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Monday, January 21st, 2008
Dinosaur of the Insect World

The weta – it’s a large and primitive insect, native to New Zealand. The reason I chose to write about wetas today is so more people know what they are. When I used a weta reference in my book Talking Dogs, Aliens and Purple People Eaters my editor didn’t know what I was talking about and I had to rewrite slightly to describe a weta as a prehistoric cricket-like insect.

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There are five broad groups of weta:

1. Tree weta
2. Ground weta
3. Cave weta
4. Giant weta
5. Tusked weta

Wetas are nocturnal and live in a variety of habitats including grassland, scrub land, forests and caves. They live under stones and in rotten logs or in pre-formed burrows in trees.

They are mainly herbivores in the wild but are known to eat other insects. They can bite but are not poisonous. Species of weta are still being discovered and several are endangered. In the wild they were traditionally eaten by the tuatara (a prehistoric reptile native to NZ) but these days many are destroyed by rats, cats and dogs and of course, humans encroaching on their habitat.

The weta sheds its exoskeleton when moulting.

At 18 months the male weta selects a female and they spend time together in the male’s territory. (Romance in the insect world!)

At around two years old the female will lay 100 – 300 eggs. The parents die before the weta eggs hatch 3 – 5 months later.

The Department of Conservation in New Zealand is currently involved in weta breeding programs and translocation to safe sites such as protected islands like Tiritiri Matangi and Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf. The weta respond well to a captive breeding program.

The following photo is of a giant weta.

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I’ve never seen a giant weta but have personal experience with both tree and cave wetas. We often find tree wetas in our garden and will return them to live in peace. They can nip and look creepy but I don’t mind them. My experience with cave wetas is a bit more spooky. When I was a kid my girlfriend lived on a farm with limestone caves. It was a favorite pastime to visit the caves and wander through them with a candle and maybe a torch to search for stalactites, stalagmites and glow worms. When I think about our cave visits now I can see how dangerous it was but for us it was an adventure – an hour or two of wandering through pristine caves. One day we discovered a new tunnel and were all set to charge into it to explore. I happened to shine the torch over the ceiling and it was covered with huge cave wetas! Really covered. I think I let out a screech and dropped the torch and we all decided to explore another part of the cave. I also took to checking my gumboots carefully and shaking vigorously before I put my feet in them. This lasted for a few weeks until the initial horror passed. I’ve never been bitten by a weta but I’m always careful not to get too close either. I can appreciate them from a distance.

How are you with insects? Do you like them or hate them with a passion? Do you have any insect stories to tell? What do you think of New Zealand’s weta?

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007
A Surplus of Bananas

Banana Cake There’s a surplus of bananas in our house this week since Mr. Munro brought quite a few hands home last week. I love bananas but for me they have to be on the green side in order for maximum enjoyment.

Once they ripen, in my opinion, the only thing they’re good for is cooking – either banana cake or banana muffins. I made banana muffins the other night and they were delicious.

Tomorrow, I’m going to make my favorite banana cake.

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Thursday, November 22nd, 2007
Tirau: Corrugated Capital

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things about TIRAU

Tirau is a small New Zealand town. It’s pronounced Tee-rau

1. Tirau, originally referred to a hill three miles southwest of the village, is covered with cabbage trees where Maori trapped the keruru (wood pigeon). It was first settled by the Ngati Raukawa, although various tribes won the area in battle before Europeans purchased the surrounding district in 1868.

2. Tirau has always been a rest stop for travellers with the Oxford Royal Hotel operating as a staging post between Rotorua, Cambridge, Lichfield and later Taupo.

3. The benefits of its central location continue today. In fact Kate and Lane from PLAYING TO WIN stopped here for a break during their drive to Taupo. These days the town is unique for its corrugated iron sculptures.

4. A shop disguised as a sheep.

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5. A dog.

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6. Poppies

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7. A book shop.

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8. The toy shop.

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9. Me standing outside the tourist center.

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10. Gourmet Food shop.

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11. A garage.

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12. A dairy.

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13. A gift shop with a pukeko (bird).

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Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!
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Monday, November 5th, 2007
Auckland: City of Sails

I’ve been tagged by both Rhian and Wylie to do this meme about my hometown of Auckland.

Best place to eat:

This is such a hard question since my favorite place to eat depends on my mood and my wallet. Hubby and I both enjoy the Belgium Beer Cafe at Mission Bay. It overlooks Mission Beach and is beautiful during the summer when the pohutukawa trees are in full bloom. They specialize in huge pots of mussels done in various ways, which hubby loves. I usually go for the vegetarian option. We both love their beer. My favorite is the raspberry beer – the Framboise.

