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The previous haul of books I had checked out last time (see this entry for the synopsis of the stories):

"Blue Labyrinth" by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Childs -- I really enjoy their books & this was no exception. I liked it because it seemed more 'real'. Sometimes Prendergast gets out of situations too easy I think (too much intrinsic knowlege about Everything & has just about unlimited $$$$ resources to get himself out of most scrapes). It's good as escapism & the books are good but that usually gets a bit old so this was nice for it not quite being that way. The story was good, enjoyable & well-written.

"His Name is John" by Dorien Grey -- I didn't finish this one. Ok, I don't know if I even got 2 dozen pages into it. Too unbelieveable, just not really well-written.

"Unseaming" by Mike Allen - chance pick-up. -- Odd collection of short stories. Some of them didn't grab me but most of them were kind of creepy. Overall ok, but by the end of it there were some regular themes/plot twists so it started to loose it's creepy factor.

"The Sunken" by S.C. Green -- It took me a couple chapters to get into it enough to keep the characters straight but other than that it was a really good steam-punky, alt-reality sci-fi story. I am looking forward to the next one!

"Go Tell It On The Mountain" by James Baldwin -- An interesting story, good piece of literature. I enjoyed it. It was an interesting, well-written piece.


Newly-checked out:

Bound, by Sarah Bryant -- Urban paranormal style story set in isolated Scotland. I won't give things away but it takes an interesting twist. Well-written & enjoyable. I'm almost done & am sad it's coming to an end.

Reverand America by Kris Ksknussemm -- about an albino preacher who eventually finds himself running away from his past with a teen prostitute who is pregnant. The back of the book says it "sits between Flannery O'Connor & Carl Hiaasen....mixes the old with the new. A kicking and spitting true-to-life tale that is Saknussemm's most heart-rending to date".

One Man's Bible by Gao Xingjian -- About a man who talks to his German Jewish lover about his life under Mao Zhedong and the Chinese Cultural Revolution from 1966-76. "What emerges is a brutally frank portrait of someone intent on challenging conventional notions of history, philosophy and ethics. By no means a victim, he stands in judgement of only himself."

Krampus by Gerald Brom -- looks like an urban paranormal/semi-horror story about how Krampus, the Yule Lord, was imprisoned by Santa Claus & his magic stolen away. Krampus wants his revenge & wants Yule back.

California Bones by Greg van Eekhout -- Getting late & I can't really find a way to summarise this easily. Here is the link to Goodreads

Grave Silence by Rose Beecham -- Lesbian mystery series written by an NZ artist (who now lives in the US with her partner). Pulled this off the library's LGBTI books list. A bit concerned about the fact that the back mentions that Rose Beecham is the mystery pen-name of the best selling lesbian romance writer Jennifer Fulton. I am hoping this isn't a bodice-ripper kind of story!

Bed time. More later.

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Our level is having a shared lunch to go with the "Taste of Harmony" thing going on throughout the company.  There are about 70 people on our floor & we are all supposed to bring something that represents our culture (or another culture) to share.   I don't have to cook for 70 people, just bring a fair bit to share around.  The thing is on 18 March, which means I'll have to do cooking/baking on 17/3 (if I make a bread & something else then I need to cook 16/3 too) & may need to buy stuff in advance.

I have some ideas but thought it would be fun to see what you all thought.

I am leaning towards something in particular but will keep that under my hat for now.  It is something sweet, but what about savory things?? Kiwis are big on savory things & when I brought some bread to work in the shape of Santa it was gone like in a couple hours, so that is an option & I may do bread & something else.  I may dig out my Native American cookbook & my Betty Crocker cookbook for some ideas, but in the mean time please take my poll & add to the conversation in the comments (both LJ & DW posting).

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Some news links

I have had some tabs open just about forever, either to share or to read. I wanted to pop them here for future info & to share with those of you who might be interested.

1) Science Denialism Has Consequences -- commentary on the measles & anti-vax stuff going on: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2015/02/03/383501038/science-denialism-has-consequences?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150204

2) Feeling the Love At The Local Bookshop -- NZ article about physical bookstores in NZ still doing ok in the rise of e-books & the fact that large bookstores haven't done well in recent years: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/small-business/65892379/feeling-the-love-at-the-local-bookshop

3) Mates on streets family forever -- NZ article about a couple of the homeless & their stories http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11403535

4) Soft Puerto Rican Sweet Buns -- a recipe I want to make by the people who do my go-to bread book & baking book, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day --- http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/2013/04/30/soft-puerto-rican-sweet-buns-mallorca-with-gold-medal-flour

5) Colouring for Stress: http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/2013/04/30/soft-puerto-rican-sweet-buns-mallorca-with-gold-medal-flour

6) How to Find Your Purpose & Do the Things You Love: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/02/27/purpose-work-love/

7) Famous Writers on the Creative Benefits of Keeping A Diary: http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/09/04/famous-writers-on-keeping-a-diary/

8) How To Worry Less About Money (I don't usually get much out of these articles because they don't have many useful tips really but still want to check it out): http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/05/13/how-to-worry-less-about-money/

9) A series of articles and tutorials to look into purchasing on woven wire rings:
-- http://www.instructables.com/id/Woven-Wire-Rings/
-- http://www.jewelrylessons.com/gallery/crazy-simple-ring
-- http://www.jewelrylessons.com/tutorial/crazy-simple-ring

10) Employers Warned Over Snooping In Facebook -- local article about a recent case a woman won after the (admittedly bad-taste) cake she posted on her private FB page (with cussing & name-calling) was spread to temp agencies & potential employers by the company she had just left, costing her future jobs: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/267574/employers-warned-over-facebook-snooping

11) How companies force ‘emotional labor’ on low-wage workers -- http://www.msnbc.com/the-ed-show/how-companies-force-emotional-labor-low

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Quick snippet - Hunger in America bit

Putting this here for discussion, education & to remind myself to read it later.

