Friday, December 21, 2012

It's not the end of the world

Today is an important day. Not because the world is ending (it isn't) but because I just withdrew from my postgraduate studies.

I have long wrestled with this decision. I started my PhD with the dream of becoming a lecturer in British and Australian Literature. I lectured and tutored during my studies and I loved it, teaching a subject you truly love is wonderful. Researching a subject that inflames your intellectual passions is wonderful. What isn't wonderful is the reality of being a paid academic. The huge amounts of paperwork, the constant pressure to bring money into the department, journal articles and conference papers which have to be produced in your own time, the very long working weeks and the discrepancy between hours worked (and compensated) and output expected. Put bluntly, the dream was just that and reality wasn't doing it for me.

 Letting go of a dream is hard. I feel a certain sense of shame and of failure if I think of my decision as "dropping out". But if I can reframe it as simply changing the dream then it becomes freeing, an opportunity for change. I wasn't enjoying it anymore so I stopped doing it. How radical!

As W. C. Fields once said: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.’

I do have a safety net with an option to return to my studies without penalty as long as I do it within two years. That's a possibility but 20 years is more likely. There's so much I want to do.

First up is to write more and perhaps to try and get something into in a non-academic publication. I want to learn, once and for all, to sew. I want to work (post maternity leave) in a marketing communications/PR role for QLD tourism or the museum or a charity I feel strongly about. I want to enjoy time with my midgets without feeling I "should" be studying. In short, I want to do more of what makes me happy.

The decision I just made will allow me to do (or at least to attempt) all of those things.

In replacing the "dream" with goals that are different, though equally meaningful, it feels a little bit adventurous - as though I'm sailing away from the safety of the harbour and into the big wide blue.

It's an important day, but it's not the end of the world.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a splendid New Year. I hope it's a time of love, laughter and happiness.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Loving Memory

Last week a good friend of mine passed away. Suddenly, unexpectedly and far from home.

His name was Elwin and he was one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life.

Elwin was Dutch and moved to Brisbane not long after Andy and I. As I had lived in Amsterdam for a year when I was 20, we shared a “Dutch connection” that meant I was always the lucky recipient of three Dutch kisses whenever we met.
Just thinking of this wonderful man brings tears to my eyes but it also makes me smile, he is one of the very few people I know where I can say with conviction that he was truly happy. He absolutely lived the dream of doing more of what makes us happy. Elwin loved fast (red) motorbikes, skydiving and cats. He played soccer and samba drums. He worked hard, had signed up for his first triathlon and loved to hang out with his many friends. He was generous in every way and an absolute natural with the kids in our group. One of my fondest memories is of how sweet he was with Agatha, I would have loved to see him become a husband and a father; I know he would have nailed it.

Agatha enjoys some toe-tickling fun with Uncle Elwin (left)
Last year, when I was heavily pregnant with Agatha, Andy would drive me home from my job in the city each day. Perhaps three times in the first fortnight a man on a moped would pull up at our window at the traffic lights and give it a little knock. We’d wind down the windows and there would be a smiling Elwin on his way home. We’d manage a brief chat before the lights changed and we were both swallowed by the traffic. Ever since then, whenever we were in the car and saw someone riding a moped, Andy and I would say “there’s Elwin” – even if the rider was clearly an elderly woman – and maybe once or twice more we got it right and it was our friend. It has become such a habit that I know we’ll do it again - only now with the knowledge that it never will be Elwin again, it never can be, he has gone.
All of Elwin’s friends and of course his beloved family feel his loss keenly; he was the sort of person you meet rarely – utterly good, extremely kind and completely devoid of bitterness or malice. But not so good as to be no fun, he was blessed with cheekiness and a great sense of humour; he smiled and laughed a lot. He threw himself into everything - sometimes literally as with skydiving - and enjoyed every minute of the ride, grinning all the way.

His was a short life but it was a full life – a life well-lived. The sort of life I aspire to live and the reason I created this blog. I don’t want to use my friend’s death as a “lesson” of some sort but I can’t help but be inspired to want to do better. To seek out every opportunity for joy, to eradicate the stuff that brings me down, to embrace happiness and to try everything. I think Elwin left a little of that behind in everyone who was lucky enough to spend time with him.
I know that this is not the most eloquent of eulogies; my emotions are pretty raw at the moment and my thoughts are scattered. But I hope it does some justice to Elwin and how very special he was.

I’ll miss you friend, go gently.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Short But Incredibly Sweet

First I have to say a heartfelt thank you to those of you who read my last blog post and sent personal messages of support and understanding. It meant so much to me.

And now for the wonderful, amazing, overwhelming news that I received yesterday afternoon. The results of the Amnio show no abnormalities whatsoever! It looks like our beloved little baby is perfectly healthy. I don't mind admitting I wept tears of relief on the phone to the doctor and then onto Andy's shoulder for about 15 minutes afterwards.

I am carried away by gratitude and joy. How lucky are we?!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Dreaded Word

