Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Reaching The Summit

Here we are - well not quite, but it is a very picturesque representation of our mountain

Last weekend Mr Shoestring and I exerted ourselves mightily and hauled ourselves to the top of the mountain, which was a very satisfying accomplishment.  We did it once last year and I think it was easier this time, I like to think that it is because we are fitter after all our early morning walking/jogging but it could be just that we knew what to expect and so weren’t disappointed when the top of the mountain came into view and then receded as the path wound away and then back in the right direction.   This happens several times and the last part of the climb is very steep so when you finally achieve the summit it seems like a wonderful thing.  (A miracle, in fact.)  It was a lovely day for a walk and because we set off quite early we had the gratifying feeling of walking down as a lot of other people were climbing up.  (This gives you the opportunity to say condescendingly, "Not long to go now!")  The actual transmitter on the top of the mountain always reminds me of the one on The Rocky Horror Picture Show and as the man who wrote The RHPS came from Hamilton I wonder if he was influenced by the look of the mast there at the top of Mount Te Aroha.  It is more likely that it is supposed to resemble the RKO one, but it is an interesting thought. 

 It was surprisingly hazy at the top but we could still see for miles
The transmitter looks more prosaic from underneath and up close than it does from the plains but very impressive all the same

As a complete contrast to the physical exertions of the hike we had Mr and Mrs Peaceable around for morning tea and it was a great chance to get out the pretty china and play ladies.  (Though Mr Shoestring and Mr Peaceable wouldn’t agree that was what was going on, I am sure.)  We ate outside and it was a beautiful day to sit in the shade of the old flowering cherry tree and watch the birds come and go. 

Mrs Peaceable brought the most heavenly brownie and I made a new recipe, a kind of summer fruit cake which was a very good way to use some of the beautiful fruits we have in season at present.  I used apricots, nectarines and peaches with a few blackberries thrown in for deep colour but you can use whatever is in season and in winter time could even use tinned fruit if needs be.  I will put the recipe up so you can try it, even though there are always dire warnings about making a recipe for the first time without an audition this one worked out perfectly - dead simple, delicious and effective. Mrs Peacable had the same experience with her brownie so it was a good outcome all round.

Even the sugar spoon was pretty - look, a bird!  You don't often see that at Shoestring Cottage!.

We had ham and cheese muffins and bagels with smoked salmon, capers and cream cheese so it was a veritable feast. 

 Plus which, our fish have had a fish baby!  I saw it a couple of weeks ago but it wasn’t seen again until this weekend and I feared that the fish mama and papa may have behaved in a very disappointing way and devoured their own offspring.  As well as the small fish baby I spied two tiny ones this weekend, so small as to be almost invisible to my (admittedly failing) eyes, and I hope that these two might also be spared and boost up the numbers in the pond, which is looking most attractive now with the new swallow flying above it.  (Not sure about the combination of the flying swallow and the lion’s head but in time when greenery grows around the lion’s head perhaps it won’t look so out of place.)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Road To Hell ...

This little car is taking me along the road paved with good intentions.  Actually, it is one of the treasures I dragged home from the markets last weekend and I was enchanted by it.  I don't know exactly why, it is made of plastic and might ave been a token from a board game or a free give away toy.  It looks most incongruous in its new home, sharing space with a wide range other odd things which have taken my fancy, including an old nail buffer, a belt buckle, a religious token and some thimbles. Still a lot of spaces to fill, luckily! 

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and I have to admit my good intentions flew out the window this weekend,  Despite having vowed not to start any new projects I have started three recently, and without completing anything.  I couldn't resit a one inch hexagon template and printed out sheets and sheets of them on scrap paper, thinking that after all it was only a way to use up all the tiny pieces of fabric I had accumulated at the end of various patchwork projects.  Then it seemed like a good plan to use up the leftover silk tie scraps in the same way.  So far so bad, but this weekend I also began a Lucy Boston inspired (patchwork of the crosses) hand pieced project using yet more tiny little leftovers.  The only positive I can think of justify this bad behaviour is that I wouldn't be crazy enough to go to less than one inch pieces, to this is where it will have to stop.

I have to say though that I am loving hand piecing all the miniscule pieces together, even though it is laborious and time consuming.  This is the cotton version but I suspect the silk one will be even more enjoyable (apart from the fact that the silk is hideously slippery and frays badly).

