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Journal | Mother-Son glamping.

Every year for the last 5 I’ve taken my young lad on a mother-son camp.  Just like I did with his brother 20 years earlier. Many happy memories have been created over the years under the stars with these gentlemen!

So when my friend Diane mentioned they were camping at Lake Benmore in January I invited our family to tag along. And boy am I glad we did. In the end it was just Mac and I camping with them but I think it’s safe to say with all the luxurious camping convenience on their side of the campsite….we were experiencing ‘glamping’ for the first time.


And I am addicted.

The drive to the McKenzie Country area is stunning, past Lake Tekapo and the stone church


Past Lake Pukaki and it’s majestic backdrop of Mt Cook (NZ’s tallest mountain) The colour is because Lake Pukaki is fed by glacial melt. Glacial feed to the lakes gives them a distinctive blue colour, created by glacial flour, the extremely finely ground rock particles from the glaciers. It’s always so stunning to me.


 I always say that anyone that learns the art of photography is blessing their kids photographic history. I laugh as I go through my mothers photos from when we were kids. They are bad. really really bad. heads cut off, awkward stiff poses and unflattering moments caught. Mac won’t ever have to suffer that kind of embarrassment. But sometimes you just have to capture the traditional parent-taking-photo-of-kid pose…just cos every photographers kid should at least see what their imagery COULD look like. Ah!, look at those arms hanging awkwardly at the sides. look familiar?


onward to Twizel, then Lake Benmore.

I wouldn’t say it was an easy drive – it’s just TOTALLY worth it – fo sho’!

This shingle road was very worn and it was best taken at 50+kms an hour or under 20 kph. First time I chose 30 kph – horrible choice. The bumps shook the steering wheel right out of my hands. The car sounded as though it would shudder apart at any moment. Although driving in shingle at higher speeds brings it’s own kind of safety concerns, it really was much easier on the car and occupants sitting between 50-60 kph.



So what is there to do at Lake Benmore?


This, lots and lots of this…


and this


There aren’t a lot of amenities there, just a flush toilet. But with the lake just metres away, who needs hot showers? lol

It was so very very relaxing

We went walking


and fishing


and bought gawdy hats with very wide brims (and had to swap when he got overheated)


we worked hard


all day long


seeing cloud hearts




and fantails


Best camping trip EVER! It’s meant I’ve spent the last two weeks on trademe looking for a BIG tent to buy! and btw…next time, we’re taking DADDY!

Journal | Biking the Little River Rail Trail

New Years day 2015 we set out as a family to bike a small section of the Little River Rail Trail. The complete trail is 44 km long, but Mike planned for us to just bike a small section from Motukarara rail station to Birdlings Flat (Section 5 of the route). As we were biking along it became clear that he hadn’t sourced enough information. He wasn’t entirely sure of either the distance or whether the route would take us to the seaside at Birdlings Flat but we just went with it and kept biking because it’s fun to be out with the family!

The Motukarara-Birdlings flat is actually the longest section of the trail (12km’s)

HERE is a great (grayscale) version of the rail trail brochure although some of the information is now out of date.

This was the first long bike ride Mac (aged 8 years) had been on, so we took the Burley HoneyBee with us just in case we under estimated the track or over estimated his abilities. We didn’t need it for him though, but it was good for carrying the water, picnic lunch and extra clothing.

Mike also didn’t seem sure on how to get to the start of our route, I knew how to get to Motukarara but not to the train station but figured it would be sign posted and it was. We followed the sign posts for the rail trail off highway 75 (runs between chch and Akaroa) The start point is on Park Rd, where there is a small parking lot. In the photograph below you see what it looks like when you pull up and park. To start the trail you walk around that red roofed building the trail begins on your right, through a self closing gate. It’s clearly marked.

railtrailstart the area in front of the building looks like this


There is a brief history on rail transportation in the area, and well worth a read before setting off. There is an activity sheet that you can download for kids to do, while on the trail. you can find it HERE. I wish I had known about it before setting off on our bikes.


Our trail riders today consisted of Mike, Mac (8) and Me… I pulled the trailer and stayed in my rear of the group position.  Mike scouting in the front and Mac biked in the middle. This is how we do all of our rides or hikes. It’s a good system for us as I like to keep within cooey of Mac and Mike likes to speed ahead and rest. He’s the hare, I’m the tortoise!


