Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Entertainment Book

The Café Chick has committed to a year of sampling Wellington's cafés and restaurants. Yes, I've bought an Entertainment Book. So now I'll be able to dine out and drink coffee while thinking about how much money I'm saving in the process. That's right, isn't it, sweetie? ;-)

I've had a quick browse through and there are a few of my usual hangouts featured, some places I'm likely to try, some I'm sure to continue to steer clear of (I've already given the McDonald's vouchers away to my sister-in-law), and a few I'll never be able to afford, even with the discount (I'm thinking of the Gold Card section).

So, to give it a whirl, the whanau are going to take Mum out for her birthday dinner tomorrow night and christen the Gold Card. We're thinking of Calzone, a place where I usually enjoy hot chocolate and dessert on weeknights with friends. Then The Flying Burrito Brothers with friends on Friday night. Then, then, then ...

Three things to remember:
  1. keep the card in my wallet
  2. keep the book in my car
  3. remember to use it.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Sunday brunch Part 3

Sunday brunch time again. :-) This time, it's another catchup with former work colleagues. We met at Jetty Café in Petone, close to where I spend a fair bit of time these days. :-)

Their website says "We didn't want to divulge too much information about Jetty, we'd rather you and your friends experience it for yourself!". A shame, really. We arrived shortly after 11am when the place was about half-full. Apparently this equated to "being run off our feet", and we were warned that the service might not be great. Hmmm. Good start.

The coffee (Mojo) was strong and eventually got to us. My eggs were over-runny (not too bad, but not great). My friend's Eggs Benedict arrived drenched in Hollandaise sauce, even though she had ordered it on the side. So, another wait while they re-cooked her breakfast. Another apology on the way out the door for the bad service, accompanied by a promise that if we had come after lunch, then it would have been better. But, really, what's the point of going out for brunch/lunch after lunch? I might give Jetty another try, but probably just for one of their Sunday afternoon jazz sessions, rather than a meal. We'll see.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

King of the castle

It's my sweetie's birthday on Monday, so he got to be king of the castle yesterday. We stayed at The Keep, a little castle nestled between Houghton Bay and Island Bay. I'd stayed at The Lighthouse in Island Bay a long time ago and had driven past The Keep for several years, so it was great to be able to stay over at this other local attraction. He had no idea where we were going, despite repeated attempts to get it out of me these past few weeks, so I'm glad I could surprise him with somewhere he'd never heard of but I knew he'd like.

A fully-equipped B&B, The Keep is gorgeous; warm and cosy, with a lovely spa bath (unfortunately without enough hot water to heat all of it, but we made do with a lukewarm bath and a boiling jug :-P), and directly opposite the waves rushing in around Wellington's south coast. It pretty much had everything you'd need for a secluded night away from it all, except for a crossbow and a dungeon (or so my sweetie reckons).

Here's the view of Houghton Bay from the roof:
An awesome way to spend Anzac Day. :-)

Thursday, 24 April 2008

It's a man's world ...

Yeah, right!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Divided loyalties

There are certain things that will always get my attention:
  1. Free stuff. Even if I don’t want/need it.
  2. Competitions. I win things cos I enter them. Only the free ones, mind you. I don’t care if I only win because others don’t enter; I do, and love winning stuff. Even if I don’t want/need it.
  3. Loyalty cards. I have dozens of them, mostly for coffee and ice cream (which I rarely eat but still have cards for).
How can one be loyal to dozens of places, I hear you ask? Easily. Have a look at some of the coffee cards I carry around with me:

Usually I know which ones to grab and can present them at the counter, but occasionally I am caught out and have to offer a fistful of cards and ask the cashier to pick their one. Even if I don’t think I’ll be going back to a café very often, I’ll still take a coffee card and get it stamped or clipped. You never know when you’ll be back and be surprised with a free coffee …

We don’t yet have a work office in Wellington, but I am, after all, a Café Chick, so I’ve had three café meetings in the past two days with different work colleagues. I’ve had my cards clipped for Bordeaux Bakery (aka work’s Wellington office), the Dixon St Deli (times two, as my colleague was an out-of-towner), and Café St Paul (times four – we were there for a while). I now have a free coffee at the Dixon St Deli/Brooklyn Café, am over halfway there at Bordeaux, and have re-started St Paul’s … where I also put my business card in the jar. After all, you’ve got to be in to win.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Winter music

I love working from home for sooooo many reasons. One huge advantage is days like this: cold, windy, and occasional rain. Who’d want to go outside? Not me. So, I’m snuggled up inside with the fire and a yummy scented candle lit, working in the lounge with my laptop on my knee and my 10-week-old nephew asleep beside me.

