Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Cupcake decorating Part 3

Tonight was the final session of my cupcake decorating course. Our focus tonight was mostly on creating intricate decorations, including making and using royal icing. This was entirely new to me; I love the taste of royal icing on weddings cakes (but not the cake itself, lol) but have never tried making it myself.

Our first exercise was similar to last week, where we learned how to pipe patterns using chocolate. This time, we had templates of butterflies to experiment with, but using royal icing instead, which has a different feel to piping with chocolate. (Actually, we first had to make more piping bags out of baking paper. I'm getting better, and fluked my first one tonight, but it's going to take a lot more practice to perfect this skill.) We learned how to pipe each side of a butterfly's wings then dusted them down with glitter. They need to dry overnight, then can be attached by piping a head and body.

We then had a go at working with gum paste in different ways, just like we did when we made roses in our first session. This included using miniature cutters to make different types of flowers, experimenting with shapes and 3D. I was working with yellow flower paste and we decorated vanilla cupcakes with buttercream frosting. The daisies on the left cupcake were made by using little flower moulds and piping a tiny bit of royal icing onto the centre. The gerberas above it were made with a silicon mould, something I could do with more practice in. The flower on the right cupcake was made with a plastic press then left to set inside an egg container. It is sprinkled with a tiny bit of glitter; apparently glitter makes even the biggest mistakes look better!

So what next? I have bought Tamara's brand new book, Divine Cupcakes, which was released yesterday. It is full of the cupcake recipes she uses as well as guides and ideas for decorating them. I am going to have to take some time to decide what sort of decorating I'd like to do in the future then buy the specific tools I'll need, as many will need to be ordered from overseas and I can easily see my costs adding up. I have ideas for decorating cupcakes for my parents' 40th wedding anniversary celebration in June, but will need to start small before then and practise some of the techniques I have learnt. Oh, and my sister-in-law is really keen to glean everything she can from my course, so we need to practise together.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Island Bay Marine Education Centre

The Island Bay Marine Education Centre is a small education centre in Island Bay's historic bait house. Previously on the site that the new coastal ecology lab has been built on, and with much controversy over future sites, the bait house is a snug, temporary home for the lab. They have an open day each month, where entry is by donation and some staff are on hand to explain various things about the sea animals in each tank. We popped in yesterday.

Kids would probably enjoy visiting the centre in its current form, especially the touch tank (left), where you get to gently pick up starfish, anemones, and other crustaceons. Other tanks around the room hosted different guests; we thought these turtles (right) were cute as they occasionally popped up for air.

Some larger, tall tanks held a few crayfish (left), which makes me look forward to my Christmas holidays on the Chatham Islands this year. There were also a couple of octopuses (octopi?). This one was snuggled up against a wall and looked to us like he would reach around occasionally and poke a tentacle into his eye. Surely that's not comfortable?

Several years ago, I brought a class of 9-10 year old students to the old marine lab site for a visit. We spent a whole morning looking through all the tanks, containing sea creatures caught locally. They are studied for a while (up to a year) then released back into their natural environment. We got to feed their resident octopus at the time and learned about how clever these creatures are; given time, they would be able to work out how to unscrew a jar, or open their tank if it weren't for the external locks on the outside. When it came to catching a large crab from another tank to feed to the octopus, it all became a bit much for one boy in the class; before we knew it, one of my girls had climbed up the ladder, caught the crab, and was waving the net around asking where to put it ... I don't think the octopus had ever been fed so quickly!

Just by the door, there was this little fellow. He is an axolotl, otherwise known as a Mexican walking fish. I used to have these in my classroom and the kids were fascinated by them. I raised two baby black ones from when they were the size of my little finger, and also had a fully-grown white one (freaky looking!) for a while ... until she decided to go for a little walk across my classroom floor during the Easter break. My school caretaker almost had a heart attack when he went to pick up what he thought was a rubber toy only to find that it was alive (barely) and wriggling. He had no idea what to do with it; he looked around my classroom and saw an empty fish tank with a display above it including lots of facts about axolotls and wondered if maybe that's what he had in his hand. Upon plunging her back into the tank, she died shortly afterwards once I got back after the weekend; having external gills means that they can survive for a short time while breathing air, but effectively drown once they are returned to the water after a sustained period. Every time I jokingly tormented my poor caretaker by suggesting I get another axolotl for the classroom, he let me know in uncertain terms what he thought of my idea!

