Friday, 25 February 2011

Charity begins at home

It has been a truly devastating week for New Zealand in the wake of Tuesday's devastating earthquake in Christchurch. We are safe and well in Wellington, which is strangely ironic as we have long held the uncontested title of Earthquake Capital and have been expecting 'the big one' for at least as long as I have been alive. Going about our everyday business while waiting for word from friends, family and colleagues in the midst of this tragedy just 300 km away is strangely surreal. People are asking themselves: what can I do to help?

There are various organisations collecting cash donations or accepting gifts on behalf of the public for distribution to aid and rescue centres. (Just beware of the scams floating around!) One event Wellingtonions can get involved in is The Great Sunday Bake Off, where good old-fashioned baking (along with canned food and toys) can be dropped off at central city locations on Monday morning for delivery later that day. There have been suggestions that the bake off instead becomes a big bake sale, as cash donations are the best way to ensure a co-ordinated approach from charities. I see the logic in that so will wait for the official word from bake off organisers before going ahead.

Our workplace had already planned an afternoon tea on Tuesday 1 March to celebrate Purple Cake Day. A few of us bakers are lined up to provide yummy treats for gold coin (or more) donations to support this very worthy cause which is raising money to support children in need in the wake of last year's devastating earthquake in Haiti. However, in light of this week's events, we have been thinking more and more that charity begins at home. It's sometimes hard to know who to support when there are so many in need. I think Mother Teresa said it beautifully:
"Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest to you."
Therefore, we have decided to make a nominal donation to Kenbe La Foundation for Purple Cake Day on Tuesday with the rest of our monies raised donated to New Zealand Red Cross. Charity does, indeed, begin at home.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A matter of perspective

It's easy to complain that we've had a bad day or let off steam about something irritating or annoying. Sure, I was late for work today because my kitten decided to keep playing hide and seek long after I'd stopped. The shine of what was my dream job has now dulled to a dim glow that I sometimes have trouble locating at all. I'm carrying the brunt of several vacant roles and hitting brick walls at every turn. Of course, there are the everyday stresses that everyone experiences. However, I'm healthy, safe, have a home to live in, a wonderful partner, family and friends, food to eat, money in the bank, and I'm happy. After today's devastating earthquake in Christchurch, and following on from the earthquake on 4 September 2010, there will be tens of thousands living the Canterbury region who might not be able to say the same.

Over the summer break, we caught up on watching the BBC documentary series Earth: The Power of the Planet. In each episode, geologist Dr Iain Stewart explains the effects and importance of a specific force of nature, such as wind, ocean currents or volcanism. He also looks at the various ways it shapes the planet itself and influences life on Earth, often in conjunction with other natural forces. Apart from Stewart's Scottish accent making everything sound even more convincing (and appealing), what I love about astronomy and geology is the sense of awe that comes from comparing our individual lives with the magnitude of the earth and space; we are merely blips on the horizon, if we register at all. The universe will keep going well after we're gone, even taking into account its changing form. In concluding the series, Stewart said something along the lines of, 'no matter what happens, the earth will survive - it's people that won't'. That really puts things into perspective.

To everybody who safe and well, don't let a day go by without realising how precious life is. Appreciate life's simple pleasures as well as big treats. Blow bubbles in the sun and play the ukulele. Help others but also take time out to watch the clouds go by. Dance, sing and watch the sun set. Life is all too short and the future is promised to no-one. Oh, and make sure you have an adequate earthquake emergency kit at home and work - that will be this weekend's job to do.

Kia kaha, Christchurch.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Mojo high tea

Although I am a big fan of coffee and dislike tea immensely, I hold a fascination with the concept that has become known as high tea. There is something about tiny portions of tasty food served so elegantly that appeals to the baker in me. A few months ago, I joined the hordes buying Grab One vouchers for high tea for two at Mojo - all the trappings of high tea served with real coffee! It took several weeks for a booking to become available and yesterday afternoon was our lucky day.

After perusing the tea menu, we ordered coffee anyway. Our food came out on a three-tier stand.
Mojo high tea
The food on offer today was average; nothing in particular stood out. We started at the bottom and worked our way up the tiers. The club sandwiches had some tasty fillings but the bread was hard - probably sitting out on the counter for too long. We enjoyed the risotto balls and the cherry tomato in a flaky pastry cup. Dry scones with jam and cream and then some spicy rhubarb mini muffins followed. The cherry and pistachio nougat was a great way to finish, along with the milk and dark chocolate truffle. Definitely an afternoon tea for the girls!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


You're probably tired of hearing about how I love winning stuff, but it's true; I never tire of the thrill of being told, "congratulations, you have won ...". My latest prize was a double pass to the preview of James Cameron's latest 3D movie, Sanctum. Yay!

OK, so the reviews on IMDb aren't great. Never mind - it's still free!

