Friday, October 24, 2014

Happiness is a toffee apple

I know, it's been ages. Don't be cross.

There is much to tell and I need to write a proper post but in the meantime, I'm going to bribe you with some sticky toffee apples, just in time for Halloween.

Sticky apples (recipe swiped directly from Frankie's brilliant Sweet Treats book)


8 small red apples, washed and air-dried
2 cups caster sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon red food
8 wooden sticks

Makes 8 apples

Line a baking tray with baking paper. Spear a stick into each apple about 2/3 of the way in. Check to see they go in straight.

Over low heat, cook sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Stir until sugar has dissolved and then bring to boil without stirring. (To prevent sugar crystallising, brush down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush).
Add food colouring and cream of tartar and give it a stir.

Reduce heat to low and simmer mixture for 20 minutes or until it reaches 150°C (hard-crack stage). Take off the heat immediately.

When toffee ceases bubbling, dip each apple into the toffee. You can coat an apple evenly by tipping the pan on an angle. Make sure you get lots of sticky stuff around the top of the stick, so it doesn’t fall out when you hold it.

Put all sticky apples on to baking trays and set at room temperature. They’ll set in about 30 minutes.

Best eaten straight away, but you can store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 24 hours.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

You autocomplete me

Why can’t I own a Canadian? A fair question if you’re a Google search prompt. Starting a search “why does…” will ensure you are interrupted with sensible and self-affirming autocompletes including ‘why does my cat lick me?’ and ‘why does everyone hate me?’ The question marks are mine; Google seems to prefer the more rhetorical approach.

Official documentation explains: “as you type a search query into the new toolbar’s search box, you’ll see a list of useful suggestions based on popular Google searches, spelling corrections and your own toolbar search history and bookmarks.” Hey man, don’t blame me and my search history for this shit; I have not been hanging out in the small hours exploring raspy-tongue-loving Canadians. Also, your definition of ‘useful’ differs wildly from mine.
As a record of the zeitgeist, search prompts are an interesting, if a little disturbing, cultural snapshot. While some are reassuring; ‘is it illegal… to seek asylum in Australia,’ answer: no (but well done for finding out for yourself rather than believing all the tripe on Facebook). Others reveal factoids you just wouldn’t have known you needed; “is it illegal… to be fat in Japan,’ answer: yes the government imposed a maximum waistline size for anyone aged over forty: 85 centimeters for men and 90 centimeters for women.

And then there are the WTF moments ‘why do… velociraptors throw bananas’ which is not only an anachronism (velociraptors pre-dating bananas by about 70 million years) and a physical impossibility (non-rotating wrists) but also particularly disturbing for those who wanted to know why do birds suddenly appear, just because, you are near?
We might want to cut the search engine a bit of slack however; serious research (by which I mean Googling then hitting the ‘I feel lucky’ button) has revealed that it answers more than one billion questions each day - a heavy workload even for an American multinational corporation specialising in internet-related services and products.

Then of course there’s the fact that many, many internet users are smoking crack while they type. Close to two thousand people a month search for information on how to get away with murder (and with one thousand per month searching on how to hide a dead body, we’ve got to assume Google had a helpful reply). Cat dating and ‘how to make my cat love me’ are searched hundreds of times each month while eighteen thousand people each month want to know why men have nipples. What does this say about us? Are we really anatomically- interested murderous cat lovers?
It can be disquieting to realise just how much of our lives Google has squirreled away for future reference; some of the prompts are frighteningly accurate such as ‘what time… does Centrelink open’ (don’t judge). But it’s fun too, addictive even. Searches such as ‘I like to…’, ‘is it wrong to…’ and ‘why can’t I…’ throw up some stupendous suggestions and many a happy hour is to be whiled away on the resulting paths through internetland.

Just don’t try typing ‘what would happen if…’ Or anything to do with fracking.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What a way to make a living

It’s Monday again. How do you feel about that? I hope this post finds you content in your career and rewarded in your role. But what if it doesn’t? What if you woke up dreading your day, feeling anxious or just plain bored of the daily grind? Can you actually DO anything about it without burning all of your belongings and running off to live on a Kibbutz? Or, only marginally less radically, going back to study and eating nothing but baked beans and instant noodles for three years straight while learning to enjoy wine in a box?

The answer is yes. You can.

