Thursday, July 29, 2010

Seen this?

This is the summer work of the National Trust in the UK - luring Brits off the couch and out into the great outdoors and um yes, onto another sort of couch...   Journalists love this sort of stuff and it's hooked me, sorry.

Nothing like an offbeat pic and a headline. You know, GRASSED OFF,  WHAT A LAAAWN,  SOFA, SO GOOD - that sort of thing... in fact that was the quip the National Trust PR office used themselves. How could they not?

Apparently Brits, the lazy, lucky sods are spending an average 43 hours a week loafing about on the couch.  I wish...  Their television shows ARE better than ours, perhaps that's why.

Anyway this could get me off my old red couch.
Nice view, but on reflection grass does make me sneeze and there's no need to leave the house really.  Our couch is developing its own ecosystem - food, sand, shredded paper all regularly doused in milk and composting nicely so no doubt when spring comes it will sprout something.

By the way the pictures were taken at Osterley Park in London not far from our old digs and somewhere rather nice in Devon and they're from here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Books for new babies...

Our friends are having babies... lots of them, pink ones and blue ones. Most are on to their second or third child and I think their houses are already full to the brim with cute baby stuff.. clothes they grow out of in a month, a gazillion soft toys or those infernal bits of battery powered plastic that still litter my place.

I now mostly buy books as gifts and I don't necessarily buy those designed for babies to chew the edges.  It's lovely to have a shelf of books for a child to grow into.

This is a favourite.
Written by Ursula Dubosarsky, The Terrible Plop is about a rabbit who discovers that not everything is as frightening as you first think... it all starts with an apple.
It's wittily told and beautifully illustrated in a rather retro way by Andrew Joyner.  He has very kindly  given this little tutorial on his blog on how to draw your own bear. I am going to try it but I won't share the result. Too scarred by school art classes.

Another favourite? This...
It's a simple little story about friendship.
An Australian author, Aaron Blabey's has written other books about other kids, the charming Sunday Chutney and his latest, Stanley Paste. Here he introduces you to Stanley.

If he looks familiar to Australians (Aaron, not Stanley) it's because he's been on the telly a fair bit in his other life as an actor and won an AFI. (Australian Film Award to the non-Australians...)

According to his publishers, Aaron likes 'old armchairs, lovely sharp pencils, the way trees look when their leaves fall off, mayonnaise, his unfashionable record collection and looking scruffy'.  No wonder I like his books...

(Both books published by Penguin. Images from here and here.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Villa love...

We took the boys for a walk over the weekend down to the small beaches that line the harbour front in Auckland's Herne Bay. While they were running and bouncing along with Daddy I was house shopping. Just browsing of course.... Herne Bay is rather nice but pretty pricey.
I've shown you the villas in My Villa Life before and thought you'd like to see more. You'd have to agree the details are to die for. And how do you like this colour for a front door? I would have skipped past it in a colour chart but it looked divine with the magnolia blossoming in the garden.
Once I'd started spotting doors, I found more and more I rather liked...  
I'll go for a walk again sometime soon and show you more.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

The road to nowhere...

Thank you for your kind wishes over my very womanly battle with man-flu. I am now chock full of antibiotics and am back on the bike.

Not le Tour de France, le Tour de Legs.   I'm talking about spin class and I'm strangely obsessed.
It's totally ridiculous of course and made all the more ridiculous by all the wonderful images flashing past me on our television as my sport mad husband keeps up with the Tour antics.
I like the Tour - I like it for the scenery, the villages, the mountains, the drug scene, the days when a dog dashes out in front of the peleton and they all go down like nine-pins. I like it for the sheer grit and guts it  must take to do it. I liked Lance Armstrong's first book, I like the cyclists and their crazily defined legs and groovy gear. I like Paris on the final day.
But all that has nothing much to do with my new thing. You see in spin class you ride in a sweaty peloton but you're going nowhere. Fifty odd people pedalling their hearts out, sweating up imaginary mountains and not moving an inch.

In 500 years time when they're carefully excavating the ruins of Auckland (a la Pompeii when one of the city's volcanoes finally blows its top) they'll laugh their space-helmeted heads off at the sight of all the dinky bikes in a row with no wheels.

But ridiculous or not, I am into it.

