Saturday, August 22, 2009

High-Tea Princesses

This time last week I was in the throes of preparing to cater for my niece's 7th birthday party. Last week, right about now, in fact, I was studying the shelves at Woolworth's Indooroopilly, hesitating between the standard packet of Dollar Sprinkles and the fairy-themed one. At that point I hadn't fully decided on how I was going to manage to decorate the requested princess cake. I knew I was going to attempt to fashion a semblance of a princess atop a coconut cake using icing and my cheap cake decoration piping set, but as to the details of the glitter and sparkles, well, I was making those up in the supermarket.

I had offered to host my niece's birthday party a month ago, after my family had celebrated my sister's birthday at a garden centre cafe. While the garden centre's cafe was perfectly fine, as we discussed Hannah's forthcoming birthday, most of us still had memories of the over-priced outing that was my mother's birthday a few months earlier: $45 for an average high-tea amongst some very pretty decor. The decor, while lovely, certainly wasn't worth $15 dollars more than the usual price of a high-tea in these parts.

I'm not certain why my family has this high-tea obsession. Something to do with coming from England and wanting to play at being the Ladies we're not, I suppose. Or perhaps it's an excuse to eat way too many cakes, the sandwiches merely being a face-saving preliminary. Yes, the latter is more likely. Anyway, it seems the older members of this family have had a corrupting influence on the youngest member, since Hannah now associates all birthday celebrations with fancy, miniature cakes, delicate sandwiches and champagne-flutes of sparkling apple juice. When I volunteered to host her family party--her mother's side of her family, anyway--Hannah put her own twist on the occasion and requested tiaras and sparkles. And since I'm a total push-over when it comes to my niece, I was determined to throw the best princess-themed party I could.

For the necessary preliminaries, before the sweet and cake consumption could begin, I fashioned two kinds of sandwiches with two variations to accommodate less sophisticated palates:

Roast Beef Sandwiches With And Without Dijon Mustard

Prawn And Sour Cream Sandwiches With And Without Dill

In addition to the sandwiches, I assembled--what I like to believe is my own invention--the salad skewer, consisting of Hannah's favourite salad vegetables:

Hannah's Salad Skewers

It only occurred to me afterward that I could have added carrots to the skewers (if they would go on) and call them Traffic Light Kebabs or something equally cheesy. Speaking of which, Hannah's mother provided cheese and biscuits and Cheezles to round out the savoury course of the high-tea. Along with the savouries, the adults sipped sparkling wine, while Hannah had us all toasting along with every second sip of her sparkling apple juice.

While we changed the empty savoury plates for those filled with sweet things, I took orders for tea and coffee and Sippa straws from everyone.

Once we were settled again, we tucked into caramel and chocolate tarts made by my other sister, Hannah's Auntie V, and some marshmallows and strawberries on toothpicks. For this course, my contribution was in the princess theme:

Frog Prince Jelly Cups

Of course, we all had to kiss the frogs to see if they would, in a puff of smoke, turn into handsome princes. Alas and alack! No such magic occurred, so we consoled ourselves by taking a digestive break and playing some games. Everyone got a present in the new-fangled-self-esteem-building version of pass the parcel: small stationery items from Smiggle. And then we all laughed uproariously as Hannah kept steering the cow she was riding in a game on Wii into trees and fences.

Finally, it was time for the birthday cake.

I didn't take photos during its construction, but I snapped key moments in the decoration process:


Preliminary Sketch

Princess Cake

In spite of my trepidation about decorating the cake, I'm very pleased to report that Hannah loved it along with the rest of the party. Her joy was infectious and I think we all had our best high-tea ever!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Happy Birthday

It's this blog's birthday in just over a week. I'll have been at this online caper for 4 years.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dreams and Fairytales

Last night I had a conversation with my niece, H, for over two hours.

I'd called her mother to discuss the last minute details of H's birthday party, which I'm hosting tomorrow, and she was impatient to talk to me, picking up the other extension and giggling cheekily over the line.

F & I had to tell her to wait for a bit because we had secret surprises to plan.

After we grown-ups had finished organising the Princess-themed party, the preparations for which I will blog about in another post, I settled in for a Friday evening of listening to H.

H will be 7 in a few days and her life has changed a great deal over the past year or so.

She started school and now she's reading. Over the phone, she read me six short books. They were a series of cookbooks that join together in a jigsaw. I learned recipes for, among other things, Easy-peasy Pizza and Strawberry Cups. When she didn't know a word she would spell it to me and I'd tell her what it was. She'd spell out '1-2-5-g-slash-going-to-the-right (I-know-my-right-and-left-now) 4-o-z'.

She noted that there was a 'dot-thing' between a couple of words. I clarified that it was a comma: a dot with a tail. She asked me what a comma was. I said it was part of what's known as punctuation. She asked me what punctuation was. I started to explain about full-stops and exclamation marks. She said that she knew about three of those kinds of marks: full-stops, exclamation marks ('a line with a dot') and question marks. Later in our conversation, she amended her knowledge to four, telling me she knew about hyphens too.

The other major change in H's life recently is that her parents have divorced after a separation of one year.

She told me about a bad dream she had. It was long and frightening.

The conversation came about because she asked me if there were crocodiles at my place. I said there probably was, because there's a gully in the back yard. She asked me what a gully was. I explained.

She told me she was afraid of water now because that's where eels lived. I asked if she'd ever seen an eel. And that's when she told me her dream.

Today as I was shopping for the party, I thought about H's dream, where she rescued her mother, sacrificing her own life, to keep her from being harmed by all manner of scary creatures. I recalled that on the phone H had said that she would do exactly the same for her mother if her dream happened in real life.

As I was waiting for the bus home after shopping, this Joni Mitchell song popped into my head:

Rows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canons everywhere, I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun they rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Sunday, August 09, 2009

I Don't Know

What's philosophy for do you reckon?

I'm asking this because it's about an hour and a half before I go off to my book group where we're reading Alain de Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy. And a little while ago, when I was looking for a link to information about the book for the 'Book Clubs' column in the margins of this blog, I came across its Wikipedia entry, which is little more than a collection of bad reviews that effectively declare that Botton's work is not philosophy.

Panel from Cham, J. 'Nature vs. Science, pt. 4' PhD Comics 5/8/2009

The criticism quoted seems to rely entirely on the usual boring old prejudices that because something is popular, or aimed at a popular audience, then it is somehow devoid of any value. There's an extract from one Mary Margaret McCabe that I take particular exception to:
the latest attempt to popularize philosophy [De Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy] - that is to say, to make philosophy into televisual fodder - does so precisely on the basis that philosophers can provide us with useful tips...
Ah, yes, how intellectually rigourous: something appears on television ergo it is debased. Still, I doubt Socrates would sanction this line of reasoning.

Before I continue let me just say that I have some sympathy with Messrs McCabe et al. It can be incredibly frustrating, if you spend your days revelling in the wonder of a subject you love, appreciating all of its joys, its contradictions and complexities, to then witness its apparent evisceration at the hands of someone who doesn't seem to have taken the time to understand those joys, contradictions and complexities, let alone communicate them as they purport to do.

Again to be fair to Messrs McCabe et al. perhaps they did say something more in their reviews of Consolations other than 'It's not philosophy'. I wish I had more time right now to find that out. I hope that in their reviews they would give me more of an idea of their understanding of what philosophy is and how that is different to Botton's. And yes, however Utilitarian, I also want to know 'What is philosophy for'?

I think, despite my years of study, I probably have a fairly lay conception of philosophy as a field of inquiry. I've used the writings of theorists (are they philosophers?), who are concerned with how we live, in my academic degrees. So this is my understanding of philosophy: that it is concerned with the matter of how we live and all the questions that are associated with that. As to what it is for, then I think it's for figuring out how to live.

What do you think? Or perhaps you know?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Dear John Hughes

I'm still unable to update Twitter from the main web page. Apparently there's a problem for some Firefox users, so I guess I'm one of them. I could use the Safari browser I suppose, but I've decided I quite like the idea of being prompted by the tweets of people I follow on Twitter to reflect in more depth (or perhaps just at greater length) about life, the universe, and everything.

The tweet that prompted my line of thought today:

Well, I have to admit that it made me tear up rather a lot and it got me thinking about my own experience of John Hughes. I didn't have any direct correspondence with him the way Alison did, but at least three of his films were very important to me in my senior years of high school. In 1985 I began Grade 11 and that was the year The Breakfast Club was released. I remember going to the cinema with my friends and we all identified with those characters, their insecurities and their dreams, their desire to be different.

The next year we went to see Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Watching Ferris Bueller, I suppose I just wished I'd had his chutzpah, his ingenuity, not only to wrangle a day off school, but to go all out and celebrate that day, dragging his girlfriend and his genuinely sick friend along for the adventure, and infuriating his sister along the way.

It was joyful celebration of youth, and just writing about it now, I've got a such a grin on my face that it's crinkling my eyes. The lengths Ferris goes to, to fool his teachers, prefigure Hughes's later Home Alone series, but I think the best moment is when Ferris suddenly appears atop a float in a street parade, writhing and lip-syncing to Twist and Shout. Ha! LOL!

Now I probably identify more with the teacher at the school: 'Anyone. Anyone'.

I wasn't as enamoured with Pretty in Pink as a film as I was with its soundtrack. I still think it's one of the best film soundtracks ever.

Not that I've had an ongoing knowledge of film soundtracks, but what's a blog for if not to indulge in a bit of hyperbole?

Anyway, I wanted to include a clip of Echo and the Bunnymen's Bring on the Dancing Horses, which was amongst my favourite songs on the soundtrack but I could only find a live version from years later where the lead singer was smoking while singing, which no doubt accounts for his completely shot voice.

There is a clip of the original video but in their continued fear of and confusion about YouTube, WMG has ordered the sound to be muted. (Is there any point in railing against this short-sighted practice? Is there any point in suggesting that no-one would make any money off the clip if the audio was available, and nor would it prevent WMG making money from the song? Who knows, perhaps by not infuriating people with corporate standover tactics and being generous enough to allow people to indulge in their nostalgia for the song, well, people might come over all warm and fuzzy and even go out and buy it again? Bah!)

Here's the closest I could get to it: a mashup of Bring on the Dancing Horses and Snow Patrol's Chocolate.

RIP John Hughes.

Friday, August 07, 2009

On Not Being A-Twitter

I woke up this morning and, as I usually do, I turned my computer on and made my way to the kitchen to brew my first coffee of the day. With the coffee pot sitting atop a flame, waiting to work its magic, I returned to the computer to open Firefox and then click on the bookmark I have for a direct connection to Twitter.

I sat before my Twitter feed, clicking the "more" button at the bottom of the page until it revealed all the tweets I had not read since the previous evening. The first thing I learned from Twitter this morning was, via @mashable, that Twitter had been subject to a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDoS). I wasn't terribly sure what that was so I clicked through to have a read.

It didn't sound good and I was heartily pleased that it had passed Australia by while I was sleeping.

Then I read @Duddy's question, where she wondered what a DDoS was. Since I like to be helpful :-p I replied to her, offering the link to Mashable by way of explanation. The trouble began when I tried to send the update.

I've had glitches like this with Twitter before and sometimes all it takes is refreshing the page then attempting the tweet again. It's usually successful, but not this time.

Still, I was undeterred and kept on reading my feed. I came across a link posted by @deepwarren to Go Fug Yourself. She thought that the featured dress, designed by Armani and worn by Fergie of the Black-eyed Peas, resembled a bath towel. I was eager to give my opinion that it looked especially like a bath mat, not only because of the texture of the material, but because of the fringe around the hem.

I composed my thoughts in a concise 140 characters to @deepwarren and, again, the tweet failed to update.

Now I began to think that perhaps there was a problem with the reply function, so I tried out a straight-forward tweet, begging the indulgence of my followers for clogging their feeds with a test message. If only I had been able to.

I took a break from Twitter, for as long as I could stand--probably about as long as it took me to close down the browser and restart my computer--but to no avail. Twitter did not want to work for me today.

I had a look in their help section and it turns out that my problem was a known issue for some accounts. *sigh* I would have to wait it out.

I had a bit of a lament on Facebook, which garnered me instant sympathy (thank you Zoe!) And I did all the things I normally do in a working day but without participating in the conversations I've become used to as I work from my computer.

Oh, how I missed being able twitter away today, sharing a mood or expressing the gastronomical delights of my breakfast. I could eavesdrop and follow links, but it wasn't as enjoyable as starting a chocolate ear-worm and participating in the common experience of a shared craving, which is what happened yesterday:

It was just nice that this apparently silly conversation came after the annoyance of discovering I'd lost some work on my thesis.

And just now, if I could have responded to this:

I would have issued a hearty 'Hear! Hear!' And declared I'm having an LOL!