It was a very warm day but with a robust cool head wind, perfect biking temperature, but less wind would have made it easier biking lol. This area can often get very blustery but the wind does reduce the encounters with the infamous midges of Lake Ellesmere.  They don’t bite but swarming around your face is annoying. Wearing sunglasses helps to keep them out of your eyes while biking.

This is some of the scenery of the first 8 km’s of our ride. I wouldn’t say there was a lot to see as such, but it was pretty scenery and easy biking (more or less). There isn’t a lot of shade along this part of the trail at all, so having plenty of water with you is a must if biking in the hot sun. Mike ran out of water and we begrudgingly  lovingly gave up some of ours. He’s worth it though! Also, SUNBLOCK people!  It’s true what they say about the harsh sun in the southern hemisphere. We get burned, to a crisp sometimes….so sunblock is a must-have in New Zealand.


The trail riding surface was a little rocky, the semi slick tyres on my bike were the perfect choice, Mike was a little concerned about his road tyres but they handled the trail just fine. Just be prepared for a bumpy ride.


There are a few bridges to cross and several self closing gates that are tricky with the trailer on the bike, our system – Mike stopped and held them open for Mac and I to bike through, it made it a lot easier to get the trailer through. railtrail16


Biking along the shores of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere was lovely. We didn’t see many different kinds of birdlife, but enjoyed watching the black swans.


I really love the colours of New Zealand.


Mac was struggling with the ride at this point. The head wind was fairly significant and he was tiring quickly although spurred along by occasional chocolate stops.

We had lunch at the Kaituna Quarry.


While stopped at the Quarry, my menfolk spent some time climbing the outcroppings there, ‘ it’s a guy thing’ they tell me.


I just leave them to it and enjoy resting in the sunshine and taking photos of the grass.


It was a LOVELY rest stop, some shade would have made it perfect on such a warm day, but that’s just getting demanding lol. I loved how I could use all the rocks as a natural reflector for some photos of our little guy.

It was here we decided to turn around and bike back to the car when we found out how much further it still was to Birdlings flat (another 4km one way, making it 8 km return).

16 kms/10 miles was his limit for now. I wanted to end on a happy note where he was still excited about his ride and I didn’t have to force him to keep going with every push of his pedals.

It was a fabulous ride, I love being able to take this guy on rides and not have to worry about traffic since he is in that ‘inbetween’ stage of wanting to be out and about on his bike but not quite having the safety awareness yet. We look forward to many more days in the saddle together as a family!

You can get more information about the Little River Rail Trail at www.littleriverrailtrail.co.nz

Christchurch New Years Eve

I LOOOOOOVE community events, especially FREE community events and Christchurch is the best place to be for free family fun during the summer. The Christchurch City Council put on a plethora of different free or mostly free events during the summer months called “Summer Times” check out their website if you are in the city from Dec-March.  We already attended the Christmas in the Park event during December. It was FUN! cold, but FUN.

On New Years Eve Macallum and I joined the New Years Eve party in Hagley Park (see below). It was a gorgeous evening with fun events for the kids. Again…all FREE.



I’ve been thinking about getting a point and shoot camera because I don’t like to carry my big camera (D800) around, but the images from my phone camera are puke and I can’t stand them. But until that time, the phone will have to do.


they even had The Wizard come out to put a spell on 2015 to bring only goodness for the city and her people.


Anyone who grew up in Christchurch will remember The Wizard for his  political rants, chauvinistic debates and questionable wizardry in the Christchurch Square during any lunch time. He was always good for a laugh (or cringe as the case maybe) But it was nice to see him again, working his magic for our good.

At 8.30pm it was declared Kids Midnight. With a count down and everything. They had mock fireworks that spewed streamers, since it’s still light at 8.30 at night. It was very fun to watch all the kids jumping around trying to catch all the streamers. Mac had quite a handful!





Thank you Christchurch for a fabulous evening. We look forward to many more community events this summer.


Christmas Calm | is there such a thing?

6 days ago Christmas of 2014 happened.

Only 6 days? Really?

We are still eating left overs but it seems like it was more than 6 days.

I think it was a lovely day. I didn’t stress at all, I took some time to sit and chat a while. More on that later.

and as the new year approaches I can’t help but get all giddy and stuff…  TOMORROW we get to use the reset button. (although really, we can reset at anytime)

I am excited for 2015.

I don’t know why, since we are living on shifting sand of the unknown, but

But for Christmas 2014 I was determined to make it more relaxed, and by that I mean more relaxed for ME. Therefore I sought the advice of my friends via a facebook post “When I think of Christmas, this is the feeling I get”.


Going to change it up this year….PLEASE tell me what tips you have for creating a stress free Christmas?

Janyce L: Make it all about the family and experience and less about all the commercial aspects. Keep it simple. It does work… good luck

Alie J:we barely do gifts at all and it is the best! Jack will usually get either one big thing (last year it was a red bike) or a few smaller things (I’m thinking kinetic sand and tanagrams this year). Tyler and I usually get each other one thing each, too. we’ll maybe spend Christmas morning in the kitchen with each other, and the afternoon at the beach. we are all about no-expectations around here.
Me: We have our gifts semi-sorted, I’m a simple gift girl too but I take the 3 gift approach from the Christmas story 1/ something of value to the person (Gold) 2/ something to represent ‘spiritual gifts’ (Frankincense – symbolic of his priesthood – stature) something to pass on (preserving nature of myrrh) 3/ … Mike and I are giving each other a 5 day RV trip prior to Christmas. meets our 3 gift approach in one awesome extended date! lol

Nola D:We do the three gifts as well. Love it, really makes things simple.

Elizabeth S: Shop cook and decorate early

Michelle R: Buy a few gifts each week before December rush and wrap them as you go. BBQ lunch (pot luck if others are coming to yours also)
Me: I saw a tip online that said to assemble them (put batteries in etc) before you wrap them, then the kids can play with them as soon as they open them and it’s one less thing to do on the day. Sounds reasonable.

Elizabeth S: We also had a major breakthrough. Mark took charge of the cooking. That left me to focus on decorating cleaning and making myself and the kids look good. Previous years I took charge of all those things and tried to delegate piecemeal to him. The new way was much much better!

Me: I’ve always done everything too… hmm time to start a discussion re: what others can contribute. I like that Christmas will be in summer for us this year, so I see much outdoor play happening (and we live next door to a school to utilize the playground)

Elizabeth S:It really works well for us. Having one whole piece I don’t think about or carry is the key.

Rachael B: Is this the first Christmas with all your boys and grandbaby? Wow! How exciting! Make a theme matching homemade gift for everyone like pj bottoms then you get a cute photo with everyone!

Robyn R:I am the same. I am not into it at all!

Kerrie O: I love the story of Mary and Martha in the scriptures. Mary just wanted to enjoy being with the Savior, and Mary was running all over the place. Choose to have a “Mary” Christmas!

Kathleen H:Distribute responsibilities w/ husband

Scott H: Mail everyone a gift cards and Christmas news letters before the end of November. Stay away from shopping in December. Plan fun get-togethers with family and friends.

Janis S: Remind yourself that gifts do not create happiness. Keep it reasonable and let them know you love them, but stop when you are done. If a friend brings you a gift and you are not ready to reciprocate, just say thank you with a grateful smile. Also, don’t feel bad about missing a party or two.

Kathryn B: I love Christmas

Amanda F: Cancel it

Suzanne C: One word, Amazon! I am done with Christmas for my kids and got everything from Amazon. Free shipping. We do a 3 gift thing with our kids. Christ got 3 gifts, so that’s what we get too. We do not count stocking stuffers against the 3 gifts so we can do some fun stuff there too.

ME: Some of these were fab suggestions,  I am going to write them all down so i can remember them. I’ve starting planning the Christmas Day menu already, and will be assigning others what to bring. Plus if I buy a few Christmas menu grocery items in my weekly shop I should be well prepared on the big day. It’s almost exciting now that I have a way to better manage it.


After reading the comments  I researched “Stress Free Christmas” on google. Many of their tips were the same and I didn’t want to get into the situation where I become STRESSED with how much I need to organize and do so I can be stress-free. But these were the ones I implemented.

Plan with the end in mind
I have been out of the country a long time and maybe that meant I felt extra pressure to create a nice day for everyone, but really?  I was clear about my goal for this Christmas. I just wanted people to enjoy a really good meal with lots of yummy food, that made sense to our health and served as a gathering activity for the extended family. For myself I wanted a day where I felt relaxed and got to be ‘present’ with the chitchat and laughter. But mostly it was about the food for me, good food where everyone can at least enjoy something off the table. Turns out that lamb, chicken and ham didn’t cover all the bases for preferred meat choices to feed the masses. Turns out potato salad, lettuce salad, rice salad, coleslaw, corn. beans, peas and buttery minty new potatoes didn’t either. The promise of going to McDonald’s on the way home was made to a young nephew. I should have just cooked hamburgers and sausages. my bad. I really enjoyed the meal and the thing I enjoyed the most was NOT being the sole kitchen bitch. Everyone brought food with them, and everyone helped set up and clean up! It was a delightful treat for me!!! Here’s part of our motley crew on the day. Another brother, sister-in-law and niece arrived later in the day.

From the back Left, Sandra (DIL), Kieran (Son), Mike (Husband), Rima (Brother) and Me

Front from left in zigzag fashion. Bailey (granddaughter) Macallum (son) Marjorie (mother) holding Olivia (granddaughter) Bailey (Nephew) Savannah (Niece) holding puppy Garrett , Lisa (SIL) and Boy at her feet.


Start Early:
I planned a menu and invited the family to bring a few items way back in October, this allows for items to be bought weekly to spread out the costs. And so I could enlist help from others, experts in things I lack. like COOKING. I hate cooking. with a passion. My dear friend Suzie offered to do some baking for me, she gave me a grocery list and I purchased all the necessary ingredients. She baked up a storm and we put everything in the freezer until needed. Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, shortbread, apricot truffles, mint chocolate truffles, russian fudge. Everything was delicious and well received on the day. This is the first year I have ordered a ham and I ordered it from my favourite organic butcher Banfields of Beckenham. I have to say… that ham was drop dead delicious, everyone commented on how scrumptious it was. But when you grow up on a farm and farming folk are your people, you don’t order ham, or lamb or any meat from a butcher, Non si fa (it’s just not done) You eat your own. Forgive me family… but I am so glad I did.

Keep traditions that are important (to the family or more importantly, me lol) Each year I give Macallum and the 2 grand children a Christmas Ornament. I try to pick something a little different but that also identifies the year. Plus we always do new pj’s on Christmas eve. I usually want them to be Christmas pj’s but it couldn’t happen this year. I had a heard time finding some in the right sizes.

Drop the Unnecessary Need to decorate? do you really need to trim the tree? Truth is, I love to decorate. But only in an attempt to impress others with a smoke screen of how really lame I am at such things. It takes me a long time to get started, Mac is usually the one to give the call to action. He LOVES to celebrate, decorate, and make merry. I love that about him. So when he comes up with ideas, my mind explodes with possibilities and eventually I make it happen. Our decorating was minimal this year and mainly because our decorations are in storage in the US still. And because I no longer see it as necessary in capturing the spirit of Christmas. One less task for me. We did buy a pathetic little tree and I let Mac go for it with borrowed decorations from the neighbor, a few handmade snowflakes and some scrappy on-sale Christmas lights. It was good to pass ownership onto my young padawan. (but shhh, don’t tell him that I forgot to take a photograph of the whole thing. Here it is in the back ground though.

Other things I dropped? There were a few natural changes that contributed to being less stress for me this year merely because I am no longer in the US. One change was that I didn’t do our annual Christmas card = less family stress in getting a photo for the card, and less stress by not editing, ordering and mailing. I hate the post office at the best of times but Christmas time is NOT the best of times, so one big task off my list. Woot. The other thing was not photographing others for their Christmas card. Usually I have 4 families that want family sessions at the same time, but I’ve stopped photographing other people’s family, in favour of photographing my own. Feel the freedom?! I decided ahead of time what a good, better, best Christmas looks like. To have a good enough Christmas, is it no frills.

