15 August 2016

A tribute to a one-in-a-million special lady - farewelling our Gee Gee

Two weeks ago my most precious 90 year old Granma (also known as Gee Gee to the boys) suffered a stroke which was severe enough to put her in ICU and after suffering a number of heart attacks while in hospital, after a few days the hospital made the decision that palliative care (end of life care) was the only remaining option available.

Mum, Dad and I made the trip down the same day as the stroke to see her briefly in hospital, and then again on the Friday when she'd returned back to her rest home for palliative care where she was still responsive but didn't open her eyes during that time - the most animated she got was when we mentioned the Hurricanes were playing in the final - she always did love her sport.

On the following Monday Mark and Dad went back down to see her (as Mark hadn't had a chance to at that stage), and then on Wednesday Mum and I went back down again - it was a very special four hours we spent with her and we didn't know that when we left at 3pm for the journey back to the Waikato that she would be leaving us for Heaven by the end of that day. It was almost as if she waited to see us one more time.

It was hard seeing her on the Wednesday as she was very clearly near to the end but I'm still glad we made the effort to go. It was a special time spent just Mum and I too travelling down and back - it's not often we get six hours alone in a car together to chat about life.

We then had to scramble to get ourselves organised to attend the funeral on Saturday, trying to pull together a number of different schedules - we had Nic and Maia to get over quickly from Melbourne (Kim was away in Canada for work), we had to get Sam back on an aeroplane to Auckland on Saturday night for a business trip to Canberra on Sunday, and Dad was due for a shoulder operation on Monday (today) so if the funeral had been any later he wouldn't have been able to make it either. In the end all the logistics came together for us all to be together. We booked a few rooms in a motel in New Plymouth and had some special times just catching up as a family amongst the sadness of the reason for being together this weekend.

Mark and I took the boys out to a cafe after we saw Gee Gee lying in rest at the funeral home and we went to Chaos Cafe - where we'd last had coffee with her back in May - such lovely memories - going out for coffee and a muffin was one of her very favourite things to do.

I'd been asked if I would put together a photo slideshow of Granma's life which was a great honour but was also a lot of work over a very short time as I had to scan in so many old shots from old black and white hard copy prints. I also had to try and ensure I got a good cross section of extended family in the slideshow with the photos I had available to me and in only two days - it would have been easy to fill the slideshow of just my own photos with her but I also had to try keep a lot of other people happy.

But I think in the end it was a great reflection of her wonderful life:

I also knew I wanted to speak at the funeral and there was so much I could have said but I tried to keep it to about 5 minutes. My brave boys (who'd already been to the funeral home to see Gee Gee) came and stood with me as I shared all that Gee Gee meant to us:

Growing up, I looked forward to every school holiday which would see us making the road trip from Auckland to the Naki. Even though it was sitting in the back of an 800cc Suzuki van squished in with my 2 younger brothers. And even though invariably one or other of us would get so sick on the fumes and windy roads that we'd have to have a vomit stop - usually somewhere around Te Kuiti. That was until they invented sea-legs tablets and Mum would serve these up to us for breakfast before we headed out. After that, not feeling sick and trying to hold in those nauseous feelings almost took some of the fun out of the journey in a strange way. I even remember a few night trips leaving Auckland after Dad finished work and us falling asleep in the car on the way there. With the portacot set up in the back of the van for my littlest brother to sleep, no safety belt or anything -  those were the days!
In the early days our holidays were at the Surrey Road farm - that big sprawling farmhouse and gardens were so awesome for us as kids to enjoy games of hide and seek or trips over the farm to the cowshed and beyond. For us city kids it was like an amazing haven to retreat to and allowed us a glimpse of what real NZ country living was all about.
When I was about 10, Granma and Grandad retired to New Plymouth to the house at Lismore Street which had its own lovely appeal with its bush setting and lovely views of the sea. Games of cricket in the garden, many hours spent pedalling out classical tunes on Granma’s antique pianola piano, taking over their dining room with games of snooker on their portable table, annual pilgrimages to the Festival of Lights at Pukekura Park and even a cricket game between Central Districts and Canterbury there where my crush on several cricket players who went onto become NZ heroes began with photos and autographs with the players.
The best holiday for us was always the Christmas holiday where we would stay for at least a week, and then sometimes one of us kids would take a turn to stay on an extra week by ourselves with Granma & Grandad. Oh happy days. A week of being spoilt rotten, treated to special one-on-one time which usually included a trip to the toy shop, a fast food outlet, plenty of card games with Granddad, piano playing, staying up late watching TV and all the other wonderful treats that a grandparent's perogative allows!

