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Skydiving.
Jan 23rd, 2010 by Tessa
The jumpers suited up!

The jumpers suited up!This is the extent of our "safety" training - "put your hands up like this when we jump, and when your insturctor taps you on the shoulder, put them down. Also, make your body in the shape of a banana." Seriously?Cool sign, but it would have been so much funnier if his head would have been cut off!

Us walking towards the perfectly good plane we are about to jump out of!

Us walking towards the perfectly good plane we are about to jump out of!

I have a theory. It may already be proven, but my theory is that the human brain releases a chemical to numb the “common sense” portion of our brain to make death easier. I have come up with this theory because of the fact that for the 20 minutes before we were jumping out of a plane, we were all giddy and happy like we were going to some special event. I have to admit though, the only thing I can remember that didn’t seem like a dream was the instructor telling me to sit on his lap so he could properly strap me in. I’m not sure if everything was echoing because I was light headed (not in the sick way, in the OMG what the HECK am I doing way) or because I had something strapped to my head that covered my ears.

I remember looking up at around 6000 feet and thinking, “There is no way in the world I am jumping here”- but after we got to around 10000 feet, and the squares of farming land melted together like a bunch of chocolate squares, I thought “huh. I can’t even see the ground. I’m glad we went to 12000 instead of 6000”. I watched as my Dad crawled to the edge of the plane. The plane was traveling so fast that I didn’t even see him falling, only him zooming out to the left as the plane traveled away from him. Olivia had a more dramatic fall and I could see her falling out of the plane before flipping backwards. I remember STARTING to crawl towards the whole in the side of the plane, but I don’t remember the actual crawling itself. I do, of course, remember dangling over the side of the plane 12000 feet in the air right before we jumped.

"Ah, the serenity"

"Ah, the serenity"

OMG - what have I done!

OMG - what have I done!

My stomach felt like it was in my throat as we lunged out of the plane, but was gone in an instant. I wouldn’t have realized my mouth was open if my teeth had not instantly felt cold and my mouth dry. It felt like I was standing in a very cold wind on the edge of a cliff EXCEPT for the fact that my feet weren’t touching the ground, and I was plummeting to the earth. It was oddly discomforting to have someone strapped to my back- and if I ever go again, I want to take a solo course so that I can go by myself.

Lisa Barrett - this one's for you!

Once the initial shock was over, it was AWESOME! Lisa Barrett - this one's for you - peace sister!Our cameraman was below us falling like he was dead! My "free fall" lasted for about 45 seconds and was my favorite part of the jump.Still in free fall - about to go through the clouds which I didn't even notice!

I swear that my cameraman was dead (or at least unconscious). The camera man had originally been my back up plan if our parachute didn’t work (that if my instructor fainted, the cameraman could probably rescue us) but now I was afraid that we might have to rescue him. He was sitting there so peacefully and it looked like he was either savoring the moment, or was knocked out cold. I decided to go for the savoring the moment assumption and continued to smile at the camera strapped to his head. Then he pulled the shoot and we were drifting. It was kind of awkward having a guy strapped to my back.

“So… Those things that look like little grains of rice down there… Are those sheep…?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Wow. They’re like…really small…”

“Uh-huh.”

“And…Um… Where are we landing this thing?” Suddenly a hand came over my shoulder and pointed at a small green patch with larger rice grains on it (planes, not cows. You can still tell the difference 6000 feet in the air).

“How cold is the lake…?”

“`Dunno…”

I gave up trying to make conversation with the guy strapped to my back after a couple more efforts at small talk. I don’t know how high we were, but at some point, he explained how to land to me, and we landed. Olivia and my dad were already inside getting unsuited. I wasn’t aware of the fact that I had a huge grin on my face until my mom ran up and hugged me.

Back to earth - check out my perfect landing form (the instructor told me what to do about 10 seconds before my feet touched down!)

Back to earth - check out my perfect landing form (the instructor told me what to do about 10 seconds before my feet touched down!)

Thumbs up!  First thing I said to my mom... "that was AWESOME - they have a $50 off coupon for my next jump!"

Thumbs up! First thing I said to my mom after landing... "Oh my god that was AWESOME - they have a $50 off coupon for my next jump!"Post jump reunion - we're all ready to jump again - solo next time!

I loved the whole thing! Even drifting with the instructour was great! I’d go again in a heart beat.