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Chocolate Scrabble

I love word games and puzzles, especially Scrabble, and it's no secret that I love chocolate, so what better combination than chocolate Scrabble? My brother and sister-in-law gave me a set for Christmas, and it's been sitting in the fridge ever since, waiting for the right guests to share it with. Tonight, we opened the box.

There is a whole series of chocolate games available, made of fine Belgian chocolate. Scrabble comes with 32 large pieces with double-sided tiles and a simplified board, so it's best to play it with only a few players. We had three couples pitting our skills against each other, and it was good for a few rounds each before we tore into the pieces to get the good stuff. Yummy!

I was shocked to discover that two of our friends had never played the real version of Scrabble before. It took some coercion to explain which moves were allowed, how double and triple letter/word scores worked (ie you can only use each one once), and which exceptions we'd all be prepared to accept. Hilarious!

And so here is the result from our first game:

We followed up this game with a round of 'rude word Scrabble'. I won't elaborate, but you get double points if you can use the word in a sentence. ;-)

We are having a games night at Easter, so I might break out the real version with our friends. And, of course, there will be lots of chocolate to go with it. :-D

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Q & A - Vikas Swarup

I have just finished reading Q & A (2005) by Vikas Swarup, the novel on which the movie Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was based on. Having seen the movie a few weeks ago, I was keen to read the novel. (Yes, I know that's the wrong order to do it.)

Q & A is a very easy read, although quite formulaic at times (each chapter is is a mini 'story' which provides the context for each question on a game show). It is very well-researched and an interesting look at life in various parts of Mumbai and Agra in India. Slumdog Millionaire follows a similar format, but uses Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? as its gameshow, rather than the fictitious Who Wants to Win a Billion? (W3B) featured in the book. Basically, the central character has been arrested for winning a quiz show; he is an uneducated waiter from Mumbai, having grown up as an orphan in various slums, therefore could not possibly have won the show without having cheated. The context and characters are different in the movie, but the plot is similar.

I think this has to be one of the rare occasions where I feel the movie is actually better than the book. I felt the same about Forrest Gump (1994); the novel skipped through events in such a manner, and at such a great pace, that there was little time left to develop an emotional connection with the characters. Q & A moves at a quick pace, and each story is almost skimmed over; Slumdog Millionaire somehow manages to fill in all the 'gaps' and give a better sense of the central character (with some extra story lines and characters added in for good measure), the farce that the quiz show is, and is generally more believable.

The novel is very much Forrest Gump in style, ie Ram seems to bumble along from one situation to another with an almost glossy view of events. Therefore, I wasn't overly surprised to find a question in the discussion section at the back of the book asking: "Ram has also been described as a Forresst Gump figure. Do you agree?" I'd say yes and no; while the style of events is similar, as is their being in the right place at the right time to experience them, Ram and Forrest had completely different circumstances and outlooks on life. But I can see where the question came from.

A recommended read, especially if you enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


I loved jigsaw puzzles as a child. I found puzzles to be a great form of relaxation. I was happy to do some puzzles over and over again; for me, my motivation wasn't so much about the completed picture, but the process of placing pieces and solving a puzzle. Apart from for teaching purposes, it's been years since I've sat down and solved a jigsaw puzzle for myself, so that's how it became one of my 101 goals: #71 - Do a jigsaw puzzle.

A few months ago, I was loaned a wasgij puzzle. Yep, a jigsaw puzzle but backwards. This is what the box looks like:

Here are a couple of clues. That's right; the puzzle you're trying to complete is not pictured on the box. It's the scene that one of the characters sees, and that scene is behind you.

