'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Dijea's Photo Challenge. 'Portrait'

I'm cheating a bit today because it's a painting not a photo, so not strictly meeting the parameters of the challenge.

This is the portrait of my sister Jane that I recently completed. I especially tried to capture her lovely clear, pale complexion.
It was meant to be for her 50th Birthday, but has taken me two years to do. I was especially
hard on myself because I know this lady so well, and wanted to express the spontaneous honesty that she always shows, and also the joy for life that she has recently found with her new partner as well as, of course, getting a good likeness.

This was my main reference image:

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Nic Clegg

This evening I went to the exhibition opening of a sculptor friend of mine.

Nic works mostly in steel and loves to entertain and make people smile with his quirky figures and ships that look like they have sailed out of the pages of a children's book.

In the short four years since he arrived from Manchester (UK), he's worked hard and has made quite a name for himself, not just locally in Tauranga, but in other centres too.

Nic Clegg. 'Strangers in a Crowd'

At the excellent Red Spot Gallery in Rotorua, Nic Clegg's delightful quirky crowd of L.S Lowry-like people and his fantasy galleons made a good show, along with selected pieces of other art. My favourite was a figure with a sign*, seemingly to contradict (or perhaps support?) another figure - the orator - with his tract and his soapbox.

L.S Lowry. Market Scene, Northern Town. 1938.

Each of Nic's figures has a story, and all it takes is a little time gazing at each one, for you to 'hear' it.

There's some good art around at the moment.


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Dijea's Photo Challenge. 'Spring flowers'

Well, with no thought to us poor under-world creatures here in the southern hemisphere, Dijea set the challenge to be 'spring flowers' last week. I could resurrect some images from the archives, but instead I have taken these images of autumness in my garden. Soft shade and late afternoon slanting sun make the colours glow.
A cool corner under the fruit-laden mandarin tree grows pink fragrant japanese anemones well. The little variegated summer violet's leaves are looking rather tatty now at the end of summer, the ruby bromeliad has captured in its rosette bits and pieces from the trees above, and I can't look at the plump crab-apples without thinking how they will make plenty of glowing salmon-pink jelly for our winter morning toast.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Steal Like an Artist.

Here is someone who I have recently discovered: Austin Kleon. This guy has an ability to distill a great deal of what (good stuff) I have learnt in art schools. But it's not just relevant to artists by any means.
You might enjoy this clip. The original clip I posted is no longer available, but here is an interview with him.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Karyn’s Moist Chocolate Cake

A number of guests at the party have asked me for the chocolate cake recipe, so here it is.
Karyn, of course, didn't ask, because she knows it so well, having made it so many times for school lunches. It's a 'Little Black Dress' (a little brown dress?) of a cake - you can flash it up and make it into a formal gateau in layers with icing, frosting, berries, cream, jam etc, or make it casual in a meat dish, dusted with icing and cut it into utilitarian squares.

Here is the basic recipe.


2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup cocoa powder mixed with 3/4 cup boiling water and 3/4 cup cold water.

2 tsp vanilla essence

2 Tbsp cider vinegar or lemon juice

3/4 cup oil

2 eggs


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda.
  2. Mix together the cocoa and water with the other liquid ingredients and the eggs.
  3. Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients.
  4. Pour the batter into one large greased meat dish or two 20 cm round baking tins.
  5. Bake in a preheated oven at 170ºC for 35 - 40 minutes. Test around this time by inserting a skewer into the middle. If it comes out clean, cake is done.
  6. Let sit in tin for 5 minutes then run a knife around and remove from tins and cool on a wire rack.
  7. When cool, dust with icing sugar or ice with chocolate icing.

Chocolate icing: 1 cup icing sugar, 1 Tbsp cocoa, 2 tsp butter. Add 1 Tbsp boiling water and mix until smooth.

8. Store cake in an airtight container. Makes 32 pieces.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Post Script: The reason for the party.

Here are a couple of collages of my wonderful daughter who turned 21 last week. They should enlargerate with a click.

And here, for the record, is the menu I compiled for the party:

Soup: Ann's special pumpkin soup with a selection of freshly-baked breads and butter
Main: Individual Chicken Pesto pie with orange butter carrots, salad potatoes and baby minted peas.
Dessert: Creme brulee, Berry-chocolate cream layer cake.
Tea, coffee, fruit punch (non-al), beer (Speights), and wines.


Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Party.

