Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Journeying home

And so our week away has come to a close. The rest of our extended family are staying for a second week. While it was lovely to see so many of my family, especially some who are now living overseas, I am under no illusions that this was a relaxing break and am glad that we chose to be away for just one of the two weeks. There were many moments of frustration and sheer annoyance accompanied by the exhaustion that comes from very little sleep and being surrounded by so many people for such an intense period of time. However, the journey home came with a surreal sense of fulfillment; for one precious week I was able to leave behind the realities and perils of my life at home. Although physically and emotionally tired, I am feeling strangely content and somewhat recharged. I am looking forward to the new year with equal parts anticipation for what 2010 may bring and eagerness to leave behind 2009.

Our return journey also had its moment of comedy and unorthodoxy. As we were checking in, my cousin (who had promised to bring our luggage to the airport but predictably turned up after we had already arrived) asked if anyone wanted to take home a live crayfish that was on the back of his truck. If we didn't want it, he'd just give it away to someone else at the airport. My sweetie was not going to let an opportunity like this go and promptly ventured outside, armed with plastic bags and his carry-on bag. I think Air Chathams must be the only airline which does not raise an eyebrow to carrying live crayfish as carry-on luggage during a flight! This 3kg beauty was a welcome surprise for my sweetie's parents when we turned up at their place for an impromptu dinner tonight.


We said our goodbyes and filed onto the plane. Being last on meant there was no choice about where we sat (no allocated seating here!) but also revealed a slight problem: someone had miscounted and we were short one seat on the plane. Let me explain ... the plane seats a maximum of 50 people but has an expandable cargo hold. On our flight down, there were 18 seats and lots more space for cargo; our return flight needed 28 seats but ended up with 27 which could be occupied and the 'shotgun' seat, usually reserved for a small person or a child. A bit of shuffling around meant that a seat was found for my mother, and we were off! Well, after more rearranging was done once it was realised that my nephew was sitting in an exit aisle - both his parents were in one each. So guess who ended up sitting in the seat with no window in what is usually the cargo hold? Yep, that's what aunties are for, lol.

As we finally took off, I couldn't help but wonder when or if I will return to Wharekauri. Each trip after my grandparents' funerals has been an absolute bonus; there are no guarantees of future trips.
I feel I have well and truly achieved an ongoing goal on this trip: #69 - Take meaningful photos of my local area. In addition to my Project 365, and whatever photos I take in the future, I am really pleased to have built up a cache of memories from my father's family homeland.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Town and around

In November, the women in our family were challenged to a netball game by the Chatham Island netball team. The men were also asked if they wanted to take part in a mixed team challenge; the golfers had other plans, so the invitation was duly declined. A women's team was assembled and a training programme scheduled; this was readjusted several times during Christmas week, as no-one was keen to go running or practise after a huge meal or early in the morning! A team uniform was improvised: green t-shirts and hair ribbons. The big day arrived.

From the start, the odds were somewhat unfairly stacked; our team boasted a junior Silver Fern/Pulse player, a netball coach/PE teacher, several regular social netballers, and some school representatives. The team composition changed each quarter, eventually ending up with a D-strength team who comfortably won with a score of 31-24, and the star players barely breaking a sweat!

Adjacent to the netball court is the memorial garden, where families can arrange to have small memorials set among the plants. The garden itself needs a lot of maintenance, but it was nice to see a tiny plaque in remembrance of my grandparents. We also found the elusive millennium plaque; it was actually one of two braziers lit at the turn of the century. The designs on the side are based on ancient Moriori carvings.

We headed into town for the first day that the shop was open after Christmas. Yes, the shop (singular, not plural); Waitangi Store is as far as shopping goes!


Freight to the Chatham Islands is incredibly expensive. For this reason, we ordered in as much food before our arrival and also each surrendered 5kg of our luggage allowance to be able to pack fresh food, fruit, and vegetables. The Wellington crew were collectively 5kg overweight (a miracle, really!), but the Aucklanders ended up having to pay $240 in excess weight to the airline. Take a look at some of the prices below; you'll see why it was so important for us to bring as much as could with us.




To put things into perspective, strawberries in Wellington currently cost $2.50-$3 per punnet, compared to $6 in Waitangi; 2l of milk is about $4 at home, but $8 there; colby and mild cheese is between $6-9 here, and $14.90 there; a kilogram of carrots could cost $2 here but $8 there. It pays to be prepared and order in bulk well in advance, where possible.

As my sister-in-law's family were not present at her wedding on Boxing Day, she was keen to send her parents and 6-year-old nephew a postcard from the place where she got married. The postcards would actually fly to Wellington on the same plane as us the next day, but we were hoping that the postmark would read Waitangi or Chatham Island. My sweetie's mother always sends up postcards from the various overseas destinations his parents visit; however, her handwriting is usually barely legible, with only occasional words standing out clearly - we put the rest together using our knowledge of the context she is in and tease her about it mercilessly. (Thankfully, being a teacher for many years has helped in the deciphering process!) So, we were keen to repay the favour by sending a messy postcard with only every few words written clearly. However, when we came to carry out the task, I couldn't help but write neatly and figured we could get her back in another way. ;-) This also led to the completion of a 101 in 1001 goal (albeit a joint one): #68 - Send a postcard in the mail.

As our holiday was due to draw to a close, we wanted to take a set of whanau photos featuring each of the seven families descending from our grandparents, including aunties, uncles, cousins, great-grandchildren, etc. When 60+ people are involved, aged from 2 months to 70+, this is no simple mission, especially when we are almost all related! The only other occasions we have photos of us all together are from 1982 (we still look cute!) and at my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary in 1998. Hopefully we will be able to salvage something memorable out of the mayhem that emerged during the early evening photo session!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Big day out

Today was the first whanau big day out. We headed east to explore the side of the island that is the first part of the world to see the sun. We stopped off first at Kopinga Marae, the recently built Moriori marae at the top of a hill overlooking several small lakes and farmland. I had visited the marae while it was still being constructed in 2003 and it was great to be able to see it in its final state. Photographs of the marae's interior, or exterior featuring carvings or artwork, are strictly prohibited. However, the view from the far side of the meeting house is quite spectacular and free for all to enjoy. My sweetie took this panoramic photo.