I am not a gym-going kind of girl. I've flirted with it in the past - aerobics classes at uni  and a couple of years membership of a flash London gym where it was warm and almost felt sunny with nice reception staff who gave you a fresh white towel when you arrived.

This gym is a gym-goers sort of gym. Nice people, rubbish showers, sweaty rooms, packed studios and me. Sweaty, slightly trimmer and grinning like an idiot.

(First three images from here)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stow it...

It's an endless search... finding the right bag, basket, bench, bucket for all the things you want stashed neatly away. You might have gathered that I am not naturally tidy but I do rather like a tidy home.

We have cleaning frenzies which are actually really just races to tidy the house - mostly in the evening when I have had ENOUGH of tripping over lego, cars, puzzles and race tracks. Or sometimes about fifteen minutes before guests arrive - yes I'm trying but Flylady's CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome) still rules some days. My sink is clear though.

Of course  most of our guests have children so an even bigger frenzy is required when they leave. Then I use the I MEAN BUSINESS kind of tone and my five year old jumps to it.

But he has to have a place to jump to... and we're getting there. We have a drawer for paper and sticker books, a lidded box for the growing collection of big boy lego, a car basket, lots of snap lock boxes for small things and I've just bought a couple of these.
Not the kid, the bucket. They hold the lego and the Thomas train set... but they're also good for lots of other things. Tubtrugs are cheap, strong, green (100% recycled plastic) and come in all colours. We are right into red.
I also bought these at Ikea on my last trip to Melbourne... and lots of other equally useful stuff of course!
I didn't quite see they'd be used like this...
But apparently a sword (or plastic Star Wars light saber) and one of these and you are quite the Knight in Shining Armour. Might give one to my husband...

Monday, July 19, 2010


It's Monday and I have man flu. You know the sort of illness I mean. Normally it afflicts the weaker sex (men) and is a mild, sniffly, coughy, chesty thing that leaves the sufferer with a total inability to do anything but groan a lot and haul themselves around like a ten ton lumpy sack of potatoes hoping for sympathy...

Being a woman I have been soldiering on and ignoring it for three weeks and it does not seem to be working. So today I may give in and see a doctor. I may lie around a little and make myself some soothing sort of lemon drink. I will ignore the washing and wait for ants to clean up the leftovers my kids have flung down around the dining table.

Tonight the latest series of Masterchef Australia finally starts on New Zealand television. Perfect fuel for man flu. We can all watch that instead of actually cooking...

By the way the image is from this lovely UK shop. Even better than a lemon drink.

And yes I don't dish out much sympathy. There has to be blood and lots of it before I'm really interested. It's genetic.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day tripping...

I couldn't end the week without sharing a few more pictures of our weekend away on the coast north of Auckland. It has been a gloriously sunny July week for the school holidays. We have been too, too lucky.

We went to Pakiri Beach at sunset. The drive down through a steep, wooded and oh-so-green valley was breathtaking.

 At the bottom is a white, white beach with that sand that's so fine and clean it squeaks when you walk.  We're going back earlier in the day next time  - and with our swimming gear when it warms up.  
The sharp eyed among you may have noticed I have been playing with my blog layout. When I started this blog I did a bit of a DIY job and thought I'd fix it rather sooner than I have. Now I have a professional on the case - my much more talented brother who is a graphic designer and has a far more hip and funky approach than moi. Stay tuned. And let me know what you think!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cracking cookies...

I love baking... so satisfying and you get so much gratitude for a little bit of measuring and mixing.  

I made cookies last week but they flopped.  Not so satisfying. They merged together in a most annoying way and didn't have that satisfying snap when you bit into them. The boys loved them regardless (see? gratitude) but I wanted them to be better.

Then I watched Ina the next day and she had almost the same cookie recipe with a few tweaks and this one worked.  She's a genius or maybe I was just paying more attention... 
Ina's raisin and pecan nut cookies. 
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans roasted and chopped
  • 130g unsalted butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 2 extra large eggs at room temp
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tspn baking powder
  • 1 tspn ground cinnamon
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 3 cups rolled oats or oatmeal 
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
Beat the softened butter, brown sugar and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and mix together. Then add the oats, raisins and chopped pecans.

Spoon on to a baking tray using a tablespoon or as Ina helpfully suggests an ice cream scoop. Bake for 12-ish minutes until they look like they should. Cool on a baking rack.