I debated whether to post a picture of the completed puzzle here, but figured that the likelihood of someone using it to cheat on the very same puzzle was quite slim. So here's my completed wasgij (no cheating!):

Hours (days/weeks) of fun, and there are a whole series of wasgij puzzles. Not for the impatient! ;-)

Cupcake decorating Part 2

Last night was Part 2 of my cupcake decorating course. Last week, we learned how to make basic recipes and piping buttercream frosting. This week, we built on what we'd already practised, but this time it was all in chocolate. Mmmmmmm.

Tamara's goals for us was to go away having made three cupcakes (which she'd pre-baked): two iced with chocolate buttercream frosting, so we could practise our technique from last week; they would also have piped chocolate decorations. The other one would be covered with chocolate plastercine and decorated with a formal rose. It turns out that I got to decorate six.

These two cupcakes were covered with chocolate plastercine, which is basically a mix of 55% chocolate and glucose syrup left to set overnight. It is warmed in your hands before being ready to mould. You can use miniature cutters, roll the plastercine into strips and craft it, or roll it out flat and use a large cookie cutter to create a solid icing piece for the top. The cupcake on the right is finished with a gold powder (edible fairy dust!). At $25 for a tiny bottle, we were encouraged to use it sparingly ... not sure if I'll be splashing out on this just yet.

The icing for these two cupcakes is chocolate buttercream frosting. The roses were made by rolling a long strip of chocolate plastercine around a central bud shape. The challenge was being able to complete the whole rose without the paste becoming too soft and greasy from the warmth of my hands. The white chocolate decorations were made by piping directly onto greaseproof paper; again, speed is of the essence when lifting them off the paper and arranging them on the cupcake before they melt in your hands.

And now for the decorations which stand up; I'm surprised how easy they are to make. They involve piping a closed shape on greaseproof paper, adding a small stick, leaving it in the fridge for a while, and voila - they just peel off and stay standing up by themselves! The chocolate daisies on the right cupcake were made by using a tiny cookie-type cutter. I just need to practise my technique for piping (and finishing) blobs; the white parts of my flower look a bit clumsy.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

An Italian weekend

We had an Italian weekend. Half of my heritage is Italian, so it seems only fitting to make a weekend of it; after all, life's too short to not be Italian. ;-)

On Saturday night, we went for dinner at a new Italian restaurant in Courtenay Place. Fratelli is run by two family friends who, fittingly enough, are brothers. Their mother and grandmothers are fantastic cooks; we have spent many years popping in on Christmas morning to enjoy strong coffee and Italian dolce before heading off to Christmas dinner, so it's not surprising that good food is in their blood.

The meal was great, with good sized portions and yummy bread straight from their wood-fired oven. The wine list is extensive, with a wide range of both Italian and New Zealand wines. (Even though I'm a non-drinker, I really like looking through wine lists or, even better, cocktail lists.) They have done a great job with the decor, which is modern yet cosy and would be equally comfortable for couples or mid-sized groups. I hope Fratelli does well; they are in the ultimate restaurant zone in Wellington, yet it is notorious for chewing up and spitting out newcomers.

I had won tickets to a show at Downstage Theatre. Strange Resting Places was inspired by stories and personal experiences of the Maori Batallion in Italy during World War II. It has had fantastic reviews and has been performed at a number of festivals and events around the world; they are heading off overseas again this week. Coming from worlds apart, Maori and Italians found themselves connected by three fundamental elemtents: kai, waiata and whanau (food, song, and family).

What I loved about the show is how well the two cultures blended. It was amazing to be able to identify with two opposing forces, and I was thrilled at how much Italian and Maori I could understand. Walking into the theatre, two of the cast were playing guitars and singing medlies of Italian and Maori music, interchanging the languages with ease. Meanwhile, the third (Italian) character was busy serving food and making coffee with a caffetiera at the front of the stage for the audience as they were taking their seats. The scene was set. Fittingly, at the end of the show, the audience were offered vino and bread dipped in olive oil with rosemary and garlic; Italian hospitality never stops.