There are lots of words you don't want to hear: card declined, sold out, no, code brown (our personal alert when Agatha's nappy needs changing), you're fired. Yet there is one word that is worse than them all and that word is but.
You see, a few weeks ago I had some news that made my heart sing, I found out I was pregnant! This is a much longed-for and much tried-for addition to our little family and we are overjoyed. But - and there is that little word again, so small and seemingly inoffensive yet filled with potential menace. But there may be a problem with our baby.
At my nuchal scan everything looked fine. My beautiful baby, the size of an orange, was wriggling and swallowing and waving tiny limbs in what looked a lot like glee. Andy, Agatha and I heard his/her heartbeat and my eyes filled with happy tears - s/he was okay! Sadly I have had scans in the past at which there was no heartbeat, just the sonographer's silence, followed by a deep breath and the information that our baby hadn't made it. Scans are nerve-wracking for me, the fear that something has gone wrong never leaves you.
And here we were at 13 weeks with a heartbeat and a nose and little arms and legs and everything in the right place!
But, but... my nuchal translucency score puts me in the "high risk" category for having a baby with Down Syndrome. When the doctor uttered these words I was shocked, I knew my score would be lowered by my age, every year has a big impact on the risk score and at 38, I'm no spring chicken in reproduction terms. Still the news floored me, a 1:190 chance of Downs and a recommendation for a CVS or Amnio.
Both the CVS and Amnio tests carry a risk of causing miscarriage - 1 in 100 for CVS and 1 in 200 for Amnio. The benefit of the CVS is that you can find out straight away, you must be 16 weeks pregnant before you can have the Amnio. I chose the latter despite the awful, stressful wait to minimise my chances of miscarriage.
Andy and I talked and there is no question of termination for us, (please know this is a personal decision and not a judgement, every family must do what is right for them) but we agree that we need to know. To be able to get our heads around it and to prepare, possibly to change some things about our lives to accommodate a special needs child.
So off to Amnio I go, on Tuesday. I know those odds aren't too scary when taken at face value, Hell you'd even say they were good. But apply them to this situation, with the weight of love and fear and hope that's behind them and couple them with the words: "the scan was fine but..." and they take on a different feel. There's no two ways about it, "high risk" is what it is and we've got an anxious time ahead of us.
But - and here's a nice but, the nicest in fact - no matter the fear, no matter the outcome next week, this baby is ADORED. Beloved, cherished, valued. And there is more happiness in that than any word can express.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tough Times

I must begin by apologising for my tardiness in writing a new blog post. It’s been a hell of a few weeks dominated by illness including a three day vomiting festival (I have been dubbed the “vomiting cavalier” in our house) and a two week battle with bronchitis which was actually rather scary on the old gasping for air front.
However, that was then and this is now and on we go. Last Wednesday was an important day for this little permanent resident as Andy and I had our Australian Citizenship test and interview – a pass meant we get to be bona fide Aussies who can vote and get a passport and everything. I was just hoping they didn’t ask us who we support in the Ashes… It all worked out well with high scores on our tests and big ticks in the interview boxes. It’s very exciting and as soon as we officially get our “true blue” status I am going to throw an Aussie-inspired party for all the lovely friends who have helped to make our lives here so enjoyable.
In other exciting news we just sold our house! This one is bitter sweet as I love our home - it’s been such a happy place and has hosted many wonderful events including the Naming ceremony of the always-fabulous Agatha. The place has got soul. But, selling means we’ll be debt-free and able to enjoy disposable income again (Hawaii, here we come!) as well as save for the future. In that respect it’s an exciting opportunity to shape our lives and it really feels that we’ll be doing more of what makes us truly happy – spending fun times as a family, travelling and not stressing about mortgages and rates bills. Oh to be free from the tyranny of the bank!

The hunt for a suitable rental property has been painful. We didn’t think we had particularly extravagant needs – air con, 3 bedrooms, pet-friendly, fenced garden – but Lordy it’s been a challenge! Thankfully, as of 9am today we had an application accepted on a great house in a great location available at just the right time to tie in with our settlement date – phew!
And just because I can, here is a photo of Agatha enjoying a babyccino in what will be our new local café.

Good luck on your path to doing more of what makes you happy, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable/annoying/downright bloody painful at first.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lost World

I have been longing for a great escape for quite some time. I’ve been feeling bogged down, stuck in a rut and a bit fed up. But how to get my happy on with a limited budget, a husband who can’t take much time off work and a toddler? It’s a good question thoughtful reader, well said.

I pondered some time in a health farm – pros: peace, wellness, weightloss. Cons: couldn’t bear to leave my spectacular small one behind, prohibitively expensive. I wondered about a day at a spa – pros: relaxation, looking and feeling brighter. Cons: it’s just not long enough, the effects are fleeting and I’m not in the mood to make small talk.

No, the only solution is a weekend away in the country, easy driving distance from home (to minimise toddler travel time) and somewhere beautiful. And, since a change is as good as a rest,  somewhere we have never been. This last criteria ruled out the usual suspects - Maleny, Montville, Mt Tamborine, Stanthorpe, Byron Bay Hinterland, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast – all had been visited and enjoyed by us on previous occasions, plus I was beginning to feel I wanted somewhere quieter, less touristy and with more room to breathe.
And then I found it: Lost World Valley. The very name conjures up images of a verdant wild place, forgotten for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. At around 90 minutes from Brisbane, true forgetting isn’t possible of course but it is a hidden plateau (at the wilderness end of Lamington National Park) a place where it’s easy to imagine that anything could remain hidden and perhaps a part of oneself could be found.
I promptly booked Eighteen Mile Cottage and, as the clock struck one on Friday, we were off – barrelling out of the rain swept city and towards a world of green. Our cottage was wonderful. A gorgeous, wooden, 1920s Queensland cottage which, the owner informed us, had been transported from Brisbane many years before. And not just Brisbane but our suburb; in fact just two streets away from our home. It felt meant to be. Inside was tastefully decorated in a pared-back country style and outside lay five acres of land with the Albert River running through it, just for us.

We had an absolute ball. Agatha very quickly went “free range” toddling at great speed around the garden barefoot and excitedly pointing out birds and wallabies and cows. We popped into town and visited the museum and gathered supplies and then we came “home” and didn’t leave again until our too-short holiday was over. We enjoyed misty mornings, sunny afternoons and star-filled nights. We played football, dipped our toes in the (freezing) river, ate picnics, stretched out on the grass and absorbed the vitamin D.

In the evenings Andy and I talked and read and relaxed. No phone reception and no internet is a very good thing indeed. Nothing else mattered, just us and our glorious girl.

