Friday, April 30, 2010

Wood if I could...

This is it... a room I spotted recently in Australian Home Beautiful. It's a Federation place in Kew in Melbourne. 

I love it and when flicking back through my ideas file (which pre-blog is in a plastic folder) I realised why. I am drawn time and again to the white walls, clean lines and polished floors combined with rustic, one of a kind timber pieces. 

We have an eight seater pine table - antique and my most prized possession... I have joked that I love it more than my children... I was joking until it was suggested it might be more practical to sell it than lug it around the world.

It's moved four times and has been squeeeeeezed into a couple of Sydney homes. We bought it in an antique shop in Melbourne and houses in Melbourne are a little larger than your average Paddington terrace. Having dined elbow to elbow in our London flat (as I told you here) I got very excited about being able to seat 8. I'll show you one day when I've polished it.

And speaking of polish - Kristine at The Painted Hive is a relatively new blogger too but one with talent!  I so envy her knack with old furniture. 

She has posted a fabulous list of the best stains and finishes for wooden pieces. Find it here and store it away for all those projects sitting in your garage. 

Now this is saved in my new virtual folder and I'll work on making my living room look like this on a slightly smaller scale. And I'll also try to keep in mind that this room probably doesn't look like this that much either - the owners have five sons!

(Images from Home Beautiful Australia, photographer  Rhiannon Slatter)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The milk of human kindness

I am having an up and down kind of week... but thankfully it is now much more up than down.

The other day I lost my wallet. Popped to the hardware store with the boys to buy light bulbs and came back with a lovely pansy-filled hanging basket that was half price and a bit too heavy to carry while wrestling a two year old with an aversion to car seats. In the chaos the wallet disappeared.

After much searching and racking my brain as to what on earth was in it I cancelled all the cards - in two countries...

But there is an upside to a) never having any cash in my wallet and b) never cleaning it out.  A very nice truck driver found it scattered across the road near our house and dropped it in at the local physiotherapist because he found an old appointment card.

Ah the kindness of strangers. I am so grateful...

Now what have I learned?
  1. Don't be an idiot.
  2. Make a list of all the things that live in the wallet because you forget.
  3. Make a list of all the things that live in the wallet. (worth repeating as I am a very, very slow learner)

By the way, milk of human kindness  meaning care and compassion for others came from the Great Man Himself. Not the really Big Guy but Shakespeare.

Macbeth "Yet doe I feare thy Nature, It is too full o' the Milke of humane kindnesse." 
Google is a great thing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


My five year old has been at school for a whole term now and his reading is leaping ahead. When he started he could write his own name but that was about it. As I may have mentioned he's never been that keen to sit still and draw, write and read  until now.

It's amazing watching it click in his head and as we are a family of book lovers it's wonderful to see him enjoying it.

At the weekend I sent him to his room for some quiet reflection on the damage he did by kicking a football at his brother's head - accidental but worth a spell away to think about it!

When I put my head round the door ten minutes later he was lying on his bed reading out loud from the first book he's ever read on his own, Green Eggs and Ham.

He really could not have chosen a better book to tackle. Green Eggs and Ham has just fifty different words - 49 of them have one syllable and the hardest is "anywhere".

I like Green Eggs and Ham!
I do! I like them Sam-I-am!
I would eat them in a boat.
I would eat them with a goat... 

Apparently Dr Seuss - real name Theodor Seuss Geisel - had just written the Cat in the Hat which used 225 different words and his publisher bet him fifty bucks he couldn't write a book with 50 words. He could and he did. He did and he could. Oh dear, stop!

I have to admit Dr Seuss and I are not close. I find the Cat in the Hat drives me batty and The Lorax leaves me babbling so it's become Daddy's job to read them to the boys.

Well now I have to eat my hat so to speak.   The book went off to school for "news" which we called "show and tell" in the olden days... The reader has now moved up to Yellow Books in the classroom with large doses of Seuss in the evenings and yes, even with me.

Thank you Doc for helping my boy feel rather proud of himself.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Self improvement...

This is an odd thought for an April Monday but I have a bit of a thing for a brand new year and for the  New Year's resolutions that come with it.

I love other people's resolutions too and have the most fabulous friend who really sticks to hers. I don't see her that often but we normally get together over Christmas and New Year so I'm always sure to ask for a progress report and see what she's resolving for the coming year.  

