Garden Share Collective – October 2014

I am embarrassingly late with this post, but I wanted to get something written at least for my own records, so I will attempt to make this brief (not my strong suit).

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Firstly Planting – YAY I actually did some!!

So far I have planted in seed trays: tomatoes (8 varieties, perhaps that was overkill!), eggplant (2 varieties), capsicum (2 varieties), pumpkin (butternut), cucumber (Lebanese) and zucchini (green and yellow).

In the ground I have planted: Potatoes (kipler and pink fir) mixed lettuce, mustard greens, pak choy, choy sum.

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Potato cage with a layer of pea straw (look closely and you’ll see the plants in there somewhere)

I also planted mature plants of flat leaf parsley, rosemary, lemon thyme and cavolo nero.

Finally I tidied up some pots which are now looking pretty nice.

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Growing: Silverbeet, rocket, lettuce, spring onions, snow peas, broad beans, garlic, potatoes, green and purple sprouting broccoli and strawberries.

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Harvesting: Silverbeet, rocket, lettuce, spring onions, parsley, rosemary, lemon thyme, snow peas, broccoli and my one and only red cabbage.

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To do:
A little weeding – though this is just a small job now.
Water the seedlings in the green house and in the ground (if it doesn’t rain)
Put a rocket under Mr Good to get my garden path finished!!!!!
More planting
Prepare the garden beds for the maturing seedlings

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Political Dramas…. my obsession

It won’t come as much of a surprise to some people that I have a slight obsession with watching political dramas.  I love them, especially the nitty gritty behind the scenes ones.  As such I was pretty excited that two brand new political dramas started airing on commercial TV (not somewhere I venture often) in the last fortnight, both on Channel 10.

The first one I caught was the Australian production, Party Tricks with Asher Keddy and Rodger Corser.  I’ll admit at the start here that I’m not the avid Keddy fan that many people are.  I loved her in Paper Giants, but Offspring was not my thing and her character, Nina, drove me mad.  I know, I’m out on a limb all of my own on that front.  I was hoping in Party Tricks she would bring more of the Ita and less of the Nina, and be a strong, assertive leader.  Two episodes in and I feel like this is the Nina Proudman turned politician show.  I’m also frustrated that it seems the only political drama depicting a woman in leadership to be made in Australia and aired on a commercial station is one which focuses on a sex scandal.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a hard hitting, intelligent Australian political drama with a female leader that didn’t centre around her love life?  I’m undecided whether I will give this another episode to prove itself – it’s been dubbed a dramedy, but for me it’s failing in both comedy and drama – but I feel it very unlikely that I will see this through to its conclusion.

Also airing on Channel 10, it the highly acclaimed American political drama Madam Secretary starring Tea Leoni as the new secretary of state, Elizabeth Faulkner McCord.  For me this is so much more successful on so many levels.  Firstly Tea Leoni’s character, Elizabeth, is strong, confident and smart.  She has a decided dislike for the image women in politics are expected to portray, the focus on clothes, hair and so on (does that remind of anything?  Julia and her jackets perhaps?) and refuses to play that game…. except when she uses that unwanted attention for good, an interesting paradox in itself.  As well as being secretary of state Elizabeth is also a wife and a mother, the juggle of this adds another layer that feels very real to the show.  I read a newspaper article by Annabel Crab recently about female politicians needing ‘wives’ at home to keep it all going.  The idea that husbands can take at least an equal share, if not the lead, in ones home life is still pretty foreign.  The usual take on females in position of power is that they are either childless or wracked with guilt for being where they are and not at home.  Of course, this is a pretty true account of many women’s experiences, but isn’t it time that attitude in society changed.  Madam Secretary has move mostly away from that – there has been a bit of the guilty mother stuff, but not much – and that is a great thing.  The issues arising in the show so far have also been pretty relevant to current political and world events – Middle Eastern kidnappings of westerns for example.  Seeing the way politicians or leaders negotiate (at least on TV, it’s probably vastly different in real life) their way through situations is fascinating.  I have high hopes for the rest of the season.  Let’s see if it meets my expectations.

