Friday Cat Blogging Farewell to Ash Part 2

June 3, 2017 in Cat Things, Friday Cat Blogging, In memorium, Laura McCullough, Pets and other friends

Laura’s tribute to our much missed Ash plus more pictures below.

Ashbless, my gray girl


Ashbless was the last of our kitty quartet. We had had all four since 2003 or so. When we got her she was a tiny gray cat, and she came home in the same carrier as Nutmeg. Ash never liked to be held, but over her years with us she learned to live with it. She was our writher, flopping down next to a person and rolling about in abandon. Couches were her places. Downstairs she had her preferred couch, but any person on any couch MUST be sitting there to pet her. Upstairs she had her place between Kelly and me on the TV couch. She could get pets from both of us there. Sitting on people wasn’t her thing; she always preferred to be next to someone.

She was the one who got to clean out my cereal bowl every morning. Dairy milk was best, but she accepted soy milk and almond milk. Cashew milk made her turn away. She also got to clean out my other bowls and plates. Never had any food issues, never was trouble.

Ashbless was the lowest cat in rank, beaten up by everyone else. Whenever a rare cat fight broke out, she ran TOWARDS the altercation, because this was her only chance to get in a few hits. She’d swat someone a few times then run away. We built her a little shelf so she could eat up away from the other cats. If there was anyone near, she would insist on getting pets before eating—a sort of petting jump-start. Each morning she would stand on the ledge next to me as I brushed my teeth, asking for pets before eating.

Her face was beautiful, hinting at Russian Blue heritage. Her ears were enormous; I called them her big bat ears. She had prominent fangs until she strangely ejected them—some cats do this though why is a mystery. Until she lost her fangs, she was our best hunter. Bats, mice, moths. One time a bat was flying around in circles in the media room and the other cats were popping up and down like popcorn trying to get it. She simply climbed the cat tower, watched as the bat circled twice, leaped, grabbed it, broke its neck, landed. Then she gave the other cats a look as though to say “you guys are an embarrassment!”

My gray girl had resting anxious face. She always looked nervous, even when writhing in happiness. She had pink jellybean toes and a little pink spot on her gray nose. She loved belly rubs and after not too much petting she would get over-stimulated and start writhing even more, sometimes with a poofy tail. Her sleeping positions were adorable, either curled into a ball or with some legs straight out as if diving. Most of our pictures of her show her on her side on a couch.

Her last twelve hours were very hard. About 9 pm we realized we hadn’t seen her in a while. We searched the house thoroughly, finally locating her in the far corner under the guest bed. I called to her, and she stumbled towards me. When she came out from the bed, she could barely walk or hold herself up. She also could no longer see. An after-hours vet visit meant she got some steroids, which can sometimes help in the case of a stroke.

We brought her home to see how the steroids would do, but she was very upset. If we weren’t touching her, she would freak out and try to run. She ran into a few doors and walls before we figured out we had to keep touching her. So I spent the night on a few cushions, with her curled up in a warm down blanket next to me. Kelly piled pillows against every corner or hard edge in the room. I kept one or the other hand on her all night. When she tried to move, I would either restrain her or help her stand. But she would always fall over again. She ate a little come morning, and drank a little. But there was no real improvement and it was time to let her go.

Having lost two cats quickly and two slowly (all in 19 months) Kelly and I agree it’s easier to lose them quickly. But it’s very hard even so.
I miss her when I sit on the couch upstairs. I miss her when I finish a bowl of food and set it down. When I see her special feeding ledge. When I see a dark kitty walk past me and it’s not her. I miss her when I brush my teeth in the morning. I miss her when I tidy up her couch. Oh, how I miss her.

Fresh from finishing Laura’s cereal milk.
I love this shot of Ash and Isabelle sharing the cat chair.
Is MY sock, MINE!
I think I tied my legs in a knot, a little help here?
The kind of concentration only a chipmunk can generate.
This is such a perfect cat’s cat shot. All poise and dignity.
Not that she couldn’t be undignified.
I put a spell on you, and now you’re mine.
On her favorite chair on the porch with all the pink jellybean toes.
On her couch looking perfectly poised in front of her kitty quilt.
As the only one of our cats spry enough to there quickly she he loved the
counter and the opportunities it brough to spend time with her people.
She delighted in eating cobwebs even if they did muss her whiskers.
She never did learn to operate the remote.
More pink jellybean toes.
I love the way the sun lights her eyes here. She was so beatiful.
Here she is with Laura’s glasses and a bit of resting anxious face.
More anxious face, though I don’t have a picture of her at her most concerned.
She loved the spot on the media room couch lying between us.
She was highly tolerant of the occasional visitor.
She never really got the hang of the cat pod, though it matched her fur.
Here she is claiming an extension cord for her very own.
And again on the couch between us.
In her last months she came to love the heated cat bed.
This is the face of cat who totally didn’t lick that powdered doughnut.

