Sunday, December 23, 2007

California Christmas

While I like living in here, I have always had a really hard time getting into the Christmas spirit in California. It's may have started as homesickness but now it's most likely the absence of snow or other physical manifestations of the changing season. When I'm sipping hot cocoa, i want it to be because it's cold outside! While my tough winter skin has thinned out since living here and I actually get cold when the temp drops below 75 degrees, it's still not quite the same when people are walking around in tees and flip flops. That being said, my wonderful husband has worked really hard at creating our own Christmas traditions unique to California. We kick it off with a trip to Stats in Pasadena which is a huge warehouse FULL of christmas decorations. Then we will drive hours looking for the rare street where everyone has put up Christmas lights. (Thank you to everyone who lives on Yale St. in Fullerton for being so festive this year.) Toward the endo of the month we head to Kenny's fabulous Aunt Nora and Uncle Ray's beach house in Newport Harbor to watch the Christmas boat parade and we drool over the yachts dreaming of the Christmas we can have one.
Our friend Elise joined us this year on the beach in front of Nicolas Cage's house to enjoy the festivities.
This year is my fourth CA Christmas and I can honestly say that it's actually felt festive as these traditions are starting to be meaningul. Thank you, Kenny, for always making me so happy.

On an unrealted note, we decided to head up to Santa Barbara yesterday to exchange some clothes. The Santa Barbara store was the closest one that had the sizes and colors we needed, plus it was a good reason to head up there. The down town area is so festive and fun. We enjoyed some amazing hamburgers (i can't remember the last time I'd had one and it was soooo good!) and great people watching. We even saw a cat riding a dog like a horse! For real! It was way cooler than almost running into Molly Shannon (from SNL) who is really tiny, and "not very cute" (according to Kenny). In all it was a pretty great day.
(P.S. Yes, my hair is really that red; I needed a change - thanks Nicole!)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Day 8: The Last Day. (Ragland and Aukland...then some time travel)

We were so sad that it was our last day. Our flight didn't leave until 11pm so at least we had a long day to enjoy New Zealand's famous surf spot and their largest city. It was a beautiful day that saturday, so we decided to head toward the coast (an hour's drive) and see the Tasman Sea on a good day. Another gorgeous drive ensued. On the way, there was a sign for Bridal Veil Falls and we decided to detour for a quick hike. It proved to be well worth it.

The view over from directly over the waterfall

The drop...

125 feet doesn't always look so big.

The hike left Kenny really thirsty

In case we're attacked from some woodland creature, I'm ready with some awesome high-kicks.

The trees were all covered with was very "Lord of the Rings-ish"

After the waterfall, we headed out to Raglan - a cool little surf town on the Tasman Sea, where there are several swimming-friendly spots. 15 minutes south of Raglan is Whale Bay. Whale Bay has a beautiful left hand break. I don't even surf and I could appreciate its uniqueness and perfection. You could paddle out where it's glassy and then cut into steady slow (at this time of year) waves. There were 10-15 surfers putting on quite the show and the on the grass were several vans serving as make-shift camps. These people were die-hard. i could have stayed watching and enjoying the sun for hours.

Aukland...full circle. We finally made the final stretch of our journey to Aukland, New Zealand's main city. I think half the total population lives here. For the first time on our trip we were on actual free ways. Merging from the left and remembering that the right lane was "the fast lane" took some getting used to, to say the least. But we made it! Aukland is pretty cool, but wasn't my favorite. We walked up Queen's St., hung out at an outdoor market at The Edge (and eyed some potentially amazing skate spots) then meandered to the piers in search of a great dinner. We literally would stand in front of a restaurant and smell the air searching for the best smelling food. We found it toward the middle of the pier and enjoyed the view of Aukland harbor, some great food, fabulous people watching, and reminiscing. I can't say anything that would really sum up what a wonderful trip this was. So I guess I'll just say I can't wait to go back!

The Sky Tower

Nothing like a HUGE paper mache Santa plastered to a building to welcome the Christmas season.

More rad buildings...