Although, if you want really, truly wonderful – perhaps faultless – political drama there are two, in my opinion, head and shoulders above everything else.  They are, of course, West Wing and the Danish series Borgen.  The former is my go-to I-need-a-break-from-the-mummy-stuff show.  It gives me a little over half an hour down time during the day.  I pop ABC kids on in the family room for the girls and I watch an episode of West Wing in the lounge room.  I makes me remember I’m an adult with a functioning brain…. and because I know there’s nothing racey, violent or sweary in it if the girls wander through I’m not concerned about what they’ll hear or see.  They think it’s totally boring because it’s just people talking so I get a few minutes alone.  Heaven!  The latter, Borgen, has been airing on SBS and I would highly recommend all 4 seasons.  It’s another with a female leader, but in the more open-minded Scandinavian environment it seems worlds away from where we have been in Australian politics with regard to gender roles.

So political dramas, love or hate?  What are you favourites?  And what other great stuff have you been watching?

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Mental As week on the ABC

I may be just about to disclose my inner old fogey here, but I’m a pretty dedicated ABC viewer (with a bit of SBS thrown in).  I rarely make it over to commercial channels (with the exception of the new series, Madam Secretary) and when I do I generally become agitated by some inane commentary, insipid drama or unfunny comedy.  I’m being harsh here, perhaps too harsh, there are clear exceptions to this rule but not many!

This week on the ABC it’s all about mental health and mental illness, and I feel like my brain has been expanding at a rapid rate during the viewing so far.  I’ve also been reading a fellow Ballarat blogger Ellen, who writes over at Potential Psychology, and who has been writing on mental health every day this week.

I’m lucky enough to have had pretty good mental health for most of my life, so I lot of what I’ve been watching or reading has given me a new perspective on what living with mental illness might be like.  Scarily though 50% of Australians will suffer from some form of mental illness at some point in their lives, often beginning in adolescence – something I should have been more aware of as a secondary teacher.  While my mental health is pretty good, I’ve also realised that I’ve probably had a few times when that hasn’t been true.  I was an impossibly shy child/teenager to the point where I wasn’t able to do some normal things and my anxiety levels were very much raised when I was out of my comfort zone.  This included talking to adults, especially doctors and some teachers one-on-one, making phone calls to people I didn’t know, public speaking, really any time where I had to say something to or have a conversation with someone outside my close family and friends.  My Mum never understood this – it was not something she had had any experience with – and would push (force?) me to do these things without any support.  Her philosophy was that if she did it for me I’d never learn how to do it myself and I should just suck it up and do it.  I get that, but I think having been there myself I would approach the situation quite differently as a parent in the same situation.  Although at this point in time my kids seem very confident and nothing like I was.

I have fought an internal battle since I was about 16 and made the conscience decision to try to overcome my nervousness.  I’ve come a very long way.  But there are still things I can’t quite take control of.  Going to the doctors is one – I get ridiculously nervous, have trouble controlling my voice, get shaky and generally feel crap.  Needless to say I avoid the doctor.  I get this way even if I’m going with my kids.  The only time I can manage to control my anxiety is if I’m going for something quite straight forward or tangible which requires little verbal explanation.  For example, if I need a pap smear or if the girls have a rash for something I can SHOW the doctor.  Any time I have to actually express what I’m feeling like or some intangible concern I have with one or other of the girls I become a complete mess.  I hate it, I wish I could get over it, but there it is.

I’ve also had a few times when I’ve been what I call ‘down’ or ‘in a funk’.  I usually just force myself out of bed and get through the day, do something that makes me feel good like being in the garden or exercising and pull myself out of it.  Sometimes this takes a little longer than others, but in the end the feeling always dissipates.  The fact that I can do this probably means it’s not really depression, but I do understand to some extent that inability to get out of bed and participate in the world that true depression suffers experience.

Anyway, I wanted to share a few things I’ve watched this week that have expanded my understanding and given me a much greater insight into mental health.

From Potential Psychology I found these two TED talks.   The first is Ruby Wax on mental illness – funny!

The second is by Eleanor Longdon talk about her own mental illness, schizophrenia and is a fascinating first hand account of the appearance of voices in her head.