Ten years ago, the new millennium was about to dawn. The Chatham Islands are 45 minutes ahead of mainland New Zealand, making them the first inhabited location to see the sunrise each day. Although Pitt Island is technically further east, the celebrations were held on the east coast of Chatham, which hosted a raft of television crews and visitors who trekked over a few kilometres of farmland to find the right spot. Our convoy of six 4WD vehicles bobbed up and down as we climbed higher and higher; my 22-month-old nephew loved all the bumps! We inadvertently took a wrong gate somewhere along the way. However, the first place we stopped gave us a distant view of Pitt Island, as well as the lovely different colours lapping the cliffs on the sea below us.



We found the correct gate and proceeded another couple of kilometres up the hill before getting out to walk the final distance across more farmland. Some of our family were at the millennium celebrations ten years ago, but couldn't accurately recall the exact spot where they took place. We were looking for a memorial plaque to confirm the location; we couldn't find it, and later were told that it had been shifted into the memorial garden at Waitangi (town). Once again, the view was beautiful and the walk made us feel virtuous after so much indulgence over Christmas. This is a view of the three rocks known as The Pinnacles:



Once we hit the main road again, we drove out further east towards Manukau to visit the memorial statue of Tommy Solomon, the last-known full-blooded Moriori who died in 1933. The statue is a much slimmer representation of his full girth. His coffin was made by my great-uncle and his grave dug by my great-grandfather.


Owenga is a small settlement near the east coast of Chatham Island. Its wharf was recently rebuilt and is mainly use as an alternative fishing port to Waitangi. Today, the water was uncharacteristically clear and calm. Several years ago, my uncle's fishing boat was lost in this very area in a freak storm; it's hard to imagine on such a beautiful day like this.



As we walked down to the end the wharf, we came across some locals who were fishing off the edge with hand lines. They caught a conger eel, which apparently is too bony to eat so would be used as crayfish bait. Next to the eel is a blue cod they had caught earlier, also by hand.


Slightly along from Owenga and heading back towards town is Shelly Beach, so named because it is where thousands of sea shells wash up from the sea. Last time I was there I collected several orange-coloured scallop shells, large paua pieces, and pink mussel shells, most of which have done the rounds of several friends' classrooms since then. I absolutely love natural paua (unpolished, and not the vivid blues and greens used for tacky souvenirs) and have a range of paua jewellery pieces and shells. This time, I gathered some cream-coloured queen paua shells to bring back and add to my collection.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

A day at the races

There is some beautiful scenery on the Chatham Islands that I wanted my sweetie and sister-in-law to explore and my brother and I to revisit. A natural attraction heading out towards the western side of Chatham Island is the area of volcanic rock known comprising of basalt columns. The columns are a curious sight; each column stands individually yet gently touches the one next to it. They are accessed off-road via private farm land. Over the years, erosion has diminished their height and stature, but the columns are still a remarkable sight to see and unusual for this part of the world.


27 and 31 December are also race days on the Chatham Islands. More than a dozen races (gallops and trotting) are run, each with 3-5 entries. Held at the racecourse just opposite my family's land (and on land which is partly owned by us), race day is one of the highlights of the Chatham Island social calendar, where everyone goes to catch up with others and have a day in the sun. It's also a day for food and drink; my sweetie tried smoked eel for the first time, along with pipi and, later in the day, inanga. Here is a photo of the grandstand, although most cars drive into the centre of the racecourse and set up there for the day.


Various sweepstakes are operated and moderate betting takes place on each event. My sweetie and I are terrible gamblers. (We set ourselves a limit of $20 each and one hour at a casino on the Gold Coast last year, and left after 15 minutes, having spent just $1 between us!) Still, he was keen to have a punt on a local horse and blindly splashed out a big $3 on horse #3 in the last race. It might have been a better idea to have a look at the horses and jockeys in the holding pen before committing such a big investment to the cause; Wild Eye was the smallest horse on the field and sporting the largest rider. We should have been suspicious when the other two horses emerged to take their place at the starting line with very little fuss, but Wild Eye was mostly jumping around sideways, which is pretty much what he did throughout the race! Here is Wild Eye, bringing up the rear by quite a substantial margin.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Boxing Day wedding

Boxing Day. A very big day for us, as my brother got married in the morning at the Chatham Island Court House. About a dozen of our family were there to witness the brief ceremony before heading to my cousin's home for a day of celebrating in the sun.

To start the day, my sister-in-law and 22-month-old nephew came up to the cousin's house where I was staying to get ready. The wedding dress had successfully made the journey from Wellington, the cake was looking good, but only parts of the bouquet remained; the white gerberas survived, the roses had to be culled.

Fitting in perfectly with the Chathams' laid-back ways, we were casually getting ready for the wedding when my sweetie called out that a weka had come into the house. Where else but on the Chatham Islands would this happen? These cheeky birds are protected on the mainland of New Zealand, but are actually a pest on the Chathams and, therefore, are allowed to be eaten. We watched this one playing around on the deck and running under the trampoline before heading back inside to continue getting ready.

The ceremony itself was incredibly brief; we managed to video all of it in around ten minutes. Apparently the only formalities required in order to get married in New Zealand, apart from applying for a marriage license more than three days before the ceremony, consist of a declaration of two sentences stating that the couple know of no impediments to their being married and calling upon those present to witness the marriage. And so I became an official witness to a marriage for the first time, proudly signing my name on the dotted line.

The roads on the Chathams are mostly gravel, some covered in lime, and very few are sealed with tar. Clean vehicles are a rare sight; even the newest cars or machinery are quickly coated in thick layers of dirt. My sweetie took this opportunity to write a message on the back of our family vehicle soon after the wedding ceremony:



The only problem is that it was us who were mostly out and about driving in the vehicle, and not the newly-married couple. I was looking around for a cloth to wipe off the incriminating writing later on when my cousin insisted we leave it; she thought it was hilarious, and apparently this is what gets rumours started!