 The weather has been hot and dry for a while and even the insects seem to have sunk into a slothful state.  This moth stayed on the glass of the front door for the entire weekend, I'm not sure whether it believed itself to be on an enormous sheltering leaf or if it was just too exhausted to move away, but it was very pretty all the same.  Even a baby mantis was slow to move away when I disturbed it.

But the most worrying thing was that the swan plant is flourishing and forming seed pods, without having had a single Monarch caterpillar on it all season.  Usually by this time of year the plants are just a few sticky stems and all the foliage as been devoured by hungry caterpillars.  I heard the other day that in the USA the monarch population is reduced by 90% this year and it seems that ours might be similarly affected.  In my case I suspect wasps but perhaps there is some other cause.  Hoping for a better season next year.

At least the gloriosas are finally responding to my command and blossoming their hearts out.  And the colour has intensified too, perhaps it is the dry hot weather or maybe that is just what happens as the season progresses.  Whatever the reason, it is a big improvement.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Treasure Chest

In the weekend when we went to the market (an outing which makes my heartstrings thrum with anticipation, and I am seldom disappointed), I was thrilled to come across a stall where the vendors seemed to be aiming all their wares at me, me, me and me alone!  (As I picked up and paid for one item an overexcited woman cried out, "Come over here mum, and see this weird teapot, I've never seen anything like it", which I thought was a bit harsh.)  First I bought the the most interesting old tin (a bit speckled with rust) in a luscious shades of gold and green, which was a Treasure Chest and originally contained 5lb of Teaspoon Tea, packed by The Quality Packers, of 5 Commerce Street Auckland, only a few steps from where my apartment is.  (It was meant to be, obviously.)  We were a nation of tea drinkers then, before coffee usurped its place and we became devoted to the Flat White and Short Black.  Imagine buying 5lb of tea, I tend to buy 120 grams of special tea now, Earl Grey Paris or The Earl of Harlem, from a specialty tea shop.  5lb would last me for years.

Then I spied the aforementioned teapot along with a honeypot adorned with bees (another thing I had always wanted), and I was very pleased with myself (despite the fact that passersby were laughing at my choices).
It wasn't until I got home and unpacked my treasures that I pondered the obvious preference for things masquerading as other things - beehive honeypots, cottage teapots,

 little pansy plates (thank you Dancing Queen)
 pink forget me not vases
mugs disguised as basketweave or ears of corn
 beer tankards disguised as squirrels on giant acorns
 sunflower and asparagus plates
or dishes resembling celery 

Why is it charming for something to be dressed up in this way?  Maybe it goes along desire to dress up in costume for art deco weekend?  Who knows but I will just abandon myself to this preoccupation and not question it.  (But I shall try to resist the temptation to dress as a celery stalk or sunflower.)

Maybe the best treasure to be unearthed on that outing was the powder compact (very deco looking, I thought).  Another thing I had always coveted, and though I don't know where I will locate any powder to go in it I will pretend if needs be, once I get to Napier, that I am being decadent and powdering my nose in public.  

I couldn't walk past a richly coloured paperweight to go with the "new" plate a friend of my mum's had donated to my sadly empty and bare cottage, either.

The best new blossom in the garden this week was a scented frilly white flower (and even in the section of the garden designated as white), the name of which I can no longer recall but which was completely beguiling to me when I read its label in the garden centre last year.  

As I was hanging out the washing in the warm summer breeze I noticed one of the old teatowels I had picked up at an op shop somewhere.  It was decorated with images of flowers and explicit explanations told what each of them represented.  How startling to be given a bouquet containing all these different flowers, it is fortunate that we no longer associate blooms with definite meanings. What if you received this one:

Sometimes ignorance is bliss!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

One Swallow Does Not A Summer Make ...

"One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy."  Apparently it was Aristotle who said this, which rather surprised me as I had supposed it must be a much more recent proverb, perhaps from Victorian times. 

Whoever said it, I am here to tell you that they were wrong!  My summer has been made wonderful by the gift of this beaten copper swallow (crafted in Africa, no less) which will grace some part of Shoestring Cottage. 

It was presented to me by that wonderful Mrs Peaceable and I was bowled over by such a thoughtful and felicitous gift.  How did she know swallows are my favourite?  Well, apparently it is fairly obvious and thinking back I realise there are a fair few clues to my partiality. 

