Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Shana Tova!

Today I want to wish my Jewish friends and visitors to this blog “Shana Tova”. Today we celebrate the Head “Rosh” of the Year “Hashanah”. It is a festival which is both serious and joyful; serious because it is the day of judgement and happy because if the meaning of the day is understood and used properly then the Jewish people receive a favourable judgement. On Rosh Hashanah humanity and free will is celebrated. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated as the “birthday of the world”, as according to the Torah it is on this day that God created man. Each year on this day, the Jewish people proclaim God as their one and true King.

The Torah states that we are made in the image of God and this means that human beings possess free will (our actions not being predetermined but chosen by us). We are responsible for the consequences of our actions.

The food associated with this Festival are apples and honey. The apples are dipped in honey which symbolise our desire for a sweet and happy year.

On the first night of Rosh HaShanah (tonight), after prayer services, a special greeting is used, which is only said on this night "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."


Sunday, 28 September 2008

Spice girl

If I said I was recovering from eating 10 curries in the last 24 hours, I doubt I would get much sympathy from anyone.

If I said that 9 out of the 10 curries were “table spoon size” and that it was a competition to raise funds for charity, I’m guessing you may be more charitable about my overstuffed state.

Curry number 10 however was nothing short of a pig out. Today, we were fed to bursting point by some retired friends who live “up the coast” from the capital. Dinner was an amazing curry followed by an apple cake fit for angels. As there were no angels in the vicinity, we didn’t hold back, and found just a bit of space for a largish slice, after curry number 10.

I plan to wash my whiskers for the next couple of hours. I may, however, need the assistance of a crane to get off the sofa.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Flowers that bloom in the spring tra la

As with most other major “trends”, our country tends to be a bit slow in catching the wave. When someone sneezes in New York, it is three years before we catch the cold.

Not so with the recent economic crash. Yesterday, one of our largest Australian owned banks announced a significant number of redundancies. Only six weeks off from a national election here, there are a lot of white knuckled politicians and bureaucrats stalking the corridors of power.

And here follows a BBC link:

A few years ago, I remember a friend telling me that when they worked in a major stock trading office in the City of London, they were always being accused of “Prairie Dogging”. This is the action many in open plan offices perform on a regular basis – popping their heads above their computer monitors to talk to the person opposite. I suppose if you are African, you would have to call it “Meercatting”.

A lovely example today at our local zoo. The architect of the zoo cleverly parked the meercat enclosure right next to the café, with only a pane of glass between the latte sippers and the twitching whiskers. Every few minutes, the guy on guard duty changes, and runs up a log high enough to peer down into the nearest moccachino.

And for fans of “Foxglove Hollow” shots from yesterday; blue flowers, and cats playing tail tag.

Mere Cats


Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Something in the water?

Last night, I thought I would burst with pride in my adopted homeland.

We live in a small valley, north of a city. It has a well known school in the town, with a reputation for an excellent music department. Their school choir has travelled worldwide, and several of the barber shop quartets it has produced have won medals on the International stage. Last night, the main concert hall in the city (home of the Symphony Orchestra), was taken over by 700 people from the valley. That wasn’t the audience, that was made up of the choirs, musicians and dancers!

We have about 13,000 people in the valley. The musical director, her daughter and the producer managed to rehearse eight schools and random adult singers and an orchestra (all from the valley) with twenty four musical pieces in total.

New Zealand has talent! Our small town has a disproportionate share of it. And no, you can’t ask where it is, because we want it to remain the best kept secret in the S. Hemisphere!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Good News from Israel

Today, yet another incident of innocent bystanders being killed in Jerusalem – and the media is in a frenzy pointing the finger of blame.

But, just in case you think it is all bad news in the City of Gold, here is another side, just to address the balance for a change.

In January, I had the privilege to volunteer with an organisation helping children from Iraq who have major heart defects. All of them are brought to Israel, free of charge to have life saving surgery. The organisation funds, transports the child and their carers, houses them (often for months post surgery), and supports them emotionally through the difficult weeks of the surgery and recovery period. The main hospital used, the Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon, gives the services of its medical staff free of charge.

What is truly unique is this organisation it is run by Christians, to serve Muslims, who are being served by Jewish medics. In 1994, they started to bring children from Gaza for heart surgery. Word spread, and soon they were being contacted from Iraq for help. I am struck by the beautiful way these children are treated.

After you have read this blog, please go and check out their website (www.shevet.org). They always need funds to help the latest group of children, and you can donate safely online. The European Union recently stopped funding surgery in Israel for children from Gaza, and consequently the Wolfson Medical Centre is struggling to keep up with the amounts of requests for surgery, when there is no financial support from outside.