The reception was a casual, all-day affair at my cousin's historical home, Nairn House. Built in 1882, it is one of the oldest on the island and they have done a beautiful job of restoring it in recent years. My sweetie took this panoramic photo from the garden, where we had a barbeque lunch and enjoyed a day simply relaxing in the sun. People came and went while the children played alongside the house, then went swimming in the adjacent river.



In a year's time, my brother and sister-in-law are hoping to throw a wedding party in Wellington and this time invite their friends, including some from overseas, along with my sister-in-law's family from Finland. For our family, this was the perfect way for them to get married without any of accompanying 'fuss' and mayhem that we see all too often and weddings.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas at Wharekauri

Christmas morning delivered a sunny, calm day. Our Christmas celebrations, however, were anything but calm. When you put 50+ family members, including 14 very excited under-9s, in one big room ... well, you can probably imagine the noise. The gift giving was organised with military precision, with the children being told which presents they could open and when; there are definitely too many teachers in this family and this kind of 'organising' makes me glad to have left the profession a couple of years ago! We had hung the personalised Christmas baubles we'd made on the tree the night before, to go with the piles of gifts each of the seven families were giving to the children. Our selection of baking for the aunts and uncles also went down a treat - I must remember that next year.

Christmas Day for us was also going to incorporate four family baptisms. Remembering where we were, there was no question that this ceremony was going to be as informal and unorthodox as the rest of the week's proceedings. However, I think even the minister was surprised at how little of the service he actually got to perform once the hysterical screams overpowered his words! We ended up just singing the remainder of the hymns and Christmas carols before going outside to pacify the last of the screaming babies.


 I have posted some more photos of the church here.

After church, we put the finishing touches on a huge Christmas meal. As always, food plays a big part in our family celebrations. We dined on crayfish, the flounder caught yesterday, ham, pork, and piles of vegetables. The dessert table was groaning with brandy snaps (carefully brought over as carry-on luggage), trifle, cheesecake, pavlova, steamed pudding with custard, and my cousin's gorgeous gingerbread house.



After lunch was the cousins' Secret Santa and a shortened version of the Yankee swap. A couple of presents were 'stolen'; some of the choices were questionable at best! I was happy to swap my beach towel of a common beer brand with my beer-brewer brother after the game and come away with a blow-up lilo and beach towel checkers set. Apparently it's a big joke for boutique micro-brewers to be sporting logos and memorabilia of big (opposition) commercial breweries!

We ended Christmas Day by chasing the low tide to collect pipi from a nearby beach. The last time I went pipiing was as a seven-year-old. I vividly remember standing on a pipi which closed up on the sole of my foot, pinching together the skin and giving me plenty to be upset about! This time, I was prepared with aqua socks, but we were a couple of hours behind the low-tide, meaning that only who were prepared to dig into the sand further into the water had any success. We city folk played in the cold water along the shoreline while the sun went down, watching about a dozen of our family members filling up four big buckets with their catch. Oh well, I suppose that it's being there that matters!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve

Anticipating the arrival of the rest of the whanau in the evening, Christmas Eve mostly become a day of preparation: food, bedding, Christmas decorations etc. We started out with a bit of tiki-touring around my grandparents' farm land to see how things had changed over the years and also to introduce my sweetie, sister-in-law, and nephew to the land. While out exploring some of the land that our family is set to inherit (once the Maori Land Court make up their mind - nearly nine years later, grrr!), my sweetie got an close up view while riding my cousin's 800cc four-wheel bike. The kids have smaller versions of the bikes and fearlessly race up and down the hills and dunes. So different to city life!

In the afternoon, a group went out to the lagoon to set flounder nets, ready to be retrieved early the next morning. An overcast day and the whitebait were hiding. Never mind; there was still plenty of crayfish left over from yesterday.



And the net result (overnight) of 12 flounder for a perfect Christmas breakfast:

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Wharekauri

Several generations on my father's side of the family are from the Chatham Islands (Wharekauri). My father is one of seven siblings, and his mother was one of twelve, all of whom were born and bred on the Chathams. You don't need to do the maths to realise that this makes for a very big family. This year, about 40 of my cousins, aunties, uncles, and immediate family flew in to the Chathams from various locations around New Zealand, as well as Sydney, London, and Canada, to celebrate a whanau reunion at Christmas. It was one of the rare occasions when all 18 of my first cousins were together, apart from at my grandparents' funerals in 1998 and 2001.

Having very limited internet access on the island has meant that I've prepared this series of blog posts offline and will progressively post them during the next week. Hopefully they will give you a glimpse into a whole new lifestyle, where everyday goings-on are both laid back and unorthodox, yet they are a part of who our family are. We took a few hundred photos, some of which I will share here, but the majority which I will keep offline as personal memories.


The Chatham Islands are a group of 10 islands approximately 800km east of Christchurch. The aging Air Chathams planes fly daily to either Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, or Napier. Our flight from Wellington to Chatham Island took 1 hour 45 minutes, an average flight time between the two airports. Of the 18 passengers on board, 16 were directly related to us and our whanau reunion. As with everything on the Chathams, many aspects of the flight were unorthodox, including one of my cousins having to retrieve her stray netball from the runway before departure. We were also preparing for my brother's wedding while we were away, and our carry-on luggage included a wedding cake, wedding bouquet, and my sister-in-law's wedding dress. Just before takeoff, the air hostess grabbed her camera, excited to see a wedding dressing hanging up in the cargo hold before! Check out how small the runway on Chatham Island is - luckily the pilot knows where to look!


We stopped off at the urupa (cemetery) to visit our grandparents' grave on the way from the airport to the marae where everybody was staying. The last time I had visited the island, along with most of my extended whanau, was for the unveiling of their headstone in April 2003. The perimeter of their double grave is inlaid with beautiful paua shell fragments and it was lovely to spend a few moments there with everybody. Oh, we also had some curious onlookers observing us from the adjacent farm:



Chatham Island is small, with nothing more than an hour or two's drive away. Waitangi is referred to as town; it takes all of a minute to look around. However, it houses all of the essentials. My sweetie found this sign really funny: where else would you see a bottle store, Catholic church and hospital all given equal billing? Our panoramic photos of the bay and wharf didn't quite stitch together correctly. I'll see what we can do with them in Photoshop.

