One. Not a week, but a day. The past two weeks have been a whirlwind, and we suddenly find ourselves with just 24 hours left in our beloved adoptive nation.

A kind and keen gentleman strolling the Wellington waterfront snapped this photo for us when we were photographing a friend’s wedding in the nation’s capital this weekend.

Our last day in Auckland (before our SE Asia adventure) was filled with some special times:

Neilsons & Keels

Reuniting with our dear friends Tim and Mimi Keel who are back in Auckland for a visit.

second last supper

A special last dinner with beloved friends.


Baby Jack

Meeting the newest member of our NZ family: Jack Alexander Hart!! (Huge congrats to Dale and Amber for the arrival of their first born son into the world!)


Our hearts are full… of many things. It’s hard to believe this is really it! There is much to process still… but now for some last minute packing.


Tomorrow, we are off to set foot on a new continent. First stop: Kuala Lumpur.


Farewelled with a flash mob.


The school bell at 3:00 this past Friday signaled the beginning of Term Break for most students and teachers, but for myself, it marked the conclusion to a rather significant part of my journey here.

Hip Hop Crew

I received the most heartwarming farewell from my students this past Friday as I wrapped up my teaching career in NZ. Without giving away the slightest hint that anything was going on, my hip hop crew invaded the staff room in the middle of morning tea and honored me with a beautiful performance the hip hop routine we had been practicing over the past term. Apparently, some of them were hiding in and amongst the furniture, but I didn’t have a clue that anything was up until the music came on, and the room was flooded with my gorgeous little hip hoppers. I’ll be honest- there were definitely some tears. I am SO going to miss their gorgeous little faces. A large portion of the crew are students of mine from this year and last, so we have quite a strong bond. Having never been flash mobbed before, it was pretty special, and I will never forget it. Hats off to my lovely co-worker, Kylie, for sneakily (and very successfully) orchestrating this flash mob. You are super sweet!


The farewelling only continued from here. I received so many lovely cards from students, parents, and staff, and some very special treasures to take back to my homeland as memories of this wonderful adventure.


1/4 cupcakes

The hip hoppers also put on a shared lunch, filled with an abundance of my favorite things, including chocolate and carrots- so thoughtful!


At the whole school assembly that afternoon, three of my former students presented me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a heartwarming speech, and a trophy engraved with “Best Dance Teacher.” I didn’t know it was possible to earn a trophy for teaching, but I was very honored to accept it. I was truly touched by the extent to which a few particular students, parents, and teachers went out of their way to make me feel loved and honored. I definitely felt the aroha (love), and it was absolutely the best way to conclude my teaching career in New Zealand (at least for now anyways).

Going to Edmonton

While it’s certainly not ideal to be leaving in the middle of the school year, I think for the most part, the students seemed to understand that my time had come to return to my Canadian roots.

One quarter cake

one quarter mix

We celebrated the end to a fantastic 1/4 of the year together with a “one quarter” party, in which students brought in shared lunch items which showed their understanding of one quarter. I was thoroughly impressed with their creativity and fraction knowledge!


While I am sad to leave the darling Kiwi kids who who were in my care over the past term, the students in Room 10 are very fortunate to have a cool, creative, and vibrant young teacher taking over for me. Miss Smith and I get along great, and we had the privilege of working together quite closely over the past couple weeks to make the transition as smooth as possible.


A heartfelt thanks to all the amazing students, staff, and parents at my school for such an extragant farewell and giving me such awesome days and memories as a teacher in NZ. It was the best send-off imaginable.

Stonefruit in February and other things we will miss. dearly.

And on to the things we will miss…

North Piha

Kohimarama Beach

Endless beach options.  East Coast or West Coast?  White sand or black?  Busy or remote?  We are truly spoiled for choice in Auckland.

Mt. Eden

Volcanoes to picnic on and watch the sun make its glorious descent.

Vino from NZ’s lush vines.

Nice Blocks.

Nice Blocks.

Palm trees.  Of many varieties.  Just outside our front door.

Really. Good.  Yoghurt.  And cheese.  NZ dairy is top notch.


Stonefruit in February.

Consumables made in your very own city.  The fact that the hummus you ate for lunch today was made just down the road.


