Favourite Places

It’s a year since my trip to Europe began. I was out for dinner with friends on Friday night and all of us have had international travel in the last year, some just very recently. The talk turned to photographs. Most of us haven’t managed to get around to printing and putting photos in albums, journals, frames. Discussion came up about your “top 10 photos” for a dining evening to share photos with others.

I printed 100 photos while I was in the motel for my EQ repairs, thinking it would keep me busy… but alas I struggled to put them in an album, which I wanted to double as a scrapbooking project.

Streamlining to 10 photos? I don’t know about that. Today I spent the day finally putting a photo book together on the computer. I’m sick with the start of a head cold, so wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything else. My 20 page photo book grew to 32 pages. I’m quite happy with the result, but there are so many photos missing!

It got me to thinking what would be my favourite place out of where I visited? I re-visited a few places on this trip. Of the new places, Strasbourg, Bordeaux were beautiful and Faenza had a special meaning. Of the places I’ve been, Paris, Barcelona and of course my other home, Dublin, rate as great places. “Too difficult!” I say.

The same with New Zealand. One of the most beautiful spots I’ve been to in New Zealand is Moeraki. I’d love to base myself there and write a book. However I adore Central Otago and the wine regions both there and in the Nelson area. The Coromandel is also beautiful.

Anyway, just for the blog, here are a few photos that made the book.

Trinity College

Trinity College

Le Tour Eiffel

Le Tour Eiffel

La Bicyclette!

La Bicyclette!

Courtyard within Castillo

Courtyard within Castillo

La Cite, Carcassonne

La Cite, Carcassonne

Menu plans pay off

Those who read my blog will know I dabble in a bit of healthy living and financial savings stuff (though I don’t really blog about the latter – I let the experts do that). One thing I have picked up over the years though is that menu planning is a great way to combine the two. Firstly you can plan the menu and therefore decide what is going to be eaten for the next week ahead including snacks. Secondly that is offset by monetary savings as you buy to a list, based on the menu plan. For me, because I plan my snacks as well, it saves me money on treats in the cafe. As I have 3 fabulous cafes to chose from in my workplace it’s important to not get to 3pm and not have something sorted. It’s too easy to go and buy a muffin/scone/cake/fudge. In fact sometimes worse than the cafes is the access to a fabulous pantry department that sells AMAZING food. (The Van H salted caramel chocolates spring to mind…).

Yes it’s hard being a foodie where I work sometimes. And I am a foodie. I love cooking, I even love the grocery shopping part. However it’s all about balance. My motto is “everything in moderation and chocolate every day!” I jest, to a degree. I do eat a lot of chocolate.

Sorry, I digress.

I am making a concerted effort to eat well at the moment. As it’s still very cold, exercise is still difficult for me, so the diet has to be main focus. However, on a cold night when you get home from a long day at work (it’s very busy and I have a lot going on) it’s very easy to just sink in to the couch and eat junk, not cook or buy takeaways. I stuck to my guns tonight though. I had planned to try a new recipe and had taken the chicken out of the freezer. So it was time to put the mini-oven on, put the meal on and within the hour I was eating a fabulous meal. I felt invigorated, re-energised and satisfied that I’d eaten something substantial, healthy and not succumbed to the easy option. If I hadn’t had a menu plan and known what I was going to do the job would have been twice as hard. I have been known to come home and ignore the defrosting meat and not cook (a BAD option, I know). This has often been because I only vaguely knew what I was going to cook. Perhaps because my day was stressful I made the concerted effort to do what was right, knowing I’d feel better, more rounded and mentally happier for following through. It’s a bit like going to yoga. The effort of getting there is hard, but it’s always worth it afterwards. On that note… I am going to yoga tomorrow after work. Yes that’s right. Friday night yoga. I’ve done it before when I’ve been unable to attend a Tuesday class and it is actually the best way to wind my week up. Let’s hope I’m still thinking that at 5.30pm tomorrow.

For those of you who like food porn – here’s a shot of my dinner tonight.

Happy menu planning!