Driving across the North Island
Jan 23rd, 2010 by Kate

The rolling green hills of the North Island are SO beautiful – its like a postcard here!  Tessa is in heaven as there are sheep literally EVERYWHERE.  Not joking.  There are 4.1 million people in all of New Zealand and 40 million sheep.  Where there aren’t sheep, there are cows.  Be assured that if you buy New Zealand beef or lamb – those babies are grass fed and led a very nice life before becoming your dinner.

 Each of us has at some time in the last week spontaneously starting belting out “the hills are alive, with the sound of music” because everywhere you turn it looks like Julie Andrews might just be at the top of the pretty green hill singing away.  I have a great series of photos of Phoebe dancing, twirling, and singing through a field of tall grass that I am going to turn into a flip book when we get home – it SO captures the feeling you have here in these never-ending rolling green pastures.

The traditional "Italian" Garden at the Hamilton Gardens - with Phoebe posing of course!

The traditional "Italian" Garden at the Hamilton Gardens - with Phoebe posing of course!

On our way down to the Bay of Plenty (east coast) from Auckland (west coast) we stopped in a city called Hamilton.  Never actually saw the city center, but it has one of the most impressive public gardens I have ever seen in my life.  If you are ever in Hamilton – GO!  Actually, if you like gardens, and are anywhere near NZ – make a special trip to go and see it.  In addition to the regular pretty flowers and trees, it had 6 large traditional gardens from around the world that were really quite amazing.  These demonstration gardens wisked you away to China, Japan, England, India, Italy, and the US.  Also, they had the veggie garden of my dreams…

Tess, Olivia, and Phoebe in front of the Chinese Garden

Tess, Olivia, and Phoebe in front of the Chinese Garden

From the gardens we headed east across the island through the stinky town of Rotorua (more on that later) and on to the beach town of Ohope.  The drive was filled mostly with sheep and lovely rolling hills, but past Rotorua was a beautiful stretch of land with forested mountains and totally beautiful – totally uninhabited lakes.  There were like 10 of these lakes, and only one had about 10 houses on its shores.  We find ourselves saying over and over again – we can’t believe this place is so empty – if this was America this (fill in the blank):  picturesque lake, rolling green countryside, beachfront property, etc. would be filled with zillion dollar homes.  But they’re not!  It feels like the “land of plenty” in terms of beautiful places that could be developed but aren’t.  Guess that’s what gives this place its charm – otherwise it’d just be another island chain of active volcanos!

So this giant sheep made of corregated metal is actually a two-story wool sweater store.  We drove through this odd little town that was completely dedazzled in corregation!?!  Literally, everything - the shops, the signs, the playground were made of corregated metal.  We sadly forgot to find out the town's real name - so we fondly refer to it as "Corregation Nation"

So this giant sheep made of corregated metal is actually a two-story wool sweater store. We drove through this odd little town that was completely dedazzled in corregation!?! Literally, everything - the shops, the signs, the playground were made of corregated metal. We sadly forgot to find out the town's real name - so we fondly refer to it as "Corregation Nation"

We had a great time in Ohope with our couchsurfing hosts Heike and her son Simon.  The beaches in Ohope were wide and overlooked a large volcanic island not far offshore.  The closest town to Ohope was Whakatane.  Now to the untrained eye, the name of this town looks like it would be pronounced “whak a tawn e”, however, it is a Maori name, and the Maori pronounce the “Wh” as an “F”.  So, much to our parental dismay, the children are walking around correctly (and loudly) saying the town’s name and sound like they are cursing like sailors.  Lovely. 

Yes, we know this isn't a REAL sign, but it was up the whole time we were in Ohope, and it made us laugh...

Yes, we know this isn't a REAL sign, but it was up the whole time we were in Ohope, and it made us laugh...

Couchsurfing with Heike in Ohope - awesome digs right on the beach!

Couchsurfing with Heike in Ohope - awesome digs right on the beach!

The beaches in New Zealand all have very dark grey to almost black sand.  I never knew this – but with all the volcanic activity, I guess it makes sense.   I find it really wierd to lay on a dark grey beach, I try and try to think of it as just regular sand, but it still looks dirty to me.  Ironically, the beaches, water, and sand are probably WAY cleaner than any beach in the States.  On one really windy day, we all left the beaches looking like we had moustaches and beards – the fine fine sand sticks to any and all hair.  Thankfully, the sand and wind made taking my camera out of the bag a bad idea – otherwise the girls would no doubt be posting VERY unflattering pics of me in a bikini with a female body and a man’s face – circus freak anyone?

