Sunday, 30 September 2012

Bill Bailey - Qualmpeddler

I had been looking forward to seeing Bill Bailey in concert since booking tickets earlier this year. It would seem that Bailey has been looking forward to touring this part of the world, too. Ever since he first swallowed the Little Book of Calm on Black Books, I've been a fan of his comedy. As a musician, I also really enjoyed his Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra along with various musical interludes interspersed in his performances.

Bill Bailey is currently touring New Zealand and Australia with his latest show, Qualmpeddler, and we were at New Zealand's opening night on Friday. Although no qualms were being peddled and I'm told that some of the show is not new, this was an hilarious evening of non-stop laughter. Bailey had the crowd at "hello" and we ate out of the palm of his hand for the next 2 hours. His quick wit dealt to the many hecklers, many of whose lines made it into the show. However, no-one expected to hear someone shout, "I didn't want those grapes anyway!" from the audience and watch it become part of the show.

Naturally, music featured throughout the show including some techno-Jamaican dubs and a spell oe bouzouki, with the finale being played on Horntellica, Bailey's horn set - you've never heard Metallica like this before! A fantastic night out.

Friday, 28 September 2012

War paint

I'm not a morning person. Let me rephrase that: I like the concept of mornings, but would prefer them to happen later in the day. Although I love sunrises and all that they symbolise, I am not someone who naturally wakes refreshed and ready to embrace the promise of a new day. I find it especially more challenging when it is dark outside.

As a result of my aversion to mornings (particularly early ones), my morning routine is as brief as it needs to be: get up, feed the cat, make lunch, quick shower, get dressed and then out the door. Although I love coffee, I'd rather spend a few more precious minutes in bed than up and waiting for it to brew before hurriedly gulping it down on my way out the door. I have never watched breakfast tv either and don't see how anyone actually has the time or nerve for it.

What I also don't understand is where (mostly) women find time in the morning for excessive grooming routines. Given that I don't own a hairdryer and practically nothing in the way of hair product, I am arguably saving myself anywhere between 10-60 minutes (as a very rough guess) every morning.

The same goes for makeup; seriously, who has time to apply war paint while half-asleep each and every morning? Perhaps what is most ironic is the myriad of steps involved in trying to achieve a natural look. Then the are the obligatory touch ups during the day and the truckload of product I'd have to add to my already bulging handbag in order to maintain my 'natural' camouflage. Isn't it a sad state of affairs when an influential woman not wearing makeup makes the news or women without makeup are considered to be vulnerably exposing themselves. WTF?! I have recently watched someone hit her head on her desk as she emerged from underneath it with her GHD straighteners after 'fixing' her fringe. Heck, I know someone who touches up her makeup (foundation, mascara and lipstick) and hair before beginning a gym workout! Don't get me started on what all this product is doing to women's hair and skin in the long term ...

Don't get me wrong - I am all happy to doll up when going out, but I value my precious few extra moments of sleep far too much to sacrifice in the name of 'natural' beauty. Is anyone with me on this one or am I standing alone in a field somewhere?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Juicing a lemon

I first heard this joke about juicing a lemon many years ago and it has stuck in my mind:
A local bar was so sure that its bartender was the strongest man around that they offered a standing $1,000 bet. The bartender would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and then give the lemon to a patron. Anyone who could squeeze another drop of juice out would win the money. Many people tried but nobody was able to do it.
One day a scrawny, little man came in, wearing thick glasses and a polyester suit. He said in a squeaky voice, "I'd like to try the bet." After the laughter died down, the bartender grabbed a lemon and squeezed it. Then he handed the wrinkled remains of the rind to the little man who clenched it in his small fist.
Soon the crowd's laughter turned to total silence as six drops of juice fell into the glass. As the crowd cheered, the bartender paid the $1,000 and asked the little man, "What do you do for a living?"
The little man replied with a winning smile, "I work for the IRD!"

While making lemon meringue tarts recently, I learned a lot about juicing a lemon. It's not as rudimentary as it looks and there are some small things you can do to yield a lot more juice from the very same lemon. For example, prick lemons with a fork and put them in the microwave for 15-20 seconds - this could yield twice as much juice. Then, roll them back and forward along the bench top a few times to loosen the membranes. If you want to grate fresh zest, cover the grater with plastic wrap and it will stop the rind getting stuck in the holes. Sounds like a sensible way to exfoliate!

I can't help but draw comparison between juicing a lemon and 'encouraging' someone to do something for you. Squeezing harder and for longer isn't going to get the juice out (even if the squeezer works for IRD!), but a bit of warming up, a gentle massage and some exfoliating would work wonders and be almost twice as productive as if you'd just told them to do something while cold. What do you think? ;-)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Colours for boys and girls

A long time ago, I blogged about boy food and girl food. I discovered last week that there are other seemingly gender neutral things around us that actually lean heavily towards being either male or female. Who would have thought?