Our first night on the island saw us cooking dinner for about 25 people. One of my cousins had been out catching crayfish in the morning and we enjoyed the first of many fresh seafood feasts, accompanied by my aunt's famous Chatham Island doughnuts. Here is a small sample of our dinner. The crays in the bucket are draining after being boiled in a big pot on an outdoor gas ring, and the second picture shows one being cut open, ready for eating.


Day One drew to a close, having seen the arrival of 16 of us from Wellington and anticipating the influx of 16 more from Auckland the next day. It was exciting to be back at my family's homeland, and also to introduce my sweetie to Wharekauri, but I was under no illusion that this was going to be a relaxing holiday.

Making a list, checking it twice

I know that Christmas is on Friday, but today is D-day for us. It's hard to believe that we fly out to the Chatham Islands in just a few hours for our extended family Christmas after months of planning. We each had our immediate family Christmas dinners on Sunday and Monday night, then Christmas drinks at a friend's last night. Like everybody at this time of the year, I have a list. I thought I was doing really, really well with it, but invariably things have added themselves to it, but the majority have been ticked off:

✔  14 personalised Christmas baubles as gifts for the under-9s
✔  7 packages of chocolate truffles, gingerbread cookies, and sultana slice for the aunties and uncles
✔  ingredients to make Christmas puddings out of Mallowpuffs, jaffas, spearmint leaves, and white chocolate
✔  clothes, flowers, and wedding cake for my brother's wedding on Saturday
✔  books, iPod touch, playing cards, chargers of various descriptions
✔  coffee with a friend who is in town from Germany and will be gone before we get back

And, inevitably, some things just fell off:
✖  Christmas email/Facebook message for people I didn't send Christmas cards to (ie, EVERYONE)
✖  big tidy up so we don't arrive home to a mess. Oops.

Merry Christmas, everybody! Buon natale a tutti!

Friday, 18 December 2009

End of year meme

I saw this on Jane Yee's blog today and considered replying to some of the questions then decided to go for gold and steal most of it for myself (in true Café Chick style). Feel free to do the same if you've got a few moments to yourself.
  1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?
    I experienced snow for the first time. A bad back meant that I'll have to leave skiing until maybe next year.
  2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    Many years ago I stopped making new year's resolutions, so I guess I've stuck to that. I prefer to keep focusing on my 101 in 1001 project instead.
  3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
    Not this year, unless you count a couple of school friends currently living overseas.
  4. Did anyone close to you die?
    Thankfully not this year. Some years I go to far too many funerals.
  5. What countries did you visit?
    Just good old New Zealand.
  6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
    A secure job/career situation. It's been a year in limbo. I'm hatching a business plan for 2010 and am quite excited about it.
  7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
    None immediately spring to mind. That's not to say that it's been an uneventful year, though.
  8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    Surviving thus far. Or perhaps completing the Wellington Marathon 10km walk with a stuffed back. (I didn't realise how bad it was at the time.) 
  9. What was your biggest failure?
    I'm the sort of person who sees far too much of what I do as failure. I'm mostly disappointed in what happened (or didn't happen) with my career this year but am hoping for better things in 2010. Also, my back injury (see below) has restricted my ability to do quite a bit; it has been both painful and frustrating.
  10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    Nearly six months of osteopathy for a damaged disc in my back hasn't been fun. :-(
  11. What was the best thing you bought?
    I've really enjoy accumulating bits and pieces for my baking and cupcake decorating collection. How domesticated is that?
  12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
    Ummm ...
  13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
    A few family members; I won't go into details.
  14. Where did most of your money go?
    Far less money came in than during usual years, so it's mostly been on the basics and occasional treats.
  15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    Going to Auckland to see Simon and Garfunkel in concert. (Well, mostly excited about seeing Paul Simon.) "Hello Darkness, my old friend ..."
  16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
    Oh dear, I've been a 'new music' isolate this year ...
  17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    a) Happier or sadder?
    About the same.
    b) Thinner or fatter?
    About the same.
    c) Richer or poorer?
    Poorer - thank goodness I'm a good saver.
  18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
    Dancing. I really miss it.
  19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
    Worrying about trying to make other people happy.
  20. How will you be spending Christmas?
    With 50+ whanau at the Chatham Islands, where all our parents were born and our grandparents lived and are buried. Also, my brother is getting married there on Boxing Day.
  21. Did you fall in love in 2009?
    Maybe. ;-)
  22. What was your favourite TV programme?
    Outrageous Fortune. My sweetie and I got out the first few series on DVD to catch up on all the episodes I missed before I realised what a great show this is.
  23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
    I try not to hate or dislike people; I'm not always successful. Yes, there are a few people who have disappointed or upset me during the year.
  24. What was the best book you read?
    I've read a few books that I really loved, including: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, On Chesil Beach, and The Glass Castle.
  25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    Alas, a reduced budget this year has interfered somewhat with my musical addiction.
  26. What did you want and get?
    Massages. Mmmmm. (Thank you, sweetie!)
  27. What did you want and not get?
    Where do I start ... no point dwelling on things like this.
  28. What was your favourite film of this year?
    Although it wasn't released this year, I loved watching The Pursuit of Happyness.
  29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    Ouch. Thirty something. A quiet family dinner. Move along.
  30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    Finding a career direction to get excited about before December and be able to start making plans in other areas of my life as a result. Roll on 2010!
  31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
    If it still fits and hasn't worn out, wear it.
  32. What kept you sane?
    How do you define 'sane'? :-P
  33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    This isn't really my 'thing'. I'm sure my sweetie would be able to offer a few suggestions on my behalf better than I can.
  34. What political issue stirred you the most?
    Education national standards. Don't get me started!! Grrr.
  35. Who did you miss?
    There's not one specific person at the moment. I do miss a few friends who died far too young and some friends and family members who are a long way away.
  36. Who was the best new person you met?
    Tamara Jane, the amazing cupcake lady from tempt. It's always wonderful to meet someone who is so excited about what they do and so willing to share; you can't help but catch their enthusiasm. The cupcake decorating course I took earlier this year has ignited in me a real love of baking.
  37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
    Some people will never change, and they probably don't want to. Don't let them beat you just because they take a strange satisfaction from putting you down or seeking sympathy for themselves. This is not always easy to cope with.
  38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
    "Put the lime in the coconut, you drank them both up ...".  Yep, it's been that kind of year!
Congratulations if you've made it to the end! I'll understand if you skipped most of it. Upon reading through this meme as a whole, I realise that things probably sound a lot worse than they are or have been, but that's the luck of the draw when you answer pre-determined questions. If you're inclined to give it a go yourself, I'd love it if you posted a link back to your own blog. :-)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