Feijoas in April.

$5 prescriptions.

Friday Night at Bethells

That soft, enchanting light at Bethells Beach on Friday nights.

Baby Sheep One Tree Hill

Baby sheep on One Tree Hill.

Cheap car insurance.


Pumpkin.  So abundant and plentiful.  Not to mention versatile.

Movies in Parks.

The All Blacks.  In particular, Dan Carter, Piri Weepu, and Sir Richie McCaw.

Lemon curd frozen yoghurt from The Store.  And Kohu Road Cardamon Ice Cream.  Have I mentioned the dairy here is just unreal?

Bethells Cafe

Laid-back, hospitable locals (on the whole.)

Savoury pies.

Morning tea.


The melodic songs of exotic winged creatures.

barefooted children

Barefooted children.


Pohutukawa trees.

New Zealand, you have surely been good to us! We shall never forget your greatness or beauty.


UV rays and other things we are ok with leaving behind.


Our time in NZ has been amazing, but we are ok with leaving behind…

Fearing for our lives when crossing the street.

The produce department at Pak’nSave.


Sushi shops that are closed on Sundays.

The inconvenience of going to the doctor every 3 months to get prescriptions refilled, and having to go a “chemist” (pharmacist) to obtain Sea Legs (Gravol).

Overpriced stationary.

Land lines that are unable to call mobile phones.

The semi-annual W.O.F. (Warrant of Fitness).

Paying $19.99/kg for courgettes (zucchinis) in the winter months.


Yeasty spreads.

Having to wear one’s winter jacket indoors to keep warm in the winter months.

The UV rays.  Too dangerous to want to take with us.


Two to go.


The reality of our departure is setting in.

m & b 02

Our room is slowly emptying itself of its contents as our belongings find new homes among friends and strangers. One more week of school for Mel, and two more weeks in this beautiful country before we embark on our South East Asia excursion. The people and places that have come to be comfortable, familiar, and oh so dear to our hearts will be ours to enjoy for just a very limited time… we intend to make the most of it, while trying to tie up the loose ends that remain before our departure. Lots to do in these last two weeks.

Things we havn’t missed.

Now on to the list of things we havn’t missed from Canada.


Snow.  (Special thanks to my dad, Andy, for these first 3 photos.)




Icy sidewalks.


Shoveling snow.

Temperatures below 5 degrees Celsius.

Snow in the Stillness

Frozen fingers and toes.

Morning rituals involving scraping centimeters of ice off your windshield.

The 1 cent coin, aka penny.  We could probably do away with the nickel as well.


G.S.T. (and P.S.T. in applicable provinces.)


The vicious Prairie mosquito.

Eau de hockey dressing room.

Edible oil product.

Orange cheese.

The infamous Double Double.

I was honestly surprised with the short length of this list.  As you can see, we tried hard to make it longer by listing all negative aspects associated with snow, but we racked our brains and couldn’t think of anything to add.  Maybe items will trickle in later.  Or maybe Canada is just a pretty great place after all…

O Canada: We’ve missed you! [Things we are looking forward to returning to].


Two years ago, we began a few lists of things we miss/do not miss from Canada, and things that we will/will not miss when leave NZ (excluding humans).  This is the first in a series of 4 posts that will unveil our lists to public eyes.

Since making some changes to our diets while in NZ, a number of items have come off our list (beause we no longer miss them).

Things we miss from Canada (and are looking forward to returning to) include:

Joe Clothing

Joe Clothing.

The organic aisle at Superstore.


Transcend Coffee. (photo credit: Transcend Coffee)

Pedestrians having the right of way.

Cheap(er) groceries… wait- cheap(er) everything.

Saskatoon berries.

Spaghetti squash.


Majestic horned creatures. (photo credit: Andy Goodall)

Teaching once again in the system I was trained in.

Cafes open past 4pm.

cozy christmas

Cozy Christmases.

Central heating.

Salsa in massive jugs.

Dill pickles.


Benefits for teachers.

Free healthcare.

Opportunities to practice the French language.

Affordable gym memberships.

Michael’s (one stop for all your crafting needs).

Maple syrup aplenty.

