A Gallery of Auckland City Paintings

For the last few months I’ve been pursuing some oil painting goals – enjoying interpreting my inky line woodblock look in oils instead of gauche and ink. These are all for sale, if anyone is interested. Here they are in no particular order:

AUCKLAND II – 610 x 460 x 50. Oil on hardwood frame. $350
AUCKLAND III 410 x 410 x 40 Oil on hardwood frame $275
Auckland IV. 410 x 410 x 40 Oil on hardwood frame $350
Teapot Town. 410. x 510 x 30 Oil on framed canvas $300 SOLD
WAITEMATA I. 305 x 305 x 20 (A small piece) Oil on hardwood. $200
WAITEMATA II. 410 x 410 x 40 Oil on hardwood $350

Send me a message on this blog and I’ll contact you.

When your back’s to the wall, you can only move forward. Or ‘Happy New Year’.

2020 – the year we all felt the wall behind us and experienced life as most of us had not known it. I note very few resolutions coming up on my newsfeed – such is the hope embodied in merely the change of date from 2020 to 2021, that that itself is enough of a positive move. Surely things must get better – right?

Well, I’m an optimist, so I’m going to imbue this coming year with miracle cures and unexpected pleasures around every corner, and enough mixed metaphors to force you to swallow hard. The realist inside me – a wizened starving thing – whispers that many of my old favourites like travel and wage increases are things of the past for a long while yet. I’ve stamped the wretched creature down and shut the closet door on it again. And whenever that even worse skeleton looms – the pessimist – muttering things like ‘the end of the world is nigh’, I briskly turn on Netflix and subsume myself in mindless drama there instead. So far it has worked. Like the wee pig in ‘Babe’ looking forward to Christmas, unaware that pork is on the menu, I lift my chin to the blue sky and trill “La la laaaaaaa”.

Life in New Zealand has been pretty good, by comparison. We are of course painfully conscious of the suffering still going on elsewhere, on every level – socially, economically, physically and mentally. A traditional Christmas didn’t happen for many of my friends overseas, and there has been telling lapses in communication from many of my old associates and online buddies. I’m torn between sharing the good things I know about in the hopes of perking people up, or wondering if the sharing of them will only bring despair to those who have endured too long alone and still in the midst of the pandemic. There’s nothing more galling than a party next door when you are grieving.

If you could do with a little light-hearted distraction, then my next few paragraphs will be perky, so read on. Otherwise, I understand if you move straight on without another word. Here’s a virtual hug. { }

We did a different thing this Christmas, and moved out of Auckland to Rotorua to enjoy the celebration at my niece’s place there. Customarily we have it at my sister’s house, but this year loaded enough salads, presents, and festive treats into our cars and took the party to Jemma’s. She and her partner Rafa had decorated the house with lights, a real tree, and Chinese lanterns etc, and it was heart-warming to be immersed in that warm atmosphere for a couple of days. Down here in NZ, being a summer holiday, many presents are beach-themed, and we pushed that even further and had our Christmas dinner as a picnic at the lakeside. Great idea! Cold meat, salads, fruit pies with cream squeezed out of a can. And in between, a swim in the cool clean depths of a freshwater lake. It was not even that busy, so sitting on blankets/chairs on the grass in the shade of the trees with a gentle breeze flowing by watching other family groups doing the same was a treat.

I came home to my new unit, and watered my prolific garden and fell into a state of deep relaxation that is still upon me. I fiddle around with the garden, with cooking, reading, listening to music, and occasionally get my bike out for a ride or go for the walk around the harbour just below my house. I’ve just dismantled the Christmas tree, and put that season away in my garage for another year. NOW I’m revisiting my old nutrition plan and considering sliding carefully back into better habits again.

