15 July 2016

No man is an island but a mother is a car

Our car has broken down. The outward signs of neglect have been there for a while. It's got dents, it's covered in scratches and someone smashed the wing mirror off it one night several months ago. We never got around to fixing it so our family has been driving around with a completely useless, shattered wing mirror stuck to the side of the car with duct tape. The other day, the accelerator simply cut out mid-drive. For a moment, I thought the breaks may stop working too and when you're on a single lane road high on a Wellington hillside at the time, those are not very comfortable thoughts to have. We rely so much on our car but spend very little time thinking about what a workhorse it is and how much more difficult our daily life is without it. Until it is no longer there. Then we realise how much we actually depend upon it to help get the family to where we need to go. Before the throttle issue arose, there were other household matters that were given priority over having the car repaired. If we choose to ignore the warning signs, eventually things can, and do, wear out. There's an analogy here. I am our car. Overworked, barely keeping it all together some days, careworn and feeling like I could do with a bit of TLC.

So here I am, holed up in my bedroom on week one of the school holidays, avoiding the kids. I ate half a block of Black Forest chocolate and now I hate myself. Ironic really, since I was wanting to spend some guilt-free time to myself doing something that makes me happy, which, by the way, is not playing The Game of Life for the third time today. The countdown is on till at least one of the girls finds me to make them some food. They probably won't even physically come find me. They'll just yell at me from the bowels of the room that vaguely resembles our lounge and then I'll very likely yell back to tell them to stop yelling at me.

I've said it before and it's worth saying again - solo parents everywhere, I salute you. I only need to make it through till 6pm this evening when my husband gets home and then the load suddenly becomes more manageable again. The rational part of me knows that my children aren't even all that challenging and we've actually had a pretty good week so far. It's just that my Child Appreciation tank is very empty today. Mostly, I am just tired. Tired but grateful for children who have very low expectations of what their holidays should be like. Zero expectations. As in turning swatting houseflies into a game to see how many each of us can land. We don't actually do that. It's mostly me standing very still poised to strike while waiting for one to land and then I pounce like a middle-aged Miyagi. Maybe that's the real reason why I am so tired.

Bloody houseflies.

23 March 2016

Waiorongomai Station

This is one of those places that you don't really want to tell anybody about because it is that special that you don't want the secret to get out. My husband competed in his first half-marathon in Martinborough last Sunday, and I thought instead of getting up at a stupid hour to drive a couple of hours to get there on the race day, the far more sensible option would be to book some accommodation and make a weekend of it. Just two hours' drive from Wellington, Martinborough is very popular for weekend city escapes and even though I started looking three weeks before the race day, I could not find any accommodation for a family of five anywhere in the township. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it meant that I stumbled upon the cutest bach near the shores of Lake Wairarapa, just a half hour's drive away from Martinborough.

Waiorongomai Station is a sheep and beef farm owned by the Matthews family who are direct descendants of one of New Zealand's pioneering farming families. Seven generations have lived on the land which borders the lake and stretches to the Rimutaka Ranges in the west. There are several accommodation options available year-round from the expansive original homestead to two beautifully renovated farm cottages. Burlings Bach is one of them. After staying in the bach and reading about the family's farming origins, the connection the Matthews have to the land and sharing the pride of its history with complete strangers is really quite palpable. Burlings Bach was named after owners of the neighbouring property who leased their land to the Matthews before they eventually bought it. The bach accommodates eight people with plenty of room for everyone. It is fully equipped with everything needed for a restful stay out of the rat race. Home baking and freshly picked flowers greeted us on arrival and it quickly made me forget that we had spent four hours driving to get there after an accident on the Rimutaka Hill closed the road temporarily.

Just down the road from the bach is a lovely little ecumenical church, built by the Matthews family in 1927 to serve the whole community and as a way to honour all the families who have worked at Waiorongomai. The headstones of family members including the first pioneers, Charles and Elizabeth Matthews, stand in the grounds of the church.

With an already-full itinerary planned for our Wairarapa escape, we had very limited time to explore the farm itself but Bert and Ernie, the resident kunekune pigs, were a must-see. They greeted us like old friends when we walked down the track armed with our food scraps.
Waiorongomai means "waters of repute", a special name for a truly unique place. We left here feeling so well-rested and with a need to return one day with family and friends. Thank you Charlie, Karla and family for a very memorable weekend.

