Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fiji time

Bula! That's the one word that pretty much sums up our stay in Fiji, because it was the most oft-used word. It's a great word and the Fijians use it all the time as a greeting, acknowledgment, welcome, and attention-getter like "hey you." Basically, you don't walk by anyone without saying Bula, it would be rude not to.

I'm writing this missive from our little balcony at the wonderful Warwick Resort and Spa, overlooking a pool, a red hibiscus tree, and a very calm pocket of the Pacific Ocean. We've been here since late Saturday night after a rather long, hot day of travel that included a drunk dad in customs (Haydn and I wonder how that poor kid's vacation is going with drunk dad and loud uncle) and a somewhat dangerous hour and a half bus ride to the bucolic Warwick. We were greeted with a "Bula!" and a lovely fruity drink at check in. Vinaka (thanks).

From there, Haydn and I quickly settled into a little vacation routine that pretty much revolved around buffets (heretofore referred to as "Jimmy" because we're on a first name basis with our Buffet, according to Haydn), reading, Bloody Marys, and Gilmore Girls DVDs. Our three meals are inclusive with a Jimmy at breakfast and dinner and an Al (a la carte) in between for lunch. Jimmy and Al are here with us on our holiday, great companions those two!

Jimmy 1 is one of those amazing hot breakfasts that blends the best of Aussie, English, and American breakfasts. The bacon is decidedly American in style, but the beans are a great English touch, and the yogurt and muesli makes me think Aussie.

On our first day the sun was out and it was hot. We were poolside and enjoyed the inaugural holiday cocktail around noontime. Haydn excitedly started in on the final Harry Potter, which he has been saving for this very trip, and I started in on The Sisters, a great early 20th century non-fiction historical escape about the six vaguely aristocratic English sisters, the Mitfords, who got into all sorts of romantic and political trouble.

After a bit of sun, it was time for Al beachside -- the pool grill at the more "activities" based pool on the other side of the resort (read: more kids and organised games, bar in the pool, hot tub, etc). It can be light fare if you so choose.

Following Al is a good time for a siesta or in-room reading, then another swim at our more mature (read: quiet and couples vacationing on their own) pool, a check of the clock, a shower, a cocktail, and then back to see Jimmy. Each night Jimmy is a themed dinner -- Mediterranean, American BBQ, Italian, etc.

By then we're pretty tired from the day and retire to the room for a few episodes of the Gilmore Girls DVDs which arrived in the mail just prior to our departure. Perfect timing.

So, that's the general schedule we've followed for Sunday, Monday, and today, Wednesday. Unfortunately, the sun hasn't really come out since that Sunday, with various spells of showers. It hasn't stopped our Jimmy and Al schedule or really the swimming and pool schedule. We're on vacation, we've got our books, we just need a comfy spot to read.

But, Tuesday was our day away from the confines of the Warwick and we went on a tour to a Fijian village, the "Jewel of Fiji" tour. This included an hour or so ride near to the capital, Suva, on the main island's one highway. In one direction it is Prince's Highway and the other direction King's Highway. It was a hilly ride through villages made up of little shantys, shacks, and cinderblock homes, sprinkled in with the occasional more contemporary dwelling, like the rugby star Lotte's place in his home village.

It was a really interesting ride filled with waves to anyone we pass on the road and a Bula!

The tour was an all-day affair led by our guide William, who took 16 us in two little speedboats up to his village. It's a traditional, functioning village, seven generations old that started with an English fellow named Danford who came to Fiji in the early 1800s, visited a village and didn't get eaten, but ended up chief of his own village. Not bad.

We were welcomed with dances, kava, a song from the adorable school kids, a wonderful homemade lunch of curry and kovo-cooked food, and more dancing. While, it seems a bit odd to be tourists visiting what is essentially someone's normal way of life, it was enlightening and really wonderful to learn a little bit of the history and culture of Fiji. From the village we sped up the river to a series of waterfalls, passing grazing cows, little villages, and kids swimming in groups. Lots of Bulas on the ride. We adventured up the waterfalls and went swimming underneath a thundering falls about six or seven stories high. It was the vacation moment of being very far away from everyday life.

The day concluded with a short, peaceful ride down part of the river on a bamboo boat, very Fijian Huck Finn style.

It was a Bula of a day and required that we drink our happy hour bloody mary's in-room to have a bit of a relax before the Jimmy.

