Showing posts from 2015

More signs of Christmas approaching :-)

Every year in the weeks before Christmas, members of my 'almost family' come to visit.  They're the people who used to run the holiday camp I attended as a child.  Back then they had three kids, now they have 11, and two of them have kids of their own now, too!

This year the Mum came, along with her two youngest and the daughter named after me.  All three of them played the harp for me while they were here :-)  The eldest child (who's 6 years younger than me) came as well, along with her own three kids.

It was so nice to see them all, and to hear how very well they're all doing :-)

Every year we also like to deliver small Christmas gifts to a few of the neighbours.  Usually we put together little bags of assorted home-made biscuits and sweets.  This year, to make things simpler, we'll be giving small Christmas cakes instead.

Christmas is coming!

The bleeding heart vine I was given last Christmas is growing back after it's winter hibernation and even has it's first few flowers:

Our advent wreath is standing ready for us to light the first candle this evening:

And Martin got his first real sunburn of the season yesterday!

Bike polo on TV3 news

The recent national bike polo championships featured on TV3 news last night.  You can see the clip here: see if you can spot Martin!  He's on at about 30 seconds in - leaning on the far wall of the court keeping track of timing and the score on a laptop.

Responding to the terrorist attacks in Paris

A friend posted on Facebook today:
The hard question is, if bombing them (etc) in retaliation isn't the answer, then what is? Here's my response:
I think (recent) history makes it pretty clear that bombing will make things worse. Therefore, the least we can do is do nothing: at least that won't make stuff worse. It's not like we actually have to make an active response to everything that happens (or even that we do...), although doing nothing may not 'fly' very well politically in France right now.
In terms of things that would be actually positive, I think we need to show that we care about the people who are victims of the crazy wars going on in Yemen, Syria etc. at the moment.
At a political level, that means things like: - spending money on feeding refugees in the countries around Syria (the World Food Programme has recently had to cut everyone's rations in recent weeks as governments - like ours - aren't giving them much money) and providing whatever …

Commercial Fair Trade ice cream comes to New Zealand!

It's been kind of a fun challenge trying to figure out how to make fair trade cookies and cream ice cream, but I'm super-excited that I'm not going to have to any more!  According to the Herald, Ben and Jerry's is coming to Auckland in January :-)  They're a US chain that uses only fair trade bananas, cocoa, vanilla, sugar and coffee in all their ice cream.  I've never had their stuff, but it's apparently also super-yum :-)

Of course, I may still have to make my own fair trade jelly tip ice creams, as that's such a Kiwi flavour I don't know if they'd stock it, but it's still very exciting news!

Cookies and cream ice cream

Martin's rather fond of cookies-and-cream ice cream, but we don't buy it because you can't get it fair trade.  The other day, I decided to see how hard it would be to make it.

I've always been put off, as it involves crushing oreo biscuits into vanilla ice cream: you can't get fair trade oreos, and surely they'd be hard to make?  The answer turns out to be 'not really'.  Especially as you're going to be crushing them anyway, so there's no need to stamp the dough out into circles or assemble them into sandwiches :-)

To be fair, Martin doesn't reckon the biscuits tasted much like oreos (I assembled one just for him), but the icecream worked out well all the same.



150g butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

75g butter, softened
4 tsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
pinch salt
2 cups icing sugar (may need up to 1/3 cup more)

2 litres vanilla icecre…

Kākā Cam

In recent weeks I've been greatly enjoying watching kākā cam: a live stream of a kākā nest.  It's a project of Wellington City Council - one of a 'halo' of nesting boxes they've set up around Zealandia.

When Sarah first introduced it to me a couple of weeks ago, the chicks were just (highly active) balls of fluff.  Now their wings seem to be almost fully fledged and they have distinct parrot beaks.  They keep trying to flex their wings and to (presumably) sharpen their beaks on the wooden walls of the nest, although their main activities continue to be standing on each other and wrestling :-)  Yesterday I noticed their mum grooming them for the first time, and she seems to be spending much greater periods away from the nest now than she used to.  They're not changing so much day-to-day as they were earlier, but I'm still finding it fascinating.  I've never been able to watch a nest like this before and I'm loving it!

PS It seems to use very little b…

Human selfishness/sinfulness

Update: a video of me sharing this story at my church is now available here.
Recently, a friend came over for a cuppa.  There'd been a story in the news about some restaurant owners who'd been paying their staff well under minimum wage and making them work huge numbers of hours per week.

My friend was flabbergasted by the situation.  She kept saying she couldn't understand it, and struggled to understand 'man's inhumanity to man'.

Her reaction surprised me: it didn't seem that difficult to understand.  To me, it was yet another example of the selfishness that runs deep in all of us.