We decided that a place of our own in the country is in our future; the air, the space, the freedom was incredible. We don’t know where yet and of course I know that day-to-day life in the countryside has its challenges and it isn’t simply an extended version of the special weekend we just enjoyed but my word it’s where we want to be. I found my happy!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Somebody has won an apron!

And that person is: aslaugcrystal :-)

Congratulations! Just drop me an e-mail at: with your name and address and I'll send your gorgeous apron off to you ASAP. May the apron give you 1950s housewife super skills or at the very least, keep your clothes safe from food explosions.

Thanks to everyone who took part, I'll definitely be doing more giveaways in the future so stay tuned.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A free lunch

Although I am new to this online scribing thing, I love blogging. I love musing and writing and having a place to share those things and I love connecting with other people. I have a few loyal supporters who have signed up as followers and rumour has it many more invisible readers who, I hope, enjoy A tiny bit marvellous in secret.

I'd really like to say thank you to everyone who takes the time to read my ponderings and to tempt the reading-but-not-following peeps out into the light. So I'm going to do a giveaway. A free lunch would be nice but since not everyone lives within a 10km radius of my house (why don't you? It would be so much more convenient for me) I'm going to give a gift instead.

As luck would have it I run a little online shop called bauble and as owner/CEO/general dogsbody I am able to raid the shelves and give away this rather excellent apron:

It's pretty and practical and made from 100% cotton. It's also designed, screen printed and sewn in England; so while you can be assured that no small children have been expolited, you'll have to live with the fact several custard creams may have been demolished in the making of this item.

All you have to do to be in the running for this fabulous prize is sign up to follow A tiny bit marvellous and then leave a comment below. That's it! I'll pick a person at random and Bob's yer uncle, Fanny's yer aunt you'll be the proud new owner of a fab new apron.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Buying and Selling

Saturday (5th May) was the day of the great Garage Sale Trail. The Garage Sale Trail is about sustainability, community and creativity. Conceived as a platform for anyone who wants to make some money/raise some money and connect with their community, ultimately the Garage Sale Trail is about making sustainability both fun and social.

I love stuff like this. Fossicking around in other people’s belongings, hoping to turn up a little gem that may just make my heart sing. A bangle from the 1950s, funky old knitting patterns, a (toy) dog in high heels and a tutu: all of these things and more have to come to me via garage sales. Sadly I missed out on visiting the Garage Sale Trail this year as I took part instead! Yes, the declutter I mentioned in an earlier post is finally complete and from 7am until Midday (early birds aside!) Andy and I were spruiking our wares on the front lawn.

We had a couple of early arrivals but since they bought up big and were a very sweet older couple they were completely forgiven. We had three guys vying for our (broken) lawn mower and a car full of (how can I put this delicately?) bogans (I couldn’t put it delicately) do a slow drive-by before turning up their noses and screeching off up the street. I imagine their conversation went something like this: “naw, let’s get out of here Kev, we don’t want any of their shit!” “Yeah Darl, their crap isn’t even worth getting out of the Commodore for.” They were not missed.

I’d say it was a semi-success. I think we offloaded around 25% of our stuff which means our local op shop is about to hit pay dirt. It was fun and a surprisingly good way to spend some quality time with my little family as we sat and chatted between shoppers and watched our little girl toddle between the tables exclaiming “ooh” with each new discovery.

In other news, I have been on the hunt for the perfect wellies, or gumboots as they are more commonly called in Australia. We’ve booked a trip away to the country (in 15 days and counting!) and I strongly suspect there will be mud and puddles and possibly cow poop. Whilst I tend to skirt around these things – except for the occasional puddle, who can resist a quick splash when no one is looking? – Agatha is drawn to them like a bear to honey. Her tiny feet tingle in anticipation of a good old rollick and who am I to deny her such simple pleasures? So, in the interests of enabling my lovely girl to do more of what makes her happy, I have been looking for wellington boots in a miniscule size which won’t restrict her newly acquired walking skills.

It’s harder than you think with most rainboots coming halfway up the leg and starting at a size way beyond the feet of my wobbly midget. But persistence and serious internet thrashing have paid off and these beauties are winging their way from Edinburgh as I type.

I know I need to get out more but aren’t they just divine?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Wars have been fought over flowers. Novels have been written about tulip-induced mania. People have been beaten to death with dahlias*. So, it was with some trepidation, that I attended my introduction to floristry class on Saturday (I previously mentioned it here).

I had pictured myself sitting in a sun-filled room - possibly with a bluebird on the windowsill – while a Martha Stewartesque guide helped a select few to create dreamy, hand-tied bouquets (probably tied with rustic looking twine and wrapped in beautiful vintage paper) from white roses and baby pink peonies.

You know that sound in the movies where the needle gets scratched across the record and everything comes to a halt? Make that sound in your head now.

What I actually experienced on Saturday was twenty beginner florists in the back room of a wholesale shop at the flower markets, a lesson on how to make a box display using very bright blooms and an instructor who looked like a bikie.

Our teacher was great and an award winning florist to boot. I struggled a bit with the lesson format as we all stood in front of the instructor’s bench while he took us through the box arrangement from start to finish before sending us off to do it at our own benches. I have a memory like a sieve and most of what I had been told was already in a puddle on the floor by the time I got back to my bench. As a result my finished arrangement was decidedly less than perfect. But I promised to post a pic so here it is, along with some other images from the day:

My arrangement is supposed to have more of a dome shape and the flowers should be a bit closer together but I’m giving myself a score of “not bad for a total novice who barely remembers her own name”. I have always wanted to take a bloom wrangling course and I’m very glad I did. I don’t think I’ll pursue any further formal study on the subject but I picked up lots of useful tips (and scored a rose thorn stripper thingo) and do feel a bit more confident to tackle casual arrangements at home. I also learned to appreciate carnations which I am very pleased about as they have been subject to my Dianthus-based bigotry for far too long.

