Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Year end: Book round-up

This year I was fortunate to do alot of reading. The reading bug goes in phases for me but it primarily depends on the amount of free time I have. This year with no house moving, no new baby and no job I had quite a bit of time to read. You'll notice a New England theme later in the list with 1776, Alcott, Thoreau and Stowe. There are a number of books on the list that I would NOT recommend so if you are interested check with me and I'll fill you in.

Here they are in time order of reading (my top three are highlighted):

  1. Catch 22 - Jospeh Heller
  2. Living a beautiful life - Alexandra Stoddard
  3. The problem of pain - C S Lewis
  4. Twice Adopted - Michael Reagan (personally signed book!)
  5. White teeth - Zadie Smith
  6. The unchurched next door - Thom Rainer
  7. Girl meets God - Lauren Winner
  8. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - Ian Fleming
  9. The inheritance of loss - Kiran Desai
  10. The letters of E B White (all 685 pages!)
  11. 90 minutes in heaven - Don Piper
  12. Gluten free girl - Shauna James Ahern
  13. The gift of the sea - Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  14. The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
  15. If I was God I'd end all the pain - John Dickson
  16. Granta 100
  17. Granta 101
  18. Granta 102
  19. Granta 103
  20. A shepherd's guide to psalm 23 - Phillip Keller
  21. Drinking coffee elsewhere - Z Z Packer
  22. Book by book - Michael Dirda
  23. Mudhouse Sabbath - Lauren Winner
  24. The know it all - A J Jacobs
  25. The red tent - Anita Diamant
  26. The mermaid chair - Sue Monk Kidd
  27. Midnight's children - Salman Rushdie
  28. Classics for pleasure - Michael Dirda
  29. 1776 - David McCullough
  30. Kafka's soup - Mark Crick
  31. Arthur & George - Julian Barnes
  32. Eden's Outcasts (The story of Louisa May Alcott and her father) - John Matteson
  33. Uncle Tom's cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe (second reading)
  34. The strong willed child - Dr James Dobson
  35. The god of small things - Arundhati Roy
  36. Walden; or Life in the woods - Henry David Thoreau
  37. Multiple blessings - Jon & Kate Gosselin
  38. Nothing in my hand I bring - Ray Galea
  39. The Shack - William Young
  40. The catcher in the rye - J D Salinger
  41. Seven types of ambiguity - Elliot Perlman (another 600+ pages, been carrying this around since '04, finally read this excellent book in just 1 week)

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Weekend roadtrip

We had planned to see out 2008 with a roadtrip to some Southern states based around Atlanta GA. However we realised that we needed to make a financial decision between buying the stonework for the pizza oven or going on the holiday. We chose the pizza oven mostly because we are obligated to complete it within one year of the county approvals but also because we are practical people!

Feeling a little glum I had a look at our list of potential weekend getaways and quickly joined the dots to determine that we should visit NC's capital city Raleigh to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit before it finishes in early January.
So last weekend we took the 2 hour drive up the I40 to visit this city that surprisingly we had not been to before (on our way home from Asheville last year we spent a night in Durham to see Duke chapel and then had lunch at the Raleigh Farmers Market but didn't enter the city)

Dead Sea Scrolls and the Natural Sciences museum
At the museum we did some fun things for Lucy including visiting the discovery room (seen left) before visiting the scrolls. Whilst we didn't find the exhibition to be very well organised (we had timed tickets but we ended up in a small hot waiting room full of pushing Americans trying to get through to the scroll room) we found the exhibition to be very interesting. Lucy wasn't too impressed given the large numbers of people which meant we didn't stay for long. The exhibition was in 2 parts - the first being the history around the discovery and sale of the scrolls in the late 1940's and 50's and the second being a dark room with several scroll fragments. Ironically Duke had a scroll exhibition in 1950 where 3 full scrolls were displayed but declined to buy them. At this exhibit we saw 11 small fragments of various biblical and non-bibilical texts. It was awesome to see some Genesis, Exodus and Isaiah extracts and see how the translations are still the same today.
NC State Capitol building
We toured the old Capitol building just down the street from the Natural Sciences museum. It was fun to see the George Washington statue, a unique one around the world as it shows him dressed as a Roman general writing in Italian on a tablet. (Apparently this just proves the ignorance of North Carolinians as he probably wouldn't have approved of this) It was also interesting to learn that NC has provided 3 US presidents, Andrew Johnson being one of only 2 presidents ever to be impeached (more NC embarrassment!)

