If you could know when you’d die…would you want to know?

Don’t let the days go by
Could have been easier on you
I couldn’t change though I wanted to
Should I have been easier by three
Our old friend fear and you and me

We had some strange discussions at work last week.

If you were a fruit, what would you be?  I chose to be an apple, as I’m pretty ordinary, but most people like me.  I can be a little tart sometimes, but even then I’m pretty practical.

If you were a farm animal, what would you be?  I said I’d be mother duck.  I’m pretty good at keeping the kids in line, but not really the hard working sort.

And we had a philosophical discussion over whether we’d want to know in advance the date of our own or others’ deaths.  Most of the people in the office said they wouldn’t want to know.  One of the girls and I said that we would want to know.

If I had the option of kissing my husband goodbye in the morning and him never coming home again, or being told that he was gravely ill and would be dead within the week, I’d take the latter.  It gives you the chance to say goodbye, the chance to get closure, the chance to maximise your last moments together.

The others said you should be maximising your moments anyway, and living each day like it could be your last, which is true enough in theory but doesn’t work in practical terms.  If my kids are being lazy and not doing their chores, I get cross and yell at them.  If they’re naughty, I punish them.  It’s part of being a good parent.  Children who don’t have consequences grow up to be spoiled, self-indulgent, selfish, inconsiderate adults.  Good parents provide boundaries and consequences for stepping over those boundaries.  Those boundaries and those consequences vary from parent to parent, they even vary from myself to my husband somewhat, but that’s normal.

But if you had a family member who had a week to live, especially a core person in your family, like the parent or the child, then fuck the chores.  No one gives a shit about the state of the kitchen when someone’s dying in the hospital, right?  You’re all about maximising the moments you have left, and that doesn’t mean shouting at the kids to get off their asses and do some housework, it means saying the I love you’s.  And yes, my husband knows I love him, and I say it often.  At least once every day.  And he says it often to me.  And we make sure the kids know we love them.  But still…  I’d want to know.

One of the guys at work suggested that knowing you only have a year left to live stops you from living, because instead you’re focussed on the death that is approaching.  I disagree.  I think if you knew you had a year to live, you’d milk the most out of every moment you had left.  I go to work every day because I need the income to pay my bills, right?  And I save money toward my retirement because I hope to live long enough to retire.  But if I only had a year left to live, I wouldn’t be working, and I sure as hell wouldn’t be saving for retirement.  There would have to be some practical decisions made, as we don’t have the funds for me to just stop working, particularly if my husband and children are going to survive me.  I do have some life insurance though.

In life, we have to try and balance ‘living for the moment’ with ‘planning for the future’.  If you know that you’re 100% guaranteed to live to be 100, you’d be far more diligent about saving for your retirement.  If you know that you’re 100% guaranteed to die next year, you wouldn’t bother and it would tip the balance towards living for the moment.

I’d want to know, anyway.

A few days after that discussion, I found out that a family friend has terminal cancer.  The message I received said ‘No timeframe, she didn’t want to know.’  It all suddenly went from hypothetical to a real life scenario.  This family friend had the option of being given a timeframe (admittedly, a doctor’s educated estimate, no guarantees) and she chose not to know.  I’d have to know.  I tried to explain to the guy at work (the one who made the comment about focussing on the death instead of living) that the difference between ‘You’ve got a couple of weeks’ and ‘You might last a year or two’ gives you a chance to weigh up that balance between ‘living for the moment’ and ‘planning for the future’.  It allows you the knowledge to make decisions.  Of course, if you’re told you might have a year to live, you shouldn’t plan things for the last week of that year, and expect to die on the estimated day (not that a doctor would ever give you a specific date!).  It’s not about that.  It’s just about having a rough guide that can help you weigh up that balance.

My heart is with our family friend as she faces the reality of terminal cancer.  And, of course, with her family.  I fully respect her decision not to know, and I hope all her children (some of them are overseas) have a chance to say goodbye and gain closure.  I know that they’ll all have some wonderful memories of her, as I do.

So…  Would you want to know?

Social cooking

On Friday evening, my company got together for a social cooking ‘Asian MasterChef Challenge’ with Sachie’s Kitchen.   It was a lot of fun, and the food was delicious!