An offline wilderness

I am terrible at spending gift vouchers. Actually, I'm not a great shopper at all, but I can easily spend months pondering what to spend a gift voucher on and more often than not redeem them close to their expiry date. I have been carrying around $170 of Farmers vouchers for about six months now, a couple of $10 Westfield vouchers, and $20 credit at the iTunes Store. I finally used $60 in last week's Farmers sale (still more to go - actually, some of that came from trading in airpoints that were about to expire, lol), but the Westfield vouchers remain in my wallet.

While I generally like the idea of vouchers as gifts, either giving or receiving, it takes me more time than almost anyone else to research all my possible spending options before finally redeeming them, usually during some kind of sale or when I'm in desperate need of an item. I've always been like that; I'm not sure why spending is so hard for me when others seem to love it!

Next week, we are going away to a place with no cell phone coverage, no Internet access (I don't credit 13 KB dial-up as being 'Internet'), and very cautious use of electricity and water. Some would call that bliss; I call it cold turkey. I'll surgically remove my laptop from my side and switch off my cell phone before we leave, but have already collected a supply of books to read and a backup: my trusty iPod touch. Up until now, this prize has been an occasional toy; next week it will be my lifeline in a non-digital world! (Am I exaggerating? Not sure ...)

I have spent some time today preparing my iPod touch. My 60GB iPod holds my entire music collection but will be left behind; 16GB is a struggle for me, especially when sharing the available space with other applications, so I have put together some basic playlists to see me through the week. I also went shopping at the iTunes Store and almost spent all of my $20 voucher. Almost.

What did I buy? A few games that I've been playing the lite versions of, some more expensive than I would have bought myself (well, all of them really - I've only played freebies so far):
  • Diner Dash - I would consider this a living nightmare in real life, but I've just signed up for 50 virtual levels and can't wait!
  • Cooking Dash - ditto
  • Fling - it's fun flinging things around on an iPod touch
  • Fuzzle - strangely addictive
  • Moonlight Mahjong - I've only ever played mahjong online and this is quite a cool version
  • SimCity - I used to love playing this on my PC, so I'll see if I can achieve the same results on a 3.5" screen.
So, I'm nearly ready for my big week offline without email, Facebook, Twitter, blogging (although I might be able to prepare posts on my touch). Anyone would think I was heading for the depths of a jungle wilderness! I am looking forward to going away, really!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Gingerbread decorations

As we will be away for Christmas, our families are having our Christmas dinners a couple of days before the big event. I am going to make gingerbread cupcakes with ginger caramel frosting for everybody. Today, I made the little gingerbread decorations in advance. The last time I made gingerbread was as a child but I remember having fun pressing out different shapes and eating the dough. Today's decorations were quite small as they will go on top of the cupcakes I make next week, so I used my icing cutters instead of cookie cutters.

Gingerbread

Ingredients
  • 115 g butter
  • 175 g brown sugar
  • 4 T golden syrup
  • 340 g plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
Method
  1. Place the butter, sugar and syrup into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the butter has melted. Sift the flour with the ginger and baking soda into a bowl. Pour the syrup mixture and the lightly beaten egg. Mix together until a soft dough is formed in the bowl, then tip onto a lightly floured bench and knead into a ball.
  2. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a baking tray or line it with baking paper.
  4. Sprinkle some flour onto the work surface and rolling pin. Roll out the dough to 0.5 cm thickness. Use your choice of cutters to make shapes and place them on the prepared tray.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
  6. Allow to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.
Gingerbread decorations
Things I have learned today about making gingerbread decorations:
  • Don't be deceived. Just because they are small does not mean they are easier to make.
  • There's a very fine line between lightly browned (ie, cooked) and burnt. Watch them extremely closely in the oven and time them for a couple of minutes at a time. Small things cook faster, but I had to write off my first tray.
  • Gold and silver glitter sprinkled on top while they are still hot might sound like a good idea and look great in cookbooks, but it will be a while before I learn how to make it look even. Luckily I practised on my first, written-off batch.
  • Even burnt gingerbread still tastes good. ;-)

    Tuesday, 8 December 2009

    Telecom tree

    On Saturday night, I dragged my sweetie into town to see what is known as the Telecom tree. He will loudly proclaim that it's not a tree but a crane with lights on it, but I say that anything with 37500 fairy lights on it is the ultimate in cool.

    This is the first year the Telecom tree has been constructed in Wellington. Apparently there are 16 million possible colour combinations and it took a week to erect. (I forget how many people were involved - there are information boxes lit up around the base of the tree where you can find out more facts.) Beneath the tree are dozens of bean bags, so you can find a comfortable spot, lie back, and look up at all the lights. There are also boxes where you can leave gifts for charity; I sure hope they don't get 'opened' by anyone other than those they are intended for.

    We tried out the fireworks setting on my sweetie's camera, exposing the lens for ten seconds before capturing the image - a tripod or stand is essential. Here is one of the successful shots:

    Telecom tree
    Around the base of the tree are four old-style telephone boxes. Each of these houses a free Santa hotline, where you can let him know what you want to find under your own tree.

    Santa line telephone box
    We also took a couple of videos. I was going to post a short one tonight, where you can see some of the colour changes, but the option for uploading video seems to have disappeared from my menu bar. We also took a longer video, about a minute long, and I'd like to experiment in iMovie to see if I can add a soundtrack to it, but that will be another night's project.