Dining at Vivace
Although there wasn't long to plan this trip I did track down a list of the top 20 restaurants in the Triangle area (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill). Focussing on Raleigh we decided to try out Vivace, a modern Italian restaurant just 5 minutes from our hotel. We loved it! Great food, atmosphere and spectacular service. Andrew enjoyed the lamb carpaccio, Lucy discovered gnocchi and condensed milk gelato (separately!) and Fiona closed the extensive Italian wine and cocktail menu very fast. We will definitely visit here again next time (or maybe we'll just work through the top 20 list?)

Captain John S Pope Lamb Farm
Whilst in Raleigh we took the opportunity to visit a lamb farm in Cedar Grove, an hour north of the city. These are Dorper lambs that are raised on grass and hay alone (no grain feed, no hormones, no antibitotics etc) on a property owned by the Pope family for over 200 years. We saw lots of cute lambs, a llama, sheep dogs and toured the old farmhouse. Farmer Bob was very generous in spending the morning with us to drive to the farm and then tour us around. He even took us on a detour on the way back to see the town of Hillsborough (one of 3 previous state capitals before Raleigh) Lucy loved seeing all the animals but kept complaining that the farm was 'smelly'. We came back with an esky/cooler full of lamb with plans to meet up with Bob some time in the new year to order some more.

NC Museum of Art
After the farm visit we stopped in at the NC Museum of Art for a late brunch. Another excellent meal with fresh orange juice, scones, poached eggs and waffles. It might not sound that exciting to our Aussies friends but finding an independent restaurant that provides excellent food and service is hard to find in the Southern US so we revel in these opportunities. We then took the opportunity to look around at some art (Lucy ran around the galleries in great delight after being strapped into her car seat for most of the morning). Unfortunately there wasn't much worth seeing, with the displays comprising of minor painters working in the style of famous counterparts. Given that we have seen the real Caravaggios, Rembrandts and Vermeers this museum was pretty disappointing. Even the classical wing had just 1 mosaic (of unknown origin), 1 roman general marble statue (with no head or limbs), 3 greek amphoras etc etc (these all looked like unworthy leftovers from European museums). The museum is to triple in size in 2010 with some brand new buildings - I just hope they buy some art worthy of the construction.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Year end: Vacations & Visitors

One of our favorites things is to travel. This year we increased our number of US state visits to 16 as we went on three vacations. Just writing this blog has allowed me a lovely hour of reminiscing.

Outer Banks - We stayed in a beach house in the small town of Waves. The ocean was just a short walk over the dunes from our backyard. We enjoyed the wonderful company of the Vega family as we ate lots of pavlova, relaxed at the beach and visited the Wrights Brothers monument. See the photos here and read the preliminary blog here

Washington DC & Williamsburg - 10 days of soaking in US history. We had an awesome time exploring museums and eating at good restaurants. Read the blog here, see the photos here, read Fiona's highlights, Andrew's highlights and Lucy's highlights.

Boston/New England - Whilst based in Boston we managed to visit a few other states including New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island. See our series of Boston bite blogs.

We had a number of overseas visitors including Aunties Julie and Lynda in February, Auntie Kat in September (for her birthday of course) with friends Collin and Steve, and Grandma Lamberton in October.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Product of the week - Kiwano

Here's the scoop from Wikipedia (once I read the eating instructions I chickened out of tasting this one):

The horned melon, also called melano, African horned cucumber or melon, jelly melon, hedged gourd, English tomato, or kiwano, is the vine Cucumis metuliferus and is of African origin. It is grown for its fruit, which looks like an oval melon with horn-like spines. The fruit of this plant is edible, but it is used as often for decoration as for food. ... Its' tastes has been compared to a combination of cucumber and zucchini or a combination of banana, cucumber and lemon.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Weekend highs and lows

Family update: In between Christmas parties (two - Elizabeth & Trung's and one at church) I've been in bed sick. Lucy has been using this time imaginatively by 'going to the beach' which means putting on her swimming costume and loading up a wagon with hats, sunscreen, food, clothes (and whatever else she deems necessary) For some reason she thinks lots of socks are required as she doesn't want to get sandy feet (even though she has NEVER worn socks to the beach before and likes the feeling of sand) Needless to say there is stuff everywhere! Andrew has been cooking and tidying up as well as working on the pizza oven.

Pizza oven update: We are ordering the stones today and wood in being delivered this afternoon

Weather update: Last week it was 20-25 degree celsius every day. It was awesome. Today's temperature range is 4 to -7 degrees celsius! Christmas day ironically will be back to 22 degrees!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

From the mouth of babes!