After the class, Andy, Agatha and a picnic basket whisked me off for a lovely lunch at the Sherwood Arboretum. The sun shone, birds sang, fluffy clouds obligingly turned themselves into dragons and islands and Agatha squashed a red grape into my white skirt. Happy days.

If you think it’s time to do more of what makes you happy, there are lots of classes and courses to choose from. These are some of the many, many courses available right now around Australia as well as in book, CD, DVD and online format:

Flying Trapeze Lessons

Colloquial Mongolian for Beginners

Learn to play the Ukulele

PADI Digital Underwater Photography

Hula Hooping Classes

What are you waiting for? Find your “thing” and sign up today!

*This may or may not be true but there is no evidence to prove it did not happen.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bollywood Babies

Yesterday I did something that made me and I hope a few others, really happy. I threw a Bollywood-inspired baby shower for one of my dearest friends. Siobhan has had a complicated and inspiring journey to parenthood – she kindly gave me permission to let you read about it on her blog if you would like to know more – so it was an extra special pleasure to be able to honour her in this way.

My own experience of trying to become a parent has also had its challenges and we have shared many moments of joy, fear and despair as we wondered if we would ever hold our babies in our arms. Well, Siobhan is going to have those arms very full very soon as she is expecting twins!

Siobhan chose the Bollywood theme for its sense of fun and colour and joie de vivre and its execution was just my (western) interpretation of India and Bollywood – no cultural appropriation intended! Helpfully, Siobhan is pregnant with girl/boy twins so I was able to indulge my inner sexist with a hot pink and hot blue colour scheme. I bought huge swathes of organza to drape around the soon-to-be Mum's (very cool and spacious) apartment as well as lanterns and tissue flower pom poms – chosen to represent the marigolds that are ubiquitous at Indian festivals.

(Click to enlarge photo. Photos by Caroline Serrano Tran and yours truly).

I hung a poster of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth, prosperity, light, wisdom, fortune, fertility, generosity and courage; and the embodiment of beauty, grace and charm) partly for the glorious colours and partly because I love that she is associated with fertility and abundance. These, and her other outstanding attributes, are all that I wish for the beautiful babies about to join us in the world.

The food was easy and fun – a visit to a great Indian restaurant provided much of the feast, generous friends brought cake and curry puffs and a couple of trips to an Indian supermarket provided the rest.

In honour of the babies I also included lots of cute elephants (Indian elephants, naturally) which added to the general sense of fun. Games were played, Bhangra music was listened to (and in some cases danced to) and many beautiful gifts were given.

To round off a very special day we had a Valakaappu ceremony. Literally translated, Valakaappu means bangles and bracelets and a really sweet part of the ceremony is the adorning of the pregnant woman with bangles as a blessing for the Mother-to-be and her baby/babies. We all gave Siobhan a bangle together with a wish for her babies and needless to say it got a little bit emotional.

A lovely day for a lovely friend. How wonderful that making someone I love happy should be the very thing that makes me happy too. Ain’t life grand?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A life less literary

The new Queensland Premier, one Campbell Newman, has just announced that the QLD Premier’s Literary Awards (QPLA) have been scrapped. Politics aside, this absolutely stinks. Reeks to high heaven in fact. Like a dead fish which has been stuffed down the back of a decrepit sofa to punish a man with a wandering willy. The QPLA have played a huge role in the creation of a thriving, rich and innovative Queensland Arts scene, they have launched impressive writerly careers and given encouragement to every little Queensland bookworm who ever dreamed of putting pen to paper. R.I.P. You will be sorely missed.

Perhaps I should recuse myself since I am indeed a bookworm of epic proportions. Or perhaps we bespectacled non-arthropod invertebrates are exactly the sorts who should be standing up and objecting to this kind of short-sightedness. I shall stop there in case I blow a gasket or lose a body part or suffer some other malfunction commensurate with my age and experience.

All this talk of books has made me have a good old think about my current reading list and what I’m going to tackle next.

My bedside table is groaning under the weight of five tomes:

In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare
The story of Tasmania told via the life and legacy of “The Father of Tasmania” Anthony Fenn Kemp, a corrupt but interesting figure.

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
A bildungsroman set in a mining town in the mid 1960s, it follows the story of bookish Charlie Bucktin and mixed race maverick Jasper Jones. Small-town bigotry and tender friendship ensue.

Weekend Wodehouse by P.G. Wodehouse
A collection from the funniest writer ever to step foot on the face of the earth including Drones Club tales, Mr. Mulliner stories, and stories of Jeeves, Lord Emsworth, and Ukridge. The selection also features extracts from Wodehouse's novels and non-fiction writings.

Lord Emsworth Acts for the Best by P.G. Wodehouse (I REALLY like Wodehouse)
A complete collection of the short stories in Wodehouse's Blandings series including my favourite tale “Lord Emsworth and the Girlfriend.”

Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy
Set in 1970s Britain, this engaging novel charts the journey of Faith Jackson as she negotiates her Black British identity and finds out “where she comes from.”

I wonder how representative our book choices are of our personalities. Do we read to see ourselves reflected or to escape ourselves? Does reading about Tasmania's dark yet fascinating history hint at a darkness in me or an absolute passion for Wodehouse suggest I might be pining for "the old country"? Does reading five books at once make me a little bit odd?

I usually like to change gear and read something completely different to my last book but this time I already have a biography, short stories and novels set on opposite sides of the earth. As for what's next, I'm not sure. Perhaps I’ll see who wins the QPLA for 2012 and read that… oh wait…

What are you reading? How do you decide what you’ll choose next?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Getting to know you

Easter is approaching and while I am not religious (despite a Sunday-School-attending, scripture-exam-sitting Methodist upbringing), I do consider myself a cultural Christian and celebrate the significant events accordingly. Agatha is too small for the kind of crazy chocolate Easter egg fest that I remember from childhood but I didn’t want Easter Sunday to pass without an acknowledgement of new life and a funny little gift for my funny little girl.

