Monday, May 31, 2010

Day tripping...

Sometimes New Zealand feels a little old fashioned in a really delightful way. I've told you about Devonport before.  It's one of the loveliest places to spend a sunny morning and even though it's just across the harbour from the city it feels like a proper day trip. The lazy man's day trip.
Our two year old loves boats and shouts with excitement when we drive past the city ferry terminal. So yesterday we took the boys on a ferry adventure and ended up soaking up the autumn sun on the top of Devonport's little volcano Mt Victoria.
It's a bit of a walk for little legs but even the youngest breezed to the top this time and still had the energy to jump, run and roly poly.
Next time we'll head across to the smaller of Devonport's two volcanoes for a play in the old tunnels that cut through the hill.

What a lovely way to while away a sunny Sunday. 

Friday, May 28, 2010

Clowning around...

Whacky Hair Day at school. That's a lot of hair and even more hair wax. I've warned him not to go near a naked flame. Unlikely at five I know.

And how cool is this? It's a room designed by Kate Dixon in Kansas City, Missouri with whacky kids in mind. Lots of ideas to steal. I have seen it half a dozen times already and keep forgetting where. This came from here and now it's here so I can keep it.

I am certainly not into the modern travelling circus idea but Enid Blyton's version was pretty fabulous. Remember Mr Galliano's Circus?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Easy living...

I've been thinking more about the cities on the liveable list.  When you look at the criteria I think what they're talking about is ease. And for me the older I get the more I want that easy life.

I'm not really an expat... how can you be when you live so close to home in a country about as similar to home as it gets?

So is Auckland liveable?? 

Yes, absolutely. We live in a lovely street in a lovely area with great cafes, shops and people. The schooling is excellent and free and if we wanted to pay for good schooling we would have had no trouble getting our son in. Work is down the road, the gym is round the corner. The health care is good. It's is easier than Sydney or Melbourne or London.

Kiwis seem more reserved than Australians - more like the English -  and are a little harder to get to know but they are really nice. People in banks bend the rules. I like that.

The climate's mild but if rain, damp and humidity were taken into account it would be in the bottom ten. It's really wet. Apart from this summer, thank goodness.

Transport too is useless. but we've mostly avoided that by living our life locally - the motorway is as bad as those in cities five times the size.

The shopping is okay but the Great Outdoors is truly Great.  And my kids love it.

How about Melbourne?

Melbourne is easy.  It's a real city but not too big. Good transport too.

It's not stunningly beautiful but it has nice pockets with their own distinct flavour and tribes. You find your own little space there and feel like you're the first to find it. You have great conversations about art, music, food and sport if that's what floats your boat. (I liked the food, the sport I ignored!)

People wear a fair bit of black and they are hip and cool.  Melbourne can be a bit up itself. In Melbourne they talk a bit too much about how good it is. My husband disagrees with me on this but he talks it up too.

It can be way too hot in summer and cold and drizzly in winter but overall I like it a lot. I didn't want to leave and I want to live there again.

So, Sydney?

A lot is written about how brash it is. That didn't worry me, I didn't notice it.  People don't wear a lot of clothes which can be a bit disturbing at first - eventually you too will wear thongs everywhere.

It's a bit rundown and despite the staggering wealth some of the street fronts and shops need a good scrub and a coat of paint - even in the wealthiest areas.  It's expensive.  The house prices make you want to gouge your eye out with a spoon and so does the constant discussion about it. 

They don't really have a cafe culture or great shopping strips but they don't seem to need it. Sydney has the beach. Coogee, Bronte, Bondi, Avalon, Manly and Palm Beach and even Balmoral. All stunning. Really stunning. And with the climate to match.

I like Sydney even more now that I don't live there.


London is fabulous but not easy. It's exhilarating but exhausting. I love a crowd and I loved feeling that I lived in the centre of everything.  I loved the work there and the Sunday papers. I liked the politics and the popular culture. A lot of great thinkers and writers and then people like Katie Price aka Jordan. Don't ask me why but I loved that. 

But when I think about the day to day of shopping, driving to work, dealing with bank tellers or anyone in the service industry, long winters and sick children, I think it probably deserves its place low on the list for expats.

