Friday, 30 December 2011

Coffee cup challenge

Surfing the net and drinking coffee at home on a rainy summer's day, I came across The great coffee cup recycling challenge. Now, I'm not usually someone who jumps on their environmental high horse, but this really got me thinking. Using reusable takeaway coffee cups is not rocket science; it's just plain common sense. So why don't more people do it?

As a coffee lover, I'm one of those five-coffee-a-week habiters mentioned in the article. Last year, I bought a reusable coffee cup from Coffee Creation and use it daily at work. To me, it made good economic as well as environmental sense as I am charged 50c less for coffee when I use my own cup, which meant it paid for itself in no time at all. It's not big bucks but it all adds up. As colleagues' disposable cups pile up in bins several times a day, a quick rinse of my cup leaves it ready to go for next time and I just throw it into the dishwasher at home in weekends. Easy!

I chose this style over the increasingly popular Keep Cup as I prefer to drink from ceramic rather than plastic, but the concept is the same. Much like using reusable supermarket bags, it is an easy habit to adopt and makes more sense than consuming endless packaging destined for landfills. Actual recycling of these disposable products rarely occurs and is both a difficult and costly process.

At weekends, I will either make a stovetop espresso at home or drink coffee at a local café. Occasionally I'll buy coffee to take away if I'm on the move but this doesn't happen very often. I've got to say that in all my frequenting of cafés, I don't recall any that advertise different prices for takeaway coffee served in your own cup. The wonderful Celcius Café in Petone uses biodegradable takeaway cups and the rest of their coffee production is totally sustainable, too. There may be others, but none instantly come to mind. Perhaps if the financial incentives were spelt out in black and white with two prices side by side then bringing your own takeaway cup would become a more attractive option, benefitting the environment at the same time?

How about you? Do you use reusable takeaway coffee cups? What do you think is the best way to encourage coffee drinkers to adopt reusable cups?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Summer daze

So, Christmas is done and dusted. The presents have been opened and new homes found for most of them. Overdoses in family and food were consumed in equal measures. The longest day came and went all too soon but has left us time to slide into warm weather and lazy days. We have almost finished our diet of Christmas leftovers and the hammocks have joined our outdoor furniture. We briefly toyed with hitting the sales yesterday before wisely steering clear of the mania. Yes, the holidays are here.

Summer has officially settled in and the past few days have been reminiscent of the holidays I grew up with. Although the weather is set to change before New Year, I'm enjoying lazing about and letting the weather decide our itinerary. It hasn't properly hit me that I'm on holiday for a couple of weeks. Bring on the relaxation vibes!

I have a list of things to do these holidays but will let my energy and motivation levels determine when and if they get done. No doubt these days will fly by and it will be back to nightmare that work has become - something I'm trying to push to the back of my mind and not think about. In the meantime, there are books to read, coffees to drink, baking to do and friends to catch up with ... but all in good time.

What are your holiday plans?

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Divorce party

Yesterday, I discovered a new phenomenon after being invited to my first ever divorce party. My life has pretty much followed this pattern: my friends meet a partner, the move in together, they buy a house, they get engaged, they get married, they produce a child, they baptise said child, child turns 1, they produce another, baptise that one ... and so the pattern continues until the numbers get frightfully out of hand. All along the way, I am expected to reward them for their choices and duly do so until I lose count of how many presents I owe whom. A few got divorced, thereby exiting the conveyor belt somewhere between marriage and child #1 and enabling them to start the cycle again, but as far as I am aware none of them threw a divorce party. Until now.

It's hard to know the correct protocol for an event such as this. What does one do at a divorce party? Is it an event for celebrating or commiserating? Who is invited? Are couples, or people with partners, allowed to turn up and be happy in their relationships? No-one seemed to know.

I appealed to the Twitterverse for help. Suggestions came in thick and fast, ranging from "I guess everybody will drink lots of wine and cry" (euw!) to getting drunk and singing trashy karaoke. You've Lost That Loving Feeling was a definite starter.

Work colleagues had their own ideas. A recently separate workmate thought it sounded like a great idea and said she might consider throwing a divorce party of her own with her ex-husband and all their family and friends so they can celebrate ten wonderful years and two beautiful children together. Now, this sounded more like an anniversary to me and I had to check if this is what she meant. No, she confirmed. They were definitely separating.

I don't get it.

As it turns out, the divorcee declared the event to be an occasion of great joy. Although it was a simple dinner with a small group of friends at a Chinese restaurant, it was one she had planned to celebrate for months. I won't go into detail but can confirm that she did indeed look joyous, couples were both invited and welcome, there was wine sans karaoke and tears ...

I still don't get it.

Do you have a divorce party story? Or have you thrown a divorce party yourself??

Friday, 9 December 2011

7 Days Live


We enjoy watching 7 Days on Friday nights; it has become our way of unwinding after a long week. Last night, 7 Days Live came to town with a show at The Opera House. It was a show of two halves, beginning with short standup routines from each of the comedians before a live set of the tv show itself.

We were glad to see some of our favourite kiwi comedians, including Ben Hurley and Steve Wrigley, joining host Jeremy Corbett and regulars Paul Ego and Dai Henwood on stage. Armed with razor sharp wit and free from the shackles of television censorship, the group let rip on news, current events, local humour and each other during an absolutely hilarious night.

It quickly became clear that the Hutt Valley was going to be the butt of most jokes for the night (stereotypes do exist for a reason!). However, it wasn't long before they honed their jokes even further, with Upper Hutt becoming the natural punchline. The audience was involved in several of the games, including a version of "My kid could draw that" which naturally ended up with dodgy pictures being drawn by audience members before the show, and Captions, where you got to text in a caption to a dodgy photo during the intermission. The fact that neither of us could come up with a caption that was even remotely coherent, let alone interesting or funny in 20 minutes shows just how quickly these guys think on their feet (or butts - they were sitting down after all).