We were separated into two teams of four.  We’d chosen a Vietnamese menu, so we were making fried rice in lotus leaves, kaffir lime chicken with bok choy, and summer rolls. We watched a demonstration of all three dishes being prepared, then we had a set time limit to cook our own versions.  We were being judged on taste, presentation, one short speech from each team, and the cleanliness of our stations after we’d finished.

Because the kaffir lime chicken needed marinating, we had one team member working on butterflying the chicken thighs first, while another team member starting cooking the fried rice.  A third team member was preparing the chicken marinade, and I was slicing and dicing the ingredients for the fried rice.

While the fried rice was cooking, I soaked the lotus leaves in hot water.  Then we placed the semi-cooked prawns and raw peas in the lotus leaves, topped by the fried rice, then set them to steam while we moved on to the chicken.  The fried rice was flavoured with garlic, shallots, Chinese sausage, ground white pepper and fish sauce.

Then on to the chicken, which was seasoned with kaffir lime leaves, white pepper, tumeric, brown sugar and chillies.  When it was pretty much cooked, we added the bok choy for two minutes then seasoned with lime juice.

While the chicken was cooking, one team member was preparing the summer rolls while another prepared the dip for the summer rolls.  I can’t recall all the ingredients in the dip, but it included fish sauce, brown sugar, lime juice and chillies.  The summer rolls were stuffed with shrimps, noodles, red cabbage, lettuce, carrot, coriander, and another herb that may have been a Chinese mint or something…

Vietnamese summer rolls
Summer rolls

Everything was pretty straight forward, but the time limit made us all rush around and panic, and laugh at ourselves, and basically added to the fun and excitement.

Our dinner looked amazing when we presented it.  We pressed the fried rice into a bowl, then upturned it onto a plate so it looked neat and tidy, then arranged two prawns on the top as the host had demonstrated.  The chicken and bok choy were placed on the side, and the summer rolls were cut in half and presented with a tiny dish of dipping sauce.

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It tasted even better. The kaffir lime chicken was quite spicy, but yum. The fried rice didn’t have a lot of flavour, but worked beautifully with the chicken. The dipping sauce didn’t have the heat of the demonstration one, but tasted good with the summer rolls. I’d definitely be keen to make it again to eat at home.

We ate our fill, and no one went even a little bit hungry. We had some summer rolls left over that no one had room in their tummies for.

We won the judging on the chicken, but the other team won on their fried rice and dipping sauce. We won on the speech (which I gave) and they won on cleanliness (we had cooked cleaner, but they’d done a better clean up at the end), so overall they won. Then the hosts announced that there was another challenge, a chopstick race. We won that and took home the medals for the day. Which seemed brutally unfair considering that the other team made a better meal. I felt really bad for them.

It was a great activity for team building, I thought, and I’d love to do it again just for fun.  It’s a bit tricky with my in-laws since my father-in-law is a trained chef, my husband is a trained baker and my mother-in-law used to run a cafe, but I can see getting everyone together and having a challenge would be loads of fun.  I’ll definitely look into it.  You basically get a fun night of interactive entertainment and a delicious meal to eat as well.  Can’t go wrong with that!

I believe the colleague who organised the event is getting a copy of the recipes we used, which is awesome.  Am definitely going to make those dishes again for the family to eat one night.  I love fried rice and that chicken was amazing, so yep, definitely doing that again.

Have you ever done social cooking?  How did you find it?

Man, I feel so old today!

I’m in my 30’s (okay, okay, late thirties!) and a colleague of a similar age made an Alanis Morrissette reference, which of course I got, but the young people in the office didn’t.
‘Well, isn’t that ironic, don’t you think?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, I really do think,’ I replied, laughing.

The young people were confused. ‘What’s the joke?’
‘It’s an Alanis reference.’
‘Who?’
‘Alanis Morrissette?’
‘Who?’
*Shock*
Oh my god, I feel so old! So I played Ironic for them, and they admitted that they’d heard the song before.

