Saturday, 30 January 2010

Perfectly Imperfect - Lee Woodruff

Lee Woodruff is a bestselling author and lifestyle television presenter. Perfectly Imperfect (2009) is a collection of essays written by Woodruff about her home life: being a daughter, a wife, a mother, a friend. Her themes range from jewellery, kids' sports, being the mother of a deaf child and protecting your marriage by using GPS. Everyday stuff, but with honesty, humour, and, at times, raw emotion. In his foreword, Lee's husband Bob Woodruff says that she writes as she speaks; her warmth and humanity are certainly evident in the tales she tells as she welcomes us into her home.

This is an easy, enjoyable read, perfect for the afternoons when I can hang up my hammock and indulge in reading in the sun.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

15 things worth knowing about coffee

This is simply gorgeous. It was tweeted by @laffare this morning and I just had to share. For coffee lovers, here are 15(ish) things worth knowing about coffee. I love the way it is presented visually.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

There Was A Time - Dorothy Butler

There Was A Time (1999) is the first volume of an autobiography by New Zealand children's book author Dorothy Butler. It chronicles her childhood, growing up in various parts of Auckland, until her days at Auckland University College.

Butler seems like an old friend, an aunt, or a kindly neighbour; she paints a picture of her childhood in such a way that it seems like you would fit in perfectly with her memories. They are warm, humorous, comfortable, and familiar. I learned several new words: lorgnette, peroration, grandiloquence, and exigencies, but the text is still very readable.

The family moved many times during Butler's 'typical Kiwi' childhood, yet the children's ability to make new friends, as well as her mother's incredible resilience towards whatever circumstances they faced, meant that new 'adventures' occurred and life continued happily. The descriptions of her schooling at Auckland Girls' Grammar School in the 1940s are incredibly entertaining. The recurring theme throughout is Butler's love of reading which, alongside a very active childhood outdoors, took up every other spare moment. This ultimately led to her becoming an award-winning international children's author and owning her own bookshop.

There Was A Time is a delightful summer read. I now look forward to reading the second installment of Butler's autobiography, All This and a Bookshop Too (2009).

Monday, 25 January 2010

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

My sweetie and I have a knack for throwing parties that are at the mercy of the weather gods. We have had phenomenal bad luck during the past couple of years. We've hosted barbeques in the middle of summer which have been rained, nay poured, out and ended up with everybody sitting inside, sometimes around the heater! We have learned to always be prepared to have guests inside "just in case", but it doesn't stop us planning ahead and hoping for the best. We have had absolutely dreadful weather in Wellington recently; it's barely summer here at all. (We went to a picnic yesterday - the weather was so bad that we needed to a hire a hall and have it inside instead!)

It's no secret that I love to bake. I also wanted to chance the weather and achieve goal #20 - Throw a party for friends. We made it a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, featuring high tea and tasty treats in the sun. I planned a menu of club sandwiches, mini-savouries, pikelets with jam and cream, chocolate chip cookies, lemon cupcakes, chocolate eclairs and a friend made chocolate-dipped strawberries. This would all be served with punch, tea, coffee and bubbly. Yum!

We left it almost until the very last minute to decide whether to migrate the furniture outside and have the party in the garden, or play it safe in the lounge. A few drops of light rain almost saw us change our mind, but what is life for if not for living on the edge? The afternoon slowly but surely warmed up and the sun even peeped out for a while - whew! 14 of us ate and drank our way through a relaxing Wellington Anniversary Day.

Here are the cupcakes I made. They are lemon flavoured with lemon buttercream frosting. I used white chocolate melts to make the daisy petals and topped each one off with a pebble. So cute - and tasty!

Flower cupcakes

Friday, 22 January 2010

What's in a name?

It's funny how certain events can trigger a stream of memories long forgotten. I enjoy doing the Stuff daily trivia quiz. Some days I do well; on others, I take random guesses and hope for the best. As I was reading The Dominion Post this morning (hard copy!), the final trivia question for today was this: In the Bible, what future Jewish leader was hidden in a basket among reeds in the Nile river?

Of course I knew that the answer was Moses. Random thoughts reassembled themselves in my brain and I remembered visiting my grandparents on the Chatham Islands when I was 7. Grandad was a sheep farmer and apparently there was always an orphaned lamb called 'Billy' that would be brought home and bottle fed by the grandchildren until Billy eventually 'disappeared' again and was replaced by another, younger Billy.