Then on iview I would highly recommend Felicity Ward’s Mental Mission, which I really related to.  And if you’ve got a bit more time I found Changing Minds totally fascinating.  It’s about a secure psychiatric ward in an Australian hospital and the patients who are admitted to the unit.  Lastly, if you aren’t already, get on Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me bandwagon.  It’s very funny, well written and under appreciated in Australia.  Last night the played an encore screening of the episode when Josh and his on-screen mother go hiking after a friend of hers committed suicide.  I can’t find a link to that one, but the whole show it worth watching.

On final thing I’ve done is to make a mental health promise to myself here.  Mine was to get outside regularly and to get enough sleep.  Lack of both sends me into a funk.  Why don’t you go and add your own promise to the wall?  It can be something to do for your own mental health or something to support others.

All this talk about mental illness and mental health  is a really wonderful step in reducing stigma, making workplaces and schools better able to cope with and support people with mental illness  and hopefully improve professional support services that are easily accessible when it’s most needed.  There is a lot of work to do in this area by all of us.  What are your thoughts?  I’d love to hear from you, so leave me a comment.

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Wednesday Reads – A Fortunate Life by A. B. Facey

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This is an Australian classic and ranked highly in the ABC Book Club’s top 10 Aussie books.  It’s a little sad, then, that it has taken an avid reader like me 35 years to get to this one despite growing up in a house that always had a copy of the shelves (oops, did I just give away my age?).  On a side note, there is still one book from the top ten list I’m yet to read, how about you?

In the end I discovered this via audio books, it was available immediately and I wanted something right away.  I’m glad I did, and as I said in my previous post on audio books, I loved listening to the mellow tones of the older male narrator.  It was like sitting with Pa listening to stories, his stories being no less fascinating than A. B. Facey’s.

This is a tale of an ordinary man living through some extraordinary times including two world wars and the great depression.  It’s written exactly as a man of his generation would speak it, nothing fancy just plain, clear language.  Having said that there were a couple of times where a little glossing over the detail would have been appreciated, he was VERY specific!!  One such example was the description of a well on a rural property Facey was living on.  By the end of the lengthy passage I knew the depth and diameter of the well, the length of the rope that was lowered (and something about counter weights that I didn’t quite get), the diameter and volume of the buckets used to bring up the water in and how many times the bucket would need to be filled to get the water required.  It kind of reminded me of the level of detail about trains and railway gauges offered up in The Railway Man (and probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I had just finished that book).

The other thing I couldn’t quite get my head around was the title.  Was it supposed to be ironic or not?  In some ways A. B. Facey had shockingly bad luck.  His mother was a complete piece of work, abandoning him very early in his life, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother, and then reappearing to reap whatever kind of financial reward she could.  As a young boy/teenager he was forced into service on a number of farms where he was whipped, poorly treated and never paid – despite his ‘employers’ promises of wages.  He got lost and survived in the outback for several days without food or water.  He was sent to Gallipoli and was badly injured.  He had great difficulty finding work he could do after the war.  His efforts at farming during the Great Depression with drought and plummeting wool, wheat and livestock prices fell over completely and he lost a son in World War II.  All terrible experiences for one person to have to endure.  On the other hand, those times were tough, terrible times for lots of people and if you look at things the other way you see he was lucky.  Lucky to have a grandmother to care for and love him, lucky to learn the agricultural skills that would later see him landing on his feet time after time, lucky to come home from Gallipoli at all and lucky to get a war pension that could be depended upon during the tough depression years.  He had four sons, who all went to war, he was lucky to have three come home.  He was lucky to get land as a soldier settler and to marry a woman who shared the burdens of the hard times and the joys of the good.  In the end I think the title is what it is and I’m probably over thinking it.  I can’t imagine A. B. Facey putting such time and effort into discerning its deeper meaning.

A Fortunate Life deserves it’s place in the list of Aussie books.  It’s a unique first hand account of a part of history that made Australia what it is today.  This was when our nation was forged together as a distinct people with an identity to defend and freedoms to protect.  Whether that identity is as relevant today is a discussion for another time.  So if this little piece of Australian literature has been staring at you from your to-read list, it’s time to give it a go…. maybe on audio book.

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Great Reads of Kids #5 – Mo Willems

Several years ago now a reader of my blog mentioned a children’s author that I absolutely had to check out.  That author was the clever, funny and just so totally brilliant Mo Willems.  We love, love, love Mo and if you’re yet to experience his world of utter hilarity you MUST!!!!  NOW!!  – I mean it, go straight to your local library, hit Amazon or Bookworld or whatever online bookstore you favour or better yet check him out at your local real-life bookshop.  DO IT!