And I’ll end with Ash and  her favorite person in the whole world.

 

A Brief Commentary On Time

August 6, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Silly, Surreal

You can learn to flyScreen Shot 2014-08-06 at 9.43.02 AM

1986 Kelly McCullough Plummeting

2012 Kelly McCullough Soaring*

 

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*You just have to have the right partner—that right picture is a clip from

my annual anniversary shoot with the brilliant and beautiful Laura McCullough

Photo credit 2012 Matt Kuchta. Photo credit 2006 ???????

A Message From Our Spouser…

February 22, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough

Handing the keys over to my brilliant, lovely, and very tolerant wife for a moment:

“Is Kelly McCullough really as strange and silly as his posts make him appear?

No. He is much more strange. This is a friendly note from the writer’s spouse. What Kelly puts on the internet has been processed through his multiple filters. What you don’t see is the variety of oddness that comes out (a) before his filters are in place in the morning, or (b) occasionally makes it past a few filters to be stopped by the “is this for public consumption?” filter.

Imagine waking up on a weekend morning to have your bed partner roll over and start telling you about Princess Mooina and the Connecticut Buffalo in King Heifer’s Court. Or having your dearly beloved jump out of a room shouting “They can take our lives but they canna take our guitars! Long live Robert the Bruce Springsteen!”

He has little personal dignity, a strong set of morals, and no fear of looking “silly”. Given the slightest prodding, he will stand half naked in the snow wearing goat pants, or be videotaped in slow motion being hit with a snowball. And those are the ones that get posted in public. At home he will practice muppet ballet wearing bicycle shorts. He will pose, superhero-style, wearing nothing but slippers and a woolly cow hat. His brain goes from camouflage to camel-flage to llamaflage. And then he starts positing what llamaflauge looks like. And all you see, dear readers, is that he posts the “Llama song” video on his feed.

This is my life. And I love it. He is far sillier and much stranger than what he posts online. He brings much joy and laughter to the world, and this world needs it. Many kisses and hugs to my wonderful love, and many thanks to his family, friends and fans who keep him happy and silly.”

Kelly here again. And now I’m all verklempt.

New Zealand 2014

January 20, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand 2014—Index of Photos and Journals

Laura and I spent three weeks traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand over the holidays. Per our usual division of labor I took pictures and she wrote journals. I also made some voice notes.  We do this both to remember the place and to give me a good basis for using material from major travel in my books. I’ve already got some wonderful ideas for incorporating a lot of setting material into the Blade books. I will also at some point probably set a novel or novels here. In the interests of sharing the experience as much as we can I’ve posted my albums and Laura’s notes both. The albums are Facebook and viewable to all whether you have an FB account or not—might as well use someone else’s bandwidth for that and I’m over there, but the journals are here on kellymccullough.com. I’m still captioning and pictures and will probably add a few videos later but this is most of it.

Kelly’s Photo Albums:

Hawaiian Xmas

Auckland

Hobbiton #1

Hobbiton #2

Hobbiton #3

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Mordor—Tongariro National Park

Mordor Part II—Hiking Down Mount Doom

Wellington Part I—WETA Cave and Other Wanderings

Wellington Part II—A LOTR Movies Sites Tour

O.o—Scenes From an Art Exhibit

Wellington—Picton Ferry

Christchurch

Akaroa

The Giant’s House (Akaroa)

Pancake Rock—Punakaiki

Glowworm Caves

Napier and the Hamilton Zoo

Roses!

Birds

Cute Seal Pics I and II—Ohau and Cape Foulwind

Seen From the Car I—Auckland to Christchurch

Seen From the Car II—Christchurch to Auckland

New Zealand Snaps I—Things What Took My Fancy

New Zealand Snaps II—More Things What Took My Fancy

Laura’s Travel Diaries:

NZ Travel Diary #1—Hawaii for Xmas 1

NZ Travel Diary #2—Hawaii for Xmas 2

NZ Travel Diary #3—Auckland Arrival and Sky Tower

NZ Travel Diary #4—Auckland Domain and A Haka

NZ Travel Diary #5—Hobbiton!

NZ Travel Diary #6—Volcanoes and Hot Springs

NZ Travel Diary #7—Walking Through Mordor

NZ Travel Diary #8—A Quiet Day

NZ Travel Diary #9—Window on WETA! Wellington Gardens!