I was able to reciprocate a tiny bit when I looked after my grandma for a few days after one of her hip replacements when I’d just finished up university and was heading to Wellington to live. And when Mum & Granma went on their amazing adventure to England together in 2002 Mark and I took several weekend trips up to Taranaki to make sure Grandad was behaving himself too. It was also very special for me to have both my grandmothers at our wedding in 2004.

In 2006, Granma became Gee Gee when Noah (her first great-grandchild) was born. I had forgotten until events of recent weeks reminded me that she was the first to meet Noah of our extended family beating even my Mum and Dad to it. She’d just happened to be on a train trip to Wellington (something she’d always wanted to do!) and arrived in late one Saturday night just 3 days after Noah was born - he was a week early. Mark picked her up at the train station and brought her to our home for an hour to meet our little guy - what a special moment that was.

Fast forward three years down the track and a trip down to Wellington to see us coincided with my 20 week scan where she sat right beside me in wonder as we learned that Noah would be getting a little brother.

Most years we would make the trip up to Taranaki from Wellington 3-4 times a year to stay with Gee and even up to five years ago at age 85 she was still taking flights to Wellington to see us when I found her cheap Grabaseat flights to come and stay. I’ve lost count of how many Easter egg hunts we had with the boys in the garden at Truby King Street, visits down to the back fence to look for the horse that lived down in the valley, cuddles with her cat Panda and trips down to the coastal walkway where we enjoyed strolling along at her gradually slowing pace.

The thing about Gee Gee was her never ending capacity to love, and be generous. You always knew you’d leave her house full as a goose having been plied with baking morning noon and night. She was without doubt the most generous person I met - you never could outdo her with paying for things even if you wanted to - she’d always find a way to get one back in the end.

And her love and pride in her family was never in doubt. Every time we went to visit we would hear all about what each family member was up to - from the oldest to the youngest - her pride in what her kids and grandkids were doing was the highlight of our many conversations. And if we weren’t talking about what the family were up to she would wax lyrical for hours on sport - which was her very favourite thing to watch - from netball to tennis, cricket and rugby - it was all fair game for a long and lengthy discussion - something I know all the males in the family loved about her including my hubby Mark who adopted Granma as his own grandmother the minute he arrived in NZ.

There is always the possibility of a very special bond developing between a grandchild and their grandparent. I say possibility, because like all relationships it has to be tended, cultivated, and given the right combination of love and time to grow into a one-of-a-kind, magical connection.

It’s what I had with Granma, and what my children also had with their Gee Gee. I am forever grateful that God allowed us to have so much time with her. Rest easy now Granma knowing you leave behind a legacy of love that will not be forgotten.

We gave her a wonderful send-off but I admit I already miss her so much. She's been as close as a parent to me and as close as a grandparent to my boys. She was so full of life her whole life - everyone who met her always said how warm and friendly and welcoming she was. I still can't quite believe I won't see her again this side of Heaven.

But I know how much pain she'd been in as well and I'm so glad she's free of that now - in her new Heavenly body, dancing with the angels, free at last.

04 August 2016

Double Digits - this is your life Noah age 9-10

I can still remember the day as if it was yesterday. The day I became a mama. A cold winter's day in Wellington. A mid-morning dash to the hospital and a serene water birth within an hour of arriving at the hospital.

And yet suddenly just like that my eldest is 10 - and I'm left speechless... how quickly these years do go by... and it's true what they say... to cherish the moments when your children are small because suddenly they're not that small any more.

And now we're staring down the barrel of the tween and teen years and when I think that Noah has probably already lived half the time he'll live here at home with us I just want to cry.

It's been an emotional roller coaster of a week with our dear Gee Gee in hospital after suffering a stroke on the weekend and I feel much more weepy than normal - right now all I want to do is hold my boys close and love on them something silly. Family is just so so precious.

This year we had a quiet family celebration on Noah's actual birthday day and we now await a crazy zorb football party this Sunday with 10 friends. All kinds of chaos.... but he can't wait!

This is your life Noah age 9-10 from mnms on Vimeo.

I'm so proud of the awesome kid this boy is now. And all he's still to become. Sure we have our moments - constant negotiations over technology time, or high levels of exasperation when homework or uniform or some other necessity is left forgotten at home - but forgetting that for a minute let's dwell instead on all that's been great in the past year:

  • Coaches player of the year for his 10th grade team (he played up a grade for a low 10th grade team when we arrived to Cambridge last year)
  • Academic award for excellence in his class for 2015
  • Making the top 10th grade Demons football team for this year and gelling with an awesome coach and some lovely team mates
  • Playing cricket for Cambridge Primary over the summer - watching the boys play on Friday nights at the Square in town was very relaxing and a great way to wind down from the week
  • Body boarding and loving the waves at every beach opportunity he got
  • Putting our backyard swimming pool to great use (I think he got more than anyone else in the family!)
  • Gradually widening his circle of friends here in Cambridge after a year living here
  • Keeping in touch with his best buddy from back in Wellington and catching up on Face Time and in person recently
  • Being a super patient big cousin to his little buddy Maia over Christmas
  • Adventures with us to Marokopa, Oakura, Waihi, Whitianga, Matarangi, Omokoroa, Tauranga, Rotorua
  • And much much more.....