This was an hilarious night of standup comedy and fun. Hopefully there will be another 7 Days Live tour next year!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Cafe Chick's 4th birthday

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Don't they all? Things started quietly on 29 November 2007, grew a bit, built up a lot ... and now it's Cafe Chick's 4th birthday! Along the way, I've joined Twitter, participated in the 101 in 1001 project, had a go at Project 365 and most recently launched Café Chick's Jukebox, sharing tiny snippets from the soundtrack of my life. Whew!
Enjoy a slice of Café Chick's 4th birthday cake
So, what's up with Café Chick four years on? Well, I still love Wellington. I still love cafés. I still love coffee. (It goes without saying that I will always love chocolate.) Sunshine makes me happy, as does my sweetie and the occasional good book. I bake every chance I get and still am thrilled with my little corner of the blogosphere. Tiny red dots and comments (or tweets) from blog visitors always make my day, even four years after this blog began. :-)

As with every blogging birthday, my Clustr map will archive in a few days and my world map will be devoid of pretty little red (and yellow) dots until my coffee buddies start visiting again. I somehow managed to avoid my map being archived last year, so it is looking beautifully red today. 81,000+ visits during the past two years - gosh, that's a lot of coffee and cake!


I've been a bit quiet lately but am still here and plan to celebrate at least another birthday or two. Thank you to each and every one of you who has dropped by for a cup of coffee, a recipe or a song. It really has been a blast!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Mosquito magnet

After dropping hints and promises, summer made a glorious appearance today. My to do list went out the window as I made the most of the sunshine, including a long walk, coffee and newspapers, reading a book while sitting in my hammock swing, a few hours attacking the garden and truckloads of washing. Ahhhh.

While buried in the garden (not how it sounds), I made a few discoveries: a lavender bush that we didn't even know was planted outside our window, an almost-dead plant with rotten branches that fell apart in my hands, a 5 cm layer of sand in the drains and a number of creepy crawlies scurrying out from under rocks after their homes had been disturbed. (You can tell I'm not a gardener; all this is novel for me.)

And then I was reminded that it really is summer. If there's one thing that's synonymous with summer for me, it is mosquito bites. Somehow I manage to block this from my consciousness during the year and am always shocked at the first itch before it all comes rushing back.

You see, I am the ultimate mosquito magnet. For as long as I can remember, mossies have sought me out for a quick snack and seem to revel in telling all their friends that I'm both tasty and have skin exposed. Actually, I've been bitten through my clothes before ... and through sheets in bed, or through the teensiest gap in my inesct repellent shield. I have scars on my lower legs and feet from where I have scratched myself to bleeding point and the scabs won't heal - sometimes in my sleep without even realising it.

I've heard it all: "you must be sweet", "they must like your blood", "don't wear shorts/t-shirts/bare feet" (all summer??), "Brand X is the only one that works", and "well, I'm not being bitten" (which is usually followed by a disbelieving look as I madly start scratching for no apparent reason). It's enough to drive me itching mad!

Are you a mosquito magnet, or do these bloodsuckers pass you by?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Ghost chips

It seems like everyone has been talking about ghost chips lately. To be honest, I haven't had a clue what they were all talking about. It turns out that's what happens when you don't watch ads on tv, or watch them with the sound turned off.

This morning, I saw someone blog about ghost chips, had a few minutes spare and thought I'd watch the video. Yeah, it's kind of funny, but not really what I expected.

Turns out I was watching the wrong video - this version is a send up of what is on tv and makes more sense if you've seen the original ad, which is actually a clever way of addressing drink driving. Also, anyone outside of New Zealand will probably be completely dumbfounded by the kiwi style of humour, but believe me, this is funny for us.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The madness meme

I haven't done one of these in a long time. Here's part 1 of The Madness Meme from Sunday Stealing. No guarantees there'll be a part 2 from me next week, though!
  1. Have you ever licked the back of a CD to try to get it to work?
    What the  - seriously, what does that do? I guess that's a 'no'.
  2. What’s the largest age difference between yourself and someone you’ve dated?
    7 years.
  3. Ever been in a car wreck?
    I've been in a couple of small car crashes but nothing I'd call a wreck.
  4. Were you popular in high school?
    I definitely wasn't one of the popular girls, but I had a lot of friends, many of whom I am still in contact with 20 years later.
  5. Have you ever been on a blind date?
    No - and I never would.
  6. Are looks important?
    Unfortunately, sometimes ... but not in the big scheme of things.
  7. Do you have any friends that you’ve known for 10 years or more?
    Yes, several.
  8. By what age would you like to be married?
    Whoops - well and truly missed that age.
  9. Does the number of people a person’s slept with affect your view of them?
    Sometimes ...
  10. Have you ever made a mistake?
    All the time - far too many to count.
  11. Are you a good tipper?
    Thankfully we don't tip in New Zealand. I'd probably tip grudgingly if it were brought in here.
  12. What's the most you have spent for a haircut?
    $60ish.
  13. Have you ever had a crush on a teacher?
    Yes, but only while I was a teacher myself. (We were together for three years.)
  14. Have you ever peed in public?
    Euw. No.
  15. What song do you want played at your funeral?
    Closing Theme from The Muppet Show.
  16. Would you tell your parents if you were gay?
    No.
  17. What would your last meal be before getting executed?
  18. Not exactly sure but it's likely to involve coffee, chocolate, strawberries and cashew nuts.
  19. Beatles or Stones?
    Beatles, definitely - but the Stones aren't too far behind.
  20. If you had to pick one person on earth to die, who would it be?
    Don't go there. I wouldn't mind having a guarantee that all trace of a couple of bands could be wiped out, though.
  21. Beer, wine or hard liquor?
    Wine, although I'm not much of a drinker.
  22. Do you have any phobias?
    Nothing I'd consider a phobia, but I'm not too impressed with creepy crawlies.
  23. What are your plans for the future?
    Cure cancer and create world peace ... seriously, I learned to not make plans for the future a looooong time ago.
Your turn?

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Summer's coming

Spring is my favourite season of the year for many reasons, one of which is that summer is on the way and the best is still to come. I'm not a beach babe by any description and reach a melting point somewhere around 25°C, but the thought of long days and heaps of sunshine are a welcome tonic for my soul.