You may be able to help Shevet Achim financially to redress this.


Sunday, 21 September 2008

A "What if?" from 1607

Do you ever get a nagging feeling accompanied by a memory of person you have lost contact with? I get them frequently, and find myself meandering down a lane, remembering conversations, smells, laughter, music, all sorts; then feeling the gap because that person is no longer a part of my present.

Today, I reconnected with several people via Facebook. A bit of sleuthing via two or three degrees of separation, et voila! Whichever genius invented this site, thank you.

But then I got to thinking of who in history really missed out.

In 1608 Samuel de Champlain, founder of Quebec City could have written to the new Bushmills Distillery in Ireland for a consignment of whiskey
In 1708 Peter the Great could have written to JS Bach to boast about defeating the Swedes
In 1808 – Beethoven could have written about the first performance of his Fifth Symphony to Thomas Jefferson
In 1908 - Baden Powell could have written to Henri Matisse about founding his new scout movement and Mrs Grappelli may have written about her new born Stephane to Mrs de Beauvoir about her daughter Simone.

All those missed emails!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Sugar, no honey honey

OK, accountability time.

In the last week I have been to the gym three times and gone on a long walk with my good friend Ngaire. I have not eaten biscuits, although on Saturday I ate a muffin and two chocolates. I have not grazed and have stopped eating a two course breakfast (I usually eat muesli AND toast).

All three occasions in the gym were excruciatingly wonderful, as my muscles started to tone up and sing the Hallelujah Chorus. My feet, however, are another story. The melody issuing from them was “The song of the Volga Boatmen”. Collapsed arches don’t do well with rowing machines.

By the time I sit on a Cathay Pacific flight in March, I want to be able to rattle around in the seat made for a petite Asian derriere.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Along came a spider....

I’m still getting the hang of the wildlife in the garden.

This morning, whilst sieving soil, I saw the biggest spider I’ve seen since arriving here. Not very impressive by African standards, but the body was the size of my thumb nail.

Cookie was rummaging around in the garden at the same time. She came and sat by the wheelbarrow and caught the movement of Ms Spider. Immediately she shot into “hunt mode” until she saw the size of it, and quickly backed off.

For Ms Muffet not to take advantage of morning tea was indicative of the size. Normally I can call her and shout “snack Cookie” and she will dispatch spiders, daddy long legs, flies, you name it.

This coffee coloured arachnid lived to weave another web. It is the Nursery Spider.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Outer Mongolia

A quarter of a century ago, I made friends from what was then known as the People’s Republic of Mongolia. Each year the government sent students to do post graduate courses in English at my university. Through a post grad friend I met a number of these government officials and their “minder”.

We took them out on trips to the cold windy beaches of our county, invited them for meals (on a miniscule student grant, I dread to think what I cooked for them) and generally had a fine old time sharing late nights, fun, poetry and the traumas of the English language.

Fast forward twenty five years. Today, I sat on our sunny deck with a young Mongolian, feeding him brunch and catching up on mutual friends. He had come to NZ for delicate ear surgery, and I had the honour of collecting him from the airport, before sending him on his way north to the place where he would receive treatment.

I could never have imagined that the Mongolian thread of my life would follow me down to latitude 41, stretching through into to my middle age. What a pleasure. I can’t help wondering how different life would have been if I’d taken up that scholarship at the University of Ulan Baator.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

A village kid of the '60s

I grew up in the UK when milk was still delivered to the door in a glass bottle covered with tin foil. In winter you had to leave a cup for the milkman to put over the top of the bottle, to stop the blue tits pecking their way through to the cream. The only skimmed milk was what was left after the blue tits had had their fill!

We also had milk provided by the school at break time. It came in a miniature milk bottle. In the summer was luke warm to drink, in the winter the cream froze and popped through the tin cap. Ergh!!

We would wash and save the tin foil caps and thread them on a long piece of string. Dad would then take it to his allotment and tie it over the strawberry patch. It was supposed to scare away the birds, but the beggars would perch on it and enjoy the tinny tinkle it made when they bounced up and down.

Our local grocery shop sold salmon paste by the ounce and you took it home wrapped in greased proof paper. You could also buy a slab of ice cream in a cardboard box (two flavours on offer, vanilla and Neopolitan). The fish and chip shop was allowed to sell all items wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper.

The village had a telephone box with two coin slots, A and B. I don’t remember what you were supposed to do with each, but then I was only just tall enough to see the slots.

