Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Yet another gardening post...

I figured it was time for a quick garden update again, as I think it has been making quite a bit of progress in the last few weeks. Everything seems to be developing nicely and I've even started harvesting some plants, particularly my rocket. I've made quite a few salads with my rocket leaves, and I'm starting to run out of plant! I've just sown some mesclun seeds so hopefully I'll have some more delicious salad leaves in a few weeks!

I decided to transplant my pak choi as I thought they were overcrowded in their previous container and merited a bucket each. I was wary about this as I read they don't like being transplanted, but they seem to be doing well, and aren't far off harvesting. The tomato plants are flourishing and flowering - I even found a baby tomato on the biggest plant:

My lettuces are also doing well, I've just been cutting off leaves when I want them and they just carry on growing in between my harvests! As you can imagine I've been having a lot of salads lately.

I've left the best bit until last - my strawberries! They are doing great in their planter (as is the mint I've just pruned and hung up sprigs to dry in the airing cupboard). There are quite a few strawberries developing, but these are the most advanced:

I've also sown some seeds! Some snow peas, cucumber, spring onions, spinach and mesclun. I've borrowed Daharja's idea for using egg boxes as seedling trays (though my dad also does this, and also cuts off the tops of plastic milk bottles for pots).

The mesclun was only sown a couple of days ago, and already it's beginning to sprout!

I've no idea why this picture keeps rotating when I upload it, and I can't seem to fix it sorry!

I'm thrilled at my current progress, gardening really is not as difficult as it may first seem. I'm not sure about how successful I'll be with my seeds yet, the hardest thing for me is to make sure they are kept watered, with my erratic work schedule I find it hard to remember sometimes. More updates soon!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yaaarrrr! Here be pirates!

Last Saturday, we had a Pirate-themed House Party! It wasn't for any particular reason, other than the fact I like dress-up parties, and our house deserves to have good parties. We have this great room on the roof, dubbed the Skyloft, which is a wonderful space for parties and hanging out. With only a few weeks left in this house, we needed to make good use of it!

I made the decorations, including this pirate ship, made out of pieces of cardboard and the insulation cladding you put on water pipes!

I also made the food, complete with little pirate flags!

As is common with pirates, eventually the alcohol took over, and duels ensued!

Craig chose to come as a Muppet Treasure Island inspired cannibal, rather than a pirate!

Pirate wenches!

We had traditional and modern pirates turn up, including a Somali pirate complete with machine gun, and an internet pirate!

I had a great time hanging out with my friends, but I'm quite sad thinking about it. A lot of them will be leaving NZ at the end of the year, and I shall miss them! Don't want to have to find myself new friends, I like the ones I've got thanks!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Look how the garden grows...

It's been a few weeks since I transplanted the majority of my plants so I thought it would be time for an update. The garden is doing very well!

I've still been keeping them in the Sky Loft, although on nice days I've put the containers outside on the roof. I just have to be careful because it can get a bit windy up there.

Chives (from which I have already harvested), a Chilli plant which needs transplanting soon, and plenty of lettuce.

Another lettuce and some pak choi. I'm a little worried that the pak choi don't really have enough space, but I read that they don't like being transplanted too much, so I've decided it's probably better to leave them.

Strawberry plants and starting to flower! And some mint I stuck in the top of the container.

My sunflower, which seems to be growing visibly every day - I should start marking it on the stake. Come to think of it, if it grows much taller I'll need a taller stake!

My cherry tomato plants. The closest one I have named Alpha, because it seems to be twice as big as the others, a real super plant!

Last but not least, my rocket. I've just harvested some of this for my salad this evening, and it was scrumptious!

Well, that's it so far. I'm planning on sowing some seeds at some point. I should get onto that, but life has been pretty hectic at the moment. Suffice it to say I should be a proud (and broke) home owner in less than 2 months time!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Yum! It's sushi time!

