Posts from — July 2013

Tales from the Coffee Lab 8

July 31, 2013

I’m going to write about something I don’t know. At least, something I don’t do. I know a bit about it because I witness it every morning (and sometimes afternoon or evening), but I don’t participate, as such. I am an educated bystander.

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It’s terrible, really. Here I am, lucky enough to have a live-in barista, geeky and brilliant in equal measure, and I don’t take advantage of it. DH is an untapped coffee resource. And when he makes the perfect cappuccino or macchiato, holding it out to me to admire and sample, I can only do the first one. I don’t like the taste of coffee. It reminds me of cigarettes. Even the good stuff, which DH is very fastidious about. [I know there are no cigarettes in the coffee. I know that’s the carbony aroma that reminds my brain of tobacco (see flavour wheel below!), but still. It stands between me and the perfect pour-over.]

But, I can write about it. Because even if I don’t imbibe, I can gush, describe, photograph and praise the beautiful coffee that is created in our house every day. It’s well worth a tour.

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In: Food, From Ria

Animal Stories 6

July 27, 2013

It’s a special year here in New Zealand. Hairy Maclary, beloved pooch of literary fame, is thirty years old! Can you believe it? That includes, therefore, Schnitzel Von Krumm, Hercules Morse and Muffin McLay. Not to mention, Scarface Claw, the toughest Tom in town. Stories about animals are a bit hit in our house, as I am sure they are in yours. Possum Magic and Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox are bedtime reading staples, Elmer the Elephant on audio book is a hit, Mog is our favourite cat and Come by Chance hosts the best menagerie. Then there is Chilko, master of mysteries and giver of unconditional love, in the brilliant novel, Nobody’s Dog by, ahem,… you-know-who!

So tell me – why are animal stories so appealing? So timeless? I once visited cave paintings in Dordogne, France and animals were the main feature in them too – bison, horses etc. It seems our fascination with telling animal stories is deeply embedded in our DNA and stretches back looooong into our history.

This past weekend we created an animal story of our own. In the (new) tradition of taking weekend adventures, we packed our city-slicker selves into the car for another drive up North. This time to my parents property at a place called Omaha. Next door to Mum and Dad’s digs there are five sheep that graze happily on the long grass, including one “Rambo” – named by my Dad several years ago. He’s the friendliest of the lot and very keen on back rubs. B2 hadn’t met him or any other sheep before so this was a brand, new experience.

Once upon a time there was a sheep. His name was Rambo.


He lived in a place where the sun shone, the sky was blue and there were daisies with pretty faces…

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In: From Hannah, Kids and Parenting, Writing

Sweet Little Something 2

July 26, 2013

A Friday ritual – a wordless post: a personal photograph that captures a moment from the week. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere.

And if the mood strikes, leave a “Haikument” in comments inspired by one of these photos. We’ve had some fantastic ones! Check them out here and here. No poetry degree required! You can use the  5/7/5 syllable count rule if you like, or create something unique. If you want to find out more about Haiku (and who doesn’t?), check this out.

From Hannah:


From Ria:


In: From Hannah, From Ria, Sweet Little Something

Random Acts of Literacy 1

July 24, 2013

I really love the word neighbourhood.  We moved here from the city and I’ve always wanted to live in a small, right-knit community where you knew everyone around you and shared food, conversation, child-in-the-lane watching duties, whatever was needed. It seemed like a naïve fantasy, and maybe it still is. But our little ‘hood? It’s pretty darn good.

This weekend we attended an alley party that had two purposes: to welcome a new couple into the community and to inaugurate a public bookshelf. I’ve posted about the old bookshelf that has stood in our alley for about a year (here’s a haiku about it). Well, this weekend, a brand new, freshly painted (and winged) bookshelf was erected between two neighbouring houses. We all brought books to fill it. We coveted some of the other books that were brought. And that’s the thing about this idea: it’s free, it’s friendly and it encourages reading. (Or at least book-coveting, which, as I well know, does not always lead to book-reading.) How can this not be a grand endeavour?

Public bookshelves have been around for a while. There are a lot of them in Germany and some of the designs are stunning. Here’s a great story about NYC phone booths being repurposed as bookshelves. Our neighbourhood’s project started with the Back Alley Book Club, which had set up the original bookshelf. It wasn’t wearing well in the winter weather and a better design was needed. A cupboard, some table legs, a few coats of paint and a pair of wings later, and…


One of the things I love about this idea is how (and what) it inspires. It breeds sharing, community, love, understanding, knowledge, compassion, literacy…and trust. Trust that no one will vandalize or steal the bookshelf. The understanding that the people who put it there are reaching out to, well, anyone. Hey you–want a book? Take one. Got a book you don’t want? Leave it here. Trust that if you take a book, you become part of the project.  The flow of books coming and going day to day, week to week, is a divine mystery. Every time I walk down the alley, the contents of the shelf could be different.