It's still pretty close to the top on MY list.  I just want it to be a little closer to the grandparents.

(By the way, all complaints about gross generalisations will be published!)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Most liveable?

Auckland has been voted the fourth most liveable city in the world. Equal fourth with Vancouver and beaten by Zurich, Geneva and Vienna.

I look at the Mercer list every year. How could I miss it?  The Australian newspapers always argue the toss about whether Melbourne beat Sydney or vice versa.  In New Zealand they crow about their win over Australia.

It's really a list about expats and how liveable it is for them in each city.

This year I realised I've lived in four of the top cities - a bit of an expat expert.

Sydney is 10th. Melbourne is 18th and my beloved London is way down at 39.
The city I would love to live in, New York, is at 49 out of 50. Clearly my liveability index is way off.

I don't mind Auckland but it doesn't set my world on fire. Maybe it will take time. Have I just lost the friends I have managed to make here?

I do think it is incredibly easy to live here (if you don't try to drive too much) and the suburbs and villas are gorgeous. And it's very, very easy to get to places like this. You know how I love a beach.

When we moved from Melbourne to Sydney, my very Melbourne aunt was horrified, "They can't MAKE you," she said. Even the local drycleaner had an opinion. He was pretty dismayed too.
Interestingly when we got to Sydney nobody much cared about the great Melbourne/Sydney debate. "Ah Melbourne, oh yeah, it's nice there. Good coffee. Great shopping."

When we moved here most Aucklanders we met said "Why did you leave Sydney?"

Everyone loves their own place with a passion, hates the bigger city and treats the smaller with disdain.

In Melbourne they're pretty scathing about Tasmania. I met a Melbournian in London once who was a little shocked a Tasmanian had managed to adjust to city life. Ah yes I told her, "Thank you, we've had traffic lights down there in Tassie for a while so I managed." Then I muttered something about bloody mainlanders.

Me? I don't know if I have one city I love enough to stick with. I can see the pros and cons of them all and one day I'll have to choose.  I hope my husband chooses the same one. He's as hopeless as I am.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Giving in to grey...

I've been shopping  - a rare event these days. Each trip can only last as long as it takes a two year old to eat a handful of tiny teddy biscuits.

I bought the scarf at Country Road and could not go past the grey, despite the grey skies and a cupboard full of grey and black. It's a beautiful soft, bamboo weave - perfect for throwing on with the uniform of converse, jeans and long sleeve T.  

The silver bracelet was my grandmother's, a gift when she was a bridesmaid at her sister's wedding. I didn't really know my grandmother or her sisters  - my parents emigrated to Australia when I was very young.

For years my parents sat down each week to write an aerogramme with our family news.  Phone calls were rare and quite special events with a lot of pressure to say what you had to say. Mum would whisper loudly in the background, "Thank Granny for the present," while Granny talked non-stop eager to make the most of the short time we had. 

Luckily it's a little different for my kids. Our family is not terribly good at staying in the same city or even the same country but we keep in great contact. When the phone rings my little one says "DiDi?" Maybe my mother and I talk a little too much!

Our skype sessions see both boys leaping around on the bed in view of the computer showing off to the grandparents or  if we can make them stand still, holding out their cars or reading aloud from the latest school book.

Anyway, back to shopping. You can see I am totally out of the habit - I can't even talk about it for long.

If I did shop I would have to buy these beauties from Boden. Nothing wrong really with a little more grey in your world and doesn't navy look lovely with it?

That's winter sorted. In my head anyway.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rain games

It was a wet and drizzly Sunday after the "drought" Auckland's been having. I am sorry but I have to say "drought" - three months of sunshine is surely just called summer? 

I think we're in for more wet weekends so it's lucky our school boy is more than happy to play games these days. His little brother  is getting the hang of it too and loves snap although hasn't a clue of course. He demands his own cards, then just yells "Nap, nap" a lot and randomly slaps his hand down.

Of course Uno is a lot more fun when you win and when you rather like winning (and cry when you lose) it's great having a Dad who doesn't mind throwing the game once in a while - even with a dream hand like this...

Friday, May 21, 2010

iPhone, iShould?