16 March 2016

Mid-century chair makeover

Say hello to my new old friend. We've had a pair of these mid-century chairs for a while; they belonged to my grandmother and were used for a time at two of my sisters' homes before they came to live with us. I love that they've got a bit of our family story woven into them. They're just a classic style and built to last - apart from the fabric which was so worn in places that I had been hiding their poor condition under a throw. We always planned to reupholster them one day. That day came the weekend before last. This is how they used to look:
My husband and I have different tastes in home decor and DIY methodology, which complicates things. Put two fabric swatches in front of us that are different shades or patterns, and we pick the opposite to each other. When he decides that he wants to start a project, he just wants to get it finished as quickly as possible, which is great but it means making snap decisions at times and I hate being rushed. These chairs have waited several years to be recovered, what is another couple of weeks until we find the perfect fabric? Besides, there were a few steps that needed to be taken before sewing covers could even start. The chair back foam was glued well to the metal frame and needed to be cut away. The wooden parts of the frame needed some touching up and the shiny varnish sanded back so a matte Danish oil could be applied instead. A full day was needed for the oil to properly harden.
We had foam cut to our specifications for the seats (515x515x125mm). The old covers were in such poor shape that they could not be used as a template when we cut out our new fabric so making the new covers was the most time-consuming stage. What am I even saying?? I have no idea if this was the most time-consuming part, I didn't do anything in this project except take the photos and look at fabric.

Speaking of fabric, there is so much choice available now - it's actually really overwhelming. I went to several fabric stores in Wellington and looked online (I told you I like to take my time and cover all my bases) and I have to say that even though we bought elsewhere in the end, I was most impressed by the service and speed of delivery of the samples I ordered from Martha's Furnishing Fabrics in Auckland. The generous size of the samples they sent out really gave me a decent idea of whether or not the fabric would look good en masse and they even included five extra fabrics that they thought we might like. I also wanted to show you this amazing print I really loved that I found trawling through fabrics online. I obtained a sample (which was a different colour from the screenshot) from Fabrics Direct in town. It sat on the chair for a whole weekend and I started having second thoughts about it. At $65/m, I wasn't really prepared to take the plunge and then decide after it was too late that the colour didn't suit the rest of the house.
Charles Parsons Maze in turquoise
My husband was thinking more along the lines of a textured solid colour similar to the original chair fabric. We ended up settling on a textured neutral from The Fabric Store in Wellington. It probably was not on either of our radars before we started looking seriously at all the fabric options so I guess keeping an open mind is the lesson in all of this. It's not an upholstery fabric though, but at $38/m it was a price we felt we could afford, particularly because we also needed to replace the foam too. These chairs can really handle bold prints but when I thought more about it, opting for a neutral will mean these chairs will remain timeless and it's so much easier (and cheaper!) to add colour with cushions.
Can I also just add that a husband working at a sewing machine = so hot. Buoyed by the success of these chairs, he is going to tackle the last taboo of sewing - ROMAN BLINDS. Should I tell him that those things are best left to the professionals? This should be fun to watch. He's insane. Insanely cute, but still insane.

03 March 2016

Five free(ish) events in W-town this weekend

It's been one of those weeks where the weekend can't come soon enough. It motivated me to look up what is happening around Wellington and it turns out there are actually quite a few family-friendly events, so I thought I'd share what I found with you. It also happens to be Children's Day on Sunday, so let's go out there, take in the sights and sounds and have some fun with the family - or at least feel relieved that yours won't be the only family that can't have an outing without someone having a decent whinge about something. If you're not a fan of heaving crowds, take this as a heads up for the places to avoid this weekend. You're welcome.