Speaking of Bloody Mary's, it's about that time on our final night in Fiji.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The inaugural listen

Almost 11pm on Tuesday, December 4, and I'm listening to A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio for the first time of the yuletide season. It was one of the very first CDs I got when I signed up to the BMG record club back in the early 90s. I could probably listen to it year-round, but I hold off for the time it's truly intended for. The quiet beauty, expectation, and bit of melancholy that comes with Christmas is all there, like it is every year. "Christmas Time Is Here" could be a big, jubilant, sleigh-ride sing-a-long, but good ol' Vince channels Charlie to add that bit of sadness, thoughtfulness.

When I searched for it on iTunes to make sure I spelled "Guaraldi" correctly, I saw that that A Very Special Christmas is also in the top 10 of US iTunes...that's a classic in itself. And while the artists on that brilliant compilation were stars at the time of the album they could have easily become a bit relegated to that era, yet, they aren't. The Pretenders "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," U2's take on "Christmas (Please Come Home)," and of course "Christmas in Hollis" by Run DMC. Classics were still being made in the 80s! I'm not sure if they are these days in this genre.

In the meantime, I feel a splurge coming on of Christmas music..."Do They Know It's Christmastime?" Or maybe some King's College Choir carols, Wham's "Last Christmas," The Waitresses "Christmas Wrapping." I could go on as nostalgia kicks in. So instead, here's a list to check out -- complete with the genius, somehow timeless pairing of David Bowie and Bing Crosby -- banter included.

merry xmas!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving 4th Annual

Haydn and I had our 4th Thanksgiving together this year. The first was in snowy Cambridge, MA, this year was in North Bondi with the balcony door open, a calm early summer night, and rather exciting federal election to provide the conversation piece. Change is afoot in Australia, or at least the long-term incumbent was voted out after 11 years and there is new Prime Minister from the left-leaning Labor party. We shall what comes of Kevin Rudd's tenure.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Haydn's tenure as Thanksgiving chef is becoming the stuff of legend. The food tells it all. Oh and I baked the pies and would like to thank Gregg for bringing me Libby's canned pumpkin a year ago. That stuff still had a year of shelf life left.

Twas wonderful to introduce more people to Thanksgiving, for such a rather elaborate meal it's about a pretty simple sentiment.

And, Haydn, colour coordinating with the pumpkin pie.

Happy Holidays,

Monday, November 12, 2007

Home Improvement

I've really not been too in to TV lately, as in I haven't really developed any must-see weekly TV. Maybe it's a withering attention span, maybe it's resentment for Channel 9 taking off ER (a show that is very hard to find to download), maybe it's because I'm just waiting for my Gilmore Girls season 7 DVD that I just pre-ordered from Amazon.

However, I realized this past weekend, there is one show I tune in to regularly and even know the various broadcast times it is shown on the Lifetyle channel. This show is Grand Designs, a UK program hosted by building/design guru Kevin McCloud. He finds a couple with varying degrees of building and renovation knowledge but armed with a dream to renovate some kind of really old house or buildling. Often, the build goes overbudget and into overtime. Somewhat often, ol' Kev doesn't really care for the end result. It might be environmentally wasteful, too ostentatious, or it just didn't end up as it was envisioned. Other times, he's profoundly moved by the structure and what it can do for the landscape, local history and the family.

I've become riveted by this show. I think it's the British-ness, the history, and Kevin's astute and thoughtful commentary. And, I think it's just a bit of voyeurism. It's like going on walks at night and seeing in to different kinds of homes. It's maybe a bit of growing older, as I find myself tuning in to This Old House or Location, Location, Location as well. Maybe it comes from watching a lot TV shows based in homes of impeccable settings - the Cosby's comfortable brownstone, Friends' spacious West Village flat (an oxymoron!), the Gilmore's idyllic Stars Hollow, and wanting to see an actual "set" at those standards and beyond, with a dash of Little House on the Prairie's rustic-ness.

Sigh...I do know it's good TV with a narrative structure that doesn't really change, but the contents do with each episode. And there's something to be said for employing that successfully. I know I find myself making Haydn put up gingham curtains and I have bought two eBay items recently -- an old gold reading chair, and a red fiesta ware gravy boat. Maybe I'm embracing a new home or craving creature comforts.. Regardless, if you can tune in to this gem, especially on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I highly recommend.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Weather with you

Just got home from seeing Crowded House at the Entertainment Centre with maybe 7,500 other people. Yes, it's that Crowded House as in Neil Finn and co. and their collection of songs that inspire cross-generational sing-a-longs.