Tonight I made sushi :)

It was the first time I've ever made sushi, and it was surprisingly easy. I bought a bamboo sushi mat from an Asian food store a while ago, which made rolling the sushi a lot easier. I think I will get better with practice too.

My sushi contains tuna, carrot, red pepper, avocado, snow peas and baby spinach. I made too much, but that just means there is some for when I'm hungry later on tonight when I can't sleep. I've just finished working night shifts, so my body clock is a little screwed up...

I love sushi, it is one of my go to lunches when I'm out and need something quick and yummy. Funnily enough I never ate it before moving to NZ. There are a lot of foods I never ate before moving here actually. There is such a range to choose from in Dunedin, particularly Asian foods, my taste buds have become a lot more adventurous!

Friday, October 16, 2009

All cultured out!

I'm feeling very cultured this week. Not only did I go to the theatre on Saturday I also went to the ballet on Wednesday!

My mum came to visit me last weekend and for a change we decided to go and see a play on Saturday night. She lives out in the sticks and hasn't been to the theatre for years. I must admit I haven't been very much since I moved to NZ - although it is something I try to do whenever I visit Christchurch or Wellington. I've only seen one other play in Dunedin in my 3yrs here, and that was a couple of months ago. That was Emma, and by coincidence the lead actress in that was also in the play I saw on Saturday.

The play was called Glorious - and it was played down in the Studio Theatre, which I didn't even know existed!

Glorious is a modern play by a local playwright, Richard Huber. It only had 2 actors, a male and female. Unlike Emma, the play only had these 2 characters. In Emma, the 4 actors played several different roles.

The female lead, played by Anya Tate-Manning, is Gloria. Gloria is a wealthy socialite who decides to annoy her father by announcing she is marrying a writer-slash-waiter she met at her father's birthday party. She moves into his dingy apartment and takes a job as a waitress. Jimmy, played by Daniel Coppersmith, reluctantly puts up with her (although he isn't exactly indifferent to her charms). Both actors had a great grasp of an American accent and their chemistry really sparkled. I think Daniel stumbled on a couple of lines, but honestly the script is so fast paced who wouldn't miss a beat every now and then?

The play is based on the Screwball comedy genre of Hollywood films such as those starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It is gloriously fast paced, the 2 characters continually sparring with quick-witted comments. I really enjoyed the background music too, the 1930s theme came through really well.

The intimacy of the studio theatre works really well for small plays such as Glorious - you feel as though you are right in the action and can almost reach out and touch the characters. The set itself never changed, and yet was able to be two completely different locations. I've always had an interest in set design, indeed I would have opted for that part of 'A' Level Drama if one of the other girls hadn't hogged it every time we did a play (so I was stuck with acting or make-up).

My only complaint was Gloria's wardrobe. I don't know where they got those dresses from, but I think they for an actress who was a couple of sizes bigger than Anna, they did nothing for her figure at all!

Glorious has been short-listed for this year's Playwright New Play Award, and deservedly so. I'd recommended everyone to go see it, if that showing had not been the last one!

On Wednesday, my friend and I went to the Regent Theatre to see Swan Lake. We'd bought our tickets ages ago and so I'd been looking forward to it for a while. I think I've only been to see the ballet once before, years ago, although I've seen a few on TV.

Swan Lake was performed by the Imperial Russian Ballet Company. They are world renowned, but I must admit I don't know an awful lot about ballet.

It was performed following the traditional version, but with the happier ending decreed by the Soviet Rule (I wonder if anyone does the original ending these days?) The ballerinas were hypnotic and did an excellent job of telling the story through dance and gesture. You don't need a script to understand the feelings they convey.

I loved the way the ballerinas resembled swans, not just through their costumes but also in their gestures - the slight move of an arm could instantly evoke the elegant arch of a swan's neck or wing. All the costumes were magnificent, although Prince Siegfried's white tights left little to the imagination!

The principal ballerina playing Odette, the Queen of Swans, was mesmerising - she could move in ways I didn't believe were entirely humanly possibly. I felt that the Prince faltered a little in places but otherwise he was very good too. I wonder how uneven the Regent Theatre's stage is - it certainly looked it from where I was sitting, which presumably must affect a dancer's ability.