On Sunday, Festa Italia was held at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. This annual event is a celebration of all things Italian: food, fashion, travel, entertainment, and more food. My parents were, once again, heavily involved with the festival's organisation. They enticed us out of bed early on a Sunday morning with the promise that my sweetie could transport a Ferrari or Lamborghini from a sponsor's car yard to the festa. Alas, while two of the cars were red (and all were Italian), there was not a Ferrari or Lamborghini in sight; we didn't think there would be, but it was fun to dream for a while.

We spent a couple of hours during the day working on the bar, pouring numerous glasses of chianti and being thankful that this isn't our day job; it's fun to work on a bar for a couple of hours a year, but it would drive me mad to do it full time. After our second shift finished, we wandered around to see some of the entertainment while waiting to return the cars at the end of the day. How great it was to see the cast from last night's show, Strange Resting Places, on stage with a short 'surprise' performance! Then it was off home to count the money and fall into bed after a long day, the result of many months' planning. What a weekend.

Qui tutto bene!

Friday, 20 March 2009

A blast from the past

One of my ongoing goals is #48 - Find something to be happy and thankful for each day. Some days I am better at this than others; that's not to say that good things don't happen to me every day - they do, but I don't always see them (or look hard enough). Yesterday, a blessing came out of nowhere.

I was a teacher for about ten years. It's true that every child touches you in some way - some more than others, but the memories (and stories) are endless. Last night, one of the girls in the very first class I ever taught contacted me via Twitter. I don't tweet much these days, and have been thrilled when a couple of former students have added me as a friend on Facebook. This girl would have been 8 years old when she was in my class in 1997. I think that makes her about 20 now ... gosh, she's all grown up (but I haven't aged a bit, of course)!

What makes this student (and her family) so truly remarkable is her circumstances; she came to New Zealand with her parents and uncle as refugees from Iraq. They had lived in central Baghdad, near an army base, so she grew up hearing bombs dropping and military aircraft flying overhead at night. Her parents were chartered accounts and had a company which ran the payroll for a large telecommunications corporation. Her father was drafted to fight in the Gulf War. The first time he was shot in the line of fire, he recovered quickly and was recalled for duty. The second time, a bullet was lodged near his hip, temporarily paralysing him. His family were thrilled: this meant he no longer had to fight in the war.

In the middle of the night, the family fled their home and escaped to Jordan, eventually making it to New Zealand a year later as refugees. They quickly learned English, but their qualifications and work experience were not recognised here. During the two years their daughter was in my class, I was there to see their family go through the process of starting again in a foreign country: they took courses in English language, worked to upskill in their chosen profession and, finally, gained employment and New Zealand residency.

Towards the end of her first year in New Zealand, we had a school speech competition. Although her English was improving daily, this was still going to be a struggle. I suggested she talked about a topic she knew a lot about: growing up in Baghdad. She told the class about her friends, her school, the uniforms they wore, and how one day there was a bomb scare. None of the children in my class (8-9 year olds) knew what a bomb scare was, and she couldn't explain it in her limited English. To be honest, when I explained it to them, it didn't make much sense either: "Why would someone put a bomb in a school?" my class asked, and I had no answer for that. It turned out that this bomb scare was one of many; a bomb was swept out from under the principal's car, and life went on.

One morning in August, she came to school and asked me "do you like chocolate or cream?". "Both!", I replied. The next day, a huge home-made birthday cake decorated with chocolate AND cream arrived for me; there was so much left over that several staff members took pieces home for their families. I still wear the earrings she and her mother bought for me that birthday.

And now, 12 years later, my girl is all grown up and wants to meet me for coffee. This has totally made my week! I hear that she left school a year early ... to start a double-degree in accounting and law. I've sent her my contact details and will wait to hear from her. Can I just add that I am proud beyond belief? :-)

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Home-made chocolates

I used to make Easter eggs and chocolates with my family when I was little. We didn't do it every year, but I remember some great weekends when the weather was cool, sitting around the kitchen bench with a pot of melted chocolate and a set of bulldog clips, making endless trips to the freezer. To aid my trip down memory lane, I was keen to add this to my list of 101 things to do: #95 - Make chocolates/Easter eggs.