I felt I didn't respond to her comments very well at the time: I kept on referring to other 'distant' situations so kept the focus on 'those terrible people', rather than on how we all do this kind of thing.  But I kept thinking about it and came to feel that God wanted me to raise it again with her and tell her how I saw the situation.  I've been prayin…

Christmas presents done!

I can't quite believe it!

I set myself a target of finishing our Christmas presents and Christmas letter two months before my brother and family arrive, in order to give myself a good opportunity to rest.  It didn't really feel possible, but I found a bunch of ways to simplify what I normally do and gave it my best shot.  And now, right on target, all the presents (except for perishable food ones) are not only done, but wrapped!  I doubt the Christmas letter will be finished by the end of today, but I've still done much better than I really believed possible :-)


Kelly Tarlton's

On Tuesday we visited Kelly Tarlton's.  It's been in the planning for around a year, and we were delighted to finally make it reality!  My recent cold and ear troubles meant I wasn't as well-rested beforehand as would have been ideal, but we managed to spend around four hours there (including lunch and two substantial rest breaks) and got around the whole display.  It was great!  Very tired now, though :-(

You can see more photos from our visit on flickr, here.  Click on each photo for a description of what's going on.  Make sure you mute your computer's audio before viewing either of the videos: our camera adds horrid sounds to all videos...

The next two months are now blocked out for resting: my brother and his family will be visiting in December/January, as will Martin's Thai sister and her husband.  No more fun outings till they arrive, and no more seeing my friends till well after they've gone.  It was great we got to sneak this in first :-)

Confronted by the things I've lost

The other day we drove to my parents' place (about 25 minutes across town) to stay with my parents for a week over my birthday.  As we went along the motorway, I became more and more sad.  Seeing people briskly going about their business, seeing how expansive the world was, confronted me and filled me with sadness.  I can't interact with that big world: it's too fast and too overwhelming to me.  But once upon a time I was part of it.  Mostly, I manage to kind of forget that it exists.  Seeing it yesterday (and perhaps seeing it when I'm run down, dealing with a cold and perforated eardrum) somehow made me have to face that it's still there but it's no longer something I can be part of.

I think I mostly manage to 'pass' as normal.  I've constructed my life such that, when people see me, I have enough energy to interact with them.  I think few people realise how little energy I have.  I've filled my life with fun things and useful work - so I gues…

Spring has sprung!


Marriage in the context of 'calling'

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about the purpose of marriage.

New Zealand has recently allowed marriage between same-sex couples.  This has led to the national body of my Christian denomination, the Baptist Union, to establish a working party to determine whether or not Baptist pastors should be permitted to perform such marriages.  Our church has also been running a sermon series on relationships recently, with last Sunday's sermon being on marriage.

The debate I've heard has mainly centred on who Christians/churches believe should be permitted to marry.  However, a blog post by Tim Bulkeley made me think about the broader question of 'what is marriage for'.

Tim is an Old Testament theologian and former lecturer at Carey College, the institution that trains most Kiwi Baptist pastors.  His blog post explores his concern that we 'lack a theology of marriage and sex' and thus fall back to tradition when questions (such as the current ones on gay marriage)…

Supporting refugees ourselves

There's been a lot of calls recently for New Zealand to increase its refugee quota in response to the crisis in Syria.

I'm all for that, but I can understand the government getting antsy about the additional cost.  But what if we took on that cost ourselves?

In Canada, people can sponsor extra refugees in addition to the quota.  Refugees coming in this way don't have access to state benefits or housing for the first year: the sponsor(s) have to house them and pay their living expenses for that time.  Presumably the assumption is, after they've been around for a year, chances are they'll be in a fit state to provide for themselves and so will never have needed state assistance.

Someone has started a petition calling for a similar thing to be instituted here.  You can sign it here.

I think it's a really good idea.  I'm pretty sure my church, which has around 80 adult members, could pay the rent on a three-bedroom unit for a year, and could probably stump up $…

Parliamentary inquiry into assisted dying

A couple of days ago on Radio New Zealand National I heard this interview with Simon O'Connor.  He's chairing a Parliamentary Select Committee which is canvassing public attitudes on medically assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or irreversible condition which makes life unbearable.

If you'd like your personal attitude to be included in the mix, you can make an online submission here.  Submissions are open until February 1st but, if you don't want to end up leaving it until it's too late, you might like to make a submission soon :-)  Also, they're hearing oral submissions as they go along, so if you want to make such a submission, you shouldn't have to wait too long for that after you put the written one in.

Fair trade jelly tip icecreams :-)

Back before we stopped eating regular chocolate, I was rather fond of jelly tip ice creams.  Recently, I've begun to wonder if I could make my own.  It turned out to be pretty easy - and very yummy :-)  The only difference is that you can't make them popsicle-shaped: a home freezer doesn't get cold enough to make the icecream sufficiently rigid to get it out of the moulds, so my jelly-tips are squat and fat.