I came across a super cute Belle & Boo tin in a shop called Card & Caboodle in Brisbane and knew it would be perfect if it contained a wind-up yellow chick (also from card & caboodle although the one pictured is from Etsy) and a rather small chocolate egg wrapped in foil from Darrell Lea. The addition of some yellow shredded paper made a nest and it looks very sweet if I do say so myself.

(I would have taken a picture of the finished item except that it’s in the nursery along with Agatha as I type and my one rule is NEVER WAKE A SLEEPING BABY.)

We’ll also have a special lunch and possibly decorate some hard boiled eggs in the afternoon. Very low key but just right for our family.

How do you celebrate Easter Sunday?

In other news, my dear and lovely friend Siobhan, who has a really moving and intelligent blog about her journey to motherhood over at the smallest ford tagged me in a cool online meme called “stuff about me” designed to help us all to get to know each better. The rules are:

1. Post the rules
2. Answer the 11 questions that the tagger posted for you
3. Tag at least one person and link them in your post
4. Create 11 questions to ask the person/people you’ve tagged
5. Let the person/people know you have tagged them

These are the (great) questions Siobhan asked me:

1. Tell us about one of the happiest days you've had in the last two years.
It’s a clichéd response I fear but it has to be 28th Feb 2011 - the day I gave birth to Agatha. It was a day filled with excitement, pain, determination, love and utter joy. You think you know happiness and then you meet your children.

2. What are three activities that make you lose time and/or marvel at what a lucky life you lead?
I can get lost in research if I’m really passionate about the topic – it can be researching an academic paper I want to write or finding the perfect gift for a friend, if it grabs me fully, I’m gone. Watching Andy and Agatha together makes me marvel at what a lucky life I lead, we might not be the richest or coolest or most suave people in the world but the love levels in our home are right up there. Hanging out with my closest friends would be my third thing – I often wish our get togethers didn’t have to end, how sweet it is to have friends like that.

3. What was your favourite type of sweet while you were growing up?
I was and still am a fan of “jelly” sweets, the sort of thing Haribo does so well. I also harboured a deep love for crème eggs which I have not yet outgrown.

4. What was the most surprising thing you learned when you became a mother?
What a pleasure it is. I had convinced myself that motherhood would be a grind and that my days would be filled with tears (baby’s and mine!) and it isn’t like that at all. We have our off days of course but the joy far outweighs the bad stuff. Also that no matter how badass you think you are, if a baby/toddler hands you a plastic phone; you take that call.

5. As a woman who has studied extensively and held impressive positions in the corporate world, did you find the transition to motherhood as hard/easy as you expected?
Ah you flatter me dear pal! I surprised myself by enjoying it. The complete change of pace and focus was just what I needed. I am only now, one year on, beginning to want to study and/or work again.

6. What quality in other people do you find the most attractive?
A generosity of spirit. Kindness, fairness, decency, politeness, graciousness are all seen as a bit old hat I suspect, but I love a person with a good heart.

7. If you could have one luxury item turn up on your doorstep tomorrow morning what would it be?
Ooh that’s a great question and one I’m struggling with. Maybe a deed to a platinum mine? ;-) Or a Kate Spade handbag.

8. Tell us why you love cats so much.
They are furry, funny, and independent and know how to have a good time.

9. Where would you like to go for your next holiday?
I’m going to cheat and give two answers. At home: Margaret River. Away: Hawaii.

10. If you could magically speak another language, which would it be?
Spanish, then when Agatha is old enough we can take our dream trip through South America and I can be useful and maybe show off to Andy just a little bit.

11. What is something you have never tried but you'd love to experience?
I’d love to kite-surf and to go on safari. But probably not at the same time.

I now tag my good friend Becks from mama tribe. She lives in Sydney so I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like but reading her engaging blog helps me stay connected and I often find myself nodding along with many of her posts and I think you will too.

My questions for Becks are:

1. If you could be another nationality, which one would you choose?
2. Name the craft you’d most like to master.
3. If you put your iPhone/iPod on shuffle, what is the first song that pops up?
4. What is one piece of advice you would give to a new mother?
5. You’re putting together a six-person mother’s group made up of famous women – who are they?
6. What did you want to be when you were a child?
7. Describe your dream home.
8. Name three things you are grateful for.
9. What is your favourite and least favourite food?
10. If I could give you another two hours in each day, what would you do with them?
11. What word best sums up your mood today?

Looking forward to reading your answers Becks!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The little things

The last couple of weeks have been tough and as a result I'm in a funk. I'm really struggling to stay chipper and find myself bemoaning the fact that I have nothing to look forward to. Time to pull my socks up and find happiness in the small things.

Two of my good friends did just that this week. In Hobart, Natalie found a blackberry patch on a stroll through her neighbourhood and turned her serendipitous haul into a delicious blackberry and lime cream pie. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Dowling).

Meanwhile in Sydney, Becks has instigated an op-shop Thursday and found a Nigella Lawson juicer for $1! You can read about it on her blog mama tribe

While I can't create such happy surprises, I can leave myself more open to them by getting out and about a bit more on foot, you see so much more that way as Natalie discovered. And, inspired by Becks, I'm going to visit my local op-shops more often in the hopes of unearthing my own bargain treasure. I can also try new activities and give myself both a chance to find a new passion and something to look forward to.

With this in mind I have booked a floristry course. I've always fancied a bit of bloom wrangling and thanks to a "Jump on It" deal I'm now booked in for a two hour lesson plus flower market tour, all for the non-princely sum of $49. It's on 21st April - can't wait! I promise to blog the results, even if my take-home posy is poxy.