    Saturday, 5 December 2009

    Christmas cheer

    'Tis the season for Christmas mayhem. Personally, I prefer to ignore the mass commercialism that bombards us from October each year; it's not what Christmas is really about.

    This year, Christmas is going to be very different for my family. Our whole extended whanau is getting together for Christmas on the Chatham Islands, where our grandparents lived and our parents were born. Almost all 18 of my first cousins will be there, some coming from overseas and a few that we haven't seen since our grandparents' funerals about ten years ago. There are many children and partners that we haven't met yet, so this will be a rather large-scale introduction. We are expecting somewhere around 80 people for Christmas dinner! My sister-in-law and I are almost done with adding finishing touches to the Christmas baubles we are making for all the children. I have decided to make several batches of chocolate truffles to give as gifts and treats to all and sundry. They freeze well, so if I start soon then the task should be less onerous.

    I met some former colleagues for brunch this morning. We managed to pick the day that summer finally decided to arrive in Wellington - and what a beauty it was! I had a list of errands to run in town afterwards and came across some very pleasant, less-intrusive reminders that Christmas is coming. I thought I'd share them with you and hopefully elicit a few smiles.

    Large Christmas tree at Midland Park
    I'm not sure how tall it is, but look at the height of the trees - pretty impressive without being overly ostentatious.

    Salvation Army brass band playing Christmas carols
    You know Christmas is coming once you hear these guys out in force. I was pleased to be able to make a small donation to support the work they do in the community.

    Christmas cupcake designs at tempt
    I got some good ideas here for decorating my own Christmas cupcakes, although I doubt they will look as perfect as these ones!

    Thursday, 3 December 2009

    The system is down

    I was at Warehouse Stationery this afternoon looking to buy a diary for 2010. A few people were already waiting at the counter so I browsed for a while before hearing those dreaded words: "your card has been declined". An embarrassed customer asked to try again with another card and promptly received the same response from the machine. Another customer tried to use their card - same thing. The queues lengthened, then the ubiquitous verdict was declared by two counter staff: "The system is down".

    The tension started to rise. One customer left her purchases behind, another decided to wait for a while and try again. It didn't help things that a staff member at another counter declared loudly that her EFTPOS terminal was working just fine and perhaps they had just done something wrong when processing the sale, or should have hit F7, or something. She was promptly hushed when her system also started declining transactions.

    Having only intended to buy a diary with a 25% discount, I offered to pay cash. I was immediately ushered to the front of the queue and my $4.50 transaction was processed by a relieved cashier: a successful sale! But almost everyone else was cashless. I walked out, diary in hand, and pondered the growing mayhem inside.

    A couple of weeks ago, a similar thing happened at my local doctor's surgery when I went to pick up a prescription. The queue at reception grew. When asked by a receptionist, "who's waiting?", about four people replied, "we all are!". Oh no: the system was down! Invoices were promised and manual transactions attempted. I offered to pay cash and was told by the now-flustered receptionist, "no, sorry, you can't: our system is down". It took her a moment to relax a bit after I laughingly pointed out that things must be really bad if she couldn't accept a $10 note. There were giggles all round as I left everyone to sort out their payments.

    As we increasingly move towards becoming a cashless society, I can't help but wonder what is Plan B for when the system is down and people no longer carry even small amounts of cash?

    Wednesday, 2 December 2009

    The Color Purple - Alice Walker

    The Color Purple (1982) is a Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, an American author who has written at length on issues of race and gender. I first became aware of the story after watching the movie of the same name many years ago. The novel has long been on my TBR list.

    The Color Purple is written as a series of letters from the main character, Celie, to God, and later between Celie and her sister, Nettie. Celie, a poor uneducated young black woman growing up in Georgia in the 1930s, is twice raped by the man she calls 'Pa' before he forces into a marriage against her will. Years of abuse ensue before the arrival of Shug Avery, her husband's long-term mistress. Shug is everything that Celie is not: beautiful, glamorous, a singer, and the holder of Celie's husband's heart. The relationships between Shug, Celie, and other strong characters, such as Sofia, ultimately set her free. Also, the hope of once again seeing her beloved sister, Nettie, a missionary working in Africa with Celie's two children, gives Celie the strength to overcome the hardships in her life and be true to herself.

    This is a powerful, moving story which is superbly told. It is easy to build an affinity for the characters and admire the strength and aptitude that they develop. Highly recommended.

    Sunday, 29 November 2009

    Café Chick's 2nd birthday


    Today is Café Chick's second birthday. Gosh, time flies when you're having fun! It doesn't seem like two years since I first said hi to the blogosphere back in 2007, and my first birthday might have only been a month or so ago! Help yourself to a virtual birthday cupcake.

    Here are the locations of everyone who has joined me for a cup of coffee this past year - 116 countries in total. Some have popped in briefly; a few have stayed longer for another cup, and others are 'regular' coffee buddies. Thank you for visiting, all 10,000+ of you! I have loved getting to know you all virtually. I still get excited by every tiny red dot that appears on my Clustr map and, of course, the comments you leave.


    My 101 in 1001 project is still plodding along nicely. I have completed 24 goals this year and have several more in progress. I am still really enjoying working towards the activities and goals on my list, which have largely remained unchanged this year. I'd like to say the same about my Project 365, which limps along sporadically, but I'm trying to not let it bother me too much.

    So, once again, my Clustr map will soon be blank and a fresh new canvas laid. I look forward to you helping repopulate my map with those little red dots. Who knows that the next year will bring? Thank you for being part of Café Chick's journey.

    Thursday, 26 November 2009

    The YouTube Game

    A friend of ours likes to play The YouTube Game at parties. Apparently it involves someone choosing a genre, or a decade, or a musical style, or a key word (or something else) and types it into YouTube, then plays the first song that comes up in the search. Apparently it's a great thing to do at parties. Apparently it's lots of fun. I can't help but wonder whether I've misunderstood some vital detail along the way or if I've just missed the point entirely. She didn't manage to convince anyone to play this game the night she first explained it and I question her future success rate.

