Friday, January 28, 2011

Pass it on

I love it when books seem to take on a momentum of their own; passing from reader to reader.  What may have begun as an act of kindness or friendship, or even ambivalence, becomes a social obligation.  Reciprocity.  Read it (or not) and pass it on.

Nicola Barker's novel Wide Open is a bit of a hot potato.  I suspect it has passed through some readers' hands more quickly than others.  My friend for one.  It sat on her kitchen table for 16 hours before making its way into my bag at her insistence. Categorically not for her.

My friend's friend, a visitor over New Year, had been given Wide Open as a summer read by yet another friend.  She loved it - as much as you can love a book about a group of misfit island dwellers with dominant themes of pornography and paedophilia, underscored with violence. (Isn't it always?)

These are not my preferred themes.  I can get strident and stroppy and down-right sanctimonious about porn alone.

But there is something masterful and compelling about Nicola Barker's characters and their interplay that draws you near.  She is not gratuitous, nor linear.  The damage is not delivered head on, but hinted at through the many weird and wonderful coping mechanisms various characters contrive.

I'm only half-way through but her originality is startling.  She provides a sometimes unnerving and, at other times, compassionate and humorous window on society's misfits.  Every one is but a link in a maladapted chain.

Except the outsiders; the seemingly normal inhabitants of the outside world, whose interactions with Barker's island misfits leave you in no doubt that we are all just one episode away from losing it.   Vicious like snarling dogs, the outsiders reflect society's intolerance of and prejudices about anything beyond the bell curve.

I can't say I particularly like the characters and I certainly don't identify with them. But I am surprisingly empathetic.

And Nicola Barker can write.  Her prose is quite mesmerising and unlike anything I've read before.  She churns them out too; eleven novels in 17 years, and two collections of short stories.

Despite her significant critical acclaim and literary awards, she told one interviewer she didn't have much of a fan base vis a vis letters and correspondence, because her readers probably think she's a 'maniac'.

Of course, it does raise the thorny issue of who I should offer it to next. (I can hear echoes of elder daughter's perplexed indignation upon having been invited to a boy's party at Laserstrike last year.  "Why on earth did he think I would like that?")

Because, if Barker is true to form, there will be no happy ending here, no redemption.  It gave my friend the perfect out.  "I like happy books."

Perhaps I should pass it on to Mr T.  He's currently reading the Stieg Larsson trilogy, and happy definitely doesn't come into it.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Three bowls and a beater

Firstly, this is not me, or my beautiful life.  This is Annabel Langbein, The Free Range Cook, and my portal to the kitchen. 

Photo: TVNZ
The Free Range Cook, Episode 2: Getting ready for dinner

Annabel gives you all those little tips and facts that other foodie authors tend to assume is prior knowledge.  I am a culinary blank slate.  As I have repeatedly told Mr T, assume nothing. 

She is to Gordon Ramsey as hot is to cold.  Her favourite thing is "getting people into the kitchen with fun, easy to prepare recipes that won't stress them out".

I thought I'd put that to the test today by inviting younger and elder daughters (aged 5 and 6), to make ice-cream while the boy-child slept the afternoon away.

It did occur to me that I was being ambitious.  I've never made ice-cream before, the girls are fiercely competitive about 'turns', and frankly, we were already a bit tetchy.

But it is the end of the summer holidays, school resumes Monday after six weeks, and I am completely over outdoor activities, especially those requiring me to carry all the bags or generally do the grunt work while they have fun. (Until they don't have fun any more, and turn on you like a pack of banshees.)

I did mention 'tetchy'.

Furthermore, Mr T is conveniently away on business for three days, so sweet things are back on the do-what-it-takes menu.  

Annabel's ice-cream base recipe requires three bowls - one for the egg whites, one for the egg yolks, and one for the cream - so that got us off to a smooth start in a' bowl each' kind of way.  Add caster sugar, boiling water and the judicious use of an electric beater, and then it's into the freezer for a minimum four hours.

So far, so good.  

