Monday, 31 May 2010

Some cool websites

It's Monday. The drizzle is still here. The lounge is still resembling a Chinese laundry, with our clothes racks vying for prime position in front of the heater as we are running low on clean clothes. The cat is still curled up in front of said heater, but will eventually venture out into the middle of the lounge floor once it gets too hot for him. (It's a tough life.) The sultana loaf I baked yesterday goes down beautifully with freshly brewed coffee. Yep, it's another wonderful work-from-home-and-catch-up-on admin day.

I've come across some cool websites lately and thought I'd share a few.

I came across this website when reading about the Free Store in Wellington and have subscribed to their weekly online newsletter. It's an eclectic site featuring a range of guest bloggers who merge ideas about optimism and sustainability without being too touchy-feely and green.

Contented blog: Content that makes people happy
This is a blog about web writing, an area I am getting into more as I start to develop my own business, but there are also lots of tips and tools that are relevant to other parts of my work and play. I love this post about crawling out of the big black to-do cloud. Sound familiar?

A great way to donate time or resources to charities if you're not sure how to approach them (or know what is needed). Charities can also create their own wishlists, which you can respond to and give your unloved things a new lease on life.

Another way to recycle your own stuff, with local branches in towns and cities. Advertise what you have available to donate, or ask for something you need. Everything is free!

This has revolutionised how I use my iPod touch. Each day, some top rated paid applications are released free for downloading. I'm now hooked on an awesome version of Sudoku, Moxie, iCut, and others.

1000 Awesome Things
I've already done a little rave about this awesome blog (no pun intended) but thought I'd give it another plug. Awesome things happen to us, and all around us, each day. Enjoy them!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Lazy Sunday

The rain is taking a break but it's still duvet day weather. My sweetie left relatively early this morning for motorsport. I decided to stay in bed where it was warm reading, surfing the net, and generally lazing about. I was just boasting to the Twitterverse that "I'm still in bed! #luxury" at 10:45am when I got a text message from a friend. Here's how our exchange went:
Him: Hey, I'm in ***, are u at home? Lets have lunch.
Me: Fantastic! Do I need to get out of my jamies? ;-) [Thinking I still had an hour or so to spare]
Him: I'll be knocking on your door in 2 min.
Me: Ru serious?? Ok, getting up now.
Knock knock knock! [30 seconds later ...]
Now, I absolutely love spontaneous catch-ups with friends who are in the area, or just saying hi. I love "meet you for coffee in half an hour" messages or "what are you guys up to tonight?" phone calls. And then came that knock on the door. By now I had managed to get out of bed and pull on my dressing gown, but that was it.

My friend was looking like a shaggy dog after a disastrous first date involving a very long walk in intermittent rain and thwarted lunch plans. (He did a runner after their walk and before she could hold him to their promised lunch, coming around instead to elicit some sympathy and lick his wounds.) I figured he could wait a bit while I jumped into the shower and got dressed.

We had coffee and lunch at La Bella Italia, the home of indulgent southern Italian comfort food and the ultimate Sunday lunch. It's a while since I've been there, and their prices have gone up substantially in that time. However, as always, the food is superb and enough to sustain us all day. The rest of my day has been equally relaxing and indulgent: baking sultana loaf, followed by more net surfing, reading, and playing with my two-year-old nephew. Yep, a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Lazy Sunday Afternoon - Small Faces

Saturday, 29 May 2010

It's raining

It's raining. Again. Although we haven't been subjected to extreme heavy rain and floods like some areas, it has been raining non-stop almost all week and doesn't look likely to change any time soon. It's not bitterly cold (yet) or extremely windy, but the rain has been constant and quite heavy. And winter isn't due to officially start until Tuesday.

Today would make a great duvet day, if it weren't for the cabin fever resulting from several days cooped up inside. Luckily I've been working from home this week and haven't had to brave the elements very often. Still, there are some good things about being inside at home on a wintry weekend: vegetable soup with French sour dough bread and fresh coffee, movies, hot chocolate at a local café and reading while curled up by the heater. Unfortunately, most of these still require at least some attempt to leave the house, as the only thing I could do right now is read one of the many books I've got handy.

We're planning to leave the house at some stage and maybe even catch a movie tonight. In the meantime, I can't help having a few themed songs going through my head.

It's Raining Again - Supertramp

Here Comes The Rain Again - Eurythmics

Rain - Dragon

What are you up to this weekend? Is it raining where you are?

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

Childhood memories are a curious thing. As an avid reader, books and reading have always been a big part of my life and I vividly recall our family's weekly library visits on a Friday after school to stock up on a few books for the next week, only for my mother to be exasperated when I'd read them all by Saturday morning and needed more. One of the many titles I read was the classic novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), otherwise known as Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Or was it?