A whole lot of land out there for us to explore.

Prairie sunset

Three, and the first of the goodbyes.


Trois, tres, toru. However you say it, we have reached the number inbetween four and two. (Special thanks to Mitchell, our friend and fellow East Wing resident, for snapping these shots for us in the empty lot next to Laidlaw College.)

Mel & Breno 3

Three is a bit of a sad number for us. To hit the three week mark was a pretty stark realization that our time left in NZ is very. limited. Emotions are quite mixed at this point, and becoming slightly more heightened at times.


This past weekend, the first of the goodbyes began.

Farewell Students

I was honored as around 25 past students and their parents gathered at a local park for a reunion/farewell gathering. Teaching these vibrant, caring young people has been a real highlight of my journey in NZ. It was truly heartwarming to be reunited with the kids with whom I shared some special times and made some fantastic memories with in Room 24… they are truly stellar young people, and I will never forget them.

I recently began a new blog to keep in touch with past students… you can check it out here, if you wish.


Who knows… maybe some of these fine young New Zealanders will even come and visit us in Canada one day on their O.E. (overseas experience)? Here’s hoping!

Theologian in residence.


What is it like to be a theologian in residence?  Or moreso, what is it like to be a theologian who lives in residence at the school in which one is training?

I took this opportunity to take a step back from my role as wife, and take on the role of aspiring journalist in this conversation with Brendon.


(Mel)  So Brendon, would you consider yourself a theologian in residence?

(Brendon) Well Mel, I suppose I am a theologian in residence because I fill my days doing theology, and I live on campus- very close to my office. So, yes, I suppose I am a theologian who resides where I work.

How do you feel about the title ‘theologian in residence’?

I guess the title of ‘theologian in residence’ is fairly descriptive of my role right now, so yeah, I feel positive about it. I would also be open in the future to have this title applied to me in a different way… say the theologian in residence of a school, or a company that was not explicitly a theological institution.


In your opinion, what does it mean to be a theologian?

Good question Mel. I think that a theologian in someone who, within a community, takes on the role of trying to figure out what binds that community together, and how to describe and pass on these convictions in a way that makes sense of and is helpful to the world external and internal to that community.

When did you start to feel like a theologian (as opposed to a theology student)?

That is a tough one. I think it was when I had the sense that I could contribute to the conversation. When you are a student (I do still consider myself a student also because the field of theology is so vast and historic) you are mainly listening and trying to figure out what is going on. There came a point when I wanted to speak and think in a way that might be helpful to the broader conversation. I guess thats when my identity as a theologian came into formation.
Describe a typical day in your world.
Well, over the last few months, my typical day has begun with an early morning work out at the gym across the road, then back for breakfast and a coffee before making the 30 second commute to my office. Once there, I do the regular check of emails and social media, then try to get into my work.  I figure out where I left off and try to find that same mind set and get back into it. I aim to write a solid first draft so that I won’t have to do drastic revisions. I usually stop for a second coffee/morning tea around 9:30 – 10, then break for a short lunch mid-day.  I usually plug away until I have no momentum or feel like starting to cook supper. It is usually around this time that I look forward to your return from school.

Sounds like you’ve got some strong routines going.  What kind of challenges have you come up against in working on your PhD, and how do you overcome them?

I guess the main challenge is a confidence issue- to be confident that what you are saying is worthwhile and significant.  Because a PhD has to contain a significant amount of original contribution to the field, it is easy to feel like you are making stuff up sometimes, which is a bit unnerving especially when it comes to theology. After this, there are the normal problems that writers encounter, such as getting stuck in a section, becoming distracted by ideas which are not central to the thesis, lack of motivation, total brain blocks, etc. I’m lucky I have an encouraging wife who helps me with pistachios during the rough patches.


And the most rewarding part?

The most rewarding part… I suppose it is having people read it (which is only my supervisors at this point) and to have them understand what I am trying to do.  It is encouraging when that happens.  Receiving the affirmation that what I’m doing insn’t crazy, but actually will contribute in ways that I think it can, is immensely rewarding.


Has doing a PhD been what you expected?

