Posted in Sparks Book Club, Travel sparks

New York books and things 

I love New York. I don’t have the t-shirt or mug or hat with that message plastered on it, but I really do heart New York. So many amazing things to see and do and watch and eat and drink, but today I wanted to tell you about a book shop (book store, if you prefer). It’s called Book Culture, and it’s brilliant. 

But first, here’s Central Park under snow this week…

Anyway, my favourite link in the Book Culture chain is the store on Columbus. If you’re in town, it’s a great place to look around and spent some quality time with books and gifts and trinkets and cool things. Even if you’re the fussiest fuss-pot, or if you’re looking for a gift for said fussiest fuss-pot, I’m pretty sure you’ll find something (or things) here.

I was lucky enough to visit again this week, and wanted to share a couple of examples of their awesomeness with you: a blind date with a book; and a beautiful desk with stationery and encouragement to sit down, relax, and write a letter. 

The “Blind Date with a book” table is full of different novels wrapped in brown paper. On each mysterious package is a note that helps you choose the best match for your date: with a list of three other novels (if you liked them, you’ll like this book too). Like an old-fashioned book match making service / lucky dip. Love it. 

And then there’s this desk, with a note encouraging letter writers to sit, write, and have their letter posted by the good people of Book Culture. With nearly 2,000 letters sent from this very spot, it’s clearly helping to rekindle the art of letter writing. And they have included some political addresses, but you could also write to your granny, kindergarten teacher, or boy next door. (Or anyone else.) Such a great idea.

And now here’s the city lit with a few touches of green on St Patrick’s Day. (The beautiful view is from the fab Top of the Rock experience.) Just because.

‘Til next time, NYC. Love ya.

Posted in Sparky gifts, Sydney sparks, Travel sparks

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

My lovely friend Sophie is leaving Australia in two weeks to go and work in Hong Kong. So, what to get a good mate who is flying away, with no set return date, as a reminder of the good times we have shared here in Sydney? We caught up last night for farewell drinks and as I passed the tacky gift shop at the ferry terminal on my way to the pub, a few goodies caught my eye. I went in and, despite the crazy prices ($8.99 for a tea towel? Really?) I found it difficult to choose. Mostly because I was choosing on the basis of reducing the stock of the most hideous things so that they didn’t end up in the hands of unsuspecting tourists.

There were many interesting items, but insisting on only the best for our Soph, I settled on the following to accompany her to the East.

Professional AND educational, Soph can wow her new colleagues with this notepad and pen.
Professional AND educational, Soph can wow her new colleagues with this notepad and pen.
I am sure this shopping bag is endorsed by the elders. A nod to diversity - we love it in HR.
I am sure this shopping bag is endorsed by the elders. Just the thing for an HR lady with responsibility for Diversity.
My favourite - you can't really see the glittering sapphires. Or the action of the opera house that spins round and round. Priceless.
My favourite – but you can’t really see the glittering sapphires. Or the action of the opera house that spins round and round. Priceless.

Needless to say, Soph was speechless and a little overwhelmed by our gifts, I think. I said she could perhaps have the key ring made into a giant pendant if that suited her better – I think she is taking that suggestion on board. Bon voyage, Sophie – we will miss you very much but look forward to visiting you later in the year! And you’d better be using that fabulous (yet traditional) shopping bag when I come over, lady…

Posted in Sparks in the wild, WWWhat?

Happy Shark Week!

I like to think that I’m a woman of the world and I know what’s going on…which is why I can’t believe that until yesterday I hadn’t heard of Shark Week. You probably already know all about it, but just in case you’re like me and have missed this festival in previous years, here’s a brief update. Shark Week started back in 1988 – it’s a creation of the Discovery Channel and is essentially a week-long series of TV shows about sharks. Apparently, it was developed to help the average person have a greater respect for sharks. And it’s now broadcast in over 72 countries. Uh huh.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Shark Week and the peeps at the Discovery Channel marketing machine have gone all out. In addition to the usual souvenir DVDs, books and t-shirts, you can also buy a heap of other wacky gear to show that you’re a friend of the sharks. Like this hat, for example.

Foam Fin Hat from the Shark Week Store

Or these cupcakes, custom-made in a Georgetown bakery. The toppers show a logo or a shark or A LONE HAND STICKING UP FROM THE OCEAN OF ICING. Not sure that image is helping the sharks’ cause, to be honest.

DC Cupcakes from the Shark Week Store

And then there’s this hoodie t-shirt (for adults and for kids) – if you hold your arms like you’re giving yourself a hug, you can scare the life out of people around you. Nothing says Happy Shark Week like a giant set of chompers headed your way.

Shark Week Hoodie from the Shark Week Store

Finally, here’s the ultimate Shark Week accessory for your canine companion – a Hammerhead Shark Pet Costume. It doesn’t seem quite right to me, but hey, anything goes in Shark Week!