A few of her resolutions stick in my mind. One was to learn to swim - I'd never realised she couldn't. She reminded me about a day ten years earlier when we'd dived off a yacht together and she'd struggled to get to shore. I'd no idea that day how scared she was.  She stuck to her resolution, got swimming lessons and now swims laps to keep fit.... impressive.

In December I asked her how she'd gone - and out of her wallet came 2009's list - tick, tick, no, mostly.

So I made a list this year although it took me until February to decide what should be on it. I wanted my resolutions to be specific and not just "do more housework" or "eat less chocolate" - although both of those should be  there!

  1.  I wanted to look and feel better physically by next Christmas. My youngest is now two so the whole "I've really just had a baby" simply doesn't wash any more.  We go back to our home state each year and I've been struck by how great some of our friends looked after twelve months of eating better and exercising. . I know - simple. Well, I'm doing it. Gym three to four times a week and much much less junk. So maybe that one will get a tick.
  2. Read more selectively. Read books that don't immediately appeal and stop reading eleven crime fiction books in a row because I liked the first one.  Read the books on our shelves that my husband loves. Pick up random books in the library and give them a go. Do not read trash. This resolution is a work in progress.
  3. To say yes much more to the boys. I feel as though I am failing spectacularly on this one. But tomorrow is a new day and there's always next year. 
By the way, the photograph is of the beautiful Wineglass Bay at Freycinet on Tasmania's east coast. A lovely, lovely part of the world to make resolutions.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The life that I have...

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause

For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours
And yours

It's one of the only poems I have ever memorised. What a hopeless spy I would have made.

During the Second World War poems were used to encrypt coded messages. One of Britain's top cryptographers Leo Marks wrote this in 1943 and gave it to Violette Szabo a famous French agent who was later captured and killed by the Nazis.  Leo Mark's book Between Silk and Cyanide is a fascinating read.

It seemed appropriate on Anzac Day - a day shared by Australians and New Zealanders. Both my South African grandfathers went to war and fought with the Allies in the Pacific and at Tobruk. I hope we can be so lucky that our sons and even grandsons won't have to do the same.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My sixth photo...

My sixth photo was in my third post which was my first on day trips from Auckland. Following me?

Rachael at the very lovely A Room For Everyone has tagged me - I now head back and pick out my sixth pic ever posted on my blog. I didn't have to go far as a new blogger.

This was it... well actually this was the seventh photo but this is my blog so my rules....! (The sixth was a picture of some boats that I won't bore you with again.) As my mother is my most loyal follower this is for her - it's tough when your grandchildren are in another country.

My littlest will be two in a few weeks and he is really, really TWO if you know what I mean. It's good to remind myself how lovely he is when actually he is terrible sometimes. Won't take off his pyjamas in the morning, won't put his pyjamas on at night, hates getting in the car and then out of the car - you know what they're like. A lot of muscle flexing as they assert their independence. Should only last a year or two!

He is a funny kid. Loves to laugh, loves the rough and tumble, loves his older brother and all his older brother's stuff. Loves bikes, balls and boy stuff like trucks and cars. Likes a shower now and not a bath. and will soon be in a big boy bed... he also really really likes his Daddy.

As it's my rules and I am very new I am also not passing this on... but thank you Rachael for including me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sarah's touch

I have only just caught on to Sarah Richardson... we were without satellite television for a couple of years  and in that time she became rather a big thing.

I am a fan of course. It's great to see how a designer pulls a room together and makes fabric and paint and furniture choices. Of course she does it with great panache in thirty minutes - I guess it helps if you have a team of producers and a design team behind you, great builder, painter and your own line of furniture...!

I'm not a huge fan of her sometimes too perfect matchy, matchy, explosion in a fabric shop look - I admire it but don't think I could like with it.

I do LOVE her use of old battered furniture and vintage quilts. Series 3 has just hit the screens here and I couldn't wait to see more so I found these to whet the appetite.

Friends tease me about my love of "light pine" - let them....!

(All images from Sarah's House Facebook page)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day tripping...

New Zealanders are good at food. The produce here is pretty damn fine. And they do a pretty damn fine market. Particularly out in the country.  I have found that imported Italian cheeses and fresh mozzarella to be almost double the price of the stuff we get in Australia - even at the supermarket. I guess it's the smaller population.  The best answer is to buy local and shouldn't we all be doing that anyway?

Last week we went to Clevedon Village farmers market - in Clevedon funnily enough - about 45 minutes drive from the city centre in Auckland. Head south and then hang a left... don't rely on me for directions... luckily I get horribly car sick so have the perfect excuse not to pore over a map and get it wrong - Again.

