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Saturday, May 28, 2011


I'm exhausted... but I have officially survived my MA!

I handed it in yesterday. I don't feel particularly victorious yet, but no doubt at some point in the next week I will begin to appreciate my freedom from a constant, pressing demand on my time. I am having some friends over to celebrate with dessert tonight... dessert should probably help, also!

Maybe it's the same for everyone? The Lord of the Rings: An Allegory of the PhD would certainly lead me to believe this. I really identify with this particular line: "When Frodo submits the Ring [the thesis] to the fire, it is in desperate confusion rather than with confidence, and for a while the world seems empty."

At least this is an MA, not a PhD, and no Saruman [examiner] awaits me with whom I will have to do face-to-face battle.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

two items for your perusal

First up, I have bought my first pair of heels - ever!! The idea is that eventually I will start going to job interviews and so on, and needed a pair of shoes that aren't falling to pieces/way too casual. And so I have invested some money, with the help of a very generous sister, in a pair of basic black shoes with a wedge:

This is significant because I never buy or wear heels. I'm tall, and I've always felt even more like a giant if my shoes had any height to them. However, in trying these shoes on, I couldn't help but notice how (a) flattering, and (b) pretty they were, much prettier than they appear in the picture, and I simply fell in love. Unless any of my potential employers are short, insecure men, I should be able to cope with my new statuesque appearance with few negative repercussions.

Secondly, I have been knitting. For the first time ever, I have knitted an actual piece of clothing that required assembly, for my sister's baby, who will be making her appearance mid-June. Here is my "lullaby wrap":

I have to admit I was a little disappointed with it, as it looked much nicer in the photo, and I managed to make numerous mistakes while sewing it together. But now that I look at it again I think it's redeemable. I'm thinking of crocheting a little rose (if I can figure out how to do so, but I have seen a number of youtube videos that make it look do-able) and attaching it to the front - what do you think? A mistake, or pretty?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

cookbook challenge #10

[About the New Years' resolution behind this]

A few years ago, my aunt gave me an Italian cookbook - Simply Italian, by Sophie Baimbridge - by which I was immediately intimidated. So I've never used it except to make foccaccia bread. But today I opened it - reluctantly - and yet I knew it was about time. I found a recipe that looked fairly simplistic although not overly appetising, and off I went. Eleven down, six to go.

Bean and barley soup, served with fresh bread rolls. Turned out to be remarkably tasty for something that looks so puritanical.

Since I discovered that breadmaker bread tastes better if you use it to make the dough, and then stick it in the oven, I've been overly excited about eating fresh bread rolls with my meals. It means you have to allow 2 hours 20 mins for the dough to be ready, but you can always set the timer before you go to work in the morning so that it'll be ready when you get home. MmMM! I brush mine with a little beaten egg, and then sprinkle sesame seeds or some grated cheese on top.

As for the soup, here is the recipe. It claims to serve four but this is a hefty, filling soup, especially with bread, and it served five of us easily.

200 g / 7 oz dried borlotti beans (I used a can of butter beans)
2 T olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1.5 litres chicken stock (I used vegetable stock because of my vegetarian flatmate)
1 T finely chopped thyme or sage
200 g / 7 oz pearl barley
100 g / 3.5 oz Parmesan, grated
1 T finely chopped parsley
4 teaspoons extra olive oil

If you are not using canned, pre-soaked beans: Soak the borlotti beans in cold water overnight. Drain off the water and put the beans in a large saucepan with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender. (This will take about 1 hour depending on the age of the beans.) Drain.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, and cook the onion over a low heat for 6 minutes, or until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook without browning for 20-30 seconds. Add the stock and thyme or sage and bring to the boil.

Stir in the barley a little at a time so that the stock continues to boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the borlotti beans and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the barley is tender and the soup is thick.

Purée one-third of the soup until smooth, leaving the remainder unpuréed to give the soup some texture. (I just stuck a whizz-stick in and didn't process for too long.) Return to the saucepan and stir in the Parmesan and parsley. Season and stir in half a cup to a cup of hot water to give a spoonable consistency. Serve immediately, with a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil stirred through each bowl.

MMMM!!! This was wintry and cosy and warm and very, very filling. It did not turn out at all how I expected it to. A big thumbs-up. Maybe I shouldn't be so intimidated by this book in future...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

introversion sensation feeling perception/judgment

I feel a little confused about my own personality, sometimes. I've never taken 'grown-up' personality tests like Myers-Briggs, but of course I was obsessed throughout my teens with taking multichoice personality quizzes in the high-quality magazines I perused. Was I a Britney or a Christina? An extrovert or an introvert? One of the weirder ones I remember taking was this particular test, which labelled you a lion, a beaver, an otter or a labrador. I was so labrador.