Pet Costume from the Shark Week Store

So, I wish you and yours a very happy Shark Week. If you’d like to learn more about this Week, you can check out the Discovery Channel website here or head straight to the Shark Week Store to stock up on goodies here. A word of warning – when I checked, the website went straight to an auto-play video with a very scary voice over very scary music, “Deep beneath, a pre-dat-or is lurking…” Eeeeek – Happy Shark Week!

Posted in Fashion Sparks

Bag lady designs

I like bags. And if they’re cute and clever and good for the environment, then so much the better, I say. And I’ve found these very cool canvas shopping totes on etsy, made by Pamela Fugate Designs, and I reckon they fit the bill.

Like this slightly more highbrow version of that famous Sir Mix-a-Lot quote…


Or this, for fans of Fifty Shades of Grey. Yep, really.


And for the bakin’ homeboy or homegirl in your life, there’s this bag.


There’s this classic Mom/Mum bag, which I’m guessing is meant to stop any pesky children asking too many questions. But I wouldn’t recommend bringing it along to your local farmer’s market as it feels in conflict with the relaxed, organic, herbal kinda vibe. Unless of course you are the organic farmer selling your produce. In which case, you might want to sell these bags in answer to questions like, “Why does that organic clove of garlic cost $32?” or “How do you know that heirloom tomatoes are worth 500% more than regular tomatoes?” or that sort of thing.


There’s also a range of customised wedding totes – I’m not really sure how they work though, to be honest. As a bridesmaid, I’ve never received a show bag of treats from the bride (not complaining, I have been lucky to receive much nicer gifts from the lovely brides I’ve maided for). And I’ve not been to a wedding that gave away a goodie bag instead of a small memento that you could take home in your handbag. But each to their own on their big day!

You can check out the range of bags (and shirts and baby outfits) at Pamela’s etsy shop here.

Posted in Food sparks, Home sparks

The Cult of Nespresso

Mostly, I blame George Clooney – that slick advertising campaign, the giant photo of his beautiful face in the Nespresso store. I also blame the designers – the pretty and clever machines, the gorgeous coloured pods of coffee. And I blame the friends at work that took me into the store and whispered about the life-changing impact of these coffee makers and the world of Nespresso. You’ll never buy another cup of coffee again. Even the decaf tastes nice. Look how easy it is, you poor simple. Here, try a sample of the coffee. And I was hooked.

I think I am a bit late in jumping on this particular bandwagon, but I can be easily influenced when it comes to gadgets. I love them and never stop admiring the clever design and engineering (probably to the point of being a wee bit annoying). And now that I’m part of the cult of Nespresso, I appreciate my little Pixie every time I make a cup of coffee. She is a stunning bright indigo colour, which was another thing that sucked me in. And the milk frother (which I like to think looks sort of like a glossy black beehive) is separate so as not to take up too much precious bench space.

Water here, coffee pod there, pull the lever and the aromatic energy boost is dripping into your cup. Quicker than you can make a cup of instant coffee, surely. Now, I am not trying to pass myself off as a sophisticated barista, or even someone who can recognise the difference between floral and refreshing or fruity and balanced. I like coffee, but am definitely not a connoisseur. (Just as I love wine, but am not a connisseur. When it comes to chocolate however, I am surely a world-leading aficionado.)

Anyways, this cult has its own secret language (which would sound even more romantic if you imagine it whispered by George Clooney): intenso, lungo, vivalto, finezzo, arpeggio. People speak in code, “I’m an 8, my husband’s a 6” – not in terms of attractiveness, I discovered, but in terms of coffee strength (how the cult classifies the different capsules). And you can only get your fix (of coffee capsules) from the Nespresso dealer (online or in ’boutique’). They produce a newsletter that looks like the coffee maker equivalent of Vogue and regularly sell out their limited edition special flavours, with some people hoarding them to re-sell at an extortionate price on ebay. I confess to having recently sold a kidney to buy some limited edition ranges on ebay (no longer on sale in the boutique) – Cherry; Almond; Vanilla Blossom; and Dark Chocolate (to keep world-leading aficionado status).

The capsules (or as we cult members know them, hermetically sealed capsules – by hermits?) are made of aluminium and Nespresso have organised a recycling program (they call it Ecolaboration). Or, you could always turn them into brightly coloured metallic bugs, like this upcycled collection from Switzerland-based artist Alex Aebi (thanks

It could be your subtle sign to visitors that they are entering a home that belongs to the cult of Nespresso. But I’m sure they’ll already know, when you answer the door all a-jitter, saying “Vivalto! Fortissio Lungo!” (cult speak for “Welcome! Come in!”) and introduce your children, Roma Espresso, Decaffeinato and Ristretto. Then it might just be time for an intervention and some herbal tea.