Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter break

The Easter break has changed so much for me over the years. This 4-day weekend is now my favourite holiday time during a busy year. There is something so appealing about being forced to take a break at the same time as being awarded a licence to eat copious amounts of chocolate, all the while being unable to do normal things (read: shop for stuff I don't need and rush about stressing over things that really don't matter) for just a couple of days each year. I look forward to the long weekend with probably more excitement than I should and eagerly embrace the time out.

Yesterday, we headed to the Horowhenua with a bunch of friends to spend the night in a friend's newly built log house. Set amid a 2 acre plot of land strewn with 40 metre gum trees, we were looking forward to the overnight stay that had long ago been promised. We loaded up the car with heaps of food, wine, Easter eggs for hiding and a few board games, then were on our way. The property had been hit pretty hard during the storms this week so there was some trepidation about what state we might find the grounds in, but the house was beautifully unscathed.

I'd had romantic ideas of us waking up on Easter Sunday to the smell of freshly baked hot cross buns and set about making dough to bring with me. What I hadn't anticipated was our friend not having an oven yet in his temporary kitchen. Plan B: I could use the warming rack beneath the woodburner and cross my fingers that it would successfully bake bread.

My oven for the night
The biggest challenge was getting enough heat. I needed 200ºC for the hot cross buns to cook but apparently it's rare for the oven to get above 130ºC (enough to slowly toast muesli but that's about it). We solved this by cranking up the burner, adding heaps of wood, pouring some wine and waiting. The buns doubled in size while proving in front of the heater, then it was into the fire to see what would happen.

Just the right size to bake a dozen hot cross buns
Success! Not only was the gap between the metal plates just big high to bake twelve hot cross buns on a tray, but they cooked perfectly with just the right amount of colour on top. I am so proud of my first ever (and potentially only ever) batch of woodburner baked hot cross buns! It was even more satisfying to produce them for an eager audience who oohed and aahed while they were baking and drooled over the smell as they were cooling.

The best part is that we have arrived home relaxed and armed with a cache of chocolate, along with a few spare hot cross buns for breakfast tomorrow. They will be perfectly matched with freshly brewed coffee after one more morning of sleeping in ... so long as the cat remembers that it's a holiday and doesn't wake me up for work at 6:30 am. (I don't rate my chances of that happening but at least I know breakfast will be good!)

Friday, 11 April 2014

Ready To Roll

We're enduring a long, slow Friday today. With only 40% of staff present in our office, the ensuing quiet should technically enable more productivity but has instead resulted in a general malaise that isn't helped by the dreary weather outside. So we're collectively tackling some really big issues.

It was all sparked by the casual Friday wardrobe choice of our 24-year-old accounting assistant. Spotted wearing a RTR t-shirt, he was asked by another colleague whether he knew what it meant. A quick Google search and he told us that it was "an old TV programme". "What does it stand for?" he was further challenged. "Ready To Roll," he read. By now, he had gathered quite an audience, all within a certain age range. We swiftly delivered a verdict: "You can’t be allowed to wear a RTR t-shirt if you don't know what it means and weren't even born at the time."

Naturally, he argued that he could wear the t-shirt. After all, he has been listening to some old music lately. He proudly told me a few weeks ago that, "I listened to an 80s song last week. It wasn't too bad." He then went on to name an obscure number that apparently earns him the right to say he knows about 80s music now. He "might even listen to another 80s song sometime" if I can recommend something for him to download. Never mind the oxymoron that is downloading 80s music.

Here's how it is: unless 6 pm Saturdays, Robbie Rakete with long hair (he was Robbie then, not Robert or a Wiggle), counting down to the number one single and not being allowed to stay up late enough to watch Radio With Pictures on a Sunday night rings a bell, you shouldn't be allowed to wear the t-shirt. Not in any circumstances. Not ever. Not even if you've listened to an 80s song once. No way. It's a bit like wearing a t-shirt for a concert you never went to or remembering Woodstock.

What do you think? Are we being too harsh?

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Random thoughts

Eep! It's been a while. *shrugs apologetically to self and blog*

Here are some random thought from the past couple of weeks:
  • Rice bread tastes amazing when fresh out of the oven but just as good lightly toasted the next day. Also, this recipe for Irish soda bread couldn't be quick or easier to make - I've done it several times recently with a 100% success rate.
  • Although I am enjoying baking lots of bread this year, I still adore baking cakes and other goodies. Today's attempt at making alphabet block cake toppers for a special little man's birthday was incredibly fun, even if my blocks didn't quite look like the ones in that picture.
  • I had the weirdest dream last night. My dad called and said the band had a job starting in two hours' time. It was Thursday night and we were playing a cabaret gig (what's with that??). I desperately raced around trying to find musical gear, a dress and a babysitter - when I haven't been in a band for years, haven't ever seen any of the ugly outfits I imagined sorting through in my 'wardrobe' and don't have a child!
  • An unexpected trip to Christchurch this week means I may be able to hunt for more Whittakers Big Eggs. I don't yet know what venue I'll be at, but I will definitely collect the egg at Wellington Airport along with any others I can sneak away to during the day. Yay!
  • If you have a Kindle, check out Heavenly Steals for daily freebies in a range of genre. I have occasionally picked up a few good biographies and light novels.
  • Daylight saving ended in the wee small hours of this morning. I wonder how long it will take for me to reprogramme the pussy cat into demanding breakfast an hour later than she's used to?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Whittaker's Big Egg Hunt

The Whittaker's Big Egg Hunt has begun. Hidden around the country in our three main centres are 100 decorated eggs measuring 1 metre high. Each egg tells a story and they have been decorated by New Zealand artists and designers. Just download the Big Egg Hunt app to your smart phone, turn your data (and GPS) on and you can go 'collecting' eggs. Today, I joined the hunt around Wellington.