Speaking of bargains, the $21 challenge is over and I'm calling it a qualified success. We did go over our teeny budget; Andy "forgot" about the challenge and bought hot cross buns and I bought some porridge for Agatha's breakfast. Total food spend for the week = $25.53. Not bad at all for a first attempt I reckon.

I'd love to hear some of your ideas for pulling yourself out of the doldrums so please do share in the comments section.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tooting the frugal bugle

Today's post is brought to you by the numbers 2 and 1 and by the letter O. The numbers combine to make 21, the number of dollars I am going to use to feed my family this week. The O is for "O my, we have FIVE packets of pasta in the pantry". Nice use of alliteration aside, I was quite shocked to see the amount of food we had in the pantry, fridge and freezer, despite my husband recently declaring that there was nothing, WHATSOEVER to eat in our house.

You can find out more about the $21 challenge here (photo courtesy of It would be great to have some company this week so please feel free to post your progress in the comments section if you fancy taking part.

The first step is to take an inventory of what you have in your pantry, fridge, freezer and garden. I won't bore you will the full list but my journey to the centre of the pantry turned up pasta, two tins of tomatoes, wraps, rice, cous cous, tuna, biscuits and Cheerios. The fridge and freezer provided fruit and veg, chorizo, milk, eggs, pastry, a lonely sausage and 1.5 chicken breasts. I don't have a bountiful garden - something I have work on ASAP.

The next step is to meal plan. Rather than deciding what you fancy and then shopping for it, on the $21 Challenge you work back - look at what you have and then plan a week's worth of meals. (NB the $21 really is just for food so you can exclude toiletries and cleaning products and the like. We are also excluding milk as we class that as an essential and don’t want to skimp or use powdered or long life brands, though many people do and happily so).

I wanted to get ahead a bit so yesterday (day one of the challenge) I made a batch of Napolitana sauce using one of my tins of toms, an onion, garlic, mixed herbs and olive oil. I was out of tomato paste so substituted tomato sauce which worked just as well.

Next I made a zucchini slice (recipe below) for us all to have for lunches.

Finally I "invented" a Cheerio bar using Cheerios (no surprises there), margarine, brown sugar, pine nuts, sultanas, dried pineapple and maple syrup. I thought we could have these as snacks/with lunch rather than buying muesli bars. It was only a partial success as the mixture didn’t hold together very well so we’ll have bags of Cheerio mix rather than bars! The trial and error is all part of the fun so I’m not disheartened.

The final step after stocktake and meal plan is to shop for those (hopefully) few extra things you’ll need this week. I went to the supermarket (two supermarkets actually, to get the best deal) and I bought: two tins of tomatoes, a tin of tuna, bacon bits, cheese, three capsicums, three potatoes and two tins of baked beans. If you’ve been paying attention you’ll have noted that I already had tuna and tinned tomatoes in my pantry. The tuna we have in stock is flavoured stuff (which Andy will eat) and I wanted a plain one in spring water for Agatha and the extra tins of toms are because my menu this week calls for lots of tomatoes and the (organic) tinned were cheaper than the (non-organic and organic) fresh. The total cost for my extra bits was $19.50. Whatever shall I do with my remaining $1.50 - caviar, truffles, handmade Belgian chocolates??

My menu looks like this, with Sunday being day one of the challenge:

Lunch = zucchini slice and vege pakoras (which I found in our fridge)
Dinner = chorizo and pasta with Napolitana sauce (Agatha had the same but without chorizo)

Lunch = Cheese sandwiches all round
Dinner = Falafels, roast vegetables and cous cous with sweet chilli sauce in a wrap (Agatha will have the same sans the sweet chilli sauce)

Lunch = zucchini slice all round
Dinner = Sausage casserole (with a variety of veg) and baked beans with rice for all

Lunch = Tuna wrap for Andy, tuna for Agatha and soup for me
Dinner = Moroccan chicken tagine (with veg) and cous cous for everyone

Lunch = Baked potatoes with baked beans for Andy and Agatha, baked potato with cheese & onion for me
Dinner = Quorn mince spag bol for all

Lunch = Curried egg sandwiches for Andy, French toast for Agatha and I
Dinner = Fish and chips for Andy, fish and vegetables for Agatha, hash browns, chips and baked beans for me (this is “bottom of the freezer” night!)

Lunch – we’re going to a BBQ
Dinner – Creamy bacon pasta for all

Sunday we’re back to normal and while we might spend more than $21 in the week that follows, I will certainly be meal planning and pantry surfing before I hit the shops.

I would love to hear other tips for frugal eating and living if you have them!

Zucchini slice - recipe and photo courtesy of

Ingredients (serves 15)

• 5 eggs
• 150g (1 cup) self-raising flour, sifted
• 375g zucchini, grated
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 200g rindless bacon, chopped (I used bacon bits)
• 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
• 60ml (1/4 cup) vegetable oil


1. Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease and line a 30 x 20cm lamington pan.
2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl until combined. Add the flour and beat until smooth, then add zucchini, onion, bacon, cheese and oil and stir to combine. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through.

(I also added grated carrot this time, just to mix things up a bit and increase our vegetable intake).

Thanks for reading! x

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A very bunny birthday

Today is a very special day. It’s one of those days that make you exclaim in clichés: “time flies when you’re having fun”, “blink and you’ll miss it.” It’s a day for looking back over the last year and asking in wonderous astonishment: look what we did, can you believe it? How did we get so lucky?

Today is Agatha’s first birthday.

On her due date (22/02/11) I started a tradition that I hope will last the rest of my life. I’m going to write a letter to Agatha on her birthday, to let her know how much I love her and to tell her of the many wonderful things that have happened during the year. Perhaps I’ll give them to her on her 18th or her 21st or just one sad Thursday in October when she really needs them.