NZ Travel diary #10—Lord of the Rings Sites tour

NZ Travel Diary #11—Ferry to South Island

NZ Travel Diary #12—Akaroa and the Christchurch Gardens

NZ Travel Diary #13—Crossing the Southern Alps

NZ Travel Diary #14—Glowworms! Caves! Victorian Hotel!

NZ Travel Diary #15—Return to North Island

NZ Travel Diary #16—Heading North

NZ Travel Diary #17—The Long Journey Home

New Zealand Diaries #17 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 20, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 15: The Long Journey Home

12 Jan. Today will last approximately 43 hours. We wake up around 08:00, and we check out by 09:45. Our flight to LAX doesn’t leave until evening, so we have some time to do a few more things. There is a zoo in Hamilton, as well as botanical gardens. Having seen several gardens, we choose the zoo. It’s cloudy today, light sprinkles, pleasantly cool.

The Hamilton zoo is really nice! Good landscaping and design on the paths around the enclosures. We see some black chimpanzees, simangs (a gibbon relative), tamarins, ring-tail lemurs and ruff-neck lemurs. Sumatra tiger, bobcat, a painted hunting dog with beautiful coloration. As we head toward the tiger exhibit, Kelly stops dead in the middle of the sidewalk. I look ahead to see what has caught his eye. The winding path has tall grasses and flowers along the sides, and the zoo has taken a life-sized photo cutout of a tiger and hidden it behind the grasses. It is quite startling!

We head to the plains/savannah exhibit. I look at the giraffes at the far side of the enclosure, and Kelly says “Hey, there’s an ostrich!” I start to look around and then jump as the ostrich approaches me, walking along the other side of the fence about ten feet away. How you can miss a bird like that, I do not know, but I had no clue it was nearby. It is a great mellow morning. The sun is coming out occasionally and the rain has ended. We sit for a few minutes at the cafe, watching the arrogant peacock looking for handouts.

We decide to take one last walk to the aviary, and start hearing strange hooting calls. Sounds ape-ish? Maybe the chimps are waking up and talking? So we walk all around the zoo again locating the sounds. We end up at the simangs. They have a huge inflatable throat sac, and when they inhale, the sac inflates and it makes a low bellowing noise. Then they hoot and call on the exhale. We stand there watching for a long time. Kids plug their ears as they approach, a baby freaked out and the parents had to leave. It was really loud and interesting.

Then it’s on to Auckland. Since we have time to spare, we head towards the coast at Bucklands Beach. There is a long windy road (last time I say that, promise!) barely two cars wide that heads somewhere. We follow to the end, and there is a car park saying “Musick Point” with a sign showing the way to stairs to the water. We pass a radio station (guessing this is where the name came from) that looks active, lots of cars parked around it. Then a short trail down to a series of very steep steps. The sort where you don’t like to take your hand off the handrail. Especially since the bottom of the steps where there used to be a wide rock platform is now barely a foot wide, with the rocks sitting in the water. We squirm around the handrail to a short rocky promontory and enjoy a few last views of NZ. The waves are splashing the rocks, the sun is out, we have a great view of the harbor.

Back up to the car, we find a pub called the Barrel Inn. They can do GF gravy on their roasts, so I get lamb roast with corn flour gravy, and Kelly tries a lamb kofta. We finally try the Speight’s Cider on tap: it is quite good! Then it’s out to the car, and head to the airport. We drop off the car, and get through security. We actually have a bag to check now. We have a habit of packing an empty large duffel bag on long trips, and then the dirty clothes go home in checked luggage and our souvenirs and expensive things stay with us in our backpacks.

Buy a few last trinkets to use up our NZ currency. (I twist Kelly’s arm really hard to make him buy another pair of sparkly earrings.) There is a set of massage chairs, and it’s two dollars for six minutes. Never tried one, but it sounds good right now. Oh, yes, it is good. I go for two rounds, the second right before we board. Kelly tries it too.

We are aisle/center again. Our seatmate is a smaller guy returning from his daughter’s wedding in Australia. It is a long, long flight to LAX. Scheduled for 12.25 hours, we have the winds so it’s “only” 11.5 hours. Kelly takes the center seat. I have the tough decision: get little sleep and walk a lot to spare my back? or sleep and wake with a back that will hate me for a week? I choose not to sleep. As we fly over the Pacific, I think about general NZ things.

The population is so small that unless you are in a city, there are few stop signs or stop lights. Most intersections are yields or roundabouts. Summertime brings a lot of signs along the road for plums, cherries, blueberries, and other fruits. Bumblebees are enormous! Land Rovers occasionally go by with a snorkel attachment above the hood for fording.

