Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Art School

I spent yesterday tutoring collage at a new art school in Whitianga. Set up by a friend Judy Meehl it includes classes of painting, pottery, doll making, life drawing and of course collage. The method was taught to me by Swiss artist (and dear friend) Felix Obrist who came to NZ to recover from an illness and after numerous black coffees and discussions on art he used my studio and let me into his secrets (which aren't secrets any longer sorry Felix!). It involves constructing by glueing on paper such as pages from magazines ripped or cut and then deconstructing by sanding back and then adding again in many layers. The sanding back blurs images and makes it more like a painting.
Our little town of Whitianga has always been well blessed with galleries and now another friend (yes I have two!) Andrea is setting up a fine art gallery which will replace the Upstairs Gallery which closed last year. Interestingly, Tauranga a city twenty times larger, (I'm guessing) has just got it's first gallery. What comes first the gallery or the artists?
Off to Auckland now to pick up supplies for our opening and to see the grandchildren for their birthdays and then it's nose to the grindstone for seven months. Whoopee

Friday, September 21, 2007

Opening the restaurant

What the restaurant should look like!

The countdown to opening the restaurant again has begun in earnest. It's our 10th year and are by far the longest running establishment in our area which boasts about 20 eateries. It's a cut throat business with the two cafes closest to us each having eight different owners since we started and many other venues failing. Maybe prospective buyers see them in the summer time when it's completely manic and imagine how much money they can make but the reality is less than ten punters in the winter time is the norm and that's only if you are popular. So our decision to close for five months has been a good one economically and it's given us a life outside of the business which is important to our survival.

So it will be good to open again with seasonal products like asparagus and strawberries (not together!). The Coromandel green lipped mussels are fattening after spawning, the scallops from our bay are small but of good colour and a fisherman is now catching paddle crabs which haven't got a lot of meat but are and subtle and sweet. Crayfish are plentiful and have only gone up $2 to $38/kilo for second grade (loss of more than two legs), the first kingfish, my preferred fish to cook, have been sighted and the oysters are fat. Add these to the local fruit, oranges, tangelos, mandarins, tamarillos, avocados, macadamias and free range eggs (from our old business) and organic milk and you have a wonderful canvas to paint a menu.

There has been a big shift away from out of season and/or exotic foods but we have always used as much local as we can get because of isolation and courier charges and it made sense.

So now we're busy changing the restaurant from sculpture studio to eatery and where do we put eight big sculptures!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Clean home fires

News this week of a 14 year old girl in NZ who won a science competition for making a device that takes out the carbon content from wood burning fires. She found that by spraying water inside the chimney it took out the carbon but left a black liquid so she turned that into a briquette to be reburned.
Now it doesn't sound like ground breaking science but it begs the question, has any research been done around the world by big grown up scientists into stopping this pollution at it's source in the chimney? I had just assumed that they had tried and failed. In the city of Christchurch they have estimated that in winter 50% of it's pollution is caused by household fires. Imagine the worth of such a simple device.
I have used a wood stove in my homes a lot, giving me cooking, heating and hot water but have been increasingly concerned about the effects of the smoke if everybody was using them and in fact with the building code now in some areas you aren't allowed an open fire and other fires have to be approved. Bring on something that will allow us to toast our toes in front of the fire again!
Also in the news are engineering students from Waikato University who have designed an electric car with a 150kg battery that will take you 200 kilometres for a $5 charge. The idea is that you will pull into a station and they will replace your depleted battery for a charged one and you are on your way for the next 200k's. It's going to cost $10 million to set them up to be made commercially and could be out in 18 months. I hope the old Subaru is going to last that long. I told it a long time ago that it can retire when I find a green alternative. It's still waiting.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I love my wwoofers. No they are not dogs but 'willing workers on organic farms' a world wide organisation which places travellers on farms to learn about the country and organic principles. We don't have a farm but luckily they have a cultural section and we attract people interested in the arts and music and cooking and maintaning our organic garden. We ask that they do four hours work a day and give them basic food plus $10 and accomodate them in our little house overlooking the sea. That's the view above but we don't provide the gin and tonics! Last season we had 29 through and they provided a lovely international flavour and we made some great friends.
Already we have Chris and Emelie from Germany here preparing the gardens for spring planting and another traveller is coming today so the rather sad looking wet winter garden will be transformed hopefully into a blooming paradise. Sometimes, I have to admit, because a lack of plant knowledge, you see a favourite shrub on the compost heap but it's all part of the fun. Ciro from Argentina painted some murals, Gerben from Holland painted the house, Christian from Germany made art with food and so they all have left little reminders of their time here.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Coal fired smoke screen

