A bit of this and that...with added frangipani.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

FYLP - Paloma Faith

Recently our good friends returned from a holiday in the UK, and as they usually do when they visit their home country, they bought a variety of new music to listen to. I think it's something to do with the fact that many songs become popular in the UK way before they ever hit Australia - they like to have the finger on the pulse of the music scene. Now that we all have kids, any little reminder that we once had a life that didn't involve kid-friendly venues and 8 o'clock curfew, is a welcome one. Anyway, they mentioned that they had bought the Paloma Faith album.

I'd heard her music before. I remembered that I liked the few songs I'd heard of hers, and didn't think much more about it, until Friday when I was driving into town. I had the radio on, and a song came on that I hadn't heard before. It gave me chills. The soulful sound, to my ears, was like the taste of rich dark chocolate on the tongue. It compelled me to pull over to the side of the road, dig out my phone, and Shazam that tune. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was a song by Paloma Faith.

This is my favourite song now, and I may just follow in my friends' footsteps and download her album. Santa gave me an iTunes card that I haven't yet redeemed, and this seems the perfect reason to do so. Here's Paloma Faith with Only Love Can Hurt Like This.



So do you like this song? Is it your kind of music?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sunday Afternoon

During the whole time we spent in Fiji, we didn't turn the air conditioner on once. It sat collecting dust on the ledge overlooking the lounge room of our villa. The fans were enough. At night, I would even feel the need to pull the bedspread up over me, and I often woke to find that Will had crawled under as well.

Then when we returned home, the wall of humidity hit us. The first thing we did, after giving the house an airing out, was to shut everything up again and to switch on the little air conditioner - the one installed over my desk. It is our main source of cool as the large antiquity we call our living room aircon, doesn't blow cold air and simply wastes electricity if we resort to using it.

Yesterday, it was so hot and humid. I could feel perspiration trickle down my back as I prepared our breakfast. Even standing under the working air conditioner did nothing to alleviate the discomfort of the wet summer heat.

I longed to dive in the deep end of the pool at the villa in Pacific Harbour once again. Instead, we put our towels in a bag, hopped in the car and headed for a local swimming hole at Stoney Creek. We found a parking spot and trudged through the rainforest for a short distance until we came to our favourite spot - a deep pool surrounded by large boulders, fed by a small cascade of water.

Didn't take my camera, but here's a photo I prepared earlier.

There was no ooh-ah-ing our way into the cool water this time, we just picked our way across the rocks and dived straight into the deepest part of the swimming hole. Ah! What a relief! We spent some time letting the small waterfall splash over our heads, and I floated on my back and looked up through the canopy at the sky.

A little later, as I sat on a large rock watching the fish gather as a boy and his father threw scraps to them, I felt a big plop of rain on my arm, and then another, and then another. I hurried to stow our towels and car keys under an overhanging rock and returned to my perch to watch my kids try to drown their dad, while the rain pattered on their already-wet heads.

Then the thunder rolled in, and my peaceful feeling turned to feelings of anxiety as I thought of the possible lightning that could be accompanying the thunder. Then I thought about the possibility of flash flooding and our usual (and now broken) rule of not swimming in the creeks during the wet season. I asked Will if perhaps it was time to call it a day, and he asked for five minutes more. 

I was starting to get a chill, sitting there on my boulder, so I figured what the hell, and jumped back into the water, with the hope that in the water it would be slightly warmer than sitting in the rain. It was pleasant, but I never really lost the goosebumps on my arm, so I climbed back out and rounded up my family.

We headed back through the forest to our car. We laid our towels on our seats and headed home in our wet swimmers. As we were driving along, I saw steam rising from the bonnet and wondered if our old car was having issues. Then I realised the steam wasn't coming from our car, but from the road. The weather had been so hot before we had our swim, that when the rain hit it, it turned to steam, like throwing water on a hot frying pan.

