elf escapades

I first became aware of the ‘elf on the shelf’ in December 2019 when a friend at work, who has two young boys, showed me photos of the mischievous little imp and his shenanigans. I was so enamoured with the charming chap, I hoped to find him wrapped as my Secret Santa gift that year. He wasn’t. With no young children in the household, I have been able to live vicariously through said friend as she has shared the nocturnal antics of the elf with me.

A picture book written by American Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell in 2005 sparked the phenomenon of the ‘elf on the shelf’, telling the story of a scout elf sent from the north pole who reports back to Santa each night to help him compile his naughty and nice list. When the elf returns to the household each morning he surprises the children by appearing in different places and getting into all sorts of predicaments.

The magic begins when the elf is adopted by a family and given a name but if the elf is touched, his powers will disappear. You can speak to the elf and tell him your Christmas wishes so he can let Santa know each night.

The story ends when the elf leaves on Christmas Day to stay with Santa for the rest of the year until the following Christmas season.

I know I am not alone in my appreciation of this enchanting concept but it seems there are some with a different viewpoint. In 2011, a Washington Post reviewer described it as, “just another nannycam in a nanny state obsessed with penal codes”

and a year later, a psychologist referred to it as a “dangerous parental crutch”, with much the same reasoning as what he terms the “Santa lie”. I wonder how many adults today are suffering because their parents let them believe in Santa Claus for a few years?

Professor Laura Pinto has had a lot to say on the subject, none of it from a child’s perspective. In summation, she “suggests that it conditions kids to accept the surveillance state and that it communicates to children that “it’s okay for other people to spy on you, and you’re not entitled to privacy.” She argues that “if you grow up thinking it’s cool for the elves to watch me and report back to Santa, well, then it’s cool for the NSA to watch me and report back to the government”. I find that very sad in a world where the innocence of children seems to be of diminishing importance and childhood itself is increasingly fleeting.

An article in December 2019 by a Sun-Herald senior writer takes it to the extreme. She laments that, “The unintended consequence is it traps parents in an exhausting game, while teaching our kids to be comfortable with surveillance” and “have you considered how hard it might be to stop? Realistically, you are committed for the rest of the Christmas season and every year after that until all the children are old enough to know it’s not real”. So, it’s all about the parent and how difficult it is to do something that brings joy to their offspring for a few days each year of their childhood.

This came next, “If this all sounds like hard work, you’re right. Social media is full of exhausted parents racking their brains over the elf”. Is it so hard because it involves a little ingenuity and doesn’t require a mobile phone, iPad or laptop? Perhaps a little less social media and a little more interaction with your children would make for a more satisfying experience.

Here’s the kicker, “the real deal breaker for me is that the Elf on the Shelf is a creep. The idea of having a doll in your house that spies on you and rewards you with presents seems like a great way to prime our future citizens to accept ubiquitous surveillance and focus on being good little consumers”. This is not how children think, it is the flawed workings of damaged adult minds.

Christmas lost its magic for me many years ago but small things, like the elf on the shelf, stir something that I am very happy to feel again. I am looking forward to seeing the little fella in December.

Mudbrick

There was no shortage of spectacular views, along with magnificent food and wine, on our Taste of Waiheke Tour. Just when we thought we’d seen it all, our third and final winery, Mudbrick, delivered in spades. The initial vista was very impressive across the Hauraki Gulf, Rangitoto Island and Auckland in the distance but there was more to come.

We made our way to the terrace for an introduction to the winery, its history and a spot of tasting.

Robyn and Nicholas Jones bought the land as a lifestyle block in 1992. Both accountants, they had no experience in winemaking or hospitality but obviously had incredible vision. They spent weekends at the property planting everything from shelter belts to vines on the bare block as well as completing a multi-purpose mud brick building. The café soon followed and, 18 years later, is now a world famous restaurant. With glass in hand, we embarked on a tour of the vineyard while learning more about Mudbrick and the process of making their award winning wines.

There wouldn’t be many better places in the world to have a house.

As we climbed higher, the views became even more stupendous.

At the top, we had a 360 degree view of Waiheke Island from the helipad. Yes, you can arrive and depart Mudbrick by helicopter.

We returned to the restaurant

and wandered for a while around the flourishing potager garden.

Vegetables, herbs and edible flowers provide fresh ingredients each day to grace the plates presented to diners. Any organic waste from the restaurant is returned to the soil in the form of compost, recycling at its best.

Our day on Waiheke Island was almost over, what an exceptional day it had been.

Bomarzo

After a morning spent wandering amongst the monsters at Parco di Mostri we were in need of light refreshment. The ancient hill town of Bomarzo was only a short drive away

and the neighbouring hamlet of Mugnano in Teverina rose on its own tufa mound.