And now we can't wait to see what the next 10 years brings for you - although little by little...not all at once please! And we continue to pray God's blessings over you in all you do as you grow and your world expands!

Birthday boy in his new onesie on his birthday morning

Love Mum and Dad xx

27 June 2016

Exploits in the Coromandel - Sea Cave Adventures, getting into Hot Water and more

The Coromandel coastline is a never ending series of epic beaches and coves, some that can be found by driving right up in and parking the car, others a short walk and still others a looooong hike away and some even more remote and only accessible by boat.

On our trip to the Coromandel we'd decided we would take a boat trip from Whitianga out to explore more of the coastline, partly because we had little people and grandparents with us who might not want to walk for hours to hidden bays and coves and also because hey...boat rides are pretty fun right?!

Off on a grand sea adventure....before feeling sick anyway!

There are quite a few different companies that can take you out on a boat trip out to see the pristine coastline and we did some research before going to Whitianga but in the end we found the best way to try to decide which trip to go on was by checking out the reviews on Trip Advisor.

What we liked about the prospect of going on the trip with Sea Cave Adventures was the potential to get closer into the sea caves and have a more personal experience with our knowledgeable guide Les.

Luckily we had a few days to choose from as there were a couple of stormy days in the middle of our week's holiday. In the end we went for an 8am sailing on the last morning of our holiday and it was definitely the best decision as it was the most calm time of the day.

Even then we had two very green looking children who weren't used to the bobbing of the boat on the open water. Not helped by the fact they sat in the front of the boat where it was the worst. Seasickness aside we loved our trip which took us out of the Whitianga harbour past Flax Mill Bay around to Cathedral Cove, past Hot Water Beach and to the Orua Sea Cave - one of the largest sea caves in NZ.

Inside Orua sea cave

We'd actually visited Hot Water Beach the day before - it's one of those things you just HAVE to do when you're in the Coromandel and yet it was clear everyone else in the vicinity had the same idea too. With a 10am low tide we thought we'd just breeze over to the beach but when we got there, the beach was already pretty crowded with people who had arrived early to dig their spots and find the hot water. The hot water tends to run in veins down to the beach and there were points that were too hot to even stand on - once we finally found ourselves a good hole the boys and I enjoyed people watching. It was HILARIOUS seeing the reactions of everyone in bare feet when they hit the hot spots - you've never seen them move so fast to get off them - the funny thing was you didn't know if the next step you took would be scalding hot or cool either so it was a bit of a lottery and quite fun to watch.

Later we drove to Flaxmill Bay and had lunch at a quirky cafe called Eggsentric (and it was) near the ferry landing - we let the boys and grandparents head back over on the quick 15 minute trip while Mark and I drove the cars back around the long way (45 minutes) to meet them.

But I digress - back to the boat trip. The most amazing marine life we saw were the snapper just off Cathedral Cove whose colours shimmered all manner of turquoise in the morning light. I'm not sure I realised how beautiful snapper were - to be honest I'm just used to seeing them on my plate!

On the way back we stopped on the edge of the marine reserve and went for a swim in crystal clear water only a tiny bit deeper than us. It was a little bracing getting in that early in the morning but once you were in it was so delightful. And it made a good distraction for everyone feeling a bit green about the gills!

Zipping back across the harbour at speed in wet togs and towel was NOT so delightful - brrrr....... luckily we were able to get home relatively quickly afterwards to have warm showers and to put on some dry clothes. Once everyone was feeling less queasy and cold we all had time to reflect on what had been a truly special outing on the sea.

Look who got to drive the boat!

The property we stayed at in Whitianga was also an amazing find - a brand new dreamy designer home on the outskirts of town with fields right over the fence - yet it was a 2 minute drive to the beach and 5 minutes to town - and only $160 a night for all 6 of us. If we ever head back to Whitianga we'd stay there again in a heartbeat!

Reluctantly the next we had to pack up and head back to reality - but not before a little stop in at the Colenso Cafe for coffee - we'd stopped on our way to Whitianga in the pouring rain but it was a darn side nicer stopping in on a gloriously fine morning so we could sit outside amongst all the glorious citrus trees and reflect on a super special family time in a part of the country we'd all fallen head over heels in love with!

I'll leave with a little clip of our body boarders enjoying the magic that was Matarangi - oh to be there again in the warmth now!

