Tag Archives: society

Now join hands, and with your hands your hearts

I’m going to a wedding tomorrow, which seems the perfect way to kick-off summer. While I personally have mixed feelings about the institution of marriage and whether it would be right for me, there isn’t much that I like better than going to a wedding. There are other events which can be fun and celebratory – birthdays, New Year’s – but a wedding is an event that is all about love, and that’s pretty cool. The idea of proclaiming your love and devotion and commitment in front of your closest friends and family is so simple and yet so powerful, and I think that feeling of love and happiness filters through to all the guests.

Some other cool things about weddings are you have a reason to wear a pretty dress,…

…the dancing…

…the beautiful flowers…

…Champagne and cake – what a perfect combination…

…and it always makes me feel positive and hopeful about love, if even just for a day.



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A Gourmet dessert

I was recently invited to a family get-together, the first barbecue of the summer for me. I had to take a dessert, but was running short of time, since I only found out the day before and was out that evening and then working the next day.

I really love dessert. I’m such a sweet tooth, and while I admit that I don’t often make a huge amount of effort with my savoury cooking, I do love to try different desserts and spend a lot of time and effort on them.

Probably my all-time favourite desserts are tiramisu and baked cheesecake, but they are also the ones I tend to find most disappointing, as I have such high expectations when I have them when I go out for dinner. When travelling through Italy with a friend for a week, I constantly ordered tiramisu for dessert, but I would always end up dissatisfied. Maybe it was that I was going to the wrong places, but they all just lacked something for me.

Anyway, for this barbecue I knew I wouldn’t have the time to whip up something that was in any way time consuming, so after some wonderful suggestions on the Vogue forum, I decided to just do a Kiwi classic, pavlova.

I found a fabulous recipe from Gourmet magazine. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to make the pav from scratch, so I had to settle for a bought one. But I think it was the best pavlova I’ve ever had! Although maybe it’s just because I haven’t had one since last Christmas.

It felt fitting to use a recipe from Gourmet, after just listening to an interview with the editor, Ruth Reichl, former food critic for The New York Times, discussing what she planned to do with her life after she had received the news Gourmet was to stop publication in November.

It’s not a magazine that I ever bought, but I still feel a sadness at its passing, not just because it’s a magazine of great history, but also because its closing is a sign of the times for magazine publishing. Incredibly, the circulation for Gourmet was actually at its highest levels when it was shut down, but it was the lack of advertising that killed it. It’s a luxury magazine, and the luxury advertisers like Porsche and Rolex have pulled back their advertising considerably since the recession.

Reichl lamented the fact that American food writing is now being dominated by the likes of Rachel Ray – what Reichl calls ‘stupid food’. While this is no doubt an elitist view, it does point to a wider problem, I think, of how we’re constantly being told we don’t have time to cook. We’re saturated with quick and easy options, but yet there seems to be more cooking on television than ever before. It appears that we’re spending our time watching cooking on television rather than spending time actually cooking.

Obviously there is a need for quick options – I wanted one myself for the barbecue. I may not have the abundance of time or the money needed to completely live the Gourmet lifestyle, but like with the pavlova, I can take some inspiration from it and focus on the joy that creating something delicious, decadent and beautiful for yourself and others can bring.

My Gourmet-inspired pavlova:

pavlova (either made from scratch or bought)

pouring cream, whipped with a little icing sugar added

Wild Appetite Tipsy Lemon Curd (this is lemon curd with the dutch liquor advocaat added to it)

macerated berries (I used strawberries) – cut hulled strawberries in half and soak in the juice of one or two lemons or limes and 2 tbsps of caster sugar. You can also add a liquor such as limoncello if desired.

Combine the whipped cream and lemon curd, arrange strawberries on top and serve pavlova with extra strawberries. Yum!

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Delayed gratification: marshmallows and mind control


One such morning last week I listened to a podcast of Kim Hill’s interview with psychologist Professor Walter Mischel of Columbia University on Radio New Zealand National.