Recently, I became involved in a conversation between a man and a woman trying to order a diary.
She: What type do you want?
He: I don't know. One about this big, I guess. [Gesturing.]
She: Is that A4 or A5? Which is bigger?
(Turns out he wants A5.)
She: OK, now, what colour do you want?
He: I don't know. What colours are there?
She: Have a look at the catalogue.
He: [Browsing catalogue and mumbling.] Chocolate? Why don't they just say 'brown'? I bet this is to get women buying brown diaries.
Me: Mmm, chocolate ...
He: How about this – WTF colour is fooksia?
Me: Huh? How do you spell it?
He: F-U-C-H-S-I-A.
Me: Oh, fuchsia! That's bright pink.
He: Well, why don't they just say 'pink' instead of *expletive deleted* fooksia, or whatever it is? Men would get that and stay away, but women want fancy names for things so they label 'green' as 'lawn' and 'dark blue' as 'midnight'. Ridiculous!

It was at this stage that someone else mentioned that only a woman can classify and progressively order 50 shades of white and cream. (Don’t mention grey.)

He has a point, though. Thankfully, the days of blue for boys and pink for girls are (largely) long gone, but at what point did pink become fooksia? When did red become 'flame' and blue 'sky', 'powder' or 'periwinkle'? Perhaps these shades were there all along and we have just become better at noticing them? Or is it clever marketing?

Friday, 14 September 2012

Veterinarian's Hospital

One of the many things I love about my iPod is the surprises it can deliver when I set it to shuffle. No matter what music I currently have on the 'little' 16 GB iPod I carry around with me, I always have the original Muppet Show Album on the playlist. Always. I know every word of every song and skit and never tire of the humour. Although I usually listen to the album in its entirety, it sometimes becomes interspersed with the rest of my music.

While I was out walking today, this episode of Veterinarian's Hospital came on in among everything else and I laughed out loud while I listened. That's another thing I love about my iPod: there's no way you can tell what I'm listening to unless my foolish grin gives something away. :-)

Laugh it up on your Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Paper Toss

Paper Toss is a hugely popular app for IOS and Android. Set in an office, it involves tossing a virtual piece of paper into a rubbish bin. It starts out simple enough: just throw the rolled-up paper into the bin. As the levels progress, there are obstacles to overcome, mostly in the form of a big floor fan that blows air at varying velocities, meaning that you have to aim towards it to make the most of the wind gusts while still landing your paper in the bin, all the while calculating the distance to the bin and how hard to throw your paper ball ... Sound easy? Boring, perhaps? Actually, it’s mindlessly addictive.

We have been playing Paper Toss for real lately. All it takes is an open-top rubbish bin, screwed up paper (paper hand towels work well) and some distance between the two. We have discovered that it is much harder to play Paper Toss in real life than on our phones – even without a fan or any obstacles. In order to add some rigor to the sport (and prevent cheating), starting and finishing lines have been drawn up so that no-one can cheat. It's a very serious (and highly competitive) business! We find that late afternoons are best to practise, even if our aim is a little less reliable at that time of the day.

Once we've conquered Paper Toss, we might move on to frozen grapefruit bowling next. ;-)

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The new black

Apart from waiting for an impending storm, it seems to have been a slow news day as this story made it to the front page of the Dompost today. However, it certainly is true of Wellington: we seem to be the black fashion capital. Just take a look around you on any given day and you’ll probably find yourself swimming in a sea of black. I was just thinking a short while ago about how refreshing it is to see colourful dresses in shops for summer. It will be interesting to see if anyone is actually wearing them over the next few months.

I rarely wear all black but it is usually part of my daily ensemble, even though I make a conscious effort to incorporate some colour every day. In my younger days, I had a few LBDs that looked amazing and constantly made it onto the stage for band gigs. *sigh* Those were the days! Someone recently commented on what I was wearing that day: “Ooh, another lovely purple skirt!” (Of course, it was paired with a long sleeve black top and scarf.) I did a quick mental inventory of the contents of my wardrobe: black, black and white, black, purple, white, purple and white, blue, black, purple, black, red, white and black items of clothing.

Not being a shoe person, I have just a few basic pairs. Guess what colour they all are? Hmm. Boring? Perhaps. Practical? Yes. Interchangeable? Definitely. But I started to see a definite pattern ... sure, it's fun to occasionally do a 'black out for the All Blacks' kind of day, but every day?

Years ago, I remember meeting a friend in town the day after arriving back in New Zealand following a month-long trip to Italy. As I stood at a pedestrian crossing, waiting for the lights to change, I was struck by how 'scruffy' and bland everybody looked – especially the men. Europeans certainly know how to dress stylishly. Black has its place, but not all day, every day.

What's your verdict on wearing black? If we ever manage to lose our fascination with it, what do you think the new black would be?

Sunday, 9 September 2012

An unwanted gift

Our cat is coming up 2 years old so, while she is fully grown, she still displays many kitten characteristics. She constantly demands affention (affection + attention) from her human parents but is very selective about the company she keeps; it mostly consists of her two human parents plus the occasional tolerance of another, so long as they are not a little person. She is also incredibly vocal. Every action or movement is accompanied by a meow of some sort. She will even throw some random meows in the middle of contented purring. We can sometimes work out what she wants, but often don't think even she knows.

When she was younger, our feline princess went through a phase of bringing inanimate gifts inside. Her particular specialty was leaves - big, dry ones. No matter how may leaves I picked up from the living room floor, more would mysteriously appear. We'd sometimes watch her playing around in a neighbour's tree, then suddenly sprint along the fence and across the back yard, quickly negotiating the cat flap and racing inside to deposit her treasure on the floor of the lounge ... punctuated by a triumphant meow. The gift we laughed most about was a deflated black balloon on a string but, all up, her habit was pretty tame.

At 6:15 am today, we heard a very different type of meow as our cat came through the house and made her way into our bedroom. She woke us up with a loud yowl of sorts, almost like she was injured, but definitely requiring our immediate attention. (She still doesn't realise that weekends are not work days and that we humans have a thing we enjoy called 'sleep ins'.) We turned the light on and watched her proudly deposit her gift on the floor: a live weta with a chunk or two missing. Not a huge one - only about 5 cm long - but definitely not required, especially inside and at that time on a Sunday morning. Gee, thanks. The weta was swiftly confiscated in a towel and relocated out the front door, leaving a bewildered (but still meowing) pussy cat to stare at the empty space where moments before she had delivered her special gift.

I live in dread of the day she tries to trump my best friend's cat, who deposited a live possum on their bed. It took my friend, her husband and their 2 children 10 minutes to persuade it to move into the lounge before they finally managed to push it out the ranch slider door. I've heard stories from others whose cats have brought in rats (both tame and wild) and various reptiles. Don't even talk to me about birds!

Do your pets bring you treasures? What's the best (or worst) gift you've received from your pet?

Friday, 7 September 2012

Being Human

I have previously blogged about my lack of fascination with vampires, zombies and the like. Thursdays at 9:35 pm is my time to read. The one exception is Being Human, which we initially referred to as A zombie, a werewolf and a ghost before learning its true title. The show has everything that I don't care for, yet I'm surprisingly drawn to it.

I really enjoyed the first season of Being Human as three unlikely housemates discovered what it meant to live with the supernatural hands they had been dealt. There is the gorgeous ghost, Annie, who is amiable and far too accommodating to those around her. The hapless George is an unintentionally hilarious werewolf wanting to live a ‘normal’ life but being seriously side-tracked during each full moon. And who can resist the smouldering Mitchell, a bad boy vampire struggling to be good but frequently tempted by his darker side? Series 2 added some more core characters, including George’s girlfriend, Nina, who he unintentionally 'turned' into a werewolf.

The first two series had the characters playing well off each other and this interaction largely drove the plot. We have so far watched each series marathon-style and are currently up to Series 3, which is much darker than its predecessors. The housemates have relocated to a former bed and breakfast in Wales where the yellowed wallpaper and shabby furniture are simply old and dated as opposed to being newly designed 'retro'. I find myself half-watching now as most episodes involve a new guest or visitor from the past struggling to solve some paranormal-related dilemma with the help of the trio in an almost-formulaic manner. There are cast changes ahead in Series 4, by which time I suspect I might have lost interest. Still, I have found Being Human to be a refreshingly different take on the paranormal dramas popular during the past few years.

What do you think of Being Human? No spoilers from Series 4, please ... I am already regretting reading the show's Wikipedia entry!

Monday, 3 September 2012

One thing led to another

Sometimes, it's hard to not look a gift horse in the mouth. However, I have learned that not all 'free' things are actually free. One thing leads to another and, before you know it, your free gift has cost you a fortune in time and money. Let me explain ...

Years ago, my dad bought me a car stereo for Christmas. The standard tuner that came with the car needed a band expander to get most New Zealand stations and I only had two basic front speakers. Having just paid a lot of money for a car, a new stereo and rear speakers were on my wish list but not something I could afford just yet.