Signs that summer is almost here:
  • I can safely wear 3/4 pants and short sleeve tops all day without worrying if the 5 spare layers of clothing I have brought with me will be enough to be keep me warm later in the day.
  • My straw sunhat gradually becomes an essential item of clothing.
  • White limbs are everywhere you look. Some are practically translucent!
  • 50+ women proudly put their cankles on display. (I'll never understand this one.)
  • Barbeques become the most commonly planned meal, even for those of us who are only just barbeque-tolerant.
  • Days no longer end as soon as I arrive home from work. In fact, it's almost like there's still another half a day to go before bedtime. Bonus!
  • Jandals become uniform footwear.
  • Gelato becames my preferred means for ingesting calcium and dairy products. 
  • Strawberries and other summer fruits start appearing in shops and gardens. 
  • Lawnmowers and weedeaters provide the soundtrack during daylight hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • I can get 17 loads of washing done and dried outside in a single day. *
 What are your telltale signs that summer is on the way?

* Actual numbers may vary, but you get the point.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Well, I never

I'm sick at home today after what was a relaxing long weekend. In between napping, I've tried reading my book but a pounding headache has seen me resort to randomly surfing the net and reading blogs from days ago. That's how I found Moata's post about things she has never done.

I got to thinking about things I've never done in my lifetime. Not big life changing, world saving, reckless and radical stuff, or major regrets, but small or quirky things that others might be surprised to learn. For example, I have a friend who has never pumped petrol into her own car. Mind you, she does introduce herself at staff meetings as Princess. I started putting together a list just like  Moata's. (I've even stolen the title.)


Without resorting to anything dodgy, here are a few things I've never done.

Things I've never done but would like to do someday:
  • Build a house. I have the perfect plan in my head and it would be awesome to see it come to life.
  • Own a smart phone. Maybe one day ...
  • See a live rugby test match. I probably should have done that during these past few weeks while the world cup was invading our home turf.
  • See The Nutcracker on stage. I listen to Tchaikovsky's score every Christmas and have seen a few performances on TV, but never live.
Things I've never done and feel indifferent about doing:
  • Eat caviar. Just to say I have.
  • Be in a food fight. Such a waste.
  • Own a hairdryer. Find out why here
  • Purchase individual songs or albums in iTunes (or similar). I prefer to cut a high quality copy of music from CDs instead.
Things I've never done and have no interest in ever doing:
  • Have a manicure or pedicure. Conjures up images of a spoilt French poodle for me.
  • Buy something on credit or hire purchase, have a bank loan (apart from mortgages) or use an overdraft.
  • Jump out of a plane, off a bridge or onto/off any moving target.
  • See the second and third Lord Of The Rings movies or read the books. I sat through the first and that was more than enough for me.
  • Read a trashy Mills & Boon romance - and I don't accept the "how do you know they're bad unless you've read one?" rebuttal, either.
  • Get drunk.
  • Gamble with real money. I'd may as well just throw it away.
  • Smoke a cigarette or take illicit drugs. That often makes me the odd one out in groups.
  • Get a tattoo.
  • Pretend I was sick to get off work. Seriously - I even took annual leave once to have an operation and worked full time during my six week recovery period.
 What's on your "I've never done ..." list?

Friday, 21 October 2011

Things I have learned recently

They say you learn something new every day. That's certainly true in my profession. However, there are times when the things you learn really take you by surprise and at times when you least expect it.

Here are some examples of things I have learned recently and that have had me scratching my head in wonder:
  • It's not dodgy; it's different. Looking at things differently makes something dodgy ok. Apparently.
  • There is a thing called chattiquete, ie etiquette for online chats. After 10+ years in e-learning, this was news to me. If you want to say something, you type in !. If you want to ask a question, it's ? and if you have finished the conversation, it's ///. Well, I'll be!///
  • Once you know that a colleague announced at a workshop that she wasn't wearing any undies that day, it is very hard to take anything she says seriously from then on in. Unfortunately, you can't unring a bell.
  • Griffins Collisions sound good and taste mighty fine, but between you and me I actually prefer the original flavours on their own. There, I've said it.
  • Waking up thinking it's Saturday when it is actually just Tuesday morning is no fun at all. It is even less fun when you do it two weeks in a row.
  • When a grownup says they like Katy Perry, sometimes they're not joking. !
What have you learned recently that has caused you to raise an eyebrow?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Bad hair day

Hair is a funny thing. The state of our follicles, or lack thereof, can be either a person's crowning glory or the bane of their life. Still, everyone seems to have a bad hair day story sure to elicit instant sympathy and knowing nods from anyone who cares to listen.

I always know when it's time for a haircut. Once I get to the stage that all I can do is wear my hair up or tied back, it's time for a tidy up. Actually, I'm pretty low maintenance when it comes to hair. I suppose hair is a bit easier to maintain when it is long and straight, hence there are very few products lurking in my bathroom. I don't even own a hair dryer - and if I did, seriously, who has time to style their hair and fry their brain every day? Sure, I'll drag hair straighteners through my hair every now and again, but can't imagine subjecting myself to this process on a daily basis.

I used to work with someone who could seriously be up to an hour late for work if she couldn't get her long, flowing locks right in the morning. I have friends who fret at the first sign of rain, lest their hair start to curl or (shock! horror!) friz after being invaded by sinister raindrops. Years ago, a friend was lamenting yet another bad hair day when she announced that she thought we'd all be better off without hair at all; she wished people just had heads and left it at that. I notice she never shaved her long hair off like she threatened to ...

It amuses and astounds me in equal parts when I hear people in their 40s/50s/60s whose hair is very obviously dyed talk scathingly about others whose hair might be a different colour to what they expected. Maybe the chemicals invading their scalp over the years has helped them conveniently forget that their hair colour hasn't been natural since the 20th century, or do they simply think that no-one has noticed?