Garlicky greens, potato gratin and grilled chicken

Garlicky greens, potato gratin and grilled chicken

Turning “bad boys” into “good guys”

When I lived in Ireland, my flatmate and his girlfriend used to call anything that was decadently naughty to eat (in the sweet genre) “bad boys”. We often had “bad boys” at supper time, while watching good quality british comedies on the tele.

One of the biggest problems I have with food is my sweet tooth. I LOVE chocolate, and ice-cream and, well anything that looks good. Gooey caramel is also a favourite and Salted Caramel is also one of my new favs. So when you’re trying to lose weight you try to avoid stuff like that. Although I have found complete denial ends in a binge for me, so I try to restrict myself. Self-control isn’t my best when I know there is a packet of chocolate biscuits in the house, however.

So I was really pleased to see this recipe in the latest Healthy Food Guide which arrived in the post yesterday (a fabulous magazine I subscribe to).

My nieces are all into various diets, some are gluten-free and others are doing the raw food diet. I could give them these, as there’s no gluten, no dairy, and they are raw. They have peanut butter, dates, cocoa, cranberries and almonds (I skipped sultanas which were in the original recipe and just added a few more dates and cranberries). Blitz in a food processor with a little warm water and voila … really yummy chocolate treats. I have tried one and as I used a dark quality cocoa they are quite rich, so one was more than enough. If you use no-added sugar or salt peanut butter, they’re even healthier, albeit still a “treat”.

I have my sweet treats for work for the week sorted. I have celery and carrot and hummus for the savoury snacks and a menu plan to aid both the finances and the waistline.

Chilled Choc-cranberry Bliss Balls ready to eat

Chilled Choc-cranberry Bliss Balls ready to eat

Working out my verse

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. After working a 6 day week and having one day off, I had another full on week at work before flying up to Auckland to surprise my cousin for her birthday. She has three little children (the youngest just 16 weeks old, the other two under school age) and a month ago my aunt, her mother, passed away. I had been planning to go up for her birthday before my aunt passed away and having lost my parents, I know how strange those “firsts” are – particularly ones so soon after the event. It’s different but you haven’t necessarily processed all the reasons why.

The jaw-dropping reaction to her seeing me pull up in the driveway (that bit wasn’t quite planned!) was classic and we were both in tears, hugging each other within minutes. I had a fabulous couple of days, having lots of cuddles with the children (the middle boy being my god-child) and I flew home to Christchurch on the Monday to a squawking cat and the cold southerly.

Why does it seem that short weeks are so much busier than normal ones? We are in the midst of our busy period for my department so there was no shortage of things to get done, and I’m happy to say I’ve completed the week not only still sane, but with the to-do list well under control. However the cold, the busy-ness of the week and the feeling that I’ve not been home to do stuff (tired evenings don’t count!) I must admit I was seriously contemplating two things this morning before going to work:-

a) if the cat wakes me at 6am tomorrow it might not survive
b) can I spend the entire weekend in my pyjamas?

In reality the cat will survive, but have some terse words spoken to her when she demands her breakfast and alert human company. I will also get out of the pyjamas as there’s errands to run, and people to see. Still, the winter-hibernating bear in me would LOVE to return to my youth where you could, actually, get away with such a thing as staying in your pjs all weekend.

The other thing that happened this week, was the death of Robin Williams. I don’t usually get too caught up in celebrity passings. I haven’t known them. Many times the celebrities reported are people I feel shouldn’t headline the news. Mother Theresa, yes. Important people (leaders), yes. Even People Who Have Done Stuff … which in New Zealand also means anyone who has achieved anything in sport! But I feel like many of the “celebrities” (who haven’t done stuff) are not worthy of running the top line of the news for two or three days. With Robin Williams though, I felt different. I truly felt the world was a sadder place. Maybe because I’ve grown up watching him. I loved Mork and Mindy. I’ve seen most of his movies, and not only was he a comic, but he was a genuine actor. I went to Dead Poet’s Society because of Robin Williams. I fell in love with Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard in that movie too, as they were my age, and cute. That particular movie hit home with me for some reason. Maybe it’s because I love words and literature (not so much poets, as such). Maybe it’s just the whole story line. Maybe it’s because the boys were cute. I actually enjoyed Robin Williams in his more serious movies – Good Will Hunting, Awakenings. I was a bit disturbed in One Hour Photo.