I have spoken to three friends this week who have each just bought an iPhone.  I had coffee yesterday at the gym with three women who each pulled out their iPhone. Even my in-laws are thinking of getting one. Like the 14 year old girl desperate for a Canterbury rugby top or two (they were THE thing to wear as a teen in Tasmania) I'm starting to feel the pressure.

How things have changed  - and yes I am wondering if I'm I old enough to be talking like this...

When I went to live in London 12 years ago I'd never had a mobile phone. I got one of course and so did everyone else. From then on we never ever made a firm plan to meet. Just, "I'll call you when I get there".

I remember getting my first text and not knowing what it was. A few years later and still in London we went into one of the many high street mobile phone shops - all looked the same with a crowd of young guys in cheap shiny suits who circled the customers like sharks.

"This new model is what you want," one said to us with glee. "If you and your boyfriend buy one each you can take a photo with the phone and send it... if you're in the same room." Oh, handy. I'll just get the one that makes phone calls, thanks.

The technology's moved on from then but my policy hasn't changed. I very deliberately buy the simplest one - Nokia though because I know how they work.

I am not worthy of a fancy phone. I lose them, drop them and drown them.  (I've learnt that a bucket of rice can dry a phone better than a hairdryer)

Maybe the new Cath Kidston iPhone cover I found here will swing it for me. Love it.
I can't have her in my home (too country and too frou frou) but in my handbag she'd be ok.

I have a sneaking suspicion I'll end up with a fancy phone but only when everyone else has moved on to something better. Mind you if it tidies up and does the dishes, I'll sleep overnight at the Apple store.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Navel gazing...

I have been outing myself... admitting to close friends and even people I don't know at all well that I blog.  When I tell someone I slip it into the conversation and then immediately play it down. "I don't know why I'm doing it really," I'll say. "It's not that great and no one follows me."

Well actually it's not that bad - on some days it's quite good. And I didn't do it for followers although I do get great pleasure from any interest people take - I'm only human!

It certainly makes me question why I blog as if I need to justify it... mostly to myself I think.

The official reason was to get writing and see how it all works on the worldwide web. After years in broadcast media and then a couple more at home while the career died a slow death and my family flourished, I was losing myself. In a new city with no one much to talk to in those first few months I started to explore the net going from blog to blog finding amazing talent. Designers, writers, photographers, artists and a lot of ordinary people with their own little window on the world.  I wanted to have a go.

I've never been really into hobbies.  My hobby was my work which sounds absolutely tragic but I imagine a lot of people spend their twenties and early thirties like that. And in my defence I had an interesting job - different every day and terribly exciting on some. So now no job, no hobby.

I think that's why I am enjoying the blog. It's my hobby. And one that's helped me to feel like the writer I wanted to be before I left law school and fell into a TV career. I've written four magazine articles in the time since I started My Villa Life and should be writing another right now!  That surely makes me a writer... blogging to avoid a deadline. How very 2010.

By the way, the photograph was taken in London's Kew Gardens - my local park when I first swapped the job for motherhood. I seem to have a thing for all things spring this month... must be in denial about the cold weather which seems to have arrived for good.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Still searching

If you put this
And this together.

You get this. A white painted tolix stool. Gorgeous and just the thing for my kitchen. And I can get one here in Auckland from Madder and Rouge (lovely shop - a little like Ici et la if you're a Sydney sider) - although given they're ordered from France I could be waiting a while.

This is Capital Kitchen at Melbourne's Chadstone shopping centre. I found these images here - a rather nice blog to visit.

You may remember that I have been searching for stools.  I think a white tolix stool could be the answer and maybe, just maybe, a bit of inspiration from my other half's favourite city might swing it for him too.

Okay, he loves Melbourne for the sport, his mates and the Collingwood Football Club and definitely not a shopping centre but he should be swayed by this... surely?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Party baking...

We hosted a party for our two year old on Saturday. I made pom poms thanks to Martha Stewart of course.

I have never done anything Martha before and I am not sure she would approve of my rather wonky version but they looked pretty good hanging over the table and I was much much better at it by the fifth one!

I also made lamingtons - partially a nod to the mix of Australian and Kiwi guests but actually mostly because I love them.

I think Australia may have won the argument about who invented the lamington but we once found them in a tiny bakery while on a sailing holiday in Croatia. They were called Cocos and it sparked much lazy discussion on deck about how they'd got there.