A few months ago, I was waiting near the entrance to The Warehouse and overheard a conversation that a passerby struck up with a woman who happened to be standing nearby. Looking up, I noticed that the woman was quite young and completely bald - arguably an unusual sight but not one that I'd feel the need to comment on. The passerby noticed she was wearing a pink hoodie and assumed this 'poor woman' was suffering from breast cancer and standing there to collect money for a good cause. No, the woman replied; she just has alopecia. Apart from having lost all her hair 27 years ago at the age of 4, she is and always has been perfectly healthy. No, it doesn't cause her any bother and no, it will never grow back. The passerby checked (more than once) that the woman didn't in fact have breast cancer like her sister-in-law had. She insisted that the woman must be so brave to go out without wearing a hat or even a scarf ... "Why?" the woman tried to interject (several times). "It's only hair."

And that says it all, folks. On even the worst bad hair day, it will be alright as long as we remember: "it's only hair".

Remember -
bad hair days
were cool in the 90s

Monday, 10 October 2011

10,000 steps a day

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)
Spring is here and summer is just around the corner. The days are getting longer and warmer. It's time to lose the couch potato status that is synonomous with long winter months. But where to start?

My workplace is taking part in the 10,000 steps a day programme. Teams of four have got together with the intention of walking the equivalent of from Cape Reinga to Bluff (New Zealand's northernmost and southernmost points) during the next six weeks. We plot the number of steps we've walked each day on a map of New Zealand and see how many kilometres it translates to, which is pretty cool even if the conversion rate is somewhat unscientific.

To help move us along, we have all been armed with pedometers, drink bottles, sunblock, chapstick and sticking plasters (are we expected to hurt ourselves just walking??). The streets around work were a good target for games of I spy today as pairs and groups of coworkers could be spotted out pounding the pavements. I'm predicting that the days of this project and the numbers of walkers out walking will progress in inverse proportions. Never mind - the intention is to start people off and get everybody up and about.

So how far is 10,000 steps? Even if you don't manage to get out for a dedicated walk each day, the steps soon add up. I've discovered that a jaunt around the supermarket is about 2000 steps. Walking from home to some of my favourite cafés adds about 1000 steps each way and a quick 10 minute walk around the stream at work clocks up another 1500. Grabbing a coffee from the cafeteria adds a few hundred more steps each way and 10 minutes of dedicated exercise (swimming, cycling, Zumba, sport etc) qualifies for another 1000 steps.

So that's my challenge for the next six weeks: to walk the equivalent of 10,000 steps or more a day. Who's with me?

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Special treat salmon

A while ago, a colleague introduced me to The 4 Ingredient Cookbook. I browsed through the recipes and decided that this book would revolutionise meals in our home. Imagine the creative yet tasty meals I could whip up each night with just four ingredients! A year or so on and I have cooked just one recipe from this book, but it has become a favourite.

This recipe for grilled salmon steaks is incredibly easy to make. Salmon is something of a special treat for us, hence my name for the recipe. The measurements are approximate and can be adjusted according to taste or however for whatever quantity of fish you are cooking. I say grill/bake as it depends on whether I am cooking something else in the oven at the same time - we usually have this with roasted garlic and herb potatoes. I also find the recipe works well with other strong flavoured fish (such as grouper).

Special treat salmon

Ingredients
  • 4 x 2.5 cm thick salmon steaks (or fillets)
  • garlic salt
  • worcestershire sauce
  • 30-50 g melted butter
Method
  1. Place salmon steaks on a baking sheet and sprinkle both sides with garlic salt.
  2. Splash Worcestershire sauce and butter on top of each steak and grill (or bake) for 3-4 minutes, depending on thickness of the salmon.
  3. Remove from grill and turn each steak. Splash Worcestershire and butter on top and grill for 3-4 minutes. Fish is ready when it is slightly flaky (but be careful to not overcook).

Monday, 3 October 2011

Crunchy chocolate slice

I found this recipe for a traditional crunchy chocolate slice in yesterday's Sunday Star-Times. The ingredients are simple but I found that the recipe was missing a vital step or two, so I guessed when to add the cocoa. It is a small mixture so spreads quite thinly when using a standard 20 x 30 cm slice tin but the baking powder means it expands a bit in the oven. It also meant that I needed to double the icing ingredients to those below.

Crunchy chocolate slice

Ingredients
  • 170 g butter, softened
  • 115 g icing sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 cup cornflakes
 Method
  1. Cream together the butter and icing sugar using an electric mixer. Add the flour, baking powder and cocoa and combine.
  2. Beat in the vanilla essence.
  3. Add cornflakes and mix by hand. Press into a greased slice tin (20 x 30 cm).
  4. Bake at 180°C for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool.

Chocolate icing

Ingredients
  • 2 cups icing sugar 
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons butter, softened
  • 2-3 tablespoons boiling water
Method
  1. Beat together the icing sugar, cocoa, butter and boiling water together. Add boiling water until desired consistency.
  2. Spread over cooled slice. Cut into squares when the icing is set and store in an airtight container.
Crunchy chocolate slice

Friday, 30 September 2011

Delete cookies


A smile for your Friday. :-)

Monday, 26 September 2011

Daily deal overload

I used to be quite a fan of daily deal sites. They certainly help deal to my fear and loathing for shopping. There are dozens of them around and more springing up as we speak. Each new site launches with a hiss and a roar, offering great bargains on products or deals for restaurants that I actually use with the sole intention of filling up my inbox each morning. Yes, I know there are sites which syndicate all of New Zealand's daily deals in one place, and you can also follow a whole bunch of them on Twitter. My point is that after the initial fireworks they inevitably settle into a rut of canvas photo blocks, dental checkups and bikini waxes. That's not to mention all the sites that recycle their same deals (or try to repackage them in weekend 'marathons') or offer a 'last chance' for four days in Phuket every day of the week ... enough already!

Today, I unsubscribed from most of my daily deal email subscriptions. A few which I use regularly (and have had great service from) remain, but the rest have gone. Disappeared. Vanished! I notice that one sale site I unsubscribed on Saturday is still sending me notifications; I hope that stops today.