I loved feeding Billy, but had to be quick as some of my older cousins usually managed to heat up the bottle first and get in before me. Then, one day, Grandad brought home another orphaned lamb. This one was tiny. He couldn't be called Billy while another one was still around, so it was left to us cousins to name the new (temporary) lamb.

I remembered a teacher who lived on a semi-rural property and had brought her pet lamb into school one day. This tiny little lamb was about the same size as the new orphan and was the cutest thing our class had ever seen in our five years on this planet! Its name was Pebbles and we all quickly fell in love with the bleating bundle. Therefore, I could think of no better name for our new orphan than Pebbles.

My (older) cousin, Steven, disagreed. Naturally contrary, he has spent his lifetime getting into and out of mischief. When asked to mow his parents' vast front lawn, he made sure he wrote "Steven is cool" in the grass so that every time his mother looked out the kitchen window she would be reminded of this message. He was/is also good at locking people into toilets and dropping cell phones into glasses of water to see if they are waterproof. Get the picture? Anyway, he decided that the lamb was not going to be called Pebbles, the most perfect name for a tiny lamb, but Moses. Why? Just because, he decided, and he was 12, so that was it.

I was most upset at this. Moses? Who calls a pet lamb Moses?? Suddenly, the shine of having Moses join Billy was not so bright for me. I've never forgotten the incident. Today, all these years later, I remember how put out I felt at Steven naming Moses. I can also report that Steven hasn't changed, either!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Yayoi Kusama: Mirrored Years exhibition

After months of passing the spotty building (aka City Gallery) in Civic Square on my way to and from the osteopath, I decided that today's appointment would also see me go inside to see the much talked about Mirrored Years exhibition by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

Kusama's sculpture, paintings, and mixed media work is made up predominantly of patterns, shapes, lines, textures, and lots of polka dots. Repetition is a key theme, with some artworks made up of literally thousands of replications of the same shapes and images. Love Forever, a series of large silkscreen prints on canvas, is a classic example of this; the detail is phenomenal (almost too much to take in) and recognisable motifs, such as dots and female profiles, fill canvas after canvas in different forms. Other larger-scale sculptures also drew on this theme, some introducing colour and texture but always repeating shapes and filling spaces in various ways.

The gallery notes about each artwork used words like figurative, narrative, post-war Modernist, idiosyncratic, and feminist statements. Perhaps. These may have been Kusama's intentions, but perhaps she simply enjoyed experimenting with shape and texture, to the point of obsession? I guess everything, especially art, is open to interpretation.

A friend described Fireflies on the Water, the mirrored room lit up by tiny coloured lights and with a viewing platform surrounded by water, as the most serene place she had been and somewhere she could happily have stayed for hours. Perhaps I was a casualty of what was a busy day at the gallery; no sooner had we entered the room and acclimatised to the darkness when we were ushered out again. Our minute was quickly up and we had to make room for the next in line, ultimately missing what was probably a stunning visual 3D experience.

As a non-artist, I'm someone who enjoys and appreciates lines, colour, shape, and form in the things around me. In principle, Mirrored Years had everything I love. Yet it didn't particularly inspire me. I wonder about the curating of the exhibition. (Again, I'm a non-artist speaking.) Perhaps having the pieces spread out in large rooms with white walls somehow lessened their effect for me, and smaller, more intimate rooms or cubicles, maybe with black walls, would have magnified the overall impression gained from each artwork. The layout of the Clouds exhibit, featuring giant vinyl balloons, was described as "placed on the floor and suspended at varying heights", yet there were just two heights: floor and ceiling. I'm sure that walking among the balloons at a range of different heights would have created quite a surreal effect.

I don't know the answers. Maybe the exhibition is already perfect as it is and I just missed the point entirely. I'm disappointed (in myself) that I have come away, despite eager anticipation, feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

Photo credit:
Used without permission

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


I'm a digital gal through and through. After teaching at a distance education school for many years, where large piles of mail and packages would literally arrive on my desk daily, I quickly got over the novelty of receiving things in the post; most post = more work! Nowadays, the majority of post I receive comprises bills, official letters from the bank (sometimes good, but not always), and paper-based spam from real estate agents. A few months ago, I received a postcard in the mail from a friend visiting Rome. I couldn't believe the buzz this digital got at receiving something in the mail from a friend who was "just thinking about me", and it wasn't going to cost me money either!