Having a quick read of a National Geographic (Aug 2014) Carol checked out of the library & is due back. There is an interesting piece about archaeology in the Orkney isles, which is why she got it out. There is also a piece I want to read about Hunger in America. From the Editor's Note in the front:
"The kids must love all the snow days," I joked. The room went silent. People exchanged glances. "We try to never close the schools," one man finally said. "When we do, a lot of kids won't eat." ...... Emergency food programs have ballooned from a few hundred in 1980 to 50,000 today.
And a small snippet from inside: It can be really tempting to ask families receiving food assistance, If you're really hungry, then how can you be - as many of them are - over-weight? The answer is "this paradox that hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin.....people making trade-offs between food that is filling but not nutritious and may actually contribute to obesity".

Edit to add the following:

A few interesting & sobering facts fro the National Geographic article by Tracie McMillan about hunger in America ("The New Face of Hunger"):
--43,0000 households in Houston, Texas do not have a car & are more than a half mile from a supermarket (many of these are surrounded however by fast food; some may have small neighborhood markets that don't accept food vouchers and/or may be more expensive than conventional supermarkets)
--Since the 1980's the cost of fruit & veg has increased by 24%, but the cost of nonalcoholic beverages (mostly soda) has dropped by 27%
--The US government primarily subsidises corn & soybean crop farmers (called "commodity crops" which figures highly in fast foods & highly processed foods in products such as soy oil & high fructose corn syrup) more than it subsidises fresh fruit & veg crops (which are classified as "specialty crops"), despite government nutritional guidelines recommending half the food on your plate be fresh fruit & veg.
--The US government spent about $11 billion to subsidize & insure the commodity crops in 2012. About $1.6 billion US was spent to subsidize & insure the specialty crops in 2011 (note: the article only had these 2 years, didn't have the info for the same year & I haven't been able to find the info for the same year).

I found the article online too, will link it. It was interesting & I do find that some of the examples and photos make me uncomfortable, not because of the poverty (that goes without saying) but because they don't showcase the article well. One photo shows a mother eating standing up at the stove, 2 kids are eating on a chest freezer, but 2 have their plates on the floor & one kid is stepping on it as he walks by.

The comments in the article are a mix of thoughtful & insulting so keep that in mind. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/hunger/

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Moroccan Date Night & Goodies

I put together a surprise Moroccan date night for C last night. There is a Moroccan restaurant near work & I have been there a couple times. I have enjoyed the food but didn't know if C would. She doesn't like curries, onions, bell peppers or anything spicy so I figured it might be better to make stuff here at home and do a "date night".

I partly had the idea also because we'd picked up some Honey Moroccan Lamb stir-in sauce at the grocery store & had been given the Turkish Delight. I thought it would be nice to do as a date night. It turned out well & we had a nice time. I wanted more than just me making something though so I borrowed some saris from a couple coworkers, borrowed a couple of neat painted tin plates. I made the invitation & gave it to her.

I wanted to put the borrowed saris up partly to set a nice a mood, partly to invoke a 'tent'/Middle Eastern feeling & partly to hide our usual household crap. I used twine & push pins to do this. I picked out a recipe for saffron rice (bought saffron for the first time in my life to do it) & modified it a bit (no onions). I added a bit of cream and sour cream to the honey lamb stir in mix as it was too spicy for C, added the lamb shoulder chops & started that simmering while I put the saris. I made some Hazer Baba Apple Tea (crystallised instant apple drink) for us. I made some broccoli, roasted some pistachios & added them to the cooked broccoli & topped it with a yoghurt dressing I made earlier in the day (Greek yoghurt, lemon zest & juice, mint, ground corriander, grated ginger, a tiny bit of honey & smoked paprika).

Here is the 'before' picture of our place, where the table is in the "dining"/living room & part of the kitchen. Yes we have a lot of misc stuff and yes our place is tiny.
Edited to add info about the kitchen area I have to make my tasty creations, from commenting on Bluemeridian's comment.
It is 20.5" long by 18.5" top to bottom. To the right is a 1-hole sink in the middle (that is 18" long) and then another smaller benchtop to the right of that where we stack dirty dishes. That has a useable space of another 17" if we don't have dirty dishes stacked next to it.
Table and part of kitchen 6 2 15 K55020 - 600

Here is the stuff I used to make our night. The rolled up paper is the menu I made and put it on her plate. I ended up not using the candles.
Moroccan Night goodies 6 2 15 K55025

Here are the main food ingredients I used to make our dinner.
Moroccan Night food items 6 2 15 K55026

Here is the outside of the 'tent' I made with the borrowed saris:
Moroccan Night - outside 'tent' 6 2 15 K55028

Here is the inside, complete with set table & some lanterns we already owned. The multi-colored brass one is one I got from a gift card for a bday or Christmas gift about a year ago. The roses were fresh picked out of our garden & tucked into a green glass misc thing I got at a second hand stall at an open market.
Moroccan Night inside 'tent' 6 2 15 K55027