Yesterday, New Year’s Day, was a beauty. I started 2021 with a crisp walk around the water while the sun was still low, and then at 10am picked my sis up and drove the 10 mins around the bay to Pt Chev, which is opposite the peninsula I live on, with a much better beach. We slid into the still clear waters and stayed there floating and chatting for 30 – 40 mins of bliss. I listened amused to the ladies near me all complaining mildly of the noise of parties from the night before. Then it was home via my old house and the flatmate I had there, who we chatted with for a while, before I dropped Helen home.

I don’t have huge plans for the coming year. None of us know when travel will become easy again, and that was something I enjoyed doing over the last ten years. Actually the next trip I was planning to do was one around New Zealand, and I still intend to do that. I’ll treat it as I did my last two trips around Scotland, and put together a travel book for those who want to come with me (virtually) afterwards. An excellent idea especially since travel has become impossible right now. I do have two other books I have finished, but they need major editing, and I need to find the energy to tackle that. Meanwhile my two days a week at the University still bring in much needed cash, and get me out on my bike traveling in all weather.

I love the lead up to Christmas, which means warmer days, outside barbecues, meetings with friends, trips to the beach or messing about getting the garden going. Once the many Christmas gatherings and work dos are over, and Christmas is past, there’s nothing like the lax feeling that you don’t have to do anything, and time becomes less relevant. Most people have three weeks off around this time, but I save my summer holiday for February when schools are back, and my sis and I will be going north on our camping trip then. The University starts back in two weeks and I’ll be catching up on emails then. In the meantime, this is the most writing I’ve done in some weeks, and I’m comforted to know my fingers still find the right keys without my looking. Whew.

I’m going to go and read a little more of a book I need to return to the library. Here’s the series I’m enjoying right now. I’ll leave you with a glimpse of the last two months and let you sort out the event and the place based upon my narrative. Regard it as a sort of quiz. Happy New Year.

My first month in the new home

Time to do an update on life at the end of the Peninsula. Has it really been 5 weeks since I moved here? Well, before we plunge in to more details, let me just say that I still love being in my new unit, and pinch myself regularly to remind myself that the move is behind me now, and the worst of the packing and unpacking and setting up home is passed. Best of all, I had what felt like a clean slate, to make my own impression on the place and to set up a garden of sorts.

Here are a few glimpses of the setting. The living room lacks the delicious green chaise lounge sofa which is held up in delivery by COVID-19 in other places. So we are using camp chairs and my one comfy leather chair to provide an impression of living room.

It’s compact, but just the right size for me. I have my studio nearly set up perfectly, and what feels like an immense bedroom, but I came from a king single bed before, so anything would feel bigger.

Yesterday I decided to do something about the lack of privacy. At the back there is a small area for hanging washing out between garage and house, which now has my chiminea, seat and worm farm. I have used some old pots and purchased new ones, to allow for a range of vegetables to grow against the garage wall. They love the sun and seem to be doing well.

It’s the front porch that’s been a problem. I have a friendly neighbour, who is right THERE, if you know what I mean. And the old guy who had this place before me, sat all day out the front waving at everyone who passed by, and so I receive a lot of waves and comments, which shows just how friendly everyone is. However, there are times I just want to sit unnoticed, and read a book or listen to an audio. So I’ve moved my main chair to the corner, and bought some more pots to block the access to my space. Apparently the plants I’ve chosen will rise up and obscure the view more. Might even lavish myself and get a trellis and pop it along the front. Watch this space.

Spring is a great time to move – everything feels fresh and colourful, and the days are getting longer. I received an invitation to the 14th annual street Christmas party the other day, and look forward to meeting the neighbours properly.

I’m finally able to stop and do other things than decorating and shopping for the house as well. For instance, my clever sewing sister made me a sunhat just now. (No, don’t ask, she isn’t taking orders for these). She made a draft using calico or similar, to see if the pattern would fit, and used it as a draft for her own hat. And then I got to keep the original, and dyed it green this morning FINALLY, a hat that is broad, can be squashed into luggage, and is wide enough for a fat head.