“Sweet as” is a Kiwi phrase roughly translated as a really strong “good on ya!” We did hear “good on ya” a few times. The country tends to be windy, and many places have wind-driven art. The mailboxes often have a “no junk mail” sticker or “no circulars” or something similar.

A t-shirt in Akaroa: I married Miss Right. I just didn’t know her first name was Always.

Kelly gets good sleep on the flight, thankfully. He will be driving home! Dinner and breakfast are tasty, with GF meals for me again. We get into LAX on time despite a late departure. An interminable line for immigration leads to a thankfully shorter line for customs. Good people herding by the employees. We need to find a bus to a different terminal for our next flight. It takes a while, but we eventually crowd onto a shuttle. A short wander around our section of the airport, and then head to the gate. Another late departure since the incoming plane is deboarding as we are supposed to be boarding. LAX has some nice gate seating, and good power outlets to charge your devices.

The flight from LAX to MSP is fine, the usual cramped quarters on Delta. Arrive on time, we remember to grab our checked bag, and then hail a taxi. A short ride to St. Paul to pick up our car and then the hour drive home. Our weather luck is holding: the polar vortex has left and it is a balmy 30 degrees, so the car starts just fine.

Home, kitties! It’s still 12 Jan, though it’s 30-some hours after we awoke. Fall asleep to four purring beasties, wake up to four purring beasties. This has been one of our best trips ever, but: East, west, home is best.

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

NZ Travel Diary #4

NZ Travel Diary #5

NZ Travel Diary #6

NZ Travel Diary #7

NZ Travel Diary #8

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NZ Travel diary #10

NZ Travel Diary #11

NZ Travel Diary #12

NZ Travel Diary #13

NZ Travel Diary #14

NZ Travel Diary #15

NZ Travel Diary #16

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I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #16 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 20, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 14: heading north

11 Jan. We have another lazy morning, much needed at the end of this trip! We check out and stop at a corner store for yogurt and such for breakfast. Then it’s a two hour drive to Napier on the east coast. At this point I barely notice the gorgeous scenery and the amazing vistas. Yes, you can overload on incredible views. When we get to Napier, we find a parking garage and put 3 dollars in the “pay and display” machine, only to discover it’s free on weekends. Oh well. Napier was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the ’30s with amazing art deco architecture. The buildings are beautiful examples of art deco work. Even the street signs are in fancy font. It’s primarily a shopping town downtown, not our thing, but we walk around and enjoy the views. It’s on the beach, too, so we walk to the water. I play wave tag for a bit. The beach isn’t sand, but grey/black rock ranging from small pebbles to quarter sized rocks–not very comfortable barefoot, even for someone who loves going without shoes.

We walk around Napier, stop in a really cool armory store, can’t remember the name. There is a SCA-type group that meets up and supports or is supported by this store. Nice stuff in this place! They have lots of weapons, but the one piece that catches my eye is a mirrored wooden plaque with art deco figurines. Alas, too difficult to try to bring home.

We luncheon at a bakery. That’s how good they are at GF: I tried a bakery for lunch, and it worked! There was a tasty GF ham quiche for me, and Kelly had bacon & chicken pie. We shared a scrumptious orange cake for dessert. Then back into the car (of which I am thoroughly tired by this time) for the trip to Hamilton and our last hotel in NZ. We choose the Anglesea Motel, with advertised spa bath. Nice place! The clerk finds out it’s our last night in NZ and gives us two glasses of wine on the house. Along with milk, of course. It’s quite sweet. We do a load of laundry in preparation for a really long day tomorrow, have a nice dinner in our room: greek salad with added ham and cheese, the wine, some yogurt, and chocolate for dessert. A hot bath, and an early night.

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

NZ Travel Diary #4

NZ Travel Diary #5

NZ Travel Diary #6

NZ Travel Diary #7

NZ Travel Diary #8

NZ Travel Diary #9

NZ Travel diary #10

NZ Travel Diary #11

NZ Travel Diary #12

NZ Travel Diary #13

NZ Travel Diary #14

NZ Travel Diary #15

_______________________

I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #15 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 20, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 13: Back to North Island

10 Jan. We wake up in our gorgeous suite, sun is out, birds are singing, little cherubs flitting about. Well, maybe not all of that. We have requested breakfast at 08:30, and we head down to the grand ballroom to see what we’ll get. There is a table set for 6, one couple is already eating at one end. They are Dutch, and quietly talk between themselves. The table is set with fine china, a cup of freshly-cut fruit is in a bowl on a china charger. Jenny brings Kelly black tea and myself some chamomile tea (I learned to request herbal pronounced with an h). She says she’ll get us some toast, and I mention I am gluten-intolerant. She just smiles and says she’ll bring me GF toast. Glee!