While Crowded House were superstars and pretty much remain legends in Australia (tho, technically the Finns are Kiwis), before I moved to here I always associated them with a certain bygone era -- the early days of MTV in the Carter household, when it was Channel 23. I think it's safe to say I had a crush on Neil Finn but I might not have been totally aware. If anything, I really liked him and Crowded House hits like Something So Strong and Don't Dream Its Over bc they were sang by this well-scrubbed, rosy-cheeked guy. Boy George was confusing, Neil Finn wasn't.

And still isn't. The man has energy, a full head of hair, and can craft a song like no other.

But, I better wrap up my stroll down memory lane and will just leave you with bit of a Then and Now for pondering.


Something So Strong - 1986

Don't Stop Now - 2007

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Creepy crawly

I just logged onto the Hallmark site to send my parents an anniversary ecard and was reminded it's nearly Halloween when I saw decorative jack o'lanterns and "creepy craft ideas." Last year I dedicated some blog space to my missing Halloween as it's a non-event in Australia. On the night of I did see a few stray trick-or-treaters but figure they were either ex-pats or very lolly (candy) saavy youngsters. Or maybe they're starting a trend?

If I were to dress up for Halloween this year, it would be very hard to resist going as Feist, which may sound a bit try-hard, but really I would love a night to dress up in the blue sequined pantsuit she wears in the ubiquitous "1234."

What other costume ideas are floating around out there?

In the meantime, things have gotten a bit creepy and downright annoying here with the massive influx of bogong moths that have descended upon Sydney. High winds sent them here from their usual residence of Canberra -- and alive or dead, they're ubiquitous in their own way...


Friday, September 07, 2007

Sydney: A City Under Lockdown

The Asian-Pacific Economic Co-Operation (APEC) is in full swing in Sydney with Dubya, Putin and pretty much everyone else from this part of the world in town. It's brought the place to a standstill and portions of the city are essentially under lockdown for all the delegates to bustle around in motorcades (both real and fake). Bush brought a contingent of 650, for goodness sake.

However, silver lining to all the media brouhaha, overkill of Bush coverage, and temporary barbed-wire fences is a day off work. A bizarro public holiday of sorts. But while going too far out of our Bondi bubble was not advised, we got to Surry Hills, had a wander, and got some pub grub. But all was quiet, as seen in the picture below of Oxford Street at about 3:30 on a Friday afternoon. Quiet, minimal traffic, clouds overhead.

It's a good night to stay in with the space heater on, have a glass of wine, and sit down for a roast dinner. Haydn's working on that as I write...

Happy weekend,

Sunday, August 12, 2007

City 2 Sore

The day started bright and early with a few butterflies in the stomach and 65,000 other Sydney-siders lining up for the 37th running of the City 2 Surf, the southern hemisphere's largest fun-run. It's a 14k run from Hyde Park in the city to the finishing line at Bondi, which thankfully is like 2 blocks from our apartment.

I made it up heartbreak hill, I ran the whole thing, it was pretty hot out, and I improved my time by a bit with a finish just under 90 minutes. I think for the last 45 minutes my left knee pretty much hated me and the asphalt. But thankfully the likes of Kanye West's "Stronger" and Fall Out Boy's "This Ain't a Scene..." on my iShuffle helped me power through. Yes, the iShuffle is a saccharine playlist filled with hits to run up hills to, it is a thing unto itself.

I was joined at the start by my running buddy Kristy who finished in amazing time just over 80 minutes. We met up afterwards to come back for a world famous Haydn breakfast. Joeley and Jimmy joined in for what was pretty much a Greatest Hits of breakfast with spicy home fries, salsa, toast, scrambled eggs, flat whites and a celebratory glass of rose (I can't find the accent mark in blogspot settings so read it as rose-aye).

Kristy and Tara asking, "Why did we do this to ourselves again?"

"Oh right because we're crazy and we like endorphins."

Masterful Chef and Jimmy enjoying the 14k breakfast special

And pretty much after that it has been recovery time on the couch with the Sunday afternoon classic, Sleepless in Seattle. And perhaps some hot chips and a diet coke.


Monday, July 30, 2007

scenes from the toasty apartment

Because I haven't posted in awhile on the actual blogspot, it doesn't mean that I haven't written completely eloquent, witty, insightful blogs in my head while out and about. Then I'd come home, sit in front of my new totally energy inefficient space heater, put on flannel pajamas and watch Ugly Betty or The Hills. And I didn't really blog. So it's the winter + space heater factor, and for those who have known me since growing up at the Carter homestead, you know my love for space heaters at not overly heated houses.