    I was introduced to The Wonky Donkey tonight by The Well Read Kitty. Oh dear. Well, two can play at that game! Here are a few weird, wild, and wacky songs I dredged up from YouTube tonight. It's not quite The YouTube Game in its purest form, but I'm sure you'll get the picture. ;-)

    Dominick the Donkey
    This is my mother's staff request every Christmas from the radio station she works at. She would have us believe that the station is inundated with calls as soon as it is played from people asking where it came from; personally, we wonder if they're calling to have it stopped mid-track! Here is a homemade clip I found tonight.



    Put the Lime in the Coconut
    Every band needs a gimmick song in their repertoire, or one that sets them apart from every other band. This song is going to be our next band's gimmick.



    Psycho Chicken
    My sweetie thinks that this should be our gimmick song instead. He says that if we do play it then he will dance around in a chicken suit for us. Gee, thanks sweetie! Somehow, I can't see it happening.



    Have you got something to top these three songs?

    Monday, 23 November 2009

    A Monk Swimming - Malachy McCourt

    I realise that it's bad form to start any kind of review with words along the line of, "I loved the writing/music/art/work of so-and-so, so wondered if his brother/sister/mother/auntie was any good", etc. I shudder to think that anyone would compare what my brother and I do or have done simply because we happen to be related! However, in this instance, it's entirely true: Malachy McCourt made it onto my TBR list simply because I loved the series of three memoirs that his brother, Frank McCourt, wrote about his life growing up in the lanes of Limerick, Ireland, and everything that happened in the years afterwards. Angela's Ashes (1996) earned him a Pulitzer prize and left me feeling as though I knew the long-suffering McCourt family personally, such were the trials and tribulations we experienced together as I read all three of his memoirs. I was saddened to hear of Frank McCourt's death from melanoma in July 2009.

    Brother Malachy McCourt's memoir is entitled A Monk Swimming (1998). Surely he wouldn't want to rehash he story that had already been told so aptly? What would his take on life be? And did it bear any resemblance to the story we have already come to know thanks to his brother's writing? It must be hard to try and carve out your own identity in a similar field to one's brother, who was awarded one of literature's top prizes for his efforts. 

    A Monk Swimming is essentially an episodic memoir of tall tales which boasts an extensive vocabulary, both colloquial and otherwise, and incessant namedropping. It begins with McCourt's arrival in the US in his early 20s and follows him around New York and Europe. Occasionally humourous, I found it to be more an extended tale of a man suffering Peter Pan syndrome, whose fondness for the sweet nectar has resulted in an ongoing series of shenanigans and bratty behaviour, and left behind even more trouble for those around him to clean up. McCourt kind of acknowledges this in a roundabout way, but also sounds very proud of it, too. I'm not sure why that seems to bother me so much.

    That McCourt enjoys the sound of his own voice is never in doubt; however, the verdict on the yarns he spins will ultimately be left to the individual reader to decide for themselves.

    Wednesday, 18 November 2009

    Don't forget the lyrics

    I used to have a fantastic memory. You name it, I could remember it, even if I didn't need to: phone numbers, license plates, dates, names, events, whole conversations word for word ... I was a great asset at 'delicate' meetings when friends or colleagues needed evidence to back them up at a later date. My father always says I should enter music competitions like Don't Forget the Lyrics, as I had an uncanny knack for memorising every single lyric of every song my bands have ever played, including backing vocals and everyone else's parts. It really annoys me to see singers with large folders of lyrics in front of them when performing on stage; a singer not learning lyrics is akin to an actor wandering around a stage and reading their lines. Grrr!

    A few years on and now my memory is like a sieve, both short and long-term. Whereas previously I could hear something once (or only a few times) and have it almost completely committed to memory, now there are huge blanks where data should be. Alternately, I could visualise whole chunks of text/images/diagrams etc, which was extremely helpful when sitting exams. I was the queen of multitasking. Nowadays, if I don't write it down (or put it in my phone/iPod/Google Calendar etc), it's as good as gone. Sometimes it's funny, and my sweetie never seems to tire of tormenting me about it, but there are only so many times I can bear going from one room to another for a very specific purpose then completely forgetting why I was there in the first place!

    Up until recently, I thought I had pinpointed the demise of my memory to my final year of post-graduate study. All my thoughts were poured into processing the information required to write a dissertation, and my poor, overloaded brain slowly started discarding anything unnecessary or unrelated to the task at hand. Unfortunately, somewhere during that year, my brain also took it upon itself to sift and sort things that I would need later, and without my permission!

    I now see that, as my studies intensified, my musical activity declined; I had previously been in bands since I was 17 and, while I enjoyed having some time out from the music scene, work and study increasingly filled the gaps where music used to be. Over the years, I've been interested in research which links music and enhanced memory. Looking at my own experience, I can't help but wonder if I'm the living proof.

    As I prepare to put another band together after a hiatus of around five years (I can't remember the exact date!), I wonder if I'll get to say hello again to my long-lost memory. Well, after I remember what I was going to do next, anyway.

    Sunday, 15 November 2009

    To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

    My TBR list is quite an eclectic collection of authors and titles. Some of its contents are things which I feel I should have read over the years (eg some classic novels). There are also a few titles where I suspect I'm the only bibliophile who hasn't yet read them; To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee is one such title.
    "Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
    I am probably preaching to the choir here, but To Kill A Mockingbird is truly one of the most amazing books I have ever read and I can't believe I waited to long to hunt it out. Set in the fictional Maycomb County, Alabama, during the 1930s against a backdrop of racial prejudice, the story is a classic and an astute observation of human nature; there is nothing to be gained from me rehashing the plot. From start to finish, this novel is difficult to put down and easily picked up again from wherever the reader left off. That Atticus Finch is one of the greatest characters of all time, yet can still be so utterly believable, is truly a testament to Lee's writing ability. The lessons he instilled in his children through his quiet, calm demeanour would serve as a model for us all.

     I am now looking forward to watching the movie of the same name.

