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Seven Signs That Summer is Here

Pohutukawa tree

Signs that summer and Christmas are really on the way…

1. Some of our native pohutukawa trees have burst into flower. The trees growing near the sea have started to flower and the others closer to our home should start flowering soon. The pohutukawa tree is known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree.

2. Daylight saving has kicked in and our days are longer. We’re starting to take the puppy for a walk after dinner.

3. All the local malls have put up their Christmas decorations.

4. I heard Snoopy’s Christmas (one of my fave Christmas songs) for the first time today.

5. I received an email from one of my favorite cafes telling me I’ll receive a free muffin since it’s my birthday. My birthday is at the beginning of December and slap-dab in summer.

6. Some days it’s hot enough to wear shorts. Now all I have to do is make sure my legs are silky smooth!

6. The strawberries are ready to pick. Yum!

What is the first sign of summer for you? And if you’re in the Northern hemisphere – what is the first sign of winter for you?

The Glamorous Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet cake seems to be everywhere I look at the moment–at a friend’s birthday party, at one of the cafes I visit in order to write and on my favorite television cooking shows.

I’m a recent convert to the Red Velvet cake, and I remember where I sampled my first piece. It was at a California Kitchen in Los Angeles for my dessert. I enjoyed every mouthful.

I’ve been wanting to try making my own for ages and found a recipe on one of my favorite local sites Baking Makes Things Better. Yesterday was the day. The actual recipe was very easy, but my trials started when I looked through my cupboard for a suitable tin to bake my cake. I had a springform tin, but I learned my lesson last year. If your cake batter is runny, do not use one of these tins because the mixture will leak through the bottom and make a mess in the oven! Take this as a public service announcement and don’t repeat my mistake.

I ended up using two loaf tins in which to bake my cake.

Red Velvet Cake

Here’s the recipe:

Dry Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

Wet Ingredients:

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups oil

1 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

50ml red liquid food coloring (1 bottle)

Method:

1. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

2. Mix all the wet ingredients together in a different bowl.

3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.

4. Grease two tins (20 cm cake tin)

5. Place half the mixture in each tin.

6. Cook in oven preheated to 180C/360F for 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

7. Cool and frost.

Frosting:

250 grams cream cheese

200 grams butter (softened)

5 cups icing sugar (Confectioner’s sugar)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Combine all ingredients and frost cake.

Shelley’s notes:

1. The cake mixture is in-your-face red but it’s meant to look like that. I managed to get red cake mix everywhere. I think I had a bad day, but take care Smile

2. I didn’t have any buttermilk and used regular milk, which worked fine.

3. This cake is delicious!

A Lady’s Handbag

© Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime Stock Photos

As my age advances, I’ve started on the road to a handbag obsession. I’m almost frightened to admit it, since Mr. Munro will read this blog and use my admission as evidence to hold against me at a later date.

I own four bags at present – a black Guess bag, a pink Guess bag, a small black clutch purchased from a local chain of stores called Collette and a black canvas briefcase that my husband received from his employer. I commandeered it and have used it so much the color has faded, but it’s perfect to tote around my laptop and iPad.

Now four handbags aren’t many in the scheme of things, but each time I go to the mall I visit Collette store and check out the new arrivals. There are so many pretty colors. I have to hold onto my credit card very tightly because it’s busy whispering seductively to me. “Let’s buy it,” my credit card is saying, but so far, I’ve remained strong.

So what do I carry around in my handbag?

At present, I’m doing a lot of writing and I’m mostly using my briefcase. It contains:

  • my wallet
  • my prescription sun glasses
  • my Kindle
  • my library card
  • a container of TicTacs
  • a small makeup bag with a comb, lipstick, lip gloss and tiny mirror
  • a couple of paper napkins
  • my netbook
  • my netbook charger
  • a backup thingie
  • an umbrella since it’s winter
  • some business cards
  • a pen
  • a small notebook
  • my cell phone
  • small spray of glasses cleaner

Quite a lot of stuff when I see it in a list. No wonder my bag is wearing out.