My sister-in-law joined me in making chocolates this afternoon. I'd thought about going all the way and making Easter eggs, but couldn't really be fussed fiddling around with finding bulldog clips etc. I bought some second-hand moulds and fillings, and we set to work.

For a guide to chocolate making, Home Style Chocolates is a great place to start. It also has a wide range of chocolate making supplies. We had six moulds to work with and five fillings: whisky, Irish creme, mint, orange, and caramel. I also had some blanched almonds and three packets of milk chocolate melts - we were ready for action!

I've got to say that making chocolates by hand is quite a time-consuming process. After a few hours, we didn't have all that much to show for our effort but we'd had heaps of fun. We might not be setting up a hand-made chocolate business any time soon, but our results are promising (and quite delicious). I think we will need to repeat this activity again before Easter.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Cupcake decorating Part 1

I had a go at decorating fancy cupcakes for Halloween last year. Last night, I stepped my goal up a notch. I have started a cupcake design course, which runs for two hours every Tuesday night for three weeks. Tamara from tempt is our teacher; what a wonderful, creative, warm, energetic person she is. Enticed by the idea of learning how to bake and decorate fancy cupcakes like the ones in her window, the course quickly filled up and is now fully booked until the end of May.

We began with two basic recipes for making 36 cupcakes; one chocolate and one with a vanilla base. They taste every bit as good as they look. Tamara gave us lots of simple variations for each, eg add 1 1/2 cups of frozen raspberries to the vanilla mixture, or two grated orange zests to the chocolate mix for jaffa cupcakes, or a cup of chopped nuts to either mixture. There were lots of little tips and tricks along the way for making these simple cupcakes (a good beater makes life so much easier) and my notebook is already filling up with notes.

Then we got onto making buttercream frosting. We tried two flavours: a plain vanilla type (which can be coloured), and chocolate. We had a go at piping some basic frosting, and here is my first attempt in chocolate. (The person next to me coloured the vanilla icing pink - definitely not my choice!)

Tamara promised that we would go home having made a little rose like the one on her ad. [Gulp!] Using gum paste, she showed us how to hand-mould the bud, then each of the five petals into a rose shape, and voila! I also had a go at colouring my gum paste purple, naturally. With a bit of practice, these roses are fiddly but not all that tricky to make. Apparently they will last for months if they are kept away from moisture; I'm already thinking about making a whole pile for party favours for my parents' big wedding anniversary party in June, but that will depend on how much patience I have!

Apparently next week we are going to "throw around some chocolate" (mmmmm!!!) and make an even bigger mess. I can't wait!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Relaxation massage

Today, I carried out a goal I was really looking forward to: #42 - Have a massage. After my relaxation massage course a few weeks ago, I was keen to get back onto the table for myself.

For Valentine's Day, my sweetie gave me a voucher for a relaxation massage. He shopped around and decided that nourishe was the place for me; he was right. Deborah performs miracles; she quickly figured out where the tension was in my body and worked to release it. I was tempted to stop and ask her a couple of times how she was doing certain things (which I didn't recognise from my course), but I was in such a state of bliss that I didn't want to move or even speak. I will definitely be back sometime in the future.


Monday, 16 March 2009

Boysenberry chocolate brownies

Is it bad that two of my ten new recipes are variations on brownies? ;-)

Here is a Food in a Minute recipe. It's super-easy to make and the results are mouth-watering. It supposedly makes 20-25 servings; four of us sampled some tonight and there was only about a quarter of it left afterwards. No-one will be satisfied with only one helping!

Boysenberry chocolate brownies

  • 150g butter
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 cup self raising flour, sifted
  • 425g can boysenberries in syrup
  1. Preheat oven to 170° C and line a 22cm square cake tin with baking paper. Drain boysenberries, reserving the juice.

