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 ...

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Cider House Rules - John Irving

The Cider House Rules (1985) by John Irving has been on my TBR list for some time. I loved the movie of the same name, but admit to having watched it several years ago in a half-asleep state; my memory of the details meant that I was almost reading this novel as if encountering the story for the first time. Perhaps it's just as well; the film has many differences from the original novel.

Described as an epic novel, The Cider House Rules is truly an old-fashioned, big-hearted tale and a champion for storytelling. Abortion is the key theme here; Dr Wilbur Larch has committed his life to doing "the Lord's work", which he argues also encompasses "the Devil's work" and cannot be separated. His orphanage at St Cloud's serves dual purposes, but either way the women enter pregnant and secretly leave soon after, sans baby. In Maine during the first half of the twentieth century, this is how things were done.

Dr Larch surrounds himself with insufferable staff in the form of Nurse Angela, Nurse Edna, and Mrs Grogan, who looks after the girls' dormitory. Their ongoing devotion to the orphans and Dr Larch himself is admirable. It is agreed that Homer Wells, the orphan who never manages to stay adopted for very long, "belongs" to St Cloud's and will inevitably continue to return. The story moves in parallel between the orphanage and Homer's new life at Ocean View Orchard. The elaborate tale is peppered with humour, sadness, and the richness that the mixture of such a diverse range of characters brings, even those who are distinctly not likable.

Literature weaves a thread throughout the novel, with ongoing references to Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield. Dr Larch is also credited with coining one of my favourite phrases from a book or movie: "Goodnight, you princes of Maine. You kings of New England."

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Driving the donkey

Let me tell you about a friend and former colleague of mine; we'll call him Tom. Tom is a 'big picture' person, an idea-generator, and someone who is so excited about possibilities that he often fails to see the finer details that will make them work. A few years ago, he bought a 3-bedroom house in need of renovation, quickly converted it into a 4-bedroom home (being a builder in a former life was very helpful here), then decided six months later that he wanted to move some of the kitchen cabinets 30cm across because the family needed a bit more room around the dishwasher. Oh, and he would eventually add glass to the doors of the display cabinet, and skirting boards under each of the cupboards, but in the meantime there were so many other possible projects around the house that he could move on to before then. I have the utmost admiration for his incredibly patient and understanding wife.

Tom is fond of using idioms, but his penchant for ideas over accuracy means that they often come out of his mouth in a slightly different form. For example:
"How are you doing today, Tom?"
"Oh, I'm a box of budgies!" (when he was probably, in fact, looking for fluffy ducks).
During a staff meeting, where we were being informed about a requirement to follow some new bureaucratic process, the details of which I forget, in order to do something we'd always done anyway (or possibly even had done better before), Tom became increasingly jittery. He could see what we saw: this "new" process was simply going to add to our workload and not actually achieve what we needed or wanted. However, in order to demonstrate compliance, we could blindly follow it and then eventually get down to the business we'd set out to do. Tom couldn't see the point. Many others agreed, but Tom put it in a way no-one else could: "That's just the tail driving the donkey!", he announced in frustration. Ok, so he was supposed to say "tail wagging the dog", but there was no mistaking what he meant.

From then on, donkeys became a bit of a theme in our team and the butt of many jokes. However, the message was always clear: whatever we did, we wanted it to be for the right reasons and not simply because the tail was driving the donkey. This is not easy in most workplaces.

Another colleague views blogging in very much the same way. She maintains that "a blog should be a tool or a vehicle for expression - you drive it and not the other way around". I agree; I maintain this blog because I enjoy writing and blogging and not because I feel compelled to post a certain number of times each week. However, I realised this morning that the situation is not the same for my Project 365 blog; I feel it is that tail that is indeed driving this donkey.

I was a little hesitant to start Project 365, which involves taking a photo each and every day and posting it to a blog. I was drawn to the idea of visually representing a year of my life, but not necessarily to the photography aspect. The photos I have taken have either been significant or interesting to me, but were never intended to be technically good examples of photography; they are personal, rather than taken for an audience. At times, the pressure of finding a subject to photograph every day has got me down and, as I don't tend to upload photos daily, I've been uploading 'back posts' of photos every few days. I suppose it doesn't really matter when I post, but having a photo-less week last week has now put me a week 'behind' with this project.

I've decided to stop letting the tail drive the donkey. I will still endeavour to take a photo a day, but if I don't make it on a particular day (or days), I'm not going to let it worry me. I will continue to post photos in numerical order and see where I end up on 1 June 2010, one year after beginning the project. Strange though it may seem, some days I simply have nothing much to say. Surely I don't need a picture to prove that?