My only problem was that I was exhausted from working a morning shift and the ballet was quite long, and the theatre very warm, so I almost felt like I was being lulled to sleep by the music and the dancing. That meant I didn't enjoy it quite as much as if I had been wide awake, but it can't be helped when I have to work.

The Imperial Russian Ballet Company will be returning to Dunedin next year, and I plan on seeing them again. I think they will be performing Snow White. I'm quite tempted to see Peter Pan next month, but to be honest I really need to start saving my money for my foray into house buying!!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Beginnings of the Container Garden!

For a while now I've thought about growing my own vegetables. I've always grown up with home grown vegetables, my parents and my grandparents all being keen gardeners themselves. I have great memories of picking pea pods in Granddad's veggie patch and eating the yummy raw peas inside. I also have less fond memories of my dad growing several tonnes of courgettes and declaring that he "grew them especially" for me every year, despite the fact that I absolutely hate them. So I won't be growing courgettes, and I'm aiming not to grow so much of one thing that I won't know what to do with it and it goes to waste.

At the moment I live in rental accommodation and whilst we have a lovely garden I can't exactly dig it up for a veggie patch. Our Landlady doesn't even trust us to care for the garden properly and has a professional gardener do it for her. Hopefully I will soon have my own house and garden, but in the meantime I'll have to make do with a container garden.

My little veggie collection started when I was at the Farmer's Market one saturday morning, and on impulse bought 3 cherry tomato plants. A couple of days later I headed to a local nursery, YouthGrow in North Dunedin, and picked up a few more seedlings. YouthGrow is a nursery run by Presbyterian Support, helping young people to earn skills and gain employment. I am a volunteer for another PS initiative, the Buddy Programme (which I'll blog about another time). They do a lot of charity work with families in Dunedin and so I wanted to support them by buying some plants from the YouthGrow nursery.

I've decided to start small and kick off my veggies with seedlings rather than attempting to grow from seed. Less chance of me killing them! Once I get into the swing I'll start growing a few things from seed, but I don't want to over do it and end up with too much all at once.

The plants are currently living in the skyloft, our conservatory on the roof. On calm, sunny days I'll put them out on the balcony but the weather has been so changeable lately I dare not subject them to that right now.

I've also replanted them into bigger containers, so now they've moved from the bookcase to the floor.

I'll update with more photos as they grow and I add more to the collection! Can't wait until harvest time!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reaching a nursing goal!

I've just handed in my Level 1 Professional Portfolio!

I am so relieved that stress is off my shoulders! Of course the Level 2 Portfolio is due in another 5 months, but at least I am halfway there with this one.

For those that don't know, Registered Nurses in NZ have to meet certain practice competencies to gain and renew their practising certificates. There are 2 ways we can prove this. The first option is waiting until the Nursing Council decides to audit you and then compiling a portfolio with evidence to show how you have met the competencies. The second option is signing up to your employer's Professional Development Recognition Programme (PDRP). This consists of several levels. As a New Graduate RN, the terms of my first year of employment are that I submit a Level 1 Portfolio at 6 months and a Level 2 Portfolio at about 12 months.

Most RNs work at Level 2. You can progress to Level 3 or 4 by submitting further portfolios, but for these levels it would usually mean you had a more senior role or were more experienced in your field. If you are on the PDRP you are exempt from the audits, at least for a while.

Although the portfolios are a pain to do, they are beneficial in providing proof to the Nursing Council that an RN is maintaining his or her competence to practice. A lot of nurses freak out about them, but those of us that have trained recently in degree programmes are much more used to putting portfolios together.

The New Grad RNs are also being encouraged to apply for the postgraduate courses next year. To be honest, I have no intention of studying next year, even if it is free. I feel like I need a year to consolidate my knowledge and concentrate on improving my nursing practice. There are also a lot of practical ward-based certificates and courses I'd like to spend my time doing next year. Although I do want to continue postgraduate study at some point, I really don't think I'd get an awful lot out of it this soon into my practice.