Signs we like…
Sep 28th, 2009 by Kate
Um, we were kind of thinking we'd stop if children were on the highway instead of just slowing down... (Canada)

Um, we were kind of thinking we'd stop if children were on the highway instead of just slowing down... (Canada)

Sadly, Jeff and I seem to be unable to catch this train very often... (Japan)

Sadly, Jeff and I seem to be unable to catch this train very often... (Japan)

Banker's hours in the Canadian Rockies

Banker's hours in the Canadian Rockies

Way way up in the mountains in the middle of no where it seems that we need to watch out for falling eletrified mushrooms?  (Japan)

Way way up in the mountains in the middle of no where it seems that we need to watch out for falling eletrified mushrooms? (Japan)

Takayama
Sep 12th, 2009 by Kate

We left Nagoya in the early afternoon on a train bound for the small city of Takayama in the Japanese Alps.  My plan was to take some motion sickness medicine and sleep for the two hour train ride as I had been warned it was very curvy.  But just as I was settling in the train conductor got on the intercom and said “blah blah blah blah (but in Japanese) famous river”.  I looked out to a scene worth of the Canadian Rockies – our train was on a narrow ledge high above a deep mountain canyon with a crystal clear river, beautiful rock formations and lush green forest.  We went from a dense urban jungle to a deep green lush pine forest in less than 15 minutes!

 The rest of the train ride was just as beautiful as the first moment I looked out the window.  When we weren’t on the canyon edges, we were closer to the valley floor which afforded me great views of rural backyard gardens – which were even better than the city backyard gardens.  Most of the veggies and fruits I recognize – eggplant, tomato, beans, cucumbers, onion, garlic, leek, green onion, a few beets here and there, potatoes, squash, apples, pears and Asian pears.  There are a few really funky looking cucumbers (I think they are cucumbers) that are covered with spikes and a fruit with spikes that smells really really bad but apparently tastes really really good (I will try it a soon as I can and report back).  And there is a TON of rice.  The rice fields are everywhere.  All of these gardens make me yearn for my little plot of land!

 The Takayama train station was a piece-of-cake and we found our hostel (J-Hoppers) easily.  The city was a little bigger than I thought it would be, but our hostel, the old town, the morning markets and the local craftsman’s shops were all in a concentrated area that we rarely needed to leave, so it ended up feeling like a small town to us. 

 

Market treat - frozen Mandrain Orange on-a-stick

Market treat - frozen Mandrain Orange on-a-stick

We rented bikes on our first full day and hit the morning market that runs along the river.  There were about 30 stalls of fruits & veggies, local crafts, flowers, and lots of pickled veggies on the side of the street that ran along the river, and small stores selling baked goods, dry goods, miso, sake (there are 9 sake breweries in Takayama) and more local crafts on the other side of the street.  We sampled everything we could, bought a bunch of it, and feasted on our market goodies the rest of the day.  Our favorite market treats were the fresh grilled sake marshmallows (see photo of recipe if you want to make at home – and good luck with that!), little glass bottles of very rich fresh whole milk (it may have been more towards the half & half side of the milk-fat content – but we don’t know for sure cause we couldn’t read a thing – oh so good), and these little rice sugar cookies that we are hording in case we can’t find again.  The fresh veggies weren’t too shabby either.

 

Marshmallow stand

Marshmallow stand

Marchmallow Recipe... Natascha - please have this perfected for us when we get home!

Marchmallow Recipe... Natascha - please have this perfected for us when we get home!

On our second day in Takayama we went on a fieldtrip with one of the guys that worked at our hostel.  He brought us to a roadside waterfall that was pretty darn amazing, and then a bit further brought us to this massive volcanic mountain that we hiked on for a few hours.  Our final destination was a series of waterfalls with giant pools that we could swim in.  Oh… but the water was so darn cold.  I mean like glacier cold.  I never saw the glacier, but that water was so freezing I am sure there was one up there.  It just didn’t seem right though not to go in since we had worked so hard to get there, so eventually (with lots of squealing and yelping) we all managed to brave a short dip.  Our guide had goggle with him, and Tess and I swam over to the bottom of the waterfall and looked under – it was really a sight to see.  Almost worth the hypothermia that you started to feel after about 60 seconds in the water.  As we started to swim away from the waterfall we both got sucked back towards the falls by some current, and that, mixed with our muscles getting freaky from the cold made me a little bit scared.  But we made it. 