Jelly (based on this, and other internet sites I've lost track of)

1T raspberry jelly crystals (1 box is 95-100mL)
1T + 1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup boiling water

Dissolve jelly crystals and sugar in boiling water.  Make sure everything's fully dissolved - may need to microwave it to achieve this.  Pour into four 100-150mL disposable paper cups and freeze at least 3 hours.

Adding icecream (based on this)

Slightly soften approx 1.5C vanilla icecream and spoon into cups.  Add posicle sticks, teaspoons or sticks from iceblock molds and freeze overnight.

Chocolate coating (ba…

Fair Trade White Chocolate - an update

Since my previous post on chocolate-making I've learned one important thing: whilst it's relatively easy to make nicely-flavoured white chocolate, nicely-textured white chocolate is much more complicated!

Commercial chocolate-making involves three further steps beyond a simple mixing of ingredients: refining, conching and tempering.  Since my previous post, I've been learning about the first of these.

'Refining' chocolate involves grinding the particles in the chocolate (including the fat globules) till they are so small that your tongue can't detect them.  Commercially, this is done using either roll refiners (forcing the chocolate up a series of stacked rollers not unlike the rollers in an old-fashioned wringer washing machine) or a ball mill.

On a domestic scale, the 'state of the art' solution is the Spectra 11 Melanger.  Investing in such an expensive piece of equipment seemed insane for my purposes, but it gave me a clue.  The Spectra 11 is a modi…

Splashes of colour :-)

It's bitterly cold in Auckland at the moment (it got down to 3 overnight last night) and, whilst today is brilliantly sunny, there've been a number of very grey days recently.

However, even on the greyest day, there are two splashes of colour in our garden that make me smile every day :-)

Firstly, the brilliant calendulas in the garden outside my bedroom window.  These were supposed to be a companion planting with our summer vegies, but they've waited until the last few weeks to flower.  There isn't much in the garden for them to attract beneficial insects to or lure bad insects from (I can't honestly remember which they were supposed to do), but their brilliant colour delights me!

Secondly, our grapefruit has begun to fruit for the first time this year.  We've probably had about 10 grapefruit so far, and there's a few more to come.  They're yummy to eat, but also a delight to see, glowing brilliantly on their tree.

The cost of flying

Later this month, Martin's off to San Francisco for a work meeting.  This won't be featured in our calculations of our carbon footprints: if work incurs the financial cost of the trip, we figure they (and, ultimately, their customers) incur the carbon cost, too.

All the same, I was wondering what the carbon cost would be, so I plugged his flights into Atmosfair.  He'll be flying economy and one way he'll be on a 777-300ER and the other way on a 777-200ER.

I was genuinely shocked to find that the carbon emissions of these flights add up to a massive 8.8T of CO2e!  That's the same as the carbon emissions from every aspect of both our lifestyles over anentire year!!!!

In the context of Martin's work, I don't think these emissions are unreasonable.  Hapara make software that's used by vast numbers of students.  Their business does seem to require a remarkable number of flights between their Auckland and San Francisco offices but, even if 100 such flights ar…

Should our church pay staff at least the Living Wage?

Going through the budget prior to our church's recent AGM, I noticed that several of our staff didn't seem to have had a pay increase for some time.  As I was thinking about that, I also wondered whether they were receiving a 'living wage'.  After all, I know that churches sometimes skimp a bit on salaries so they can make more funds available to other aspects of their work and I didn't want us to be doing that.

I raised this with the elders and then ultimately Martin, on my behalf, raised it with the whole church at the AGM.  The church decided to appoint a working group to investigate this and bring a proposal to the church at next year's AGM.  To encourage the whole church engage in this discussion, I was asked to email the church with my thoughts on all this.  As this is something I've been thinking about a lot in recent years, I wanted to share it here, too.

Dear Church Family,

At the AGM, the church agreed to appoint a working group to look into our pol…

Climate change effects: vegan diet vs. flying

At a recent bike polo tournament, a vegan friend asked Martin if he was going to be going to the upcoming World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship in Timaru.  Martin replied that he wasn't because he didn't want to incur the carbon impact of flying.*  His friend said he should go vegan, then he could fly with a clear conscience as the climate impact of a vegan diet is so much less than that of an omnivorous one.

*We did look into him going there via. train, ferry and bus, but it would take 2-3 days each way and we decided that wasn't a good use of his leave!

I thought that couldn't be right.  However, after crunching numbers, I found it to be much closer than we'd expected.

Firstly, I calculated the kg CO2e from flying to Timaru using the atmosfair calculator.  This is the most sophisticated calculator I know: it allows you to choose which model of plane you are using for each leg of your journey, which can make a big difference to the amount of CO2e emitted per perso…

Freedom for former prostitutes in Kolkatta

I've mentioned earlier the work of Freeset in Kolkatta, India, who provide work for women who've been trapped in the sex trade.  They were featured on National Radio a couple of days ago!  Listen here to a half-hour interview with one of their Kiwi staff :-)

They're currently fundraising to buy a new building in order to considerably expand both the scope and depth of their work.  If you haven't already donated, please consider doing so.  They'll be purchasing the building at the end of this month, using a mix of donated money and loans, but the more they are able to pay up-front the better for them.