Lovely. Roasted pecans for a bit of crunch but nothing a two year old would choke on. A touch of cinnamon but not enough to turn off a five year old. A little too nice perhaps. I had to quickly put them in the freezer for school lunches so that I wouldn't eat them all...


By the way the secret to my success might have been this new gismo that my mother kindly gave me a few weeks ago. I love it! Thanks Mum. x

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reading in 2010

You may have noticed that over the past few months I have been listing my reading material. The idea was to keep myself on track with the New Year's resolutions I made in April to read more selectively.

I had fallen out of love with reading and books. Too sad for a girl who has always read obsessively, voraciously, hungrily, passionately... and rather likes big words.

Why? Well, number one was the usual excuse of the mid-thirties mother. I needed sleep more. I always read before bed. During the day I can't be home alone without background noise, at night before bed, no TV or music.  I want peace and quiet and a book.  Unfortunately thanks to my lack of sleep, most nights I couldn't even manage three pages.

Second, I was a little bit time poor and a little bit lazy. Reading just crime novels because I like PD James and Ian Rankin and I could whip into the library with the rampaging toddler grab a book and whip out again.

Third, the sheer cost of buying books in Australia and New Zealand.  I don't earn much these days and I really think twice about spending thirty dollars (and the rest) on a paperback.  We used to buy three new books a week in the UK - they are so much cheaper there. We've decided buying in bulk overseas online is a better idea and I also need to invest more time in second handbook stores. No great chore you'd agree...

So how's the resolution going? I used to know what was on the best seller list, what was shortlisted for which prize and I had an opinion on whether it should have been... I still don't know any of that - I'm playing catch-up remember.

But I'm back. I read during the day last weekend - desperate to finish my Barbara Vine. I stayed up on Friday night at our bach in front of the fire alone and finished Seabiscuit.   Ah, that feeling when you simply can't sleep without knowing what comes next. It's back and I'm loving it.

By the way the image is from Remodalista... thanks Claude, it's becoming a favourite...
AND I  need to add to this... I had half written this post last week and Kerry from A Tranquil Townhouse messaged to say she'd like to start her own reading list - a little like mine.  Well she has and she very kindly blogged about it today and said some very nice things.  Now I get to check out what she's read and liked and make my book shopping list... you should read her lovely blog too, she's a doer not just a talker like me!

Monday, July 12, 2010

A weekend away...

Omaha Beach, on the Matakana coast about an hour north of Auckland... our mid-winter, mid-school holidays long weekend away.

Beautiful sunny weather. Basking in the sun on the deck of our rented bach, reading, playing lego, hunting for crabs in the rockpools, playing football on the sand, chasing seagulls, drinking red and toasting marshmallows on the open fire, grazing at the farmer's market, marvelling at the Kiwi countryside, revelling in the clear, cool air and sleeping, quite a lot of sleeping.
Beautiful isn't it?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Second chance...

A few weeks ago I tried to find a picture that summed up what I liked in one picture. A blog game from From The Right Bank. Well, like searching for the right pair of shoes and finding THE shoes six weeks after you needed them, I've found the room.
The people behind this lovely, lovely space work at the American architects, Buttrick Wong. You can see more here.

Even though it's a Northern Hemisphere room I think it has a very light, indoor outdoor feel and would fit very well in my family's life. Minus the white couches. Or I could sell the children.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The nine month mark...

I think it's nine months. Well close enough anyway.  That's the time it takes for me to settle into a new city or a new country. Nine months has nothing much to do with me and babies.  My pregnancies last around 15 months. (Just ask my husband) which is why I am most definitely not doing it again. Sit down Mum, sorry I got you excited.

I remember hitting the nine month mark in Melbourne. (We moved two months later.) I hit the nine month mark in Auckland a month or so ago.  I feel really happy, I thought. I like it. Life is pretty good. I have friends. I know what I am doing tomorrow and next week. I know where to find things.
I even welled up when my kid sang the New Zealand national anthem  at his school assembly with a couple of hundred little Kiwis.  The first time I heard that my thought was "Oh hell, that's right we live in New Zealand... how did we get here again?" So to hear it and feel a little moved (like you should when you hear a national anthem) is quite a change.

New friends have invited us to their bach in the summer.  People have now started letting us in on the local secrets for day trips and weekends away. We can even give some tips of our own.