I eat tasty multigrain toast, one piece with the apricot jam, the other piece with blackcurrant?raspberry? jam. Yum yum yum. She then offers us herbed cheese scrambled eggs, and we can’t resist that! There is also a set of containers on the table with muesli and cereal. The eggs are great, and the setting can’t be beat. Morning sun coming into a grand ballroom with tall ceilings, beautiful woodwork, asian art, nice china, good food….Aaaah. We suggest Warwick House for anyone traveling near Nelson.

Another couple arrives as we are drinking our tea: from Missouri! Our host Nick also shows up in board shorts and a surf shirt, chatting away about Abel Tasman Park. We waddle back up to our room and pack up. We have a 14:00 ferry to catch, and at least two hours of driving. The drive from Nelson to Picton was pleasant, mostly lowlands. More wineries to drive past, the land growing more arid. We get to Picton around noon and turn in our rental car. The Hertz clerk is wonderful and notices that back in Welly we are scheduled to pick up the other car at the airport. He calls the Welly ferry terminal desk and gets our reservation changed to the ferry terminal, saving us at least an hour. Good customer service!

We check in, check our bags again (hmph). There is a gift shop in the waiting area, of course. We’ve seen a lot of gift shops but little has appealed to us as really saying “New Zealand”. It appears we needed to wait for this one! The Picton ferry terminal gift shop rocks! We bought about ten things here, gifts for others and a few things for ourselves. Including a pair of earrings for Kelly–he is extremely susceptible to sparkly earrings. Pack things up in our little carry-on bag, and then back on to the ferry!

We know to go to level eight, and it’s less crowded this time. We get a nice seat next to the window where we shouldn’t have the sun shining on us. Another smooth crossing, with just a little more motion this time. We cross the “rip” where two currents meet and it’s a smallish area full of whitecaps and lots of water motion. There is a school group nearby us; the two chaperones tell the students to drop their bags and wander around. The kids sunscreen up and head to the sun deck. By the end of the three-hour trip many were asleep at the tables. We chat with the chaperones: a professor and associate provost from Pacific Lutheran University in Washington State. Children’s lit and education literacy course.

Once we dock at Wellington, we get a car, only 5 people in line this time! Kelly goes for the baggage while I get the car; we can learn. The woman behind me is American and an SFF reader. She’s on our flight home, but in the sleeper seats up front. Lucky!

Into the car, we decide that Palmerston North looks like a good stopping point. Kelly books a hotel online and we drive a reasonably short hour or so. Our rest for the night is at the Coachman, a hotel with some character. We eat dinner at the associated restaurant, sitting on the patio. We get scallops as an appetizer: good, but they include the really fishy pink part. Then Kelly tries the “crispy duck” entree and I have a butternut “pumpkin” risotto. Great food. Collapse in our room for a long night’s rest.

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

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NZ Travel Diary #9

NZ Travel diary #10

NZ Travel Diary #11

NZ Travel Diary #12

NZ Travel Diary #13

NZ Travel Diary #14

_______________________

I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #14 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 17, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 12: Glowworms! Cave! Amazing room!

9 Jan. What a day! Up early, eat in our room, check out around 07:45. It’s only 25 minutes to Charleston, even with missing one of the turns. We arrive just as the cafe opens. I get a hot cocoa, we fill out paperwork, and watch others arrive. There are only 4 of us on the “scenic tour”, while there are a dozen or so people doing the underground rafting. They all have to be kitted out with full 5 mm wetsuits: overalls, jacket, socks, booties, helmet. We are given helmets with LED lights on the front. A guide takes us on a short ride in the “dry bus” since we aren’t getting wet. Ten or so minutes into a national park. We stop at the car park at the end and get onto a small train platform out in the midst of a glade.

There is a narrow train track running into the forest, and we follow it back into a…shipping container? Yes! They use a shipping container as secure storage for the train. Right at the platform is a secondary line where an extra train car rests. Our guide unlocks the container, starts up the wee train engine, and pulls the train and a few cars out of the container towards the platform. The larger van of rafters shows up, we all pile into the train cars, and we putt-putt along the tracks into a rainforest. It’s beautiful, green, humid, with leaves right up to the sides of the cars. There is a stream wandering back and forth and a walking trail (they call hiking trails “tramping trails”) which crosses the train tracks several times. We eventually reach a second platform.

Our guide leads us through more woods for about 10-15 minutes walking through the trees. Along the way to the cave entrance we climb 130 steps. These aren’t neat stairs, but boards attached vertically to the ground to make risers, with no treads but the dirt. It requires some physical fitness! Then we reach the cave entrance. There is a pair of professional videographers tagging along for some reason; they stopped partway through the caves.