There are so many beautifully painted eggs. I started out spotting a few on my way around town between errands today, then quickly abandoned my plans and got caught up in the excitement of looking for another egg, then the next one and the next ... before I knew it, I had 22 eggs collected on my app before deciding to go for a clean sweep of all the eggs in the CBD. Such a fun way to spend a Sunday in autumn.

Here's a selection of my favourite eggs (that I managed to get a decent enough photograph of on my phone). I plan to learn more about each of the eggs, finding out more about who designed each and what they wanted to create.

After criss-crossing 9 km of the city, I had collected 26 of Wellington's 30 eggs! There are four outside of the CBD and I may search for one or two more during the next few weeks. I also managed to score a handful of peanut slab vouchers along the way. Yum!

The eggs are in and around Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch until 22 April. They are also up for auction on Trade Me, so you can bid on your favourite egg with proceeds going to The Starship Foundation.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

A solid 17%

I met up with a friend and former colleague for lunch yesterday. She is bubbly, effervescent and dynamic to be around at work. It's hard not to 'buzz' with her nearby. She describes herself as high maintenance and "makes no apology for it". She is also someone who knows herself really well, what works for her and what doesn't. On some (many) days, she is absolutely on fire! On others, her energy levels are low and productivity seemingly grinds to a halt – but she no longer pretends to herself or others that she should be anything other than herself. Instead, she openly declares herself to be operating at a solid 17% on those days and knows that her output at other times more than makes up for moments of lethargy.

I am somebody who very much works in bursts of energy. A burst may last anywhere between several hours or several days. During these bursts, my productivity and output is outstanding; documents fall out of me faster than during coffee and Berocca-fuelled nights used to allow and all my thinking comes together lightning fast in various creative forms. People can't help but be impressed! ;-)

And then comes the crash, where I inevitably hit a proverbial wall. Everything is a chore. Files go AWOL. I look back and wonder what I have achieved (if anything), even though I have been 'busy' all day ... and then suddenly we start all over again and I'm off!

Here's an example:
I had set aside two whole days this week to work on a major project that I somehow finished in just a quarter of the time. By lunchtime yesterday I was done, 1.5 days ahead of my own schedule and with more detail than I had originally intended. I surprised even myself! But today is definitely a solid 17% day. I suppose it was inevitable.

My manager understands me well. She knows that the number of hours seated at a desk does not directly equate to levels of productivity or creativity and encourages everyone in our team to do whatever we know works best for us. She's a very smart woman. She currently has this quote (that may or may not have been coined by Einstein) as her Lync status. It suits me perfectly.

We were all having a chat about this in the office a while ago and lamenting that a conventional 8-5 working mentality doesn't always work so well for 'creative types'. (They've branded me as one of those - a description I quite like.) We agreed that a change of scenery or a complete break can sometimes yield far better results than just doing more of the same thing, albeit harder and longer than before. It certainly works for me.

A few minutes later, I received an email from my neighbour, CCed to everyone around us.
'I saw this quote and thought of you.

"The only thing one can give an artist is leisure in which to work. To give an artist leisure is actually to take part in his creation."
Ezra Pound, poet (1885-1972)

Despite the fact that Ezra Pound was a smelly fascist, he makes a good point. You should have more leisure time.'
Hear hear! Now, how does one get more leisure time?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

That sinking feeling

We had a party last night, a barbeque for some family and friends. We cooked a mountain of food and crossed our fingers that the weather gods would break our barbeque curse and instead deliver us a fine evening. The gods smiled! So what was on the menu? Two beer can chickens, Island Bay sausages, corn on the cob, homemade ciabatta, baked jacket potatoes with sour cream and homegrown chives, arancini to start, then banoffee tarts and mini chocolate eclairs with strawberry cream for dessert. Yum!

I love prepping for a party. Menu planning, the baking binge that starts the night before (and usually involves much singing and dancing in the kitchen), the spotless home that we only ever seem to achieve when we're entertaining, enjoying food, sunshine and great conversation ... why don't we do this more often?

The aftermath is less fun, though. I'm getting better at planning menus that revolve around one or two courses of finger food and cleaning up as we go but there is always still an inevitable mountain of dishes that follows the big event. Every time I fill the sink or scrub another barbeque tray, I think back to a poster that used to be displayed outside a favourite teacher's office at secondary school many years ago - one that I used to look at and think, "yeah, right. I'll never do that."

It turns out that Mrs Miller was right. Last night (and today), this is what was on my mind.

Ah, c'est la vie!