I can say some Maori words without stumbling too much. You pronounce all the vowels, 'wh' is 'f' and you listen to Radio New Zealand a lot. You try it... Whangaparaoa, Tawharanui, Komokoriki.  Heavens, our first few car trips into the countryside were fun with me trying to match the signs we whizzed past with the map in my hand.

Ah yes, and if it's wet you say "wit" or if you're five years old "it's wit as, Mum." Sorry couldn't help it. Apologies for poking fun at the accent... there go at least half of the new friends I've made.

Three months in to our move I was depressed and a little snappy. "Why won't these bloody women just talk to me," I thought. Now I don't mind as much if someone doesn't chat back. Australians I think (or maybe just me) love a bit of a chat without consequence. I have now found other people do do that here too. Just not as often.

I think what I've learnt with the whole moving chore (I used to say adventure but it's worn off) is that you can't rush the process. Just wait and slowly but surely it will be fine.

I lied a lot in those first nine months, telling people "yes, we're feeling so settled now."
I am not lying now when I say we're feeling settled. Must be about time to move.

(By the way my husband read this and muttered, "pregnant for 15 months? More like two years...")

Monday, July 5, 2010

Winter walks...

A Saturday afternoon walk at our local harbour beach in Auckland. T-shirts, ice-cream, climbing, jumping, running and Dad with the camera.
Seventeen degrees and sunny on the the 3rd of July... I just thought I should confess that despite my whining about the rain it really is rather warm most of the time in Auckland and sometimes even quite dry and bright! Just not a great deal from about May to December.

I no longer look at the weather forecast - it's such a topic of conversation that someone will always tell me what's in store. And I think it must be mostly guesswork for the poor forecasters.

Auckland, for those of you who don't know, is on New Zealand's north island. It's quite close to the top of the island and straddles a narrow neck of land. Without a large land mass on either side, living here is rather like living on the deck of an ocean liner.

The weather is 'everywhere' (as I once heard on an Arican weather forecast)... squally showers sometimes blow across four or five times in an hour. And it can be bright, clear blue sky in between. Or like today, so much rain you can't quite imagine the sun ever coming out again.

I have given up on my want for a washing line. Pointless. Instead I play washing roulette ducking outside with the washing frame and then dashing back to rescue it from the next downpour.  I've also bought a decent rain jacket and never go to school without wet weather gear for all. Well actually I have quite a few times and got terribly wet. But I'm learning.

Last night we barbequed in the pouring rain.  In the true Australian way,  Mum  did the salads (roast vegies as it is July) and Dad did the meat, umbrella in hand.

I think you could say we're starting to acclimatise.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Kitchen dreaming...

Winter for me is all about food. I start looking at recipe books, flicking through the pages searching for pictures of beautiful summer picnics, salads and grilled seafood on skewers laid out beside sparkling aqua water... what a nice way to escape a dull grey winter.

If I'm cold and feeling slightly rundown (like now actually) then it's the slow food I look for and perhaps even cook... coq au vin, slow cooked lamb shoulder or shanks. Comfort indeed.

Then of course there's the good old Food channel.  Number one for winter escapes at the moment is the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. It's summer in the Hamptons and she also ticks my top three for food watching.
  • Simple recipes that can be scribbled on a scrap of paper and once cooked done again without a recipe
  • Kitchen utensils to lust after (I am unashamedly shallow)
  • A fabulous kitchen and home as a backdrop.
See? Fabulous. She has a large home in the Hamptons and has built a new barn in the garden (oh yes the garden is to die for and looks even better in snow...) Read all about and see more lovely pictures here.
Ina's kitchen also has good eye candy for the shallow shopper. And I am not just shallow but also stupid enough to think that if I buy the beautiful utensils in a television chef's kitchen then I too will cook like that...  
Nigella Lawson Bliss Whisk, Blue

In my Nigella phase I bought the whisk she swears by  -  I LOVE it and use it every day.

Jamie's favourite Thai-style stone mortar and pestle  is now mine... I waited until I left London to buy it as I could never bear to lug it home on the tube. It weighs a ton. 

Everyone who cooks on the telly seem to have a  KitchenAid in white  - I'd like an original please but I'd settle for a brand new one in red.
 I'm still saving but that's ok. We should all have to wait for some things in life...


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