Then they had a conversation I didn’t follow at all. It was like they were talking a different language.
‘Do you like grime?’
What the fuck is grime? Sounds dirty. Is it a band?
‘Yeah, I like Jamie.’
Who the fuck is Jamie? I did a Google search, and found out that she actually meant Jme, who is a grime artist. And grime is apparently ‘a genre of music that emerged in London in the early 2000s. It developed out of earlier UK electronic music styles, including UK garage and jungle, and draws influence from dancehall, ragga, and hip hop.’ The early 2000s, and I’ve never heard of it. *Facepalm*

I really had no idea what they were talking about, but finally I said ‘I know a song you’d like,’ although I was kinda cheating because I already knew they liked it from previous discussions. So I played Low by Flo Rida.

Then my young colleague ruined it by saying ‘Yeah, this was my jam when I was in intermediate.’
Intermediate? I only heard this song for the first time last year! So what if it came out in 2008 and I’m ten years late. *Rolleyes* Anyway, that still made me 28 when it came out, and she was obviously only 11 or 12 then. *Sob*

So, anyone got any music recommendations from the last ten years I should know about? *Pthb*

Candle making

Last weekend, we had another of our creative days and made candles.  This time around, it was my mum, my mother-in-law, my daughter and her friend, and a colleague from work and her daughter.  We ended up with four adults and three thirteen-year-old girls (or almost, my daughter turns 13 in June).

Although I wasn’t sure how hard it was going to be, it was ridiculously easy.  We literally melted the soy wax on the stove (we put the wax in an empty tin can to avoid ruining a good saucepan) and then sat the can in a pot of water.  A similar process to melting chocolate really.  Then we added fragrance to the melted wax, and poured it into a container which had a wick set in it.  Leave to set, and voila, you have a candle!

They didn’t take long to make, but the most fun part was definitely playing with scents, and mixing and matching to get the combinations we wanted.  I really enjoyed it.  And because each candle didn’t take long to make, it felt productive.  I guess the soap making was quite productive too.  The chocolate day felt less productive even though I think that was the longest day so far out of these creative days.

I’d wanted to make a candle for my sister who lives in the UK.  I thought I could take it over when I went over to see her in July.  So I was trying to think of what scents I could combine to make a New Zealand scented candle.  I bought these scents:
– Pennyroyal
– Wood smoke
NZ fern
Wild Piha.

The pennyroyal was my favourite.  It reminded me of freshly mown grass.  So nice. The wood smoke one was so strong (in the bottle) that I couldn’t bear it.  Ugh.  Like sniffing an ashtray almost.  Overwhelming.  The NZ fern fragrance is hard to describe, but it kind of smelled like plants and fresh air.  I guess it really did smell like NZ ferns!  Ha ha!  Piha is a beach near me.  It’s a surf beach, with quite dangerous waters for swimming, and black volcanic sand.  It’s surrounded by native bush. The scent is apparently fresh air, salt, wood, flax, palm, cannabis and wood smoke.  I didn’t like this one as much.  I’m pretty sure I could smell the cannabis in it.  *Rolleyes*

So I combined them, with just the lightest touch of the wood smoke, about half a teaspoon of all the others, and a full teaspoon of the pennyroyal.  It worked perfectly.  It smells like home.  Like the farm, minus the usual smells of cattle.  *Wink*  The main scent is obviously the pennyroyal, but beneath that, it smells…green.  It really does remind me of home, of the farm I grew up on.  I hope it does the same for my sister.  I actually liked it so much I made another one to keep for myself.2018-04-07_16-02-46_723

A year or two ago, I used to have a candle from Columbia Candles called ‘The Secret Library and Writer’s Den’.  It was a lovely, subtle scent, that reminded me of chocolate but without being too sweet.  I’d seen a few scents out there that made me think I could try and recreate it in a way, maybe as a ‘Gentlemen’s Library’ scent.  So I bought these scents:
whisky
Italian leather
– wood smoke (okay, I didn’t buy a second bottle of this, it’s the same as the one above!).

The problem was, the whisky scent was a little smokey too, and they were all strong, pungent scents.  When I combined them, in roughly equal measures, all I could smell was this incredibly pungent smokey smell.  It was awful.  I tried to dilute it with extra wax, and even added some beeswax to try and lift the scent a little, and then I had enough for two candles.  I tried to add some more top notes, and added apple and cinnamon to one, and orange to the other.  I could still only smell smoke.  I was just dumping scents in, really, trying to get rid of the smoke, to no avail.  My mother and mother-in-law said they weren’t as bad as I was making out, so I told them to take one each.  I didn’t want them.  I made another one, and left out the wood smoke scent.  That worked better, but leather and whisky on their own don’t actually make a nice smell.  So I dumped the rest of the apple and cinnamon scent in it, and then added some cinnamon and vanilla too.  It ended up quite nice, with a sort of apple pie smell, with just enough depth to keep it being too sweet.