Sculpture (begging to be skated) at The Edge

At the Entrance to the docks

Aukland Harbor

Another map, but for the last time. Here Kenny maps out the last part of our journey...the trip to the airport.

The flight going home was long. Actually it was shorter than the trip to New Zealand (I guess we were traveling with the wind this direction), but it was bumpy and I couldn't sleep very well. Plus, this kid was crying...all night...and rather than console the child at their seat, the mom let him wander up and down the isle all night. So everyone got to enjoy it. I think she thought it would wear him out, but after four hours wouldn't you give up? I guess you could commend her for her perseverance; it lasted all 13 hours. Anyway, the flight was otherwise uneventful. We left at 11:00pm and arrived in LA at 2:00pm - the same day. We got two Saturdays! I wished we had done it via DeLorean. After unpacking, we met up with Kenny's fam. and hit up a viewing of August Rush (lame) and enjoyed some delicious crepes (awesome) on Birch Street. The End!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Day 7: Rain in Rotarua...Hamilton and the Temple

So Rotarua is like the Queenstown of the north in terms of outdoorsy things to do: jet boating, horseback riding, bungee jumping, luging, etc. It's nowhere close to Queenstown's beauty, though. smells. Really. It's located near a volcano and the air is full of sulphur, aka rotten egg smelliness. Driving into the valley is cool; thermal steam rising from random spots in the ground and rivers. Then, if your vents are open, or you get out of the car the sulphur hits your nostrils and your nose hair curls up. Not even joking. I'd say that you get used to it, but you really don't. Lucky it's a pretty cool town with lots to see. Like the Maori Village (think Polynesian Cultural Center) where you tour a traditional Maori village, watch cultural performances and eat ethnic food. Here's Kenny at the entrance:
As a side note, after watching a Maori dance, one would expect them to have deep booming (slightly frightening voices), but then they speak and they're actually very quiet, slightly high pitched with a hint of a British accent. It's kind of disarming, actually.

After Rotarua, we drove an hour to Hamilton. On the way we passed through horse country. Cambridge and the surrounding area is where it's at as far as thoroughbred horses go (so I'm told). It was rainy, so we didn't get to ride any. Oh well.

Hamilton is a pretty big city; it has two universities...and a Temple! Before we left, I ruined the night of my stake president's 1st counselor the night before we left, begging him to renew my recommend. It didn't expire until December, but I thought it had to have a bar code to work. Anyway, he rearranged his schedule and shut his family up in a room of his house so I could be interviewed. He was so bummed (and I was pretty embarrassed) when he looked at my existing recommend and told me it would still work without the barcode. So thanks again President Stanford! (And I'm really really sorry...again.)

The temple is like a miniature LA Temple - inside and out. They were built a few years apart, so I guess that makes sense. the Temple is a ways outside the main city, on top of a hill with almost nothing around it except a small church college. It was cool driving to it, passing buildings and streets with names like David O. McKay Blvd.
We got there in time for the last session, which consisted almost entirely of Maoris. We got out as the sun was setting and the sky was a deep royal purple color. Amazing. The temple lights were on so it was hard to get a good picture of the sky without washing out the Temple, so first enjoy the temple, then imaging the sky from the second picture behind it. Inspiring.

It was perfect to spend our last night in New Zealand at the temple. After witnessing all that beauty and enjoying one another's company, it was wonderful to spend time in God's house and remember who created it all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Day Six: Rotarua (aka "Rotten-rua")

As New Zealand's capital city, Wellington has a lot of culture and diversity...and some great museums and galleries. The best (and biggest) was the Museum Te Papa. It showcases fine art, New Zealand craft, native plant/animal exibits, New Zealand history, etc. And it was free! So after another amazing breakfast at a quaint cafe and window shopping on Cuba Street it was off to Te Papa!
In terms of photo quality and color, I LOVE this picture of my handsome husband.

Beautiful classical building by a rad art deco building...look harder. Yes that's a Burger King. What a crime.

This would be a whale skeleten. WOW. That jaw bone is a good 25 feet long at least! (Kenny thinks it's actually a bad 25 feet. ha ha.)

Art: random and awesome.

New Zealand Rocks!