When we got home, we all had refreshing showers, turned on the aircon in our bedroom, and hibernated for the rest of the afternoon watching DVDs - a perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cooking with Gas

After a full day of productive work, I was proud of my day's efforts and had a little energy left, so I decided to make a nice risotto with chorizo, sundried tomatoes and asparagus.

As the second cup of chicken stock sizzled in the pan of arborio rice, the lights flickered. Then they went out. A quick inspection of our fuse box told us that it was not just a circuit blown, and we'd have some time to wait before power was restored.

If you know risotto, you know that in order for the rice to be cooked without sticking, it needs to be heated and stirred constantly, while adding in the stock one cup at a time, until it is all absorbed by the rice. Unfortunately as we have an electric stove, it meant that the heat under my pan was fleeing quickly.

No problem! Will just whipped out our little gas stove from the bottom of the cyclone kit, and before you knew it, I was 'cooking with gas'. In my rush to get the pan on heat once again, I didn't have the forethought to set up my emergency cooking station in a place where most of the daylight remained, so I stood there in the darkest part of the house, with my face over a hot stove, stirring risotto. My youngest has a headlamp that we bought him for playing around in the dark, so I borrowed it to shed some light on the situation.




The risotto came out beautifully, and we ate our meal in the sweltering heat of the dining room. It would have been cooler outside on the patio, but you know, mosquitoes. We didn't have enough time to get the mosquito coils going, and venturing outside at dusk is just offering yourself up as a tasty meal for the insects.

About 3/4 of the way through our dinner, the fan started to whir, and all the electronics made their beeping start-up sounds. We let out a sigh of relief and counted how many of the tealight candles we lit would be blown out by the oscillating fan. Oh and eventually we turned off the stove that had been left in the 'on' position when the power went out. Oops!

Do you ever have power outages in your area? Are you prepared or do you just wing it?

Monday, January 12, 2015

People Pleasing Cinnamon Rolls

Ages ago, my sister gave me a recipe for cinnamon rolls. I've been meaning to take the time to make these scrumptious treats, but was always put off by the amount of work I would have to do, when all I wanted was to get to the eating at the end.

I have fond memories of my mom's cinnamon rolls and remember her teaching me how to make them when I was about 15. I was thinking about that yesterday and so I decided that I would finally make the effort. 

When I told the boys that I was making cinnamon rolls, they asked me what they were. It's a sad state of affairs when your children reach 11 and 9 years of age and have never even heard of a cinnamon roll! Granted, there are no Cinnabon shops here, but it was no excuse - I was being very slack indeed.



So, I mixed and waited and kneaded and rolled and waited some more, baked them, and drizzled them with glaze, and I was so pleased with the result! So were the boys. I think they're very glad to have finally experienced the pleasure that is the cinnamon roll.

You can find the recipe I used here. If you have some motivation to do some baking some weekend, I would highly recommend these. We didn't eat them all as the recipe made 16 huge cinnamon rolls, so I just let them cool and put them in zip-lock bags for the freezer. We'll just thaw them out some time and enjoy them all over again.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

FYLP - Getting Back to My Favourite Playlist

Before we went on holidays, I loaded up my laptop with a bunch of albums. As we sat in a corner of the swimming pool with the sun on our backs and cold Fiji Bitters in our hand, we listened to whatever took our fancy, which was mainly Dire Straits, Bob Marley and the Rolling Stones. After a month of these music choices, I began to crave some of the music I listened to at home. 

Unfortunately, with limited internet access, I wasn't able to listen to Spotify, where I've got my country playlist saved, so the first thing I did when I got back was whack it up nice and loud as I pottered around the kitchen.

One of my favourite songs from that playlist is by Tim McGraw and it's called Meanwhile Back at Mama's. It just gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling every time I listen.



And while I'm playing Tim McGraw, I might as well throw in one of his more recent ones. Here's Shotgun Rider.


Hope this Sunday you're surrounding yourself with music that you love and spending some time just chilling out.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Lessons Learned While on Holiday

We spent most of December and the first week of January in Fiji. We'd been planning this trip for three years - to help my mother-in-law celebrate her 70th birthday. As her birthday is in December, we decided to stay through Christmas and New Year. 

