Monday, 29 December 2008

The Friday Night Knitting Club - Kate Jacobs

I had great notions about working through my stack of books this summer in an elegant, lazy fashion; imagine my lovely hammock, a long, cool drink, and casually reading another book every few days. Well, I've finished my first, but in quite different circumstances. Being sick in bed has had only one advantage: quality reading (and sleeping) time!

I saw The Friday Night Knitting Club (2007), by Kate Jacobs, in an airport bookshop earlier this year and added it to my 'to read' list. It's a classic tale of a group of women, who would normally have led very different lives, being brought together by a common interest, each seeking something different. One thing I like about crafts or other activities is the way they often seem to draw together an eclectic group of individuals, very much like the friends we have made through dancing. I hope to do the same thing with my yet-to-be-started ukulele orchestra.

Well-written, The Friday Night Book Club is an easy, pleasant read. It sometimes threatens to create caricatures of a few characters, but generally they are well-rounded, warm and believable. I will look forward to following up with the sequel, Knit Two (2008), which is set five years after the first story ends.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Super Size Me

Tonight, I finally watched Super Size Me (2004), Morgan Spurlock's documentary about his attempt to eat nothing but McDonald's meals for 30 days. While Spurlock acknowledges that it was never recommended, nor suggested, that consumers eat McDonald's for every meal of every day, this was nevertheless a fascinating experiment.

The segments on the teenage girls who were trying to sue McDonald's for becoming obese were truly mind-blowing; their parents are either very opportunist, or their lawyer even more so. Who lets their child become like that?? While I agree that the power of advertising makes some people more vulnerable than others to certain products (just look at the influence of cigarette and alcohol advertising over the years), there comes a time when individuals have the ability to make choices for themselves. This goes for parents, too.

A couple of key words and phrases kept resonating throughout this documentary. The first is: personal responsibility, ie when are people going to start taking some? The other word is: moderation. Our bodies will largely forgive us even the worst of punishments we can inflict upon ourselves for a while (drugs, alcohol, over-exertion, food - or lack thereof) but, eventually, enough is enough. Why don't our brains catch up with this message and stop people before it's too late? Or is it just easier and more convenient to blame others for our woes?

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Christmas roundup

So, the big day has come and gone, and summer remains here in Wellington. (Well, perhaps not all of today, but we had summer yesterday and it was great!) It has been a busy few days and nights.

This morning, my sweetie and I were talking about New Year's resolutions; neither of us make them. One reason why I started the 101 goals in 1001 days project is that I believe one can make changes in their life at any time. I also like the time frame of 1001 days; long enough to achieve some medium term goals, enjoy some short term goals, and also start working towards some long term goals at the same time. So, here is a quick roundup of the past few days:
  • I got my purple ukelele and am now on my way to goal #92. It has already had the desired effect; everyone who has picked up my ukulele has done so with a smile on their face. I've managed to retrieve the four guitar chords I learned about 12 years ago and translate them to the ukulele. I'm nearly ready to start my orchestra! ;-)

  • My sweetie bought me a double Mexican hammock for Christmas. He has put it up in his backyard between the garage and house and I spent an hour yesterday lying in the sun reading a book. Absolute bliss.

  • I made two batches of chocolate brownies and they both went down a treat. Yum!

  • I was running late with my Christmas baking, so my sweetie ended up making the mini Christmas puddings to take to our friend's on Christmas Eve. He certainly knows how to impress a crowd!

  • I now have a big pile of books to read over summer, after a library visit on Christmas Eve, a Christmas present, and borrowing a few more from my sweetie's family. I have only just managed to scrape by with goal #1 this year; hopefully the summer holidays will help get me back on track.

  • Despite all her planning and preparation for my nephew's first Christmas, including cooking up a storm, Mum unfortunately missed it due to a terrible stomach bug. She was sent home from work on Christmas Eve, staying there for a few days and unable to eat or drink. My brother and I now both have the same bug and it is NASTY! I haven't managed to get up at all today except to be sick. :-(

  • The Boxing Day sales were crazy beyond belief! Not a shopper, my sweetie and I were amazed at the crowds which had gathered at the shops - busier than before Christmas, even! Admittedly, we also joined them briefly, but were home as soon as we could after buying my bike (see below). So much for a recession ...