Mischel is a distinguished researcher in the area of personality. In the 1960s he was one of the originators of what is often referred to as ‘the marshmallow test’. Children aged about four years old had one marshmallow (or some similarly delectable confection of their choice) placed in front of them and were told that they could either eat that one marshmallow straight away or they could wait to eat it, usually about 15 minutes, in which case they would be given another marshmallow.

The point of all this was to examine the children’s ability to delay gratification for a bigger reward. Mischel continued to study the children into adulthood, and discovered that those children who could delay gratification, waiting the 15 minutes so they could have two marshmallows, instead of immediately having one, have generally become more successful than those who couldn’t.

Now, Generation Y tends to be all about instant gratification. We don’t expect to have to wait for anything, be it a reply to an email, a promotion at work, or a new dress. We want it all and we want it now.


So this idea of waiting for something, of not taking that instant gratification that is right in front of you, is something that is quite foreign for many of us.

It’s a skill I think that I was never particularly good at. I always remember as a child being given I would eat all my Easter eggs in one day. It would often shock me when I would go to a friend’s house and in, say, June, she would still have a half-eaten Easter egg in the fridge.

Or when I was flatting at university, one of my flatmates would buy a packet of Toffee Pops and it would last her weeks. She would just have one occasionally. I would sometimes try to imitate her, and it would go well for maybe a day, or maybe an hour, and then I would mow through half the packet.

That these examples are to do with food is pertinent, but it’s certainly not the only area in which I have sometimes showed a lack of self-control. Some things I like to chalk up to experience, such as with my student loan – you could get a maximum of $1000 to spend on books or study accessories, and I would always get the maximum as a boost to my spending money, as $1000 right now was far more appealing than that delayed gratification of smaller loan in a few years’ time.


Self-control, will power, self-discipline, delayed gratification, whatever moniker you like to give it, is something I have been working hard at trying to develop, and over the past year I have definitely managed to become better in regard to both money and food.

In August last year, around the time of my uncle’s funeral, I had something of a watershed moment and realised that I really needed to get serious about losing weight. I have struggled with my weight my entire life, and I’m only now fully comprehending that I always will – it’s a lifelong battle for me in the way that sobriety is for an alcoholic. I had spent many months indulging in home baking and pastries from the caff at work, and this, combined with a very sedentary job, resulted in me packing even more kilos on to my already well-endowed frame.

It is now over a year since that time, and I have lost 16 kilos (it was 17, but through a lack of that much vaunted self-control, I’m now back up one kilo). While there are many elements that go into weight loss – just as there are many for weight gain – there is a necessarily strong emphasis on delayed gratification.

I always think of my auntie’s mantra of ‘minutes on the lips, months on the hips’. You can either have that instant gratification of eating that brownie, or those hot chips or that Danish pastry, or you can resist it for the bigger reward, some time in the future, of losing weight, fitting into your skinny jeans, being healthier, living longer, feeling better about yourself.


I’ve also managed to develop some self-control with regard to my spending. I’ve always been someone who loves shopping, loves spending, loves the finer things in life. Saving was something I only did for a very specific, short-term goal, like going on holiday

When I decided to move to London, I knew I would need to save for a considerable length of time, and that required further developing of that self-control. In the end, I didn’t end up moving to London, but I have continued saving. The original reason for saving may have disappeared or changed, but that self-control I developed hasn’t.

In the National Radio interview, Prof Mischel explains that delayed gratification is something that can be learned or developed with the right strategies and help.

Mischel used the example of retesting some children who had initially been bad at delayed gratification, but that if those same children were given a strategy to help them – such as the researcher suggesting that they visualise the marshmallow inside a picture frame – they would often be far better at delaying. When asked why they didn’t eat the marshmallow in the retest, the children would say, ‘Well, you can’t eat a picture.’ Mischel explains that those people who manage to delay gratification in the marshmallow test did so by the simple art of distraction.