The plan is to cycle/scoot along the the river tomorrow to the road-side stalls for fresh raspberries and strawberries to 'dress' our ice-cream.  A dust of icing sugar to serve and you might think I knew what I was doing.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Portrait of a young girl

Photo: Anna Hansen
Silver, NZIPP Iris Professional Photography Awards 2010

One of two award winning entries submitted by Anna Hansen to the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP) Iris Awards 2010. 

Anna completed a one-year Diploma of Professional Photography at CPIT last year.

You can see more award winning photographs, and other student work, in issue 5 of Ignition, the magazine of CPIT's Creative Industries Faculty.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kiss Mix reward

I have been more responsible with our power consumption.  Disciplined.  It is time to reward my summertime domestic commitment to only washing clothes on fine days and hanging them on the line to dry.  And it hasn't been all blue skies and balmy temperatures of late.  My resolve has been tested by days of rain.  Still, NO dryer.

My indulgence of choice comes much recommended by Christina Lindsay at Fashion's Most Wanted - a blog tonic if ever there was one.  It's testament to my many, varied contradictions that I found myself reading her post, 'Addicted to lip balm'. And I'm so glad I did. I have been persuaded by her recommendation and await the courier.  

Eve Lom's Kiss Mix
Available in New Zealand through Meccacosmetica.

Next on the list of much coveted indulgences is a visit to the hairdresser. (I'm uncomfortable with the idea that good hair is no longer a given.)  I have purged the number of salon visits per annum to an almost unacceptable bare minimum, so it's a much anticipated event.   

The question is: do I return to what I considered the higher maintenance blonde, or continue with my very recent brunette dalliance and risk the contrasting grey?

As a (former) career brand marketing specialist, the blonde signature idea is hard to shake.  It will, undoubtedly, depend on the day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Harvest home

In a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall moment, Mr T suggested a plum harvest. Imagine, he said, gazing into the middle-distance.  

Harvesting is a rather romantic notion given we inhabit 632 square metres of suburban Christchurch.  Nevertheless, I can picture it: friends, ladders, children and animals underfoot, basket-loads of juicy red plums, and, most especially, the merry-making that follows.   

Picture lanterns suspended from the tree's canopy above,
with the house all lamp-lit and inviting in the background.

 Need to move the larger outside table from 'around the back' 
to here, to accommodate all those hard working harvesters, a.k.a 'friends'.

It was the complete embracing of the River Cottage ideal that lost me.  There was talk of annual harvests where we would serve produce from previous yields - plum wine, plum preserves, plum jam, plum pud - and not only during the January harvests, but also as gifts throughout the year.  And so began the packaging discussion, branding look and feel, conversion of yet more garage space for all things plum...

And this from the couple who get the man in to mow their peggy-squares of lawn. Needless to say, I am resigned to watching the plums fall.  

Fortunately, bees don't go for such angst.  They just get on with it. 

So lovely to have a colony (or two) of bumble bees take on our hidcote blue lavender this summer.  From mid-December they have come dawn 'til dusk every fine day.  The side path has been alive with the hum of their wings, and the boy-child has been fascinated and remarkably gentle.  (Three children, two adults, three cats, one dog and not one sting.)  

Given the plight of bees around the world, it is reassuring to see so many alive and well in our garden.  At times, the blue of the flowers has been almost obscured by gold-flecked black. (Unfortunately, I didn't think to photograph that wonder.)

But I notice the bumble bees are slowly leaving; fewer and fewer have arrived to go about their daily work in the past week.  Honey bees seem to be taking their place.  Perhaps it's indicative of bee hierarchy; the larger bumble bees get first dibs. Whatever the real reason, I'm just pleased our little patch has proved such rich pickings.  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Copenhagen cool

Impossibly glamorous astride a bicycle; Danish women make peddling down to the shops sexy.

Via Cycle Chic: Cycling Girl of the Day
 Copenhagen, June 2009

What a cunning ploy to legislate against compulsory helmets and emphasise style over sport/recreation.  We have a way to go, but Frocksonbikes (albeit with helmet hair), is a wonderful start.