As well as the pastry treats I mentioned yesterday they had homemade pasta and sauces, pies, pasties, breads, juices and vegies, herbs and plants. Fabulous.

On a fine day there are pony rides making it a perfect place to take young children,

Ours were quite happy to chat to the very friendly donkey over the fence.. we discovered our nearly two year old does a very loud hee-haw... actually he's doing it again right now as I type! He's also turning the printer on and off, on and off. Not such a great assistant blogger...

On the way back there was of course time for the beach... Maraetai has a lovely strip of sand and jetty looking back towards Waiheke Island.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Food, glorious food

A plate of hundreds and thousands (is that what you call them too?) is bound to make any child's day and it certainly made mine... I love, love, love new and interesting things to eat.  It really takes the edge off a holiday for me if I'm not enthralled by every meal. It's one of the reasons we went back and back to Italy and only once to Poland! 

I ate my way around Europe but didn't make it to Hungary and so never saw these... apparently they're sold on almost every corner.  They're originally Transylvanian and called Kürtőskalács or stove or chimney cake. 

We found them at a lovely market in the countryside less than an hour from Auckland but about a million miles from Budapest!

What a treat to try something absolutely new, delicious and too hard to make at home.

The yeasty sweet spiced dough is rolled out and looped around a wooden stick - brushed with oil, rolled in sugar and baked in a hot, hot, hot open oven or traditionally over hot coals until the outside is crisp and the sugar has caramelised.

Then it's rolled while it's hot in your choice of more sugar, nuts, cinnamon, chocolate sprinkles or hundreds and thousands. 

Piping hot, sweet, doughy and quite delish...

The rest of the market was fabulous too - more on that tomorrow.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Searching, searching

Now this is not about the maps... it's about the stools.

Here's a better view... ignore the pink cushions - I'd never get away with those. We are a pink free zone. The rest I like - you absolutely can't go wrong with white, white, white.  

Have I told you there is no Ikea in New Zealand?  That makes life a little harder...

Here we turn to Trade Me - the NZ answer to Ebay or Craigs List but arguably even better because absolutely everyone uses it to buy, sell and advertise almost everything.  Houses, cars, boats, books, bric a brac, new furniture, old furniture - you name it.

I want three white painted wooden stools just like those ones you see above to tuck under my kitchen counter so people don't have to lean on their elbows watching me make tea.

I'm more than happy to paint them myself but Trade Me is not helping... I have been searching for stools -  but people seem to only be selling ONE. Why? Are they keeping the others? Was there never another one? Have they lost the rest?

Are stools the odd sock of the furniture world? Are there squillions of lonely stools and socks spinning in slow circles in another dimension?

(Images from NZ House & Garden as it says on pic)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Flowers for Friday

It's a rainy morning for the last day of school holidays and I've been staring out into the garden at my pots of fading petunias wondering if I can grow a green thumb?

My mother's amazing in the garden and always seems able to gather a lovely bunch of blooms and arrange them effortlessly around the house.

These she did for our wedding along with all the flowers for the tables and it's just the sort of casual arrangement you find in her home too - minus the rather over-perfect white roses we bought for the occasion. She loves copper too.

So I need the green thumb AND the knack for effortless floral arrangement.  I might start by planting some hydrangeas - they love water (hence hydra) and we have that in buckets. Might just call Mum and see when and where I should plant them and how not to kill them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Holiday fun...

Auckland is quite the wettest place we've ever lived - and that includes London.  We did whinge our way through a long wet winter but it's not all bad. It's never that cold and lots of rain means greener than green lawn with not much effort.

It also means no water restrictions. So the boys have been able to run under the hose like we did as kids back in the days before the drought - the "olden days" as my son so uncharitably calls them.

It's been a sunny, warm summer and autumn so we've had lots of fun on our lovely green lawn and a great Easter break.  Next week it's back to the school routine - part of me is quite looking forward to it!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Working world

I am off with my new toy to do an interview today - not to share here but for money.  I'm doing some freelance writing for a magazine - not home interiors unfortunately - but interesting work all the same.
I so enjoy the stimulation of work but wondered just how I used to do it almost full time with a young child.  I do remember that I didn't do much else.

This morning has been quite hard enough - blow drying hair, finding something half professional looking to wear and packing the kids up for tennis camp and creche...  and I'm only going to an hour long meeting!

Yesterday preparing the interview while juggling school holidays with stolen moments on the computer did make me wonder why working from home is seen as the easy option - how do you do a real job from home? With more discipline than I've got perhaps.