    Thursday, 12 November 2009

    Christmas baubles

    We have a large extended family and, for the first time since we were all kids, we are getting together for a huge Christmas on the Chatham Islands, from where our family originates. As part of the Christmas celebrations, each family (seven families in all) have been asked to contribute a Santa gift up to the value of $20 for each of the children under nine years of age. The problem is, the number of children on the list kept growing and ended up at 14 - $280 in all! Some clever thinking was called for.

    My sister-in-law and I decided to make personalised Christmas baubles as our family's gifts. We bought red, silver and gold balls and four different colours of glitter glue. We would write each child's name on the front, then 2009 and Wharekauri (the Maori name for the Chatham Islands) on the back, then decorate the rest. After a couple of practices, we realised this project was best spread out over several days, so today we began by printing each child's name on the front.

    This project sounds and looks easier than it actually is. We had several slips of the hand, resulting in colourful and glittery fingers, then discovered that our system of hanging each ball off a coat hanger also wasn't so simple; a few 'bangs' into either the wall or another bauble resulted in multi-coloured messes and some hasty re-starts! Luckily, the glitter wipes off really easily and we could try again without too much fuss.

    This is what we envisaged.
    (Ours didn't look like this at all!)

    Tuesday, 10 November 2009

    Michael Jackson's This Is It

    Yesterday, I enjoyed the luxury of a nearly-empty Empire Cinema while I watched Michael Jackson's This Is It (2009). In cinemas for just two weeks, and produced almost inappropriately too soon after Michael Jackson's death (but just in time to capitalise on DVD sales of Christmas), it would be easy to view this documentary as an opportunist moneymaker. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but am pleased to report that I was absolutely blown away!

    I have long been a Michael Jackson fan. I still maintain that his 1996 History tour was the best concert I have ever been to and the unfortunate yardstick against which I will measure every other show I see. At the time, and since then, I have wondered if even Michael Jackson himself could possibly top that event. This Is It chronicles three months of developing and rehearsing for the planned 50 farewell concerts at London's 02 Arena. As a musician, I was amazed at Jackson's hands-on approach in every area of development, including choreography, musical direction, video production, sound engineering, lighting and stage design, and even auditioning dancers. Surrounded by extremely talented musicians, dancers, and production crew, Jackson truly was a master of his craft and worked to make his vision come alive.

    I've heard someone comment that they had no idea just how much work went into rehearsing and preparing for a concert; like sausage making, it's not always pretty and sometimes better to just enjoy the final product rather than consider what it took to get there. Whether you are a fan of Michael Jackson's music or not, I'm sure that anyone interested live concerts would be fascinated by the process undertaken in developing this one. It is truly sad that he died before being able to give the world one last opportunity to experience his talent and share in his dreams.

    View the trailer here:

    Sunday, 8 November 2009

    Cloud gazing

    Life's little pleasures pass us by every day if we let them. My 101 list was a way to help me appreciate some of the wonderful things around me all the time, as long as I make myself aware of them. This weekend, about forty of us headed to Himatangi Beach to celebrate a couple of birthdays. Although we only joined the group on Saturday night, it was a great chance to get out of town with friends and escape life for a while.

    We arrived at Himatangi Beach Holiday Park after lunch to find an assortment of individuals in various positions of relaxation: sitting around chatting, munching treats, lying on blankets reading books, etc. I grabbed my book, blanket, and a sunhat, found a sheltered spot and joined them.

    Although it was quite windy all weekend, and we were at the beach one month earlier than last year's Himatangi trip, it was wonderful to have some time in the sun during what is currently a very temperamental spring. After a chapter or so, the rays were beating me into a gentle submission and my book was casually abandoned. I lay back looking up at the sky. The wind was rearranging the clouds into several different formations right before my eyes. It was both fascinating and relaxing to watch, orchestrated with the hum of the chatter going on around me. It was then that I realised that this was one of my more spontaneous goals: #57 - Lie on the grass and watch the clouds go by. Seize the moment! (Although, as soon as I reached for the camera, the sky miraculously cleared into a perfect shade of blue - not that I'm complaining!)

    The rest of the weekend involved a barbeque dinner, wrapping up in warm clothes and wandering to the beach to let off some fireworks after sunset (no bonfire this time), then heading back to the campsite to toast marshmallows over two open braziers. A somewhat more subdued barbeque breakfast wrapped up the weekend before a leisurely drive home.

    Once again, a change of scenery with friends and some sunshine has been so wonderfully refreshing. Here's hoping the Insomnia Fairy will stay away tonight!

    Friday, 6 November 2009

    Boys and their toys

    Like most males, my sweetie likes his toys. As he told me shortly after we got together, "males don't grow up; their toys just get more expensive". He's 100% correct there!

    Since the announcement more than a month ago that TiVo is coming to New Zealand, we've heard of little else. The excitement steadily built and 1 November (launch date) approached rapidly. Then 1 November became 6 November, and then there was some other complication about ordering or purchasing a unit ... the details wash over me, but there was almost a possibility that my sweetie might not be able to get his latest toy on the day it was released. Oh, the horror!

    And then I get a txt this morning saying, "I have a tivo I have a tivo I have a tivo I have a tivo I have a tivo". Hallelujah! Apparently my life is that much more enriched now. As I write this, and while cooking dinner, he is programming until his heart's content.

    The txt I received earlier in the week said, "I bought a helicopter". Yep, I always knew we needed one of them. The remote control helicopter arrived today, on TiVo day. Smiles all round. After unpacking TiVo from its box, it was the helicopter's turn. It crawled around the (small-ish) lounge a few times, then started to pick up some altitude, before clumsily coming to rest against the side of a speaker. Never mind - it's a calm, sunny day, so outside it was!

    I stayed inside until I heard my name being called a few times, followed by "oh no, oh no!". The helicopter was airborne; no problems there. However, controlling where it went was a different story. My sweetie took off up the driveway, saying "I hope it stays on the street!". He rounded the corner, and returned a few minutes later, having rescued his helicopter from a nearby kindergarten, after being guided there by some neighbourhood kids.

    The pogo stick hasn't arrived yet ...