Here is the $29.95 heater:

We've been staying in a fair bit and keeping a low profile...but one night after seeing the amazing Sarah Blasko, I meant to write it right away and how one of the musician's dad was at the pub singing along and then during one of the most beautiful, sad, clear songs I looked over and he had tears streaming down his face as he sang every word.

But then I came home to space heater and didn't share.

The other night we went to see Gotye and his "mini-orchestra," another great artist doing incredible, new things. Plus he's a drummer who sings, always exciting. And I meant to write about it more fully, but came home to the space heater.

In more chunkytoast-related news, I recently made spaghetti and meatballs, a new culinary attempt for me. I did get a pic of the fruit of my labors. And in true housewife spirit, I sported the apron Ann gave me for Christmas. Aprons are really handy, I might add. I predict a comeback.

But, lastly, for those of you who have stayed at Chez Carter Johnston/Johnston Carter, we have gotten rid of the wonderfully tacky futon. It served quite the purpose during our influx of visitors - Tom & Jen, Lucy & Ann, and our prodigal son Baggar Hadley who took up part-time residence during The Ashes. But the spare room is going the way of the home office and Haydn's accomplished ebay skills found a great desk and chair set. The futon, with yellow throw included so as to not induce nauseau from the actual pattern of the futon cover, is on to the home of some British friends with a round of visitors arriving in the coming months.

Here is Haydn, writing his great Australian novel at the great Australian desk.

And the desk, with more office re-decorating to come. It's all a process here as can be seen by the corner of the other desk that is still in the room.

And that, in a rather scattered fashion, pretty much covers the recent Blair Street highlights.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

give me some of that old time popping corn

I realize "winter in Sydney" sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, but there is such a thing and it can be pretty dramatic and make a recluse out of someone on a weekend. This is the case at our house today. I ventured to yoga and Haydn to the store this morning, only to both return wet and rather windblown. So here in the apartment we have stayed.

We found the movie Singles on tv this afternoon and took a little wander down early 90s grunge nostalgia lane. In the span of watching the last 45 minutes or so, there were THREE scenes featuring popcorn. In one scene, Bridget Fonda's character is eating from a bowl of popcorn as she talks to the camera (there is an actual film term for that, right?). Shortly after Kyra Sedgwick and Campbell Scott's characters are at a movie drinking a coke and eating popcorn. And then we have the guy from thirtysomething, Peter Horton, with a small role, making popcorn in the kitchen of the woman he was suppose to meet for a date. They have a missed connection, he ends up knowing her roommate, and, well, at this point I'm like "Can we make some popcorn and get a bottle coke?"

Haydn to the rescue! He dashes to the corner shop and comes back and makes honest to goodness popcorn on the stove in a big pot, just like Grampa Carter did with all that oil and real butter.

So, here is your own visual cue to crave popcorn. Plus you can see the somewhat wild weather out the window.

Happily indoors,

Thursday, May 31, 2007

comfort food, literally

Staying well-fed as ever in Bondi, and what with a bit of a wintery chill setting in and the days growing dark by five o'clock, we come home at night, plug in the radiator, and get cookin' in the kitchen. Tonight it was all about the truly good comfort of bangers and mash, enjoyed couchside because the lure of the tv was too much to bypass in the name of sitting at a table and eating properly. We threw in some brussel sprouts to change up the greens, and they were so tasty it made is wonder why they get such a bad rap? Hmm, must have something to do with all that butter...

Haydn was at the helm of the stove, and, as always, he made the culinary magic happen.

Then he enjoyed the fruits of his labor....

good night,

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Puppy time

Yesterday after Haydn and I finished breakfast at Sun Cafe, I communed with this little puppy who was enjoying the scene. Awhile ago a friend directed me to The Daily Puppy and let me tell you it will undoubtedly put a smile on your face no matter what else is going on. Another friend shared her happiness distraction of going to YouTube and typing in "puppies" in the search. Voila, instant entertainment and higher spirits.

What an adorable pooch:

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The more I think about it, the more I know it's true

Wilco is my all-time forever favorite band -- hardly a news flash -- and I have been a very lucky girl to work at their record label, to have met my husband through our shared Wilco experiences, and... to have seen them THREE times this week in Australia. Yes, indeedy, it was a long wait for their triumphant return to Oz since their 2003 tour, so the folks here have not had the great fortune to hear all the new tunes since then. Unlike some of us, ahem.

