Sunday, July 10, 2011

North Head

I’ve never been one to take much interest in military history and such things as strategic defence points, but my ‘new thing’ for the week was an exception. On Sunday we visited North Head, the second bump you can see jutting out into the Auckland Harbour as the eye travels across from Devonport. This hill, dubbed Maunguika by Maori, has traditionally been used as a coastal defence point, and is riddled with sneaky tunnels, scary-looking gun emplacements and various other arsenal from 120 years of New Zealand military history.  

The highlight for me was the sweeping views over Auckland Harbour. Standing on the top of the mountain you are nearly completely surrounded by water, and you can see right out to the Waitakeres. We sat on the northern side of the mountain looking out over Cheltenham Beach and Rangitoto Island and shared tea from a thermos and some lemon muffins. 

After some compulsory roly-polies down the hill we headed off to explore the tunnels. I recommend that you take a torch and, if you happen to have any at your disposal, an 8-year-old boy, who will have a ball playing war heroes and jumping out to scare fellow tunnel-explorers. We didn’t have either of these but we still had fun, especially when we came across a cave which later became the scene of a story involving a troll called Little Red Riding Hood (named by my toddler).  

Aucklanders, if you haven’t already been to North Head, I implore you to take advantage of the next sunny day and head out Devonport way. You’ll be reminded of the beauty of our harbour, as well as getting a hands-on history lesson. It’d be a great place to take visitors to the city too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Having been absent from the blogosphere (no, Mum, I did not make that word up) for a couple of weeks, I'm returning with a whopper. The latest in my 'try new things' mission has been an intrepid journey to the coconut-palm-lined beaches of sunny Fiji, thanks to my incredibly kind-hearted and generous parents who shouted us a holiday for our 30th birthdays.

I'll try not to brag too much, but with temperatures hovering around the 29 degree mark, a swimming pool that wound its way invitingly around the resort (complete with pool bar and white-sand beaches), silky smooth water at the beach, which was two steps away, and a full buffet breakfast to kick off each day, it's hard not to boast. Sipping my Fijian Warrior cocktail (which I mistakenly reported to be called a Dark Fijian to the elderly lady next to me, much to her amusement) whilst lying on a lounger by a pool reading a magazine, I could have died a happy woman.

Our little family stayed at the Radisson on Denerau Island, an incredibly family-friendly resort, as evidenced by the full laundry facilities in each room and the multitudes of little kiddies (some of whom came complete with full-time Fijian babysitters). Sure, you probably wouldn't want to stay here if you didn't have kids, but for us it was perfect.

Now, before I paint an overly rosy picture I should mention that holidaying with a 6-month-old and a 2-year-old is no picnic. As one of the mums by the pool put it as she sipped her Blue Hawaiian, 'Same shit, different place.' Our toddler pulled out all the stops to ensure that her parents couldn't completely relax: grizzling, tantrums, grizzly tantrums, refusing to carry out simple tasks and employing the 'no' word at every opportunity.  And our 6-month-old still sleeps about four times a day, forcing one of us to hang around inside for hours at a time, imagining all the fun to be had just a few steps away from the room.

I know what you're thinking - 'shut up, you got to go to Fiji.' And perhaps I should. Suffice to say that next time (and there will be a next time) we'll be bringing some friends along to ensure that we get some adult time to balance out the holiday.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Three days sans toddler

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No, the lack of words in the sentences above isn't a website malfunciton. I'm just enjoying the sound of silence while I’ve still got it. This weekend has seen a seismic split in our family; my husband has taken my toddler away to a family bach, leaving me here at home with our five-month-old while I recuperate from a throat infection. Aaaah, the blissful silence. Aaaaah, the blissful tidiness. Aaaaaah, the blissful opportunity to catch up on all those chores jostling for my attention. OK, so chores aren’t blissful as such, but the resulting order in our previous chaotic household is – and this isn’t an exaggeration – my personal nirvana.

My to-do list at the beginning of the weekend extended on to three pages, and, happily, very nearly each and every ‘to do’ has a jaunty little tick next to it. A random sample: clean the microwave, do the taxes, tidy each bedroom, sort out the playroom, write thank you notes… Bored yet? I haven’t been. I have set to with a joyful hustle-bustle not seen since Scrubbing Day on the Pippi Longstocking film (which, if you haven’t seen it, is very highly recommended… or at least it was totally awesome when I was 8).