How many handbags do you own? What do you carry in them?

Red Rabbits

Rabbits

These red rabbits were part of the sculpture trail at the local Budhist temple. I loved the contrast of the red and green though I nearly fell over at the price. They wanted $700 for these little rabbits.

Later today, at 12:00 pm, I’m over at Coffee Thoughts Blog taking part in the Unusual Professions afternoon. I’m doing a contest, which goes live around 3:00 pm.

How was your weekend?

Z is for Zealandia

Z

Zealandia is a wildlife sanctuary in Wellington—an inland island where endangered native species are kept safe from predators in the hope of increasing dwindling populations. The 225 hectare site includes two dams that used to supply the city of Wellington with water. It was decided that the dams might crack or burst during an earthquake and a decision was made to lower the dams and use the area as an inland island. The first step was to fence the area with pest free fences.

Pest free fences, Karori Sanctuary

These fences stop possums, stoats, weasels, ferrets, rats and mice from entering the sanctuary. Once the fences were installed a pest-control plan was put in place. A year later all 13 major pests in the area were fully eradicated. Thousands of native trees were planted (the area was previously all in pine) and this planting continues. The long-term vision for the project is to return the area to its original undisturbed state and this will take around 500 years.

Native species such as brown teal ducks, the little spotted kiwi, giant wetas, tuatara, stitchbird, North Island saddleback, weka, North Island robin and bellbirds are some of the inhabitants.

On entry to the sanctuary, staff check bags for mice, cats, rats and other pests. Thankfully, my bag was found pest-free. I know I would have been more shocked than anyone if a mouse had jumped out. We explored some of the many paths, pausing to peer through the treetops for the elusive birds.

Old Resevior

This is the old reservoir.

Native Duck

Native New Zealand duck – the scaup. It’s the smallest of our native ducks. The scaup is a diving duck and disappears for long moments under the water.

Takahe

This is a takahe, one of our flightless birds. It was thought to be extinct after 1898 but was rediscovered in 1948. There are two takahe at Zealandia – a pair – although they are infertile so are not adding to the low population. They eat tussocks, grass, shoots and insects.

Kakariki

This is the kakariki parakeet, one of NZ’s natives. They have become endangered due to loss of their natural habitat.

The day of our visit was warm and sunny – the perfect weather to tempt the tuataras out of their burrows. Tuatara are rare reptiles that are found only in New Zealand. I’d never seen one before since they mostly live on off shore islands and at a few sanctuaries.

We saw their burrows and finally, much to our excitement we spotted a tuatara!

Tuatara in Disguise

Tuatara

I still get excited whenever I think about seeing them. We watched them for ages, not that they do much except sit there and soak in the heat from the sun. It was a real privilege to see such a rare creature.

Thanks so much for visiting my posts during the A-Z challenge. It’s been a blast meeting other bloggers and reading all the wonderful posts.

Today I have a guest post at Collette Cameron’s blog – Blue Rose Romance where I’m discussing mazes and labyrinths. I’m also doing a giveaway. I hope to see you there!

Y is for Yachts

Y

New Zealanders love their boats, and particularly those who live in Auckland, which is also known as the City of Sails. There are several marinas around the city, and we have some excellent boat builders who are based here. They make huge super yachts for wealthy people who like to sail around the world.

We have many champion sailors who have won medals at the Olympic Games and also world championships. At one time we held the Americas Cup. We contested for it last year, but unfortunately didn’t win.

Below are a few photos taken last year when hubby and I did a day trip from Auckland Harbor up the river to Riverhead.

Auckland Harbor Bridge Boats

This is one of the marinas. In the distance you can see the Auckland Harbor bridge.

Auckland Harbor Bridge

Yachts

Shelley CBD Sky Tower

And this is me with the main city center in the background, including the Sky Tower.

Trip to Riverhead

Yachts were even moored in the middle of the river when we cruised up to Riverhead.