Here is the food cooked up and ready to call C in for her dinner. Again, yes, we have a tiny place and I have a very small (maybe 3 feet long by 2 1/2 feet wide at the most) bench to work on when I make my tasty creations.
Moroccan Night - prepared food 6 2 15 K55029

Here is everything plated up for us.
Moroccan Night - served plates 6 2 15 K55030

And in a non-date night pict, here are the cupcakes I asked for C for my birthday. I didn't want a whole cake (in the interest of eating a little healthier & a little smaller portions). We were originally supposed to get 4 cupcakes (2 each) but somehow ended up with 6, either through a mis-order by C in the internet, by a quirk of accident or because that is a minimum order for delivery. I wanted to try 2 specific flavors: Black Dorris Plum (dark purple) & Tropical Mango (orangeish). C wanted to try fresh strawberry (pink) & raspberry (orangeish & red striped). I don't know what the mystery ones are yet. The light purple isn't on their site & the white is probably vanilla (with a slight chance of being red velvet buttermilk but I don't think so).
K55013 birthday cupcakes from Petals 2 2015

I've had a good day overall. C got me a vinyl record of The Beatles, a 2-record set of their greatest hits. I have the same in CD but like having vinyl copies too of some stuff.

She also got me 2 bars of soap I really wanted. They are sandalwood by the Ecostore, an NZ natural company (I like their orange-clove soap too which I can't get at our local store but prefer the sandalwood). I can get some of their other bars in our local grocery store but not the sandalwood. Most sandalwood soaps are too perfumey & the wood scent is too light. These are a nice neutral woody scent, heavier on the sandalwood. I really like them & asked for them for my bday.

And she got me an Oskar the Blind Cat apron so I have a 2nd, newer one for my baking & cooking endeavors. :)

I tried to call my Mom but she was out at her church when I called & by the time she got home we had to go to the restaurant (we went early so we could get a parking place & a booth for C's back). I'll call family tomorrow night.

We had a nice dinner at my favorite restaurant, an American Country/Western type themed place. It is expensive & we had a special "GrabOne" voucher (you pay less than you get ie--pay $20, get a $40 voucher) but it isn't good on weekends so we didn't get to use it :( Oh well. It expires on the 28th so we'll need to go back. Dinner was more expensive than I planned for because of it but oh well. We had one of my birthday cupcakes later after we got home.

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Chocoate Cherry Garcia Ice Cream

I put part of this into a comment for BlueMerridian but also wanted to put this info here for general consumption & ease of finding later.

The Cherry Garcia turned out well. I like a bit more cherry flavor in my Cherry Garcia, but that is ok! The premium chocolate milk I used in place of regular milk worked out perfectly & because it is pretty sweet (it is literally a really good brand of local chocolate with their organic milk) I only added a little sugar (about 2 to 3 Tablespoons instead of 3/4 cup) so it isn't overly sweet.

I used the actual recipe for Cherry Garcia, which looks like it is based off one of the main recipe. You use eggs (whole eggs) but don't cook them. From what I understand from another site, the sugar 'proofs' or chemically 'cooks' the eggs and renders them safe. That said, I would still recommend caution to those sensitive to raw egg. I sub'd the 1 cup milk for 1 cup Lewis Road Creamery chocolate milk in full.

The consistency is pretty good despite the ice cream maker not being cold enough so it didn't actually freeze the base. I had to hand-mix every 45 minutes, which allowed me to suspend the pieces of chocolate & cherries. It has a hardish set like you would expect from B&J, but it isn't a frozen block of ice which I was getting before with my other ice creams. It is scoopable with a little muscle.

It is a little rich but not too much. The butterfat in the pure cream we have here is obvious & I get a fatty, almost greasy type feel from it. I wouldn't change the recipe though, that would most likely change the consistency which would lead back to the 1 single ice block. It was easy enough to make, no baking, no cooking, just stir & pour into the machine (theoretically, unless your ice bucket isn't cold enough!).

I am interested in seeing how the Jeni recipe goes. There is more cooking, more mixing & more Doing In General so we will see how it goes & how it compares to the Ben & Jerry's one.

**Editing for photos!! This is the beginning of the creation process:
Lewis Road Creamery Chocolate Cherry Garcia 1 2 15 K55010 - 600

Lewis Road Creamery Chocolate Cherry Garcia V K55011-600

Also putting in a photo of one of my smoothies. I have been making myself smoothies for most of my work mornings (and sometimes the weekends). I make them the night before and store them in the Kambrook bottle in the fridge, then screw the blade on the bottle in the morning & give it a blitz. I use a base of coconut water, then add in a bit of yoghurt variety of fresh or frozen fruits & some oats (and sometimes chia seeds). The last couple days I've been dropping in a frozen spinach portion. Here is a pict of tonight's creation for tomorrow's breakie. It is coconut water, uncooked whole grain oats, a couple tablespoons of 'summer fruit' flavor Eziyo yoghurt, 1 largish fresh plum chopped, a few tablespoons of tinned carrots (because the raw ones don't do so well in the machine) & about 7 dried apricots chopped up. I am still debating dropping a tiny bit of honey in it as usually I have something like strawberries or bananas in it but don't. I'll taste it tomorrow & add it if needed.

plum carrot dried apric cocowater shake for 3 2 15 K55012 - 600

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LIbrary Books! And Ice Cream!!!