And not only did we celebrate the new bookshelf–we celebrated being neighbours and newcomers and parents and onlookers. We ate salads created from our own gardens and meat cooked over a low fire. We helped the children find all the raspberries in the raspberry patch–even the pesky hidden ones (and in Little e’s case, the very-far-from-ripe ones). We danced.


I wish I had more time to read. I just finished Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (Go and get her books–now. She is awesomeness). After the glow of finishing a great book, I felt a different kind of glow–the kind that comes with a sense of accomplishment. Like childbirth or the SATs. It’s been that long since I finished a book. Yeesh, that’s depressing. But the bookshelf we raised our glasses to the other day makes me hopeful. Maybe it’s foolish hope, but that’s one of the marks of a fool, surely.

Tonight Little e and I walked up to the bookshelf before her bedtime. I found Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic (see aforementioned coveting) and she selected a 2008 issue of The New Yorker. I’d say we both have excellent taste in free literature.

Do you have a public bookshelf in your ‘hood?




In: From Ria, Writing

Race Day 7

July 21, 2013

Last weekend we went on a little adventure. The kids, the hubby, the visiting in-laws and I pretzelled ourselves into the car (I thought, at one point, one of us might have to be strapped to a roof rack – it was like clowns in a mini). We buckled in and headed up North. The suburbs got further and further apart from one another. We saw sheep. Mist descended. Then cleared. The girls fell asleep while I thought about booking a chiropractic appointment. We hit the crest of a hill and saw the blue and beautiful ocean below us. We had arrived.




My Dad and his brother own a race horse and she was racing at Ruakaka. It was a better than great excuse to go to the races. I don’t know about you, but I love a race day. Especially when it’s out in the country, or in this case, so close to the beach there are seagulls riding in the wind right over the track. I remember race meets I went to as a kid, the one where they gave us a bag of onions when we paid to park in an open field, the one where there were hay bales to sit on. I love the smell of hot chips in a cardboard cup, the shimmer of jockey silks, the roar of the crowd as the horses near the finish line. I especially love The People.

It must be an occupational hazard to become a buzzing, distracted  pain-the-&*%$ when a writer is in a place with lots of interesting people. At least I become a buzzing, distracted, pain-in-the&*%$. Matt had to remind me to look after the children every now and then (Oh right, our children which are dependent upon us; good pick-up honey). Race Day is always such a fascinating collision of different types of people it’s impossible not to stare. It’s not all glamour at the races and I like that. It’s got it’s cast of characters, just like a good book, a real mixed bag. There was the group of young people, dolled up and sinking the drinks. The guy in the Lion Red singlet with very few teeth.  The tall, dark and handsome fella with the thick gold watch, smoking a cigar. It was a mid-year Christmas event so there a few elves and Santas too, just to add a surreal element. Men with well-thumbed race guides, women in huddles, happy children getting butterflies painted on their faces or hanging over the track fence. Fascinators and flip-flops. Sometimes on the same person.




The sun. Oh the sun! It just shone and shone like it was summer. Show-off-y Northland sun.




We ate ham sliced off the bone and stuffed into fresh, buttered rolls. Hot chips. Meat pies where they don’t tell you what kind of meat it actually is. Afghan biscuits and peppermint slice. Cold cans of soft drink. The girls had just about the best time evah, rolling in the pillowy grass and running across the concrete bleachers. They were enamoured with the horsies.








Dad’s horse was having a very good day too. It came third, bless her four fast feet.




When we wedged ourselves back into the car and the beach and the track were at our backs it felt like leaving a holiday behind. It had only been a few hours drive but had seemed like a a proper adventure. It gave me the same thrill that I get when I am travelling. People, together, interacting in interesting ways, saying interesting things, wearing interesting things. This is Life, that’s what I thought, as I leaned my head awkwardly against B2’s carseat and tried to regain the feeling in my toes. I wondered if my girls would remember the day and whether they too will become the kind of people who get a buzz from a crowd of people, hearty kai, warm sun and the drumming of hooves.

Do you love a Race Day? Where do you get inspired?

HUGS, Hannah x

In: From Hannah, Kids and Parenting, Travel, Writing