Now, if we could just sort the problem we're having with some New Zealand motorists and their reluctance to share the roads...

Perhaps we need more of the above.  I suspect even the most impatient drivers might slow to the visual pleasure of a beautiful dress gliding by on a bicycle.

In the meantime, I shall continue my quest for the least unflattering helmet; an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I may not be seduced by huge portion sizes or large cars, but I seriously flirt with the idea of substantial houses, by which I mean anything at least double the size of our single bay villa.  In the big scheme of things (think the Hamptons or a feature property in Country Life), it's a relatively modest and, in New Zealand, achievable aspiration.

Villa : From heritage to contemporary
By Patrick Reynolds, Jeremy Salmond, Jeremy Hansen

Tuesdays and Thursdays I collect the latest residential property guides. I mark 'potentials' with post-its, then research further online.  They are usually two-storied character homes (preferably with deep, wrap-around verandas on both levels) or sprawling double bay villas.  Occasionally, my eye strays away from the grand old dames of the Victorian and Edwardian eras and I fancy a bit of sleek architectural design with loads of north-facing glass (the sunny side) and artificial intelligence.  Fortunately, few of the potentials pass the test, which saves me much needless coveting of houses we will not own.

The key reason we can look but not buy is that I have decided to remain at home with the children, unpaid.  It's odd.  I adore beautiful things, but am now too unmotivated or lazy to acquire them by resuming my corporate career.  I'm exhausted at the idea of trying to do/be/have it all.

So I'm reduced to a real estate voyeur; a would be if I could be.  I regularly persuade the obliging Mr T to view selected open-homes, sharing my vision for various rooms and resolving flow issues and such.  I'm sure my misplaced enthusiasm has resulted in several inflated offers from potential buyers determined to out-do me.  I look like I mean business.

But I'm not going there - not now, maybe not ever. Because as much as I love a generously proportioned room, and rambling grounds, I am persuaded that our family's footprint is already large enough.

Increasingly, I like the idea of working with what we have, within the confines of the existing square-footage.  I am constantly (obsessively) rethinking the use and layout of our rooms.  I have discovered that when something is not quite right with a room or an arrangement within a room, it's usually resolved by paring back.

Consequently, our double garage is now full to brimming with items I/we absolutely had to have at one point in time, and now absolutely have to go.    There is sufficient furniture, household appliances and kitchenware to outfit a small bach or holiday home, plus seven bikes, two kayaks and three redundant PCs.    And we could start a small good-will shop with the bags and bags of discarded clothes intended for Trade Me (New Zealand's largest online buy/sell site).   

It's all a bit ridiculous. 

We have made a habit of buying more than we need and of not valuing what we have. Clearly, I should heed my grandmother's advice: plan purchases and never succumb to impulse or vanity, buy the very best quality you can afford with money you actually have in the bank, and then look after it with great care.

In that case, I suspect the paring back would take care of itself.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Aftershocks be damned, it was a beautiful day in Christchurch.  The perfect antidote to yesterday's interment, a four hour ordeal at Westfield's, and soaking rain.

We rarely brave the malls.  There are so many reasons why, not least of which, I don't want our girls to realise malls exist as an activity option until their late teens, earliest.  But Tangled was screening at Hoyts and elder daughter was desperate to meet up with her young friend and young friend's mother for a movie date.  And they do live on the other side of town, and Hoyts at Westfield's is in the middle.  

Again, we can count the number of times the girls have watched a film at the cinema on one hand (echoing their parents' experience of late).  So of course, I took younger daughter as well.  

The movie tickets, popcorn, drinks, afternoon tea and unplanned school stationery minutiae equates to a ridiculously expensive day with nothing of worth to show for it.  Younger daughter is still trying to establish why Gothel took baby Rapunzel and, clearly, will require multiple sessions in front of the DVD once released. ( It was the magic, life-giving hair that undid her.)  We over-ate, the coffee was bad and later, at home, I rediscovered my loathing of cover-seal making a complete hash of following the three easy application steps.  I'm afraid to say it was PUT AWAY mid-task.

Although I did enjoy the film, especially the gorgeous (in an animation kind of way) and redeemable rogue with the sassy lines, Flynn Rider.

Whitewash Head, Scarborough

So today was truly glorious by comparison.  The girls zipped along the Esplanade on their scooters, while the boy-child coveted the board riders' freedom from his pram.

The ubiquitous cone ice-cream was enjoyed at the Sumner end, before propelling ourselves back the way we came, towards Scarborough and the opposing ice-cream kiosk.  

The Misses Trusttum
Scarborough paddling pool

The girls love pools, even knee-high ones, and shed their clothes with the first note of chlorine.  Fortunately, they had their swimming togs underneath and I was behind to collect all discarded items, including the scooters.

You would never know from the photo that the boy-child had 'had enough' by this point and was RAGING because of all the stopping.  He wanted a swing in the children's play area, which just so happened to be out of sight from the pool, and had done so since we first arrived.

There was an unsuccessful compromise, followed by a twitchy car-ride home.   I'm relieved to say, watermelon on the deck was restorative.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The reveal

"I'm going to gaze at the curtains over coffee,"  I said, exiting the dining room to remove my past-its-prime disposable contact lens.  (Yes,  just the one.)   

Mr T didn't bat an eyelid, and I'm not sure about that.  You see, even by my standards of banal, idle commentary, it's a new low.  I feel he should be concerned.

Curtain back-story or, mitigating the comment...

We have just redecorated the dining room.  New curtains would be extravagant at this juncture, not to mention wasteful.  So the aged drops were taken to the dry-cleaners.  There was concern.  Phone calls.  Emails even, from the manager.  Were we aware that the beautiful but impossible fabric could not be dry-cleaned and required hand-washing?  And even then, there was considerable risk of shrinkage,  up to 6% or 15cm.

It turns out I was absurdly attached to the curtains lapping the floorboards.  Half-mast was not an option.

But nor could I leave them 'as is, where is'.  Our builders had moved and covered furniture and rugs before taking hammers to the lathe and plaster walls, but were impervious to the curtains - even as they opened the window sash to full height and heaved bits of house out the window.   The residue had to go.

Mr T was persuaded to scale the ladder this evening with laundered soft furnishings, around the time we normally sit down to our post 'goodnighting' of the children caffeine hit, and thus the conflation of ideas.

I did enjoy the coffee and I'm extremely pleased that our making-do resolve with the curtains worked.   ( Just don't look too closely - the hems show some evidence of the strain.)

I would like to say more about 'making-do', because it is part of the free-ranged concept, but first I need to do a little more of it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The detective pays a visit

Vacuuming at speed before the arrival of the affable Detective Sergeant I am reminded of my mother.  She would not be in such a predicament.  Her flooring is immaculate.  Always.  Even after a year of chemotherapy, diminished function and a visit from the grandchildren; always with the immaculate floors.  

It's the compulsion to vacuum before the Detective Sergeant arrives.  That's from my mother.  

Crumbs, dog hair and other detritus will not do, and I'm not even under suspicion.  It's not like I need to assume domestic decency and generally being above reproach.  On the contrary, I may hold one of the clues to help the affable DS catch a thief.  I could have gotten away with a bit of slovenliness.  With him, at least.  

Not so the mother of my mind's eye.  I am resigned to never quite living up to my internalised expectations on the domestic front.  On the upside, it's easy to stage a little rebellion without causing too much offence or indeed, without any effort whatsoever.  It's a mildly warming idea.  

A lovely idea is that I can find my mother in all things; even the mundane, the every day. 

A perfectly wonderful idea, is Purple Cake Day. 

The incomparable Emily Sanson-Rejouis launched the website today, January 17, to commemorate her middle daughter Zenzie's birthday,  who would have been five had she survived the Haiti earthquake.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Big cats in the closet

We have three cats.  Two - tabby sisters - were the original fur babies.  Not in the dress them in outfits and never let them outside kind of way.  It was more a thirty-something flirt with nurturing.

I did buy them a collar each, for the birds.  But unlike the pedigree Siamese of my childhood (extreme hunter, think Bantams), the tabbies were not enamored with such impediments and lost two collars each in a month.  I decided to heed David Attenborough and let nature take its course.

Until the Burmese.  The Burmese is, quite simply, superior.  She arrived as a tiny cream bundle of fast-twitch muscle and within days had run rings around the spinsters (tabbies), the dog, and us.  Nearly three years, one car versus cat, one  MIA, and multiple vehicle stow-away adventures later, she still is.  And all the while resplendent in her collar.

She has sprayed on every wide screen and mirror in the house, in fact, most surfaces.  (It's a thing she has about the spinsters.)  But if caught short inside, or during inclement weather, she pees in the kitchen sink.  She is hell bent on sleeping with the baby, necessitating the rather extreme measure of locking her in the garage during the boy's sleeps.  She chases the dog for recreation and hunts the spinsters for sport, and watching her during a nor'west wind is a window on crazy.

Giving the Burmese the slip before our daily stroll.  Needs work.

At times, my husband has threatened her with a one-way trip to the vet.  But she was a birthday gift (as much as a cat can be) for our eldest daughter, which in itself trumps any ethical or moral pondering.

You may well think I'm the quintessential cat person.  This is quite a ramble.  But the truth is, I prefer dogs.  And the hurtful truth is, ever since I've had three children, my patience with the felines is tested.  On occasion, I "shoo" them with gusto.  I am rather fond of the Burmese though.  Anything that intelligent with a head that size deserves respect.  Besides, she's convinced you adore her so it's hard not to play along.

Joanna Lumley: Catwoman

Joanna Lumley, on the other hand, is a cat lover turned cat detective in her two-part series, Catwoman, for ITV1.  Exploring our ancient and unique relationship with cats, Joanna unearthed some wonderful, weird and frankly, disturbing stories.

She visited actress Tippi Hedren's big cat sanctuary Shambala Preserve, home to more than 60 big cats confiscated or rescued in America.  An enormous liger came to Shambala after the owner decided it was getting too big to keep.  A magnificent male lion had been kept in a basement with a family (including children).  One woman kept her black panther locked in a closet after it chewed one too many Jimmy Choos.  Seriously.

Unfortunately, these animals and approximately 10,000 more are bred in the Unites States each year to feed the demand for the ultimate animal accessory.   Meanwhile, we're running cheetahs, lions and tigers out of their natural habitats and into the firing line because farmers, villagers, communities no longer tolerate sharing the land.  And as we encroach further into natural environments, extinction (in the wild) becomes a very real possibility for several of the big cats.  

Of course, it's all very well for me to express moral outrage.  I live in a country renown for flightless birds and sheep - not exactly overrun with large predators, obviously.  And we have our own conservation fish to fry, so to speak.  But if we can assign various natural and man-made wonders World Heritage status, then I think we can agree how essential global bio-diversity is, tricky as that concept is juxtaposed with global economies.  

Speaking of which, here's another example of market forces at work.  If the big cats as pets thing is patently too ridiculous for you, but you want to mitigate some of the baser habits of the domestic variety before you agree to cohabit, then you should know about Soft Paws.

With non-toxic, silicone claw shields of every colour, even two-tone and glitter, you can protect your soft furnishings while stylin' your cat.

Another benefit is injury prevention.  This is important in America given the health system and the litigious nature of society.  Here, we still tend to believe a quick raking of the family cat's claws across the leg or hand of an offending toddler is an adequate lesson in injury prevention, not to mention co-existence.  

The fact is, though, veterinarian Toby Wexler developed Soft Paws because so many domestic cats owners in the USA want their felines de-clawed.  Any product that circumvents that practice has to be good.  Although at US$18.95 for a 4-6 month supply, Soft Paws ticks all the marketing boxes, not only 'social responsibility'.  

As Joanna Lumley noted, we are drawn to live with cats but seem, increasingly, obsessed with modifying them to suit.