We went down to the library today to return some books & pick one up that I had ordered. I realise I hadn't done a brief round-up of my thoughts on the last books I checked out so will do that quick & then some info about the ones I will be reading next. Let me preface it by saying I had bought a couple books at the library & started reading one the other day, but unfortunately I hadn't realised it is part 2 in a series so I've today ordered the first one so I can get a better idea of what is going on. But before I get into the lengthy talk on books themselves, I will get into the talk on Ice Cream (which also involves books!).

Bluemeridian had recommended on a post I had about ice cream that I look into the Jeni Bauer ice cream techniques & her book. Jeni makes ice cream without eggs, but does use corn starch & corn syrup. Her book "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home" has some interesting (aka kind of odd actually) flavour combinations. She is supposed to be pretty well known in her area for making Really Good ice cream though & I figured if I can get some ideas & base recipes in her book that would provide a good spring board for me to start from.

I am glad I got the book. I do find her story encouraging, it is always good to read about small entrepreneurs who are in the process of becoming successful. In addition to the base recipes, she also goes in to the science side of ice cream & that is going to be the most help I think. She talks about balancing your ice cream to prevent some of the common problems in home made ice cream. Besides the usual ice cream recipes she also has recipes like for different types of sundaes & for making ice cream-related things like merringue, baked Alaska, honey comb (aka Hokey Pokey as it is called here), waffle cones with a side on how to make them into fortune cookies, etc.

While I can't see myself making the sweet corn & black raspberry flavour itself, I do see some interesting takes on ice cream I do want to try & can adopt other recipes (like the sweet corn one) to leave out the more exotic ingredients we might not enjoy. A quick first look through the book & I thought I wouldn't really have many recipes I'd be interested in but that changed after a page-by-page look & I wrote down what I am interested in. I ended up with 28 recipes that I am looking forward to making either in their entirety or in adaptation. Some of them won't be ice creams C likes (ie--Watermelon Lemonade Sorbet as she doesn't like watermelon) but others like Roasted Pistachio or Baked Apple Sorbet she would be more into. I am keen to try the Influenze RX when winter hits us. The book itself has a nice feel to it (one of the things I like & that keeps me with regular books instead of ebooks). It feels solid & well-made, a work of art with beautiful & inspiring photos.

At the same time I ordered "Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Desert Book" by Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield. This also has info on their start up which is an interesting read. It has fewer recipes overall than Jeni's but has 3 base recipes where Jeni's only has 1. There are eggs in 1 of the base, another calls for sweetened, condensed milk which I'd seen recipes include online but wasn't sure how well it would work. Despite fewer recipes, this does have some of the recipes I miss from not having Ben & Jerry's. In addition to ice cream recipes, B&J's also has some recipes for sauces, deserts and so on. Overall it is a smaller book but the copy I got is very typical Ben & Jerry's with hand-drawn and colored cartoony figures and an overall semi-hippy feel to it that I do like.

I am going to today make the Ben& Jerry's Cherry Garcia recipe as our renewed foray into making ice cream from one of the 2 books. After that is done (and after we clear one of our older failed attempts at ice cream out of the fridge by eating it) I want to try one of Jeni's but might start with a simpler chocolate in hers. We have a tiny organic creamery in NZ that made a big splash by pairing their premium milk with a local, well-known & popular chocolate brand, Whittaker's. The result of that & a successful media campaign was security guards in grocery stores and rationing of bottles. I got lucky enough to find some small bottles of this liquid gold today at our local dairy (they hadn't been at the dairies before, only main grocery stores). I will be using this in place of the regular milk in the B&J recipe so I'll have an extra chocolatey Cherry Garcia :)

I'll let you all know how it goes.


BOOKS! My take on the books I've finished reading & have returned. Synopsis on the subjects is here.

"The Moon is Down" by John Steinbeck -- a short story but interesting. It does hit some interesting themes along the lines of people just doing their job & being forced by circumstances to do what they have to even if they don't really like it (ie--the conquerors of the town), people's nature & how people can slowly & quietly resist even when it looks bleak. I enjoyed it but it seemed to be a bit of an abrupt end. like "In Dubious Battle" it had Steinbeck's typical character who meets an untimely end but who's death is used to rally people to a cause. It can seem a callous thing, but we do see so much of it in the world (either literal death or figurative). I do like Steinbeck's writing style so enjoyed this & would recommend it.

"In Dubious Battle" by John Steinbeck - Another short one. Again, I do like Steinbeck's writing style so enjoyed it. I thought this was especially interesting in how he plays both the main characters that are pro & anti strike---both sides are greedy, only driven by their ideology & willing to use (or create) sacrificial lambs out of someone to further their cause. There is the usual vilification of the vigilante groups, I would expect that in this story. It is almost like a "Grapes of Wrath" light; different stories but similar themes. I would highly recommend it.

"Once A Brethren Boy: an Autobiography" by Noel Virtue (An NZ author) -- Some interesting premises & points but the writing is kind of trite and overly-flowery in some places. It provides an interesting glimpse into being gay coming from an exclusive and extremely conservative background, but I just couldn't really get into the fact that he constantly blamed the Bretheren church for some of his problems without really spelling out why that was. I get that being ostracised from family because of their religious beliefs & possibly the break up of the family because of the same can create some mental and emotional issues, but he seemed to hold far more blame against them. In the end I kind of just got bored reading it & wouldn't go looking for anything else by him.

