last days with some fun activities:  Some dodgeball on the field, an “electronics afternoon,” a few games of “Mafia,” a little photoshoot action, and a shared lunch.

By the end of my last day, our classroom looked and smelled like a florist shop.  I was really touched by all of their beautiful cards, and all of the lovely and generous gifts that they brought in.  I even had not one but two songs written and performed for me on my last day.  I know I am going to miss these kids immensely, as they have etched their way pretty deeply into my heart.  Still, I know the decision to move on is the right one for me.

I won’t get into the details of why I am leaving my previous school, but I can say that I am moving to a school that is more in line with my own personal convictions and values as a teacher.   A couple of months ago, I actually had an opportunity to visit my new school of employment on an observation with a few other beginning teachers.  Obviously, I liked what I saw.  So much, in fact, that I applied for a job there.  I guess they liked me too, because they hired me.

This is all to announce that the owls and I will  be setting up camp in a classroom out West near the laid back and artistic suburb of Titirangi.  On Monday, I will have a new bunch of Year 4 students to care for, and I am looking forward to get to know each of them.  My new school is about a 20 minute commute, which isn’t too bad, just a little longer than the previous 10 minute walk.  Luckily, Brendon also goes out West for his studies, so we are going to try out making the commute together and see how it goes.

Although change isn’t always the easiest, I am excited about this new phase in life and feel confident that this is the right move for me.  Thank you to everyone who has been part of my story and journey at Maungawhau over the past two years.  I am so grateful to have known you, and for your support and encouragement as I make this transition.