Anyway, I'm going to have a short break from portfolio-related work and focus on some other things, in particular buying my first house!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Intensive Update #3

My blog has been taken over for the last 6 months by tales from my trip to South East Asia, and so I haven't written about anything else. Hopefully now I'll get back on track!

So, first a bit of an update in what has been happening in my life during the last few months:

1 - Job

I started my new job at the hospital about 10 days after I got back from my trip. Six months in, it is still going really well, and I really feel like I'm improving as an RN. As a new graduate I have this job for a year. After that I'll have to find a permanent job, hopefully in the same place I'm working now and definitely still in Dunedin - I have no plans to move elsewhere! I feel settled in Dunedin, and it must feel like home because I always miss it and am glad to get back whenever I leave! I'm not sure I've ever really had that feeling in my life before...

2 - House

I'm currently looking for my first house! Yes, I'm entering the property market, and hopefully before the end of the year when my rental agreement runs out or else I'll be homeless! It is proving quite hard, houses I like tend to be sold very quickly before I can even make a decision! I've got a few lined up to see this week though, so hopefully something will come of it.

3 - Free time

Well I don't have much of this any more, due to all the working! I've had to give up choir for the rest of the year, but hopefully I will be back there next year and able to be a bit more focused! My writing is also pretty sporadic at the moment, I think I need to get into a routine and plan my free time a little better to make room for it. I've also been trying my best to spend time with my friends lately, as a lot of them are leaving at the end of the year - won't have many left after that!! And then there's the boyfriend...

One new hobby I've taken up is vegetable gardening. Well, sort of. I've got the beginnings of it anyway. It'll all be in containers, at least until I get my own garden. I'll blog about it later.

I'm making this a short update. The clocks go forward an hour tonight, which means I get an hour less sleep. I have to work at 7am tomorrow! Argh!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SE Asia Trip - Conclusion!! (Finally)

So it's finally over! It only took me six months to catch up on the blogging for my trip. I took a lot of photos and it took a while to weed through them all. And with my busy life at the moment it has been pretty difficult to write it all up. Remind me not to attempt such an extensive travel blog again!

I really enjoyed my time in Laos, just wish I had longer and could have visited the southern part too, but I'll have to save that for next time. It would be nice to go with somebody next time as well, just because I did find it more difficult than usual to meet people. From previous experience, I usually prefer to travel alone - I can do my own thing and don't waste time doing things I don't want to do because I'm compromising with somebody else. Yes, I'm selfish, but I don't see the point in going to the other side of the world and not seeing or doing what you dreamed of. It really amazes me how people can go to these exotic places and spend their time drunk and hungover instead of actually exploring and absorbing the place. I mean, you could have done that at home!

It has actually been 6 months since my trip now, and it seems like a long time ago. It has been enjoyable re-reading my travel journal and going through my photos to stir my memory! Now I have it all online, I can have a quick read back whenever and wherever I want to remember the wonderful time I had!

Friday, September 4, 2009

SE Asia Trip, Part 12 - Bandar Seri Begawan

18/03/09 - 19/03/09

After my trip into the jungle it was time for a bit of a rest. One thing I noticed about Brunei was how hot it was! Even though it was probably around the same temperature in Laos I rarely saw the sun there, but in Brunei the sun was baring down and the sky bright blue. I'd gotten used to the Laos haze so it was weird for the day to be so bright.

I decided to go out for an evening stroll again, as I wanted to take some photos of the famous mosque, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. I'd noticed it all lit up the night before and I wanted to capture it's magnificence.

The mosque is surrounded by gardens and a lagoon.

The ceremonial boat in the lagoon - not sure what this is for?

Across the lagoon.

I went back in the daytime to see what the mosque looked like in daylight.

Personally I prefer the night time look, but it is still stunning.