Here's a few things that I've learned from this time away:

Don't fly Virgin Airlines if you can help it - we were proud of ourselves for being so organised with our packing. All Christmas presents were bought before the end of November. We had packed our suitcases in such a way that each suitcase contained some clothing for each member of our family so if one of the suitcases went missing, we would be covered (literally). Our friends have had luggage go missing on a Virgin flight, so we learned from their experience. 

We bought disposable carry bags to accommodate the Christmas gifts and some clothes and soccer boots we planned to donate to charity in Fiji. Our six bags were well underweight, so all was good - no liquids or gels in the carry-on and we'd left our swiss army knife key chain at home. We rocked up to the check-in desk at the airport and the airline staffer proceeded to tell us that we'd have to pay $70 for each extra bag we'd brought. Turns out that we were only allowed 1 bag that had to be under 23kg and we were not allowed to combine our allowance or have more than one bag each. Without a choice, because we only had 3 large bags and 1 small one that wouldn't accommodate the contents of the two disposable bags, we had to cop the $140 charge. Not only that, if we didn't sort out our luggage situation while we overnighted in Brisbane, we would have to pay an additional $120 per bag for the Brisbane to Nadi leg of the journey.

So after parking my family in a café in the Brisbane Domestic Terminal, I cabbed it over to the International Terminal ($17.50), found a luggage shop that was open, coughed up $110 for a large suitcase and cabbed it back to Domestic ($17.50) to pick up my family and head off to the hotel. Extra cost of flying with Virgin: $285 (not including the exorbitant menu prices on the plane, the banana bread charged but never ordered, and on the return trip: running out of in-flight entertainment devices, flight attendants who never cracked a smile and pasta with meatballs that gave Will food poisoning).

Check your travel documents - After our luggage debacle, we were confident, as we queued to check-in for our Brisbane to Nadi flight, that our bad luck was behind us. We sympathised with the poor woman who was forced to re-pack her suitcases on the floor in front of the check-in desk, knowing that she too must have been had by the '23kg weight restriction but only 1 bag' policy.  And Will and I made eye contact knowingly as the airline staffer held up another woman's carefully wrapped 50 cm-long souvenir club that would surely cop a $120 charge. We smugly thought that nothing else could go wrong for us. Then, when it was our turn to check in, the lady at the desk looked at our passports and said, "Um..." and then I knew we were in for it. 

Even though we had all had our passports renewed recently, it turned out that New Zealand Immigration no longer issued 10-year passports - they were only valid for 5 years now. Will's New Zealand passport only had five months' validity left, and you need six to travel to another country - even if the country happens to be the country of your birth. We had to stand at the customer service desk while a call was made to Fijian Immigration. After some time was spent on tenterhooks wondering whether our holiday was going to be ruined before it started, we got the go-ahead to board our plane. We were told that if it was any other country e.g. Vanuatu, then we wouldn't have had a chance. Phew! Will is resigned to getting his Australian citizenship now - they still issue 10-year passports.

Go with the flow - when we finally arrived in Fiji, we quickly realised that our time was not our own. Mum had planned two birthday parties (including her own) a 200+ person family reunion and a trip to church all in the weekend when we arrived. Frankly I don't know how she does it. She seems to thrive on organising things, but I should have known that because she organised our Fijian wedding in the middle of a coup! Anyway, we just went where we were told, and a good time was had by all. Mr9 said that the night of the family reunion was the best night of his life - he really had fun on the dancefloor acting goofy with his family. The highlights of that weekend for me were listening to Cousin Charlie sing and play guitar while Cousin Roberta played the ukelele, listening to the angelic singing of the congregation at the local church, spending Mum's 70th listening to wonderful jazz music at the resort where we got married in 2000 - it was a musical feast.