I’m about to plunge into making some preserves for Christmas this afternoon. Now that I’ve worked out how the oven heats up, and which elements on top work the best, I’m feeling more confident cooking on it.

Last Friday straight after work, I borrowed my sister’s camping van, and went out to enjoy the night with friends, at Piha on the west coast of Auckland. Perfect weather, and so good to get away and sit around chatting in the dark after a good meal at the local surf club. I’ll leave you with a few of the sublime images from that holiday.

So much water under the bridge . . . but I’m back

Can’t believe it was June that I last posted. Obviously life has been too exciting and busy to find time to sit down and type any of my thoughts up. Who knew? I’ll try and make up for it in the coming weeks.

Today, I want to talk about . . .

CHRISTMAS CAKE!

The last piece of a delectable moist fruity icing covered slice of Christmas cake

Yeah, see that pic above. THAT is the quintessential item I am talking about, and I am totally baffled by the current bad press it has received. When I went to the USA in 1996 I was stunned to discover this worthy item was not regarded with the esteem it has received for years in my part of the world. I still don’t get it. Any connoisseur of edible items would place this among a number of tasty treats, because if a proper fruit cake does essential things well, they are 1) richness 2) moistness 3) complexity 4) aroma 5) flavour. What’s not to like?

There you see, clasped in my hand, is a square of such delectable dense flavours and textures, that only a cup of Earl Grey tea sipped alongside it is worthy. On top of the varied fruity contribution inside the dark body of the cake, is a layer of almond marzipan and a topping of royal icing. The cake itself is redolent of brandy, which has been generously added before baking. The whole sensation of a bite of this gourmand delight, is that of a festival. A rejoicing of flavours. A waltz of wonder.

And yet. And yet, I hear it is scorned by a whole body of people. It is repellant to an entire nation. It is an INSULT to give it. I think back to my trips to the supermarket in Georgia, where I went to purchase a proper fruit cake and instead, aisle upon aisle of something called ‘butter cake’ but not made with butter. Cakes resembling polystyrene sugar mounds covered in frosting, so sweet and so lacking in flavour and texture, and leaving an oily aftertaste clinging to the insides of my mouth long after the sugar went down. All the same except for the colour and artificial flavour. If they had cream in between the layers, it was that dreadful ‘non-cream’ called Dairy Whip. (Let me hasten to add, I knew a few excellent American cooks who would have made their own cakes with alacrity. I’m talking about what I found in the bakery aisle.)

Maybe it is something to do with familiarity and what you grew used to growing up. We always baked from scratch at home, and for birthdays, still do. That means getting that rich yellow butter and softening it, and whipping it with some sugar, until creamed. Then adding gradually eggs and flour and the other ingredients, and then a long process of cooking, and then icing it. (Making up the icing from icing sugar, butter, and flavouring). Somehow the effort that goes in comes out in the eating. Birthday cakes used to be fruit cakes too, but gradually have come to embrace a wide range of delectable possibilities from cheese cakes to carrot cake. BUT Christmas cake has always been a fruit cake, and best of all, is one made by oneself, in ones own oven, drenched in brandy or rum, full of soaked dried fruit, and made a few weeks/months before Christmas, to ‘mature’.

For as long as I live, I shall endeavour to keep the legend of the dense, rich, dark fruit cake alive and enjoyed. And just to boost its ratings, I am adding some pics here, for my own pleasure, if not yours.

A positive downhill slide

I thought I’d give you an update on the nutrition plan started early this year. You remember how well it all started, with a drop of 10kgs in the first month? Well, then we had lockdown, and Easter, and heaps of home baking to cope, and before you know it, I was in a steady plateau. Still, it was encouraging, when we came out of lockdown, to find that I had not put it all back on DESPITE these home made goodies consumed in that six weeks:

I’d do it all again! Actually, the thing to remember about my new food plan, is that I am resetting my lifelong habits and forming new ones, so it’s going to be a long slow process. I just enjoyed these buns, and chocolate, and cake, and then continued on my journey.

Since I was doing so well missing three breakfasts a week, and not noticing that too badly, we have upped it to NO breakfast at all, seven days a week. I have a black coffee with a dash of cream mid-morning, and before you know it, it is lunchtime already. THEN I have either the breakfast food I miss and love, or something savoury. And so far so good.

In fact, yesterday I decided to spend a few hours buying and cooking some winter salads and vegetable items, to keep in containers in the fridge. Then when the next few meal times come, I can take a snippet from each one, add protein, and voila! It was a great success and I really enjoyed the meal last night.

Here are the containers waiting for me in the fridge. Mmmmm.

Beetroot and Orange/ roast parsnip/ roast eggplant and cauliflower / brussels sprouts / carrot and feta.

And this morning, my weight showed it was steadily going down again, in tiny increments. Perfect. As proof, I tried on a green puffer jacket worn around Scotland in 2015, but too tight to do up in recent years. Happy sigh.

Winter has truly set in, here in New Zealand, so this puffer jacket will get some wear. We are fortunate in Auckland, though, that we can still walk or cycle all year, so I will be keeping up my exercise as well. I wish you all health and good heart!

A Week into Level 3

Goodness, I’m not sure what happened? I think I slumped into an almost comatose state listening to my audiobooks and watching Lightbox and Netflix and forgot to be communicative. Sorry.

We’ve been a week into level 3 now, which is much like level 4 but with small business opportunities for shopping online, take away food and coffee, and being able to drive within the region to enjoy a break from the house. As a result of all this strict observance, I am thrilled to say that today was the second day WITH NO NEW CASES OF COVID-19! It means that the level 4 lockdown worked, but until the next week goes by, we won’t know if level 3 has maintained the good effort. Watch this space.

On a lighter note, I’ve seen less and less of Con and Rona, who have been disgraceful in their conduct. I’m ashamed to put the following pictures up, but I need to be honest with you, my readers. Last sight of Con was on the front of this newspaper:

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Yes, there he is wandering in a crowd of people NOT keeping their distance. He’s not going to be allowed back inside my bubble, that’s for sure.

And as for Rona! Last seen partying away on Bondi Beach – although how she got to Australia I don’t know. She’s innovative, so probably stowed away on a cargo plane. Another one never intruding in my bubble again.

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I will say, the lockdown obviously did her figure a LOT OF GOOD, unlike my own.

Yes, my most creative efforts have gone into the creation of food, and even so, I’m a bit tired of my own cooking. I have – after a few weeks of more indulgent baking – tightened the belt, emptied the flour bin, ceased buying treats at last. Here are some recent food efforts and you can see they are looking more healthy.

HOWEVER, when we were moved into level 3 a week ago, I cycled to Henderson and stood at a table in front of a cafe I enjoy – Little Sister – who created a delicious take away meal for me. By the time I got it home on my bike tucked under the rack, it was a tad cold, but still very tasty and best of all, cooked by SOMEONE ELSE.

First Takeout

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I am still working two days a week from home for the university, and after a shaky start, all my software and apps are functioning properly. So work is fine, and our online meetings are a fun way to stay in touch.

Auckland region is suffering a drought after weeks and weeks of little rain – we’re nearly at a third capacity in our dams. So it is with some relief I say that some heavy squalls are blowing over right now, and cycling anywhere has become an effort. I went for a long one yesterday in blue skies, and a sudden bank of black cloud blew up and before you know it I was trapped waiting under a motorway overbridge while rain poured down. Eventually I just gave up and got wet, and was thrilled that my battery took the brunt of the sturdy headwinds coming my way and the icy rain that hammered my head. How refreshing!

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I’ll leave this update with some pics that I shared to my workplace, as part of our fun social communication these days. We were asked to provide some pics of our travel in the past, and how we might recreate it during lockdown, so these were a fun memory brought to life from home. Enjoy.OnLewisandHarrisIONAParis

Day 27 – just one more week . . .

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Lucas van Leyden – an artist late in 1400s, anticipating the Coronavirus this century, painted this depiction of ‘Life in Lockdown’, and it bears a strong resemblance to Con, Rona and I this last week.

We’ve run out of ideas for entertainment and are just playing cards. As you would expect, Con is cheating and Rona has yet to master the elemental ideas of the game, but it’s passing the time.

Yesterday at 4pm, our prime minister announced ‘Just one more week’ and we could all move to level 3, which will look a lot like level 4 but with more classrooms open and more coffee available for pick up. Well, she said more than that, but the gist is ‘stay at home unless you are an essential worker or can find a way to get your small business operating safely.’ I’m happy with that.

It’s still a very strange feeling and occasionally as I sit on the couch watching the news again, I wonder when I’m going to wake up and find it was all a rather bizarre dream. I think it’s going to take a long while to realise that we are all very much awake but life is not as we have known it. For me, it has been relatively easy. I’ve still got my job at the University, and my flatmate has his own job too. I’ve been able to work from home, and catch up on a lot of things I enjoy doing, or needed to do. Friends and family have had it much harder, some estranged from beloved children who have just become parents, and struggling to deal with the keeping a distance thing. Others who have been made redundant and wonder what is next. I know some who’ve had the virus and – hopefully – have made a good recovery. I’m certainly not complaining about my lot.

There have been some positives in all this, not the least being how more consciously kind people have been to each other. That has been noticeable in the local community on walks and in the posts on the FB page. We got a huge avocado left in our letterbox by a neighbour yesterday. I get the sense that we will not take things so much for granted as we did once. Those service industries that are so essential (nurses, teachers come to mind), who have for years received less pay than the private sector are now the focus of our love and attention. They really DO deserve the pay increases they have asked for. Rubbish collectors, cleaners, dairy owners, supermarket workers . . . all of these less glamorous jobs at last receiving gratitude from a nation that needs them.

Anyway, the hours tick by with a certain swing to them, and I am surprised to find it the end of another day and have to dig deeper to remember which day of the week it is.

This was meant to be a funny post, but it’s gone all contemplative. (I must write them when I first wake up.)

The highlight to look forward to tomorrow is a trip to the supermarket! Yes, it’s been a week and we’re almost out of milk. Will I go by foot, bike or car? The choices the choices. Until next time then . . . stay safe, stay calm, be kind.

Day 21 – the light at the end of the tunnel

Where did the last six days go? It’s not like I’m frantically busy or anything. Suddenly I’m getting the occasional request – well, alright – ONE request for what is happening with Con and Rona, and realise that you don’t know what’s been happening in my exciting bubble lately. In a word – it’s starting to feel quite small, constricting even.

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I started a jigsaw puzzle, and have set Con and Rona up to keep going at it while I get on with more important things. Needless to say, they haven’t found a piece that fits yet, but I was hopeful boredom would drive them to it. What I did NOT expect to be driven, was my car – by Rona – in an attempt to flee the bubble and expand her horizons. She didn’t get far!

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I am so ashamed of her – and planned a bubble within a bubble experience for her upon return. However, she seems to have convinced the policeman that she was an essential worker, caring for someone vulnerable (who? Con?? She can’t mean me surely). The next thing you know I’m settling in for the 1pm COVID-19 update on TV1 and I see the prime minister has brought in an essential worker to explain the state of the most vulnerable to the nation.

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Worse than anything she might reveal about the state of our own bubble, is the fact that she is wearing a dressing gown. AND not keeping a 2 metre distance from Jacinda Ardern, who is looking decidedly uncomfortable. (Join the club, PM!)

Just wait til Rona gets home! LOCKDOWN is going to take on new meaning at this address.

Aside from Rona’s antics, I’ve noticed how little hot water we seem to have left, and this morning I discovered just why:
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Con has been soaking in hot baths having read somewhere that hot water destroys the virus. I might just duck his head under and hold it there for a while. Especially since he also made a run for it over the Easter break, dressing up in a suit and being found in the front of a chocolate shop window completely overglutted in chocolate. (Reminds me of a movie I once saw).
Chocolate Window

As you can see, it’s been very trying – I can only warn you all not to make your own companions next time you feel a surge of potential loneliness take you. It’s just not worth it.

Moving on from Con and Rona (happy sigh), I must say Easter was very pleasant. Not that we’re going anywhere or doing anything, but there was no guilt attached to either. Now I need to pull up my socks and find activities to fill my days, and hope all the rubber bands are in place for work from home over the next two days. I have – sadly – eaten far too many chocolate easter eggs and hot cross buns. And done a spot of my own baking yesterday (shortbread). In between all the naughty food, I still attempt to retain some normalcy in my low carb, no sugar diet (ha ha ha ha ha). It’s like there are two of me. As soon as this blog is finished I am going out into the wild winds and doing even a kilometre of walking. I have already covered every street in the peninsula by bicycle:

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I’ve watched a fair amount of Lightbox (I’ll buy into Netflix when I’ve seen everything on LB). I’ve listened to a sturdy amount of audiobook (Dorothy Dunnett). I’ve photographed some spectacular dawns and sunsets around the locality:

And like you all, spent some time using video calls to catch up with friends. The days have been taking on a certain rhythm. The long sunny days of Autumn have given way to the wet and windy gusts, a prelude to the coming winter. I hope you are all maintaining your health, your bubble and your good cheer. I won’t mention physique in the same sentence. On that note, I’ll head out into the wet and wild right now. Au Revoir.
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Day 15 – the downward slope

You know that feeling when you are hiking up a steep incline and suddenly you sense the ground levelling and maybe around the corner you’ll see the peak? That’s where we are in New Zealand right now. The lowest number of cases of COVID-19 since lockdown 2 weeks ago. Yay!!!!

Today is blustery and wet so I’ve only managed one short walk but after this post I’m getting the bike out. It’s going to take the battery bike to beat this wind! My walk took me past another much smaller ‘I Spy’ tree. Covered in wee ornaments with a handmade sign. So cute.

Yesterday I managed another portion of the Peninsula on the bike but I’ll save the map for the next post. Managing some pretty good lockdown meals though – check these out:

And that’s just lunch!

Con has been disturbing the peace again! I caught him scoffing through plastic AND hot cross buns today. What a pig!

Fortunately they weren’t MY buns, just my flatmates so wasn’t too worried.

I’ve done my work for the University and now watched the rain come again. Maybe I will just press play on the remote!

Happy Easter All!

Day 13 – getting hot and cross

So I thought it was Day 12, but when I do the calculations, I’ve lost a day in here somewhere and it is actually Day 13. Forgive me. One thing we are very grateful for, here in the Peninsula, is the long view we have over the harbour, so accessible to all on their walks. This mornings:

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Last night I did the third of my rambles around the Peninsula, filling in the green bit on this map.
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I took Rona in hand today and decided to teach her to bake. It was time to try out some ‘Pull-apart Hot Cross Buns’ in time for Easter.
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As you can see, she was remarkably willing.

The recipe looked easy and quick – a miracle for anything involving yeast – and before you ask, you can find it here

The turned out out really well – just like the picture.

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I’m going to freeze some and pick them off day by day.
I enjoyed the early morning walk this morning, seeing the number of trees with leaves changing colour. Later in the morning I did an hour’s work for AUT University, and finished at lunchtime.
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And this evening after dinner, with the night come earlier than expected (Daylight saving last weekend) I joined my sister – keeping a good distance between us – on a night ride beneath the full moon. Really well worth getting out on the absolutely quiet streets. Some stunning views across the harbour to the full moon. See below:

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With that last lovely picture still in my mind, I’m going to download my next audio book and start listening.  Thanks for keeping up with me.