I remember Alice falling down the rabbit hole and shrinking and growing to different sizes. I remember the grinning Cheshire Cat. The Queen of Hearts and her stolen tarts. The White Rabbit. The Mad Hatter and his never-ending tea party. I remember the game of croquet using hedgehogs as balls. I remember the Alice in Wonderland ride at Disneyland when I was six years old. For weeks afterward I had terrified dreams of endless bunny rabbits being poured out of a giant teapot. I dressed up as the Queen of Hearts at our school's Book Week in my first year of teaching (the children in my class didn't recognise me!), and threw a Mad Hatter's Tea Party earlier this year. Yes, Alice was a classic for me.

I recently downloaded the Classics app for my iPod Touch. I love the idea of never being without a book and always having something to read when faced with waiting around somewhere, or even just having a short break. I also figured it was a more effective way to help me with another one of my 101 in 1001: #31 - Read a classic novel. (Wuthering Heights is still on my bedside table, half-read, by the way.) After browsing the titles, I decided to re-read Alice in Wonderland. That's when I discovered that I've never actually read Alice in Wonderland; not from start to finish, not an abridged version, not most of it ... in fact, I'd only ever read the occasional excerpt! So how can I recall the story so fondly? Yes, childhood memories are, indeed, a curious thing.

A perfect example of the literary nonsense genre, things make a lot more sense now, including the 1965 song White Rabbit by Grace Slick and the Great Society (hallucinogenic drugs aside). It's been stuck in my head most of the time I've been reading Alice. I now need to see the movie in 3D.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Happiness is ...

The lovely Donna has started a trend this week blogging about what happiness is. For me, happiness is many things and they can change from week to week, or even day to day, but I'm happy to say that it's mostly about the small things. I got to thinking of what I'm happy about right now.

Happiness is:
  • feeding a 7-month-old baby boy pureed banana, mango and apple and watching him grin as it spreads over his face
  • spending a couple of hours on a wintry night catching up with a cousin from overseas who is only in town for a day or two
  • chatting to anytime-anywhere friends on the phone - you know, the ones you can ring anytime and anywhere and still have plenty to talk about
  • feeling the satisfaction of a job well done
  • winning stuff
  • cuddles
  • finding cool free apps for my iPod touch
  • the ringtone on my mobile phone
  • making beautiful coffee in my new caffettiera
  • discovering that something I've been worried about is really a non-issue
  • planning weekends away.
So, what is happiness for you?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Cove

Last night, we watched The Cove (2009) on DVD. It is a powerful documentary about the killing of 23 000 dolphins each year in the Japanese town of Taiji. It is told from the perspective of a group of activists who are trying to stop the annual slaughter from taking place, and also to prevent any more dolphins and whales being taken from the wild and into a life of captivity. I remember seeing reviews about the film as it became the runaway hit during a documentary festival last year and added it to my 'must see' list.

At times, The Cove is quite disturbing to watch. Some of the slaughter scenes later on in the film are truly distressing; it is shocking to realise what happens for several months of each year. The documentary features renown dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry, who captured and trained the five dolphins used for the tv series Flipper. He tells of how he went from helping to establish a dolphin captivity industry to now actively trying to free these animals, attempting to release them back into the wild, often engaging in conflict along the way. Things are not all smiles with these beautiful, intelligent creatures when they are held in captivity.

Various supporting arguments justifying the annual dolphin slaughter were given by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), as well as Japanese government and industry representatives. This included 'cultural reasons', and dolphins being considered a 'pest', eating much of the supply of fish that Japanese people rely on to live. Even though the concentration of mercury found in animals further up the food chain (including dolphins) is so much higher than is safe for human consumption, and those who eat it risk mercury poisoning, dolphin meat remains on sale and available in supermarkets. There was even a suggestion that it be used in Japanese school lunches, which are compulsory for all children to eat at school. Truly mindboggling.

The Cove is highly recommended viewing for anyone who is interested in conservation issues around the world. A few web links were given at the end of the film to help viewers spread the word or take action:

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Random musings

I've been busy this past couple of weeks, but nothing seems to be blogworthy of late. Sure, I've been doing lots of 'stuff' ... it just all seems to have been overshadowed as the days pass by and we roll head-first into winter. Here are some random musings from the last week:
  • I melted my caffettiera on the gas stove by not having enough water in the bottom half. It's the one I brought back from Rome several years ago and now it's dead. I could see smoke and smell the distinctive scent that could only be melting plastic; as I went to lift the caffettiera off the stove, the whole handle came away in my hand and all the metal bits were steaming hot. Thankfully there was a(nother) Briscoes sale on today and I replaced it with a cheaper model. I figure I can melt a cheap caffettiera just as well as an expensive one from overseas.
  • Our last cleaner used to drink Jif. (When searching for an article to link to, I discovered that Jif is also a brand name for peanut butter and lemon juice. I'm talking about the cleaning product here - apparently known overseas as Cif.) Well, we assume she drank it because she'd go through a full bottle about every third time she cleaned for us. Our new cleaner instead drinks orange Mr Muscle or Spray N Wipe. It appears most frequently on our 'cleaning products to be replaced' list. I guess everyone has their preferences. Maybe citrus flavoured cleaning products are all too tempting for some people?
  • I performed some major surgery on my iPod touch apps this week. It was an anxious time seeing if my apps would back up and transfer correctly to my PC as I installed the latest software upgrade - none of the help articles made any sense and various online forums suggested that many people had gone through the same process as me and lost everything. Thankfully, I can report success, but not without some worries.
  • I finally bought the Classics app for said iPod touch. This is a collection of classic novels which are now out of copyright, converted to be read on an iPhone or iPod touch. The interface looks pretty user-friendly. 23 classic books for $4.19 seems like a good deal to me. I'm looking forward to (eventually) reading titles including Frankenstein, Gulliver's Travels, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and A Christmas Carol.
  • Chocolate chip cookies are gooooood. I made another batch this week. They won't be around for long.
  • The oven I do most of my baking in got tested yesterday, as I've been complaining that it is faulty for quite some time. Turns out the element had fried itself out. This was due to a faulty thermostat operating at 63˚ Celsius above the temperature on the dial, ie 100˚ = 163˚, 180˚ = 243˚ etc. That could explain a lot ...
  • I had a 25% discount voucher to use at a café today. My order (food and coffee) came to $16. I expected to pay $12 as 25% of 16 is 4 - quite simple, really. I was charged $12.20. I asked how this could be. "Well, it says on the board that at 25% discount on $15 is $3.75, so that makes it $3.80 for a $16 bill." Really? She checked with her boss; 25% of $16 is, indeed, $4. Oh. Yes, I was quibbling over 20c, but the logic of that equation astounds me! 
  • I'm about to start a short-term contract for an overseas company in a "work from home from any computer/Internet connect" type scenario. (It's legit - not like one of those dodgy spam offers.). It turns out than "any computer" = Windows-based PC running Internet Explorer and Java. It won't work on a Mac or in Firefox. *sigh*
  • I discovered, when browsing through Allyson Gofton's cookbook Bake, that a flapjack is a sweet oaty bar, and not necessarily a sweet pancake rolled around whipped cream like I'd always known them to be. You do learn something new every day!
So, what have you been up to lately? Any random musings of your own?

    Friday, 7 May 2010

    A Whiter Shade of Pale

    The other night, while we were watching House, the song A Whiter Shade of Pale featured. This Procol Harum hit from 1967 has been in my musical awareness for as long as I can remember, starting off with the original Tour of Duty soundtrack album, and popping up every now and then in different circumstances. Like most people, I have a musical soundtrack for my life. Just hearing certain songs can take me back to places and times that I otherwise wouldn't have thought about. A Whiter Shade of Pale did that for me when I heard House playing it on tv this week.

    Just like the keyboard player from The Commitments (1991), and probably every other pianist, I've longed to sit down at a big pipe organ in an empty church and start playing the introduction. I managed to do it once on (unfortunately not on a pipe organ - just a regular one), but the buzz was just the same.

    This song was also the first number that my very first band played each night. As a keyboard player, I loved how it featured such a cool organ part. However, I'd get really annoyed with our bass player, who had it in his mind that this is a very slow song and so would drag the tempo throughout, until the drummer and I were almost fighting against him to pick up the pace again. It went the same way as most other songs I've played year after year in bands: on the backburner, and a song I couldn't bear to listen to for a long time after we disbanded. A shame, really.

    Several years later, while I was backpacking around Italy, I met a woman in my hostel and spent the day wandering around Florence with her. We came across a music store and had fun browsing through various titles in the 'international' section (ie music in English that we know on this side of the world). "Oh, here's Dad's band," she said, holding up a Procol Harum CD. "I can't believe they're still around! Mind you, I suppose we are in a bargain basement somewhere in Italy." She had my attention. I asked what instrument her dad played. "Keyboards," she replied. OMG! It turns out that her father was the replacement keyboard player for the band (not the one who filed various lawsuits claiming his contribution to the song's composition should make him entitled to receive royalties from it - he eventually won) but he had toured extensively with the band in the 60s and 70s.

    So who knows what the song really means? The lyrics are the bizarre type that everybody at a party can belt out with great gusto while not having a clue as to their meaning, nor do they care. Everyone has a theory about various lines and the stories become more elaborate as the alcohol flows. I think A Whiter Shade of Pale is just one of those songs that will continue to pop up during my life and elicit a raft of memories about different people, places, and situations.

    Wednesday, 5 May 2010


    For as long as I can remember, my favourite piece of playground equipment has been swings. There's nothing quite like rocking back and forth, closing your eyes, and swinging high into the air. Sure, slides can be fun, roundabouts can provide a few thrills, but seesaws are hugely reliant on having someone to play with - and then, it has to be the right person to play with. (As a child, I spent most of my seesaw days high in the air, with Mum or Dad trying to push my side down so my brother could get off the ground. It loses its appeal pretty quickly.)

    While out for a walk this morning, these swings beckoned. The whole playground was empty. The sun was shining. I couldn't resist.

    Another activity from my 101 in 1001 done: #37 - Swing on park swings. How could something so simple and enjoyable have taken me so long to do?