A letter to Agatha, on your first birthday

To my darling Agatha,

Today is your first birthday. I know it’s a cliché but I am amazed at how quickly the time has passed. This time last year I held you in my arms for the first time. Gazed upon your beautiful, perfect face and felt my heart swell with love.

Now, one year later, that love has grown. Ridiculously so. You are amazing. You smile all the time and laugh with such joyous abandon that I laugh too – every time. Your beauty astounds me, as does your cleverness – you learn so quickly. This has been a year of milestones – first word (Dada), crawling, standing, cruising the furniture.

You can wave and point and clap your hands. You give cuddles and slimy kisses. You eat and feed and sleep well, except when new teeth come in, then we have difficult nights. We hate to see you in pain and do all we can to make things better, we always will, your Daddy and I, you can count on that.

I spend my days marvelling at you. If I am ever apart from you (in bed at night or on the one day a week you go to daycare) I think of you and smile. My heart aches if you are gone too long.

We call you ‘sausage” and “pickle” you’re so cheeky it’s hard not too!

You love peekaboo games, stacking cups, Miffy and making music. Everyone who meets you loves you, you have a happiness which is infectious and a smile that could melt the ice caps.

I’m waxing lyrical, I know. It’s a mother’s prerogative. Especially a mother with the world’s most amazing daughter!

Happy First Birthday darling girl, may all your dreams come true. Even the ones you haven’t dreamed yet.

I love you, always,

Mammy xxx

To add to the general ramped up levels of joy around the place we had Agatha’s first birthday party at our home on Saturday. We had a loosely themed "bunny party" and lots of lovely friends came to join in the fun and an atmosphere of happy carnage prevailed. Here are some photos from that special day:

Monday, February 13, 2012

Carefully crafted

The week without sugar is over. I can best sum it up as follows:

The Good: I lost 2kg just from cutting out sugar. How cool is that?

The Bad: I only actually lasted four full days sans the white stuff. On Friday I went to book club and partook of several sweet, sweet granules.

The Ugly: On days two to three I was really grumpy. This was not aided by a flu-afflicted husband who had kindly decided to support me by also giving up sugar. Tempers flared. My husband ate a biscuit.

The result: I shall forgo sugar for at least four days every week until I decide to either step it up or scale it back – I have no idea which way it will go at this stage.

In other news…

Making happy for me is very much linked to happy making and so this week I’m turning my attention to all things crafty. I’ll offer a disclaimer upfront: I’m not actually very good at crafting. But I enjoy it and everything I create is made with love. And maybe, if I spend more time on homemade and handmade pursuits, I’ll get good at it.

Well-chosen handmade gifts (knitted toilet roll covers in the shape of Spanish dancing ladies notwithstanding) can become unique and much-loved treasures and below is an idea I originally saw in the (sadly now defunct) Notebook magazine. These leather cases are perfect for cameras, mobile phones, passports and other stuff that needs a beautiful home.

The case at hand: create a leather case

Download a template that can be adjusted to size, here (PDF).

You will need:

Soft leather or soft faux leather; one piece of fabric for lining; fusible webbing;

One rivet; ruler; scissors; leather punch; hammer; pencil; iron; scalpel (all available from craft shops).

1. Use the template to cut the leather to size. Lay the leather flat as a diamond, with the suede side up. Place the relevant object, such as a camera, on its back so it lies along the horizontal line between the two side corners. Fold the sides in to the middle so they just overlap and mark with a pencil. Fold up the bottom and top corners so they also just overlap and mark. Rule a straight line between each of the four marks so you have either a square or rectangle, then cut to size.

2. Layer the lining fabric and the fusible webbing together then place the leather on top with the suede side up. Trace around the leather then cut the fabric and webbing together.

3. Place the leather flat with the suede side up. Layer the webbing and lining fabric, pattern side up, on top. With the iron set to a low heat, press the layered materials until the three layers have fused.

4. Place the sandwiched leather flat on the table and lay the relevant object on the centre of the square. The corners of the object should lie approximately halfway along each of the straight sides and slightly to the centre. Mark where each corner lies, use the ruler to draw a V from the corner point to the edges. Cut the V away − you should be left with an elongated cross.

5. Use the hammer and leather punch to place a hole in each of the four points. If you have used thicker leather, use the ruler and scalpel to mark a crease between each of the inner corners. Bring the two side corners in to the middle, and then fold up the bottom corner. Use a rivet fastener or prominent leather stud to secure the three points together. Place the object inside, then slide the hole in the top corner over the stud to close.

For my own project I have chosen a rather manly “distressed” brown faux leather and a vintage map print fabric and I’m going to make a passport holder. If that goes well, I’ll supersize the same design and create an A4 document holder.

Stay tuned for more crafts-worth-gifting!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The sweetest thing

A few days ago, Professors Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis (from the University of California at San Francisco) suggested that sugar is so harmful that it should be controlled in the same way as tobacco and alcohol. Their article, published in the science journal Nature (Volume: 482, Pages: 27–29 pointed out that, far from being just “empty calories” sugar is in fact toxic and indirectly responsible for 35 million annual deaths worldwide due to lifestyle-related conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

While the idea of alcohol-like restrictions has been largely dismissed - the best argument I heard was from a sixty-something American lady who pointed out that nobody ever woke up with the wrong people after eating a chocolate cake - the Profs have a point.

Sugar is dangerous to the health and there is no doubt in my mind that it's addictive too. I should know; my name is Rachel and I'm a sugarholic. While my predilection for creme eggs is legendary and my love of cupcakes widely known, my genuine addiction to the white stuff is an embarrassing secret. If I don't have it I crave it, I get headaches, I feel irritable and I can't manage without it for more than a day or two.

It has to stop. Not only do I need to lose weight, I'm afraid that I'm putting myself at risk of serious health issues - cancer, heart disease and diabetes to name but a few - if I don't tackle this head-on.