The thought, however that someone so overtly full of passion, fun, love, laughter took his own life is deeply sad. I know many comics and other genius types are often melancholic or depressive types. It’s some strange conundrum or like some dud deal from God. Maybe you can only see the real beauty in life when you have seen darkness. I know from my own experiences with health I see life differently (carpe diem, in fact). Maybe we need these opposites in our lives to appreciate the whole picture. It is so tragic though for it to have come to this.

I’ve been a little melancholy myself this week with the news. Perhaps it’s winter, perhaps it’s the cold, perhaps it’s being tired. All in all though, those pyjamas have seemed rather attractive. It’s seeing the reason to just take a deep breathe, and know that I will get up, get dressed and just take the day that comes, that makes me lucky.

I surfed around trying to find a good clip of Robin Williams and returned to DPS for this clip. It’s 5 minutes long, but it’s the full scene from Mr Keating’s first class. I’m still working on the final draft of mine, but what will your verse be?

Listening to…. Elbow “Real Life (Angel)”

Elbow is one of those bands that have crept up on me, as they’ve been around for ages, and I confess I don’t own any of their albums but the more I hear of them the more I seek out back catalogue tracks on the inter web.  I love One Day, it’s very anthemic, but this latest song from their most recent album is just something really sweet.  I found this vid of the band performing, which I prefer to the official video.

Hard to sum up in one word, but I find Elbow generally, and this track, emotive.  You feel emotions when you listen to them.  Lots of varying emotions depending on the songs, but emotions.

Enjoy.

 

Time to contemplate

I had a rather slow start to my day.  I’d gone to my best friend’s place to watch the rugby last night (Crusaders v Sharks semi-final) and had a meal, some red wine and some Baileys then crashed the night in the spare room.  I guess I didn’t quite have enough water as I had a slight headache this morning.  I eased into the day with my friends over tea and toast before coming home to a lazy day, grateful I’d done the housework yesterday.  It was a bit of a grey day, too, so not the most inspiring.  Instead it was a day to contemplate, read a few blogs, make some vegetable soup and start a new book.

Everyone needs a lazy Sunday occasionally (albeit without the slight hangover) to think about things.  I often feel full of gratitude when I do this.  I’ve been listening to some music, and enjoying some old sounds from Bell XI.

So to summarise, today I’ve contemplated a few things:

  • Gratitude diary – I’ve been a bit slack lately.  So today I’m grateful for good friends, good times and having the fabulous ability to read (which so many of us take for granted) as reading can help you escape, help you learn and can take you anywhere in your mind.
  • I need to move a bit more.  It’s winter and that extra 4kilos I put on in the motel isn’t going anywhere fast.  So more yoga, and less indulging in wine and food (although my decadent chocolate brownie served up with salted caramel sauce last night was also hard to say no to!).
  • Focus a little more on real life, rather than social media life.  So I’m going to reintroduce no internet after 9pm (except for streamed radio) so I can read, or do some craft.

It’s kind of a minimalist version of my 10 day declutter challenge I did last year.  A little bit of shaping up, a little bit of tuning in and a little bit of pare down (keeping my newly decluttered home decluttered).  Except this time I just want to reintroduce these steps and form them into habits, rather than for a short time.

It’s already after 9pm so the internet thing will have to start from tomorrow, but in a minute or two I’m signing off to go back to my book, and then have an early night so I can do some “moving” in the morning!  I’ve got a busy six-day work week this week, so I think it’s a good time to make an effort to re-tune myself.

Have a good week everyone.

It’s what I call “home”

I love reading home decorating magazines, and at one point briefly wanted to be an interior designer.  Just as well it was a momentary yearning as I would have been rubbish at it.  The thing is I love looking at beautiful things, pristine houses, or cluttered cottages but I’ve discovered putting it all together isn’t at all easy!