"Under the Volcano" by Malcolm Lowry -- It is supposed to be one of the 10 most consequential works of fiction in the 20th century. I couldn't get into it (and no, it wasn't because of the occasional Spanish phrases---I know enough for that). I don't know if it just seemed confusing at first because of the writing style, if it was a hard ask for a book to follow up "In Dubious Battle" or the fact we are on holiday (I doubt that last one, it is the perfect time to catch up on reading). I got into the 2nd chapter & turned it back into the library not regretting reading further.

"Nights in the Garden of Spain" by Whiti Ihimaera (Another NZ author)-- I watched Whale Rider by Whiti & enjoyed it & have been thinking of reading something by him but hadn't yet. Interesting look into the gay scene in about the 80's in NZ. It is also a telling and heart-touching piece about a married man trying to reconcile his gay leanings with his relationship with his wife & kids and his family. I would recommend this one.

Books from today's library haul

"Blue Labyrinth" by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Childs -- I really enjoy their books. I have read several in their Pendergast character series. Sometimes some bits of the books are far-fetched but I do enjoy reading them for entertainment & escapism. It is basically crime/mystery with a little bit of mysticism & archaelogy snippets in them.

"His Name is John" by Dorien Grey -- This is the one I requested, I picked it out of the library's online list of GLBT crime stories. It is about Elliot Smith who wakes up in a hospital with a head injury & "John", an invisible friend. First he think's it is just because of his injury but when he has fully recovered & still sees "John" he tries to find out who he is. As he looks into "John" (a John Doe who died in the ER the same time he was in the hospital), he finds a body that was hidden behind a wall for 80 years, meets a sexy artist & a nun's deadly secret.

"Unseaming" by Mike Allen - chance pick-up. Our library will pick odd books & set them off to the side of the shelf to highlight them. 'Everyone in the world awakens covered in blood - and no one knows where the blood comes from. A childhood doll arrives to tear its owner's reality from limb to limb. A portal to the spirit realm stretches wide on the Appalachian Trail, and something more than human crawls through on eight legs'..... It looks like a collection of short stories & while I tend to avoid some short story collections, this looks interesting.

"The Sunken" by S.C. Green - An NZ artist, which is one of the reasons I ended up picking it up. She's in the Steampunk scene here, I've seen her on the news. I do want to read more NZ authors. "In the heart of London lies the Engine Ward, a district forged in coal and steam, where the engineering sects vie for ultimate control of the country". There is more to the back of the jacket. To summarise: it is about Nicholas Thorne, who has returned to London to work for a childhood friend, about Nicholas' strange affliction where the thoughts of animals crowd his head & is worried his friend Isambard Kingdom Brunel might be falling for the temptation of his growing power. The king has approved of Brunel's plan to put up a wall to keep out the swamp dragons & protect the city but the king is also secretly creating an army of Sunken, who are flesh-eating monsters. This one is book 1 in the Engine Ward series. The library didn't have book 2 yet, don't know if it has been published yet. Her website is www.steffmetal.com I haven't checked it out yet.

"Go Tell It On The Mountain" by James Baldwin -- A quote about this came up in my FB feed a week or 2 ago & I commented that I needed to read it again. I'd already had a stack of books when I saw this one sitting off to the side of the shelf & nabbed it anyway. I read it ages ago in university. If you don't know what it is about, here is the synopsis: "Drawing on his boyhood in a religious community in 1930's Harlem, he tells the story of young Johnny Grimes. Johnny is destined to become a preacher like his father, Gabriel, at the Temple of the Fire Baptised, where the church swells with song and it is as if 'the Holy Ghost were ridin on the air'. But he feels only scalding hatred for Gabriel, whose fear and fanaticism make him cruelly abuse his family. Johnny vows that, for him, things will be different. This blazing tale is full of passion and guilt; of secret sinners and prayers signing on the wind".

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Photos & trip thoughts

First, some photos. You are getting 2 photos of me in one of those things that you stick your face in from our trip. I thought they were really cool! They are of Department Of Conservation rangers holding native birds. They had these up at one of the Mt Taranaki ranger stations. The one holding the kiwi came out the best. The 2nd one with the 'whio' or blue duck didn't turn out very well so I am not putting that up at Facebook (it's a DW/LJ exclusive just for those of you privileged enough to be on my journals.

Me Taranaki DOC ranger kiwi cut out2 23 1 15 cr600

me Taranaki DOC ranger whio 23 1 15 cr 600

Here is a pict of the desert I had one night at the lodge. I was pretty hungry, had my seafood dinner & finished off C's seafood dinner. This was really nice, not too expensive given how much it came with ($18.00 NZ). It was the only desert we had there, other 2 nights we were still pretty full after dinner & one night I'd bought 2 pieces of boysenberry fudge when we had been out so we each had a piece of fudge.
strawberry desert at Stratford Lodge 1 2015 550

Here are a couple photos of an invitation I've made for a special date night for C. I have some stir-in Moroccan honey lamb sauce I'll make, I'll get some saffron & pistachios & make saffron rice & broccoli with pistachios. I'll make some salad & make a yoghurt-mint-lemon dressing. We have some apple tea & some Turkish Delight. I'll pick up some baklava from a Middle Eastern restaurant a friend has recommended (she & I are going to lunch the day before the dinner I have planned for C so I can get some). I've borrowed some saris from her & another Indian friend, and 2 cool painted tin plates I'll use either for eating on or for serving. I have given C her invitation so she knows about it now, but it was a surprise until the other day when I gave it to her.
C Morrocan invitation outside - 550

C Morrocan invitation inside - 550

And lastly, this is a picture of something really simple that makes me really happy. A couple weeks ago a coworker brought these cool flower pens back from the Philippines, where she had been to do some training. They were from the Filipino colleagues as a thank you for our support. I picked the purple & yellow pen. Today she brought around some that she had picked up to bring back for coworkers. I picked the orange and yellow one. It was timely, the purple one had started running out of ink! The yellow & orange one is going into my letter writing satchel.
Flower pens

In non-photo, non-me news, there is a bit of a small controversy going on over here. One of NZ's writers Eleanor Catton who won the 2013 Booker Prize has criticized the country & the current government (which is kind of Republican-like if that gives you an idea of their leanings). She is being defended by some writers & artists, criticized by some politicians & talk radio jockeys.