  • Instead of just riding a bike (#94), I went one better and bought one. I got an amazing deal from Super Cheap Auto - a brand new bike with disc brakes and suspension for $NZ169. Knowing that there was limited stock at each store, we were the first customers there on Boxing Day. All that remains now is to find a purple helmet (yes, it does need to be purple) and I'll be able to start riding daily. Well, that's the theory ...

  • There is talk of having Christmas next year with family on the Chatham Islands. We'll see ...

  • Goal #48 - see all of the above. There are many things I have to be happy and thankful for (apart from being sick), and I am!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Breakfast at sunrise

Yesterday was the longest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere, and the summer solstice. Today, summer well and truly arrived. It is the perfect summer's day today: warm, sunny, clear sky, with the gentlest breeze. I love the time around dawn, when the promise of a new day breaks and all is quiet and calm while the world is bathed in glorious colours. Unfortunately, I'm not a morning person, and thankfully neither is my sweetie, so I don't often get to experience these moments.

This morning, my sweetie and I woke up at 5am, packed up a picnic breakfast, and drove across town to watch the sunrise. Wellington is special in that you can see the sun both rise and set over water, and only a ten minute drive away from each other. We knew we had to be there by around 5.45am to catch the sun coming up over the south coast. Today's goal had a bit more significance, though, and I had someone special to complete it with: #35 - Watch the sun rise.

We were celebrating watching the sunrise (kind of) exactly one year ago, except last year we didn't get up early for it. Instead, we hadn't made it home from a Christmas party the night before. Let's just say that Santa was good to me in 207 and I got the best present for Christmas: my sweetie!

I was very spoilt (again) this morning; these were hiding in my sweetie's car overnight:

I have now finished work for the year. I have a project to complete once someone sends me the content, and will potter away at it gradually, but I am looking forward to the next 2 1/2 weeks like you wouldn't believe. I went to the library this afternoon and am now armed and ready for the holidays. We are going out for dinner tonight. Life is good.

Happy anniversary, sweetie. xxx ooo

Monday, 22 December 2008

Jumping in puddles

We had another great weekend away. This time, it coincided with my sweetie's final motorsport event for the year. We left in the race car on Saturday afternoon and stayed with friends of his in Marton. (Yes, Marton.) They bought a lifestyle block a few months ago, with plans of renovating the house, planting a vege garden, and raising some cattle. We were introduced to their ten calves, hand-raised from four days old and four of whom had names, therefore probably won't be destined for their freezer. Ahh, country life.

Sunday morning and we were up early(ish), heading to Feilding(!) for the first of the day's events to begin. I know what you're thinking: how could we handle the excitement of two small rural towns in one weekend? ;-)

Both events were held at Manfeild, on different sides of the park. The first was an autocross, which coincided with the rain that threatened overnight. And so it rained. And got sloshy and wet for a bit. At least it was relatively warm and not too windy.

In the afternoon, the event moved to the track on the other side of the park. That's when the sun started coming out sporadically. When the rain finally went away, it left some huge puddles that were begging to be jumped in and sloshed through. How could anyone resist a sight like this? And what better way to let loose the inner child in us all?

And so I did it: #33 - Jump in a puddle. I also sloshed, skimmed, and stomped a bit for good measure. Next time I'll wear gumboots and make a bigger job of it. Running jumps, here I come! ;-)

What crappy Christmas gift are you?

... cos it's the season for them.

You are a Christmas sweater!

Over the top, colorful, and totally flashy.

You're not afraid to be a little tacky.

Wow, tacky and flashy! Not everyone gets called that on a Monday morning ... :-P

Go on, try it for yourself and let us know your results. Ho &%$# ho!

Saturday, 20 December 2008


December is strawberry season in New Zealand. I just can't get enough of them at the moment. They are so perfectly ripe and delicious, and incredibly yummy eaten on their own, sprinkled with icing sugar, dipped in chocolate, or drenched in limoncello. My sister-in-law ate so many strawberries while she was pregnant this time last year; I think she was pleased with how well the timing of her move to the southern hemisphere worked out. ;-)

Apparently strawberries are a superfood, and amongst one of the 20 best foods for health. Great news! I know they will double in price next week for Christmas (how cruel!), so I am enjoying my daily fix while I can. Yum!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Iris and the Friends - John Bayley

Earlier this year, I read the first part of the Iris trilogy, written by her husband, John Bayley. Iris and the Friends (1999) is the second book in this trilogy. More contemplative and reflective in style, this book is a mixture of childhood memories (Bayley's) and a more insightful look at life with Dame Iris Murdoch during her final couple of years, as Alzheimer's disease truly set in and manifested within her.

