February - April 2005

(Don't forget you can click on most of the following photos to see them bigger)

Our latest trip to Sydney

We recently spent about 10 days in Sydney, staying at the fabulous Meriton Tiffany Apartments at Bondi Junction. Everything about them was great - outstanding location (right above the train station and bus depot, and right next door to Sydney's newest and biggest Westfield shopping mall), awesome views out to Sydney Harbour and the city (see above!), not far from Bondi Beach, nicely appointed rooms and a superb indoor swimming pool (it also has tennis courts, gym...). Brent was over there again for work so I spent the mornings tripping to local playgrounds (or the malls!), most afternoons we swam in the pool and Lydia improved her water confidence quite considerably! Brent thankfully didn't have to work the whole time so we were able to enjoy a fair bit of time there together as a family :o)
We managed to catch up with quite a few friends and family while over there, which was great, and I talked to a few more on the phone. We managed to also do some of the touristy jaunts (Darling Harbour, Sydney aquarium, the Monorail, QV building, Centennial Park...) which the girls all thoroughly enjoyed.

We celebrated Emily's 2nd birthday together as a family while we were over there. It was pretty simple really, just a cake and candles after dinner, but it was still a bit of fun for the girls! We'd previously decided to leave the pressies and big party for Emily till we were back in NZ.

All in all, we had a great time in sunny Sydney, the days passed quickly and we had a lot of fun!


Playing at a Centennial Park

Enjoying our apartments' indoor pool
More often than not we had it
all to ourselves!

The Nemo fans meet Bruce at
Sydney aquarium

Happy Birthday to our two girls!
The first weekend after we returned from Sydney it was Lydia's 4th birthday. We'd arranged a combined birthday party for both Lydia and Emily that morning at the new Chipmunks Playland in Albany - all their closest friends and family were invited. It was a fun venue and they put on a great party for the girls. Everyone seemed to have a great time and the beautiful cakes (not my own handiwork!) were very popular!

Lydia's "Barbie Fairytopia" cake

The birthday girls each had their turn
in the spotlight

Emily's a big
Dora the Explorer fan!

We've finally completed our back garden! (Well, the first big section of it...)
Those who saw our last update will be aware of the work I've been putting in to our new back garden (formally a weedy clay bank). Since last update we've continued to slog away on "stage 2" of this project, the trickier area between our boardwalk and the play deck below it. The slope of this area was ridiculously steep (due to last minute changes in the deck-building plans which resulted in the deck being extended at this end, cutting into the bank), so it was obvious that a retaining wall would be needed. 

The big challenge was coming up with something that would look good up so close our deck? It was very tricky as you can view this area from so many different directions so we tried to come up with something that would look OK from every angle! In the end, we decided to build the retaining wall quite low (which still halved the existing slope) and quite close to the deck, then link the narrow-ish gap between the wall and the play deck with a shallow drained trough into which we'd pour river stones (for a modern look which also breaks up all the wood).

First we had to get our plumber in to move the house's exposed plumbing (which ran right through this area) back under the side of our house.

Brent decided that he would build the retaining wall etc himself - I helped out a fair bit with the digging etc. The already steep slope made digging in a trench (to construct the wall) very tricky - the clay and dirt ended up piled very high right above where we were working! We worked hard and fast to get the wall in ASAP - thankfully the weather was very kind to us. We put in excellent drainage behind the wall before finally moving all our high piles of dirt back in to the wall, breaking up the clay with loads of compost, garden mix and gypsum as we went.

Right: Brent works on the retaining wall

The next big job was putting in the pebble brook (shown below, which we'd ordered specially tinted to match the rocks in our garden). We hadn't expected this installation to be such a major (given that it came ready-made in three parts) but it ended up taking us almost a whole day to get it sitting on the slope right and connected up and lying so that the water level in each pool matched up with the waterline of the pool itself!?!

Despite the huge effort we're glad we put it in - it looks awesome and the sound of the water tricking away is just magic (and very Feng Shui!).

