Monthly Archives: July 2013

New York, New York

New YorkNew York: I’m almost at a loss for words. Almost, but not quite. It has got to be my favourite city. With its massive, imposing buildings, and millions of people rushing to places like they’re exceptionally busy and important. And boy are they rude. It was fabulous! If you take longer than 2.5 seconds to order your tall skinny cappuccino with wings at Starbucks, you’ll be chased through the streets by a mob of furious, caffeine-starved commuters not wealthy enough to live on Manhattan island itself.

New YorkIn New York you can find anything you want at any time you want it. From a simple latte to end your day, to Imodium at the all-night pharmacy to treat your Mister’s food poisoning. Imodium that rubs shoulders with Reeces Peanut Butter Cups on one side and is jostled by lightly fragranced disposable drawer liners on the other. It’s an amazing city of incredible contrasts: the hard lines of the towering skyscrapers that loom over you like panga-wielding warlords in some far off future world are juxtaposed against the soft, green space that Central Park offers its city’s parched inhabitants. It’s a city of culture and wealth, beauty and history all embodied in its almost unrivaled museum mile. But it’s also a city that hardens you as you see people avert their eyes from the lost, homeless and poor.

JohannesburgAnd it is this element of that unforgettable city that so reminded me, when I was there, of Johannesburg. Another city that starkly contrasts the beauty of our gardens, parks and reserves and the ugliness of the dirty streets that lie buried in piles and piles of litter. But what Johannesburg has that New York doesn’t, apart from a sense of humour and the ability to laugh at itself, is that it has yet to reach its potential. In fact, this mind blowing city is so far from reaching its potential that, if Johannesburg were a politician, honesty would be its potential.

And that, in my mind, puts us right up there with the incredible cities of the world: London, Paris, New York and all the other cities that have stolen your hearts and that will stay with you forever. The only difference is, most of these cities have taken decades and sometimes hundreds of years to become as great as they are. Johannesburg has yet to reach its potential, and already we’re vying for space right up at the top with the heavies.

If you’re looking for somewhere else to visit that also has a lot of potential, take a look at the travel pages in the August issue of Essentials. And visit essentials.co.za for some really exciting events happening around your city in South Africa.

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A tale of a few cities

New york london parisThis post is about not travelling. And, because I have so much to say on the subject, it’s been written in two installments. With a cliffhanger – just like Charles Dickens used to do.

New York smells like burnt bread. Paris smells like sulphur and burnt cocoa. London smells like rain and petrol. Every city I’ve been to has its own distinct smell. And, for years after I’ve been to a city, I often experience smell-ja vu and I’m transported right back to the streets of that city.

210px-Construction_Workers

When I left school I never felt the urge to go travelling. I didn’t have an image of myself as a back-packing, dreadlock-sporting, hostel-sleeping, toilet sharing, The Beach-emulating adventurer. I had friends who went to London for a year or so, worked in bars and did some travelling around Europe. My Mister himself did his fair share of adventuring too: he worked on a kibbutz in Israel for a few months and he worked as a construction worker, tie salesman to the rich and famous and as a barman in London.

I did go to Paris and London for a short couple of weeks after I left school and I loved every second of it (despite the fact I was as sick as a dog that’s eaten a putrefying kipper). I was blown away by the sights of England’s capital and I wasn’t even frightened away by the little foreign man who followed us around Earl’s Court saying, ‘Book room for three! Book room for three!’

London2 London was everything it was meant to be: from the grey skies and continuous, bone-chilling damp, to the concrete, moss-covered gargoyles on the rooftops of centuries-old buildings. We walked that city flat, starting right after our eggs, bacon, tomato, baked beans, chips and toast builders’ breakfasts from Benjy’s. We saw The Royal Albert Hall, Westminster Abbey and the Tower Bridge. We wondered around Hyde Park, listened to angry doomsday lunatics at Speaker’s Corner and got lost in the gardens of Kensington Palace.

Eiffel tower And Paris was just as amazing as I always imagined it would be. The Eiffel Tower was omnipresent and imposing, even though we somehow managed to walk right past it while searching for it. When we booked our hotel room in Paris we did so on the spur of the moment while in London and we didn’t really know what we were doing or where we should be staying. We didn’t know a Rue from a roux or a Maison from a mason. We were bound to fail.

We ended up in a hotel in what I can only call the Parisian equivalent of Johannesburg’s Hillbrow. We’d booked a room that had an en suite bathroom (a real treat after our shared with 10 pther travellers bathroom in London) and a TV but, when got there, our room was sans television. So we insisted. And mimed our insistence to the dour woman at reception who spoke no English and very French French. And, after almost storming the Bastille to get what we saw as rightfully ours, we finally got our TV. And watched Full House dubbed into French and didn’t understand a word of it. And New York. I’m almost at a loss for words. Almost, but not quite.

It’s my party and I’ll try if I want to

How to host a one-year-old’s birthday party successfully

Holly's party 1

Last Friday was my gorgeous baby girl’s first birthday *sob* – she’s growing up so fast! Just before she was born, I had this quaint picture in my head of what her first few birthdays should look like: mommy would be at home unwrapping presents with her baby, baking goodies in the kitchen, assembling party packs and generally being Nigella and Martha-esque. I wanted to be able to give my baby the kind of birthday and party I always had when I was little. And, on the whole, things pretty much went the way they were meant to go, so I thought I’d share my tips and plans with you.