My colleague made beach linen scented mini candles, and her daughter made white tea scented mini candles. We’d been told to leave them for two weeks for maximum effect, but my colleague told me this week she’d already started using hers, and she was really pleased with them.

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My daughter combined apple and cinnamon and cinnamon and vanilla to make a lovely apple pie scented candle.  She was really pleased with it.  She also combined Madagascar spice and dragon’s blood to make a really interesting incense-y smelling candle.

Mum made coconut lime scented candles that smelled so good I had to make one for myself. She also made a Madagascar spice one.

My mother-in-law used up scraps of existing candles that wouldn’t burn anymore, melting them down and adding scent to them.  One of the scraps was red, giving her candle a lovely pink tinge.  She went for a citrus combination, with blood orange, and I think maybe citron and mandarin.  I was inspired by this idea of melting down old candles, so I melted one I had that wouldn’t burn anymore and poured it into a smaller container with a new wick.  That was one I’d bought at Typo called ‘Calming AF’.  It was a sweet vanilla-y scent. My mother-in-law also made a dragon’s blood scented candle.

I had a ‘romance blend’ oil that was left over from an aromatherapy party I hosted about fourteen years ago.  Seriously.  It has a really strong smell, so if I use it in an oil burner, I only need a couple of drops to fill the house, so it’s lasted ages.  I used that to scent a candle, and although my mother and mother-in-law both said they didn’t like it, it was my husband’s favourite of the day.

So I ended up with a candle for my sister, two candles I gave to my mother and mother-in-law, and five candles to keep.  Plus, two candles that my daughter made.  Like I said, a very productive day!

When my mum got home, she said that not only did her car smell nice (from taking her candles home), but the one I’d given her smelled pretty good.  My sister (who hadn’t been with us) said all of Mum’s candles, including the one I gave her, smelled good.  Maybe I had wood smoke on my hands or something and that was all I could smell?  I’ll have to go to Mum’s and see what it smells like now that my whole house isn’t overpowered by overlapping scents.

Oh, and I definitely want to do this again and make more candles.  Check out these scents:
Christmas tree
Christmas hearth
Gingerbread and warm gingerbread
Brandy Snaps
Feijoa and lime meringue
Fresh bread
Kiwi pavlova
Warm bread pudding

Ha, while I was checking out new scents, I realised there was a whisky, wood smoke and leather scent. Dammit, I could have just bought one scent instead of playing with three! Ha ha!

Chocolate making

Do you ever face the dilemma of whether you should take photographs or just put the camera down and join in the fun?  This is a tricky one for me.  I’ve talked before about how my passion is to capture memories, and this makes it hard for me to accept that a moment won’t be recorded.  Not all moments, of course, but the ones that feel like they deserve to be memorable.  Happy moments, laughter, bonding…

When my children were still fairly small (primary school aged) I was looking through the photos of them, and realised I wasn’t in hardly any of them.  There were photos of them with just about every family member except me.  The only ones I was in were the ones of them when they were babies.  It was a pretty rude shock.  I realised that I was watching my children live their lives, recording it all, but not participating.  I was standing on the sidelines.  That revelation is what led to the ‘family’ part of my bucket list, where I set myself a challenge of participating in a whole bunch of different childhood activities with my kids.  Not watching, participating.  I also became more aware of it, and started putting the camera down or passing it to my husband or another family member so I could be in the shot.

On March 11th, we had another of our family creative days.  So far we’d made cheese in January and soap in February.  The previous ones were just the girls – my daughter, my mother, my mother-in-law and me.  And my sister joined in the soap making.  But this time we got the boys there too – my son, my husband, my father-in-law and my nephew.  We did it at my mother’s house, as she had plenty of room for everyone.

In the end, it was mostly just us girls making the chocolates, but the guys did get involved a little.  Obviously they were all keen for taste testing (!) but my husband helped make the ganache we used for fillings, and my father-in-law helped us with getting the chocolates out of the plastic moulds (something we struggled with!).