I remember a chain letter that circulated at our primary school in the 1980s. Apparently it was started "years ago by some kids in Germany" and involved sending a postcard to someone at the top of a list of four names and then adding your name. No harm or doomsday prophecies were promised if the chain was broken, so most of our parents let us join in (but promptly - and correctly - binned any other chain letter that did the rounds). I received a handful of postcards in response to the two I sent, mostly from around New Zealand but one came from overseas (I can't remember where exactly). After a while, we realised that if you only knew people locally, then that's where your postcards were most likely to come from. Never mind, it was still fun for an eleven-year-old!

As I was planning my 101 in 1001 project, I came across the Postcrossing website. I decided to send a postcard somewhere in the world via the site and promptly prioritised goal #90 - Send a postcard via as something I'd like to do, but quite low on my list. Today, I decided to do something about it. I bought a small postcard showing some scenery from Wellington and registered online.

My postcard is now on its way to Rio de Janerio in Brazil. How exciting! It's one of the many, many places I want to visit someday. I'll cross my fingers and check the site to see when (if) it arrives. I'll also keep an eye on my own mailbox to see whether I receive a postcard from another exotic location.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Chocolate chip cookies

I haven't baked this year yet. It's a beautiful summer day and I have a friend coming around shortly for coffee and a catchup in the sun. I dug out a recipe I found years ago for chocolate chip cookies and thought I'd see how it works with my new cookie cutters and non-stick rolling pin. Turns out I couldn't use either; the quantity of chocolate chips means that this recipe is best rolled into balls which flatten out as they cook. This recipe makes about 28 large cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 185 g butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 egg
  • 1 - 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 170°C.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.
  3. Mix together the cooled melted butter with the sugars. Beat in the vanilla essence and egg.
  4. Mix in the sifted ingredients and the chocolate chips.
  5. Place large spoonfuls of dough on greased trays and bake for 15 minutes. Cool on baking trays and then transfer to a wire rack.
Chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven
This recipe makes great chewy cookies. They are crispy on the outside and chewy in the centre. They are also good for making smaller cookies, perfect for coffee dunking!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


We went to see Avatar (2009) in 3D last week. Amid supreme levels of media and cinematic hype, great fanfare about its massive budget (the figure $400 million is frequently thrown about), and knowing that much of its production was done in Wellington, I was happy to check it out. Bear in mind that I'm not really a sci-fi/action film kind of person; it's the 3D and special effects that got me to the theatre.

Avatar is an exquisitely made theatrical experience. From start to finish, the 3D special effects are spectacular. With so much happening on screen, and considering that 60% of it is computer generated, I can see why it took so long (and so much money) for this movie to be made. I'd speculate that even after several viewings there will be new details to take in each time, especially during the fast-moving scenes.

Make no mistake, this is a very long movie to sit through. At 162 minutes (and with a questionable back), I had many moments of wriggling and stretching within the confines of my seat. Also, as a glasses-wearing person, having two pairs fighting for prime position on my nose for almost three hours, while trying to focus on the screen, was somewhat tiresome. (Mental note: wear contacts next time I see a movie in 3D.) However, Avatar is one of those movies that you simply have to see in a cinema as it was intended to be viewed - don't wait for it to come out on DVD.

I was quite taken aback to read this article today asking: Is Avatar a racist film?. The plot (without giving too much away) is far from original: good vs bad, triumph over evil, progress vs history and the ultimate question of whether anyone has the right to invade someone else's sacred homeland to fulfill their own greed. But racist? That's a stretch of the imagination for me. Once you get over the sight of the Na'vi characters being phenomenally tall, thin and blue, there's not much more to it.

Have you seen Avatar? What did you think of it?

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Pool party

Last night, I went to my first ever proper pool party. I've been to other parties where someone happens to have a (cold) pool and a few people sit around it munching on nibbles with a cold drink in their hand, wondering who will be the first to take the plunge. For this party, someone we knew hired out Thorndon Pool from 7-10 pm, got the barbeque going (along with a free sausage on arrival), and around 100 people alternately ate, drank, and splashed away. Being a public pool, there was a 'no glass' rule, which sent everyone in search of beer in cans(!) and transferring wine and other beverages into plastic bottles and cups - so classy!