Takayama hike

Takayama hike

 

Hypothermia Falls with J-Hopper Takayama friens Ryo, Kenji, Monica & Ben

Hypothermia Falls with J-Hopper Takayama friends Ryo, Kenji, Monica & Ben

We warmed ourselves on the rocks, ate the bento boxes we brought with us, and then took the short way back to the trail head (oh sure, make us walk up the hard part and back the easy way!).  We were rewarded with our first to an onsen – a traditional Japanese bath house.  This one was extra special because it is famous for its natural hot spring that is filled with minerals.  I’m going to have one of the girls write about their first visit to an onsen, but I will say that we really enjoyed it, and now just a week later, with more onsen visits under our belts, we are onsen pros.

 On our last full day in Takayama, we went back to the markets, fed koi and were attacked by pigeons (see Tessa’s post), window shopped a bunch more, learned about the local wood carving crafts, and then rode up a giant hill (okay, pushed our bikes up a giant hill) to visit the Hida Folk Village Living Museum.  Here there were 25 authentic rural homes; some dating back to the 1700’s, that had been relocated here from other parts of Japan.  Each house had an interesting background, a unique architectural style that was specific to an area based on the area’s climate, and inside each had a display that taught about some aspect of rural Japanese life over the past 300 years.  Just ask Phoebe about silk worms and spinning silk – she will tell you everything you ever wanted to know.  The Village was really neat, we all really enjoyed it, and we are for sure counting it towards “homeschooling”. 

 

Hida Folk Village

Hida Folk Village

Takayama has definitely been my favorite part of Japan so far.

Ahhh, the Canadian Rockies in the summer…
Aug 12th, 2009 by Kate

 

The Banff Hot Springs Hotel vista

The Banff Hot Springs Hotel vista

Banff Gondola ride

Banff Gondola ride

Sulpher Mountain hike - Banff

Sulpher Mountain hike - Banff

Top of Sulpher Mountain

Top of Sulpher Mountain

Really, you just have to see this place to believe it – it is so gorgeous.  Really really gorgeous.  REALLY.

 

We flew into Calgary last week to cold and rainy weather.  What a shock after the sunny humid days of the Bahamas and the dry intense heat of AZ.  It was about 50°F with constant light rain – and we looked like total fools with our 3 layers on.  We couchsurfed at a beautiful house in south Calgary – our host, Nathan, was actually out of town for the week, and in true couchsurfing fashion, he checked out our profile and decided we were worthy enough to actually let us stay at his house without him even being there!  The highlight of our Calgary stay was actually an adorable little gelato shop called “Fiasco” on 10th Ave and Kenzington.  The owner and staff were great fun, and their flavors were unlike any we had ever tried… my recommendation… Avocado Lime, Phoebe’s favorite… Salted Carmel (ala Auntie Tasch), Tessa’s fav… Honey Pear, and Jeff’s was the Chai Tea gelato… YUM!

 

From Calgary we headed an hour east through pretty rolling hills full of cow pastures and the Olympic ski jumps from the Calgary Olympics.  Have you ever seen those ski jumps in person?  They look scary enough when you see them on TV, but in person (or should I say speeding by them on the highway) they look TOTALLY INSANE!  Tess even thought they looked scary!

 

On to Canmore and Banff, and couchsurfing with Jody & Nic.  Canmore & Banff are sort of the gateway to the Rockies.  We all commented on how the landscape went from little rolling hills to GIANT mountains in such a short distance.  And the Rockies are actually rocky – I guess I’d never really thought about why they call them the Rockies – but the tops of all of them are bald and rocky (duh Kate).  The pine forests are impossibly thick, and it is hard to imagine being the first people that thought settling in this area would be a good idea.

 

We enjoyed our time in Banff (although its pretty touristy) – spending time checking out the Banff Hot Spring Hotel (Phoebe has decided she would like to get married there – we’ll start saving up for that as soon as we pay this trip off) and riding the gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain (and hiking down the entire 5.8kms – Tess will blog about that adventure).  We were disappointed to see that the hot springs had been turned into a big boring swimming pool and think that we should call our hot tub back home a “hot spring” and charge $8 a person so sit in it.

 

The next day we headed over to the infamous Lake Louise, and then over to Yoho National Park to visit the third largest waterfall in Canada, Tawkaka Falls.  We turned off the main highway to take the mountain road up to the falls, and no sooner had Jeff said “now girls, keep your eyes peeled, this is the kind of road that we’re likely to see animals on” then a big black bear lumbered onto the road in front of us.  IT WAS SO CUTE!  It is such a bummer that bears are so terribly dangerous because they are totally adorable and I could have one in our backyard next to the chickens.  I was so excited that I didn’t get the camera out fast enough to catch it – but we are very happy to add it to our critter count.

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