To Wellington, with love

I had intended to blog about a recent disastrous skirt purchase, but after walking the waterfront this morning, I decided that an open love letter to Wellington was in order. There was just something a bit magical about today, a jumble sale’s worth of mish-mashed activities and things all coming together and reminding me what I love best about Wellington and New Zealand.

My day started like most Sunday mornings.  I walk to the Sunday Market almost every week.  The Sunday Market is a farmer’s market, first and foremost, but is also a haven for foodies and those who live by the idea of local, organic ingredients.  In addition to my onions and broccolini, I can get fresh fish; ethically farmed and butchered venison and lamb; and organic, free-range eggs.  I can also enjoy an authentic quesadilla, Cantonese noodles, Roti, Brazilian barbecue, French pastries, and Maori specialities, all while listening to a variety of buskers singing the likes of Elvis, Johnny Cash, and traditional Maori songs.

Placard for a Sunday Market food stall

Brazilian barbecue, anyone?

Delicious jams and cakes for sale!



This is the view that greets me when I leave my apartment and head towards work (or in today’s case) the Sunday market. People say that you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.  It’s true.

Wellington, on a gorgeous day.

One of the best parts of my Sunday morning is spotting the markers for the Poet’s Walk.  This one perfectly describes what the day starts like in Wellington.

On the wharf, part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

Before I got to the market, though, I came across this.

Of course I had to take a quick glance.  A quick glance turned into an hour and the purchase of two signed prints and a new handmade leather journal.  But these tickled me.  “Hotties” are essential in the winter here.  I never understood the joy that is a hot water bottle nestled at your feet until recently.  And of course, a hot water bottle by itself is boring.  It definitely needs some tarting up!

"hottie" covers, handmade from felted wool.

Finally on my way to the market, I stopped at Te Papa (the national museum of New Zealand) and enjoyed the window displays.  In addition to everything else going on, Wellington is also hosting the World of Wearable Art, or WOW.  It is a celebration of art displayed on bodies instead of canvases, with endless categories.  This is a display of a dress made of ground tarps and bottle caps.  Amazing!

One of the previous WOW dresses, made from industrial materials.

Detail of the dress: painted tarp ruffles and bottle caps.













Finally getting to the market, I elbowed my way through the throng and snapped up veggies for the week.  Avocados and peppers were on sale (usually $3 and $5 each, respectively this time of year), and I heard the voice of veggie tacos calling.

One of the veggie stalls at the Sunday Market

Care for some Japanese bok choy?

On my way back—ladden as I was with veggies, prints, a new journal, and a chocolate brioche from Simply Paris’s (a gorgeous little French patisserie just down the way from our apartment) market stall, I stumbled across another one of my favorite Poet Walk quotes.

Part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

I reflected on that as I strolled home and I thought about everything I’d see today—the ingenuity, the creativity, the community coming together, and the meld of disparate cultures and ideas, all melding together into one dazzling day—and I realized that’s what I loved best about Wellington, what I love best about New Zealand.

So, to my beautiful Wellington, thank you for always making me smile and for reminding me on a daily basis all that is truly good and wonderful in this life.




Jack Frost, Nipping At My Nose

I do not like the cold.  This is not opinion.  This is not subjective hyperbole.  This is fact.  I am not made for the cold.  Before moving to Wellington, my only experience with truly cold temperatures was that time I was in Niagra for a day.

But since moving to Wellington, I’ve had to adjust to howling Southerlies racing off the Antarctica ice and up the coast of New Zealand before whipping through Wellington.  It’s like having your air conditioning adjusted to perma-freeze.  Or sticking your whole body in your freezer and turning the fan on high.  This is unnatural.  But so is horizontal rain (another Wellington fixture).

It wouldn’t be so bad if homes in New Zealand had central heating.  Generally speaking, they do not.  Generally speaking, they have no systematic ventilation at all.  You either open a window (sans screen) or throw on yet another wool sweater.  This is how you regulate temperature in New Zealand.

But until now, I at least had the smug confidence of being able to say, “Well, at least we’re not in Invercargill!”

You see, it snows in Invercargill.  Wellington may have a summer that lasts approximately 48 hours, but we could say with assurance that the likelihood of snow in the Wellington CBD was on par with Tiger Woods clawing his way back to the top of the leaderboard.

Apparently he’s on his way.

Over the last three days, it has, in fact, snowed in Wellington.  But mostly, it has hailed, sleeted, rained, and iced in Wellington.  I left home today in three layers of merino, plus leggings, wool knee socks, and knee-high leather boots.  Plus my woolly scarf, coat, hat, and gloves.  This was not a fashion statement, this was a necessity.

I have had to learn much about layers.  This is a foreign concept.  You see, Southerners do not *do* layers.  We strive to strike a balance between wearing as few layers as possible and maintaining a healthy sense of decorum and decency.  But here—even in the 48 hours of summer—I never the leave the house without a cardigan, scarf, and/or a hat of some sort.  On the rare occasion that I catch sight of myself in reflection in a store window, I wonder aloud, “Who is that bag lady?”