After wandering around for a while in the morning, I eventually found the Royal Regalia Museum. The signposts weren't very helpful! This museum houses many gifts from around the world, given to the Sultan of Brunei. There were some stunning pieces, including the royal chariot. Unfortunately photography wasn't allowed and I had to check my camera in. I did like the mandatory walking around barefoot though - my shoes were killing me!

The Royal Regalia Building.

I also wanted to visit the Brunei Museum - the national museum. For some reason, however, this museum is about 6km outside the city centre. I managed to catch a bus out there, and the locals on the bus were very helpful in getting the driver to stop in the right place for me.

The museum was separated into different halls. I enjoyed the exhibit of Islamic Art, the historical timeline of Brunei, and the natural history hall was quite interesting too.

The only problem with this museum is that it is so far away from town. The buses seemed to be pretty sporadic and after waiting a while I decided to walk back. On the way I stopped at the Tomb of Sultan Bolkiah, the 5th Sultan of Brunei, who ruled during the country's Golden Age. His tomb lies where the original capital city is believed to have been, on the banks of the Brunei River.

The Tomb of Sultan Bolkiah.

The view on the way back to Bandar Seri Begawan.

It was a pretty long and hot walk back. Luckily I didn't have to walk the whole way, as a porshe suddenly pulled up beside me and an English woman offered me a lift back to town. I happily accepted. She had been working in Brunei for a couple of years but was going back to the UK shortly. She dropped me off outside the Handicraft Centre as I wanted to check it out too. That was not hugely exciting though, full of overpriced handicrafts and ornaments.

That was about it for my short time in Brunei. I would recommend it as a stopover destination if you've got plenty of money, are travelling as a couple or family, and don't mind package tours. It really isn't geared up for the independent budget traveller. At least the museums are free!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

SE Asia Trip, Part 11 - The Green Jewel of Brunei

17/03/09 - 18/03/09

As I travelled to SE Asia with Royal Brunei Airlines, this meant that in both directions I flew through Brunei. In a bit of spontaneity whilst booking my flights, I opted for a free stopover on the way back. I'd never really considered Brunei as a holiday destination before, and indeed knew very little about it. So after booking my flights I did a bit of research into this tiny country.

Negara Brunei Darussalam, or the Abode of Peace, is a tiny country on the north coast of Borneo, which gained independence from the UK in 1984. It used to be a much larger and more powerful Sultanate several hundred years ago, but a war with Spain, and loss of territory to Sarawak ended the Empire. There are currently around 400,000 people living in Brunei, 67% of which are Muslim. Alcohol is banned, although non-Muslims and foreigners are allowed to bring in a small amount.

I only had two days in Brunei and because it is not really a country set up for the independent traveller, I'd pre booked a hotel and a day trip to make my short time there more hassle-free. I was picked up at the airport by the hotel - one of the few budget ones, but they still pick you up. It was evening, so the city was quiet. It was strange to see signs in English everywhere after a month in Laos. After settling in I wandered out to find something to eat. The town was dead. There really is not a lot to do here at night - all the pubs and nightclubs were forced to close after prohibition, so aside from a cinema, a mall and a couple of restaurants there aren't many places to go at night. I guess people here are the early-to-bed-early-to-rise type!

I did chat to a security guard and his friend who seemed a bit bemused to see me out and about, but I explained I was looking for food and they helped me out. I also got a couple of offers of lifts from men driving by, which I firmly refused. They were probably only trying to help out the silly foreign girl, but hey, you never know. I don't accept lifts from strangers at home (not that I'm ever offered any) so why would I abroad?

The next day I had booked an excursion into the Temburong district to visit the jungle. This involved taking a speedboat to Bangar, the capital of Temburong. Then a bus to Batang Duri and a long boat to the Ulu Ulu Resort in Ulu Temburong National Park. From here I would be going on a trek and a canopy walk. I found this tour on the Internet, there were a few around that I could find but not many, and they were all pretty expensive.

Kampong Ayer - otherwise known as the Venice of the East.