We have a nativity set that Lucy is allowed to play with (which she does regularly). In a hysterical turn of events she put one of the wise men in time-out because he woke up baby Jesus!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Pizza oven update #5564

As you can see the structure is really starting to take shape. Andrew cut the angular bricks for the roof structure to sit on. He is pretty keen to get working again after a weather hiatus over the past 3 weeks (it has been below freezing at night which means he can't work with concrete as it won't set at those temperatures)

This week the weather is supposed to between 13-20C so I'm sure some more progress will be made. We've been checking out various colours of stonework and hopefully we will make a decision within a week so that we can order it in before Christmas.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Product of the week - Pepino melon

An exotic fruit from Harris Teeter. It tastes kind of like rock melon (cantaloupe) but less sweet. I asked Lucy what she thought (she doesn't like any kind of melon) and she said "naughty dose"?

Here are the details:

Pepino melon is native to Peru, but is now also grown in California and New Zealand. It is also known as treemelon, bush melon and mellowfruit. Pepino’s are teardrop shaped and have a smooth skin that is striped with yellow and dark purple. The flesh of this fruit is fragrant and combines the tastes of cantaloupe and honeydew. Pepinos are available late fall to mid-spring. Fruits with a light yellow or green skin are not ripe, while fruits with dark purple stripes are ripe. Ripen at room temperature until as firm as a slightly ripe plum, then refrigerate ripe fruit for up to 3 days. Pepinos are best served peeled and cubed or sliced.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Weekend shopping and jumping

Saturday morning saw myself, Alexis and Jackie driving down to Myrtle Beach SC to hit the outlet stores. Lucy scored big with some new clothes, a pair of shoes and several hair bows (as modeled) whilst Andrew got a lot of new work shirts. The outlet mall had about 50 shops within the one area so it wasn't exactly factory outlet bargains but there were still good deals to be had. There were a number of brands I had never seen before like Harry & David's and KB Toys so it was fun to check what that had in stock.

On the way I learnt a few interesting things about South Carolina, for instance tattoo parlours are illegal but full nudity strip shows, pornography shops and fireworks are legal. It seems like a very strange state!

Andrew and Lucy in the meantime went to Monkey Joes, a play area with lots of inflatable slides and castles. They had a great time but Lucy told me that 'Monkey Joe is scary' (someone was dressed up in monkey suit for all the birthday parties going on and she was happy to see him from a distance but not so happy when he came up close)

On Sunday night we visited Mary Lou and Bill (Grammy Lou and Poppy) for dinner. Lucy is very attached to Poppy and spent most of the night following him around. She even got an early Christmas present!

Stay tuned over the next few days for updates on the pizza oven.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Blooming roses

This season our amazing rose bush produced 241 roses starting on 17 April and going through to 18 November! There are still a couple of unopened buds on the bush but given the very chilly weather I think they are dead. The April roses are definitely the best ones - large, long lasting and extremely fragrant.
What do we do to enable this abundance of flowers? Lots of pruning and a little fertiliser. And then we sit back and smell the roses!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

In thinking about Santa

In our household we don't 'do' Santa for Christmas. We don't pretend he is real, he doesn't bring presents to Lucy and we don't go to the mall for Santa photos.

We have three simple reasons for doing this:

1. Christmas is about Jesus

2. We don't like lying.

3. Santa was created by Coca-Cola to promote consumerism. [Don't get me started on this one!]

Not everyone likes our decision but don't worry we'll be teaching Lucy not to say anything to other kids. She won't be running around telling other kids that Santa isn't real. She'll know other families pretend Santa is real and she'll just go along with it. [By the way both Andrew and I had Santa as kids and loved it]

And Lucy in no way misses out. We are already having an awesome Christmas season. And she doesn't even have to be good to get presents! We give her presents because we love her and she doesn't have to worry about some one secretly spying on her to see if she was naughty or nice!!

For a really well explained explanation of why not to do Santa check out Nicole's blog.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Ornament and Cookie Exchange

On Sunday afternoon we headed over to Alexis, Tim and Lilia's house to make Christmas ornaments and exchange cookies for our annual family party for our mom's group. After much persuasion, threatening and several timeouts Lucy, under duress, made a handprint in the clay. Two sugar cookies later and she was more than happy to paint the handprint (complete with the bobble from her knitted Grandma jumper) We had a fun time with Rock Band and then Wii bowling before coming home with a tin full of sugary treats. After such a full weekend we are very tired but happy!