Here's to a zen inbox!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Sarah's Key

A colleague and I were talking about movies recently and she told me the story of Sarah's Key (2010). This adaptation of a French novel follows an American journalist, Julia, as she investigates the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup of 1942 in which a massive Nazi decreed raid of more than 13,000 Jews were arrested and rounded up in the veledrome before being sent off to Auschwitz by train.

A young girl, Sarah, attempts to defy the authorities carrying out the raid by hiding her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment. Promising to return in a few days to retrieve him, Sarah's family are irrevocably torn apart and the next part of the movie shows Sarah's plight to escape her concentration camp and return home to retrieve her brother.

(It's actually quite hard to write about this movie without revealing spoilers.)

Throughout the course of her investigation, Julia uncovers a direct link to her inlaws' family apartment in Paris, something that makes her distinctly uncomfortable.

I found this movie truly moving and woke up this morning still thinking about it. Sarah's Key tells of a lesser known but extraordinarily horrifying part of the Holocaust and shows how human nature will always attempt to triumph over evil. Very highly recommended.

Here is the theatrical trailer for Sarah's Key.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Happy Friday

Some days are great days, just because. Today has been one of them. Nothing has been particularly spectacular, but the sun is shining on yet another lovely spring day and lots of little things have happened to make today and great one.

Here's what makes today a great day for me:
  • Someone randomly coming into our office offering us baked treats - a chocolate box or a sugared doughnut. Chocolate for breakfast? Don't mind if I do!
  • Having my new career (finally) confirmed in writing. Contract: signed, sealed, delivered.
  • Our manager bringing us home made chocolate cake that was left over from a meeting. We polished it off in two sittings. (Mental note: I must get myself invited to meetings that have chocolate cake at them.)
  • Coffee made by a superb barista. How we miss her when she is away.
  • Cheese Scone Friday with a colleague. As we sat down to enjoy our coffee and scones, we also conveniently managed to solve the problems of the world. Isn't the world lucky?
  • Lots of sunshine on a lovely spring day.
  • Our team winning our social petanque match during pool play at lunch time.
  • More chocolate cake for afternoon tea.
  • Feeling like I am actually getting somewhere at work.
  • It's Friday - and it has been all day. The only thing that can top that is Saturday and Sunday. Speaking of which ... it's time to go home and get the weekend started. :-)
Happy Friday, folks! How has it been for you?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Things I love about spring

A few weeks ago, I set up a Pinterest account. It seemed like half the people I follow on Twitter and a big pile of Facebook friends were all jumping on the Pinterest bandwagon so I thought I'd go along for the ride. I imagined myself tagging to my heart's content and creating endless pretty boards of all my favourite things. *sigh*

To be honest, I don't really 'get' Pinterest. I know it's about tagging images you like and keeping them as a kind of online record, but I'm more inclined to think in terms of bigger concepts or websites than images which represent these. Yes, I understand it could be a handy tool if you are planning a wedding or something (which I'm not). Other than that, I'm at a loss. Can anyone enlighten me?

I do, however, have favourite things that I'd love to share, so here's a blog post à la Pinterest style. The theme is Things I love about spring - there is so much to enjoy right now. :-)
daffodils
daisies
lambies
freshly mown lawns
apple blossom
daylight savings and sunsets
ducklings
freesias
cherry blossom
What do you love about spring?

* These images are not mine and I'm not claiming them as my own. Used without permission.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sultana cake

This recipe for standard sultana cake is one that I have been baking for years. It is very simple to make and I just mix it all up in a big pot - no creaming or mixing required. I throw it all into a square silicone pan and notice that it takes less time to cook than it does in metal cake tins but the result is similar. Serve it uniced. This cake is especially delicious when fresh out of the oven - just leave it to cool in the pan for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. It also stores well in an airtight container.

Sultana cake

Ingredients
  • 340 g sultanas
  • 225 g butter
  • 3 eggs
  • almond or vanilla essence
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
Method
  1. Boil sultanas in water for 8 minutes. Drain, then melt in the butter using the heat from the sultanas. Stir well.
  2. Beat eggs in a bowl with a fork. Beat in a few drops of almond or vanilla essence, then add sugar, flour and baking powder.
  3. Add sultanas.
  4. Pour into a greased square cake tin.
  5. Bake 180°C for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and cooked in the middle.
    Sultana cake

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

All-TIME 100 best nonfiction books

I'm a self-confessed bibliophile, even if I have substantially less time to read for pleasure these days. I occasionally attack some of my ever-growing TBR list and can't pass a library display without grabbing at least one book, which will most likely end up unread and due back before I've even had a chance to open it. In my ideal reading world (and at my reading prime), I would alternate each novel with a nonfiction title, usually a biography of some sort. However, it's been a while since I've managed anything even remotely like that.

The All-TIME 100 best nonfiction books list according to Time Magazine started doing the rounds today. The list covers a range of nonfiction titles published in various genre since 1923, the year that Time began. Time also has lists of the top 100 fiction books, movies and other categories.

I perused the nonfiction book list, going further and further into each section and searching for something I'd read. I'm surprised (and slightly ashamed) to note that I have actually only read one complete book from this list, On Writing by Stephen King, and started (but not completed) another one several times, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I nodded my head at a few more, but this list largely remains uncharted territory for me.

I now have a substantial TBR nonfiction list to start chipping away at. :-D

How about you? Have you read any books from this list? Do you have any recommendations? Are there any nonfiction books you'd add (or subtract) from this list?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Grease - the singalong version

I think I might have discovered the ultimate girls' night out: Grease - the singalong version. I'd seen this event advertised and lamented the fact that my best friend, another huge Grease (1978) fan, lives in Auckland. I couldn't think of anyone else I'd ask to go with me (you can imagine what my sweetie's response would have been) so let it pass. Yesterday, I was chatting with a friend at work when she said, "I've got something really random to ask you, and don't take this the wrong way, but would you be interested in going to the singalong version of Grease at the Embassy tonight?" She saw my face light up and was relieved to realise she'd asked exactly the right person.