The reason I mentioned the photography dilemma at the start of this post was really to explain why I have no decent photos of the day.  I know, a poor excuse, but I was honestly too busy making chocolates to take photos.  And man, your hands get messy when you’re making chocolates!  I should have remembered to ask one of the guys to take photos for us, but I just forgot.  Oh well.

We made three sorts of chocolates – hollow eggs, solid eggs and filled chocolates.

The hollow ones were a big fat fail because we couldn’t get them out of the moulds without breaking.  We’d made them too thin, plus we were using older plastic moulds that were brittle.  So yep, those were a fail.  Lesson learned though!

The solid ones worked well.  We used white chocolate which we coloured and painted into the moulds, then filled them with white chocolate.  I enjoyed making these ones, and so did my daughter.  My mother and mother-in-law found them a bit tedious I think.  They didn’t look quite as stunning as I’d hoped, but they were okay.  We stuck some of the egg halves together to make solid eggs, but that made them difficult to eat.  And too much chocolate in one go.  Halves were better.  Again, lesson learned.

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The filled ones were the most experimental of the bunch, but turned out quite well considering.  We made a batch of ganache (cream and chocolate combined in a roughly 50/50 mix).  When I say we, I mean my husband made the ganache.  Ha ha!  He was a commercial baker for 10 years, and ganache is the icing used for most commercial cakes, so he had plenty of experience with that.  We used a variety of things to flavour different portions of the ganache:
– coffee syrup
– Baileys cream liqueur
– peppermint flavouring
– orange flavouring
We also made some raspberry truffle filling, and some blue curacao liqueur jelly.  They all worked quite well.  I don’t like coffee, so I didn’t like the coffee ones.  My mother really liked those ones though.  The Baileys ones were my favourite.  The only ones I felt didn’t really work were the raspberry truffle ones which were waaaay too sweet.  The kids liked those ones though.

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I made some with Caramilk chocolate, which is a caramelised white chocolate that I like.  They turned out delicious.

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It was a fun day, and I enjoyed it, but making chocolates is very time consuming.  If you’re going to do it, you need a lot of fridge/freezer space and a lot of time.  It’s fun though!

It’s all about perseverance

My daughter did the ‘Great Te Atatu Mud Run’ on Sunday morning.  She signed up to do the long run (1km), although this was supposed to be for people aged 16+ and she’s only 12, as she was doing it with two family friends of ours.

We watched some people do shorter runs, and it was amusing to watch them slog through the knee-deep mud.  On the smaller people, it was occasionally thigh or waist high mud!

One of the ladies that was doing the run with my daughter was running late, so the three of them ending up starting the long run quite a while after everyone else.  By that stage we had already seen some people give up and many people struggling to make it back to dry land, and we were a bit nervous about how she would cope.  She was easily the youngest participant for this course.

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The obligatory ‘before’ photo when they were still clean!

The 1km course ended up taking them a full hour to complete.  They were covered in mud from head to toe, literally, with mud in their hair and everything.  They were absolutely knackered, but triumphant, and grinning from ear to ear.

Thankfully there were some handy fireman bearing hoses to clean them off before they got in the car to come home.  The car still got pretty grimy though.

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At home, she took a long, hot shower and then spent the afternoon drawing.  She’s at the stage of self-taught drawing where she’s finding drawings she likes online and copying them, freehand.  We watched our son go through that too.  They start with tracing, then move on to copying, then start drawing things from their own imagination and/or things that they see in real life.

They don’t get the drawing talent from my husband or me specifically, but we have plenty of artists in the family.  My mother and sister are both skilled artists, and my husband’s grandparents on his mother’s side were too.  Having watched my son learn to draw, I know that it is 90% practice and 10% talent, but you need that drive, that love of drawing to keep you practicing until you start to get good.  It’s so wonderful to see my daughter following in his footsteps.  I love seeing the art they create.

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How impressive is that for a 12 year old drawing freehand?!

Oh, and I did spend Saturday with my mum working on the photo book project for my sister, so I’m on track there.  And I will try to get some more book reviews done soon too.  I have read a few books that I need to review.

What have you been up to?