This water village is found in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei. Roughly 39,000 people live here (10% of the population) and as well as houses there are mosques, shops, schools and a hospital.

We sped past the floating village on our way up river to Bandar.

The ferry pier in Bandar.

This was a pleasant town, although there were smelly durian fruit lurking on the pier!

The longboats we took into the jungle!

View from the longboat.

Lovely jungle scenery!

Gorgeous day!

Ulu Ulu Temburong National Park Resort.

The National Park covers about 550 square kilometres of pristine jungle. Brunei has always made it's money from oil, so they've had very little need to desecrate their forests, unlike many other countries. A lot of this national park is pretty unreachable, but there is a little bit you are allowed access to, with a tour group.

After being shown around the Eco-resort, we were boated across to the start of the track.

Climbing up the muddy track to the canopy walk.

Luckily there were steps some of the way! A lot of steps...

Eventually we reached the canopy walk. The only other people in my group were a middle-aged Thai couple, who had struggled with the trek so far. They didn't want to climb any more, so it was just me and the guide who climbed the scaffold up to the canopy walk.

The canopy walk!

Views from the canopy.

Disappointingly I saw very little wildlife on the trip. I was hoping for some monkeys, or at least some horn bills. I think that the timing of the trip was wrong - as we didn't reach the canopy until mid morning. Earlier would have been better to catch the wildlife. Still, it was a gorgeous day and after the walk we were treated to a great meal and I got to go swimming in the river!

The resort was a lovely place but pretty empty. This seemed to be a bit of an ongoing theme with places in Brunei - lots of places to go, but hardly anyone there. I rarely saw anyone else in my hotel either. The country has an air of ageing decadence about it - a lot of money has been spent on elegant buildings, but they are collecting dust around the edges from lack of use. For example there was a big theme park built for the Sultan, which was once well-used but now most of the rides are broken down or closed. It's like wandering around a ghost town.

Only one post left on my SE Asia trip, my last day in Brunei exploring the capital city. Almost home!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

SE Asia Trip, Part 10 - Leaving Laos

15/03/09 - 16/03/09

I opted for another form of transport to get from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, after the awful minibus experience. This time I chose the VIP bus - what makes it VIP I have no idea. I was fairly wary at first as a tuktuk picked me up from the Guesthouse and dropped me off in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. I was told this was where the bus would pick me up. I was there with a German woman in her 60s, and neither of us were entirely convinced we were going to be getting to Vientiane! Eventually after about half an hour, some other people turned up and the bus followed shortly after. The trip was uneventful, and a lot more comfortable than that minibus!

We reached Vientiane at about 5.30pm. In hindsight, not a good idea to arrive late in the afternoon, as I couldn't find anywhere to stay. Apparently because of the change in Thai Visa regulations, there are a lot more people doing visa runs over the border to Vientiane. The German lady and I decided to try and find a room together, but in the end we had to go a lot more upmarket in order to find somewhere to sleep though. It was nice to spend my last night in relative luxury though!

I spent my last night in Laos where I had spent my first, at a little bar on the banks of the Mekong. I had a great dinner with my new German friend and chatted the night away. You do meet all kinds of people when travelling, and I spent my last night in Laos hanging out with a 67yr old!

The Mekong bars in Vientiane.

I went to the market the next morning to buy a cheap suitcase so I could pack my masses of souvenirs a bit more efficiently. Afterwards I spent a leisurely few hours browsing in Vientiane before heading to the bus station to cross the border and catch the Night Train back to Bangkok. I really like Vientiane and wish I'd been able to spend another day or two there. There were a few more things I'd still like to see in the area. Will have to save them for next time though!

I'd timed my travelling so that I would travel back to Bangkok overnight and could go straight to the airport from the train station for my flight the next day. It meant a few extra hours hanging around the airport, but I didn't really feel like negotiating the hectic world of Bangkok again. So that's it, my trip to Laos is over! But wait, I've still got a few days before I'm back in NZ... time to visit Brunei!