My friend had no clue what a die hard Grease fan I actually am. Others think they are, too, but they didn't measure up last night; out of a theatre full of wannabe Sandys and pink wigs, very few seemed to know the script, the songs playing on the jukebox, the dance moves ... am I being too fanatical? Perhaps, but that's what happens when you've watched your favourite movie several hundred times since you were 8. I didn't understand most of what was they were saying or doing for several years, even though I could recite almost every line, but loved every minute of it. Ahh, the age of innocence.

After about 15 minutes, I realised that I'd never actually seen Grease on the big screen, and here I was watching a karaoke version with hundreds of people swigging Pink Lady slushies (strawberry syrup, rum and lime) and T-Bird cocktails from plastic Martini glasses. The audience cheered loudly as each character appeared on screen for the first time and ohhed when they saw Kenickie, as Jeff Conaway died in May. They whooped and whistled every time Danny and Sandy kissed and booed disapprovingly when Cha Cha DiGregorio ransacked Danny to take out the dance off trophy at the prom.

One of my favourite songs from the movie is today's tune spinning on Café Chick's Jukebox - check out (and sing) the awesome Summer Nights.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Random Acts of Kindness Day 2011

It's 1 September, which means that it's the first day of spring! Daffodils, lambies, and apple blossom are our rewards for surviving winter and promise us that sunshine and warmer weather is on the way. We'll have baby duckies visiting us at work within the next few months and Tulip Sunday is just around the corner. *contented sigh*


It is also Random Acts of Kindness Day here in New Zealand, which I was reminded of via Twitter this morning. Two years ago, I popped some baking into a few letter boxes. (I don't know what I was up to this time last year - somehow the day just passed me by.)

This morning, as I went to buy my regular coffee, I paid for another and asked for my barista to not tell the lucky recipient who the gift was from but to just give them this "You've been RAKed" card. "Ah, it's Random Acts of Kindness Day!" she said. "I wondered if we'd get any of these."

It was a quiet morning in the cafeteria but I hung around discretely for a few minutes to see the reaction of the next person (I couldn't help myself). A very good friend walked in ... I watched ... and she only ordered food - sooooo close! I have no idea if anyone will 'pass it on' but my goal of randomly brightening someone else's day has hopefully been achieved. I'm sure the barista will fill me in tomorrow on where my RAK ended up.

Did you RAK someone (or were you RAKed yourself)?

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Musical flash mobs

I love the delight that a highly orchestrated music or dance flash mob imposes upon an unsuspecting audience. Flash mobs are all the rage at the moment. This clip of Do Re Mi from The Sound of Music at Antwerp Station in Belgium looks likes so much fun. I'd have been right in the middle of it, that's for sure! Watch it on full screen for best results.


I’d love to try organising something similar to this ukulele flash mob and I hear there are plans for a dance flash mob in Wellington sometime in October (although you didn’t hear it from me). I also recall hearing about a Christmas carol flash mob at a mall in Christchurch last year but haven't yet managed to confirm whether it actually happened or was simply a figment of my overactive musical imagination.

Flash mobs aside, there is something about music and dance that has the power to touch everyone in a crowd, friends and strangers, even for just a brief moment in time. I was reminded of this on my ski trip this week. At the end of a tiring day on the slopes, there were probably 50 or so people returning ski gear they had hired. Boots were being unlatched, skis stacked and aching feet and legs being relieved of their loads. The radio was playing and suddenly a few dozen people join in with the chorus to Daniel Boone’s Beautiful Sunday. I looked up; the staff were also singing along with everyone around me. The grins on people’s faces was magic and I had that song in my head all the way back home.


Years ago, after a Christmas gig at a flash hotel in town, my band packed up the last of our gear and headed to a less than classy joint for a 3 am snack: McDonald’s in Manners Mall. I realised that now it was after midnight, it was our bass player, Aaron’s, birthday. Aaron’s a quiet, shy guy. Tim, our singer, was the opposite. “Oh, it’s your birthday!” Tim announced and started singing the first line of 16 Candles by The Crests. We’d created a birthday flash mob at McDonald's at 3 am! Here’s how it went:
Tim [singing]: Happy birthday …
A rather large woman with a falsetto voice à la operatic style [singing]: Happy birthday baby, oh …
Some random guy from over the window [singing]: I love you so
And then, the clincher … a guy with a deep voice [crooning]: Ooh …
It was AMAZING! Aaron turned the deepest shade of red I’d ever seen on a human being, Tim was in his element, and the rest of McDonald’s looked around in a drunken, confused delight.

Priceless.



Have you ever come across musical moments like these, or been lucky enough to experience an actual flash mobs in the flesh?

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Holiday mode

We are away on a much-anticipated holiday this week. A whole week off to relax, recharge our batteries, breathe in some mountain air, drink lots of coffee, read a few books and spend some quality time together. Oh, and ski. (That’s more for my sweetie; I gave it a go and have the bruises to prove it, but that makes for another blog post.)

I can’t help but observe how our behaviour changes as we leave the vicinity of home and take up temporary residence elsewhere.