I think there’s a lot to take from this for my own struggles with self-control. So much of it is about trying to strategise, to visualise, to keep yourself distracted from temptation.

And it’s also something that, like most things, the more you do it, the better you get. It’s like with saving – when you first start, it’s so difficult, because you’re used to getting that instant gratification. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. In fact, it can even get to the point where it becomes difficult to spend money, even when you need to. I now weigh-up decisions a lot more carefully before I spend money or before I eat something indulgent, this has benefits, but it can become mentally taxing.


There are some days when I decide that I’m going to get a piece of cake or something from the caff, but when I get there, I think about it so long that the desire passes – the moment for instant gratification has been and gone. Although I think the caff ladies must thing I’m slightly nutty, standing in front of the food cabinet silently deliberating the merits of a chocolate croissant.

I think developing my ability to delay gratification is definitely something that will help me with all aspects of my life. It just makes me slightly more contemplative about what my reasons are for doing something, for indulging, in whatever it may be. And that’s not to say I don’t indulge when it’s right (and sometimes when it’s wrong) like today I bought a $200 swimsuit. Gosh, writing that does make it seem indulgent. But I figured I deserved it. And I resisted buying a whole lot of other stuff, so we’ll call it even.

While I think the difference between how my weight loss in particular has gone is that other times I’ve tried to lose weight, it’s always been something that I’ve thought about being done over a short period of time – I just need an iron will for a few weeks or months and then I would get to where I want to be.

But that’s not really effecting change within my personality as I have done now. By doing it over a long period of time, I have actually changed my desires, changed my essential make-up, I think. So today when I decided that I should buy a chocolate bar, I ended up going into the dairy and looking at them, but really thought about whether I needed it, how I would feel without it, and I realised that I was fine without it. And so I walked home and tried on my bathing suit instead.

I’ve still got five kilos to lose to get to my goal weight, and still I think, ‘If I’m just really disciplined for the next few weeks or months, it will happen’ but it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know if I’ll find that discipline to really make it, as the last few kilos are the hardest, but I do feel like I have changed my relationship with food, and with money, and that I have more faith in my ability to ensure a better future for myself, because being able to practise delayed gratification has wide ramifications.

In fact, in an article on the marshmallow test in the New Yorker, Mischel explains, “What we’re really measuring with the marshmallows isn’t will power or self-control. It’s much more important than that. This task forces kids to find a way to make the situation work for them. They want the second marshmallow, but how can they get it? We can’t control the world, but we can control how we think about it.”

The value of that goes beyond the ability to lose weight, to save money – it’s really about giving you control over your own reality.


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For life is time, and time is all there is.


I’ve finally finished a book. I bought James Woods’s How Fiction Works when I was in New York in July/August, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only just finished it now. In fact, I’m even more embarrassed to admit that I haven’t finished anything else since that time. I’ve got about six books that I’ve started and not finished on my bookshelf, and thinking about it, the only thing that I have apparently managed to finish this year is the Twilight Series, and that only took me a week to read the four books.

I do love reading. I love the feeling of getting swept away into another world, the feeling when you have a great book on the go and it almost feels like a secret that you have and you take any spare moment to read so that you can escape to that other life.

But it appears that reading is something I’m not very good at any more.


I’m not a fast reader, which I find a hindrance. I feel like if I could just read faster, then somehow I would read more. But looking at my pathetic efforts at reading this year, I don’t know if that would really make much difference. I mean, I’m a slow reader, but I don’t think I’m so slow that it should take me a few months to read a book that’s only just over 200 pages! I’m not so slow that I should have only read five books this year, four of them being aimed at teenagers.

What I’ve come to realize is that reading is something that does take a certain amount of dedication, for me at least, and it’s something I’m dreadfully out of practice at. I feel like my attention span has possibly gotten shorter as well. Sometimes I start reading and I can feel my attention drift off to thinking about something else. My eyes are still reading the words, but my brain isn’t taking any of it in, and I realize I’ve read a page of words, but that’s all they are – words. I haven’t learnt or retained anything.