I’ve also – touch wood – managed to sort out my baby’s rather antisocial habit of expecting a meal at 4am. With no fear of the toddler being woken up by the baby’s, ahem, plaintive bleats, I was able to deny said meal until 6.30am. (Strange things go through your head while trying to ignore your baby’s wails. My mind wandered away from ‘am I a neglectful mother’ territory on to much more important things such as who would come out on top in a battle between the sandpit and the vacuum cleaner. Conclusion: the sandpit; the vacuum cleaner would clog up and stop working before the sandpit was empty. One more fascinating tidbit: if you cough into your pillow, as is necessary when you are trying to make as little sound as possible so your baby isn’t woken up the moment she appears to have finally stopped crying, it provides a rather lovely warm circle for your ear to rest when you lay your head back down.) I should mention that I didn’t let her cry for two and a half hours – when I realised that she wasn’t just going to go back to sleep, I gave her a cuddle and a nappy change, and she went off to sleep after a just a little bit more complaining. The following night she didn’t wake till 5am, and after a quick cuddle was off to sleep again, ready for a feed at the socially acceptable time of 6.30am. Could we have knocked this on the head? Only time will tell.

So my ‘new thing’ this week was to experience three consecutive nights and days without a toddler. I’m happy to say that while I have immensely enjoyed the relative peace and quiet, I am well and truly ready for her to come spinning, dancing and tumbling her way back into my house any minute now. I can’t wait to play with her and hear all about her holiday. I am looking forward to hearing her little voice speak its hilarious malapropisms. I am even keen to hide under a stuffy blanket from the bear/lion/witch that is coming down the driveway. Welcome back, little girl.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Writing Motherhood

One of my all-time favourite activities is browsing the shelves of the local library for an escape into a new world. Of course, nowadays I’m more likely to spend 95% of my library time in the kids’ section trying to limit my two-year-old to 10 books or under, which is really quite difficult considering she just roams around randomly pulling books off the shelf and declaring, ‘This one… and this one… and this one…’ until we are wading through a brightly coloured swamp of princesses and talking animals. When I try to look in the adults’ section she runs up and down the aisles, yelling, ‘Catch me, Mummy!’ and again pulling books off the shelf, asking, ‘What’s that?’ and pointing to – as she did last week – a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. (‘Um, he was a very famous man who wanted everyone to be happy, honey,’ I mumbled vaguely, red-faced, while a librarian smirked behind us.) I usually end up grabbing the first thing that takes my fancy, which is usually somewhat disappointing and a waste of time, stress and energy.

So I’ve taken to browsing the library catalogue online and requesting books to be sent to my local library. A few weeks ago I stumbled across Writing Motherhood by Lisa Garrigues, and quickly sent a request off. As soon as I received the email announcing that the book had arrived, I packed the kids into the car and took off to the library to lay my hot little hands on the most inspiring and life-affirming book I’ve read in a long time. Here’s the summary:

"Have you always wanted to chronicle your experience of motherhood, but never knew how to begin? Are you looking for an outlet for self-expression, but can't imagine how you could juggle one more thing? In 'Writing Motherhood', long-time writing teacher Lisa Garrigues dispels the myth that motherhood is an impediment to creativity. Drawing on her own efforts to balance the demands of motherhood with her dream of writing, she shows readers how everyday life can be a rich source of stories, and how writing can provide a means to both understand and document their experiences. Whether you are a new mother or a grandmother, someone who has long aspired to write or someone who has never written before, 'Writing Motherhood' will help you find your voice and tap into your creative self. Filled with insight, honesty, and humour, each chapter of Writing Motherhood weaves together stories from the author's life with wisdom from other writers and mothers. In daily writing Invitations, Lisa then encourages readers to tell their own stories."

I always kept journals as a child and a teenager, writing my daily musings and chronicling the day’s events at the front of the books and jotting down lines of poetry and song lyrics in the back. It is partly to these journals that I credit my relatively smooth teenage years. Having an outlet to dump my frustrations, joys, dreams, fits of angst and woozy flushes of first loves gave me a chance to gain perspective, work through my ideas and learn from mistakes. It was a nightly ritual, a chance to wind down and take stock, and to explore my creativity in a very private and non-threatening way. I pretty much stopped writing when I moved in with the man who is now my husband, probably because I had a new – interactive! – listening post and didn’t feel the need so much any more. But I found that at challenging times I would pick up the pen again, finding immediate comfort in the familiar indulgence. As cheesy as it sounds, writing has helped me to be my own best friend.