The 'friends' are not people, as such; instead, they are the personification of various symptoms of Alzheimer's. Bayley likened these symptoms to 'friends' who would visit from time to time and, on occasion, some would stay longer than others. Before the final, most difficult months, some of the friends were considered a reassuring part of the disease, returning for a while before being replaced by another. The friends visited in different orders, and not necessarily within rhyme nor reason.

These kinds of tales are more endearing than any romance athor could ever dream up; the ongoing compassion and love shown by Bayley as he cared for his wife right until the end of a difficult and tragic illness is beyond anything these stories try to portray. Bayley was honest: there were times when he lost his patience, got angry and shouted at Iris who, in turn, sat looking at him expectantly, and seemingly appeared not to notice his frustration. Then, he was back to it again, ever-patient and caring. Amazing.

I hope to read the final book in the trilogy, Widower's House (2001) over the summer break.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

It's A Wonderful Life

I've been told that It's A Wonderful Life (1946) is the perfect movie classic to watch at Christmas time. In the midst of all the fuss and headaches of what Christmas has become, it's good to be reminded about what's really important in life; how we act does not always show this. Enter goal #52 - Watch It's A Wonderful Life at Christmas time.

The movie centres around George Bailey, whose ambitions and dreams of travelling and seeing the world are constantly postponed due to one 'situation' or another. George watches others living his own dreams and stays behind in his home town, constantly putting others before himself and slowly becoming more resentful along the way. Everything finally goes belly-up one Christmas Eve, and along comes George's guardian angel, who needs to show George just how much his life has affected all those around him, and what life would have been like if he had never been born.

Lessons and reminders:
  • Always keep sight of your dreams. Even if they seem impossible to pursue, and things get in the way, don't forget them.
  • There are good people in the world. Seek them out and stick by them; they will do the same for you.
  • Greed is all around us, but good can prevail. Make the right choices and decide what's important to you; it might not be what you think. Money isn't everything.
  • Take some time to appreciate friends and family; they might not be there or wait around forever. There's only so much those closest to you can endure.
  • Never underestimate the effect you, or your life, has on others, even those you don't know.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Retrospective mini-golf

I realised, as I was looking through my list of 101 goals, that I'd inadvertently completed one of the activities without realising it - several times, in fact! #27 - Play mini golf; I can retrospectively tick this off my list. Wow, if only some of the others were that simple.

While we were on holiday on the Gold Coast, we spent a morning playing mini golf at Putt Putt. It seems to be something we do while we're away; we've had fun on the mini golf courses in Nelson and Hanmer Springs, and keep meaning to play at one not far from home ... yet never quite make it there.

There are three courses at Putt Putt and we started out on the jungle trail. They have the cutest animal sculptures hidden in and around the course:

Next up, it was the waterways course, and finally the fun run, which was undergoing maintenance when we first arrived. The settings for each course are gorgeous and the grounds are really well maintained. It turns out I scored the bonus hole in one for the day, giving me a discount next time we play there, but that's unlikely given we live in New Zealand ...

And the result? That's not important. (OK, my sweetie won, and by quite a bit.) It's great fun in the sun.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Marlborough wine tasting

On 6-7 December, a group of about ten friends got on the morning ferry from Wellington to Picton, then on to Blenheim for an overnight stay. A friend of ours is a climate consultant for a number of vineyards in Marlborough's wine growing region, and had suggested we join him for a weekend of wine tasting at some of the wineries he consults for. Great idea!

As a non-drinker, I was still keen to go along and enjoy the experience. Bubbly Grape Wine Tours were our hosts for the afternoon. Our driver informed us that there are 101 wineries in Blenheim. Given how tiny Blenheim is, that is a huge number! We had four chosen for us to visit. Given that it's been about four years since I stopped drinking alcohol (and hardly drank much before then anyway), here is my uneducated opinion of the wines we tasted.