I won't get started on yesterday's State of the Nation in which our current Prime Minister seems to think that selling off some state housing in our high-priced housing economy & buying others will magically fix the broken houses & still provide houses for people, as well as promising that some people who are in state houses who 'shouldn't be' will be turfed out and turning some portion of said state houses over to the semi-private sector like community groups (yeah, like they have any resources or current infrastructure to be able to do this--where are the start-up costs coming from?????).

Nah, won't get started there.

I did something decent yesterday, I finished sorting 2 of my smaller drawers. These had letters I'd received as well as my paper, cards, post cards & envelopes. I split some of my letters out into different baggies & put my paper, cards, post cards & envelopes into their own large zip-locks. I got rid of some random papers, still have a lot of stuff I should have looked through but will leave other drawers for other days.

I hope you are all well.

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More shots of Taranaki!

Since we are coming to the end of our weekend (though it is a long one for us in Auckland --an extra day off for Auckland Anniversary Day), I thought I should probably go ahead and post most of the picts I have ready to go. That will let me concentrate on getting some stuff done around the house & let me process a few more in the mean time.

These are most of the really cool ones I hinted at in my last post.

This is a Maori-style meeting house called a whare (far-ay), a more modern version of course. It was at Pukeiti Rhododendron gardens.
Te Whare Taonga - Pukeiti 22 1 15 K54809

This is us at the whare.
Us at Te Whare Taonga closer - Pukeiti 22 1 15 K54811

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A trip to Mount Taranaki (photos!)

We took a short trip out to Mount Taranaki, along the West coast further down the North Island. We took a scenic route down. It added to our driving time but was beautiful. We made the trip down there in about 8 hours, the trip back (not so scenic but still a bit round-about to avoid traffic) took 7 hours of driving (it took a little longer in the trip itself but that was to due a photo stop when we first started out).

It was good to get out of Auckland's stiffeling heat and it was especially good to stay in a beautiful, peaceful area away from yelling kids & yelling parents. There was a lot of native bird song & fresh air & it made me realise how much I miss all that. It was a bit expensive though, not something we could do often (& camping is out of the question even if it is cheaper).

I did a good amount of thinking, that is still rambling around my head so I may hold off putting them here & instead just post some of the photos I took. I am still working through them but here is one set. More to come in different posts.

I wanted to take some picts of the actual drive so you can have an idea of some of the rural areas/drive. I did a lot of driving this time because of C's back pain being triggered by the windy & slow-going roads. These were all taken when I wasn't driving of course!
Driving Hwy 43 - twists & rocks 21 1 15 K54781 - 550

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I am still spending too much time on my ass on my weekends, but managed to do more steps yesterday than my usual work day & managed to get into the garden for a little while today. My weight has hit 190 lbs, which is I have been trying to avoid. I am still making some wrong food choices so I have gotten back into logging my food on my Fitbit site. I still have my Fitbit One & I keep an eye on my steps, so logging my food will help me keep an eye on my calories in vs calories out. I know I have more in than out, or I wouldn't be gaining weight. Last time I logged my food I stayed more aware of my food choices through the day & it was easier to make better decisions.

I am still doing my "6 best things" each day & decided I am making my own rules. This means I don't have to just put 1 best thing down, I can put lots of best things down if I want ;) Besides, the goal of doing the exercise is to take a positive look on your day. Putting lots of things down should help in that goal, not detract from it.

We went to the library today & some asshole punk broke into the locked DVD cases & stole some DVDs in them. They have the individual DVD and CDs together, the DVD cases are locked with the disks in them & when you take them up to check them out they unlock them. I went over to look at the DVDs after checking out some books. I noticed a case was sitting funny. It had been popped open & the disk missing. It was fucking Oliver Twist. While the hell would anyone who is boosting CDs boost Oliver Twist?? I ended up pulling out 3 or 4 different DVDs in various states of either missing or had been attempted to be popped open. They weren't any good movies, there were far more recent & better movies still there, but the ones popped were in a corner which I suspect was the only reason those were stolen.

The books I picked up are:
"The Moon is Down" by John Steinbeck ("Occupied by enemy troops, a small, peaceable town comes face-to-face with evil imposed from the outside - and betrayal born within the close-knit community." )

"In Dubious Battle" by John Steinbeck (picked this up as it is semi-tangentially relevant to my work stuff right now with the strikes; "A riveting novel of labor strife and apocalyptic violence that maps the frontier where the masses become a mob."