(I suspect I still have much to learn with respect to layering elegantly.)

This ‘cold’ snap is supposed to last a few more days.  And then, temperatures should return to normal.  Which means cold instead of bitterly freezing.

Maybe T is right.  Maybe he did import an exotic lizard.

The upside to this is the most cozy bed you could ever imagine (two winter-weight duvets and the most delicious electric mattress pad you could ever imagine, and woolly pajamas) and the ability to swaddle yourself in soft woollen goods to go to work.  No high heels, structured suits, or complicated skirts.  Just layer after layer of warm, cozy, goodness.

And then there’s hot chocolate while snuggling on the couch (under a blanket, of course) and watching the fluffy white stuff fall over the city.  That part is pretty cool too.

An image captured by a friend of Newlands, a northern Wellington suburb--definitely in the "hills"

Your Junk is My Precious!

I am loathe to pay full-price for anything.  There are few exceptions to this, beauty products being most notable.  Otherwise, I wait for things to go on sale.  Sales were fine, but I drew the line at buying something that was “preloved”.  Purchasing a dress someone else wore?  Surely not!

But then I moved to New Zealand where everything feels three times as expensive as at home.  And I discovered TradeMe.

TradeMe is like a combination of Ebay and Craig’s List (minus the unsavoury shenanigans).  It is a glorious cornucopia of nostalgia, free trade, real estate, and sparkly earrings. I can buy roofing nails, plants, plane tickets, and fingernail polish all on one easy to navigate website.  We found our flashy new apartment on the wharf on TradeMe.  T bought his car—Hans—on TradeMe, too.

Speaking of said flashy new apartment, the problem with moving somewhere new is making all of your stuff look like it’s been there for a hundred years (minus the dust and obvious environmental damage that would have occurred).  We didn’t have the problem of too much stuff.  No, we so clearly didn’t have enough that it was painful.  A TV, sofa and side table do not a lounge and dining room make.

We thought we’d start slowly.  We made lists.  We prioritised.  We considered where we spent most of our time at home and what we really needed.  A chair, we determined.  Let’s start with a chair!  Man cannot live by a single sofa alone.

We thought we were clever by going to a mid-range furniture store’s big sale.   We searched high and low; we bickered loudly and softly.  Finally, we found a chair we could both agree on.  Only, the chair—a single, small armchair—was $800.00.  On sale.  And it didn’t even have gold plating.  Needless to say, we did not buy the chair.

Then I remembered my trusty friend, TradeMe.  It had given me a roof over my head and provided us with transportation. Surely it could kit out our apartment too?

I gave myself a budget of $700, which had to buy the following:

  • One lounge chair
  •  One coffee table
  • One dining table and chairs, suitable for six people
  • One coat rack
  • One set of filing drawers

These were the essentials.  Could I do it?  Could I really?

Like that annoying, “Let’s Build a House in Seven Days and Still Remain Relentlessly Cheerful” TV Show, Yes. I Could.

And, I got a new handbag, a pair of sandals, and a dress to boot.  I only went over budget by $10.00.

Only $300, and that included delivery. Best bargain of the lot, I think.

The best purchase was by far the lounge chair: gorgeous brown leather from a boutique furniture shop in Paris.  We paid less than 10% of what the man paid (I sleuthed on line!) when he was writing his memoires while living in the South of France.  That was great, of course, but the story of the chair was even better.

At only $200, this got a definite, "Ooh, la la!"

Our worst purchase was the coffee table.  T had to pick it up under the cover of night and had to schlep it from the carport (where it had been left) into Hans and back home.  In the light of day, “minor scratches” were huge gouges, and “good condition” was “leans slightly to the left.”  I should mention that the coffee table man offered to take it back and refund our money, but I had already grown attached to it and felt like a protective mother.

Looks good from afar, but hardly a "bargain" at $50.

Even better still was the endless of parade of stuff that people put up for sale: There were the flame red, patent leather chairs that looked like lips; the “munted” recliner that was held together by tape; the table that had a deep gouge all the way the down the center with the mysterious explanation for how it got there.

Looking through these listings was like seeing the curtains drawn back from these people’s lives.  I’m pretty sure the guy selling the recliner really didn’t want to part with it, but “no longer fits our décor” is code for, “my partner said it’s me or the recliner and I really like her buttered potatoes.”  And the flame red leather chairs?  Either a very good salesman was involved, or some sinister, dark force.

And then there are the people who just tell you.  You don’t even get to guess.  “I’m only selling this chair as it’s too comfy.  I can’t seem to get out of it and my wife said that if I didn’t get off my arse and do the yard work she’d divorce me.  Please won’t you buy my chair?”

I’m now on the hunt for a hall table that will have places for our shoes underneath, drawers or cubbies for the endless pieces of paper that T brings home, and a shelf for all of the stuff that we seem to carry around in our pockets on a daily basis.  Oh.  And it can only be a certain width and depth.  And it needs to be dark brown or black.  If I can find it anywhere, it will be TradeMe.

Off to the hunt I go…

The hangbag is already in operation; the sandals will come home to Savannah with me!