Best Shopping Mall

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I love to shop at Botany Town Center in all weathers, although they don’t have a decent book shop. Actually that’s probably a good thing. Hubby and I buy our groceries here and usually have a coffee and people watch first. It’s quieter when it rains because it’s not all under cover but a little water never worries me. They have an English style pub here along with my favorite clothes store.

Famous Landmark

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For me it would have to be Rangitoto Island. The perfect cone of the dormant volcano is visible from most parts of Auckland. It’s the youngest in Auckland’s field of volcanoes. A ferry trip to the island and climbing to the top to eat a picnic lunch is a fun day trip and a good way to tire out the kids.

Best Tourist Attraction

We have a lot of rain in Auckland so how about the Auckland Museum for a rainy day. Soak up the maori culture, check out the carvings and artwork, the sculpture.

Place for Kids

Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic and Underwater World. It’s fun for big kids as well. Check out the sharks and huge stingrays along with the Antarctic Encounter.

Popular Outdoor Activity

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It’s got to be the beaches – from the Auckland harbor to the wild West Coast beaches. Take a ferry ride out on the harbor, go yachting or take an afternoon coffee cruise, visit the outer islands or go for a swim. Try surfing. Go fishing. If you’re into water sports we’ve got it all.

Breathtaking Views

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For anyone wanting a view of Auckland and the harbor I’d send them to the top of Mount Eden. From here you can see most of the harbor and outlying gulf as well as the other dormant volcanoes and the city. Best of all it’s free.

Only Found in Auckland

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The Auckland Sky Tower. Climb to the top in a super fast lift for the views and bungee back down. The tower is also in the photo above.

I’m meant to pick others and tag them now. I choose Christina and Gabriele.

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007
A Military Man

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Military Reads

I hadn’t read a military romance for ages but the other day I just had the urge to pull one from my to-read pile. I’m also going through a Western themed splurge so I’m definitely thinking alpha male! Here are some of my favorite reads with military heroes.

1. Cullen’s Bride by Fiona Brand – a Silhouette Intimate Moment by a New Zealand writer.

2. Forget Me Not by Marliss Melton. This is the book I pulled out of my to-read pile. It’s the writer’s first book. Wow! I enjoyed it so much I’ve ordered the rest of her backlist.

3. On Danger’s Edge by Lise Fuller. This book won a RT Reviewer’s choice award.

4. Suzanne Brockmann – It’s hard to choose from Suzanne’s books. One of my all-time favorites is Letters to Kelly. It made me cry.

5. Lora Leigh – I’m a real fan of Lora’s so I’m adding her Navy Seal series to my list. The first book is Dangerous Games. Actually Amazon says this is book 2 so I’m slightly confused.

6. Kiss and Tell by Cherry Adair. I read this book ages ago and have been a Cherry Adair fan ever since.

7. Seven Days to Forever by Ingrid Weaver – another Silhouette Intimate Moment

8. Catherine Mann with her Wingman Warriors. Anything, Anywhere, Anytime is one of her books.

9. Denise Agnew writes great military heroes. Try Primordial.

10. Eye of the Storm by Maura Seger. This is set during the second world war and came out in 1985. I must reread it to see if it’s as good as I remember. Amazon says it’s a civil war story. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

11. All the Queen’s Men by Linda Howard – not strictly military. The hero John Medina is a CIA Black Ops Specialist.

12. Summer in the City of Sails by Shelley Munro – you didn’t think I’d leave out my own did you? :grin: The hero is a member of NZ’s SAS.

13. Unforgettable by Shelley Munro. Go on – buy me! I’ve been getting Five star reviews all over the place!

14. And one extra one – just for Mr. Munro. Any of the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell or if you prefer check out the DVD’s featuring the hunky Mr. Sean Bean. One of the recent Sharpe books is Sharpe’s Escape The stories are set in the early 1800’s.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!
View More Thursday Thirteen Participants

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007
Robert Louis Stevenson

When we were in Samoa earlier this year we visited Robert Louis Stevenson’s house. He suffered from ill-health for most of his life (thought to be tuberculosis) and spent time traveling through the South Pacific searching for a climate that suited him. In 1890 he purchased land in Samoa. He died suddenly on 3 December 1894 at the age of 44.

The house is in the middle of bush and surrounded by lots of grass and tropical plants. There’s a view over the trees to the sea.

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The above photo is taken from inside the house and shows what the view is like.

We were given a guided tour around the house by Margaret who was very knowledgable and answered all our questions. I loved this place because we were actually allowed to touch. The valuable first editions, were of course, locked up but mostly there were none of the ropes and barricades found in stately homes.

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The above photo shows the formal room. The wall paper is all batik style and that’s a lion skin on the floor.

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This is a first edition of Kidnapped.

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The above photo is Robert Louis Stevenson’s medicine cabinet complete with bottles and potions.

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And this is me on the staircase. If you’re interested in learning more about Robert Louis Stevenson, check out his Wikipedia page here.

Don’t forget to visit me over at Nalini’s blog today. I’d love some company. Oh, and I’m giving away a prize :grin:

Thursday, September 20th, 2007
Magical Seahorses

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things about SEAHORSES

When I saw one of the excursions possible from the ship was a visit to a seahorse farm I cast my vote immediately. I told Mr. Munro we should visit and he agreed since we both love nature, animals and the like, and it was something we can’t do here in New Zealand. I fell in love with seahorses during my visit to Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater world in Auckland. Our claim to fame – I believe Kelly Tarlton’s pioneered the giant perspex tubes that you see in aquariums World wide.

1. Seahorses are generally monogamous and they can’t live alone. They must have a mate.

2. The seahorse is the only animal in the entire animal kingdom in which the MALE has a true pregnancy.

3. The MALE stays pregnant most of its life.

4. Seahorses inhabit the coral reefs and sea grass beds in all the oceans of the world.

5. They’re an endangered species.

6. Over 30 million seahorses are taken from the wild every year for use in Chinese medicine.

7. Over 1 million seahorses are taken from the wild for pets. Most die.

8. They will eat only live foods such as brine shrimp and are prone to stress in an aquarium, which lowers the efficiency of their immune systems and makes them susceptible to disease.

9. A seahorse has highly mobile eyes to watch for predators and prey without moving its body. It has a long snout with which it sucks up its prey. Its fins are small because it must move through thick water vegetation. The seahorse has a long, prehensile tail which it will curl around any support such as seaweed to prevent being swept away by currents.

10. Ocean Rider in Kona, Hawaii started up to breed seahorses so they weren’t taken from the wild for the pet fish trade.

11. As mentioned in No. 8 above seahorses eat live food in the wild. Ocean Rider’s first challenge was to get their seahorses to eat dead food. One brave little seahorse – I think his name was Jack but I can’t remember for sure – tried one and all the others copied him. They moved Jack from tank to tank to train all the other seahorses.

12. Check out Ocean Rider for details on buying and caring for seahorses and register for their bulletin board to get into contact with other owners.

13. A pair of Mustang Seahorses of medium size costs around US$300 for a pair. Mustang seahorses are good for first time seahorse owners. They are tropical, colorful, bold, gregarious, social, hearty and healthy! They all feed EZY on frozen mysis enhanced with Vibrance® right from your hand!!

Ocean Rider has been breeding the Mustang since 1998. They first offered Certifiticates of Authenticity and High Health for the Mustang in 1999. All Mustangs are now shipped with these Certificates.

And finally, here are a few photos from our visit. It was a bit hard to photograph the little blighters but we did our best! These are the tanks and that’s me with my floppy hat.

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And these are my fingers holding a seahorse. They’re just so danged cute. Ah, that would be the seahorses, not my fingers :wink:

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Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!
View More Thursday Thirteen Participants

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007
Conquering Diamond Head

Mr. Munro suggested it. “We should climb Diamond Head,” he said. “We’ll go as soon as we wake up.”

“Sounds good,” I agreed. “We need some exercise after eating all that food on the ship.” Right about now my inner self should have been shouting, “No! No! Bad idea.” Sadly, my inner self appeared to have had one margarita too many and was on holiday.

We started out, walking along the canal, heading toward Diamond Head. It’s the big hilly volcano thing in the photo below. About halfway there my inner self decided catching a bus would have been a good idea.

“It’s not much farther,” Mr. Munro said.

He lied but finally, finally we arrived at the park. We purchased our tickets.

“Where do we go?” I looked around and frowned. I looked up and up and up. “Surely not up there?”

“Nah,” Mr. Munro said. “This way.”

He lied again. It was all the way up there. We had to go past people with sharp elbows, people who dawdled and the cheerful people who had already climbed to the top and were coming back down. They were disgustingly cheerful because they knew how much I suffered…

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We passed puffing, red-faced people. We climbed 99 stairs, walked through a tunnel and squeezed under an obstacle and up a hole. We huffed and we puffed. Or rather I did. Mr Munro never huffs or puffs because he’s fitter than me. Finally, finally we stood on the top to look down on Waikiki.