I had to take a personality test for a job I was shortlisted for recently. I found the whole experience incredibly annoying, because the test was misleading and flawed, I have no idea what my results were, and I was rejected!! So I've been feeling some scepticism when it comes to personality tests in general.

Last night, though, I decided I'd try and find an online personality test in the Myers-Briggs style. I thought it would be funny to be told a bunch of patently false things about myself and to be given some strange combination of letters as a label. I found this one, which is free, unless you want to buy a very long report at the end.

Some of my 'results' follow. Here are the personality type labels, and the ones I match most closely are highlighted:

Each letter stands for one of the following options:

And here is a short description of the two personality types that most matched my test answers:

It was quite a shock to me not to laugh at the test but actually look at it and see myself. Here are some things I liked about it:

1) It clarifies a few confusions I've been feeling. I always feel confused when in personality tests they ask you straight out, are you a rational person or an emotional person. I'm confused because I AM a very rational person. For instance, unlike many other people, the aftershocks we've been experiencing in Christchurch have absolutely no effect on my emotions, because I know it's very unlikely my house will fall down or that if it is there's very little I can do to stop it falling down on me. In reacting to things, I generally have a firm control over my emotions. And yet... in other cases I am entirely emotionally-driven. The decisions I make for the future are often driven by my introversion and my emotions.

So it was very interesting to me to see the way they have divided Sensation (deals with facts, practical outcomes) is not incompatible with or opposite to Feeling (makes decisions using personal or shared values). It seemed contradictory to me, but now I can understand how both could co-exist.

2) I liked that it emphasises that most people are not one single personality type. This makes a lot of sense.

3) I liked that I read the descriptions of ISFP and ISFJ and saw myself in them. I think it was actually helpful and eye-opening.

So - I'm feeling a lot less sceptical.

Which personality type are you?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

several things

1. I have joined Twitter! And so has Halfway Down the Stairs. You can follow me here. Please bear in mind that I don't really understand the system yet. And you can follow HDtS here!

2. I know for a fact that Natasha Solomons' new novel, The Novel in the Viola, is winging its way across the world to me - and I am very, very excited.

3. I am having a very very busy week. Firstly I have to, oh, finish my thesis or something like that. Secondly I have just started doing part-time administration work which is great and it distracts me away from other things. Thirdly I am helping to organise the entertainment for the church camp I am going on over the weekend.

4. In this entertainment, we are running a team game on Saturday night - a long line of activities for which each team can win points. The winning team will win an AMAZING prize (or maybe just a token one). I won't run through them all. But I am running one round of the game which is pretty flippin awesome. It is the interpretation of children's pictures. I have got hold of a bunch of pictures which do not have simple explanations. Some of them are crazy creative! Such as my nephew's - a dog army attacking dinosaurs. Each team must come up with an explanation of what is going on in the picture. Points will be awarded for most accurate, most creative, etc.

Monday, May 9, 2011

costume ideas for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Before our singalong Chitty Chitty Bang Bang party, we sat down and watched the movie, with pencil and paper in hand, jotting down ideas. One of the things we were especially looking out for was costume ideas. And so I give you this, a long list of costume ideas for those who take dressing-up seriously:

1) Truly Scrumptious. This is a fairly obvious one for any girl, and we had two Trulys at our event. This character has a number of ridiculous cupcake-style dresses and hats which are easy to mimic, and it is easy to find ridiculous clothing in any op shop (also known as thrift stores in the US of A, I believe?). She also has a number of distinctive hair styles like the one above which will always stand out.

2) Race car driver (opening credits scene). All you need is an appropriate pair of goggles - which, I grant you, are not always easy to find - and some kind of suit.

3) Wear an old-fashioned swimming suit, like Dick van Dyke's costume in the beach scene.

4) Grandpa. Find a dilapidated old suit, a pipe, and either borrow a real medal or make a fake one.

4) The executioner, who appears for about three seconds in the scene where Grandpa arrives at the Baron's castle. I suggested this to a friend, and she seemed quite offended, but I thought it an excellent idea! All it requires is black clothing, some sort of eye covering, and a fake axe made from cardboard (or even a real one).

5) The dolls, which are the disguise of Truly Scrumptious and Caractacus Potts. If you want to be the raggedy doll played by van Dyke, all you need is a clown-type costume.
If you want to be Truly Scrumptious, do what my flatmate did. Hair into plaits with yellow bows. A white blouse of some kind. Get an old green top and cut it up, and lace it with yellow ribbon or fabric. Find a little half apron and a red skirt. Paint your face with lots of make-up and red cheek spots. She looked gorgeous!
6) In theory, I thought this could be a costume. It's one of the Baron Bomburst's spies, as he arrives in England. I'm not exactly sure how it would be made, and it would be very difficult to sit down or watch the movie in. But if it appeals to you... go for gold!