But just before you heed my warning and head out the door or onto another website, here is a little info.  He is an American kids author and creator of general awesomeness – check out his amazing web page – who started writing books after working on Sesame Street.  You can kinda see the TV influence in how some of the books are structured or illustrated.

He writes a number of series, all funny, quirky and completely cool.  We haven’t read them all but here’s a sample of the ones we’ve either bought or have been lucky enough to find at the library.

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The Knuffle Bunny series (Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, The Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity and The Knuffle Bunny Free: An unexpected Diversion).  This is compulsory reading for any parent…… ahem, child…… who has any kind of security object.  The despair felt at the loss of said item is enough to send any parent and child into acts of wild desperation as happens in these books.  These are magnificently illustrated with a combination of photography and cartoon style drawings.

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The Pigeon Series (there are lots and lots, but a few include the award winning Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, The Pigeon Finds a Hotdog, The Pigeon Loves Things that Go and The Pigeon Wants a Puppy).  The Pigeon even tweets would you believe!  This is a seriously funny character, a pigeon who knows what he wants and won’t let a little thing like being a pigeon stand in his way.

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The Elephant and Piggie series (again lots, but a selection of the ones we’ve enjoyed include Today I Will Fly, Let’s Go For a Drive and I Will Surprise my Friends).  These are two slightly unlikely friends with fairly different personalities.  They go on adventures but things never quite go as planned.

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There is another series that we haven’t yet experienced, called Cat the Cat.  Although I can’t personal guarantee their greatness I feel pretty sure they would come up to scratch.  As well there are numerous stand alone books, but I’ve never managed to come across these at the local library.  If anyone else had read them please comment at the end of this so we all know what they’re like.

What I think is most wonderful about Mo Willem’s books is that they’re funny from a child’s perspective but also from a parents.  You know, like great kids movies, there are jokes that are included just for the adults watching that will more than likely go over the kids head.  The books are also brilliant to read aloud, few words but oh so much expression!

So there you have it, another brilliant children’s author for you.  I have a sneaking suspicious this series could go on forever.

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Progress report on my new habits

I made a decision a couple of weeks ago to work on changing some of my bad habits for the better.  Namely I wanted to be the kind of person who gets up early and has short showers.  At the time of writing that I wasn’t quite sure how I would go with the getting up early bit because I had a couple of cheeky kids that seemed to get some sort of enjoyment out of waking me multiple times a night and sleeping in my bed wedged right up against my back.  These things combined with generally crap sleeping ability meant that I never got a good night’s rest and had a terrible time dragging my sorry backside out of bed in the morning.  You can imagine my patience some days was pretty limited!

Then I got a facebook message from a friend who recommended a couple of iPhone apps that might help.  I was skeptical.  How could an app stop my kids getting up at night?  Well, in short they can’t, but the apps helped any way.  In fact I feel like they may just have changed my whole world.  The first app, Red Shift (there are others like it as well) is for those who like a little screen time in the evening (and let’s face it with kids around uninterrupted screen time is only really possible in the evening).  The light from smart phones, tablets and so on is said to interrupt melatonin levels which leads to poor sleep.  Red Shift changes the light at night to a red light (rather than a blue one) which is doesn’t have the same effect on the body and also doesn’t interrupt your night vision.  This is a good app if you need to use screens at night, but I also try to just put the screens away for a while before bed.

The second app and the one that has really changed my life, is Sleep Cycle.  The idea of this one is that it monitors your movements in bed, assesses how you sleep and most importantly wakes you up when you’re in the lightest sleep phase.  This means that you wake up feeling bright and ready to get up…. and it really works.  It may mean that the alarm goes off slightly before your set time, but with a feeling of being rested and ready to start the day.  I started with an alarm time of 7.30 and after a week or so moved that to 7.00am.  I’m now thinking of moving it again to 6.30 and then reading in bed for 15 mins before getting up.  This has made getting up early a piece of cake and it feels like I have hours more time in the morning, it’s wonderful!  It helps that this has all coincided with Miss Three starting to sleep better herself, getting up less frequently and even sleeping through some nights (at three and a half it’s about bloody time!).