We had a village fete each year on the cricket field complete with pretend jousting tournaments, donkey rides, potato sack races and egg and spoon races. Coconut shies were banned when one of the organisers nearly got brained one year.

When it was the 1900th anniversary of our city the Queen paid us a visit with some of the Household Cavalry. I got to queue by the road to see her. My mum asked me to guess what colour she would be wearing. I guessed yellow and mum said lime green. Mum was right.

On bonfire night, there would be competition between all the dads in the street to see who could make the best bonfire. Mums would make toffee apples (great for the dentists), and we’d have hot dogs beside the fire. We locked our pets indoors, because the Catherine Wheels and rockets made such a clatter. Everyone had sparklers to wave and you had to spell out your name with them in the air. The mantra of evening was “Light the touch paper and retire quickly”. No one was ever hurt and we’d get a thrashing if we went anywhere near the Roman candles stuck in the soil at the bottom of the garden near the compost heap.

Ah, the good old days.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Warlike confectionery

Not being a Kiwi born and bred, there are a number of things here that still puzzle me. Take café food as an example. The locals make a marvellous biscuit from cornflakes and cocoa. It is usually flat, the size of a small saucer, with a blob of chocolate butter cream and a walnut in the middle.

It’s name – an Afghan. Anyone out there know why?

The only connection I can make is it looks alarmingly like a landmine.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

You just can't get good staff these days

A regular but unintentional source of amusement here in the capital is the “Job Vacancies” section of the city’s rag. It provides mirth twice weekly.

This week’s blooper (at least I hope it was a typo) was a catering company requesting someone who was “contentious”.

I think they meant conscientious.

But hey, if you want to argue over chocolate cake, or even throw a few around each day, go ahead. I’m not paying your salary.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Tin Man, Woman and Tin Kitties

As the sun was shining today, I decided to fossick around in our basement, to sort out our emergency food supplies stored there. In 2005 when we moved here, we stored about a week’s supply of tinned fruit, meat, fish, vegetables, water and cat food underneath the house. It wasn’t until 2006 we realised we’d forgot to put a tin opener there too!

Unlike my northern hemisphere brethren, this is not in the event of a nuclear attack (NZ is non-nuclear), but in case we have a major earthquake.

I have brought six of the items upstairs, as the outside of the tins are looking rather mangy. If they are “frot” inside, I’d rather find out now than when we really need the stuff.

Of course, the usefulness of the supplies very much depends on our ability to access that area of the house. It has just been super duper earthquake proofed by engineers, so in theory it should be the most robust part of the property. However, knowing my luck, on the day of the “Big One”, I won’t be able to find the key to the basement door.

I might start a second store in the walk in closet, just in case.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Coffee, quilts and Russkies

This morning, en route to a late start at work, I went to the annual Wellington Quilt Exhibition. It is held in an art gallery, a building that used to be part of the Port Authority in the capital.

Every year I come away inspired to start quilting again. Between last year and this year, I have hand templated and hand stitched several hundred hexagons, but the progress is slow, and as I only use second hand material, I wait until I have enough of the right colours to start stitching again.

I am always impressed by the variety and ingenuity of the quilters, but sad that most of them are made on machine. For me the romance and charm of a quilt is that you imagine the ladies sitting around quilting together.

This year’s challenge to the city’s quilters was to make a quilt based on a playing card. Here are some of the results. The other quilts are general exhibits from the City Quilter’s Guild.

Oh, and lest you think we are a bit boring, being on the end of the planet, I attach a photo of my favourite café in the city – the bust of Lenin is not the only Russian artefact it contains – there are what look to be pre-Soviet chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and one of the best bistro menus in town.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Ahhhh, Sundays!

Yesterday, courtesy of a discount voucher from our local Book Temple, I purchased a book “To Heal a Fractured World”. What intrigued me was its subtitle “the ethics of responsibility”. Being responsible and accountable are not popular or fashionable concepts in today’s “it’s all about me” culture. And lest you are tempted to think I have suddenly gone intellectual, fear not. The book is written by the eminently readable Dr Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the UK. What an extraordinarily gifted thinker, but more importantly “doer” of what he writes about. I am challenged at every sentence.

As I tried to read a few pages this morning, accompanied by a welcome cup of Earl Grey, Ms Fidget Paws was wriggling and making herself comfortable inside the bed, where she had been most of the night. I can’t say I blame her, as there is a hoar frost this morning. After giving up on reading, we had an enjoyable few moments playing tag under the sheets. She soon got bored, jumped out and demanded breakfast.