That changed with a heaping helping of 2 hour+ shows this week. I headed to Melbourne for the Weds and Thurs shows and enjoyed the sidestage view. I also enjoyed this amazing pizza on my Thursday strolling through St. Kilda.

(Obligatory Chunkytoast food mention)

Saturday, the lovely Joeley B accompanied me to the Enmore for an incredible show -- the room was filled with big songs, grand noise, and the audience showed enthusiasm, reverence, and thankfulness. (The Melbs peeps were probably all these things too, just not as demonstrative). And per always, I can't take a picture at a concert to save my life. So my pictorial includes one crappy shot from Enmore and then the random goodness of having an all access pass.

The kind of pic that Haydn and I will look back at in 20 years and reminisce about when we were cool:

Dueling tour managers, Jason and Haydn:

Stage awaits in Melbs:

Aforementioned poorly executed pic from Enmore show:

Wilco friends:

Ahhh, good times. Lucky people you are in Eur and N America when the band comes your way very soon.

xo tc

go back a bit

Time to catch up on the life and times...

Headed up to Brisbane and Straddie for the long Easter weekend. It wasn't as spectacularly sunny as one might think if you haven't spent the last 80 some years in that neck of the woods. Sooo, we had some sun, some wind, some sideways rain and lots of home cookin' and time with the kids.

Johnston kids with their Easter loot

Jack and Ella, before the rain came down and we raced back to the car. Ella runs fast, lemme tell ya

The green house next to the Jetson's-esque pad is the Johnston place

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ominous skies

The first time I ever heard the word "ominous" was when I took an advance level spelling test in 5th grade. For some reason that word really stuck with me andI remember it was used in the context of "the dark clouds made for ominous skies," or something to that effect.

Well, here are ominous skies in full effect:

I walked out the door this morning with sunny skies to the east and nearly black skies to the west. I headed towards the bus stop in the sun and snapped this pic as light and dark met (sounds like an English class motif!). Thankfully, the sky waited about 2 minutes before it opened up with pouring rain and pebble-sized hail and I had been able to get onto the bus without getting drenched. An adventorous commute today, indeed.

xo tara

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The kitchen is now closed

There's been an abundance of home cooking this weekend, mostly because we were around, it was overcast and a bit rainy, and because we had good ideas, a bit of culinary inspiration.

Haydn, on his continuous mission to make me an unabashed egg-eater, got up early Saturday and headed to the Friendly Grocer and our neighborhood butcher for the goods. We had a cheese and veggie omelet with fresh salsa and bacon. Mmm, bacon. And the flat whites come from the kitchen too, with Haydn doubling up as chef and barista. And, yes I nearly ate it all.

Breakfast #1

Sunday morning was American-themed breakfast with pancakes, real maple syrup (thanks to Gregg!), and, hmm, maybe some more bacon. And flat whites. Weekends are for breakfast. Haydn made a tall stack of flap jacks, so we summoned Jimmy over to help out and we all sat around looking at the social pages of the newspaper. As it should be...

Breakfast #2

So tonight, I thought I should give my husband a break from slaving over a hot stove and I tried a little taste of home, or at least my most favorite soup from Der Rathskeller, Chicken Tortilla Soup. And I'd like to thank Joan Lunden for shaing her recipe, it's quite the popular one when Googling "chicken tortilla soup." Delicious, and definitely has some fire to it. Highly recommended.

And, scene: dinner

It's Grey's Anatomy time and then the weekend comes to a close.

Go Badgers!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Letter from Melbourne

...written from home at Bondi on Sunday evening.

We went down to Melbourne this weekend, me for leisurely Melbourne times and Haydn for tour managing. However, we did a mighty fine job of both clocking in some good leisure. For starters, it helps to stay at the Sofitel to put you at ease. Check. Two, it helps to be pretty much within walking distance of all that Italian food. Check. And some cafe time is crucial. Check. Check.

I did some wandering on Saturday and found the recommended Flinders Lane -- there are streets and there are lanes in Melb, and the streets have corresponding lanes. Hence, Flinders St and Flinders Lane. Haydn and I rendezvous'd off of Flinders Lane (a Lane of a Lane?) and I might have had a Chicken Parmigiana as big as my head. Here is Desgraves, lane of lane.

The only downside to Melbourne would be the rather alarming amount of pigeons who really aren't afraid of people, for instance landing on cafe tables, flying at your head, and hogging the sidewalks. Tradeoffs.

More Melbs:

Wilco in Melbs, soon: