Big Trees in New Zealand’s Northland


It was pouring rain by the time we drove to the Kauri tree grove just south of Omapere in the Northland of New Zealand. It did not dampen our enthusiasm for these gorgeous big trees one bit. UK Sarah and I made this the main destination of Day One of our Northland road trip.

We left St Heliers in Auckland in the morning and arrived in Matakohe in time to see the Kauri Museum and eat lunch at a nearby cafe. The museum was a great way to understand the special attributes of this giant tree and its history. Unfortunately, it has a similar fate as California’s redwoods and there is only a remnant left.

We continued on Highway 12 getting lost only once. We stopped at the first grove and slipped into our raincoats. Sarah had an umbrella but I decided to rely on my slicker so I would have my hands free to take photos. Please pause to use the equipment provided to spray off your shoes so you do not introduce disease among the roots of these important legacy trees.

We stopped one more time at a second grove of trees. Then sopping wet and starting to get cold, we scooted to our hotel at the end of the highway in Omapere. We were staying at the Copthorne resort and it was terrific. The hotel room was very large and comfy with great views of the bay. The bar and restaurant was very good and we slept soundly. I could have stayed longer but there was more of the Northlands to see.


View from our hotel balcony.

New Zealanders Really Know How to…


Ah, the flat white.

New Zealanders do two things really well: coffee and rugby.  No, wait.

New Zealanders do three things really well:  coffee, rugby and war memorials. No, wait…


Memorial on One Tree Hill



Devonport War Memorial


The best of all: the Auckland War Memorial Museum

New Zealanders do four things really well: coffee, rugby, war memorials and the postal service.


I love the New Zealand Post. First, the mail is delivered by Posties on bicycles. Think of how much money could be saved (and how good for the environment) if the USPS used bikes in cities and towns. And look what good shape these posties are in! Plus even villages have postal service in dairies (small grocery stores). And because the Post has a relationship with the state owned Kiwibank, people in small towns also have access to banking services.

New Zealanders do four things really well: coffee, rugby, war memorials and the postal service. No wait, New Zealanders do five things really well: coffee, rugby, war memorials, postal service and public toilets!

No, wait…


Many of the public toilets in the Northland are beautifully designed, and every loo in NZ is cleaner than any public toilet I have ever used in the USA.

There are six things New Zealanders do really well:  coffee, rugby, war memorials, postal service, public toilets and public libraries!


The Devonport library:  City of Auckland is still expanding their library system!

There are more things kiwis do well, like conservation of natural areas and hiking huts and bike trails and water sports and blending te reo Maori and poetry festivals and wine and lamb. You will just have to go and see for yourself and add to this list.




Memories of Cuba

Cuba Obama

Photo: National Public Radio 

I am so excited to read stories about President Obama’s visit to Cuba. Ever since I visited Cuba with the California Agricultural Leadership Program in the late 1990s, I have hoped that someone would find the political courage to normalize relations with Cuba.

Our group had permission from the US Treasury to visit and it was part of a three week educational trip that included Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Haiti. We first landed in Santiago de Cuba and then spent most of our visit in Havana with a one day field trip to an eco-resort.

Cuban baseballI have many terrific memories of Cuba including drinking my first mojito. One of my favorite memories recurred regularly when we moved around Havana by bus. Several of my fellows learned that real quality baseballs are hard to come by (even though they are made in Haiti). In Cuba, children are still playing baseball in stickball games on streets all over Havana. So whenever we passed a group of children, Dan or Todd would ask the driver to stop, they would whistle to get the kids attention and then they would toss out a couple of brand new baseballs.

Every time something magical happened. The children would catch them, stare open mouthed and wide-eyed and then toss it to a playmate who would have a similar reaction. Then they would hoop and holler and thank us. We would all wave and grin and feel real joy.

I hope President Obama has a terrific visit and that progress is made toward improving relations between our countries. Just remember Mr. President, US Treasury limits your cigar imports to $100 US.

Flashback to the Aerogramme

Remember snail mail? Do you recognize this stationary? I still love to send real mail by USPS. I still write postcards home when I travel. It has become ridiculously expensive too by the time you buy the postcard and the stamp. It does not pencil out if you compare to email.

I remember my first trip overseas. I went with Teen Missions to Catrine in Ayrshire, Scotland. I purchased so many Aerogrammes to write to the people who supported my mission, to friends and family and to anyone I thought might write back. My teammates were all jealous of how many letters I got at mail call. But I worked hard to get them!

First there is the challenge of writing on the very thin Aerogramme paper. You cannot use a felt tip as it bleeds, and you have to leave room for the flaps. Then fold it carefully and lick the glue just so. You want it to stick but not to soak the paper and possibly run the ink. airmail envelope

I  have been reminiscing because I bought the movie Brooklyn on Google Play and rewatched it. The scene where Eilis puts all of Tony’s air mail envelopes containing his love letters in the drawer unopened–gasp!

There is something lost when we rely entirely on email and we no longer handwrite letters. So much more thought went into letters because of the labor involved. Call me a romantic but I believe a relationship unfold as letters travel back and forth.

Of course letters also create misunderstandings. Anyone who has lived at camp for the summer, or overseas for an extended period can tell you a story about the anguish a letter created until the next one arrived to explain what was really meant. I still can feel the devastation when I learned from a letter that my mom had given my kitten away while I was at camp.

The upsides outweigh the downsides. Afterall, who is going to unpack a box of their grandmother’s emails after she dies. Letters give an insight to people we love in a way that no other medium equals.

Write a letter to someone you love today!




Shop in Adelaide’s Central Market

IMG_9055It is “Throwback Thursday” and this is my last post for my recent adventure in Australia. This shopping experience reminds me so much of the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In my Phnom Penh adventures there were many markets, but the Russian Market was the most staggering. It is still the largest market that I have ever experienced for variety and depth. And the bargains! (sigh)  Alas those photos are stored on various crazy discs and not easily accessible. Instead we will feast on this shopping experience just a block from my Hilton Hotel in Adelaide.


Adelaide’s Central Market is not a place I would go for bargains. However, under one waterproof roof you can find loads of produce, cheese, bread, meat, used books–you name it–someone probably sells it. It is Los Angeles Farmers Market, a flea market and more all rolled under one roof.


I especially liked how the vendors called out what they had to offer. It made it more fun and I do think it encourages you to make a purchase. California farmers markets are laid back by comparison and lack the energy of this place. And it is open everyday. I bought used books and some cheese and bread for lunch.


Who can resist cheese?


Taste of Cape Town in Adelaide

Since eating at Africola in Adelaide I have been thinking of South Africa. Specifically I have been thinking about flying to Cape Town to see the penguins and to enjoy some time in the bush looking at animals.


The decor is fun, but my favorite part was the sign on the door that asked patrons to leave quietly out of consideration to the neighbors. Hint, hint Rind in Midtown.

I read about Africola in Travel+Leisure magazine. I made my reservation on a website similar to OpenTable. It gave me the option of a table or at the bar and since I was dining solo–I chose the bar.


Not sure if you can appreciate the deliciousness of the cauliflower above. It was amazing. I could have just eaten it for dinner. I wish I had the recipe. I even bought cauliflower when I got home at the farmers market. But it just tastes like cauliflower. meh

The service was terrific. With a gin and tonic and dessert my bill was about $65 US. I tipped even if it is not the custom in Australia.


Got to love a restaurant with Nelson Mandela on the menu and cornbread for all patrons.

If I could eat like this at every evening meal in South Africa I would be very content. South Africa is not in my budget for 2016… Perhaps in 2017.


Yes this dessert was too chocolatey. Never thought I could say that… it was out of balance. Only misstep all night.

Adelaide’s Downton Abbey: Ayer’s House

I have been moving my home and office since I got back from New Zealand, so I am behind on blogging about my trip. I cannot help but notice that all US social media is leaving a little space (after election coverage) to talk about the last episode of Downton Abbey airing on PBS this Sunday evening. The season traditionally ends with a Christmas episode that plays on Christmas Day in England.–obviously delayed in the USA. I bought Season 6 on Google Play so I have already seen the conclusion and I will not spoil it.


It did make me think about Adelaide’s equivalent of Downton Abbey: Ayer’s House.

Growing up in California I can relate to places like Adelaide, South Australia. The sprung up, new fortune, scratch-a-community-out-of-the-bush feeling is one I know well. Whether it is a gold rush or agricultural land rush, the place history is not very old and the challenges of creating a “showplace” home to create status in a brand new community is familiar. When I walked up the circular drive to Ayer’s House in Adelaide it felt like a mansion in Grass Valley of another mining tycoon.

This particular tycoon, Henry Ayers, exaggerated his work experience. He was an office clerk but he claimed other skills so he could get a subsidy to emigrate to Adelaide with his wife Anna. He did well with the Burra Burra mines and ultimately served as the Premiere of South Australia five times between 1863 and 1873. He built a huge house in downtown Adelaide near the Botanic Garden. Even now it is gracious.


The clothes are right for the 1920s Melbourne AND they feel modern.

I went to see it because I saw a flyer on the bookshop window advertising the exhibit of costumes from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I have watched all of the episodes on Netflix and the costumes depicting a wealthy feminist detective and her entourage solving mysteries. Sometimes with television I am disappointed with the reality of a set or costume because the camera can fool you. These costumes are the real deal–recreated couture to emulate the roaring 20’s.

I was ready to join the enthusiast crowd of women who sew or craft to go through the exhibit, but first I stopped and spoke with the docent at the front door. It was he who told me about Henry Ayers and why the house is worth a look even when there is not a fashion display in every room.


This mermaid costume was worn by Phryne when she was undercover.

To make it more interesting, the museum staff also created a bit of a whodunit to solve while you walked through the rooms. I did not need anymore entertainment as I was completely enraptured with the clothes themselves. Beautifully made from exquisite fabrics, I enjoyed talking to other women who sew about where they source fabric and how hard it is to find. We all laughed because even though we were from USA and Australia, both of our mothers used to look at a garment in the department store and say the equivalent of “You could make it yourself for less.” Now it is quite the opposite. No one can say they are sewing to be thrifty.

This gives full permission to sew as a creative expression. Many of these garments are impractical and designed and executed as a celebration of beauty.


The show, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, is based on Australian author Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher book series. I have looked for them in the US and have not found them. The gift shop had a new copy of the first in the series Cocaine Blues. I bought it for my Mom. Then when I found a secondhand bookshop at the Central Market I was able to pick up quite a few more in the series. My Mom read them first and now I am reading them. They are not as complex as say Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, but neither do you have to worry about gore or upsetting physical violence.  I hope Ms. Greenwood makes her books available electronically in the USA so more people can enjoy them.

If you are interested in fashion that pushes the envelope and is inspiring and beautiful, the check out WOW! The World of Wearable Art dates for 2016 are September 11-October 9 in Wellington, New Zealand. Tickets are available here.