The cave entrance has a gate since the cave is restricted to Department of Conservation folks, cave society members, and tour groups. Our guide (forgot her name!) is a pleasant Kiwi. The two other tourists are a young Austrian couple. The gate is unlocked, and locked behind us again. We turn on our helmet lights, and off we go into the cave!

I’ve not done any real spelunking or cave exploring, and this was not a touristy cave with a boardwalk and handrails. There were ropes along the ground to show the path, and that was it. The only lights were on our heads. It was so cool! The stalactites and stalagmites were incredible. There was a formation they called “cave coral”. Some places looked like brick walls with white growths on reddish-brown rock. One room was the “giraffe room” for its patterning. There are few intersections, not easy to lose your way. A gentleman owned the property the cave was on, and found the larger back entrance. His dog went in, and he followed the dog with a candle and a box of matches! Scary thought in a cave with active water flowing into it. It does occasionally flood up to the ceiling in places.

We go through gorgeous galleries and caverns, keeping to the path, occasionally having to climb up or down rocks. Wet places are very slippery. One area is the “Hall of Refugees” with a line of short stalagmites maybe a foot or so tall leading up to a tall formation that sort of resembles a king or queen. It is a comfortable temperature: we take our jackets off to avoid sweating in the very humid air. Mostly the cave is natural, but in some places the Boy Scouts carved paths in the ’60s. In a freshwater pond we saw an eel! Maybe 15-16″ long. Also a fish, don’t know what type.

Then we head into a smaller gallery, and our guide asks us to turn off our headlamps. Oh my. Suddenly we were looking up at a galaxy of stars, just a few feet above our heads. No light but the small greenish bioluminescent back-ends of the worms. They drop sticky strands for a few inches, and their bums glow to attract food, mostly flies and such. One worm had fallen and we were able to locate it with our lights on: it was no longer than a fingernail! We also saw a real weta, a cave weta, maybe as long as a finger joint. Cool!

As we were walking towards the end of the cave system, we see light, then more light. Come around a corner to see one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. We were at the back where the other cave entrance comes in, and were looking at a 30 foot circular opening with amazingly lush green foliage all over, and a natural waterfall sprinkling down from a hole in the ceiling. After the dark and muted cave the richness of the greens was exhilarating. It took my breath away when we first saw it.

We walked up a small ramp to another gallery where we saw more glowworms. It’s indescribably cool. We reversed our trip through the cave, with Kelly navigating as the guide pretends that she isn’t good at finding her way around. We get to our original entrance, the guide unlocks and relocks the door, and we head down, down, down the 130 steps. Stop on the large swingbridge to watch for the rafters coming down the river. We are well ahead of them, so we enjoy the sun on the bridge. Then more folks show up, and I start getting nervous. The bridge says there is a load limit of 10 people, so when number 11 comes along, I get off. The rafters (well, tubers really, but that sounds like they were potatoes) in their tubes come along down and we all head back to the train platform.

The folks in their soggy wet suits join us in the train cars and a guide passes out a bin of juice boxes. Most everyone grabs one: either blackcurrant or orange/mango. Tastes good! Then the train ride back, the bus ride back (we appreciate the dry van now!), and then into our car. Kelly purchased a bright red golf shirt from them–one of our mementos! It was a splendid time!

We drive back towards Charleston, but detour at a sign suggesting that it is only 16 km to “Cape Foulwind and Seal Colony”. That just sounds too good to resist. There is a seal colony, with parents and pups coming in from the water. The pups are adorable again, we stay quite a while. It is rather aromatic, though I don’t know if the name is from the fierceness of the wind or the seal smell.

Kelly takes over driving for a while. We stop for a breather and a pint of Monteith’s somewhere–I really have no idea where. Then into Nelson. I take over for the city driving–it’s ironic since Kelly always does city driving when we’re at home. We are staying at Warwick House which is stunningly beautiful. Built in the 1850s, there are only four or five suites. We have the Tower Suite with a separate “gin and tonic” room, a two-story-high octagonal tower. There is a Peacock Suite, a Bayview Room, and at least one more on the lower level. The ambiance is peaceful and just plain civilized! A tub so long Kelly can’t brace his feet to sit up in it; lavender soap and shampoo, comfy chairs with sheepskins in the tower, a gorgeous bed. There are more doors in this suite than our first apartment! (Well, there weren’t any actual doors in our first apartment, so that’s not saying much.) Magazines in the room have articles on Warwick House and the proprietors, Jenny & Nick Ferrier. Jenny greeted us, and we met Nick in the morning.