Just as well. Sadly, Sanctum was pretty lame. It was even as bad as the reviews said. I foolishly set myself up to watch the movie the same way I saw Avatar: switch my brain off and enjoy the special effects. Unfortunately, there were few and I'm not even sure why parts of this movie were in 3D - it certainly wasn't necessary. The script was incredibly clichéd and the Americanisms delivered by overacting Australians just didn't work. For a while, we thought it might not be so bad after all, then it all went from cliché to corny. The high body count didn't do much to redeem the film; we just never got to know or develop enough empathy for the characters.

Still not convinced? Well, at least wait until it comes out on DVD - don't bother seeing it at the theatre. Here's the trailer:

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Valentine's Day at the zoo

It's been a long time since I've visited a zoo. I went a few times back 2000, one of them being while I was in San Diego. Naturally, a visit to San Diego Zoo was on the agenda. I had been as a teenager and was keen to go again and see what was new, having heard much about their world renown breeding programme. Actually, I was really disappointed. Most of the enclosures were tiny and unstimulating. Things may well be different now but I was certainly surprised at the time. Wild Animal Park, on the other hand, was fantastic. Huge open spaces and authentically recreated habitats (as well as a zoo can manage to do this). I see it has undergone a name change but hope the intent of the original breeding and education programmes are still the foundation for this amazing place.

As few months later, as a teacher, I took a class of 7-8 year olds to Wellington Zoo as part of a school trip. We had 120 young children with us and I was determined to not 'lose' one girl who had a habit of disappearing on every school trip she had been on since she started school three years earlier. There was no way she'd be able to escape me - she would be in the group of children I was supervising and permanently glued to my hand; I would be the first teacher to return to school having not lost Carmen. I did quite well for the first hour or so. We wandered around to the back of the zoo and went up to the giraffe enclosure, where one of my girls got to feed a giraffe by hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a red coat way over by the tigers on the other side of the enclosure. Carmen. Yes, I'd 'lost' her after all. Luckily, I managed to retrieve her quickly before too many others noticed. Her excuse for disappearing? "I wanted to see the tigers." Indeed.

Last week, we won a competition to spend Valentine's Night at the zoo. Perfect timing to help me finish another 101 in 1001 activity, #38 - Go to the zoo and a really unique way to celebrate Valentine's Day! Yesterday brought drizzle and humidity, leaving a cool, overcast evening but I was determined we'd still go. We grabbed jackets, walking shoes and a picnic dinner.

Some of the animals had gone to bed early so we didn't get to see any tigers, lions, meerkats or chimpanzees, but we met lots of other lovely critters along the way and got to feed the giraffes. Here are just a few of the folk we met on a special Valentine's night at the zoo.

A pelican gobbles down some fish for dinner
A noisy lemur makes his presence known from afar
Mayalsian sun bear entertains the crowd
Giraffes feeding in their 'bedroom'
The youngest giraffe pops up for something to eat
Baboon - alpha male
This little blue penguin settles in for the night

Monday, 14 February 2011

Stylish blogger award

The awesome Sandra at Kiwi Cakes has nominated me for the Stylish blogger award. Aw, shucks!

Naturally, the glory of being a nominated stylish blogger comes with a set of responsibilities. I started writing this post a couple of days ago and have finally managed to finish the 'tasks' involved - well, there are still a few bloggers to notify. Here's what I had to do:
  1. Thank and link back to the person who awarded you this award.
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Award 15 recently discovered great bloggers.
  4. Contact these bloggers and tell them about the award.

Thank you

Thank you Sandra from Kiwi Cakes - I really appreciate the award. Here's a link to the Kiwi Cakes blog. :-D

Seven things about me

These are scattered all around my blog (I did something similar a couple of years ago, so I'll see if I can think of some different things).
  1. Baking is my preferred mode of procrastination. If I have a deadline looming, you can guarantee there will be yummy things in the house. I also love having baking binges, where I will attempt to bake several new recipes within an unrealistic time frame and get frustrated when they don't all magically work out perfectly.
  2. Last year, I indulged my addiction of all things ukulele. It continues in 2011.
  3. I have an ever-growing TBR list of books I want to read. For every title I finish, I have no doubt added another three to the list. I find it hard to walk into libraries and not leave with an unrealistic stash of books under my arm. Thankfully, I'm not a 'book buyer' so I'm safe to let loose in bookshops.
  4. My ongoing affair with cupcakes continues. I have baked lemon cupcakes to decorate for my nephew's birthday party tomorrow night. I love planning what to bake next and how to decorate my creations.
  5. I am not a cat person but our little fur baby is adorable beyond belief! In less than three short weeks she has got her human mummy and daddy firmly wrapped around her elegant white-gloved paws.
  6. I love winning stuff - I am a true competition junkie. I'll enter anything (with free entry) and am pretty good at picking up prizes. In the last few weeks, I have won a book, kahlua-filled chocolates, movie tickets and a night at the zoo.
  7. I hate shopping, especially for clothes, shoes and stuff I really need. I have a mortal fear of gift vouchers. However, I'm surprisingly good at buying baking supplies. A couple of weeks ago, I went out to get shoes and came home with a cupcake stand and a fruit bowl. Go figure.