So, from this very moment I am giving up sugar. My first goal is to make one week and then take it from there. I'm not looking forward to it. I know it will make me, superficially at least, "unhappy". But losing weight and drastically reducing my risk of the above mentioned diseases is surely one of the best things I can do for myself and my family.

Anybody want to join me?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Faking it

A dear friend recently told me of his difficulty getting motivated at work. He’s a smart and talented man but it seemed that the constraints of his role, office politics and the general nine-to- five grind were sapping his spirit. The timing wasn’t right for a job change and there wasn’t much he could do about the issues previously mentioned. So he came up with an interesting solution – he asked himself: “what would a person do who really cared about this?” And then he did it. He pretended to be a person who really cared about re-writing that document to someone else’s specifications, tackling the boring project taking up space on his desk and sitting in long, often unnecessary meetings.

The result? Well, he says he still doesn’t really care but by faking it he’s getting more done and he’s doing it with more energy. Meetings aside, he’s starting to enjoy his job just a little bit more.

This got me thinking: where in my life could I fake it in order to make it? What if I exercised like a fit person? Or gardened like someone who was really passionate about it? Or studied like an academic who knew they were capable of producing an impressive 80,000 word tome? The possibilities suddenly seem endless.

I’d like to do all those things but first I am going to cook like… well, a cook! I’m not brave enough in the kitchen and it can feel like a chore rather than a pleasure. I’m dusting off my many cookbooks and I’m going to make something a chef would eat. (Chefs eat sandwiches, right?)

I’d love to hear where you think you could fake it.

*Image from When Harry Met Sally

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Clutterly brilliant

I love my stuff. I have trinkets from my travels, books by the bucketload, collections comprising teacups, vintage glassware and buttons. I love our stuff – the hundreds of mismatched CDs and records (thrown together when Indie Kid met Happy House Raver) that somehow, over time have bridged the distance so that now Andy can be found navel gazing with Teenage Fanclub while I practice my running man to K-Klass. I love all of Agatha’s stuff, simply because it belongs to her.

Needless to say, my study is a storeroom. Boxes full of very important paperwork (neither of us know exactly what’s in there but it must be important if we kept it all this time). Bookcases chock full of books I have read and will never re-read and those that I will never read at all. Cupboards bursting with clothes that no longer fit us (but they might, one day) and drawers swimming in bits and bobs that may come in useful, if only we knew what they were for. It’s starting to feel uncomfortable, all this stuff. I’m not a hoarder but I am overly sentimental and loathe to hurt any feelings; “we can’t give that away, our old neighbour brought it back from Malaysia for us… Yes I know it’s a Petronas Towers money box wrought large in plastic but it was a gift!”

So, what to do? Celia Barbour (writer and contributing editor at O, the Oprah Magazine) says “a home is a place to do things, not store things. It’s not meant to house your possessions but your life.” This really speaks to me – especially the bit about a home not housing your possessions but your life. Part of my quest to do more of the things that make me happy is to live by the motto that less stuff = more life. So I am going to declutter. I’m going to have a huge garage sale and the proceeds are going into our Hawaii account. I’m going to donate much to charity. I’m going to recycle and, as a last resort, throw away. When I am done I will look around my home and actually SEE the things that are special to me. I am going to try and live by William Morris’ exhortation to not have anything in my house that I do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

Anyone want a money box from Malaysia?

Friday, January 27, 2012

A damp squib?

I had intended to write another blog post before now, especially given the amount of time I have spent indoors with all this water falling from the sky (and running down the street and coming through the roof…) but this week I have been mostly doing things that make me UNhappy. Like vomiting. The entire household was hit by some outrageous bug hell-bent on sending us all to our beds. Before disaster struck I did manage to take Agatha to music classes. They were fun but not something either of us loved so we’re on the hunt for another activity we can do together – swimming is on the list but other suggestions gratefully received.

So, on the face of it, an unsuccessful week in my campaign to do more of what makes me happy. And yet, sometimes finding out what we don’t want can be as useful as finding out what we do. Some are blindingly obvious; I don’t want to be unwell, some are surprising; I thought we’d love music classes and some are just a bit painful; I need to better manage my finances or find a suitcase full of cash to pay for roof repairs.

Although I’m dedicated to my “happiness project”, I’m no Pollyanna. Sometimes bad stuff just happens and in weeks where the weather, ill-health or unexpected financial issues crop up, I’m content with just doing less of what makes me unhappy. To this end I am eating well in order to better fight off any would-be viral marauders, I am working on a budget to future-proof us against further financial surprises and I’m taking the crazy weather as an opportunity to lie on the living room rug with my beautiful baby and be right in the moment with her. And that last one makes me very happy indeed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Do more of what makes you happy

I recently returned from a most excellent holiday in Tasmania. It was my first visit and I was blown away by its natural beauty, groovy towns and cities, tasty food, friendly inhabitants and cute creatures. It’s now my joint-favourite state. I brought home lots of cool things; a wooden melon slice that grabbed Agatha’s attention, gifts for friends, a clock made from paper and some fantastic memories. But I brought something else back with me too, a resolve to do more of what makes me happy.

I was waiting outside a rather nice but pram unfriendly coffee shop in Hobart while Andy (my coffee-addicted husband) procured his latest skinny cappuccino and I spotted this:

I had already been feeling that I wanted to do more of the things I was doing in Tasmania: having fun with my two favourite people, visiting different places, trying new things, living more spontaneously, getting lots of fresh air, being active, shopping in independent shops and leaving myself open to a little serendipity. The sweet street art seemed perfectly placed and in that instant I decided to do more of what makes me happy and to blog about it, as a journal for me and perhaps to inspire (and in turn learn from) others about what makes them happy.

I’m starting small with baby music classes on Monday. I suspect Agatha and I will have a blast.