Left: Charlie with his ukelele, Right: Russell

Holidays are for relaxing the budget a little bit - We saved for this trip for years, I was still keeping an eye on our spending and I had all intentions of creating a mini-budget for while we were away. Will had other ideas and seemed to be spending up large, but I realised that it's because we had spent so long penny-pinching that any kind of spending was going to seem like we were being extravagant. So, I let go and just enjoyed the time away and planned to worry about the budget when we returned - I still kept track of everything in my budget software though, so there were no nasty surprises.

Enjoying mocktails at the Baka Blues Bar

Don't eat the roti parcel that has been sitting unrefrigerated for the whole day - You'd think that this one would be obvious, but for some reason our heads weren't screwed on right the day we bought roti parcels from a shop and gave them to the kids for lunch. They only had a few left and not enough for the six of us who were lunching together so we gave the parcels to the kids and went to another shop where the grown-ups ate curry meals. Two of the three kids didn't eat much of their roti parcels, but Mr9 ate two. We would soon regret our lunch choice when he was sick all through that night and was unable to keep down even water for most of the next day.

Don't get your expectations up for a relaxing time when you're travelling with your family - I had a list of all the things I would do while on holiday. I would do some drawing, read a novel, write a story, brainstorm ideas for my business blog, walk everyday, take some photos, blog here. I did end up finishing a novel, but that's about it. Apparently it's easier to have down time when you're not surrounded by people who need to be amused. The kids were banned from any sort of video game and so they wanted to spend their time playing cards...with us, playing board games...with us, swimming in the pool...with us. We had a lot of quality time with the family, but there was little time for the individual. Next time I will go with the expectation that I will be doing family things the majority of the time, then I will be pleasantly surprised when I find myself with little snippets of time for myself.

Reading back, it comes across as a lot of moaning about our month-long holiday in Fiji, but really we did have a wonderful time. There were many many moments where we thought to ourselves, "Yup, this is the life". Personally, I think more sparkling wine should be drunk from plastic glasses while standing waist-high in the ocean, side-by-side with your favourite people. I wish I could spend more evenings sipping sundowners with my in-laws as it's one of the best ways to end the day. My in-laws have surrounded themselves with fun and interesting people and we are very fortunate to have been able to spend time with them all. We had a two-bedroom villa with a pool that was only walking distance from Will's mum's house and also walking distance from the beach and the shops. We ate all our favourite dishes prepared lovingly by my mum-in-law, my brother-in-law cooked breakfast each morning and we often ate our lunches out, so I only cooked a handful of times during the entire holiday - bliss!

The pool at our villa

I'm happy to be back home to my pooches and my own bed, but I do know how lucky we were to be able to spend this time relaxing and having fun away from work and the routine of home life. Special thanks to my in-laws for their hospitality, the unpaid taxi service and all their effort to make our holiday enjoyable. Bring on the next holiday (probably in another three year's time, as this one was so epic). Oh and Happy New Year!

Russ and Mum

A rare family portrait (I'm usually the one taking the photo)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Something Useful for the Parents of Minecraft PC Users

Anyone who doesn't have Minecraft-mad kids trying to play on PC can disregard this post.

The boys were really excited that they were going to inherit my old laptop. We had the operating system wiped and reinstalled (The PC Guys in Smithfield are simply awesome). The computer takes 2 minutes to load compared to the 15+ minutes that it took when I had all my crap on there from my uni days.


Minecraft Logo - How to Make Minecraft PC Go Faster.
Image Source

I paid the US$26.95 for the PC version of Minecraft, but the boys were woefully disappointed at the performance of it compared to other platforms. We wanted it on PC so that they could learn how to create their own mods - I aspire to having tech-heads in the family, who will be in high demand, make lots of dough and keep me in the manner to which I would like to be accustomed, in my golden years.

Anyway, after some Googling, I found that there is a mod called Optifine that you can install to make it go faster. I tried it out, and where it took 15 minutes to load before, it now takes 10 seconds. I'm so stoked about it and can't wait to see the boys' expression when they see how clever I am! This should earn me lots of brownie points and uninterrupted lie-ins in the future...or a simple thank you and off they go to bury their heads in whatever new creation they will conjure up in the world of Minecraft.
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