First stop was at Wither Hills. Their tasting room building features stunning architecture, a lovely cellar, and the most comfy bean bags you can imagine right on their front lawn! If we didn't have other wineries to go to, some of us might have finished our afternoon right there. Our host explained some of the nuisances of the wines they produced and we got to sample a selection.
  • 2008 sauvignon blanc - this had a passionfruit taste and was incredibly yummy. I didn't realise it at the time, but it was my favourite wine of the day.
  • 2008 Rarangi sauvignon blanc - this is the same sav, but only using the harvest from a specific vineyard (Rarangi). It had quite a lemongrass taste, and I didn't enjoy it as much as the first sav, but friends liked it and bought a bottle, their first of many.
  • 2008 pinot gris - this is the only aromatic wine I usually enjoy.
  • 2007 chardonnay - I found this quite oaky in taste.
  • 2006 pinot noir - this had quite distinctive cherry and plum flavours.
Cloudy Bay was our next destination. Most people recognise Cloudy Bay as having a widely-accepted good name; its name is synonymous with quality. I can see why: pure class, all the way. This is the selection that greeted us upon arrival:

Wow. Ten miniature glasses of wines, all laid out, with water at the end, and a printed list. Our host was Australian, with questionable pronunciation of Maori words (at best), but she was very knowledgeable about the wines Cloudy Bay had produced. Here's their selection:
  • Pelorus NV - Pelorus is the sparkling wine label for Cloudy Bay and features the Pelorus dolphin insignia. This non-vintage bubbly was very fruity, and I think someone in our group bought a bottle or two.
  • Pelorus Vintage 2004 - this had a more subtle flavour (and also made a sale or two).
  • 2008 sauvignon blanc - this was also very fruity and delicious. My pick from Cloudy Bay.
  • 2005 Te Koko - this was a more subtle sav, named for the region. Not quite as tasty for me.
  • 2006 chardonnay - I found this really oaky. Not sure I could finish a glass of this one.
  • 2007 pinot gris - this was the standout pinot gris of the day for me. Delicious!
  • 2005 riesling - this was incredibly sweet.
  • 2006 Gewurztraminer - I wasn't keen on the oily texture of this wine.
  • 2006 pinot noir - this was light and quite pleasant to taste.
  • 2004 late harvest riesling - I couldn't cope with this; it was far too sickly sweet for me, so only made one sip. My friend bought a bottle, though, and finished our samples, too, along with everyone's leftover bubblies ...
Our third winery was Nautilus Estate. We were given a tour around part of the vineyard and found out a lot about the process of commercial wine making and the importance of frost protection. A decent frost can set a vineyard back 3-4 years overnight!

