Archive for the ‘Things I like’ Category

I’m enjoying the photography challenge that I do in between Microblog Mondays posts, but I think I’ve realised that one of the things I like best about it is that I get to explore things that are important to me, and to then write about them here (however briefly), taking as much or more pleasure in that than I do the photography.

I found my old camera!

The grilled chicken sandwich I made for lunch, with leftover chicken from dinner last night (marinated in coriander – cilantro for you North Americans – and mint and lime juice and red curry paste) and the spicy banana chutney that goes with it.

Remembering that friends and relatives are so important to our well-being, and should be celebrated. The last few days have been especially good – I got to see two friends on Friday, a niece and her partner on Saturday (and it was fine enough to have drinks on the deck), and other friends for dinner last night, a friend who spends half her life in France will be visiting in a few weeks, and I’m anticipating the arrival home of another friend after four years in Europe.

That we manage to balance our interests by happily driving an old, increasingly beat-up car (we bought it new 19 years ago), not owning diamonds or fancy clothes or expensive shoes etc, so that we can travel.

After waking up (at 5 am) to a gale that was shaking the house and rattling the roof, with mists that shrouded the house at the same time, followed by heavy rain, now it is bright and sunny (though still reasonably windy). Three seasons in one day, but there’s still time for a fourth, so here’s a Crowded House treat for you:

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I have a sweet tooth, but for chocolate and ice-cream and desserts rather than for confectionary (lollies/sweets/candy). So I wasn’t wildly thrilled at the photo challenge for candy this week. As I’m doing both last year’s challenge and this year’s, the Candy challenge required both photos of candy, and photos that implied candy. The first photo speaks for itself.

The chocolate is just asking to be made into a chocolate mousse, in the very glass I’ve used to serve chocolate mousse. I can’t remember the last time I made chocolate mousse. Yet it was one of the first ever fancy desserts I would make for guests. At least one person reading this will remember how I used to make chocolate mousse, and decorate it with chocolate palm trees. I need to try that again, and show you, although it has been years since I made chocolate mousse. Just talking about chocolate mousse makes me want to make chocolate mousse. I love chocolate mousse.


The second photo is really about my opinion that tomatoes are the candy of the vegetable world. I’ve written about tomatoes before. When I was in the Middle East, I adored the cherry tomatoes that I ate in Israel and Jordan. In our hotel in Amman, we were served a small bowl of cherry tomatoes, along with a small bowl of olives, with our drinks. Perfect!


Photographically speaking, this challenge taught me a number of things. I played with light, and with different backgrounds. I realised that I should have done this challenge with traditional round cherry tomatoes, as the oval ones look as if I distorted the photo. I learned that I should not always go for a very wide aperture, as it can blur too much of the photo. And I learned that I should take more time for my challenges, and not try to sneak in five or ten minutes of photography when I’m waiting for my husband to get home with the takeaways for dinner.

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Chatting with my AFS friends on social media, whether it is about politics or travel or recipes. We said goodbye when we were still teenagers, but we’re forever bonded by our common experiences in Thailand, and I love that.

An email from Helen, a regular commenter and former blogger, who even when she says she has lost her writing mojo, comes up with a phrase like this (and I am sure she won’t mind me quoting her):

“… b) After trying on the leggings at home (I bought them at a craft show where there wasn’t a change room), I have vowed never to wear them outside the house, even in the event of a fire where I’m wearing them and don’t have time to change my clothes.”

This is also a wonderful Helenism (and no, Grammarly, I don’t mean  Hellenism):

“… shouldn’t the word to refer to a “palindrome” be itself a palindrome? Somebody completely missed the boat (probably a kayak) on that one.”

I love seeing the variety of people who might comment or like a post or photo of mine on social media. A recent post’s first responses came from my cousin’s cousin, my SIL’s (and our) university friend in Malaysia, an AFS friend from Thailand I haven’t seen for 35+ years, my American niece I haven’t seen (except for Skype) for over seven years, my AFS sister from Thailand, and a British blogger living in California whom I have never met. That just makes me smile.

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I frequently wax lyrical (or not so lyrical if I’m honest) about my love of the red splashes I see throughout our city at this time of year. I love the brilliant red blooms, and the promise they bring that summer is here and should stay awhile, and so always feel sad when I see the blooms fade and disappear, or drive past roads that have turned crimson as the flowers fall.