But my problem with making time for reading is part of a wider sense of time wasting or running out. I just sometimes feel that living gets in the way of my life. Obviously I have been filling my time with something for the past year, if not reading, but it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly where your time goes.

There are 168 hours in a week, and I work full time, so 40 hours a week are gone there, and I sleep maybe eight hours a night, so that’s 56 hours gone. So that’s 72 hours left. If I whip 22 of those hours off for some boring things like, I don’t know, showering or eating breakfast, that still leaves me with 50 hours of something resembling leisure time. Even if it’s only 40 hours, I still feel like that’s a lot of time to get something achieved, but apparently my achievements don’t involve finishing books, or sometimes even magazines – I bought the November edition of MindFood magazine last month and still haven’t managed to read it all, because apparently I haven’t had time.


I have all these ideas of things that I want to do – read more books, write more, learn Spanish, I’ve got the third season of Arrested Development to watch that I borrowed off a friend months ago (sorry, Steph!). So if I’m not doing all of these things, what exactly am I doing?

I know one of the big time suckers is the internet. I have to admit I waste a lot of time there, but I wouldn’t have thought it would be in the vicinity of 40 hours. Surely not! Especially considering I’m on a computer all day at my work. 80 hours of computer time a week sounds a little scary. Internet time wouldn’t worry me too much if it were being used productively, like reading the New York Times or Salon or something that’s helping me learn. Instead, chances are I’m reading gossip posts on Oh No They Didn’t. I actually have that website open right now, although, thankfully, the New York Times as well.

I always wished I could be one of those people that just didn’t need much sleep. That if I only needed five hours a night to function, then I would suddenly be that much more productive, because I would have an extra three hours in the day, but I think I’m starting to realize it would actually probably just give me more time to waste at this stage, and I would just end up looking like crap from lack of sleep to boot. I haven managed to convert myself into a morning person. I now enjoy getting up early in the morning, but I’m not necessarily more productive with that time. I just spend a bit more time lingering over my morning coffee, reading the paper and still manage to be running late for work.

I recently read a letter written into Cary Tennis’ Since You Asked advice column on Salon.com that was asking how to get into a routine. In the reply, Tennis explained that in order to get a better idea of where his time was going, for a few days he wrote down he was doing at 15-minute intervals to try and see what patterns were emerging and where his time went.

I am thinking of trying this, but I’m also concerned that I will manage to skew the results. Chances are I’m not going to waste an hour on ONTD when I have to write down what I’m doing every 15 minutes, but I guess it could be worth a shot. And hey, at least I might be more productive for those two days. In fact, maybe that’s the way to increased productivity – keeping very close tabs on myself.


It would also be interesting to see a time map of those incredibly productive people, say, someone like Michelle Obama, who managed to have a husband and raise children and work and still find time to work on those gloriously toned arms and looked good. I bet she even found time to read a book or two, although probably not Twilight.

I actually remember thinking that surely one of the only benefits of being imprisoned would be that you had all that time to read. I could catch up on all the books that I never got around to reading. But I think by noticing how much time I manage to waste already, I don’t imagine I would be that much more efficient. I’d probably be gossiping with other inmates and complaining how I still hadn’t managed to finish Crime and Punishment.

Oh, and when I said at the top of this post that I had finally finished How Fiction Works, I have to confess that I haven’t actually finished it – but I almost have, I swear! I will post my thoughts on it sometime soon, and I’m hoping to make a book review a bi-monthly occurrence on my blog as a way to encourage me to actually finish books. I had initially thought weekly, but let’s not go crazy here.

PS: The title for this post is a quote from a commencement address by Gloria Steinem in 1987 at Tufts University – ‘This is the last period of time that will seem lengthy to you at only three or four years. From now on, time will pass without artificial academic measure. It will go by like the wind. Whatever you want to do, do it now. For life is time, and time is all there is.’