Random holiday musings:
  • Our usual, and comfortable, state of disorganisation evolves into military precision when planning supplies. For example, x number of days away equals x + 1 pairs of socks or underwear and our rations of drinks and snacks is calculated to ensure we could supply a small village should a disaster occur.
  • If travelling by car, we’ll practically pack everything except the kitchen sink but still forget ‘essentials’ such as spare keys and snow chains, remembering them just as we are heading out of town but too far away to bother going back home to get them.
  • Watching or reading the news might as well be considered researching a different planet, so little relevance do issues of the day have on our temporary state of being.
  • A week without a telephone and limited mobile reception is absolute bliss. A week without internet, however, is a different story.
  • Time and distance become relaxingly fuzzy. We talk about places being ‘just up the road’ from where we’re staying, when really Turoa is 30 mins away, it’s 45 mins to Whakapapa and the hot pools at Tokaanu are at least an hour’s drive away.
  • We refer to our accommodation as a lodge simply because it’s close to where skiing happens, even though it is just an old boarding house with no insulation, fridge, microwave, or tv and you can see your breath in the hallway as a result of the draught coming up through the floorboards.
  • The ratio of books in my bag (or downloaded onto my iPod touch) vs books actually read is roughly 1:3.
  • Every cat’s meow sounds like the kitten we left at home in the capable hands of a flatmate.
  • Whereas I would never venture further than the supermarket in my baggy track pants and non-matching polar fleece (and even then only in an emergency), this becomes my uniform when holidaying in a cold climate.
  • No matter how cold it is or how many layers I am wrapped up in, I will always see one of the locals walking around in shorts.
  • While we usually need to haul ourselves out of bed for work each morning, and sleep ins are craved and duly savoured, our body clocks can resemble that of birds while on holiday. We’ll be up early to catch the first lifts on the mountain then retreat to the cosiness of home or bed as soon as the sun goes down.
  • Even though it takes just 5-10 minutes (3 songs on my iPod) to walk around the boarded up ghost town we’re staying in, I’ll still go out for a walk to ‘have a look around’.
  • Whereas I may resent the intrusion of study into my precious hours off at night or during the weekend, I will embrace a day of solitude sans distractions to work on an assignment and complete a course during my ‘time off’. Go figure.
  • A fan heater becomes your most essential accessory.
  • A caffettiera and fresh beans are my best protection against small town coffee.
  • It is impossible to pack too many plastic bags.
  • There’s no place (or shower) like home.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

#DailyBitch digest

We're off to the snow for a week. I guess it's ironic going to the snow after it came to us in such spectacular fashion earlier this week, but we've been looking forward to going away for quite a while now. We've packed up the car with far more stuff than we'll need but are bound to have forgotten some essentials. It will be good to have a change of scenery, time to catch up on some reading, drink lots of coffee (I've stocked up on fresh coffee beans) and catch up with a couple of friends during the week. Oh, and take some (more) skiing lessons. *gulp*

I don't have a fancy/smart phone that can get online so can't guarantee internet access during the week. How will I cope with a week offline? Well, I've managed it before (kind of - just) but hope to be able to check things on my laptop or iPod touch occasionally ... hopefully.

Just in case I can't get online every day, I'm going to post a digest of my #DailyBitch tweets in advance, because I know the Twitterverse will be hanging out for them each day. ;-) Really.

#DailyBitch digest
  • Saturday 20 August: "I want a man who is rich, sensitive and neutered." #DailyBitch
  • Monday 22 August: "I've stopped blaming my parents and started blaming my children." #DailyBitch
  • Tuesday 23 August: "Life is so much less stressful if you ignore." #DailyBitch
  • Wednesday 24 August: "I never hate myself in the morning; I sleep past noon." #DailyBitch
  • Thursday 25 August: "Nice outfit, girl. Skank convention in town?" #DailyBitch
  • Friday 26 August: "Some of my deepest insights are based on a lifetime of not giving a crap." #DailyBitch
  • Saturday 27 August: "The more men change, the less their underwear stinks." #DailyBitch
See you on the other side!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Pinterest

Goodness knows I don't need another online time waster. I chew away at enough spare time maintaining three Twitter accounts, 2.5 blogs, Facebook, Google+ (ok, not completely into this one), delicious and Diigo online bookmarking, various online forums and numerous other web 2.0 goodies. That's in addition to far too many emails from 1 day deal sites and entering competitions from anywhere that entices the competition junkie in me. Oh, and I teach online, too.

So why, oh why, am I intrigued by Pinterest when apps like my Flickr account bit the dust barely after I got them off the ground? Is it because I can collect up pretty things to look at when I need a boost? Or because it's going to fulfill a fundamental need in my life? (I don't expect it will.) I suspect that, like other personalised web 2.0 tools, it's because it's all about me - and why wouldn't I want to see all of my favourite things all in one place? (Actually, Facebook and Google+ pretty much do the same ... oh, and Flickr, or maybe even my blog? Hmmm.)

If you want to follow my Pinterest boards, or think I should check out yours for inspiration, come on over or grab a cup of coffee and leave me a note pointing me in the right direction. I'm still getting the hang of things but am sure that I'll quickly become addicted. I suspect my Pinterest boards will grow and evolve exponentially in the next few weeks before I eventually cull everything and go back to basics, just like I did with Facebook.

As I get going, does anyone have any words from the wise re Pinterest?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

On being prepared

OK, so last night turned out to be the acid test and we failed it abysmally. My sweetie thinks we did just fine and that I'm just being grumpy and negative; I beg to differ. Let me explain ...

I have been really enjoying the cold snap we've been experiencing these past two days, mostly because it is uncharacteristic but also because I know it is short lived and we're safe, warm and dry at home. I drove home from work through hail and squealed with delight at the white state around me, which was punctuated by some pretty impressive thunder. Cool!

The power was off when I got home but there was enough fading light left in the day to see things. The power came back on shortly afterwards and normality resumed. Apparently the outage lasted around 30 minutes. We warmed up by the heater (which is gas powered) and put off doing the supermarket shopping in the hail.

The streets were literally white as we drove to the supermarket; believe me, this just doesn't happen when you live so close to the sea. Thankfully, the weather conditions left the supermarket relatively empty during what is traditionally a very busy time of the day. All good. We unpacked our groceries and put dinner in the oven.

The power surged a few times as we watched the weather forecast, and we thought about reconnecting the UPS to protect our electronics, then it cut complete. The gas heater was still going strong and between us we managed to get some light from the torches on our keyrings and mobile phones. One good torch was sitting in pieces on the coffee table, waiting for fresh batteries. I'm a candle lover and I knew I had a bag of tea lights in the bedroom, but we weren't sure where a lighter was and had few containers to sit them on once lit. Another torch was sitting by the mirror and also waiting for new batteries. Dinner had stopped cooking. The kitten thought it was time to play ...

After everything that had been said about being prepared for an emergency, and despite my best intentions, I still hadn't got around to preparing an emergency kit at home. There had been a recent drive at work to assemble personal survival bags, and I'd got mine started by adding a few basic items, but only got as far as bringing the list of what we'd need home.