There is certain music which I think matches particular seasons. For example, I have a playlist of summer music on my iPod. They’re songs that, as soon as you start listening to them, you can’t help but thinking and feeling like it’s summer. While I don’t have a winter playlist, there are certain albums that I realise I only listen to on days like this. Today, it’s Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance soundtrack. It may never have been intended to be winter music, but somehow it is for me.

Irish music doesn’t really do it for me. I appreciate how good their musicians are, but just can’t take it for too long in one spurt. I also never really got into the whole Riverdance phenomenon but, for some reason, Lord of the Dance really appealed to me. It’s dramatic, mostly instrumental (aids concentration while working!), and a great show of musicianship. The tap tracks are well mixed and give the impression of action without having to dominate each piece. Even though I'm a little foggy on the actual story, I can hear the good-vs-evil battle portrayed through the highs and lows of the music and instrumentation and rejoice in the celebration of good winning at the end. It certainly takes the listener on an emotional musical journey as well as being a wonderful dance showcase. *contented sigh*

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Scavenger hunt

Today, we went on a scavenger hunt around the scenes and sites of Wellington. Organised by the fabulous D&D, it took us on photographic adventures from Kent Terrace to the Railway Station, everywhere in between, and a tiny bit beyond in the name of 'bonus points'. We started at Civic Square and had four hours to solve 50 clues before finding our way back to The Lanes, where our photos would be judged and the scores added up. The pressure was on.

I learnt stuff. Heaps. For example, the first "talking picture" shown in New Zealand was at the Paramount Theatre in Courtenay Place. The Wellington Railway Station is the busiest travel station in the country. John Plimmer is regarded as the "Father of Wellington", and King Dick is actually a lion at the Museum of Wellington: City and Sea.

Each team of 3 had a Wellingtonian and a digital camera. Modes of transport were limited to feet and city buses, but we managed it all on foot. Bonus points were awarded for having all team members in the photo, and certain venues slightly off the beaten track also did us well. Our carefully planned route along Wakefield St down to Kent Terrace, up Courtenay Place, through Cuba Mall, across to Willis Street, up Lambton Quay, then turning back at the Railway Station and heading along the waterfront was a winner. So was our team: first place by heaps of points. Huge smiles all round. Already looking forward to next year's one. :-D

Saturday, 19 April 2008

La Bella Italia

It's cold, windy, and sporadically wet in Wellington today. The perfect day to stay in bed with a book or on the phone, and that's what I did until midday. :-)

Time to get up. I met a friend for lunch at La Bella Italia. Italy is, indeed, beautiful and, owned by a family friend, here is an authentic taste of southern Italy right here in Petone. We wiled away the next four (yes, 4!) hours with good coffee, great food, and even better conversation. We shared great lasagne with pork and beef mince and the eternal 'special of the day', linguine with clams and cherry tomatoes. (Every time I go to La Bella, the announce today's special is linguine with clams ...) Dessert was a torte al limone (lemon torte). Bellissimo!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Coffee with mums and bubs

There are times in my life when it's driven home to me that I'm the odd one out. This morning was one of those times. I'd always known it, but I was reminded of it again.

I met up with someone I'd known from school and had made contact with on Facebook. She is living near me and is now married with three kids. We were in very different crowds at school, but I was looking forward to catching up with her, even if I wondered what we might have in common these days. Very little, it would seem.

The Empire is just down the road from me. While their hot chocolates taste like dish water, their coffee is usually ok. Today it was was full of mums chasing bubs in and out of the front doors to the bus stop in the rain. What fun. In between, they would retrieve toddlers from behind the counter, rescue spoons and other cutlery that somehow ended up being inserted into a toy box or down the side of the couch, all the while sipping their morning lattes and having stilted conversations that were each two sentences long before having to repeat the entire scenario. What surprised me was that the person I was meeting seemed to know almost every mum and bub there by name and disposition and seemed completely at home in this environment. Scary.