So the summary of this book jumped out at me in one of those golden ‘everything clicks’ moments of serendipity. This is what I need in order to work through the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced – being a mum to two very tiny, very vulnerable and very needy little girls. I need a map to navigate this foreign country, and it is me who has to write it.

I finished reading Writing Motherhood at the weekend. At the core of the book is the encouragement to maintain a Mother’s Notebook – halfway between a journal and a writer’s notebook – and to commit to writing in it every day. The author offers tips and advice about fitting writing into your mothering life, and Invitations, which are basically writing assignments but with a more encouraging and positive ‘do it if you want to’ spin. It’s a wonderful book and an excellent tool for a mother who may have forgotten she was once a writer, or for someone who may want to give writing a go in order to chronicle these precious years. The only criticism I have is that it is very American-ised; so many of the examples, props or scents she mentions are so acutely American that it is slightly off-putting for a born and bred New Zealander. I know that we’re used to that in popular culture, but for some reason it’s more jarring and noticeable in a book about something so personal as writing.

That, though, is a small and minor criticism. I whole-heartedly recommend this book and its wisdom to any mother of any age or description. In fact, I’m so inspired by it that I would be keen to hold a workshop of the ideas with any willing mothers out there who may be interested. If that strikes you as something you might be keen on, comment below or send me a message. If you're unsure, try taking this quiz on the Writing Motherhood website.

“Motherhood need not be an impediment to creativity. On the contrary, it can be a limitless source for story.” – Lisa Garrigues

Monday, May 23, 2011

Anna the Nana

My two new things this week are delightfully reminiscent of a description of the favourite past-times of a 75-year-old: planting a herb garden and playing bridge. I say ‘delightfully’ here because my original use of the adverb ‘awfully’ put such a negative spin on two perfectly lovely activities. Let’s just not mention the fact that some of my other current favourite past-times are going for a morning constitutional, listening to National Radio and drinking cups of tea. Someone hold me back from the cross-stitch patterns.

The herb garden was inspired by the desperate screams (or rather fed-up sighs) of this overgrown barrel in our garden, wanting to be freed from the over-exuberant weeds that had taken residence.

It was time for an extreme makeover. The fun part (and the toddler's dream) was the ripping, the slashing, the digging and discarding.

For some unknown reason it was apparently necessary for me to visit three different garden centres in order to acquire compost, potting mix, potted parsley and coriander and a pair of cute little garden gloves for my toddler. Maybe it’s just that garden centres are rather pleasant places to visit. Uh oh, that’s my inner 75-year-old grandmother talking again.

The hardest part was lugging the compost and the potting mix over to the barrel from the car. Once the soil was in, the plants were planted, and hey presto, there we have it – a real-live herb garden. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s all really very easy and should never again take me six months of living in a place before finally getting round to planting a herb garden. (Disclaimer: unless in that six months I happen to have a baby and get the house renovated and be living with a toddler.)

My other new thing for the week was to learn to play bridge, which at some point in my life I had confused with cribbage, so I was slightly disappointed when I didn’t get to play with one of those cool little wooden boards with the pegs. Still, bridge proved to be easy to pick up for someone who has played 500 before – it’s basically the same but with no kitty, no bowers, no joker, and different scoring. Oh and the partner of the bid-winner gets to just lay all their cards down and take a little rest, while their partner plays for them. OK, so it’s quite different.

I’m hoping our little bridge club will become a regular Sunday-night thing, especially if it means my husband will cook a gorgeous dinner and one of the players will bring a home-made cheesecake. And I’m glad to have another possible retirement activity up my sleeve.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Good crafternoon

Now that winter has slithered its way back into our lives, I am presented with a new challenge to my ‘try new things’ mission. Summertime activities included paddleboarding, jogging, archery, visiting a country fair and a butterfly garden – all well and good when the sun is shining and the ground is dry (OK, paddleboarding being the exception there), but now I am restricted by the weather. Not to be put off, my new things this week are definitely inside activities, and I’ve been reminded that one nice thing about winter is the absence of that ‘really must get outside’ feeling when sometimes one just wants to cosy it up indoors.

This week I was inspired by Prime’s excellent River Cottage series (Tuesdays, 7.30pm), hosted by the dorkily charming Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. His mission is to try to get people to slow down and enjoy food more, and to prove that home-cooked food is not only good for you, but often tastes better too and is actually easier than you think. Last week’s episode was about making bread, and a baker on the show mentioned that one of life’s greatest joys is to bake fresh bread and eat it while it’s still warm from the oven. I am a willing participant in anything joyful, so I shrugged my shoulders, rolled up my sleeves and commenced the time-honoured tradition of bread-making… by hand. No fancy-pants breadmaker for me.