(Btw we took cookies made from a recipe in our Lindt cookbook - milk chocolate maple and macademia! Not very sweet, in fact very unsweet but still very good)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Product of the week - Chayote squash

Yes Australians, this is the humble choko. When I was hawking fruit in Bethlehem during the nativity someone asked me what this strange green fruit was. I said choko! And got some strange looks! I was pretty surprised to see one as I hadn't seen any since we moved here. It seems that the choko has many names. The main one used here is 'chayote squash' and it is grown in Costa Rica. It is apparently a staple of the Mexican diet and I'm surprised we haven't come across it sooner. Not that we have missed it in anyway given that it tastes like... nothing!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Living Nativity

Friday and Saturday nights saw us in Bethlehem! Our church put on its annual living nativity drama and it was AWESOME! Three months of construction had produced a set complete with Herod's palace, the temple, a large marketplace and inn, stable, cross and tomb. The set was filled with about 50 actors, and numerous goats, ducks, peacocks, horses and donkeys. Over 1200 people visited the nativity to hear the story of Jesus.

We were so busy that we didn't take any photos but you can check out previous years here.

Andrew was a shepherd for most of the night but did get to feature as Joseph for a little while, whilst Fiona was a fruit seller in the market place. Although it was REALLY cold, and we were outside for 3 hours, we had plenty of layers of clothes under our costumes. Lucy was well looked after in the nursery and very much enjoyed going through the set to find a real baby Jesus.

So although we didn't have a romantic dinner together, nor fly to Hawaii to renew our vows, nor revisit our honeymoon location we were very happy to have pizza together in the church hall to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Silver alert, call 511

Whilst driving along the 40 last week, a large electronic traffic sign said "Silver alert, call 511"

It sounded kind of scary but I had no idea what it meant. Here's the scoop:

"The new “Silver Alert” was officially launched Tuesday [December 2007]. State officials say it's much like he Amber Alert used to tell the public when a child has gone missing. A Silver Alert will be issued when people wander away from their homes or nursing facilities. Its biggest benefit is the ability to spread word of a missing person quickly and over a wide area."

It seems a silver alert is to track missing pensioners. Who knew?

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

A spade is not a pizza peel

The pizza tools have arrived! My cake tins are saved!
Here's the rundown:
  • 1 long pizza peel
  • 1 short pizza peel (actually this is exactly the right size for Lucy)
  • 20 10-inch pizza trays
  • 1 dough docker
  • 2 pie pans
  • 1 rolling pin
  • 1 chopping board
  • 1 long handled wire brush
  • 1 bowl
  • 1 tin of tomato puree

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Product of the week - Tea biscuits

There's nothing particularly special about these biscuits. Except that they are called biscuits and they are for tea. Unusual as not many people seem to drink hot tea! (They drink sweet tea here in the south of course!) Simple plain tea biscuits. Yay!

Monday, 1 December 2008

It's Christmas Time!

It's Christmas time, but it's not Christmas! Explain this to a 2.5 year old who can see wrapped presents under our Christmas tree and can't understand why she can't rip them open. Look at her posing with her pink Lucinda ball! Look at Andrew struggling with the tree! (I was lucky to get this photo as I was laughing so much at him trying to get in the house - reminds me of a very funny mattress incident!)

Andrew went out on Saturday to buy a Christmas tree. His instructions were 'to get the biggest tree that could fit in the car'. As it turns out, that is a very large tree! Especially when the growers use special netting to keep the branches protected. So we ended up with a 10 foot NC-grown fraser fir. Wilmington prides itself on having the world's largest living Christmas tree and I think we are in contention for the largest personal tree at home. It is huge! Thankfully I had stocked up on decorations in January when the sales were on so we had enough to cover the tree.

To take the stress out of Christmas and focus on the real meaning of Christmas we have done a few things to get the stress out of the way!

1. We each get 2 presents only, 1 big and 1 small. All presents were purchased in November, wrapped and are now sitting under the tree. Already I feel a tendency to want to buy more (esp. given the dozen or so catalogues I receive EVERY DAY in the mail) but I am fighting this and will stay firm. We already have more than we need.

2. All Christmas cards have been written and mailed on 1 December.

3. Our calendar is booked. We have locked in various Christmas parties, scheduled the required cookie baking days and now are looking forward to celebrating. (Yes, Australians, it is almost compulsory to bake cookies at Christmas and give them to your friends. This year I am trying out a macademia and milk chocolate cookie from my Lindt cookbook)

Advent calendar

This morning Lucy was very excited to open the first door on the advent calendar! It is a magnetic board that each day reveals a piece of the nativity scene. We read from Luke and then Lucy opened door number 1 to find a star magnet.