If you have preschoolers, Civic Square will be turned into a giant playground with the help of the Wellington City Council, which will include good old-fashioned games like an egg and spoon race and facepainting.
Where: Civic Square
When: 4 March 11-2pm

Hailing from Spain and brought here as part of the New Zealand Festival, Arquitectura de Feria is a fantastical playground made from recycled materials which has been installed near the waterfront. There are swarthy actors (who may or may not be Spanish) and all the rides are people-powered, including a Ferris wheel made from toilet seats.
When: 2-10pm daily (except Monday) until 19 March
Where: Frank Kitts Park, Jervois Quay
Photo credit: Ireen Demut

Wander around to the Performance Arcade, a series of containers further along the waterfront to view some artworks and enjoy some live music playing into the evening.
Where: Wellington waterfront
When: 5 March from 1.30pm/6 March from midday

The Performance Arcade

Along the way, be sure to check out the stunning and sobering "Fly Me Up to Where You Are" flag art installation conceptualised by Tiffany Singh for the New Zealand Festival, which bear the hopes and dreams of thousands of schoolchildren from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Free entry for children on Sunday only - worth a mention for the fee-paying adults accompanying them.
Where: Staglands Wildlife Reserve
When: 6 March 9.30-5pm

Where: Zealandia Sanctuary
When: 6 March 9-4pm

Event schedule accurate as at 3 March.

27 February 2016

{Giveaway} The Road to Ratenburg

A wonderful adventure story from beloved New Zealand children's author, Joy Cowley, The Road to Ratenburg is a fast-paced tale of a family of city rats who find themselves unexpectedly homeless. Desperate to seek refuge, Spinnaker Rat, descended from a long and proud line of ship rats, sets off with his family and Roger, an irrepressible and exasperating tag-a-long rat, on a quest for the fabled town of Ratenburg. They find themselves facing many dangers on their perilous journey and learn a few important lessons about themselves and others along the way.

This book would work well to read aloud not just for bedtime reading but also if you're a teacher looking for a book that will generate discussion about prejudice and tolerance, and the unbreakable bond of family. The chapters are relatively short and the black and white illustrations by Gavin Bishop add to the telling of the story.
Who doesn't love a good map?
Reading level: 8-10
RRP: $19.99
Released: March 2016

Gecko Press kindly sent us an advance copy to review and to coincide with Joy's appearance at the New Zealand Festival of the Arts Writers' Week in Wellington on 13 March, I have another one to give away to one of my lucky readers anywhere in the world. Just leave me a comment below and if you follow me on Facebook, you can enter the giveaway there too to double your chances.

GIVEAWAY CLOSED. Congratulations to Kate Mullooly, who entered on my Facebook page. Thank you to everybody who entered.

26 January 2016

Weekend read: Just What Kind of Mother Are You?

Summer holidays are nearly coming to an end and I can't say I am excited about the return to the juggling act once the new school year gets under way. One thing that I love to do over this time is to pick up a summer read or two because I can push aside more easily any sense of guilt about having a million other things I should be doing and just read until the book is finished, even if it means staying up really late to do it.

This is exactly what happened when I read "Just What Kind of Mother Are You?" by Paula Daly. It came recommended to me by a friend (hi Isabel), just when I was looking for something light to read and I finished it in two nights. Without giving too much away, it is a thriller set in a UK village where a pattern of abductions and violent assaults on teenaged girls starts to emerge. The story primarily focusses on mother of three, Lisa Kallisto, who is juggling the daily realities of running a busy household, work, being a good wife and friend and how the precariously-stacked deck of cards falls down when her best friend's daughter goes missing. While most of the story is told from her perspective, the reader is also able to enter into the mind of the abductor with several chapters chillingly told from his point of view.

The plot moves along swiftly and didn't require too much thinking on my part so in that sense, it was the perfect summer read. This is the author's debut novel which probably explains why it felt like certain passages in the book were over-explained to the point of being unnecessary. The ending felt rushed, confused and implausible, which was so disappointing. My quest for the story with the perfect ending continues. It certainly does not deter me from reading her latest works though.

Have you read any of Daly's other novels and would you recommend them?

24 January 2016

Dairy | Egg | Nut-free recipe: Pikelets

1 cup flour
1.5 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 t baking soda
1 c milk alternative (I use soy)
2 t white vinegar
1 t vanilla essence
Extra oil to grease pan
Topping of your choice (I use mixed berries)

Combine all dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
Make a well in the centre.
Pour all wet ingredients into the well and whisk until smooth.
Heat frying pan greased with 2 T of oil and pour 1/4 cupful of batter into the pan.
Cook for 1-2 mins or until bubbles show on surface of batter and base is golden brown. Flip the pikelet and cook through.

Makes 10.

* Adapted from taste.com.au egg-free pancake recipe.