Unattended Children

I have to admit that although I enjoy day trips on boats and I love cruising, I have no ambition to own a boat or yacht.

What about you?

X is for Xmas Tree

X

Xmas falls during summer for those of us down this end of the world. In late November through December, our native pohutukawa trees bloom. When early missionaries visited New Zealand and saw the trees with their scarlet flowers, they dubbed them New Zealand’s Christmas trees.

Pohutukawa trees often grow along the coast, which makes for a pretty picture during the summer. We have pohutukawas in our garden.

Pohutukawa Tauranga Pohutukawa

For me, it’s not summer until the New Zealand Xmas trees bloom.

W is for Waiheke Island

W

Waiheke is one of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf and is a 35 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. Waiheke is a great place to visit during a weekend or for a day trip. You can visit vineyards, check out the different arts and crafts available, go swimming or exploring, eat the local produce or dine at one of the many outstanding restaurants.

Here are a few photos of the island:

Onetangi Beach

Onetangi Beach is the main beach.

Vineyards and Olive Trees

There are lots of vineyards and olive trees.

Vineyards

Vineyards with a view…

Waiheke Scenery

Some of the gorgeous scenery.

Waiheke is very popular during the summer when the population explodes with holiday makers.

What is your favorite place to visit for a daytrip or for a weekend?

V is for Volcano

V

A volcano is a mountain or hill with a crater or vent, which spews out lava, gas and rock fragments from the earth’s crust. Volcanoes can be extinct (will never erupt again), dormant (might erupt again) or active (busy erupting).

New Zealand has many volcanoes. In fact, Auckland, our biggest city is built on a field of volcanoes. The old volcano cones are classified as dormant, meaning they could erupt again, but history has shown that the field is moving steadily north. The last eruption in the Auckland field occurred just over six hundred years ago when the island Rangitoto, a short ferry ride from the central city, erupted and formed into an island.

Rangitoto

This is the cone of Rangitoto Island, which is visible from many parts of Auckland.

Mt Eden

This is the crater of Mt Eden, which is not far from the central city of Auckland.

LakeTaupo

This is Lake Taupo, (area 238 square miles) which is in the center of the North Island. The lake is an old volcano crater, which erupted around 27,000 years ago to form the caldera. Around 1800 years ago, the eruption, known as the Taupo eruption, occurred. This was the most violent eruption to occur in 5000 years and was recorded at the time by the Romans and the Chinese. The present chamber of magma is around 6 kilometers below the lake. The trio of mountains in the background are all volcanoes.

Ngaruahoe

This is Mt Ngauruhoe, which is one of the three volcanoes visible across Lake Taupo.

Ruapehu

This is Mount Ruapehu, another one of the trio of volcanoes. Both Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, plus the third one Tongariro are periodically active. Mount Tongariro erupted unexpectedly last year after 100 years of lying dormant.

And finally, our most active volcano – an island off the coast of the Bay of Plenty in the North Island.

White Island

I find volcanoes fascinating, although I suspect we won’t have much fun if a new volcano pops up in the Auckland field. It’s certainly not impossible.

Do you have any volcanoes near you?

U is for Utu

U

Utu is a Maori word. If asked, I would have defined utu as revenge for wrong doings. I’m sort of right, but when I double-checked the definition, I discovered it means much more.

According the the NZ History site, utu is maintaining the balance and harmony within society. Each wrong needs to be put right, but the method of correcting the balance to obtain harmony again varies. And this is where revenge steps right up to the plate!

An example – If the balance within a tribe or between tribes was upset, one form of utu was muru. Muru is where personal property is seized in lieu or compensation for the offence. The matter was then considered resolved.

However, if this didn’t work, then a tribe might carry out a taua, which was a hostile expedition or a straight out war. There were different levels of taua.

Taua muru – a bloodless plundering

Taua ngaki mate/taua roto – violent action

So there you have it – the ins and outs of utu.

In the fictional sense, I think revenge makes for an exciting plot full of twists and turns. One of my favorite types of plot to write.

Do you like revenge plots?