They're dead easy to make and they taste fabulous and they look a little bit tricky so it makes you look like a hot home baker.

1. Make two sponge cakes (ie 2 x 20cm square tins) Don't be put off by baking sponge cakes - the bought ones are not great and it's just a lot of beating of eggs and sugar really.
Mine never rise as much as I have seen at country cake shows but as you can see it still gives you a good size lamington.  Let them cool. Cut into squares. Small is good as you get a better icing to cake ratio.

2. The icing - according to Donna Hay in her Simple Essentials series - the Chocolate one of course, given to me in my old life as a chocoholic.

450g icing sugar
90g cocoa powder
250ml boiling water
60ml milk
75g melted butter

Sift in flour and cocoa - add the rest and mix.  It is really runny which made me panic at first but of course it needs to be runny for dipping and dripping.

Dip each square in the icing mix and let the excess drip off - then roll it in a separate bowl of desiccated coconut.   Keep replacing the coconut as it gets lumpy with chocolate.

Put them on a tray lined with baking paper and pop them in the fridge.

That makes about as many as you can see in the photo plus a few more that didn't quite make it to the party!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Breakfast digging

Leave a little boy alone for five minutes with a bowl of soggy weetbix...

Party today. Ten boys aged 6 to 2. Pinata, pass the parcel, sausage rolls, cheezels, lamingtons.... and rain. Wish me luck.

Friday, May 14, 2010

My useful box

The useful box is a very very useful idea. I have had one for a long time in various spots around the house. I bought this battered but much loved builder's chest at a London antique market.

I keep all sorts of things in it, useful things. It has a sliding drawer on the top and the bottom is divided into two halves - perfect for stashing stuff.  Like that drawer in your kitchen but bigger and easier to access.

It holds rolls of wrapping paper, ribbon, scissor, sticky tape, stickers, rubber bands, envelopes and thank you cards.

My sewing kit, which is not terribly big, lives in it - a packet of needles, hemming tape (marvellous stuff for the non-sewer) and cotton. Plus a jar of buttons.

There are also hose attachments, puncture kits, phone chargers, blue tack and a host of stuff which was useful and now isn't - why does Nokia make phones that no longer fit the charger on last year's model?

So as part of the spring clean I sorted it out. Interesting. I discovered that just like my habit of buying cans of tomatoes eight at a time I seem to have over invested in Ikea wrapping ribbon.

I found nine boxes. That's 180 metres of ribbon. 

See? Useful.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


It's a big one but the birthday boy is blissfully unaware.

My toddler is two today and cannot be called a toddler anymore. As if to underline that he seems to have learnt another fifty words overnight and was strutting around at creche this morning throwing balls with the big boys.

Cake, party and presents on Saturday when his dad is around to enjoy it too.

This was taken hours after his birth... can't quite believe that it was only two years ago - he seems to have been part of our family forever.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Getting around...

My husband is having a love hate relationship with the bus. Actually hate hate. We live 5kms from his office and it can take an hour to get there by bus... and we live on the route of the tourist link bus. Apparently that's the best bus.

Good to know that we have found somewhere in the world that makes Sydney's ailing (journalists always say ailing when they mean crap) transport system look pretty good.

Anyway this wall decal might cheer him up or just annoy him more....  I could put it near the front door.


It's from Perth based Little Design Horse who have a groovy shop and take phone orders. They also have a blog. All the cool people do.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Going native...

A barefoot childhood is something Kiwis are proud of. For me bare feet were reserved for the beach - and having no shoes on in a shop or on the road was on a level with eating in the street - an absolute no no. I still furtively bite into an apple if I'm walking in public (I am lying about the apple - it's a chocolate bar or it was until the late New Year resolutions)

Kiwi kids tend to kick off their shoes anywhere. I was a little taken aback to see children walking to and from school barefoot... my kids of course have gone native quickly and the shoes (and jumper) are dumped along with the school bag as as soon as we get to the classroom.

We got this note home from school about this week's cross country race. Along with the usual instructions to bring a drink etc was the sort of advice I've never seen before...