  2. In a saucepan gently melt the butter and cocoa, stir and set aside to cool.

  3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until thick and creamy then fold in cooled chocolate mixture and sifted flour.

  4. Pour mix into cake tin and place drained boysenberries over the top letting them sink in by themselves.

  5. Bake in oven for 30-40 minutes or until brownie springs back when touched.

  6. To make a boysenberry sauce, place reserved boysenberry syrup in a small saucepan and simmer gently for 12-15 minutes or until reduced by half and thickened. Set aside to cool. [This didn't work so well for me, but still tasted great!]

  7. Cut brownie into squares, dust with cocoa if wished, and serve with whipped cream, yoghurt or ice cream drizzled with the boysenberry sauce.

That's all my news

A few years back, I got an email from a friend I hadn't seen in a while. It was a general catchup email, but was particularly notable for its brevity. It went something like this:

How's it going? Haven't seen you in ages. What have you been up to?
We've been really busy.
Our refrigerator ran out of gas and we had to get it refilled. I didn't even know fridges needed gas!
Hmm, that's all my news. Quite sad, really!
Love ZMB
I've had a refrigerator-gas-filling few days; I've been busy, but don't really have much to show for it. And it's been great! After going out dancing on Friday night, we had a quiet, relaxing weekend. We slept in, watched a couple of trashy movies, went for a bike ride in the sun, went to the supermarket, did some washing, and just hung out and 'did stuff'.

I bought some second-hand chocolate moulds and fillings for making chocolates later this week, sent a friend a 'happy birthday' txt, signed up for a cool cupcake decorating course (which starts on Tuesday evening), and found out today that I'd won tickets to a great play one night this week. (The competition junkie is on a roll!) But that's it; I haven't actually done anything yet!

That's all my news.

What's news for you? Did your refrigerator run out of gas, or did something else equally mundane become the highlight of your weekend?

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Monet and the Impressionists

One of my 101 goals is #81 - Go to an art exhibition. Monet and the Impressionists is on at Te Papa until 17 May. It is described as "the largest and richest collection of Impressionist paintings ever to come to New Zealand". It featured twenty-seven paintings by Claude Monet, including works from his Water Lily, Haystacks, and Rouen Cathedral series, alongside Impressionist masterpieces by Renoir, Degas, Cézanne, Pissarro and others.

I'm not someone who professes to understand the finer nuances of art or art history. However, I can appreciate a masterpiece when I see one, and this exhibition is full of them. I was thrilled to see The Waterlily Pond/Japanese Bridge (1900) up close; it is every bit as perfect as I'd imagined, and prints or photos like these don't do it justice. It's hard to know where to begin with describing the real thing. We went back to the painting several times to look at it from different distances, and noticed new details every time.

I loved this quote from Monet:
"Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment."
(Somehow it just doesn't seem right to write it in black and white.) I hadn't realised that colour, particular pastel tones, was so predominant in impressionist art. The detail and difference in tone in a simple snowflake or piece of sky was stunning; who would have thought there could be so many shades of white?

If you are able to see the exhibition, or one like it, for yourself, then I can highly recommend it. It's not often that we get to see masterpieces like this up close and personal (especially not in New Zealand).

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Farewell Espressoholic

I was shocked today to hear that one of the first real cafés in Wellington is set to close within a week or so. Espressholic has been around for 18 years on its current site in the middle of Courtenay Place. It was the only place to get real coffee, apart from at my nonna's, in a time when plunger coffee was a novelty and considered to be "the real thing". (Soooo glad we've moved on from those times!)

It's amazing how this graffiti-covered (it's intentional!) café has lasted so long in what has become such a fiercely competitive café culture in Wellington. Espressoholic has been part of our lives for so long, going back to my student days when all we could afford was one of their oversized hot chocolates, making it last for an unfathomable length of time until the milk finally went cold. The service was up and down like a yo-yo, but somehow having to do a running count of your order in your head (because you can almost guarantee it will cost a different amount every day) or calculating how much change you were due became normal practice and just added to its charm.