Gifts? to gift or not to gift.

No Amazon this year. The shipping from the US is KILLER HUGE, so no international purchases were made therefore I started collecting early.  Each year I try to do a theme, this year was beach. I loosely keep to a $150 budget per immediately family child and I prefer to get things they really want, and/or need. I like to gift experiences more than gifts, but love to give gifts that create fun family memories. This year I suggested to Mike that we do a road trip together for our Christmas gifts to one another. Usually Mike will spend a lot of money on me each Christmas, but since our living situation is uncertain and I don’t want to cart gifts around the world I put the damper on our spending. So we had a week away just for ourselves and it was 100% wonderful, despite the crappy weather and the many things that went wrong. We enjoyed ourselves and each other very very much.

For the 2 grandkids and Mac I went with beach theme. I wrapped each persons gifts in one paper design and put them in one of those flexi buckets. Pink for Livy, Purple for Bailey and Light Blue for Mac. That saved a lot of time naming the gifts and decorating them all pretty. Wish I had taken a photo…DUH! You can see them in the background in this pic of these crazies. From the times we have been swimming this year I noticed that Mac doesn’t last long in the water before his lips turn blue and he starts stumbling around. So the obvious gift? A wet suit. It’s worked brilliantly in keeping the kid warm. We add a boogie board, beach towel, sun glasses, outdoor over-sized badminton set, lilo and swim suits and a new outfit.


I went a little over board with gifts this year. Next year I will embrace Joshua Becker’s (becomingminimalist) gift protocol. “our kids receive one thing they want, one thing they need, and one experience to share with the family.” I like this very much, he also has many other wonderful suggestions for getting rid of clutter in our lives. Brilliant stuff.

I also really loved this advice from Stacy Julian via Big Picture Classes

“…Look at what remains on your list. If it isn’t wrapped up in love, generosity, or devotion, let it go. Step back. Recognize all that you have already accomplished and reflect on how you want to feel and how you want others to feel when they are around you.

In a week, it will all be over for another year…”

Things learned…I need more serving spoons. And we didn’t have much of a focus on Christ.

journal | mondays with her

I spend every Monday with this little girl at my side, she is my everything.

She couldn’t care less about spending time with me, but I don’t let that determine how deeply I love her. I love her to the moon and back and back again.


This is a new kind of love, this grandmother thing. It’s deeply committed but with the freedom to send her home at the end of a busy day. And some days, I like sending her home!

I fill her day with adventures like swimming, playing ball in the back yard, building towers and huts, playgrounds, reading, dancing, biking and crafting stuff. I am determined not to waste one precious moment with her.

My own grandmother was a magnificent woman. She was feisty yet gentle, progressive yet homey. I spent a lot of time at her side, either baking, walking the dog, carrying the morning tea to my grandfather out in the paddocks or going to the Country Women’s Institute where we would learn and craft together.  She was everything I thought a grandmother should be. I live by her example. I have wished my own children could have experienced a grandmother like her, she was the glue for our family. Now we are fragmented and scattered.

And so I try to be that kind of a grandmother for Olivia.

But she loves Mac the most.


Her little face lights up whenever she sees him,  she runs to him with her arms wide open begging to be hugged or for him to pick her up.

He loves her with just as much conviction.

He is tender and protective.

It’s good for him, and her. He needs experiences that create the opportunity to take care of someone, someone smaller than him that needs protecting and entertaining. She benefits from being taken care of and trusting a boy. They are well suited these two.

He would do anything for her.

I would do anything for her.

and yet most likely, one day very soon, we will leave NZ and head back to the US. I want to spit those words even though I know our life in America has been a very very good life. I don’t like moving, and I especially don’t like moving away from my babies. It hurts inside. I feel a deep painful gut wrenching ache when I think of it, but I know it’s not forever, it’s just not the right time, tis all.  I love being here, being with Kieran is home to me, sharing in the loves of his life is home to me. Having Mac and Kieran together, is home to me. Sitting with Livy on my knee  is home to me. Making memories and building relationships and we travel around and spend time together is home to me. I will miss it deeply.

So I take photos.

Every day photos to remind me of an every day I loved creating.

With this girl.

The first one CRACKS ME UP!