Awarding 15 recently discovered bloggers

I have gone through my RSS feeds and, although I've been following some of these blogs for a long time, I thought they each merited an award.
  1. The Well Read Kitty. If you're a book fan, this blog is for you. I have furnished much of my TBR list with recommendations by Kelly.
  2. Cupcakes Take The Cake. Endless ideas and inspiration for decorating cupcakes - an opportunity to dream (and drool) several times a day.
  3. The Culinary Explorations of Mrs Cake. Don't read this blog on an empty stomach - you'll be hungry before you finish the first post. Mrs Cake shares recipes, restaurant reviews, cooking tips and a multitude of culinary treats. I have learned so much from her!
  4. Reaching For Pink. Donna is on a life journey and is bringing us all along for the ride. Blatantly honest, warm and thoughtful, Donna is someone I really admire.
  5. A Little On The Side. Kelle's photography constantly wows me. Her progress on her 101 in 1001 list also keeps me in check with my own 101 project, due to wrap up in a few weeks.
  6. Gusty Gourmey - Wellington Food Life. Millie hunts out and reports back on some of the best food haunts in Wellington - lots of great tips if you're a local.
  7. Reasons To Smile. Alli has also recently started a 101 in 1001 project. I like the title of her blog; sometimes we need reminding that we have more reasons to smile than we realise!
  8. Apparently Jessy. Jessy is a really funky chick with an eye for all things creative and chic. She also shares some pretty yummy recipes.
  9. Wellington Road. Reflections of an expat transplanted to just north of Wellington. Painfully honest at times, frequently tongue in cheek and always with a dry wit that only Juli can manage to pull off.
  10. 40s - Reasons to Live, Love and Laugh Out Loud. I love reading this blog. La Tonya tells stories about her life and family that will have you in stitches with laughing out loud.
  11. Kiwi Cakes. I have learned so much about baking and cake decorating from this blog and made a big list of all the goodies I'd like to buy.
  12. PostSecret. I don't know how I'm going to let the author of this blog know that he's won a Stylish blogger award, or that he'll even be interested, but I really look forward to the postcard secrets revealed each Sunday.
  13. Seeds of the Heart. Life with two young children has to be challenging at the best of the times, let alone when you're a creative superwoman like Sab. I enjoy reading about what she gets up to and confess to having stolen a few of her craft ideas to try myself.
  14. 1001 Book Reviews. Not that I need any excuses to read more books ... I am following this  collaborative book review blog with interest. I have only read a few books on the list but am also looking forward to reading reviews for those books and seeing if we share the same views.
  15. Wellington Daily Photo. Scenes from in and around Wellington - great for locals and expats alike.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Liu Bolin

A colleague sent me a link to works by Chinese artist Liu Bolin, the real life invisible man. Liu spends up to ten hours composing each photo, camouflaging himself in the scene so well that often passersby don't even know he's there until he moves - kind of a Where's Wally? for the art world.

You probably won't notice much from the thumbnails so click on a picture to see the full effect. View the gallery here. Very clever!

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Return Journey - Maeve Binchy

The Return Journey is a collection of short stories by Irish author Maeve Binchy. Each story brings us a tale of travel and an insight into characters and scenarios in true Binchy style. There's the business trip in the company of a mistress that doesn't go as planned, a case of swapped luggage, an affair between friends, and a charming house sitter who changes life at home in unthinkable ways. As always, the tales are both heartwarming and heart wrenching; the reader can't help but have a sense of empathy for the characters and their situations. A most enjoyable read and a light escape.

My reading of fiction has taken a dramatic dive in recent months for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my job requires a fair amount of reading and research, which is enjoyable, but leaves little time or concentration for reading for pleasure. Also, we are lucky enough to have access to a great library at work, but all the titles are non-fiction - a good way to dive into biographies and other topics of interest but again leaving less room for fiction. I try to alternate between reading fiction and non-fiction (usually biographies and memoirs) books but, admittedly, am usually reading several titles simultaneously so this doesn't always work out so cleanly. However, I'm determined to get back into enjoying more fiction in 2011 and attacking my ever-growing TBR list.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Sam Cooke earworm

I frequently suffer from earworms. I say "suffer" because they are usually not songs I would choose to have stuck in my head on high repeat. However, these past few days I have had an earworm of the most pleasant kind. On several occasions, I have had a Sam Cooke song doing the rounds - and I love it!

We practised Wonderful World in ukulele orchestra today - the ultimate party song, along with Cupid. One of our group said that she had a huge crush on Sam Cooke. In fact, at 16 she announced that she was going to marry him because he had such a beautiful voice, to which her father informed her that he had been shot many years before she was born. Ow, how to burst a girl's bubble!

One of the guys mentioned that he only knew the Art Garfunkel version of Wonderful World. I quickly googled it and found it to be pretty bland compared to the original. Maybe that was the James Taylor influence? Anyway, here is an indulgent selection of Sam Cooke's music for you to enjoy on a sunny afternoon. I am now playing all the Sam Cooke music I have on my iPod. It has certainly put a smile on my face.