Next was buying all the plants, putting them all in position, laying the weed matting as I dug them in, then installing the irrigation system - it was a surprisingly large area and took me a good couple of weeks to complete all that. Finally we brought in piles of rocks, boulders and pebbles and lugged them all down and lay them in position - even this took us a good couple of days (and we still have a final smaller load of rocks to collect to finish things off). Weed matting currently shows through a fair bit here and there in both gardens, but this will quickly disappear as the groundcover plants grow over the next year or so (they have already grown considerably in the top garden).

So here (below) is the final result from all the hard work over the past 4 years!

November 2001

October 2003

April 2005

Brent building the boardwalk

Clearing the weeds and foliage

Aaaah - what a difference!

This same area of our garden,
before the deck was built!

The view from our new deck
was pretty dubious?!

Two years on, something worth
looking at!

Believe it or not, there's several more large untamed sections of our back and side gardens also needing an overhaul but we're going to take a bit of a breather now - it has been quite an undertaking - we'll just sit back now and savour what we've achieved!


Our Monarch butterflies project

I decided to buy some Swan Plants this year to show the girls the lifecycle of a butterfly.

This little nature project turned into quite a major as we found out (the hard way!) the many natural hazards and enemies of Monarch caterpillars. We lost our entire first generation of caterpillars to wasps, spiders, preying mantis' and birds (while we were away in Sydney) before we realized all the hazards!

We let the mother butterfly (that's her above right) return a few times to lay more eggs before surrounding the plants completely in insect mesh to keep their enemies out. Our next lesson was that we should have taken off a lot of the eggs as we only had 5 swan plants to feed all the caterpillars (we actually knew we should do this, but didn't have the heart to, having lost all of them previously!). I ended up buying about 12 more swan plants to satisfy the voracious eaters! Lastly I discovered that the plants (and caterpillars) like lots of sun and also protection from the wind. So all the plants (covered in caterpillars!) were gently moved to a sunnier spot and Brent built a special frame around them to hold the insect mesh. Plastic sides were added for wind protection! We don't do things by halves eh?!

All this effort was soon rewarded with the amazing spectacle of caterpillars turning themselves into chrysalis'. As neither Brent nor I had ever witnessed this amazing feat of nature ourselves we were amazed by the speed of the transformation (probably more so than the girls!!!). Best thing was I was lucky enough to capture one changing in front of our eyes - on our video camera!
Click here to view a short video clip of our caterpillar changing into a Chrysalis!

Below are a few photos of our 9th caterpillar successfully changing into a cocoon (time elapsed from first photo to last is only around 4 minutes!)

After this it takes about 2 hours to slowly form the final cocoon shape.

At time of writing we're waiting for them to emerge as butterflies (fingers crossed they make it before the temperature drops!). We're hoping we'll manage to witness that amazing spectacle as well!

Our two girls are growing fast!

Lydia's a bright, confident and cheerful girl who makes new friends easily wherever she goes (and is often striking up a conversation with her creche carers etc). She has a very fertile imagination, and spends hours with paper, pencils, scissors and Sellotape making all sorts of creations which end up strewn all over the house! She has managed to pick up a bit of Spanish (such as counting up to 6, and saying goodnight to various animals eg "Buenas noches pajaros!") and recognizes certain international landmarks (eg Eiffel Tower) and can identify where they are from (all this thanks to Dora The Explorer and Barney!) Quite the international girl!

A recent original from Lydia
Emily has been a very clingy child but recently I've been able to leave her at creche (two mornings a week) with only a short frantic protest upon my departure - it has taken us about a year to get her to that point! She can be a real treasure when she's happy - she really lights up when some dancing/singing music comes on! We attend weekly Mainly Music sessions which she really gets into and bops away following all the actions etc. She's also a fearless monkey who is very agile for her age, but still manages to injure herself quite often, usually from over-exuberance (in last few weeks she's had a huge bump on her head, a cut lip, cat scratches all over her arm, a deep cut near her eye, grazed knees...!) She certainly keeps us on our toes, but she's such a beautiful little dot we don't mind, just always at the ready with hugs and bandaids!