We walk out for dinner and end up at a pub where there is Musical Bingo going on. They play songs on the TV/stereo and you check off when your song titles play. Silly trivia, the servers are all wearing red cowboy hats, fun atmosphere but loud. Walk back to the room in sprinkling rain. Then it turns to real rain, and as we reach the corner store looking for wine it becomes a downpour. And the store was closed. Kelly is still in his not-really-waterproof coat. He behaves like a soggy cat: cranky and growly and just pathetic. We have cider in the room in our tower suite. Enjoy a good bath, sit up and read and enjoy the peace of the place. Very restful!

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I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #13 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 17, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 11: Crossing the Southern Alps

8 Jan. Up early at 07:00. We’re hoping to get back onto an earlier schedule. Today we are heading from east coast to west coast, over the mountains in the middle. There are only three passes, we are taking the middle one, called Arthur’s Pass. It’s great weather again! The drive is the usual stunning views of plains, mountains, hills, water, sheep, cattle. I am starting to see how the locals get blase about the scenery.

We stop at a few overlooks to enjoy the views, and then it is into the mountains. They are big! Not Rockies big, but much more than oversized hills. We’re either going up or down, left or right, or some combination. Flat and straight is not happening. It’s slow going but fun driving. We both love mountains a lot, so it’s a joyous trip.

At the top of the pass is Arthur’s Pass Village. We enjoy a late breakfast at a cafe. They have a GF egg frittata thing for me, Kelly has–you guessed it–a pie. Steak and cheese this time. In the parking lot we saw what looked like a parrot, but that seemed unlikely. It actually was. The kea is the only alpine parrot, according to a sign there. It’s dark green, smart, big, and they like to steal food. The cafe had signs posted: “do not feed keas” and “no refunds on food stolen by keas”. We ate outside and had to shoo them away. The table next to ours had been given a water squirt bottle; the keas knew what that was for. The woman just had to point it at the bird and the kea would move along.

Driving is slow and interesting. Curves, hills, views. Not a lot of traffic, thankfully. The whole country has a population of only 4 million, so once you’re out of the big cities there is not much going on. We need to stop to let others pass several times: we’re tourists enjoying a leisurely drive. A road repair vehicle goes by at high speed; happy to have that one in front of us! There are penguin crossing signs, but we see no penguins. Wrong season, perhaps.

We take a short stop at the Castle Rock formation. It’s really neat; looks like a ruin of something human-built, but it is entirely natural. The Maori used it for shelter. It reminds us of where the Fellowship hid from the crebain from dunland in FOTR. There is a stop for “Cave Stream” and a gentleman is stripping down to his skivvies in the car park. His patient companion has her arms full of diving gear. No thank you! It’s not that cold, but not that warm either.

The scariest part of the drive was getting down the west side of the mountains. A sign announces “Viaduct lookout and Death’s Corner”. So we stop at the overlook to see what we’re getting into. An enormously long bridge crossing a valley ends with both a steeper bit and a sharp curve. And the bridge itself is at a 16.5% grade. Holy %$!*! In the US, we mark things like 6 or 7% as steep. This bugger is STEEP. From the overlook we watch a petroleum truck go down in very low gear, maybe 15 mph, brakes on the whole way. It’s quite intimidating. A sign warns that all vehicles should use low gear. Having seen both the bridge and the end of it, I follow the recommendation. The car is an automated manual, so I can put it into second gear and not have to ride the brakes the whole way down. Here’s a picture.

We survive both the bridge and Death’s Corner, and breathe more easily as we pass into calmer driving territory. Along the west coast, we take a break at Punakaiki where there are some fun “pancake rocks”. They look like a tall stack of pancakes, dark grey rocks being less yummy though. There is a surge basin where the waves come in and crash against the far wall. We walk a natural rock bridge over the entrance to the surge basin. The paths to the ocean are hemmed in by lots of plants, mostly so tall you feel like you are in a hallway. It’s a nice design, curving paths and natural layouts.
We drive past a place called “Underworld Adventures”. Hmmm, we ate at Hell and somewhere we crossed the Styx river. Are we traveling farther than we thought? Oh, it’s a cave tour! And they have GLOWWORMS! We book for early tomorrow morning, and head just half an hour farther on to Westport for our night’s rest. We walk to the grocery store for brekkie supplies, put them away in the fridge (along with the ubiquitous milk). Then out to find dinner. Not too many places open, we end up at an Indian restaurant. It’s our first Indian of the trip! They have a “silver beet” pakora, and I ask if it’s really beet (which they call beetroot). The server smiles and explains it is a green leafy thing. OK, we try it. Very tasty! And papadums, and a sweet mild lamb korma for me. Kelly has very hot fish masala. His whole head is sweating by the time he’s done.