 Hanging in windows
 Decorating plates
 Adorning quilts
 And doilies

And yet more doilies

Even on jewellery such as a favourite brooch and a bracelet.  

Sometimes when we think we are opaque it turns out that we are at our most transparent!
But thank you so much Mrs Peaceable for the perfect gift, treasured and always much appreciated. And to be able to give a perfect gift to a friend sometimes is almost as pleasurable as to receive it, because how clever are you to accomplish that?  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Slightly Irresistible

This is a leaf which just unfurled on a bird of paradise plant growing in the apartment in Auckland, not strictly Shoestring but fascinating appropriate for the New Year

On New Year's day Mr Shoestring and I had just struggled up Butler's Incline, a disused railway track from gold mining days which was now part of a walking path in the hills near Shoestring Cottage. We were with Senor and Senora Valentinos and as we lolled about in the sun swigging back water and eating our well earned fruit (pears, and do Cherry Ripe chocolates count as fruit?) Senora Valentinos idly asked me, "So, have you made your New Year's resolution?"

Now here is a question to cause apprehension to even the most stout hearted individual.  Should one admit that no such thing has even been contemplated, thus appearing morally lax, or should one trot out a praiseworthy old chestnut? I was completely stumped and as I had just been thinking of the enjoyable time we had all had the night before watching old video clips from our glory days, I blurted out, "Yes, I'm going to be Simply Irresistible!"  (In my mind this involved being extremely virtuous and responsible, and came under the "must try harder" category.  It would mean that I would no longer pick fights with my brother in law, and I would of course not give everybody the benefit of my opinion whether asked for or not.)

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I regretted them - wildly ambitious, I could never achieve such a thing!  "I mean, I am going to be Slightly Irresistible".  Which, I would be the first to admit, is a ridiculous endeavour because there is no such thing as slightly irresistible, it is like being a bit pregnant or rather unique.  (When others say this I almost froth at the mouth, it annoys me so much.) In fact you could interpret slightly irresistible in any way you liked, being slightly irresistible is like damning with faint praise, it might even mean Barely Tolerable.

After that we all had a good laugh planning a Slightly Irresistible New Year's Party for next year.  We will have to rewrite the lyrics of the song and learn the dance moves (when we lined up and tried that gyrating motion which looks effortless we discovered ungainly pelvic thrusts are the end result for novices).  When we send out the invitations people will be free to interpret it as they please, but the ladies will have to wear their little black dresses with big pink silk sashes, learn the lyrics and sing them, put on fierce 1980s makeup (including that "smokey eye" which looks like the wearer has lost control of her mascara wand and various other dark pigments), and attempt that deceptively difficult hip swiveling movement.  It's always good to have something to work towards, after all.  We may need a few rehearsals tough.

It was so good to have a few days at Shoestring and even after the gale force winds which I feared had flattened the lilies, some bravely survived with upright stems.

 This one is taller than I am 
 Quite nice but not a wonderful scent
 Beautiful perfume
This one is taller than me, and has a beautiful scent which wafts in the windows at Shoestring - a definite winner

I had been anxiously conferring with my dear mama and the Duchess of Ringloes (who lives in Napier, aka TCOTU or The Centre Of The Universe) as to whether their Gloriosa Rothschildiana lilies had survived another season and appeared above the surface of the earth.  I had reports that they were indeed prospering and sadly kept returning to the places where mine had been planted.  Strangely the one which I bought in full flower and carted all the way back to Shoestring was sulking under the earth but eventually the bare corms which had been popped into less favoured spots came through and here is the first flower, I was so excited to see it that I startled some innocent passers by with a loud squeal.  It seems to be paler than the one which came already potted, perhaps local conditions are to blame.  Very beautiful though, all the same.

 The hydrangeas aren't having a bumper season, I suspect it is something to do with the way I pruned them last autumn
 But a lot of the other plants are settling and and enjoying a great season 

The scented mandevillia has climbed into the plumb tree and is draping itself down again with a good crop of blossoms

Happy New Year to one and all, even if you have made ridiculously ambitious New Year's Resolutions in public!

And on that note, I must away to clean out the cupboard beneath the bathroom sink - I feel sure that is the sort of thing Slightly Irresistible people do all the time.