We soon found candles and a lighter and thankfully the gas heater was going strong, but a one hour power cut on a cold, stormy night left us twiddling our thumbs in the dark and running on battery power. (I drafted this blog post on my iPod touch.) It was a timely wakeup call that things wouldn't be so cosy after a disaster, when we'd likely be without any facilities like power, water, gas or sewerage.

Mark my words, I am going to sort out our emergency kit THIS WEEK and I urge you to do the same. (Yes, this is the pot calling the kettle black.) We're lucky to have been safe, warm and out of any danger; this won't be the case if disaster strikes. I'm probably more annoyed with myself for not being prepared than worried about how things could have been. Either way, the time to sort things is NOW.

Emergency survival kit

Here's what you need (from Get Thru):
  • torch with spare batteries or a self-charging torch
  • radio with spare batteries (and know which radio station/s to tune into)
  • wind and waterproof clothing, sun hats and strong outdoor shoes
  • first aid kit and essential medicines
  • blankets or sleeping bags
  • pet supplies
  • toilet paper and large rubbish bags for your emergency toilet
  • face and dust masks
Check all batteries every three months. Battery powered lighting is the safest and easiest. Do not use candles as they can tip over in earthquake aftershocks or in a gust of wind. Do not use kerosene lamps, which require a great deal of ventilation and are not designed for indoor use.

Food and water for at least three days:
  • non-perishable food (canned or dried food)
  • food, formula and drinks for babies and small children
  • water for drinking - at least 3 litres per person, per day
  • water for washing and cooking
  • a primus or gas barbeque to cook on
  • a can opener
Check and replace food and water every twelve months. Consider stocking a two-week supply of food and water for prolonged emergencies such as a pandemic or earthquake.

Monday, 15 August 2011

That time it snowed in Wellington

Yesterday, 14 August, shall forever be referred to as That Time it Snowed in Wellington. There's even a Facebook page set up to commemorate the event. Living half a block from the beach, I could see snow flurries in amongst the falling rain but nothing that could settle on the ground so I didn't feel qualified to join it. Today, however, is a different story. It actually snowed at work - and not just up in the hills! I might join that group after all. ;-)

Let me explain. Wellington has its hills but, being nestled around a harbour, snow is about a once in a decade occurrence - and even then we're just talking about light flurries and a chill in the air. It is extremely rare for us to see this icon on the weather report and snow days are simply unheard of. Not today, though. We have real snow today.

I was having a serious meeting with an external delegate this morning discussing exciting things like financial obligations, contracts and senior management sign off when suddenly my guest looked past me out the window and said, "is that pollen falling or is it snowing?" We jumped up to check out the icy bits falling, our faces a picture of glee. Snow - real snow! Later, back in my office, we noticed the snow flakes getting heavier and starting to settle. The three of us found another window with a better view and were pressed up against it just like kids. True, we weren't exactly making snow angels on our cars, but the excitement of snow practically at sea level is enough to bring out the inner six year old in all of us.

The snow got heavier this afternoon and staff members were advised to leave early and drive safely if they thought there was any risk involved in leaving work later in the day. Daycare centres were closed and parents were called to pick up their children so everyone could get home safely. It's all terribly exciting for those of us used to life at sea level.

A Russian colleague is simply laughing at us carrying on like a bunch of over-hyped children; she maintains that what we are experiencing barely resembles snow at all and that it quickly becomes a nuisance rather than a novelty when you experience it every day for several years. Spoil sport.

Are you snowed in? Or even close to it? (Go on, indulge us. We're loving it!)

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Chocolate festival 2011

I have long been a believer that chocolate could quite possibly be the world's most perfect food. It seems I am not alone in my thinking, as this weekend the InterContintal was hosting the New Zealand Chocolate Festival, a Wellington on a Plate festival event. Chocolate heaven!

We had tickets to this morning's session. When it is too early to start eating chocolate? Never, it turns out; a large crowd of mostly women joined me in chocolate for breakfast. We tasted our way through a multitude of samples by chocolatiers from all around the country. Chili and sea salt based chocolates seemed to be flavour of the month, although more unusual varieties were also available.

Shoc Chocolates proudly had the 'weirdest' flavours (they said it themselves!), offering curry and pappadam white chocolate, chilli and lime, pink peppercorn and lemongrass chocolate - a bit much for me but others seemed keen. She's Chocolat bus from Christchurch looks like it would be an interesting ride. Other highlights for us came from Bull Rush Chocolate; we liked their 72% dark and dark chocolate hokey pokey truffles. Bohemian were offering full sized samples (yay!) and the truffles we liked were dark (hard) nougat, Cointreau ganache, milk vanilla cream and dark praline cream. De Spa also had a very delicious hazelnut cream truffle. The most unusual 'find' for us today was the discovery of chocolate stout from Renaissance Brewing Company.

We learned stuff about chocolate, too. I knew that chocolate is best eaten fresh and De Spa confirmed this by saying their filled chocolates should be eaten within two months, or three months if they contain alcohol, as the filling seeps into the chocolate and actually dries it out from the inside. Just as you wouldn't eat stale bread, you also shouldn't eat stale chocolate, so check your pantry and if there's chocolate hiding there, deal to it quickly!

We were then taught how to use all our senses to savour chocolate during a tasting session held by Swiss chocolatier Rene Fellmann. This man certainly knows his stuff and we learned about the best types of couverture chocolate. Our sampling cups contained a dark sweet chocolate (yum!), a stronger dark, a single origin bitter dark from Ghana, a pleasant white, and 36% milk chocolate with a hint of caramel. *drool*

Overall, it was a great day for sampling and buying chocolate. Personally, I would have enjoyed learning more about how chocolate was made and seeing more of it being moulded. The demonstration sessions had queues forming outside the room at least 20 minutes beforehand and could only seat 50 people so they could probably have done with a bigger room (or more frequent sessions). The most 'popular' stalls were those with friendly staff who interacted with the public; we wondered why some had nobody visiting them and quickly realised it was because the person behind the table was standing there silently guarding their samples - a missed opportunity, in our view.

Here are some photos to make you drool:

Chocolate towers
Le Cordon Bleu cooking school cupcakes -
what a neat promotional idea!
marshmallows provided