I really love this quote, as it really captures, for me, how the nature of time has changed completely after leaving university. Now that it is completely unbounded by that ‘artificial academic measure’ it is at once seemingly endless and also so much more fleeting than it ever was.




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All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware

Sometimes it’s hard being an introvert in an extrovert world.


This year I sort of ‘discovered’ that I’m an introvert. Of course, I have always been one, but it was only by reading the book The Introvert Advantage, this year that I actually realized that lots of those funny little quirks I saw in myself were in fact the natural characteristics of an introvert. It was like fully recognizing a part of myself for the first time. I guess it’s what Oprah would call an ‘Aha moment’.

I finally understood why I often felt reluctant to go to parties, even though I would often have a good time when I eventually pushed myself to go, and why I found them quite draining. I now knew it was perfectly normal, as an introvert, to prefer more intimate gatherings of friends where I could have deep and meaningful conversations as opposed to battling away at small talk with people I don’t know, and why I would often be happy to have weekends in the comfort of my own surrounds, reading books, watching DVDs.

I had always just assumed I was maybe a bit antisocial, shy, slightly retarded. I would wonder what was wrong with me. My mum (an extrovert) would nag me about going out, or get concerned that I was a Ngaire No-Mates if I stayed home on the weekend. (I do have friends, Mum. Promise)

The Introvert Advantage explained how I was not socially retarded, (whew!) only introverted, and that a lot of the difficulties lay in the fact that only 25% of the population are introverts, and those skills that we generally tend to associate with extroverts – social butterfly, good at small talk, being a ‘people person’ – are thought of as desirable.


I have to admit, though, that after reading the book, I’m not precisely sure what the introvert advantage actually is. That’s not to say there aren’t things introverts do well, or even do better than extroverts, such as forming deep and meaningful relationships, but I don’t see how it’s actually advantageous to be an introvert in a world geared toward extrovert success and where extrovert characteristics are the measuring stick for normality. But advantageous or not, the book definitely helped me understand myself more.

Anyway, I was reminded of some of the difficulties of being an introvert this week when I was invited at the last minute to an impromptu dinner out. I was kind of thrown by the invitation and had to really think about whether to accept or not, which is silly in some respects, as most of the people at it I knew well, but I wasn’t sure of that at the time. It annoyed me that I wasn’t the type of person who would just immediately say yes to something that was slightly out of my comfort zone, or that I felt better once I knew who was attending out of the people invited. I had to give myself a little pep talk about it, and even had a look online, googling ‘deciding on whether to go out for introverts’. It helped to go through the reasons I maybe didn’t want to or shouldn’t go, and also the reasons why I did want to and should go. It made it more of a logical decision. Anyway, the whole thing ended up in me deciding to go, and despite being apprehensive, I actually had a great time.

I was invited out for drinks on Friday night, again at the last minute, but ended up not going, which I also think was the right decision, as I only would have known one person there for sure and I was also really tired from going out for dinner and a movie the night before, which is not the best frame of mind for me to be going into a situation like that.

I think it’s been useful for me to be able to think about these things from a more measured and rational position, rather than just immediately reverting to my introvert nature and saying no, or completely ignoring my nature and saying yes to everything. It’s given me tools for really considering things, such as how much I’ve been out already, how much I’ve seen these people, how I’m feeling at the time, how important it is to the person who invited me that I go, what kind of social situation it is – is it a dinner, is it drinks, is it a party etc – as all of these things add to the stress of it. I know that I can end up isolating myself if I indulge my natural tendency to spend time alone too much. I can also become inflexible, and that was something that was really highlighted for me this week – the importance of allowing spontaneity into your life. I’m fine when things are planned in advance, as I guess I feel I have more control over it – I can plan for it; when it’s spontaneous, there’s less room for that, but beautiful things can come from spontaneous events.

The idea of spontaneous versus planned makes me think of a scene from one of my favourite movies of late, (500) Days of Summer. There’s a scene with a split-screen of Tom’s expectations versus reality of a party he’s going to at Summer’s apartment.