I wish I may, I wish I might, have the mantra I wish tonight

“What’s my mantra?”

T looked up briefly from his dog-eared film festival program with a quizzical expression.  In a delayed reaction—as if trying to process if I had, in fact, asked him what my mantra was—he finally asked, “What?”

“My mantra.  What’s my mantra?”

His mouth opened and then snapped shut again—his jaw clearly thinking better of whatever it was his brain had considered saying.  We remained in silence for a few moments, engaged in some weird staring contest, me waiting expectantly for an answer.  Him, considering responses and discarding them based on an his astute risk analysis.

“Mantra?  I don’t know.  Does anyone have a mantra?” he mused aloud.

I had to admire his deflection.  It was a classic, safe move.  But I was undeterred.  “I should have one.  Well.  Actually, Izzie’s asked me what mine is.  She’s doing something mysterious and needs to know.”

T snorted.  ‘Mysterious?  You make it sound like some weird voodoo ritual.”

“Okay, Mr Funny Man, it’s not voodoo.  It’s a sincere question and I’m giving it sincere thought.  You know me.”

“Yeah, that I do,” T muttered.  He paused and scratched his head.  His eyes flicked longingly to the film program.  He closed it with a sigh and turned to me fully.  “Okay.  A mantra.  Your mantra.  Well … what about—” and then he stopped.  “Hang on.  Isn’t this supposed to be your mantra?”


“Well … I mean … it’s yours.  Don’t you think it’s—I mean—shouldn’t YOU be figuring it out?”

“Well, yes, but I thought you might be able to point me in the right direction.”

“For figuring out what you should be meditating on? How about, ‘Universe, help me be decisive,’” he said with a chuckle that, admittedly, got me chuckling too.

“It’s hard!” I said through the tittering.  “I mean, picking one phrase that sums up the essence of your being and is the kernel of truth that defines and guides your path?”

“Are you serious?  You’re serious.  Not everything has to be so serious, you know.  Oh!  There’s your mantra.  ‘Stop taking life so seriously!’”

And with that, T went back to studying the film festival program to see if he could squeeze in one more film to round out his list to 35.

The problem was, “Don’t take life so seriously” could have been my mantra.  T was right about that.  A dozen other phrases would have been good choices, too.  Ones like, “Take risks, but be prepared.”  Or, “Life is what you make it.” Or, in a nod to Sally Field, “They like me.  They really like me.”  So it was less of an issue of finding one, as it was picking among the many, many, many good choices.

That’s the thing about being profoundly neurotic.  You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to mantra shopping.

But I was serious when I said I was taking this task seriously (which—as T so pointedly said—is no shock to anyone who knows or has met me).  So, I approached the task as I would any new, confounding topic.  Research.

In a past life, I’m quite sure I was a research librarian.  For a long time, I wore librarian glasses.  I continue to have a penchant for wool skirts and twinsets.  I’m generally regarded as harmless, and while lively, never one to cause a stir.  And I love exploring new topics and figuring things out.  I was probably the only person in law school who wished it had been four years instead of three.

I began my research with my trusty friend, Google.  Google lead me to a number of interesting topics on mantras: what mantras are, what they’re meant to be, what you should be aiming for in a mantra.  Armed with the basics, I started consulting learned sources for ideas on what a good mantra should be.   Sources like “” and “”.  It’s amazing the things people say.

About two weeks into this process, T came home one evening and asked what I was doing.

“Looking for a mantra.”

“On the Internet?”

“It could happen.  I found the world’s most perfect pair of shoes on the Internet.”

“But shouldn’t this be something that YOU think?  Not what someone else thinks?”

“Yes, but my mantra will be stronger if someone else said it first.  It gives it validity.  It’s like stare decisis.  You know, precedent.”

T rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath about bloody lawyers and bloody Latin and bloody mantras before turning on the sports news and going into a rugby-induced stupor.

I did eventually settle on a mantra, and yes, it did come from the Internet, and yes, someone else said it first.  But it really summed up so much in my life, and so much about the choices that I’ve made at times.  The guilt I’ve felt at putting myself first or the resentment when I didn’t.

So, my mantra is “Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.”  Some French guy said it in 15somethingorother.  Precedent, indeed.

As for giving myself to myself, I almost never do that.  And I should.  I’m not comfortable saying, “This is what I want.”  I’m much more comfortable asking, “What do you want?  How can I give that to you?”

There’s a real freedom in deciding to put yourself first.  I’m not advocating that on a full-time basis, because then you tip dangerously toward becoming a self-absorbed narcissist.  But for people whose default is “What can I do for you?” it’s not a bad idea to occasionally ask (even of yourself), “What can you do for me?”

It almost feels naughty to ask that.  Shameful.  And I wonder how many of my girlfriends feel the same way.  Is it a gender issue?  A social issue?  A generational issue?  Or maybe, it’s just a Jenn issue.  I haven’t figured that part out yet, but I’m pleased to have at least solved the mantra puzzle.

Now.  To figure out why I have a profound but irrational dislike of eggplant….