I followed a recipe in Allyson Gofton’s wonderful Bake recipe book. I won’t type the whole thing out but if you’re desperate for the recipe, let me know. It’s very simple – only five ingredients – and the steps are straightforward, but you really need to dedicate an afternoon to it because the dough needs to rise twice. (At least, it does in this recipe.) One important thing is to get the kneading technique right. Put on some funky music and knead to the beat for 8 to 10 minutes. It’s a great forearm workout and an excellent way to relieve any pent-up stress. And, of course, that first cut into the still-steaming crust, followed by the taste of the butter-smothered fluffy bread, makes it all worthwhile. My verdict: making bread is a wonderful cosy-wosy warm winter activity, and you get to feel all ‘back to basics’ and wholesome too.

My other new thing this week was to host a ‘crafternoon’ for my three delightful sisters-in-law. The brief was simply to take some time out and bring along any projects that we’ve been meaning to get to. I made this delicious – and very easy – Magic Slice, which I sourced from the blog of the equally delicious children’s clothing label Bubbalino. We positioned ourselves on the floor of the lounge, surrounded by our crafty tools and materials, and chatted and crafted to our hearts’ content. My project was a present for my fourth sister-in-law, who lives in Dunedin and who happens to be only three years old. I made her a memory game using photos of her Auckland family so she can remember us. In unison – awww! The rainy afternoon was whiled away extremely pleasantly, and was a lovely way to end the week. No wonder I’m feeling so balanced and peaceful today.

So it seems that winter is not going to be too much of a hindrance to this mission. In fact, the more challenges, the more creative one needs to be to find new, interesting and free (or cheap) things to try. As always, let me know if you’ve got any ideas for me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two New Breakfasts

For a long time now I’ve been meaning to watch Breakfast At Tiffany’s, that perennial favourite 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn. I finally got the chance on Monday night by way of our snazzy Tivo, which enables us to download movies (legally!) and watch them two minutes after the touch of a button. Fab.

When watching or reading a classic film or book it’s always intriguing to ponder why this in particular captured the hearts of so many and has endured past its initial popularity. With Breakfast At Tiffany’s it’s obvious right from the beginning scene; Audrey Hepburn as the delightfully named Holly Golightly is breathtakingly elegant, and the character’s bubbly naivety is such that you can’t help but be enchanted by her unique character. The actress is well supported by male lead George Peppard, who plays a struggling writer, Paul, who lives in Holly’s building and becomes intrigued by her flighty, socialite ways. According to the excellent original trailer, which you can view here, the pair ‘breeze through the glitter and shimmer of New York’ doing ‘everything you’ve always wanted to do… and Audrey Hepburn’s the one you’ve always wanted to do it with!’

Indeed, in one excellent scene Holly and Paul decide to spend the day challenging each other to do things they’d never done before. Sound familiar? They drank champagne before breakfast, took a walk in New York in the morning, bought something from Tiffany’s (well, had something engraved – a ring from a packet of Crackerjacks), went to the public library and stole something from the ‘Five and Dime’ store. Nothing too outrageous, but it made for a fun day and would be a good idea for a first date!

Can you recommend any classic movies, on their own merit rather than because ‘you really should watch it’?

A couple of other new things this week, of the culinary variety: Banoffee Slice, below – try it and weep – and Honey and Peanut Butter Booster Bars, which are perfect for a quick breakfast. And morning tea. And afternoon tea. All on the same day.

Banoffee Slice

1 cup self-raising flour
¼ cup caster sugar
100g butter, melted
2 medium bananas, sliced thinly diagonally
1 cup thickened cream, whipped
60g milk eating chocolate

Caramel filling
395g canned sweetened condensed milk
90g butter, chopped coarsely
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup

1. Preheat oven to 180 deg. Grease 20cm square pan; line with baking paper, extending over sides.

2. Combine sifted flour and sugar in a small bowl. Stir in butter. Press misture firmly over base of pan. Bake about 20 minutes. Cool.

3. Meanwhile, make the caramel filling. Stir ingredients in medium saucepan over medium heat about 12 minutes or until caramel in colour. Cool 5 minutes.

4. Pour filling over base. Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm.

5. Place banana over caramel; top with whipped cream. Grate chocolate, using a vegetable peeler; sprinkle over cream before cutting slice.