I think I’m appreciating them even more this year, simply as summer seems to have forgotten us, I’ll take whichever features of the season I can get.

So when my photo challenge for this week was “red,” I knew that I should take some photos of pohutukawa. I wanted something a little different, and I knew that taking a typical, close-up photo of the flowers wasn’t going to be possible, not with the winds that have been buffeting us all “summer” so far.

The view I’ve chosen is far from perfect. It’s not the perfect composition, or clarity, or light, or focus (it was very windy). I’m predominantly a travel photographer taking photos when I see them (or regretting it when I don’t) because it is very rare that I can (or will) return when the light is just right. (The only time I’ve done this is in Rome when we had the time to choose an evening to go back to the Colosseum just as the late sun hit it perfectly, causing it to glow.)

So I snapped this photo, as it is very representative of Wellington, showing pohutukawa blooms nestled among other buildings, rather than lining a northern beach. The fact that it was on the marae grounds (over the road from a shop I’d just been visiting) made it better, with the carving at the head of the wharenui, or meeting house, in the traditional red.


I liked the combination of the Maori tradition and the pohutukawa (even though pohutukawa are not native to Wellington, they flourish here) for another reason too. The other challenge for the week was “land.” Maori have a very deep relationship to the land, and it is extremely important in their culture. The land I have a strong connection to is the land where first my parents and then my sisters and I grew up. It was flat, green and fertile, edging the ocean. As much as I love Wellington, I don’t have the same relationship here with the land. But the Maori do.

And for a bonus, third dose of kiwiness, I leave you with Split Enz singing “I see red.”

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  1. Knowing that the major bookings for our trip later in the year have now been made, and feeling the resultant reduction in stress.
  2. AND I found a rain jacket (necessary for above-mentioned trip), with a removable fleece lining, on sale in the weekend, in a shop we just happened to walk past.
  3. My new passport arrived in record time, so I had no time to feel trapped down here at the ends of the earth.
  4. There’s some homemade fresh strawberry ice-cream in the freezer, and some fresh berries in the fridge, ready to go with it.
  5. Thinking about playing around with my camera (even though attempts last night to photograph the moon were disastrous).
  6. I’ve been able to write and bank (for future) some blog posts.
  7. I’m finally trying a recipe I’ve drooled over since first seeing it on The Great British Bake-off, and I have hopes it will be yummy (and yes, I will report on it if it is any good).
  8. Summer made a flying visit today (even though it seems to have gone back into hiding, where it has been all season, this evening).

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I bought myself a new camera in October. For some years I had coveted the idea of having more control than my superzoom camera gave me, although I still dearly love the photos it has given me. So I bought the camera and tried it out on our trip south. (And yes, I still plan on writing about that … soon!) I’ve realised though that to become accomplished with my new camera, I need to use it more often. So I am going to try a weekly photography challenge. Actually, I am going to do two weekly photography challenges. (Yes, I’m a sucker for punishment, but time is short.) I’m going to do last year’s challenge, because I need the discipline. But then I saw that this year’s challenge is all about telling stories, and I love to tell stories, whether here or with my camera.

I was a little horrified, though, to see that the first week required a selfie. You may know how much I love selfies! Well, I reasoned, I don’t need to post the result of every week’s challenge, do I? After all, I don’t pretend to be a good photographer, just a keen one. So I played around, trying to ensure that the light wasn’t hideous, or that I wasn’t hideous. I used my little tripod, and also my wifi app that allows my phone to take over remote control of my camera, so I didn’t have to jump up and down to adjust the camera. It was all good practice for me. The results weren’t brilliant, and even as I write this, I’m still not sure if I’ll actually attach the photo, but I do want to document that I actually did the challenge. Week 1 half-completed.

The second task was both easier and harder. I had to tell a story using the rule of thirds, which is, apparently, an important feature of photography. I’m not sure I’ve approached it correctly, but there is a story, and the timing is appropriate, as I took the photo just before taking my Christmas tree down for another year.

My fat angels (I have three) have been amongst my favourite decorations for over 20 years. I first found them in Thailand, that most Buddhist of countries that embraces the idea of Christmas celebrations and lights and carols.