Owl1I decided on an owl theme for her party because she (read: I) loves owls. I found that having a theme helped guide me in terms of cake, decorations, party packs and gifts (she’s going to have an owl-themed bedroom in our new house). Fortunately, the whole woodland creatures theme is on trend at the moment and everything is easily available. Tip: Pick a theme with easily available goodies. I recommend steering clear of characters that have gone out of fashion years ago like Popeye or Betty Boop. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to find decorations and things.

Paper lantern owl

Paper lantern owl

Because I work full time, I started making decorations and party packs in the evenings a couple of weeks before the party. I’m not terribly good at crafts and my Mister often had to rescue me from the dark recesses of glue-and-glitter hell and finish off my crafts (that picture certainly didn’t match up to what was in my head!). Tip: Don’t make decorations if you’re not very ‘crafty’. I was a little more successful with my party packs: I bought little party boxes from a toy shop that was having a sale and put stickers, a little chocolate, a soft sweet and a toy inside. I decorated the outside with a little picture of an owl so I didn’t have to pay a fortune for themed party packs but the boxes were too small for a packet of chips (party-pack fail). Tip: make sure your party packs are big enough to contain what you want to pack into them!

Check out essentials.co.za for more fab cake recipes.

Check out essentials.co.za for more fab cake recipes.

 I asked people I’d invited to the party to help me out with food and things. My mother and mom-in-law helped out with making sandwiches, quiches, sausage rolls, mini meatballs and the soup (it was freezing cold!). And I asked my sister-in-law, who is a magician with baking, to make Holly a cake. It was amazing AND delicious. I was really lucky because buying a birthday cake can really eat into your budget. Tip: Don’t make too much food (I had heaps left over) and rope in people you know to help with snacks.

I’m really fortunate to work with very talented people and I asked Tahra, our art director to be the photographer. She took the most amazing photos and I didn’t have to worry about missing out on the party while running trying to capture those special moments! Tip: Ask someone else to take photos so you can be entirely present at your child’s party.

Park

Because we’re still waiting to move into our new house (read my blog post Early Retirement from February 2013 for context) and are currently staying in a retirement village with my mother-in-law, we had to look for a venue to hold the party. Ideally I would have liked to have had the party in my own house, in my new garden with our covered patio and my own kitchen but life throws these little challenges at us to make us stronger (serious first world problems, I know). So we decided on Delta Park. It’s really lovely there: there’s a children’s play area and swathes of rolling lawn for the kids to run around and exhaust themselves. Tip: We have some amazing free resources and venues in this country. Do a little research before you hire a kids’ party venue. It may take a little more preparation, but it can also save you a bundle.

And finally, try to enjoy yourself. A first birthday party is really for the parents and family – your baba is not going to remember it and is happy rolling around on the lawn, eating leaves and tearing up wrapping paper.

A nobleman’s daughter

While awake the other morning at 3:00am with my almost-one-year-old I was thinking that sometimes I feel like I was born at the wrong time. I’m sure my mother will agree – no one thinks midnight is a great time to be roused from bed by a massive pain in the abdomen that makes one think one is being ripped in two. But that isn’t quite what I mean. I feel like I was born into the wrong age, or era if you like.

marketplace.secondlife.com

marketplace.secondlife.com

The problem is I was born in 1980 so I didn’t even really get to appreciate the melted-Cheddar-cheese-on-toast that was the ‘80s, like those who were born in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s did. I was too young to fully experiment with the very big permed hair and ultra-lumo eyeshadow. Nor did I get to wear neon yellow and green nail polish on my fingers and toes. So I really do feel like my enjoyment of my birth decade was incomplete. Yes, I do realise that the eighties are back in a big way and I could go to Dis-Chem and buy myself some Day-Glo nail polish, but it’s not the same and I really don’t want to, owing to it being ugly.

Gatsby-inspired shopping: http://bit.ly/18HkphC

Gatsby-inspired shopping: http://bit.ly/18HkphC

The decade that resonates most with me is The Roaring Twenties. And, while I do believe I would have made a spectacular flapper with my pin curls, pleats and gathers, the twenties theme has been well and truly murdered in a spectacular way by the release of The Great Gatsby. So I’m over it (but if you’re not, click on the pic above to check out some Gatsby-inspired buys!).

From Essentials magazine SA on Pinterest

From Essentials magazine SA on Pinterest

My second favourite era would have to be Victorian England. I would, of course, have been born into a noble family, and would not have had anything to do with the hoi polloi and grunginess that more often than not characterised large cities. I would have adorned myself with enormous feather and flower-laden hats, and ankle-brushing skirts. And I would have carried a pretty floral parasol so as not to let my delicate skin burn in the heat of the sun. My family would have thrown me a Debutantes’ Ball after which I would have been courted by a seemly number of young gentlemen who had very good prospects and who came from equally impressive backgrounds.

The Gadget Expert - July Essentials mag

The Gadget Expert – July Essentials mag

While living the life of a nobleman’s daughter in times gone by may sound fabulous and lazy, it also means I wouldn’t have had all my beloved technology at my disposal: no Samsung Galaxy 4, no iPad, no computer on which to write, no magazine at which to work and no internet on which to research fashion trends of Victorian England. Have a look at the July issue of Essentials magazine for Taryns techno tips and Caryn’s fashion finds. They’ll certainly have you appreciating the time in which you live.