My memories at Espressoholic are numerous: endless people-watching from the corner tables; casual coffee meetings with anyone who happened to be in the area at the time; sending someone to stand in the long-winding queue even before the rest of your group had arrived, just so we could save a place in it and grab a table at the same time; wondering if the other door in the horrible outside toilet actually was locked; late night excursions in search of their famous chocolate silk cake before heading back into the madness of Courtenay Place at 1am on a Friday night; being dumped at one of the tables by the mirrors; being invited to join the Extreme Fetish group, who thought I'd made up a story about waiting for my partner (now ex - see previous comment) because I was too embarrassed to join their "new members' open night" meeting at the next table ... the stories go on.

Farewell, Espressoholic. I would be surprised if this phoenix could rise from the ashes at another location; somehow it just wouldn't seem right.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Newtown Festival

Yesterday was another pearler of a day in Wellington. As we head into autumn, there are still plenty of events and festivals going on in and around the city. I missed the Jackson Street Fiesta on Saturday night as we had a girls' night out instead.

After a short sleep-in, I started the day by checking out the new coastal ecology lab opened by Victoria University of Wellington. Island Bay is an ecologically unique part of the world, with numerous indigenous species of marine life. (I forget the stats.) The new marine lab is a stunning building, complete with diving facilities, wet labs, and research spaces. The open day gave us a sneak peak before the official opening is this Thursday 12 March.

The Newtown Fair was also happening yesterday. Part of the Newtown Festival, it's estimated that about 70,000 people packed the streets on this beautiful sunny day. I stopped by the main stage to see a friend of mine was dancing in one of the salsa performances, where the group tried to teach the crowd a simple salsa routine. I'm not sure how successful they were!

Afterwards, we wandered up the busy street to the Wellington Hospital open day. The hospital was officially opened on Friday after many years of planning and construction. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of being part of the public health system and ending up at the old Wellington Hospital will know how overdue these new buildings are. The main corridors are adorned with a photographic history of all the hospital sites in Wellington, dating back to the original hospital in 1847. It makes for fascinating reading and is almost quite scary to realise just how piecemeal developments in the public hospital system have been during this past century and a half. We got to go inside the new ICU, operating theatres, recovery room, and radiology unit; it's not so scary without all the sick people. These sparkling new facilities can only be an improvement on the buildings they have replaced.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The Hero Factory

I saw this on Donna's blog today and just had to try it for myself. We could all do with a superhero once in a while. Create your own hero at The Hero Factory.

Here's mine. What a cool name: The Fantastic Lasered Lash. (I'm not sure if she's supposed to be me - she looks like she has a lot of fun!)

Girls' night out

We had a great night out on the town last night, just us girls. No boys allowed! Nine of us went out for a dinner at fantastic new restaurant, New Orleans. It's only been open about six weeks and already is making a name for itself. With an up-market beach theme, the atmosphere was enhanced with a jazz trio playing. Apparently it turns into a night club later in the evening, but we had moved on by then. Next stop, it was dancing at Madame Jo Jo's club in The Temperance. Other friends and groups joined us during the night including, alas, some boys.

Some observations from tonight:
  • Girls can have a fantastic time out on their own without guys. Some of our group were newly single and wanting to experience 'life after the boy'; what better way to get back into things than with a group of girls?

  • Guys seem to think we spend the whole night talking about them, or wanting them, or both. We don't - we're just fine, thanks! ;-)

  • Guys also seem to think that a group of girls out on their own for a night means that we're just waiting for them to show up and impress us with their drunk dancing, then ride off into the night with them. Unlikely, fellas!

  • I'm officially old. I feel like I'm coming down with a cold. My sweetie is away this weekend, but I was looking forward to girls' night, so decided to go for a while but have an early night. I was txting my sweetie goodnight and saying that I wasn't feeling great, and he replied with "Well you did say you were not going to stay long and it is almost 11 now." Almost 11? When did that become a late night? For someone who used to work through the night and say out until the sun was rising, it was a shock to realise that 11pm was now 'late' for me. For the record, I lasted until 1am, then couldn't get to my car quickly enough ...!