The kids swept the drive and raked the lawn, and I became a human machine, making 32 gourmet pies from a super recipe that I've posted here. J. made a slide-show and set the computer up in the lounge.
Midday, coinciding with the forecasted light rain, the first guests arrived, both rapidly becoming a deluge. I finished the pies at 10 past and disappeared for a shower and change into party clothes.
It was a super day. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves (I certainly did - it was really lovely to have so many of our friends all together at one time), and three friends, despite my discouragement, did a series of efficient washing-up stints in the kitchen.

The kitchen after everyone had departed. I mostly just had to put things away!

The lounge ...

... with my yummy tea of leftovers, piece of cake, a cold beer, and a nice quiet feet-up. Ahhh!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Countdown to the party: One day to go.

Today I made two chocolate-berry and cream layer cakes. I used Karyn's quick and easy chocolate cake recipe....

... cut the cakes in half, and leveled out the tops.
I mixed up two cans of chopped strawberries and a big punnet of frozen blueberries with some plum jam, and spread this on each layer, topping off with whipped cream.

I filled up salt and peppers, laid all the tables out, moved them around, moved them around again, and again, and finally realised I couldn't fit them all in. Luckily one family said they would be arriving late, so I will have the separate table for them, as they will be eating after everyone's finished. Have told them they are the floor show.

N. arrived and folded all the table napkins beautifully and placed them in the bowls.

Together we chopped two bags of carrots and put them in the fridge. Bought wine, beer, punch ingredients, coffee, tea, milk, cream, chicken, flour, pesto, spring onions, cashew nuts, apples, Easter eggs, party ice, pastry sheets and frozen peas.

Cleaned the bathroom and the loo and got hand-towels and clean mats out ready to put out tomorrow.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Countdown to the party: Two days to go.

Today I made a lot of tent-place-names for the tables...

And made a whole lot of creme brulées.
This is what 24 egg yolks looks like.
(I now have a lot of whites in the freezer - it looks like we are going to be eating a lot of pavlovas and meringues this year!)

And I vacuumed, dusted and basically re-organised the whole house so there will be room for 32 people to sit at tables in the lounge and through into the study.
I collected up, re-potted and groomed the indoor plants.
I gathered up lots of tables and seating from friends, and likewise cutlery and crockery, glasses and serving dishes.
I carefully pinned my wonderful phulkari (that I was given at Aftermas) on the wall in the lounge, framed up photos of my daughter, and hung them around the place.
I cleaned windows and outside chairs and did two loads of washing.

Wet and Wild

Wow, it poured down last night, and the wind was trying to blow itself inside out, I think. 72 km per hour, but I think some of the gusts were a lot more. I had to batten the hatches in the studio, as it was directly in the line of fire, siting on top of the bank overlooking the river... I put plastic on the sills to direct the water back out instead of all over my artworks!
It came from a different direction to the last one, so the bamboo got a hammering, and there're leaves all over the lawn, roof, chockka in the gutters (grr - I just cleaned them out!) - and a big cane crashed down, just catching the edge of the verandah where it still lies this morning.

Luckily I hadn't swept the new drive yet:

Far too late for eggs, so not a tragedy as spring storms can be, this nest fell out of the bamboo. I can see where a little bamboo twig has been used to support it. I don't know who made it, possibly a sparrow.
What I did notice, that gave my heart a little lurch, was that incorporated in with the palm fibres and moss, is some fine, grey animal hair. Given that I would always put our little dog Shelly's fluff outside when I groomed her, I expect that's where it came from. Awww. Dust to dust, op-shop to op-shop*, hair to nest.

* What my daughter and I always say when some garment, bought from the op-shop, is finally discarded and returned.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Oh Isabella

I've been watching the weather forecasts over the last week more than usual, because of the party this Saturday. And it's been a very windy week, with rather a lot of rain over most of the country too.
Monday was extremely windy here, but we were much better off than some other places, where lines were down and there were power cuts. It was still rather breezy yesterday in most areas:

The rain was mostly soft, gentle drizzle here, much as you'd get in Rhyl...

.... and I am still sleeping under one duvet only. (Poor South Islanders!)

But look at the highs! I did wonder why I was hot yesterday. I thought it was just because I was running around a lot.

Here is a poem my Mother and Father would chant to us when they were drying our hair with a towel, after it had been washed. And of course, I sang to my children too. Because it's nice to have family rituals and traditions, don't you think? I've looked it up on the internet, but I can't find it. I suppose it's English.

Oh Isabella,
Never mind the weather.
As long as we're together,
Under my umbrella.

Does anyone out there know it too?

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

A nice cuppa.

When I sent out the invitations to my daughter's 21st 'Luncheon' party, I was fairly sure quite a number wouldn't be able to make it (although I hoped they would). So I did send out a quite lot of invitations. Now it seems that rather a lot of those are coming after all. Which is great. But means my one teapot will not suffice.