The Etruscans populated Bomarzo until the Romans conquered it in the 5th century BC. The town has been repeatedly invaded and has changed hands several times before being sold to the city of Viterbo in 1298 and then given to the Orsini family in the 16th century. The building of Palazzo Orsini on the remains of an older medieval castle began in 1519. It is made up of two main buildings and occupies nearly half the town.

We parked the car on the outskirts and, at the risk of intruding, I just had to photograph this beautiful young couple sharing lunch.

We slowly ascended the narrow streets,

resting to admire the vista across olive groves.

Mugnano in Teverina was now below us and the town of Giove, across the River Tiber in Umbria, was visible in the distance.

With yet more climbing ahead we were very relieved to find an elevator to transport us to higher ground.

The panorama from the top was breathtaking,

the streets became alleyways

and the myriad doors were fascinating.

The 15th century cathedral of Bomarzo, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, was given a Renaissance façade and decorated with frescoes when Prince Orsini renovated it the following century.

The fabulous belltower is built from blocks of peperino

and the door is guarded by the Orsini symbol of bears, one with a rose and one with a lily, both of whom look rather unhappy.

Inside, the church was light and airy with a stunning 17th century fresco depicting the coronation of the Virgin surrounded by angels and saints above the main altar.

Unfortunately, Palazzo Orsini was closed, we could only admire from the outside and imagine the spectacular views from within.

A statue of Saint Anselmo, a 6th century bishop of Bomarzo, has pride of place alongside the palace, his remains are interred beneath the main altar in the cathedral.

Our thoughts had turned to lunch but there didn’t seem to be the array of eateries we had become used to. Venturing further,

we passed a war memorial set against a dramatic cliff face. There was a list of names in memory of the fallen as well as a bronze bust depicting carabiniere Luciano Fosci, a military man who was shot dead while trying to block an angry crowd at a political demonstration in Somalia in 1952. He received the gold medal for civil merit.

A little further up the road

our perseverance paid off and we found a tiny cafe, seemingly the only place serving food in Bomarzo. What it lacked in ambience it made up for with friendliness and food. The meals were fresh, homemade and delicious

and the doorways across the road were equally as memorable.

Laneway

On a recent foray to Devonport, our thoughts turned to food as midday approached. We recalled a place where we had indulged in a scrumptious eggs benedict after an early morning start to attend mapali last year. Laneway, as the name suggests, is situated in a narrow lane off a main thoroughfare.

Behind an unassuming exterior,

the rustic simplicity leaves no doubt as to the buildings industrial heritage.

I haven’t been able to find any reference to its history but the old Small & Shattell wood fired oven, the type of which was common in the late 1800s, suggests a past life as a bakehouse.

The friendly staff are welcoming

and we chose a table on the mezzanine

with a different perspective of the décor.

The industrial theme continues with light fittings made from builders strapping.

Another room on the upper level offers more dining space with simple tables and mismatched chairs.

Old newspapers cover the walls, seemingly discovered during initial renovations.

There is plenty to choose from on the tempting menu, we couldn’t go past the Cape Grim Beef & Cheese Burger. Dill pickles, tomato, mesclun, relish and coleslaw accompanied a perfectly cooked beef patty sandwiched in a lightly toasted sourdough bun. Served with just the right amount of chips, a piquant garlic aioli and a glass of our favourite beverage, lunch could not have been better.

Bywater banquet

Just in case you didn’t get enough of Hobbiton from my previous post, here is another instalment. When planning our visit, we couldn’t decide whether to do the Movie Set Tour or the Evening Banquet Tour. The obvious solution was to partake in both, after all, it was to be a once in a lifetime experience. The evening sun shed a different light on the hobbit holes and the lovely gardens.

From Bag End at the top of the hill,

the Green Dragon Inn shone invitingly across the water.

Working up an appetite and thirst, we meandered our way to lower ground.

The Green Dragon was one of many inns in the Shire and was actually situated in the neighbouring settlement of Bywater, though it was frequented by Hobbits from both villages. Arriving at our destination, we explored the inn with a complimentary Southfarthing beverage in hand.

We had been here on the morning tour but this time, there was only our group in the whole place. Apologies for the quality of this photo, I could possibly blame the ale?

As the light faded outside

we moved through to the dining room, greeted by tables laden with traditional Hobbit fare.

Is it my imagination or does that lady sitting across the table look like Pippin?

Having indulged in second and third helpings in true Hobbit style, we wandered around the garden while tables were magically transformed for dessert.

Once feasting concluded, lanterns were randomly dispersed among the guests and we ventured into the night to make our way back through the village, past smoking chimneys and hobbit holes glowing warmly, another adventure concluded.