Pool volleyball, a large inflatable obstacle course (à la Wipeout-style), frisbee ... apparently the water was really tropical once you got in. Nope, not true at all! Still, it was fun splashing around with our friends until the sun went down and everyone went diving for the spa pool instead. It turned into a version of "how many people can fit in a phone box"; the 8-person spa averaged no less than 12 people at any given time. Anyone who jumped out to grab another drink seriously risked losing their place - you had to be quick!

Tonight is a pizza and dancing night in town. Still loving these summer nights! :-)

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Summer nights

We have a busy social calendar for the next wee while. Last night, we had dessert and drinks with friends at their place, enjoying a great new year's catchup. Tonight, we are going to see Avatar in 3D, which I'm told is quite spectacular. Tomorrow night is a pool party, Saturday night is pizza and dancing night, and on Sunday night we are hoping to see The Beatgirls performing outdoors at the Botanic Garden Soundshell. Somehow, this timetable would seem untenable for us in winter, when I'm more than happy to just curl up early at night with a book or in front of the fireplace. Daylight saving makes it possible to pack more in to each day/night, while still maintaining energy levels and an overall warm buzz. I love summer nights!

Here's an excerpt from my favourite movie, Grease (1978) - so appropriate right now! Sing along if you wish and enjoy those Summer Nights.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Life's simple pleasures

Life's simple pleasures: they're everywhere. They can mean the difference between a good day (week/month/year) and a bad one. It could be admiring a perfectly formed shell, or enjoying an unexpected strip of colour on a building, or taking a deep breath near a lavender bush. It's just as easy to enjoy tiny experiences like this each day as it is to miss them altogether. When faced with a choice, I know which I'd prefer.

After dropping off some post today, I decided to walk back via the Petone Foreshore. We had gone for a drive to Days Bay beach on New Year's Day, but the strong wind kept the temperature down and cut our visit short. It's also very windy today, but much warmer. The sea beckoned; the water was surprisingly warm and my shoes were quickly in my hands. I thought about goal #53 - Walk in the water with sand between my toes ... and so, for ten glorious minutes, I walked along the foreshore and indulged in one of the simplest pleasures life can offer.

I'm not a beach babe by any measure, but I love being near the sea. I have almost always lived very close to the ocean and miss the dynamics of the waves when I have been inland for too long. I'll never forget how a kind couple I was staying with in northern California ten years ago were determined to take me on a 3-4 hour drive to show me the Pacific Ocean at Carmel and Monterey. They certainly are beautiful spots; I didn't have the heart to tell them that I've spent most of my life living within a few minutes of the other side of this amazing ocean.

Perhaps having parents descending from two tiny islands, as well as being brought up within minutes of the ocean, has meant that the sea is something I'll always yearn for? I hope so.

New beginnings

It's true when they say that "today is the first day of the rest of your life". That is, every day is the first day of the rest of your life. Yet, there is something so incredibly promising about a new calendar, an empty diary, and the hope of a fresh start that arrives on 1 January every year. I started my 101 in 1001 project on 1 July 2008 (not in the new year), but must admit that I chose a 'tidy' date, ie the start of a new month, to make my new beginning. I wonder why we see those kinds of dates as better times to start projects or make changes in our lives?

2010 is going to be a great one for me. Well, put it this way, I certainly don't want a repeat of 2009; I'm more than eager to write off last year and move on. I'm keen to make some new beginnings and explore new areas and interests in my life. One of these involves setting up my own business this year, and I have pre-enrolled in a course on small business management; this really excites me. I'm also more determined to follow my own path, wherever that may lead, instead of trying to figure out where other people expect me to be and measure my success accordingly. (I say that every year, lol.)

As always, I am not making new year's resolutions; I stopped setting myself up for annual guilt trips many years ago. I'm really keen to continue with my 101 project and have nearly 14 months left (gulp!). All in all, there are lots of exciting possibilities in front of me and I don't want my ongoing personal battle with low self-confidence to threaten them. The only way is up!

Happy new year to you all! Buon anno a tutti! May 2010 be as fabulous for you as it's going to be for me! :-)