Since then, it’s been all go – lamb shanks in the oven for dinner and a tropical fruit salad for afternoon tea (shredded coconut, pineapple chunks, dates, bananas and a slug of brandy).

Happy weekend!

Thursday, 4 September 2008


Inspired by Treppenwitz's post today "Does your era define you?" http://bogieworks.blogs.com/treppenwitz/, I decided to throw out there this version of a meme,

Year I was born – 1961
Generation – Baby Boomer
Political figures of the day – JFK, David Ben Gurion, Krushchev, Harold MacMillan,
Other big names of the day – Martin Luther King, Yuri Gagarin, Rudolf Nureyev,
Headlines – Nureyev defects, Berlin Wall erected, invasion of The Bay of Pigs, The farthing ceases to be legal tender in the UK (after 600 years of usage), the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. S. Africa withdraws from the Commonwealth of Nations. A military coup in Syria ends the Arab Republic, the Soviet Union detonates a hydrogen bomb (it is the largest ever man made explosion). The Vietnam War officially begins. The Marshall Plan expires.

Famous births - Diana, Princess of Wales, George Clooney, Enya, Barack Obama, Peter Jackson, Nadia Comaneci

Famous deaths - George Formby, Sir Thomas Beecham, King of Albania, Gary Cooper. Ernest Hemingway, Chico Marx

Music - Beatles, Supremes, Sinatra, Elvis, Pavarotti makes his operatic debut, Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, Ella Fitzgerald, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash,

Top hits “Stand by me”, “Let’s twist again”, “Runaway”

Sounds I was raised on - Mario Lanza, The Spinners, Julie Felix, The Beach Boys

Earliest memories - “Yellow Submarine” playing on the radio at a pre school birthday party. Jimmy Clitheroe on the TV after the Saturday football results, Ena Sharples and her friend Minnie in Coronation Street. “Flying saucers”, “Parma Violets” and Walnut Whips from the sweet shop.

Thanks Trep for sending me down memory lane!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Yes, we have no bananas

Tonight I rapped myself metaphorically over the knuckles.

At 5pm, I was standing in a major supermarket, figuring out which vegetables I could afford to buy (or rather I could bring myself to buy, given the prices).

Later as I was cooking, I muttered to my husband about the scandalous prices, but in the same moment understanding why. We have had twice the annual rainfall and it is only September. Growers up and down the country are suffering terribly. Their crops are rotting or simply haven’t survived the deluges. We are an agricultural economy. In normal circumstances our food prices are outrageous in comparison to our salaries - we pay export prices, and now the weather is adding to the cost at the checkout. In some cases prices have doubled in the last few months.

Fast forward a couple of hours, and a dear friend and I are discussing Zimbabwe and the trials the people there have endured for so long. I suddenly felt so ashamed of my grumbling earlier in the evening. At least I have money to buy groceries. At least there is food to buy. At least I don’t have to fear for my life when I queue for the basics of life.

God, please forgive me for being so self-centred.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Wake up call

I have just watched a TV programme about how the western world is eating itself to death. Jamie Oliver has challenged a group of overweight/obese/morbidly obese people to get to grips with why their diet is killing them.

As part of the programme, they dissected a 25 stone male corpse to show how he died. All his internal organs were either clogged by fat or moved to the wrong part of the body because they were displaced by other fat covered organs.

It was horrific.

I am overweight. I don't exercise. I hate myself for it. I have to do something.

My biggest challenge is getting exercise. I don't eat junk food, but I do love to cook and bake and I have a sedentary lifestyle. I am a bookworm and I live in a cold climate, so the comfortable option is to stay indoors, curled on the sofa with a good book.

After tonight, I have set myself what I think is a realistic goal, 8kg loss by the end of the year.

Another 12 kg in 2009.

I intend to blog and report back. Wish me well.

Monday, 1 September 2008

What to be seen dead in

My husband has become familiar with a little ditty that I have started to sing this winter inside our walk-in closet. It is resembles a certain Monty Python song to do with lumberjacks. The focus of my rendition concerns thermal underwear.

This winter I couldn’t have lived without my thermal leggings and long sleeved undershirt. There is an amazing company in NZ called Kathmandu, which produces every kind of thermal accoutrement imaginable (not boxers or thongs – sorry!).

So I have developed an early morning ice dance around the closet singing “I love my blue Kathmandus, Kathmandus, Kathmandus, Kathmandus!”

It’s not a sight for the faint-hearted.

This morning I declared from the wardrobe. “Sweetie, just so you know, I want to be buried in my Kathmandus!”

Clothes to die for……….