So, we proceeded to catch up on the last 15 years or so and fill each other in on people we'd both known from school and what everybody was up to. Here's how the stories went:

She: Oh, and I caught up with [insert name here] the other day.
Me: Wow - it's been ages. I bumped into her years ago and we had [coffee/a drink]. What's she up to these days?
She: She just had her second [baby/daughter/son.]. She and her [husband/partner] just bought a house in [enter suburb/street here]
Me: Oh, [another one] lives just over the road. She has a [one/two/three-year old] [son/daughter] and another on the way. She married a good friend of mine.
She: And [name]. She was never going to have kids, but she had a baby [boy/girl] four days ago.
Me: Geez.
She: Yeah. She and [name] were always like that. [Name] was worried she'd die an old spinster, but she finally got her man and they just bought a house in [suburb/street].
Me: Oh, I'd wondered what she was doing.
She: We were both bridesmaids at [name]'s wedding last year. Their baby is due in [month]. [Name] and I are going to drop off some of my baby stuff for her, cos [two/three/four] kids is enough, lol!

And so on. I spent most of the conversation desperately trying to think of who else we knew from school had married and had babies and was worried I didn't have enough to contribute. I even resorted to talking about my two-month-old nephew (whom I adore), just to have something of my own to add to the conversation! How sad is that??

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Where everybody knows your name

I met a friend at my old coffee haunt today. I used to work around the corner from Café 93 and, while it's not quite like Cheers, there's something incredibly familiar and comforting about the place.

The coffee (Caffe L'Affare) is pretty consistent, although I prefer more froth on my cappuccino. Their scones, sandwiches, and other staples on the menu are always fresh. But it's the familiar service from their counter staff that brings smiles. For example, this scene:
Me: I'll have a trim hot chocolate, please.
(Counter boy [CB] serves me)
Friend: I'll have a latte.
CB: What?!
F: Oh, um, no. I'll have ... um ... isn't that what I usually have?
CB: No.
F: What do I have then?
CB: A flat white.
F: Oh, ok, I'll have one of them.
(Everyone else within earshot bursts out laughing)

Helen always did a great job of looking after us, especially late in the afternoon or when we had to work during weekends. I almost miss having a 'regular' haunt just around the corner from work but, when it comes down to it, I'd much rather keep working from home. Who wouldn't?

Monday, 14 April 2008

Liquorice, but without the liquorice

I love the look of liquorice allsorts. Those colourful, sweet slabs separating strips of deep black look really appealing. Deliciously tempting ... right? No, I'm not fooled by their outward appearance. Actually, it's the liquorice I hate. I've tried to like it and even kidded myself that I couldn't taste it that well if I concentrated on the sweet stuff wrapped around it, but it hasn't worked.

I love red liquorice, though. At certain times, I crave red liquorice like you wouldn't believe. While I rarely indulge, I've discovered something in recent months which could possibly threaten my restraint: red liquorice allsorts. Omg, could there be a more perfect food? (Apart from cheese, chocolate, or cashew nuts??)

Pascall have come up with the goods with their Fruit Allsorts. If I don't watch out, they could easily become my downfall. But, they're fruit, so they must be good for you ... right? ;-)

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Teacher Man - Frank McCourt

As a (former) teacher, I can't help but be attracted to teaching memoirs and biographies. They hold a strange fascination for me. Some describe tales of woe, where the classroom was a place to hone your survival skills far more savage than any reality tv show could offer. Others gloss over these experiences and emerge with deep pedagogical discussions which only mean something to those in the education profession. I loved To Sir, With Love (1967), read Learning Our Living (2000) with interest, and enjoyed Never Lost For Words (2001) about a NZ author who frequently wrote for the School Journal. I have dipped in and out of the biography of Sylvia Ashton Warner these past months, but have found the writing style awkward and am instead looking forward to reading Teacher once I've finished this one.

I'm now reading Teacher Man (2005), the third memoir from Pulitzer prize winning author, Frank McCourt. McCourt is best known for his first memoir, Angela's Ashes (1996), which took the world by storm, and its sequel, 'Tis (1999). The first book tells the grisly story of a poor Irish family growing up in the slums of Limerick, Ireland, while the second details what happened once the poor Irish boy finally made it to the United States to claim his fame and fortune. Predictably, neither were waiting for him and McCourt instead carved out an extensive teaching career and matching alcohol problem.