If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know I was out of the house for earthquake repairs.  I’m very grateful.  I have been one of the “lucky” ones here in Christchurch with mainly cosmetic damage to my place (there was a little structural damage in the roof and my concrete block walls were cracked outside – but not split or broken).  So I’ve been happy to wait my turn for repairs. I’m well aware there are people in Christchurch with worse houses still waiting too.  As every room in my house apart from the spare room (typically the one with the ugliest wallpaper!) had to be repaired, I’ve now got fresh paint in all rooms, and the ugly dated stipple ceilings, complete with asbestos, have been removed and I now have lovely smooth ceilings.  I also have smooth walls with the dated wallpapers all gone.  We’d painted over those previously but I was amazed at how different they look.  The place does feel rejuvenated.  Now to put my own stamp on the place.

Cleaner layout with the dining room

Cleaner layout with the dining room

"Spanish white" kitchen and dining room looks rejuvenated from my yellow

“Spanish white” kitchen and dining room looks rejuvenated from the previous yellow walls

 

Prior to the EQ repairs I had updated the sliding doors in the lounge.  The old one kept sticking, so badly that I needed to call my friend’s husband one day to help me to close it.  Time to update and double-glaze.  This completely changed the room, opening it up so much.

The old slider

The old slider

The new slider

The new slider

 

The challenge with my place is it is a 1970s unit. It’s not modern and it’s not old.  So finding something that fits is hard.  The lounge has been my biggest challenge.  With the new sliders opening up the room with a double opening, rather than a middle single opening, I felt like the indoor-outdoor flow had doubled.  In summer it will be great to open the doors into the garden,  which normally is much tidier and full of blooms!  I felt like I should have a retro bach kind of feel to the room.  Modern furniture wouldn’t be right, nor would old furniture, but a bit of a muddled mis-match might be okay.  Considering I’ve got a beautiful old piano in the lounge I had to cater for that.  A bach has a relaxed feel to it, and my bookcase full of books and CDs seemed to fit okay.  What about the furniture?  I’d inherited mum and dad’s lounge suite which I hated.  It was beige. Striped beige.  The whole room had a bland feel to it.  It needed vibrancy and colour.  While I’ve kept the walls neutral, I didn’t replace the carpet due to time constraints and the fact that renovations and EQC repairs don’t go well together, so it was up to the furnishings to bring the colour.

Off I went to a furniture maker that my mother had used occasionally.  I like the fact that it is a local manufacturer.   Everything is made here in Christchurch.  It’s important to support places like this.  The extremely helpful staff clicked on to my idea of style – slightly retro – and showed me around a number of furniture styles.  They then showed me a range of fabrics, taking into account I have a cat who loves to use her claws on furniture.  The velvet lazy-boy I had in the house is the only one not scratched by her, so we looked at the ranges in velvet textured materials and I settled on some bold colour choices.

Proof is in the pudding, of course.  I still have to do something about curtains in the lounge.  It’s winter, so I’ve kept the old ones as they’re heavy and keep the frosty temperatures out.  Once spring comes I’ll take them down and look at options.  I want to keep the openness of the room that the doors give, so I’m thinking some form of blind.

So here, without further ado, is my new lounge furniture.

Purple and green!  Bold enough I feel.

Purple and green! Bold enough I feel.

A brief glimpse of sun on a cold morning brightens the room too.

A brief glimpse of sun on a cold morning brightens the room too.

 

What do you think?  Obviously I’ll update the kitchen at some point.  It’s in my mid- to long term plan and I’m thinking semi-cottage style; white with dark bench tops and the wooden look floor going through to the dining room.  Short term is get some more wall hangings up in the lounge – photos from my trip etc, and paint the spare room which is still in its hideous original wallpaper state (albeit with a new ceiling).

It’s a very difficult thing, this interiors stuff.  I know you can always change paint colours.  That’s easy and that’s cheap.  It’s the furnishings that cost, so I want to get it right first time!  Those curtains will be the next challenge, as I think I have the furniture right.  I guess the main thing, is I like it.  After all  it’s my little space on earth, what I call home.