  • Thankfully, I'm not the only one who seems to be over the whole clubbing scene. Some of my younger, funkier, and single friends also expressed this. Maybe there's hope for me yet!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

I went to see Slumdog Millionaire (2008) today. Having won free tickets (yep, the competition junkie strikes again!), and working casually this month, we thought we'd go on a weekday when theatres might be quieter. We struck the jackpot: we were the only two people in the whole Embassy Theatre. An exclusive viewing!

I won't go into much detail from the movie, as it really is something you should see for yourself. Basically, a Mumbai teen who grew up in the slums becomes a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? If a boy from the slums can do so well, he surely must be cheating ... and so the story begins.

Not one to bring the kids to, the cinematography is fast-moving and some scenes quite gruesome at times. I'm interested in reading the novel it's based on, Q & A by Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat. If nothing else, Slumdog Millionaire is an incredible insight into the realities young children face while trying to survive alone in the slums of Mumbai and, of course, an ever-lasting childhood love.

Monday, 2 March 2009

My plans

And so I am at the start of a new phase in my life. I think my contract has finally expired (although work are yet to confirm this). I'm still keen to make lemonade with the lemons I've received lately. I see now that my recipe is going to be different to how I had originally planned, ie start a new, permanent job immediately; the recession has put paid to that. So, instead, I am going to take some time out, have a break, and accomplish some of the things I've never had, or made, time for recently. Oh, and I'm going to feel good about it and not let my situation (or others' perception of it) get me down.

During the next few weeks, I am going to:
  • read books
  • finish the jigsaw puzzle I started a couple of months ago
  • work on my cross-stitch embroidery
  • start a knitting project
  • practise the ukulele
  • play the piano more frequently
  • put some work into starting my new band
  • enjoy the sunshine on every day that the sun is out
  • go for more walks and bike rides, weather permitting
  • go and see movies, art exhibitions, and other events that I did not have time for before
  • make contact and get together with family and friends I may not have made time for recently
  • try out some new recipes and have a go at decorating fancy cupcakes (I have a cool recipe book and cupcake decorating kit which I haven't even tried yet!)
  • organise, purge, and sort my 'stuff': clothes, resources, recipes, music etc
  • rebuild my 5000+ lost songs in iTunes
  • work towards some of my 101 goals - the ones that involve time, and not necessarily money.
Career-wise, I am going to:
  • be prepared for whatever happens or may not happen
  • look for opportunities both within my chosen profession and outside of it
  • be confident and believe in my skills, knowledge and experience
  • be open-minded about what my next step will be.
Wish me luck!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Scar Tissue - Anthony Kiedis

I have been dipping in and out of Scar Tissue (2004), the autobiography of Anthony Kiedis, front person for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As a moderate Chilis fan, and more an admirer of Flea, I've had my eye on Scar Tissue for a while. It has received polarised reviews; I can understand why.

For someone who has spent most of his life loaded, this is a surprisingly detailed account of a man's perpetual chase for the next high, either through drugs, women, or music. To be honest, that gets quite boring to follow after a while. Clean again for now, Kiedis has been in an out of rehab, and has had more relapses, than we've had hot dinners. Although blatantly honest, Scar Tissue never really does more than scratch the surface. There is no narrative structure; the story is really just a series of events loosely tied together by Larry Sloman, much in the style of "and then, this one time, at band camp ...". But, really, it's mostly the same, all the way through.

I usually come away from reading a biography with a sense of knowing and empathy for the central subject. I don't feel I've got that with Scar Tissue; I'm not certain, but I think my opinion of Kiedis has actually dropped. As a group, there are still some defining musical moments from the Chili Peppers, but their journey to this place is not half as musical as I'd thought it was. Considering their circumstances, and Kiedis's early introduction to the drugs scene, I guess that's not overly surprising. I'm still keen to see the group perform live one day and will always recognise Under the Bridge (1992) as a slice of musical perfection. I doubt they'll make it here to Wellington, though.