Some readers and critics wanting more of the poor-boy-surviving story from McCourt's first two memoirs were disappointed with Teacher Man. They claim it was too much about teaching and the rest of the world couldn't relate to the content. Well, duh! That is precisely the reason I am enjoying it; McCourt makes no attempt to disguise what this book is about: his teaching career. In his typical self-deprecating style, he manages to laugh at himself and his gaffs along the way (as we all have to, or else we'll just go nuts in the process that is teaching) yet, to a well-trained eye, describes a constructivist pedagogy, albeit with far less planning and pre-meditated thought than he'd get away with in today's schools.

Basically, if anyone can survive the classrooms of New York for 30 years and still live to tell the story with such humour, they deserve a medal and whatever else is coming to them. I wonder if Frank McCourt has any more memoirs to offer the literary world?

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Averting a coffee disaster

We had an all-day work meeting in town today, with the out-of-towners flying into Wellington for the day. People arrived at different times, so us early-birds arranged to meet for coffee while we waited. I was shocked when my manager called to say he was at Mr Bun. (Food is average, but cheap; coffee - a dirty word.) Something had to be done. Mojo, on the corner of Taranaki and Wakefield Streets, to the rescue. Whew!

Determined to not let him make the same mistake again, I took everyone out to the Dixon St Deli for lunch. With close ties to the Brooklyn Café, the food here is amazing. A really appetising salad bar (no limp iceberg lettuce here!), filo pastries, baked goodies, and Supreme coffee (in name, and in taste). Even our vegetarians were happy!

With such a range of good coffee available, there's no need to ever face a coffee disaster in Wellington. So why do people choose anything less??

Monday, 7 April 2008

Ultimate watermelons

One of the all-time most girlie movies ever, which has also stood the test of time in a certain generation's hearts, has got to be Dirty Dancing (1987). It has everything a girl wants. And what's not to like about it? A hunky lead, rebellious dancers, 1960s setting, 'coming-of-age' dramas, a scandalous affair, romantic water scenes, a killer soundtrack, the girl next door getting her daring man, and one of the 15 worst movie lines ever. Don't believe me? Try saying "I carried a watermelon" to anyone and you'll see what I mean. Dirty Dancing is the way to every girl's heart, and smart guys know this. I made my sweetie watch it a while back. He says it was boring, but I think secretly he liked it. Go on, admit it. It certainly scored him some brownie points. ;-)

So now to the soundtrack ... I love it. All of it. Even the bad bits. A huge range of music from the early 1960s along with some 80s tracks and a few random ballroom/Latin dance pieces thrown in. I've played "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" in bands for years, but strangely enough still love it. I've boogied away to the awesome version of "Do You Love Me?" (by The Contours), cringed to the horrendous singing on "Love is Strange" (Sylvia and Mickey), and sobbed along to the saddest song in the world, Solomon Burke's "Cry To Me". Haven't we all?

So come on, girls, join in ...
When your baby leaves you all alone
And nobody calls you on the phone

Ah, don't you feel like crying?

Don't you feel like crying?

Well here I am my honey

Oh, come on you cry to me...

Well, nothing could be sadder
than a glass of wine all alone
Loneliness, loneliness, it's such a waste of time ...

Yup, "no-one puts Baby in a corner".

Friday, 4 April 2008

What do you love?

I love my job (I know, what's with that??), but it's incredibly stressful at the moment and deadlines are running around left, right, and centre. I've always had highly stressful jobs. I guess that's one problem with being a workaholic and the kinds of things I get myself involved in.

Every now and then, I wonder how I'd cope with painting shot glasses or terracotta pots, making crafts and other artsy things, or doing cross-stitch embroidery full-time. The fantasy never lasts long; apart from the fact that I'm neither very artistic nor crafty, and it would bring me practically no income, I'd still find myself drifting back into the world of challenge and workaholism.

Then I came across someone who does something she obviously loves. Well, she must do to create something as elaborate as this Lego church.

Some facts:
  • It took about a year and a half of planning, building and photographing.
  • More than 75,000 Lego pieces were used.
  • The structure is about 2.2 m x 1.7 m x .76 m.
  • The church seats 1372 Lego people.
  • There are 3976 windows in the church.
  • It features a balcony, a Narthex, stairs to the balcony, restrooms, coat rooms, several mosaics, a nave, a baptistery, an altar, a crucifix, a pulpit and an elaborate pipe organ.
One question: why?