With the Apec Conference in Sydney this week the nuclear bogey has raised it's head again. Our Government has been castigated for suggesting that they would try to influence other countries not to use nuclear power stations and with our history of being nuclear free it is an emotive issue here. We don't need nuclear power because we have ample other sources which of course have their down side but we weigh them up and they come out better against the safety and waste from a reactor.
Now China has set up a smoke screen by having a new coal fired power station coming on stream every four days which makes nuclear look positively green. But just by having a better option doesn't make it green and with their record of anti freeze in tooth paste and lead in childrens' toys will that lead to them using the waste to make radioactive electric drills? Which would have an upside in that instead of being good for only two weeks they would last for three thousand years! You don't think they would? Look at the Americans using radioactive bullets in Iraq, perfect scenario, kill the enemy and use up the waste.
The biofuels mess is another case in point. Using up 50% of American corn for a 2% additive to petrol and still controlled by the oil companies. It has pushed up food prices around the world.
What happens is it creates big issues and dilutes the research into renewable resources. If the debate between coal or nuclear is raging and you suggest trying to use 10% less electricity you are treated like environmentalists were five years ago who suggested global warming was happening.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Son Sam

Sam before
And after

Son Sam, at 16, the baby of the family wants to take a week off school to go snowboarding but his results aren't very good and because of his bad hair decisions (above) it's a difficult decision. After being involved with putting children through school for 35 years I don't know if I'm tired of it or my attitude to education has changed. The other four, two in Sydney and two in Auckland, have done us proud but is that degree all that it is cracked up to be? Sure if it fits that's fine but schools have to be fairly rigid because of the numbers they put through and I love the free spirit that Sam is and wouldn't want to change that. Is that a cop out? Am I being a responsible parent? I think the older you get the more relaxed you are and the less you worry about poor academic records being a reflection on you as a parent. At parent/teacher interviews I expected to get castigated for his poor performance but they laughed and joked with him so I think with his people skills he'll get on alright in life.

Forty odd years ago when I started in the workforce you could pick and choose which job you wanted and after a long period of high unemployment where jobs were scarce and qualifications more important it has come round again with unemployment only at 2-3% and businesses crying out for labour. We have great difficulty in attracting chefs and that's why untrained yours truly has the job!

I say, love em, keep em happy and occupied and let the rest take care of itself. Yeah you're right it's a cop out!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sculptures finished

Finished the shipwrecked boat and it's OK. I might lay some small pieces of driftwood on the water in the reservoir to make it more natural as you can see the pump underneath. I have left one side of the boat rough, one side polished, the topsides slightly polished and the inside highly polished.
The other piece which is finished too, looks to me like a speed skater. The stone I polished I found on the beach and haven't a clue to its origins. It's reddish with white flecks and I started with the intention of making it round but liked the little nuances the shadows were throwing so left it more natural. I like the combination of wood and stone.
I have started a new chair design and a sculpture like a perpetual running man and have the next stone design in my mind so life won't be quiet. We open the restaurant again in 4 weeks and I haven't done the new menu yet so the family will be eating well while I experiment with textures and flavours. They will probably be hanging out for meat and three veg by the end of the month. Anybody out there want to be experimented on!
Spring has sprung and I got seeds and potting mix for fathers day. The little babies are already in the hatchery to burst forth in a few days to herald a new season