Not too long ago, I made a decision to change direction career-wise. I was afraid of failing, of the financial impact of not working towards a "proper" career and of putting myself out there. I did it anyway, holding my breath all the way. Today, I sit at my desk, forging my "patchwork" career, made up of things I am good at and things I enjoy. It feels amazing to be creating the life I want and to be genuinely doing more of what makes me happy. I did not do it without some small changes, a leap of faith, a little luck and a lot of hard work. But it can be done.

I used to wonder who those people were who did jobs that they loved. It seemed impossible for me then. Watching Escape to the Country or Location Location Location (don’t judge, that stuff is addictive!) I would fair seethe with envy at those people who declared “Oh, I work from home and can live anywhere.” What did these people do for jobs? How did they pay the mortgage? What was their secret? It’s not fair; I want to be free to work anywhere. Harrumph.

Then, one day, I decided to do something about it. My “secret” was to start doing something towards my dream job before I left the old one. In my case that dream was freelance writing and I began by starting this blog. It was incredibly nerve-wracking to offer myself and my words to an unseen reader, knowing that I may get shot down in flames. But I had to try, I couldn’t even begin to dream of writing without actually writing (who’d have guessed) and I needed to be accountable.

My big leap of faith came when I stopped working on my PhD. It was heartbreakingly hard in some ways and breathtakingly easy in others. With my newfound time and lack of guilt (never underestimate the weight of guilt, holding you back) I put myself out there, offering my experience in marketing and PR and scoring some great, ongoing work with wonderful clients. Next came a piece of slightly-engineered luck in the form of a job offer to write for Vintage Caravan Magazine. I say engineered because I sent the editor a link to my blog (having mentioned her fabulous publication in a blog post), she read it and offered me a job. I got lucky, I know that, but without the first small step of my blog, that opportunity could not have presented itself.

Recently I pushed myself again and took a course in writing for magazines and newspapers which gave me the confidence to pitch my article ideas to editors. I sit here today working on a commissioned piece and reflecting upon the journey I took to get here.

It’s not over of course, I need to work hard to keep getting published and to turn writing into my “proper job”. I’m not there yet. But I’m a damn sight closer for having tried.

So maybe today could be the day you start the change in your life. I know it’s hard, when family and money and responsibilities are all massive considerations. But is there something small you could do in your daily life that would be a step towards your dream job? Could you volunteer to do something at work that is more in keeping with the role you want? Sign up for a short course online, just to test the water? Offer your services to somebody already in the field you’d like to join?

Take a little leap of faith and who knows, Mondays may never be the same again.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Judgemental much?

I was just in the park, looking at my mobile phone when I felt a pair of disapproving eyes upon me. I looked up to see a fully paid-up member of the knit-your-own-tampon brigade giving me a dirty look. I instantly knew she had decided I was one of those "prefers social media to her kids" people you see on Facebook. I feared I would appear, in all my texting glory, on a page somewhere while the postee primly admonished us all to put down our phones and focus on our children - they are not little for long!*
I was outraged. My children's father is fighting in Iraq and I was simply setting up FaceTime so that he could enjoy the vision of our three year old descending the slide. That's not true of course; Andy is in the CBD having very important meetings where lots of people talk in acronyms (TIA) while he thinks about sandwiches.


That's the thing about being judgemental; you don't usually know what it is you're actually judging. Appearances can be deceptive, our own prejudices and failings colour our opinions and anyway who put us in charge of society?
In my role as Empress of the known (and unknown) universe I can be incredibly judgemental. I do it with gusto sometimes (like when I saw a woman in Woolies chastising her 18 month old for having been "a little shit all day" while he sat casually slurping on a can of Mother and thinking he wouldn't visit her when she's in a home and wearing a nappy of her own) and I do it absent-mindedly when someone says something ridiculous (like when a person I thought was quite sensible suggested soaked, sprouted almonds as a viable alternative to biscuits).

I also do it willfully and behind closed doors when someone has a very different ethos to my own. I have judged (in no particular order and with differing levels of severity):
·         People who wear baseball caps backwards
·         Women who smoke while pregnant
·         Men who skateboard over the age of 21
·         Proponents of the "cry it out" sleep "technique" for babies (note judgmental use of inverted commas)
·         Shoppers who don't return trolleys
·         Every human being with bad manners who has ever walked the face of the earth
·         BMW drivers 
Admit it – we all do it. Not those things specifically of course, we all have our own personal bugbears, but I’d bet $4.11 that every person reading this blog post (Hi, how’s it going? We must catch up more) have, if not today, then this week, judged another person without knowing the whole story. It’s hard not to. But we should probably stop it. At the risk of sounding all Biblical and whatnot - “Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged.” Yes, it’s hard to hear but for every fag-smoking, non-trolley returning, skateboarding, BMW-driving, bad-mannered, pregnant woman in a backwards baseball cap planning on leaving her child to scream, there is a fairly sensible person looking at you and thinking “OMG, I can’t believe s/he is doing that.”
And YOU know you’re a decent sort right? So maybe they are too. Perhaps we could take an Easter pledge, fuelled by Christian love and chocolate driven endorphins, to cut each other a bit of slack. Except for BMW drivers, they’ve got it coming.