Personally, I don't think you should get a Himalayan if you're not keen on long-haired cats shedding or the regular grooming required.  But if you must, I'm sure there's someone out there willing to make your fluff-ball resemble a poodle; for a price.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kenbe la

Emily Sanson-Rejouis dug through the rubble of their five storied apartment building with bare hands trying to rescue her husband and three daughters after Haiti's devastating earthquake last January.  

Enlisting the help of some young local men, and eventually guided by the voice of her husband's friend, a visitor at the time, Emily pulled her youngest daughter, Alyahna aged one, out from underneath her father's protective embrace some 22 hours on.

Emily and her helpers rescued two others, including her husband's friend, but could not reach husband Emmanuel and daughters Kofie-Jade 5 and Zenzie 3.

Zenzie, Emily, Alyahna, Emmanuel & Kofie-Jade

More than 200,000 people died that day and for every one there is a story.

I don't really know Emily, but I can picture her dazzling smile and blonde pigtails from primary school days and later, secondary school. Her older sister Rachel was in my class for many years, and I remember playing at their house as a child.

I have been indescribably moved by Emily's story and her unimaginable loss. Perhaps it is because I have three children of similar ages.  But I suspect there is more to it than even I can understand.

For days, weeks, I kept vigil at the Facebook site dedicated to the Sanson-Rejouis family - reading the tributes and following news, firstly from Miami, and later Nelson, New Zealand as Emily, Rachel and their families worked tirelessly to bring Emmanuel, Kofie-Jade and Zenzie back from Haiti on the longest journey to their resting place in Nelson, Emily's home town and the birthplace of their girls.

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofie Annan described Haitian-born Emmanuel as a "true citizen of the world" who represented "the best of international service".

Accomplished, determined, intelligent and selfless, Emily and Emmanuel have worked for the United Nations in some of the world's most challenging political environments - Kosovo, Rwanda, East Timor, Ethiopia Burundi. Both knew the terror of being taken hostage by machete-wielding men, who burst into the electoral office where they worked to foster democracy in a politically fragile state.

Their C.V.s are truly inspiring, but it is the love story that shines.  Emily and Emmanuel were the real thing.  Hundreds of tributes attested to a great, legendary love.  It is unthinkable that two people who were so right for each other shared just 12 years together, while so many relationships limp along for decades in a miserable muddle of resentment.

At the funeral service Emily said, "I was so proud to declare to the world that I had met my match and that I was to be known as the other half of the love-struck and invincible Em and Em."

Their story shakes you to the core.  And as Emily has resolved to "rise like a phoenix from the ashes" to further her husband's dreams for Haiti through her charitable trust, the Kenbe La Foundation, I think it's not too much to ask of myself that I do something a little better today in my own life.  To love a little harder, to do a little more, and to take a little less.

And to give a little for Haiti.

Kenbe la is Haitian Creole for "never give up".

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Little by little

It's an unusual thing to befriend a blog; to feel the urge for a daily hit of blog love. It is even more ridiculous to feel so extremely pleased that the author of your blog crush not only read your comment, but replied to it.

I dare not analyse any further. So squirming aside, the simple fact is I discovered a lovely blog in Backwards in High Heels, by Tania Kindersley.

I note that come April, I will have been blogging, intermittently, for five years. I have hidden selected earlier posts, which plunges my blogging average to barely breathing.   In addition to purging posts, I have jettisoned my previous blog site.  I have also decided to be extremely brave by posting under my own name, and not an outdated, irrelevant nom de plume.

I was all early adopter with questionable substance and tenuous staying power. And that's ignoring the elephant in the room a.k.a. "purpose".  Now that I'm stripped bare, as it were, I'm experiencing stage-fright. 

Tania Kindersley does many things very well, but there are three key learnings for me, a wannabe blogger: post daily; post pictures, again, daily; reply to all comments (presuming they will come if following steps 1 and 2).

Of course, this is not actually news to me. What I'm really hoping is that if I just drop by Backwards in High Heels daily any possible resistance to blogging, or blogs in general, will diminish. Already I feel the need to comment regularly, so surely it is a matter of degrees - commenting on others' posts to posting your own?

And as for the elusive sense of direction, I'm working on it.