Nautilus's alternative label is Twin Islands. Apparently most wineries have an alternative label of B-grade wine (although some, like Cloudy Bay, only allow A-grade wine to be accepted) and each vintage is tasted and assessed by samplers who determine whether or not it is fit for sale under their label. Some which don't make the grade are sent to other wineries for bottling and branding under a generic label, and the really bad stuff gets discarded.
  • 2008 sauvignon blanc - we got to pour ourselves some of this straight out the vat. It was unfiltered, so quite cloudy, and containing some impurities like seeds and pith. It tasted really fruity and was much-enjoyed by our group. Lovely!
  • 2008 chardonnay - this was very subtle in flavour and my favourite chardonnay of the day. We got to drink it straight out of the barrels, poured from a large syringe.
  • 2008 pinot noir - a very smooth flavour, and my favourite pinot noir of the day. Way to go, Nautilus! Again, sampled directly from the barrels and poured from a syringe.
  • 2008 pinot noir clone - the cloning process was explained, but I don't recall most of it. This clone had a stronger taste than the original pinot noir. Neither will be ready for bottling for another year or so (I think!).
  • Twin Islands pinot noir chardonnay - this is a sparkling wine. I enjoyed its light taste.
  • Nautilus cuvee brut - and the sparkling just kept getting better. This was my bubbly pick of the day. Yummy!
  • Twin Islands 2007 pinot noir - very light in taste and delicious.
Our final stop for the day was Fairhall Downs. They are a bit further off the beaten track and very much a family affair. They opened their cellar especially for our group. (It pays to know the right people.) Fairhall Downs Estate is set amongst rolling grounds, and with the sun at just the right angle it was the perfect way to end our day of wine tasting. Their alternative brand is Torea, or 'barbeque wine', as our host explained.
  • Torea 2008 sauvignon blanc - very fruity 'barbeque wine', ie its purose is not necessarily to be the toast of the town.
  • 2008 sauvignon blanc - this was far more subtle than the Torea, and I preferred its flavour.
  • 2008 pinot gris - this was partly hand-harvested, which is unusual for white wines. The taste wasn't particularly memorable for me.
  • 2007 chardonnay - also not very memorable; I'm not sure why.
  • 2007 pinot noir - a bit too oaky for me, but friends bought a bottle. Overall, I enjoyed Fairhall Downs wines less than those we tasted at other wineries.
I learned a lot over the weekend. If you are planning on doing a wine trail yourself, I'd highly recommend booking ahead and asking for a tasting for your group. While many wineries will accommodate people off the street, the ones who were expecting us gave us really interesting tours and were better equipped to deal with groups, and they were all free. Keep an open mind, even if you think you only like certain types of wines. I was surprised how the sauvignon blancs ended up being my favourites, as I'd switched to chardonnay several years ago (before stopping drinking at all). We're keen to try another tour, either in the same region or closer to home in the Wairarapa or Hawkes Bay. It also pays to bring someone 'in the know', if you can; we think our connections helped at Cloudy Bay. ;-)

An almost perfect weekend (I would have liked my sweetie to have been able to join us), and what I thought was a near-impossible goal was achieved: #83 - Have a computer-free weekend (all of Sat/Sun).

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Christmas cheer

We are going to a birthday barbeque shortly. Being the festive season, I thought I'd have a go at making sweet Christmas puddings.

They are unbelievably easy to make. There is a recipe of sorts here, but basically you just melt some white chocolate, then stick in a jaffa and two spearmint leaves to make the shape of holly.

I'm not sure whether you can get mallowpuffs or jaffas outside of New Zealand or Australia, but there must be something similar you can use. I bought a whole bag of spearmint leaves (lollies) thinking I would use one for each holly leaf; I cut them in half, then half again, so now I have plenty left over to use again when we go out on Christmas Eve. Green jubes would also work. Yum!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Getting to know others at Christmas

Here's another meme of sorts, this time with a Christmas theme ... you know the deal: Café Chick reveals all, then you follow suit. As always, 'stolen' from another great blog.

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Wrapping paper, although I often use gift bags for friends if I'm taking a gift to a Christmas party.

2. Real tree or artificial?
Real pine, all the way. We always had one in our home growing up and there's something about the smell of pine, and all the pine needles getting stuck in the carpet, that signifies Christmas for me. Our family had an artificial tree last Christmas; we haven't thought far enough ahead to know what will happen this year!

3. When do you put up the tree?
Sometime during the week before Christmas, depending on whether it will be a real tree and if we can find a suitable fresh one.

4. When do you take the tree down?
Early January. Depending on how fresh it is when it goes up (and how early we got it), it sometimes makes it until 6 January.

5. Do you like eggnog?
Never tasted it, but am keen to try, if anyone knows a good recipe ...

6. Favourite gift received as a child?
A double swing set when I was five. I'll never forget the thrill of opening the back door and seeing it set up on the lawn. We played on it until we outgrew the swings years later.

7. Hardest person to buy for?
Geez, where do I start? Probably my brother: Mr Practical. If it doesn't have a direction function or use that immediately relates to his life here and now, he's not interested. Some may say that would make it easy to buy for him; perhaps, but it doesn't allow for much creativity.

8. Do you have a nativity scene?
No, but I loved them as a child. (Never had one then either.)

9. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Mail two to the UK because theirs always arrive in early December (and I haven't sent theirs yet). Email a few. Facebook will hopefully do the rest.

10. Favourite Christmas movie?
I'll always remember A Christmas Story (1983), from when I was young. Who couldn't love Ralphie in his ever-determined quest for a BB gun?

11. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Hmm, when is the week before Christmas? I think it's coming soon ...

12. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
Maybe ... ;-)

13. Favourite thing to eat at Christmas?
I don't know how to write it in Italian. It's our version of Christmas mince, with a hard pastry, sultanas, nuts, and other assorted goodies.

14. Lights on the tree?
Yep. Delicate, coloured, and sometimes flashing.

15. Favourite Christmas song?
I love the original tune for Away in a Manger. As for pop Christmas songs, The Royal Guardsmen's Snoopy's Christmas always brings a smile to my face, even after playing it with my band for ten Christmases in a row.

16. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Always at home at my parents' place, and in recent years we've joined extended family afterwards for lunch. Always.

17. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Maybe not all twelve, but I could probably get eight ... and I'm sure I can name all of the seven dwarves. Does that count?

18. Angel on the tree top or a star? I think we've had both over the years. Either is fine.

19. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas day? Always on Christmas morning at my parents' place. This is usually followed by chocolate for breakfast (because someone always gives someone else chocolate), real Italian coffee, and an Italian Christmas sweet.

20. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? The craziness of what has become 'Christmas'. I raise an eyebrow (or more) at people who profess to love Christmas and everything about it, yet say they are not religious at all. Why bother, then?

21. Favourite ornament theme and colour? Probably silver with white fairy lights.

22. Favourite for Christmas dinner? Homemade ravioli. Being Italian, we've never done the 'traditional' Christmas dinner. In fact, I was in my mid-twenties before I'd even tasted turkey! No great loss ...

23. What do you want for Christmas this year? A purple ukulele. ;-)

24. Who is most likely to respond to this? Others who read my blog and are also suckers for quizzes (just like me!).

25. Who is least likely to respond to this? My sweetie. :-P

Your turn ...

Friday, 12 December 2008

Ukulele girl

I've been a good girl this year. ;-)
I've decided what I want Santa (or anyone else) to bring me. Are you ready for it ...?

I want a ukulele. A purple one, naturally. (Pineapples and coconuts optional.)

I've decided to replace one of my 101 in 1001 goals. I'm not sure whether I'll be needing to use a graphics editor in my future career (whatever that may be), and I wasn't overly inspired to get into Photoshop Elements like I'd promised myself. But I know I'll always be wanting to smile, and I've been assured that no-one can possibly play a ukulele without smiling. Ukulele orchestras are all the rage at the moment. Sounds good to me!

So now I have a replacement goal: #92 - Learn to play the ukulele. I can't wait! :-)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Wandering down (video) memory lane

I'm not a big tv/video/movie fan. My idea of an ongoing nightmare would be being made to watch episodes of Funniest Home Videos, or the cutesy-pie videos which get emailed to me by my aunt. Still, here are a couple that I do like and have on my hard drive. I thought I'd share them with you and hopefully make you smile. :-)

(And, before anyone asks, I don't have copyright or permission to use them ... but I'm not claiming them as my own either.)

How Italians tell the time

Sooooo very southern Italian. I love it!

Greek construction workers

This one came out in the lead-up to the Athens Olympic Games, when there were concerns that the stadium might not be finished in time.

IT history

This one is for anyone who has ever had to be in a training role, be it in ICT or another field, and have tried their best to remain patient even in the most frustrating circumstances!

Proof the Irish discovered Africa

These fellas dance better than a lot of people I know, and they come cheap, too - just $5 each and a bunch of bananas!

Enjoy :-)

Monday, 8 December 2008

Famous failures

I know this is not a very positive title, but I came across this video today. I'm feeling a bit like I'm on the cusp on this, although I'm not pretending in any way that my current predicament is on the same scale.

The byline reads: "Don't be put off achieving your destiny, even if you have experienced failure in your life. This video mentions well known people who had failed, but kept pressing on until they became successful." I know I'm not 'failing'; I have actually achieved quite a lot and enjoyed many successes in my career. It's just good to be reminded that others have also faced challenges, but still successfully navigated them.

Famous failures

What kind of reader are you?

Thanks to The Well Read Kitty, I have taken yet another online quiz that generates an embeddable HTML code for results! (Small pleasures ...)

This time, it's about one of my favourite subjects: books. Find out what kind of reader you are by taking this quiz.