So, I was thrilled when Dad bought me a stereo with a CD player. He helped me buy some rear speakers and I paid for them to be installed a few days after Christmas. I had planned to drive up to New Plymouth for New Year (don’t ask) and wanted my stereo working before the 5 hour journey ahead of me. However, 10 minutes into the trip, my new stereo promptly blew up the existing front speakers, leaving nearly 5 hours and a return trip listening to buzzing and popping coming from 2 dead speakers instead of good, loud music on my road trip. One thing led to another (I refuse to say this) and my Christmas present ended up costing me several hundred dollars, plus I had to get four new speakers that I hadn’t planned on buying. The sound in my car was amazing but my free gift was anything but free. Oh well!

Recently, someone left a bag of lemons in a communal space with a note saying: "help yourself". How could I resist! I thought about what I could bake with fresh lemons but wanted to try something different to my usual lemon cupcakes or lemon slice. How about lemon meringue tarts for Fathers' Day? Great idea! I would be able to use my new individual tart tins. I was planning to buy a tart tamper anyway and had some short, sweet pastry in the freezer. All I needed to do was try blind baking the pastry for the first time (mental note: that non-stick rolling pin has got to go), learn how to make lemon curd, learn how to make meringue topping ... one thing led to another and this project was rapidly expanding.

I got busy. Jo Seager's lemon curd recipe was fantastic and the kitchen smelled amazing as it cooked then cooled. I felt like a pro using my new tart tamper to press the pastry into my new flan tins. Blind baking by just pricking the rolled pastry and leaving it in the fridge for half an hour before cooking did the trick so I didn't need to use rice or beans. The meringue topping turned out surprisingly well and everything came together perfectly, even though I had used a range of sources guessed the quantities and cooking times for each part of the recipe.

All up, it took several hours over 2 days, spending more money on equipment than anticipated (but that I can use again) and planning the bulk of my weekend around each cooking phase to yield eight lemon meringue tarts.

But, I used the free lemons!

Lemon meringue tart
So that's how a small bag of free lemons turns into a 2-day project. Thankfully, Dad and the rest of my family loved the lemon meringue tarts but, much like croissants, I can see why people just buy them instead of making them from scratch.

Have you ever had a free gift end up costing you far more time, money and energy than you ever would have anticipated?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Handbag inventory

Like most women, I carry a handbag. Like many women, I carry lots of stuff in my handbag. Like some women, my handbag gets a bit heavy from time to time. But I’m wondering if anyone else has a bottomless handbag like mine that threatens to gobble me up next time I am brave enough to blindly fumble inside it while searching for a single lost item?

As I was arriving home the other night, I had my hands full with things I was carrying then realised that my keys were inside my handbag. I shuffled some things around and plunged my right arm in. I felt around a bit, rustled a few things, grabbed at some more things … pretty soon, I was in up to my shoulder and in danger of being swallowed up completely when I finally heard the tell-tale tingle of my keys. I was getting close! I eventually put everything down on the doorstep so I could dive in with two hands and retrieve my prize. Woo hoo!

A quick inventory of my handbag that day revealed a treasure trove of sorts. Apart from the usual keys, wallet and phone, here’s what I pulled out of my bag:
  • 2 travel packs of tissues (one opened)
  • anti-bacterial hand sanitiser
  • small notepads from various conference venues and hotels
  • 417 pens*, each with insignia from workplaces, conferences and other organisations, some that I barely recognise
  • 2 x iPods. I don’t usually carry both but can guarantee I'm never short of good music.
  • headphones
  • camera
  • Kindle
  • plastic money bag holding about 20 coffee loyalty cards
  • 2 x business card holders
  • plastic bags galore - big ones and small ones 'just in case'
  • reusable coffee cup
  • sugar replacements/sweeteners
  • security card
  • deodorant
  • comb
  • spearmint flavoured Eclipse mints
  • receipts and EFTPOS stubs from 67 random places
  • fold up umbrella
  • 1 TB portable hard drive
Luckily I don’t wear makeup every day or use hair products, otherwise I could have probably doubled my handbag’s inventory!

I don’t understand how girls can go out with teeny tiny handbags containing just a phone, a key and an EFTPOS card. (I also don't understand how a fashion designer can charge $360 for a brown paper bag, but that's another story.) How come they don’t need stuff like the rest of us do? And why do I need to carry so much stuff? Well, if ever you need stuff while we're out and about, I'm pretty sure I'll have what you are looking for. Apparently the average woman's handbag weighs about 3-4 kg. The weight of women's handbags has risen over the years, causing potential health hazards, until technology and micro gadgets have seen them start to shrink again.

Are you brave enough to take an inventory of your handbag or – even better – weigh it?

* +/- 400ish