"Once A Brethren Boy: an Autobiography" by Noel Virtue (An NZ author "...This is a brave work, both poignant and entertaining. It offers vivid descriptions of New Zealand life in the fifties & London in the sixties. It explores the damage caused by the closed minds of fundamentalists & red-necks, and the dilemas faced by a homosexual in trying to be honest about himself. And it is the story of a writer, from early ambition through rejection letters & lonely evenings at the typewriter to publication & critical acclaim." **The Brethren are a very conservative Christian enclave that lives down in the New Plymouth area of NZ.)

"Under the Volcano" by Malcolm Lowry (This is about a former British consul with a drinking problem who ends up in Mexico. On Dia De Las Muertos in 1938 his wife shows up in town. "She is determined to rescue Firmin and their failing marriage, but her mission is further complicated by the presence of Hugh, the consul's half brother, and Jacques, a childhood friend. The events of this one significant day unfold against an unforgettable backdrop of a Mexico at once magical and diabolical". The book jacket says it is a book on statements on the human condition, "a brilliant portrayal of one man's constant struggle against the elemental forces that threaten to destroy him") It is supposed to be one of the 10 most consequential works of fiction in the 20th century, looks interesting.

"Nights in the Garden of Spain" by Whiti Ihimaera (Another NZ author; a story about a man who has a perfect life with a wife & kids, good job & close friends. He's also into the night life in "The Gardens of Spain"---where gay & bi men meet. "With this book, best-selling novelist Witi Ihimaera has produced a work of startling invention, radically different from his earlier Maori novels & stories. Now he explores, with sensitivity, humour, anger & laughter, the dilemas of the minority gay culture and the challenges that must be faxed when one partner opts out of a marriage." )

I am just finishing off another book right now, "Finding Moon" by Tony Hillerman. Hillerman wrote a bunch of mysteries set on a Navajo reservation, with a Navajo tribesman detective as the main character. I really like those stories. This is a different one for him, set in the '70s, where Moon has to get his deceased brother's baby out of a collapsing Vietnam situation & as Pol Pot's army is rolling through Cambodia.

Back to work tomorrow & I suspect it's going to be busy. Most people are going to be due back from holidays & will be checking out their accounts, the managers & their assistants will be checking into things that should have been done before Christmas, or picking up things they decided to leave for the new year. We are also loosing a team member in about a week. She's moving to another team, one she had her eye on for awhile. It is good for her, but I am going to miss her! She's really nice, friendly & has a good amount of experience in the team so that is going to be hard to replace.

Enough sitting for me, I need to wander off and do some dishes, make some lassagne for dinners later, process some fruit for freezing & marinate chicken for Carol to have for lunches. Be well all!

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New idea: Cinnamon roll ice cream

The ice cream options we have in this country are just not very exciting. There are basic flavors like vanilla, choc, neapolitan. You get gumdrops, passionfruit, hokey pokey. There are some other options from the regular companies like Tip Top, but really if you want something different you have to pay extra for the more fancy companies (think $12NZ for about 1 litre as opposed to $8NZ for 2 litres). Even then, you don't get much choice. It is sadly not as much as what options I had in the US.

We picked up an ice cream maker to be able to make some of our own, to save money & to give us more variety. I haven't cracked how to make ice cream that doesn't freeze completely yet but we have managed to have chocolate-milk (made with a special high-quality choc milk) & fresh cherries, choc milk & fresh strawberries & frozen yoghurt & fresh blueberries.

Once I crack the "how to keep it from becoming a solid ice block" wall we'll really take off.

Tonight I had an idea of making cinnamon roll ice cream. I made fresh cinnamon rolls this afternoon & tonight we had them with some (store-bought) vanilla ice cream. I think if I do make cinn roll ice cream it is going to be cinnamon flavored.

Now to figure out a decent ice cream recipe. :)

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A Second Visit to Karamatura

We went back to Karamatura park this morning. I walked a bit further than I did yesterday & also did some scurrying in the stream & around some rocks. It is not as much as I used to do once upon a young-me ago, but more than I have done in a year or 2.It has felt good to get out and get a few walks in. I am glad the holidays this year fell the way they did so we could have 2 nice long weekends in a row :)

Anyway, onto the pictures! I think you will like these. I got a decent variety in them & managed to get some good stream shots, which I had hoped for.

I also made a point of taking another fun photo of me so I'll lead with that!
me on log at Karamatura 3 1 15 K54736 - 550

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Short walk today - picts for you :)

Day 2 of the New Year & we've managed 2 short walks in the 2015. That is really good. I won't hold my breath for keeping up with it, but hey it's a good start. Yesterday was Waikumete, a cemetery near us that has some nice older (1800s) areas to walk in with wildflowers that have come over from South Africa & Britain. They have grown through the older sections of the cemetary.

As nice as that sounds, I didn't take my camera yesterday for that short walk. We stayed in the military graves section as it is generally more shaded & grassy so easier to walk.

Today however, we went to one of my favorite places in NZ. It is in my top 5 favorites, possibly in my top 3. It is the kind of place you do take a camera of course. I didn't get as far as I used to when we went years ago, but haven't been for about 3 or 4 years. It was still a nice walk, even it was a little short.

So you can enjoy the beauty of the day & the peace of this place that is special to me, here are some shots of Karamatura park out at Huia.

Karamatura path H1 - 2 1 15 K54652 - 550

Step down the path with me....
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It has been a nice, lazy laze-about day for the first day of the New Year. We did get out for a short walk at the Waikumete cemetery. I had a little sleep-in & had a little nap too. We've had The Good Life playing on the DVD player & have been enjoying that. Yes, I should be doing more exercise but am still recuperating from the last few very busy & stressful months.