There must not be pedestrian laws here because cars wouldn’t stop as we tried to cross the road. 50 kph (30 mph) speed limit, and it is the state highway, but it’s going through a small downtown! We have to scurry across in the little gaps between cars. We try to get to sleep early because we are so excited about our glowworm cave tour tomorrow!

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I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #12 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 16, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 10: Akaroa and more gardens

7 Jan. Another lazy morning since we don’t have to pack up and check out. It’s hard to do a different hotel each night. Hope Kelly doesn’t ever do that sort of book tour! Around 11:00 we get on the road to Akaroa. It’s a two-hour drive. The first hour is gentle hills and plains, 100 kph. The second hour we probably averaged around 50 kph (30 mph). Mountainy hills, curvy, windy, gorgeous. Like Scotland only supersized. Sheep and cattle on steep hillsides. Sheep ruts in the hills. Crazy driveways dropping off the narrow road at insanely steep angles. We stop for a breather at the Hilltop Bar parking lot, where there is a stunning view of the valley below, with hills, lake, and Akaroa. As soon as we get to town we park and walk around. No penguin tours available today, so we take a walk along the beach. I splish around a little; can’t resist water!

There are lots of walking trails available, but we don’t know what we want to do. I see on the local map that there is something called The Giant’s House. Oh my. Oh wow. This is one of those places that you don’t really believe exists until you experience it. It’s a tribute to the wonder of human imagination. And to human weirdness.

Imagine a large city yard, like a double lot. There is a gorgeous large house with a fanciful paint job. And the rest of the space is a garden where plants and mosaic sculptures breed. A mosaic column has china teacups climbing along it like a miniature spiral staircase. A mosaic piano plays swinging music in front of 10-foot tall mosaic instruments. Sit on a mosaic bench between two figures, one with a dog head and one with a cat head. They are taller than you are. It was so wonderful and strange! Bizarre and beautiful together. I can’t recommend this place enough. It was so cool!

They had a cafe with the most reasonably priced food we’ve seen, but we aren’t very hungry. Kelly is deep into book brain. He gets a sort of glazed look and barely talks at all. The Giant’s House is the sort of place to fill your brain to the brim; we walked away in a peaceful daze. It’s mixed sun and clouds today, windy as expected. High up in the mountainy hills it was 16 deg C, down at the beach it is 23 or 24. Back at the car we munch on raisins, fresh fruit, and granola bars. Then we start the drive back.

The drive back is faster, knowing what to expect. We stop at the Hilltop Bar again, this time for lunch. We eat near the window, with the spectacular view as before. The sun decides to stay for a while, and you don’t need three layers to be outside. The food here is delicious. Kelly tries Zeffer cider on draught (very dry) and I try Weka pear cider in a bottle (very mild). Kelly has fish-n-chips. I have a beetroot and feta salad with a mild wasabi aioli on top. Good food and drink with a splendid view.

The drive home is uneventful. This car is smaller and less fancy, but it has one special feature that our first car did not have. The turn signal is on the right side of the steering wheel. No problem, right? Of course not! You like seeing the windshield wipers turn on, right? We saw a lot of those windshield wipers in four days. At least Kelly and I both did it, so the teasing went both ways.

Once back in CHCH, we decide to take a walk since we didn’t in Akaroa. The botanical garden is open till 9, and doesn’t look too far away. We walk through downtown areas that were hit hard. It’s sad, and scary, and hopeful too. They are rebuilding. It’s empty, though. There are tram tracks leading into closed off blocks, but the trams are running in other streets. No homeless that we could see; not a good place for them.

The botanical garden entrance is near a creek running the opposite way of the Avon–must be another bit of water. We cross into the park and are in shock yet again at the trees here. Such trees, so huge and spreading and beautiful. There is an ancient eucalyptus that has twisted around and around as it has grown and is strong and upright and enormous. It smells lovely. Ducklings follow mama into the grass near a pond. It’s warm, sunny, and bright, though the sun is low in the sky. It is very refreshing to be in shade with ponds and water around. There is a rock garden, a water garden, a rose garden. Our brains fill up again with the wonder of the place.

We head home, footsore. Check online maps for grocery stores. There are several listed on the road home. Yet we arrive to find rubble. It’s disconcerting. And we can’t take our road all the way to the hotel since it’s blocked off for construction work. End up at our hotel, the Subway next door has drinks, so we buy two bottles and eat cold pizza and cheese and raisins for dinner. Then to bed!

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I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.