“I need a beer,” I said. “A big beer.”

This is me recovering my puff at the top of Diamond Head.

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And this is me at the bottom. No beer but Mr. Munro bought me a shaved ice instead.

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Saturday, August 25th, 2007
The Bog Man

I was fascinated by this story and the photos in my National Geographic newsletter today. It’s about bodies discovered in Denmark’s bogs, most of whom seem to have been sacrifices. Check out the photo of the man with the battle hairstyle and the one with the red hair. (They think the bog has made the man’s hair turn bright red)

This is the link here

Thursday, July 26th, 2007
Tea for Two

Thursday Thirteen

I’m researching tea and tea-leaf reading for another work in progress, so here you go –
Thirteen Things about Tea

1. The art of reading tea-leaves, or tasseomancy, goes back thousands of years to ancient China, when tea was first drunk. The practice developed as a consequence of tea-drinkers interpreting the shapes of the tea-leaves that were left in the bottom of their cups and divining the future from them.

2. Tea-leaf reading has been popular in Europe and America ever since and is one of the easiest forms of divination to practise. All you need is a teapot, a cup and saucer, and some leaf tea, so there is no need to buy any special equipment at vast expense.

3. The tea industry has undergone a renaissance in the past few years, with many more teas now on sale. Green tea, which was once only available from specialist importers is now widely available and celebrated for its health-giving properties.

4. The right cup is important in tea-leaf reading. The bowl of the cup should be nicely rounded, so the tea and the leaves can move freely within it. Straight-sided cups are not suitable, and a large cup can be unwieldy, which might cause you to spill some tea or even drop the cup. The outside of the cup can be as highly decorated or as plain as you prefer but the interior of the cup must be completely plain. Any pattern will confuse your eye and interfere with the shapes made by the tea-leaves. And lastly, make sure the handle of the cup is firmly attached and not too flimsy or delicate. Note: I’m thinking my character might have a wee accident and drop her cup or the handle could fall off.

5. Choose tea without added ingredients, such as tiny strips of orange peel or dried rose petals since they will interfere with the reading. Oh, and size matters when it comes to tea leaves. They mustn’t be too small and they can’t be too big. Just like Baby Bear’s porridge, they must be just right.

6. Tradition states that you should only read the leaves from the first cup of tea that is poured out, which means only one person can have their leaves read from each pot. The main reason for this is that tea-leaves usually flow out of the pot more easily when pouring out the first cup of tea.

7. The process: As you drink your tea, you should try to relax. Think about the question you are going to ask the tea-leaves, if you have one, or simply concentrate on the week ahead or your life in general. Do not let your mind be distracted by current worries or mundane trains of thought. If this happens you must gently bring your focus back to what you are doing.

8. The ritual: Drink virtually all the tea so only a teaspoonful remains in the bottom of the cup. Take the cup in your left hand if you are right-handed and vica versa. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, then silently ask your question or ask for guidance about your future. Turn the cup three times in an anticlockwise direction then turn it upside down in the saucer and drain for thirty seconds. Your cup is now ready for interpretation.

9. Some tea superstitions – To stir the pot counter clockwise will stir up trouble.

10. To made tea stronger than usual indicates a new friendship. To spill a little tea while making it is a lucky omen. And I thought it just made a mess on the counter!

11. If the lid is accidentally left off the teapot, you may expect a stranger bringing bad news. Bubbles on tea denote kisses.

12. Two teaspoons, accidentally placed together on the same saucer, points to a wedding or a pregnancy. If two women should pour from the same teapot, one of them will have a baby within the year.

13. Tea spilling from the spout of the teapot while being carried indicates a secret will be revealed. Undissolved sugar in the bottom of your teacup means that there is someone sweet on you.

SOURCES:
The art of tea-leaf reading by Jane Struthers
Chai newsletter (a NZ company that sells tea)

And just as an interesting aside: When Mr. Munro and I visited Cameroun in Africa a group of us visited a local wiseman or sorcerer. He read our fortunes using a crab in a flower pot. We had to ask a question and the movements of the crab when the sorcerer tipped it out of the pot gave us the answer to our question. The sorcerer didn’t speak English but we had a guide with us who interpreted. The process was very similar to that of tea-leaf reading in that we had to think about one question before the crab and sorcerer did their thing.

Are you a coffee or a tea drinker?

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!
View More Thursday Thirteen Participants