I have managed to get through some old photos for processing for colour/lighting & crops. I got through all the photos I took at the Domain (aka Winter Gardens) today, moved onto a bunch I had left from the Auckland Regional Gardens in August & got through several of the chunk I still have left from the US trip we took in 2012. I have 30 left for 29/4/12 at the Sequoia National Park. I have a bunch more beyond as that was about 1/2 way through the trip! The good thing is that time has made me more likely to look at a picture and think "meh, nothing special" and not waste time on it, as opposed to just after a trip & thinking each picture needs all my time because I want to keep every memory of the trip. The down side is that I do still get really homesick & miss my family looking at the picts & remembering the trip. Not as bad as when I first took them, but still get the homesickness.

So with no more ado, here are the last of the photos from Christmas day. A few over the cut & the others under it. When I went into the glass houses at the Domain I wanted to practice working with light and shadows. It is something I discovered about 6 or 7 years ago. Of course, you need the right light conditions to do it & we had that on Christmas morning. Not all flowers were in a position to work with dramatic lighting, but I found some that were perfect.

When I take these shots I think of the subject as being on a stage & I am finding the best way to light them & make them the star of the show. I shoot them underexposed by 1/2 a stop which helps with the light/shadow contrasts & I sometimes bump the blacks up a little in Photoshop when I process them. I shoot my images as RAW files & they don't come out of the camera as nice as they do as a JPEG, but they do last longer against being opened/changed than JPEGs which can degrade in quality with each opening.

A couple of tree mallows:
Tree mallow Domain 25 12 14 K54553  550

tree mallow close Domain 25 12 14 K54607 550

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Quick photo

I have a lot of photos I still haven't gone through & finished processing (colour & light corrections & cropping). Here is one of my Christmas Day visit to the Auckland Domain.

Thought you'd all like to see it! It is a torch ginger.
Torch Ginger dramatic Domain 25 12 14 K54584

I will put more up another time.

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Happy New Year!

Wishing you & your friends & families a very Happy New Year. I hope 2015 turns out better for us all than 2014 was, that it is filled with happiness, peace & good health for us all.

K52883 Hamurana Springs & Redwoods view 8 6 13 - 600j

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Been Busy Lately

Quick photo-heavy check-in post. Things have been busy over here. Spring is still more on the side of winter most days so wet, windy & even hail again today :( Gardening is at a minimum because of it, which is good because I've had other things to keep me busy.

I made "Graveyard Cupcakes" for my coworkers for Halloween last month. These were red velvet cupcakes (one version was egg free) with mixed berry fruit filling, chocolate buttercream frosting topped with crushed Oreo-like cookies & then either a gummy snake or white chocolate ghosts or skeleton hands or brown chocolate spiders, bats or gravestones. It took me 3 days of working on them after work to get them done. A lot of work & they were yummy! People appreciated them so that was nice :)
Graveyard cupcakes finished 10 2014 K54466 cr450

Choc Halloween decors 3 29 10 14 cr550

Choc Halloween decors 2 29 10 14 cr550

Carol's birthday was a couple days ago & I wanted to make her a special cake. Well, I wanted to buy a nice cake but that was going to be way to expensive. The recipe for the cake itself didn't turn out well (first time I used that recipe; last one too!), they didn't rise in baking but at least they still tasted pretty good even if they were a bit dense. I saw a design I liked & wanted to try a frosting style called "Ombre" where you start with one colour of icing on the bottom & merge it into a lighter colour then to a white or lightest colour. I wanted to do a beach theme with white chocolate sand dollars with dark blue to light blue icing. It has also ended up taking 3 days, most of them after work & only because I had to remake 2 of the layers of cake. It turned out ok, not my best work (the eggless red velvet cupcakes turned out better!!) but still ok.

I made a blue petal ombre cake with lemon flavored buttercream, white chocolate sand dollars & a star fish topper. I mixed white & brown chocolate 'sand' to make a beach scene cake. It looked good :)

More under the cut:
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Tired of being sick

It is 3:30am & I am awake and feeling like shit. I have been sick for 3 days & this is the 3rd morning I've woken up around this time. This morning was the worse for some reason, throat started hurting again (I had some reprieve yesterday where my throat wasn't as sore) & coughing. I couldn't get back to sleep so I had a throat lozenge & got up. My brain isn't awake yet & I'll probably head to bed again soon.

I went to the dr yesterday. It is a dr I'm not crazy about, but since I know I'm sick and really only wanted to go for a note for work I made the appt with him instead of one of the other drs at the clinic. He did recommend antibiotics & some medication I already have from last time I was really sick.

I have been craving some apricot & coconut balls but don't want to make them until I am better, especially because I would have to handle the so much and right now I can't safely do that without sneezing & snotting everywhere.

I had other things I wanted to say but will leave it at this for now. My brain is tired. The cats are all sleeping peacefully & I want to join them. Hopefully my body lets me this time.

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Signing to Support Walmart Workers

I have signed to support Making Change at Walmart and think my friends here would be interested in doing this too. Check out this petition calling on Walmart's owners, the Waltons, to pay their workers $15/hr and provide access to full-time work. The Waltons have as much wealth as 43% of Americans combined but keep their associates just under the scheduled amount of hours that would entitle them to health benefits. Disgusting.

You need a zip code to sign (I used the zip from the town I grew up in, it's a traditionally conservative/Republican stronghold so I think it would carry more weight than my university days' zip).


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