Well, my expectations about what a PhD would involve weren’t overly concrete coming in, but I guess what I did expect was for it to be a very large research and writing process. I have found it both harder and easier than expected. Harder because there are not very many people whom I can talk to about my topic. It is a fairly lonely thing sometimes. It is easier because I get to write what I want, how I want (within reason). It is very interesting because I get to explore the ideas I think matter, and are helpful.

For those who may have forgotten, what is the focus of your PhD, again? 

I am looking at the theological method of James McClendon.  He was an American theologian writing in the late twentieth century, who is worthy of study, but not much has been done on him so far.  One aspect of my PhD involves taking McClendon’s use of biography as theology, and turning it back on himself to examine his own theology through his life story.


Tell us about your workspace, where all the magic happens.

Oh, this little old, yellow floored, converted dorm room… Well, what can I say?  I have tried to make it a space where I can feel comfortable, and have some productive times. I’ve put up a few things on the walls which are cool to look at, but have kept it fairly simple.  I guess there are less distractions down here in this former boys’ residence hall than in my previous office, and I think I have been more productive since making the move, so that is good.


I noticed a wooden knob encased in carpet hanging by your door.  Can you tell us about that?  

Oh that?  That’s the light switch.  Pure old school charm, right there.  Give it a tug and you’ll see the light come on.

Theologian Brendon Neilson

What’s in your cup?

My cup is most often filled with coffee. The past two favorites have been from Andrew at EW, sorting me out with some custom roasts of Santa Clara from Guatamala, and a beauty Kenyan Gatunyu. Aeropress has been my brew method of choice lately. I have also been going with tea in the afternoons- mainly Earl Greys.  Those have been nice too.


What books is your nose in these days?

I feel like I have been living in the same books quite a bit lately. Probably the main one that has been open has been McClendon’s Vol. 2 of his systematics, Doctrine. For what I have been working on lately, it has been the most important. But I have also been getting into Wittgenstein a bit more in this chapter, which has been a nice treat.


Are theologians a common breed around here?

It really depends on how you understand what a theologian is. I would say that we are not a very common breed. There are more people who study the Bible, which I guess could fall under the first part of how I answered what it means to be a theologian. But I feel like they often then stay there, without  connecting this Biblical study to the other parts of what is going on in the world.

I was lucky enough, however, to have connected with a few other theology students who enjoy getting into theological discussion… Theological conversation takes time, and to really understand someone else takes lots of exposure to their thinking and their lives. Over the course of the last couple years, the four of us have had some great theological discussion. We met regularly on Fridays, and this was a time that I greatly appreciated.  I will miss having these friends/colleagues around in the future. We are planning on starting a sort of online theology journal type thing in the near future to continue our sharing of thoughts.


What do you most enjoy about the student life?

There are many aspects to being a student which are pretty great.  The freedom and flexibility in my schedule have allowed me to take time off with you and go on adventures fairly freely compared to most occupations. I also love the learning. I get to think, and learn about things which are important. That is a huge honour, and I take that seriously and want to contribute to society with what I have learned.
What’s next?
Next? I don’t really know. I want to continue to refine my perspective on things. I like how I have come to see the world, and want to keep that growing. I look forward to applying my learning and understandings to other facets, the first one being the coffee industry. I have an idea for writing a theology of coffee, which I think could be quite cool.
Thanks so much for chatting, Brendon.  It’s been neat getting a peak inside the life of a theologian in residence.   Congrats on nearly reaching the halfway point in your PhD, which I look forward to reading the entirety of someday.

Final four.

Final four.

We are into the home stretch now… our final month (and last four weeks) in this luscious land flowing with manuka honey.


Within the next four weeks, a few tasks still lie in front of us:  Finish up the school term, a thorough edit on the first 4 chapters of Brendon’s PhD, somehow make the rest of our belongings fit into two suitcases and two carry-ons, photograph a wedding, attend a few farewell functions, and possibly the hardest task of saying  goodbye to some special people and places that have become very dear to our hearts over these past 3 years.

The time is passing all too quickly, but we were thankful for this long weekend to slow down a bit, spend some relaxing times with friends, and take care of some things that needed to be done.


(A special thanks to our mate Dale for capturing these photos for us at Eastern Beach this past weekend.)