It did make me laugh... like seeing the "no dogs allowed" signs in English pubs. I remember thinking 'well of course no dogs are allowed'. Well, likewise 'of course you wear shoes in a race.' 

Apparently we Australians are more uptight than we'd like to think... My kids are going to get wide flat feet and soles like shoe leather but they look pretty happy about it. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Day tripping...

I wanted to take you back to Piha - our day trip last Sunday.  It was truly stunning... helped by a gorgeous, sunny and warm May day.
Piha is about a 45 minute drive from Auckland - longer if you like to navigate from a map printed at the last minute from the internet which could have been zoomed in a little more... We did an extended tour of the western suburbs on our way to the Waitakere Ranges.

The west coast is wild, the sand is black and sticks to everything - it apparently gets baking hot underfoot in the summer.

We spent our time on North Piha - there is another smaller beach to the south of the majestic Lion Rock.

We've decided it's the perfect autumn and winter beach for us. Way too wild for swimming with children... the littlest was dunked by a very strong rogue wave and we could see more rips than we could count.

There are lots of great walks to go back to and we'd like to climb the rock without a toddler in tow.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Kiwi books for kids...

Last night our five year old got a new book to add to his kiwi collection... apparently a best seller here. Perky is an orphaned pukeko taken in and cared for by a farmer who looks very Wal Footrot - remember Footrot Flats?

A Pukeko is a purple swamp hen. Pukeko is a much, much nicer name. Perky the Purple Swamp Hen doesn't shout "read me".

If course we've long been fans of Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy -  My brother used to read them (he's ten years younger than me so I remember quite a lot about his childhood) and I liked them way back then. 

Oh to write like Lynley Dodd.

With tails in the air 
they trotted on down
past the shops and the park 
to the far end of town.
They sniffed at the smells
and snooped at each door,

And the characters - Bottomley Pots all covered in spots, Bitzer Maloney all skinny and bony... it's fabulous!

It did take me a while to realise Hairy hailed from these parts... and now I know that the Dairy you see the corner of as he leaves for his walk is not a farm with loads of cows but a corner store or milk bar. AND  it's pronounced "deery" - rather than dare-ee as we Australians would say. Very confusing for our five year old when we arrived and his first friend kept talking about going to the dairy for a treat. "Mum," he said to me, "what's a deery?" 

Of course nine months on he says deery too.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spring cleaning

I know, I know, I live in New Zealand and it is not actually spring but I need to sort out my life and I need something to spur me on.

Today it is unseasonably warm  - actually what would I know?! I haven't lived here long enough to know what the weather should be like!  Anyway it's warm, sunny and feels like spring. And in spring you de-clutter, tidy and clean. And that is me in the month of May 2010.

First the overflowing paperwork drawer, and the tangle of spoons and other crap paraphernalia that lives in my second kitchen drawer. Then it is drawer by drawer, cupboard by cupboard, room by room through the whole house. We've only been in it for nine months but boy is it a mess.

Along the way I am going to test out all the advice I can find on blogs and self help sites and let you know what I think works and what doesn't.  I am a messy, lazy, domestically challenged, busy mother who actually hates clutter and mess - the perfect crash test dummy.

By the way the photograph was taken a few years ago in London's beautiful Richmond Park - in spring. When spring sprang in the UK it really was the most wonderful feeling that you never get in NZ or Australia. That first day in March or April when you can feel the sun's warmth after months of weak, watery sunlight is magical.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


My littlest is nearly two. I love the new person that's emerging (exhausting as he is sometimes) but I am also a little sad he's growing up. Hormones I imagine... there can be no rational reason for wanting a newborn again!

So it's a big birthday for both of us and there are a few new things in his life to mark the occasion.

He has spent two nights in his brand new big boy bed. Most of the night anyway... he refuses to lie down at bedtime and sits very quietly in it for ages before giving in to sleep.

He fell out at two am on the first night and then after a long cuddle sat like a little monkey in the dark perched on the pillow refusing to either lie down or be put into his cot. I left him sitting there in silence and he eventually keeled over. Funny kid.

The bed linen like most things in his life is a hand me down from his big brother, the walls need some love and so does the storage. Time too for a toy cull ahead of the birthday party next week. I love a good clear out (it's all the moving we've done) but giving away the baby toys might be a little harder...


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