10 June 2016

A relaxing dip with SandDollar Swim at the Polynesian Spa

We recently spent a family weekend in Rotorua - the adventure capital of the north. Having now had the opportunity to explore the area in more detail we reckon it's as epic as Queenstown is - just without all the snow capped mountains around.

There's so much to see and do here that it's definitely hard to only spend the weekend here. I took advantage of the great weather to get out for sunrise and sunset every day but wow it was cold. Each morning the temperatures were hovering around zero and it was either frosty, foggy or both.

After one particularly epic morning out snapping shots I came home frozen to the bone but knew I had a relaxing and warming session at the Polynesian Spa to warm up with the family.

Earlier in the week, we'd received a new pair of swim shorts for the boys from Sanddollar Swim and they were eager to get them on and get going in the pool - no matter that it was only about 5 degrees outside, the 3 family pools were heated to 33, 37 and 40 degrees so there was no risk of getting chilled. I'm sure you can guess which pool I spent the most time in!

The boys on the other hand spent most of their time in and out of the cooler pool just because it had a mini slide...boys will be boys!

What I love about putting my boys in Sanddollar swimwear is that every item in their range has sun protection to UPF50 which complies with our stringent NZ and Australian standards - not that we needed it in mid winter in a thermal pool but we definitely will appreciate it when our harsh NZ summers roll around.

I also liked that the shorts have a liner inside - I can't tell you how many board and swim shorts are out there that just don't come with them? I've found out that hard way the importance of a good lined pair of swim shorts -  my older boy has a tendency to get chafe from running around on the beach all day in wet swim shorts and a liner definitely prevents this from happening.

As cool as the boys shorts look and the rest of the boys Sanddollar Swim range online, for a little moment I half wished I had girls in the house too because their girls range of swimsuits are so fashionable - and for that matter I found myself wishing they came in adult sizes too.

I was in no hurry to get out of this rather relaxing and warm sojourn and I think the boys would happily have stayed all day but we were turning wrinklier than prunes and other adventures were calling us as they do!

01 June 2016

Cruising the Coromandel {309 road and Driving Creek Railway}

After three lovely days in Waihi, it was reluctantly time to head north to Whitianga for the next part of our Coromandel adventure.

There's two routes to travel between Whitianga and Coromandel township and they are both scenic. But the inland 309 road probably takes the cake in terms of scenery. You have to be prepared to go pretty slowly as a good section of the road is gravel.

But that only adds to the appeal - the slower you go the more you take in along the way.

Like stopping to take in the Waiau Kauri Grove - these monstrous trees tower several heads above the rest of the forest canopy - they are so impressive.

You can get a small idea of their size by seeing how small the boys looked by comparison. We all tried to join hands to see if we could get right round it but even all four of us couldn't quite do it!

And how about this double trunk kauri? Weird and wonderful all at the same time.

From the kauri grove we headed further down to Waiau Falls - it's a lovely wee specimen that drops into a nice pool - it was hard to get a good shot at this time of day but 

Just a few minutes further along the road is this lovely run-down house where Stu's pigs roam free on both sides of the road - so cute seeing all the little piggies running happily alongside the car.

After a spot of lunch in Coromandel township, we headed up into the hills for a ride on the famous Driving Creek Railway 

The narrow gauge railway was a labour of love built by Barry Brickell over a 20 year period, initially to help carry his pottery clay down from the hills but eventually turning it into a very famous tourist destination for the Coromandel.

It's unique as a railway, especially as the hour return journey winds so steeply uphill with lots of reversing points to allow the trains to make their way all the way to the Eye-full Tower for the stunning view over the whole Firth of Thames.

What a sight! After winding our way high into the hills - we were rewarded with views as far as the eye could see into the Firth of Thames towards the Hauraki Gulf.

Sadly, Barry Brickell died only a few weeks before we visited the railway and it was so wonderful to hear how the team from the railway had carried him for one final journey on the train all the way to the top to the Eyefull Tower and then halfway back down where his last place of rest can be seen marked with a simple cross to mark the spot. It was quite emotional knowing he would be there forever watching over those who enjoy his life's greatest achievement.

From the railway we ventured further up the western side of the Coromandel peninsula ducking into a few sheltered bays before heading back over the hills towards the east.

We decided to stop in at Matarangi on the way back - little did we know that this amazing spot was to become our firm favourite location of the whole trip - so much so that we booked another trip back here again over Anzac weekend!!!

With a beautiful long north facing beach (there aren't that many in NZ) that was pretty much deserted for every one of the four days we visited, and with the most perfect rolling breakers that made body boarding a dream Matarangi stole our hearts from the minute we arrived - so much so that we visited here every day for the next four days we had left - despite it being a half hour drive from Whitianga!


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