They were, I think, the first of many decorations I bought there. I loved their angelic faces, and the sheer humour of their shape, their faces, and their instruments. I love their wings, though they are quite delicate. I’m very careful with them. They survived 17 years of living with two cats, who were thankfully remarkably well behaved around the tree, and they’re still doing well.

More robust were the felt decorations that I found in Thailand. I bought dozens, red, green and white reindeer and stars and camels, and even a squirrel or two. All very (northern) Christmassy. But my favourites that are uniquely Thai, are my felt elephants. Not Christmassy at all, but they represent such an important part of my life, and so they hold an important place on my tree.

So I chose this photo because completely unintentionally, I had hung these two decorations – so different but forever linked – so close together on my tree. I didn’t move them (although I realise now I probably should have), so they’re not perfectly balanced, and it would have been nice if the elephant had been facing the angel. But the angel’s uplifted eyes are in one of the intersections of thirds, and the elephant peaks at another intersection of the thirds, and this is where they were on the tree. So I took the photo. That’s what I do, essentially. I take the photos that are there, rather than design and plan my photos. Just as I learned to write back in 2006 with 44 words a day, I now need to start thinking like a photographer. I guess that’s a good lesson to learn at the beginning of the challenge.

But in the meantime, Week One was completed. Getting started is often the hardest part.


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Road Trip Tips

I’ve taken a lot of road trips. I’m not talking about driving to simply get from A to B, but to see some things on the way. Last month we took one on a route we’ve taken many times in the South Island, though in more recent years, we’ve more frequently taken trips north, but usually only with one or at most two days driving each way. Driving is the way to see New Zealand though. If anyone talks about visiting our country, my first recommendation is that they do it via car or campervan. We’re a small country, with varied scenery, easily navigated – made for road trips!

We almost always end up renting a car overseas too, and we’ve had some fabulous road trips, with only one which we’d categorise as largely boring. Our first ever trip to Europe involved a three-week road trip from Paris, then through Switzerland, Austria, and west Germany. We discovered the delights of road trips when we were forced to take a detour in Switzerland, and discovered one of the most beautiful valleys I’d ever seen. A few years ago we explored Italy by car for two months, though basing ourselves just in a few towns, but we did take a three-day road trip from the north of the country down to the heel. Jordan was one of our favourite road trips, and I’ve written about it here. We spent four-five weeks driving through France in 2002, and about the same time in Spain in 2007. The US and Canada are great locations for road trips – we’ve driven through PEI and Nova Scotia (though didn’t have time to do Cape Breton Island), from San Francisco to LA, and from Washington DC out to the Blue Ridge Mountains and western Virginia, east and across to Delaware and New Jersey and the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. I call these a tempting start, and hope to do many more road trips in North America … and Europe and Africa and Asia … and New Zealand, too, of course.

Along the way, though, I’ve learned to follow a few tips:

  1. Distances: Don’t try to do too much in one day. If you have no time restrictions, don’t rush. Getting tired means getting irritable (not to mention the increased risk of accident), and doesn’t contribute to an enjoyable road trip. Besides, you’ll miss things, and having the flexibility to stop or detour to see whatever you want is the whole point of a road trip, isn’t it?
  2. If you’re driving internationally, be vigilant about which side of the road you should be driving on. Constantly check and re-check. On our first road trip, we pulled out of a hotel on a quiet Sunday morning in Europe, and driven down the empty street, only to suddenly realise we were on the wrong side of the road. That doesn’t happent to us these days, but it is easy to do. There are far too many accidents in New Zealand caused by foreign tourists crossing into on-coming traffic, because they’ve forgotten to stay on the right correct (left) side of the road, despite the signs in the rental cars, and the arrows that are now frequently painted on our main roads directing you left.
  3. Also for international road-trips, check road-rules before you go. There will be small differences in road rules that will either make you very unpopular with other drivers or put you or them at risk if you break them.
  4. Navigation: GPS is wonderful, but I don’t rely on it 100%. I always like having a map that confirms where we are. Also, GPS can occasionally take you on a ridiculous detour – this has happened to us in large cities (Milan), and on major highways (Spain, Italy) – or it will attempt to take you up a one-way street the wrong way (Lake Lugano, Italy) or into a pedestrian only area (Granada, Spain). Sometimes, having a map will allow you to overrule the GPS and avoid time-consuming delays or stressful detours. Don’t, however, overrule it just on a whim, as my husband did in South Africa and then got us caught in major morning traffic jams we would have otherwise avoided, just as we were trying to get to the airport.
  5. Pick up and drop off rental cars at the airport. Spend time in a major city relying on public transport or taxis, and collect or drop off the rental car from the airport, which is usually well-signposted with good access to main highways, where there is 24-hour rental car pick-up. We have done this in many cities, visiting places like San Francisco, Madrid, Florence, Sydney, Amman, Washington DC, and Paris – to name a few – relying on public transport or walking or taxis whilst in the city, and only getting the rental car when we’re leaving on the road trip, or dropping it off at the airport before visiting the city. It’s much less stressful than driving into or out of a major and unfamiliar city, though of course these days with GPS it’s easier than on our first road trip, when we had an inadequate Paris city map and had to drive out of the city rental car office.
  6. Likewise, if you want to stop off at a major city, but the idea of driving in the city or parking there is too daunting, consider staying at an airport hotel with car parking, and use public transport/taxis to get in and out of the city.
  7. Audio: Have lots of things available to listen to when conversation starts to wane, or the scenery gets boring. Good music to sing to, maybe something funny to listen to (we once had to stop listening to a Billy Connolly CD on a rainy road trip because we were laughing so hard it got dangerous!), and something interesting – maybe a podcast. Of course, if you’re both into audiobooks, that would be good too.
  8. Halt! Stop often. To stretch legs and tired backs, to freshen up, and just for a break. It’s important. We never do it quite frequently enough.
  9. Stop for photos, or interesting things you might see, or shops you want to go in. Sometimes they only take a few minutes, or they might end up being a highlight of the trip. Being prepared to stop is important, so see the next point.
  10. Ensure you are both prepared to stop. I remember in the early days of our marriage, I’d shout “Pottery!” when I saw a sign advertising a stall or workshop, and my husband would whizz past saying, “too late.” We had to negotiate an understanding that he was prepared to stop.
  11. Then I had to ensure that I communicated the need to stop. My husband hates it when I say plaintively, “oh, that looked a nice place to stop” as we drive past it! “Stop, photo!” or something definite along those lines is his preferred instruction. We got a photo of camels and a dust devil (whirlwind) from the side of the road in Jordan as a result. I missed a stunning photo opportunity in Lewis Pass recently, with mossy green trees arched over a rocky mountain stream, because I said, “that’s so gorgeous,” instead of “turn around and go back, I want to take that shot!”
  12. Have some bottles of water at least in the car with you. Dehydration exacerbates the effects of fatigue.
  13. We rarely have snacks in the car, other than peppermints – an old habit of my father’s. Generally, we’d rather stop and pick something up, or have specific meal breaks, because … rule #8. But of course, that depends on the availability of stops, and the distances you are travelling between them.
  14. On a longer trip, especially if you’re going to be out in nature, have picnic fixings, a knife, maybe some plastic containers, and a breadboard. Then you can pick up picnic food and stop wherever you like. This was particularly easy in France, of course, where we’d buy a loaf of bread in the morning, along with ripe tomatoes and some fresh brie or camembert. We bought a picnic blanket at a market, which gave us the freedom to be able to stop wherever we wanted – even on a grassy verge on the side of the road – for a wonderful picnic.
  15. If it’s a long road trip (ie several days), then I think it is important to schedule in plenty of non-driving time. It might be taking the time to have a long lunch at a nice restaurant or a picnic at a picturesque spot and a snooze or time to read a book under a tree. It might be arriving early at your accommodation to explore a town, to relax at a lake, to sleep or to get a massage, to swim at the hotel pool, or to take a walk/hike. If you have the time, it might also involve planning days off at particular locations, just to have a break. Breaks are important!

Enjoy! I love road trips. I love seeing the scenery roll by, seeing it change, enjoying being just the two of us in the cocoon of the car, finding unexpected treasures, stopping for a photo on the side of the road, or detouring to see something interesting. I’m planning a couple more road trips for next year. I might be able to add to this then.

In the meantime, do you have any road-tripping tips?



A typical New Zealand roadside scene



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