I love Lego. I grew up creating little cities and petrol stations with my brother and reinventing our limited Lego collection in endless combinations. My parents often roll out the story about how embarrassed they were when flying back to New Zealand after a month in the States, with a 6-year-old and 4-year-old in tow, to be asked by customs to open one of our family's suitcases for inspection. For some bizarre reason, they chose our kids' suitcase, complete with its boxes of recently-acquired Lego from our holiday. It ended up all over the customs desk and floor, and apparently everyone for miles around were on their hands and knees picking up stray Lego pieces and handing them back to our red-faced parents. I guess the boxes weren't as securely packed as they thought.

But I still ask: why?

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Living a lie

I feel like such a fraud. A few weeks ago I was asked to give a work presentation at a mini-conference in a small town a couple hours north of Wellington. I agreed. One week before the mini-conference, I was informed that there was a low uptake for my session (but I won't take it personally), so the organiser decided to cancel it. I was still welcome to attend the conference and participate as a delegate, or even report on it as part of my job. "Please come," he invited. I accepted.

So off I went. Upon arrival, my colleague (whose presentation was still going ahead) and I picked up our conference packs, containing a name badge, programme information, and this:

Hmmm. Herein lies my dilemma. There was a lovely card attached thanking me for all the work I did to support the conference, including giving up time to present and share my expert knowledge and experience(?!) ... yet my presentation was cancelled more than a week earlier and I knew it! What to do with this lovely gift?

Without batting an eyelid, my colleague said "you made yourself available; take the gift". There was no-one else around to whom I could profess my fraudulent behaviour and lack of worthiness, so I quietly put it in my bag and crept off to the keynote. It took me a week to bring myself to discover that the box contained 10 yummy Belgian dark chocolate truffles (omg!) and indulge in my misappropriated gift.

But I quickly got over the guilt once I opened the box. It's just not worth stressing over. Those Belgians sure know how to make chocolate! Mmm, pass me the box. ;-)

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Shuffle Part 2

My quiz team are back on form and came third out of about 15 teams in last night's general knowledge quiz. I couldn't make the last music quiz, and it's nice to know that I was missed. :-) Apparently they needed someone who could answer questions like "who had a hit in the 1970s with Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree?". Sadly, I knew in an instant that this was Tony Orlando and Dawn. I blame my musical father (hey, that's actually a good thing!), and the eclectic collection of music on my iPod.

So once again, and also for no reason other than this is still a self-indulgent blog, here are the last ten songs, artists, the album they're from, and their rating out of five played on my iPod via shuffle:
  1. Mission Impossible theme [no album] 4/5 - lol!
  2. Jive Talkin' - The Bee Gees [Very Best of the Bee Gees] 4/5 - great bass line. I think of train tracks every time I hear the intro now, after seeing an interview with Barry Gibb about how he wrote it.
  3. Honey - Bobby Goldsboro [no album] 4/5 - a great piece of nostalgia from our parents' time.
  4. (I've Had) The Time Of My Life - Bill Medley and Jennifer Warne [Ultimate Dirty Dancing] 5/5 - the long version. One of my all-time favourite girlie movies, and all-time favourite songs. Have played it in bands for years and still love it.
  5. New York Minute (Live) - The Eagles [Hell Freezes Over] 3/5 - awesome album, but this song has always dragged for me.
  6. Baby Won't You Please Come Home - Kay Starr [Lady Sings The Blues] 4/5 - lovely blues piece. I don't really know anything about Kay Starr. Time to Wikipedia/Google her.
  7. Please Please Me - The Beatles [Please Please Me] 4/5 - love the simplicity of their early material. Real grass roots stuff.
  8. The Way You Make Me Feel - Michael Jackson [History] 5/5 - one of my three favourite Michael Jackson songs. Can't help but move to this.
  9. I Get A Kick Out Of You - Frank Sinatra [New York, New York] 4/5 - good version. Haven't listened to this one for quite a while.
  10. Ball and Chain - Janis Joplin [Tour of Duty] 3/5 - dramatic offering featuring Janis's gravelly voice, including a monologue from her at the end. Definitely a song which sums up the feeling from this era.