7) Dick van Dyke's costume from the Old Bamboo scene. You would need a waistcoat, a straw punter's hat, and funny shaky things to strap around your calves. And of course a bamboo.

8) The Baron or Baroness Bomburst.

9) The child catcher. This terrifying man may upset small children. But a friend of mine came as the child catcher, which was pretty hilarious. He wore all black, with a black hat, and carried lollipops in his pocket. Pretty easy, but could you pull off the creepy manner?

10) Cyril and/or his wife. The very funny couple at the fairground - the husband's hair is ruined by Caractacus Potts' machine.

11) The Potts family: Caractacus, Jeremy or Jemima. Shabby chic.

12) Big brown bear. I really wanted someone to come as the big brown bear who comes lolloping over the mountain, in the story read by Grandpa to the children.

13) Caractacus Potts as we first see him, wearing his rocket backpack. Ambitious, but this would launch you to the forefront of party attendees. (Heh heh.)

14) A pirate. Pirates get mentioned very briefly, when Jeremy requests a story about them. My flatmate came as a pirate, because we recently threw her a pirate-themed birthday party and provided her with a hat, an eye-patch and a sword. This looked awesome with a striped shirt and lots of jewellery. She ended up coming as a girl pirate, because her boyfriend was a bit creeped-out when she painted stubble on her face.

15) A sweet factory worker. Another flatmate came dressed as one of these. She got a little half-apron, and put a paper doily in her hair as a little cap, over a grey top and black skirt - it looked very cute!

16) One of the old prisoners from the scene in which Grandpa is thrown into the dungeons. All this requires is a long grey beard and black clothing.

Finally, my costume:
17) I was: the roses of success growing from the ashes of disaster. (It's from one of the songs.) A trip to the op shop --> a loud top covered in roses. I wore earrings that were flowers, and I made myself a garland of fake roses. I wore dark jeans/shoes for the ashes part of the costume.

How to make a garland of (fake) roses:

I used:
- about a metre of florist wire, in several pieces (very, very cheap from a florist's)
- green tissue paper and sellotape
- fake roses - not too big, with long stems that are easy to bend
- some pink ribbon (not necessary)

I begun by twisting the florist wire together to make it a little stronger, and the correct length for my head. At one end, I made a little loop so that eventually I would be able to hook the other end in.

Then I covered it with green crepe paper, rolling pieces around the wire and holding them on with sellotape. (If you don't have many roses you may want to find a more attractive way of holding the paper on.) Don't cover the little loop you have made, but cover the other end of the wire with paper.

Then I began winding the stems of the roses onto the garland. I had about 24 roses all together (which cost about $18), but I started by placing them intermittently and then filling up the gaps evenly, so that they were evenly spread along the garland. I left about 12 cm space at each end of the wire so I could hook it up easily. This meant that the roses only went around to just behind my ears.

I wrapped a little pink ribbon around the garland, but this was pretty unnecessary and didn't really show up.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

decorations for a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang party

Last night, we had our singalong Chitty Chitty Bang Bang party. It was superb. It really was!

We had a bunch of people who know the movie really well, others who have never seen it before, and others who haven't seen it since they were children - and the impression I received is that everybody loved it.

We spent the day getting the house ready - and as we worked we got more and more excited. Before the day, we only had components of our decorations, but when we put them all up we saw how awesome it was going to look and it was quite thrilling!

I will update you on all the components of the evening - costumes, food, activities - at different points over the next couple of weeks but I will start with the ideas we had for decorations, what worked, what didn't work, and what we didn't try but would probably work!

The space we used: a large lounge for watching the movie, with a white sheet pinned on the wall as a screen. Our dining room for congregating/eating/drinking beforehand, after, and during intermission. We also decorated our conservatory, which guests have to walk through in order to enter the house.

The Scrumptious Sweet Co. sign, with yellow and white candy stripes and balloons. This really was the most striking decoration we had. It's also very easily recognisable in the movie - lots of "aaaahhhhs" from the audience when it appears on the screen for a few seconds.
You can find the sign on the movie, or from my image a few blog posts back, but I copied it off the images on this website.

Complicated story to this particular piece. I painted the entrance and admission signs intending to put them on the door into our house. And my flatmate R. wanted to make one of those little striped beach tents for changing clothes - a bit like these - which feature on the movie in the beach scene. We didn't want to spend much money, but we remembered we have some striped shower curtains which we use for protecting tables/floor when we paint things, and so R. used them to create the beach tent.

Well, it turned out not looking like a beach tent at all. Instead, it looked a heck of a lot more like a fairground tent - which happen to be a feature of the movie, luckily! And so we experimented to create the above, which can also look like this:

(By the way, there are glimpses of the entrance and admission signs during the Old Bamboo scene at the fairground. You can copy them from closer-up images from another of my blog posts.)

The table-car was very easy to make. We just grabbed some free cardboard boxes from the local supermarket and cut them up with a Stanley knife and then painted them. The wing is made from crepe paper. Much easier and quicker than they look, and a decoration that definitely evokes the movie.
Then we painted the racing car flags as well. One of our guests asked why we had chessboards on the walls, so perhaps if we had a second chance we'd attach sticks to the flags to make it a little more clear!

This particular decoration was a lot less clear! It's supposed to be Caractacus Potts' workshop, with inventions. But the closest we could find was an upside-down bike and a sawhorse!!

More candy stripes are in keeping with the theme and fill up space and provide colour.

This is the room in which we watched the movie. You can't see it all but it's packed with as many couches and chairs as we could fit in! Hanging on the roof is a big red and yellow Chitty Chitty Bang Bang wing, made from crepe paper. In theory this was a good idea, but crepe paper rips really easily, so it was difficult to make this hang exactly how we wanted it to.
And round the rest of the room, bunches of red, yellow and white balloons. We didn't want to over-decorate this room because we knew it would be so packed with chairs/people already.

This is our "beach", in the conservatory on the way into the house. Complete with sand (tidily spread over newsprint on the floor, beach chairs, picnic baskets and a huge beach umbrella which also handily hid junk.

These decorations were fantastic for us, because everything we used was borrowed or already owned, except that we had to buy a few balloons, some crepe paper, and a couple of rolls of newsprint. But in case you have found this blog in search of ideas for your own party, here are some other ideas which we did NOT use:

- a windmill cut out of cardboard, as in the windmill on the Potts' house.
- more fairground-themed items: simply watch that particular scene, there's plenty to work with
- if you can somehow find blue and white-striped or yellow and white-striped fabric or shower curtains, the beach tent would be a very cool thing to make.
- boxes with "dynamite" written on them.
- we completely forgot to make a sign saying "laboratory" and stick in on the bathroom door.
- Baron Bomburst's ship? Out of cardboard?
- find a stuffed toy like this dog - sorry, I don't know the breed, but I always think of it as the "Muffin McLay, like a bundle of hay" dog from the Hairy MacLary picture books. In the movie, its name is Edison.
- if you are more mechanically-minded than us, or have access to large amounts of metal junk and cogs and wheels, try creating Caractacus Potts' workshop.
- big colourful lollipops for the walls, like the ones offered by the child catcher.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

cookbook challenge #9

[About the New Years' resolution behind this]

Last night, I chose a recipe based on the fact that we had all the ingredients at home and so I wouldn't have to get my lazy self to the supermarket. For this reason, this cookbook challenge is more of a cosy meal than a particularly exciting one. It didn't look particularly spectacular either - so no photo (but if you want to see someone else's attempt photographed, visit this link).

From Home Food, I made tuna mornay. Ten down, seven to go.

For this recipe, you will need:
60g / 2 & quarter oz butter
2 T plain flour
2 cups milk
1/2 t dry mustard
3/4 cup grated Cheddar cheese
600 g / 1 lb 5 oz canned tuna in brine, drained
2 T finely chopped parsley
2 eggs, hard-boiled and chopped
4 T fresh breadcrumbs
paprika, for dusting

(I didn't have quite enough tuna so I just made one extra egg.)

Preheat oven to 180*C / 350*F.

Melt butter in saucepan. Add flour and stir over low heat for 1 minute. Take pan off heat and slowly pour in milk, stirring with your other hand until you have a smooth sauce. Return to heat, and stir constantly until sauce boils and thickens. Reduce heat, simmer for another 2 minutes.

Remove pan from heat, whisk in mustard and 2/3 of the cheese.

Roughly flake the tuna with a fork, then tip into cheesy sauce with parsley and egg. Season with a little salt and pepper (if you're using smoked tuna you won't need too much salt). Spoon into four 1-cup-sized ramekins or one large baking dish.

Mix together breadcrumbs and final 1/3 of cheese, sprinkle over top. Dust very lightly with paprika. Place in oven until topping is golden brown - about 20 minutes.


This was nice. Not particularly spectacular. But definitely easy and tasty and nice for a cold night. It serves four but will need some extras. I added corn kernels to the cheesy mixture, and also served with peas. Toast or fresh bread might be a good idea as well.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

sneak peek

I was going to wait until The Event was over before showing you the decorations we have been working on... but what the heck, here's a sneak peek at some of them!

Candy stripes.

Signs. I am particularly proud of the sweet company one.

And of course - the car.

Only a few days to go! I am getting quite excited!

I think we've done a good job this time of being more aware of what we can cope with, and making decoration/food plans to fit our capabilities and budget. Last time, we spent almost every evening, in the two weeks leading up to our singalong Sound of Music, painting scenes from the movie. They looked awesome, if I do say so myself. But they were huge time-suckers, and this time we've gone for more simple, eye-catching ideas.