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

I'm pleased to discover that Café Chick is neither a non-reader, nor a fad-reader. I think I have just enough book snob in me to be discerning about books, and I'm quite happy with the diagnoses of obsessive-compulsive bookworm and literate good citizen. Gosh! If only I had more time to read ...

So, how do you score? Take the quiz and leave a comment to let me know!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Christmas lights

I have just got home and noticed my neighbour's house. Every year, they are one of a few houses in the area who really go to town with decorating their home at Christmas. Christmas lights are growing in popularity here, but are not as big a tradition as other countries. I loved the streets full of beautiful lights when I was in the US just after Christmas several years ago. A few local families decorate their houses each year, and some have donation boxes collecting for local charities. A family friend put out a donation box a few years back and was surprised to find hundreds of dollars of donations building up during December; the wonderful thing is that anyone could have helped themselves to the money sitting there, but no-one did.

I took a quick photo using my mobile phone, but it doesn't really do the house justice. Still, I think it's pwetty and might go for a drive to other streets where I know the houses are lit up.

The Nutcracker

Christmas is coming. The shopping malls are playing cheesy Christmas muzak over and over, and it's only 4 December. (For the record, most of them are Christmas songs, not carols, but anyway ...) However, this also means that it's time to start listening to Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. Ahhh.

A Christmas ballet, it annoys me somewhat to hear Waltz of the Flowers, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the Dance of the Toy Trumpets used to advertise cleaning products all year round. (I'm a purist; I can't help it and no longer apologise for it.) A delightful traditional children's story about Clara and various toys coming to life at Christmas time, the score also stands alone as a timeless and complete work on its own. I've yet to see a live performance of The Nutcracker but hope to change that one day.

I've had a traditional wooden German nutcracker since I was about 15, when all of our music group received one as thanks for playing for their Christmas concert. While it's a bit too small to crack actual nuts, it's one of my favourite ornaments.

I've been listening to The Nutcracker today while working, for the first time this Christmas season. I thought that listening to instrumental music would be a good way to take my mind off things at work, without the risk of getting myself caught up listening to lyrics. Turns out I was wrong, as I've really enjoyed listening to all the orchestra parts, but it's made me feel a lot better about some things. :-)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Summer days and nights

This is my favourite time of the year. Summer has officially started now, and we have been promised a good one this year. The silly season coincides with warm weather here in New Zealand, and there are Christmas parties and gatherings gradually filling up my diary. It has started well; we went away with a group of about 20 friends to Himatangi Beach, two hours north of Wellington, for the weekend. The weather was scorching hot and the sky was clear; perfect conditions for a relaxing time away.

We got into a bit of mischief on Saturday night. We had lots of marshmallows to toast after our barbeque at the campsite finished, so headed to the beach and climbed over the sand dunes, stopping on the way to collect large bits of driftwood. Yes: a bonfire! The driftwood was really dry and we quickly had a roaring fire for our marshmallows. Bliss.

It turns out that lighting open fires in the area is illegal, though. We knew there is a fire ban in cities, but this beach area is out of the way and no real risk. Well, that's what we explained when the volunteer fire brigade traipsed over the sand dunes saying that they were going to put our fire out along with the four they'd already done further up the beach that night. Apparently we needed a permit, and then could have lit one right on the beach at the high tide mark. Bureaucracy, geez! So, like going down with the Titanic, we stayed sitting on our deck chairs and watched our bonfire being put out by a grumpy firewoman (not even a hot fireman to keep us happy!). More than a little naughty, and even more than a little fun while it lasted. :-P

Last night, we had a girls' pamper night at a friend's place. Ok, so it was a Nutrimetics demonstration, and we all bought a few bits and pieces in time for Christmas, but the highlight of the evening was the girl talk which followed. Three of us finally said goodnight around 11pm (on a school night!), after solving the problems of the world. (Kind of.) Evenings like this are always so good for the soul. And what did we talk about? It's girl talk, sweetie, so don't bother asking!

Oh, and I saw the first of the new Goodnight Kiwi ads on tv tonight. For us over-25s, nothing will ever really beat the original Goodnight Kiwi, but it was great to see our old friend back in action on the small screen once again. I'm also looking forward to the other two ads in the series, one to be played between Christmas and New Year, and the other in January 2009.

All is good on summer days and nights like these. :-)