The shorter showers things has generally been good when I remember to set the timer, but if I forget I easily slip into old habits.  Ah well, we can’t be perfect I suppose.  I’m a work in progress.

So tell me, are you a morning person?  Or a night owl?  And have you managed to change a bad habit for the better, for good?

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Life Hacks and Audio Books

I wrote a little about life hacking in this post some months ago and it’s been in the back of my mind ever since.  I love the idea of a simple change adding to your overall enjoyment of life.  The life hack that resonated with me back then was doing the dishes with Mr Good, it was both a way to knock over a tiresome daily chore and a way to reconnect and talk with my husband – something we easily neglect.  We’ve done this ever since with few exceptions and it continues to work, the kitchen is cleaned quickly and we talk about stuff.  It’s nice.

Since then I’ve discovered another life hack that I had initially dismissed, the audio book.  When I first read about life hacks this was a prime example, listening to audio books in the car while driving.  I don’t drive that much, mostly short local trips and almost always with kids – not really a great time to be listening to most adult fiction books.  Then I was talking to a friend who had discovered audio books.  She was like me, at home mostly, with two kids, but she still managed to listen to lots of audio books.  How, I wondered.  The answer was to listen, not so much while driving, but while doing dull, monotonous but necessary chores.  She was whipping through books while cooking, hanging up washing, tidying or whatever.  I thought this was genius and so I have since found my rhythm with the audio book.  I spend an hour or more in a block each morning doing washing, vaccuuming, making beds, cleaning bathrooms, tidying kitchen benches or whatever the case may be.  I plug my earphones into my iphone and start listening.  I even managed to give my neglected laundry a good clean out this way.  And I think the best thing is that the kids know I won’t necessarily stop what I’m doing to address their minor concerns while I have my earphones in and I don’t have to listen to the bickering that happens on and off between them.  Obviously, if they really need something I do stop and deal with it, but not for every little thing.  This has been good for them and me.

There is much debate (at least between people in my circle) about whether listening to a book actually ‘counts’.  My theory is this, listening to a book takes longer than it would take most people to read it – in general reading aloud is a slower process than reading in your head.  It also means that you listen to every single word, skimming is not the easy thing it is when reading.  I also know that I’m perfectly capable of reading the books I listen to, but can’t spend all day sitting and reading – how nice would that be!! – so it’s not like I’ve cheated and watched the movie or something.  To me listening counts, you can make up your own mind.

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So far I have listened to A Fortunate Life, by A. B. Facey and have started Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks.  The first – a fairly short book – took about 13 hours to listen to, the second is much longer than that.  Another thing to keep in mind when delving into the world of audio books is the reader.  If the voice of the reader is grating or annoying or just the wrong voice for that story you’re probably not going to enjoy the book as much.  A Fortunate Life was read by an older man with a voice you would imagine A. B. Facey having, it had a really authentic ring to it and it made me enjoy listening.  I felt like I was listening to my grandfather telling stories.  Nine Parts of Desire is actually read by the author, Geraldine Brooks.  She is one of my favourite authors and so I was quite pleased that she was reading it herself, but her voice is not what I expected and at first I found it really annoying.  I have gotten used to it but it’s still a bit off-putting.

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The audio books I get are borrowed from BorrowBox which most public libraries have access to.  It has an app you can download and then the whole borrowing process takes a few swipes and click and then a couple of minutes to download the files.  It’s very easy – if I were buying ebooks or audio books this way my bank account would not be thanking me!!  The collection of audio books on borrowbox seems more extensive than the ebook collections I explored earlier this year, though there is a wait time for most new or popular books.  The borrowing period is also a bit shorter than books I check out at the library and you can’t renew them if someone is waiting for it, so you do need to make sure you have the time to get through it.  Of course you can stick to borrowing things that are immediately available and which you can easily renew – which is what I have been doing while waiting for some others to become available.

So there you have it, my latest life hack.  What have you done lately to hack you’re life?  Even if you didn’t know what you were doing was hacking?  I’d love to incorporate more simple ways to add enjoyment to my life, so let me (and others) know in the comments.

And don’t forget to check out and like my facebook page – I’m a bit more active on there when life gets busy.

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