After the museum, we drove around the city for awhile and then began our (rainy) trip up north (300 miles or so) to Rotorua. On the way we passed the HUGE Lake Taupo. It's 260 square miles and round. It looks like an ocean. There's only two towns on the Lake, though, Turangi at the south and Taupo at the north.

As always, I played with my camera along the way. A missionary serving in our ward lent me a bunch of filters, so I passed the time playing with those.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Day Five: Hanmer Springs to Picton, and so long South Island

So we made it to Hanmer Springs with enough time to soak in the mineral pools for a few hours. The air outside was really cold, though so the process of switching pools was a little painful. That night it snowed! We didn't have a tone of time the next day to hike around (we wanted to catch the 2:30 InterIsland Ferry), so we opted for a quick drive into the mountains for some pictures.

On the way to Picton to catch the ferry we made a quick stop on the coast. Beautiful, but really cold...and windy!

We barely made it to Picton to catch the ferry...but as it turns out there was a huge storm in the ocean and the boat was delayed. So we made it with time to spare! (Well, at least with enough time to turn in the yellow car and get some pictures of the harbor.)

We met this guy on the boat who said the front had the best view, so we settled in for the three hour treck through the sounds and open ocean.

We hit open waters after about an hour and a half into the gentle ride and all of a sudden there was 15-20 foot swells. Waves were crashing up to the top of the boat! It was like a roller coaster. I was all smiles with my face pressed against the window relishing the feeling my stomach dropping. Kenny was having fun, too, for a while, but then he got super sick and had to relocate downstairs. After a while i joined him. Our friend from earlier was there, too, also sick. This little girl kept barfing and in those moments when she could catch her breath she just screamed. I can't remember the last time I threw up, but listening to her, I remembered how awful it was. The irony is that the cruise movie was Evan Almighty. People were flooding out of the theatre covering their mouths. It all made for a pretty eventful trip. Eventually we did make it to Wellington safely, where we picked up a new rental car (red this time) and found a cool little backpacker hotel in the heart of the capital.

So everything closes pretty early on weekdays, so most nights we hung out in our room and watched "net ball" and tried to figure out the rules. No luck. Anyway, we stayed at a backpacker hotel in Wellington, so no TV in our room. However, there was great tall window and one wall was painted we had some fun with the camera! (for a few hours!) Here's a few of the many many shots:

The street light outside the window made for some great silhouettes.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Day 4: Christchurch to the Springs

Christchurch is the biggest city on the South Island...and the most British colonial. There's a ton of old classical buildings that have been repainted bright colors like teal and magenta. It was pretty cool. Anyway, we slept in, worked out, and had a great breakfast at the Honey Pot at Sol Square (the BEST shopping in New Zealand). We loved that we didn't have to do a ton of driving today, so we took it slow. While exploring the streets of Christchurch we noticed that everybody close to our age was decked out like it was prom, except with huge elaborate hats and/or feathers in their hair. We were finally told it was Cup Day - the big horse race. New Zealand is apparently world famous for their thoroughbred horses. That explained the elaborate head pieces. We were super underdressed, but it made for some fantastic people watching.

Later that morning we wandered over to the Botanic Gardens to go for a walk along the Avon river and to do some relaxing. the garden is split into sections: the rose garden, the water garden, the aroma garden, etc. and all are beautiful. We wandered a bit and then found a great shady spot under this HUGE tree and read for a while. Well, Kenny read and I played with my camera. It's my favorite toy!

After Christchurch we got some snacks for the quick trip to Hanmer Springs. Kenny found this soda at a gas station on our way to Milford Sound, and loved it, so he bought one every time we stopped. I don't know if he liked the flavor or the name... (you may need to click on the image)

Hanmer Springs is this tiny alpine town that has natural mineral hot springs. They've built a whole resort and day spa around them - kind of like Glen Ivy in Temecula, but smaller and more natural and rustic. Our goal was to make it to Hanmer Springs with enough time to soak in some mineral baths for a few hours. The scenery along the way was "typical New Zealand" and breathtaking every second of the way. It was almost boring how consistently beautiful it was. Oh, and here's our awesome little rental car. Enjoy!