So I went op-shopping. Op = 'Opportunity' shop, goodwill stores, second-hand shops, charity shops, they go under a number of names.

And I found, hidden under layers of fat and grime, for less than four dollars each, four teapots. Two stainless steel, and two ceramic. Sorry no 'before' pictures, you'll just have to believe me. They didn't seem to be even worth their price sticker.

I've cleaned and scrubbed and polished them to within an inch of their lives, and look at these gleaming darlings now. One of the stainless steel pots had been cleaned with steelo pads and was very badly scratched, but has still come up very well with 'Polaris' reviver.

They pour beautifully - I checked before I bought - and I'm really looking forward to getting them out at the end of the party and pouring nice cups of tea for all those who want one.
Actually the white one will do for coffee, and one of the stainless ones for water, if required.

Whenever I think of cups of tea, I always think of this little song from my 1960 LP of Beatrix Potter's 'The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle", which, I think was narrated beautifully by Vivian Leigh - using an English accent, no less!
I don't know who sang the songs, but, like things do when you grew up with them, it's a sound of my childhood that I remember so well. And this one had the added bonus of teaching me how to make a good cuppa. Later, my children's Great Great Auntie Eva, who worked for a tea-importer's company in London after(? - or before) the war, told me you should always put the milk in the cup first, or the heat of the hot tea will scald the milk and change the taste. And I suppose she would know, because the tea had to be made 'just so' for the blending men.

Anyway. here's that song, as well as I can remember it.

A Cup of Tea.

One for each person,
One for the pot.
Pour on the water,
Boiling hot.
Let it brew,
A stir or two,
A steaming cup,
Fill it up,
A couple of sips to wet* your lips -
Ah! What a delicious thing to do!

There is nothing in the world that's nicer
I will happily guarantee
Than a real, hot, strong, cup of tea!


*It wasn't this word, it was something like 'smacker-yer', but I could never hear it properly.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Taking Time to Smell the Flowers

Sometimes when I am walking in the park, I find myself so bogged down with things I should have done before I went on the walk, or have to do when I get back, that I completely forget where I am, and hardly notice the surroundings I am passing.

A wise person once said to me that we should practise being 'where we are' more.

So I stop walking for a second. Breathe deeply, refocus my eyes and my head, and ... just ... BE.
Where I am. At this time. See the things around me, listen to the sounds, and feel the temperature or the wind on my skin. Touch a flower or a leaf, smell what there is to smell.

It's a good, kind thing to do for myself. The things back home can always wait.

Sunday, 18 March 2012


I'm feeling pretty chuffed. Yesterday I finally got around to making a step for my studio.

When YP and Shirley came to visit it was still the sad make-shift arrangement it's been since the studio went up, but it's now a quite reasonable looking serviceable step, and I Did It Myself!

First I went online and watched a video which nearly made me give up before I'd even started. The demonstrator guy with all the gear, made a totally amazing set of professional steps. It took him the better part of 4 hours.

But at least I learn the words for the parts of stairs.
There's the riser which is the bit your toe might touch, the tread, which, predictably, you tread upon, and the stringer which is the zigzag strip of timber on the sides that holds the steps up.
(For some reason at this point I thought I'd need three steps...)

And knowing the names I could then phone the local hardware store and get a price for the trickiest bit to make - a pair of three-step stringers. *Gasp* $95!

Right. There must be a cheaper way.

Thinking about it carefully, I realised I didn't need three steps, as the deck itself would be the top one. And in fact I didn't even need two, because the height was not too much that I couldn't just climb it in two stages. So actually, one step was all that was required. And I didn't need a riser. Enclosing in the backs of the steps would just make a trap for wind-blown bits and pieces.

I got a chunk of old wood that was left over from something, and cut it in half.
Then I sawed triangles off the bottoms at an angle so they would sit on the pavers, and also off the tops so they would lean nicely against the edge of my little deck....

Then I nailed two of the triangles back on half way up so they would take the treads, using some nails left over from erecting the studio. Hey presto, a couple of stringers!

I placed the stringers apart (at a space that looked about right), and nailed them onto the deck-support.

The bottom of the stringer can just rest on the cobbles. It will deteriorate eventually, but should take a while if the timber is tantalized.

Then I laid a bit of timber (saved from my old fence) on top and marked straight lines using the saw edge. It has a bump that is 90º - very convenient.

You can mark your lines using a nail.

Then I sawed the tread to the right size...

( 'Scuse me bum)
nailed it on...

... and it was done!
Time taken: about an hour. Cost: zero dollars.