That scene really spoke to me, as I’m someone who tends to run through possible scenarios or build expectations a lot, which can often be very different from the reality. With spontaneous events, there’s less time to build up expectations. You’re heading into something without expectation, which is so often the best way, as you’re more open to the endless possibilities that the evening could bring. So I’m hoping I can start to live life with a bit more spontaneity.



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All I Have to Offer You (is me)


I went to see the film Samson & Delilah a few weekends ago. It’s a film that has received really good reviews, which always makes for slightly complicated viewing for me in that it raises expectations.

I wasn’t blown away by it at the time, but the film has really stayed with me, and it has made me think about the world around me in a slightly different way, which to me is the mark of a great film.

Samson & Delilah offers a window into the world of two Aboriginal teenagers living on a small reservation-type settlement in the middle of the Australian desert.

The film itself is unusual in that there is very little dialogue; the two main characters remaining virtually silent through most of the film.

It’s remarkable that first-time writer/director Warwick Thornton had the bravery to write a film which is so sparse in its use of language.

Thornton is himself an Aboriginal of the settlements, and he was basically illiterate when he decided to write the script of Samson & Delilah. I imagine that there could be a temptation to overwrite the story so that he felt more secure it would be understood in a particular way, but by leaving a lot of the film in silence, there is more space for the viewer to make their own interpretation of events, a space where the viewer has to participate, and Thornton creates a film that’s more challenging because of that. There’s no rhetoric or commentary to agree or disagree with. There are no easy answers.


In the film, Warwick’s brother, Scott, plays the old transient Gonzo. In an interview with Thompson on National Radio, he discusses how he wrote the role specifically for his brother, who has lived rough and been under the influence of alcohol for most of his life.  After three rehabs and nine months, Scott was finally ready for the role. But after filming finished, he went bush and back to the bottle.

Through various events, Samson and Delilah end up living rough under a bridge in Alice Springs. One particularly heartbreaking scene which struck close to my heart was when Delilah walks through the streets of Alice while people sip their lattes at the café, turning their heads and avoiding eye-contact with the homeless girl.

I thought of this yesterday when walking home from work. As I walked my usual route down Victoria St, I noticed that the homeless people who are usually scattered around the sidewalk were not there. But when I got down to Queen St, I saw the homeless man who is often on Victoria St, an extremely large man with a bushy grey bread. I want to say that he wears sunglasses, but I don’t know if I’ve willfully imagined that because I don’t look at his eyes.

I never know quite what to do or how to respond to the homeless in Auckland. I think part of me feels that we have a benefit system in NZ, so there’s not actually any need for people to live on the streets. So it can become easy to think that they’re there by something resembling choice.

But then I imagine the benefit system in Australia is similar to the one here, and so while there was no need for Samson and Delilah to end up on the streets, that’s just the way it worked out, and I don’t think you could say it’s their fault, or their ‘choice’.  And if the character of Gonzo is meant to represent the life Samson is headed for, and in turn there’s little difference between Gonzo and the homeless man on Queen St, then that does make me feel differently about his ‘choice’ to live on the streets.


I don’t like the idea of giving money to people living on the streets, because I imagine a lot of people are living that life because of various addictions, and there’s no way to tell what that money will be spent on, so I lean towards the idea of giving food, and yet I can’t imagine the big man is lacking food. He’s been living on the streets for at least a year as far as I can remember and has not gotten visibly smaller.

I remember my cousin, who is a schoolteacher, telling me how a teenager at the Wellington train station begging for money approached her. But instead of simply giving him some loose change or ignoring him, she asked him why he wasn’t at school and talked to him and gave him contact details of people who could hopefully help him get out of that situation.

I guess maybe the best I could offer is conversation or even a smile, a look, a hello, rather than looking away, as I always seem to find myself doing now. Maybe I’ll be too gutless to start a conversation, but at least if I offer a smile, I’ll be offering something.



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