(NB They don't seem to be doing updating the 'thermometer' on the donations page very often - I heard from one of their founders today that they've currently raised 50% of what they need, not the 40% it says on the thermometer).

I did it!!!! Fair Trade white chocolate

Note: since I wrote this post I've learned more about making white chocolate.  See my update here.
As mentioned earlier, no one sells fair trade white chocolate in New Zealand.  Piko Wholefoods in Christchurch have, however, recently started selling fair trade cocoa butter.  My friend Anna bought some for me on a recent trip down there and on the weekend she came over to help me figure out how to turn it into white chocolate.

We didn't have a recipe to go on, so I decided to simply use 1:1:1 cocoa butter:milk powder:sugar - looking at the ingredients of Cadbury Dream white chocolate it seems that's more or less what they do.  The amount of vanilla was the same as what I used for the coconut butter white chocolate.

It worked really well!  It's not quite as smooth as the commercial stuff, but the flavour's pretty much perfect :-)  And, so long as you have a microwave and an electric spice grinder it's very easy to do.  It even works out at a similar price to non…

Is there any point limiting one's personal carbon footprint?

I was recently asked what I thought of this:
...if you share my desperation and terror about this crisis, the urgent desire to do something, then limiting your personal carbon footprint should be very far from your main concern.  Like, it’s great if you can bike to work, and you should keep it up (fresh air and exercise and all).  But I’d say the anti-environmentalists are right that such voluntary steps are luxuries of the privileged, and will accordingly never add up to a hill of beans.  Let me go further: even to conceptualize this problem in terms of personal virtue and blame seems to me like a tragic mistake, one on which the environmentalists and their opponents colluded. source
I think it's a really important question, so I thought I'd post my response here.

Raising the refugee quota

Currently New Zealand accepts 750 'quota refugees' every year - a number that hasn't increased since 1987.  That puts us at 90th in the world (per capita) for accepting refugees.

I'm increasingly seeing calls to increase this number, but those calls are often met by concern.  People worry whether this will increase unemployment in New Zealand, whether this influx will dilute our culture and even whether such refugees will bring the conflict they're fleeing with them.

That got me thinking: what proportion of those we grant residency to are actually refugees?  And who are the other people we let in?

Using data from pages 6-8 of the pdf in this file from the immigration department's website, I generated the following graph:

It turns out that people granted residency for refugee/humanitarian reasons are a tiny proportion of the total. Surely too tiny to have much impact on our culture or our job-market!  If we're concerned about the impacts immigrants have on t…

Ethnographic photography

A good friend, Chris Joll, is an anthropologist working with Sufi Muslims in south and central Thailand.  In recent years he's begun documenting his work with amazing photographs that are now able to be seen on his website.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been browsing through the thousands of images he's uploaded.  I highly recommend doing the same, but if you don't have the time, I've posted my favourites below.  Click on the images to view bigger versions on Chris's website.


Fundraising to set women free from prostitution in Kolkata

Freeset is a fair trade business offering employment to women trapped in Kolkata's sex trade. Currently they make quality jute bags and organic cotton T-shirts, but their real business is freedom!  They dream of seeing the 10,000 sex workers in their neighbourhood having the choice to leave a profession few of them ever chose to enter.

Right now they have the opportunity to come a step closer to that dream.  A large building at the entrance to the red light district where they work has come on the market.  If they could buy this building it could house more businesses giving opportunities for women to leave the sex trade along with social services to support them in this transition.

Right now they are fundraising to buy this building: it costs around NZ$3 million and is due to be sold at the end of June 2015.  After the sale they will need an additional NZ$900,000 to renovate it and establish the social services in the building.  They expect the businesses in it to be self-suppo…

Onion skin dyeing

I first come across the idea of dyeing fabric with onion skins in one of my childhood favourite books, The Endless Steppe: an account of the Siberian exile of the author and her parents during WWII.  One way in which they made their hut there more cheerful was to dye their kitchen curtains with onion skins.  Earlier this year I decided to have a go myself, following these excellent instructions.

'10 years' house party

This month it's 10 years since we moved into our current house.  To celebrate, last Saturday we invited all the people we've got know in the street to come over for afternoon tea.  I was surprised to realise we knew well over 20 people.  In the end 15 were able to come.  People seemed to mix pretty well and a lot of people met people they didn't already know.

It was a lovely day - I got a bit teary later, thinking about all the people who mean a lot to me who I wouldn't know if we hadn't come to live here!