Anyway, here's hoping the newfangled digi recorder thingy doesn't let me down...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chocolate love

I love chocolate. So much so I gave it up in January because things got a little out of hand. Easter was my undoing but on the up side it means I've been baking again.

Am I allowed to say that my brownies are pretty good? Well, to be fair mine and Nigella's.

Her book How to be a Domestic Goddess is one of my favourites and the brownie page is rather well used. I'm not a fan of a pristine cookbook... bit like a skinny chef...

I often halve the recipe which helps lessen the temptation to eat five at a time. Mostly!

I always trim the edges to get that perfect square and I leave the walnuts out because I'm a useless shopper and forget to buy them. Nigella says you should only use the best dark chocolate you can find - I agree, no cocoa.

Line the pan with baking paper and don't overcook or you won't get that gooey loveliness. Imagine me purring that last phrase in the manner of the original domestic goddess... or not!

375g soft unsalted butter
375g best-quality dark chocolate
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
500g caster sugar
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
300g chopped walnuts

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large bowl. 
Beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla. Measure the flour into another bowl and add the salt.
Let chocolate mixture cool a  little before beating in the eggs and sugar, and then flour and nuts.  Bake for about 25 minutes at 190 degrees - or longer but don't walk away from the oven....! 

Apparently makes about 48 but I've never counted. They are fabulous warm with vanilla ice cream and freeze rather well.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The blue and the white

I have a real thing for blue and white - always have... It's not particularly cool and hip but then neither am I and it seems a little late to change.

This is the plate cupboard in my lovely, lovely new kitchen. Oodles of storage, soft close doors and drawers I still haven't managed to fill.

It's open most of the time and luckily I love most of the things in it.

The spatterware and assorted plates have been collected over the years -  I used to browse the London antique markets. Some came from my lovely mum who's probably responsible for the whole blue and white thing. The striped bowls and shiny new white plates are from Country Road.

The final image is just a free card I found in the very gorgeous Woollahra store Orson and Blake. The assistant thought I was mad when I asked if I could take it but she didn't know the warm feeling those blues and whites were giving me...

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Someone in our house is now a year away from a pretty big birthday... (although forty is the new thirty dear so don't panic) As well as the framed pictures of the boys, we added a little gift to help remind him to make the most of the final year of his thirties.

Our five year old has a new found interest in drawing, colouring in and painting. It's all new to us - until Big School started he wouldn't sit down for more than five minutes. So we're stocking up on all the essentials, digging out unused colouring and sticker books and searching for crafty ideas.

Today another trip to Spotlight for more supplies...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Favourite places...

Swims after work. Paddling in the bogey hole. People watching on the beach. Breakfast bacon and egg rolls and milkshakes. Ball games in the park. The kids' train.  Australia Day families. Surf you could die in.  Weekend nippers. Much property envy. 

This is my favourite place in Sydney.

I've been sorting through old photos while the boys play lego - one builds and the other destroys. The skies are grey here and it feels a little chilly outside. The blue of the water in these pics we took at Sydney's Bronte Beach before we moved is almost too hard to look at.

Definitely my favourite colours and one of my all time favourite views.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Day tripping...

We headed north on Easter Saturday to Matakana.

It's only an hour's drive from Auckland and within ten minutes of leaving home you hit the countryside.

We had lots of eye spy in the car spotting cows and sheep and trees and clouds. Eye spy with a learning- to-read five year old can be a little hit and miss!

First stop Matakana Market it was so crowded we didn't take any pictures... trying to keep pace with an agile toddler in a packed market is a full time job.  It's worth a visit. Great food, classy set-up and lovely shops.

I was also pleased to see a country of just four million people can pack out a small country farmers' market.  I love a good crowd - a legacy of my seven years in London.  I know that would give most people a life-long crowd phobia but it makes me feel like I'm in the right place. (The big exception is Boxing Day sales - loathe them)

We spent the rest of the day at Tawharanui Regional Park which is at the tip of a peninsula on the east coast.  I'm not really up to giving pronunciation tips (as an Australian probably won't ever be) but the "wh" is an F so think Tafa-ran-oo-i...

It's an open sanctuary, fenced to keep predators out (sounds threatening but this is NZ so we're talking dogs and possums not lions and bandits!)

There are lots of amazing birds, lovely views and of course great beaches - the best known is Anchor Bay.

Balls + Beach + Boys = Bliss.


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