*For the record, I agree that we should put down our phones and play with our kids; they are grown in the blink of an eye and they LOVE IT when you give them your full attention. And what I was actually doing in the park was photographing Aggie on the swing and Whatsapping the photos to my Mum in England - you know, fostering a loving grandparent-grandchild relationship across the miles. How d’you like them apples disapproving-playground-wench?!

Monday, March 10, 2014

40 before 40

I must apologise for my tardiness, I haven't blogged in so long. But I missed you and so I'm back.
In November I experienced a strange phenomenon. I turned 40. I don't know how it happened, one day I was 25 and singing along to the Boo Radleys in my £400 Citroen ZX, the next thing I'm 40, pushing two small kids in a double pram and indulging in a tendency to wear comfy clothes.
I'm not particularly upset about turning forty, growing older is a lot better than the alternative after all and I'm still looking fairly crease-free if I do say so myself. But it is WEIRD. Like maybe now I actually have to act my age and be properly responsible and plan for my retirement and stuff.
While rifling through drawers looking for the above mentioned pension info, I came across a notebook which I had obviously intended to use as a journal. True to form it has four pages of thoughts and the rest is blank. I never could keep a diary. But what thrilled me is that two of these pages are taken up by a "40 by 40" list. Dated January 2009, I specify in my journal that it is meant to inspire me to achieve the things I want in life, and not be a to-do list which I must slavishly follow (the five years ago me was pretty chilled out). I reproduce it here, in all its embarrassing, unedited glory for your amusement.
In no particular order:
  1. Have at least two children (you've got to admire my ambition with the "at least") - Check
  2. Get back to a size 12 and stay there - Har dee har har
  3. Get a job I love - Check
  4. Pay off all debt - Semi check, we're on our way
  5. Learn not to take things personally - Checkish, I care MUCH less about others' opinion of me as I age
  6. Travel through Vietnam-Cambodia-Laos - Nope, though I did make it to England, Italy and Bali
  7. Get a PhD - Moving swiftly on...
  8. Learn to sew - Semi check
  9. Make a will - Fail
  10. Take Spanish lessons - Lamentablemente, no
  11. Learn to play guitar - Fail
  12. Visit Uluru - No
  13. Start/grow a business - Check
  14. Learn to jive - WTF?
  15. Start work on a novel - I started
  16. Go to a Paul Weller gig - Check
  17. Compile and read 100 must-read novels - Does doing it in my head count?
  18. Compile and watch 100 must-see movies - See above
  19. Become a stronger swimmer - Negative
  20. Have a gorgeous bedroom - Check
  21. Learn to love exercise - I accept that it's never going to happen
  22. Have a vegetable and herb garden - Check
  23. Sort out our wedding album - Yeah, no
  24. Drive the Great Ocean Road - Doing this in April!
  25. Visit Tasmania - Check 
  26. Join a yoga/pilates class - No
  27. Eat at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen - Fail
  28. Visit Melbourne - Check
  29. Complete Bridge to Brisbane Run - Nope
  30. Learn to say "no" and "Yes" appropriately - Semi Check
  31. Go camping - Fail
The list ends there, at number 31. I like that I didn't finish it.
My new "to-do" list is not so item specific and instead focuses more on how I want to live, it even has an appendix which details the changes I will instigate to make it happen (I'll share those at a later date).
I want to live:
  • Financially free
  • With less stuff
  • With more time to spend as a family
  • Growing my own food
  • Baking, cooking and preserving
  • Enjoying time with friends
  • Writing and researching
  • In a cosy, welcoming home
  • In a nurturing environment
  • With generosity of spirit
  • In happiness
  • With opportunities for travel and growth
  • Deliberately
  • With time to read and just "be."
Told you I'd grown up ;-)

What would make your "to do" list?