2017 Book Round Up

I’m a bit late to the game on this one (I was too busy enjoying a quiet beach holiday), but 2017 was a big reading year for me and I thought I share it with you.

I read physical books, ebooks and listened to audio books and managed to get through about 65. Here’s my list and the ratings I gave them. Fittingly there were 12 five star books, one for each month, which I think is a pretty good hit rate. There were also large number of 4 star books, and only a few 1-2 stars (but also a few I didn’t finish and haven’t included here). I’ve listed them in month order, and linked to ones I’ve already written about. I’ll review a couple of others in the next few days as well.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – 5/5
A Distant Journey by Di Morrissey – 2/5
The Muse by Jessie Burton – 4/5
Life after Life by Kate Atkinson – 5/5
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald – 4/5
Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou – 4/5

Kings in Grass Castles by Mary Durack – 2.5/5
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood – 5/5
The World Without You by Mireille Juchau – 3/5
Here Come the Dogs by Omar Musa – 2/5
A Good in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – 5/5

La Cucina by Lily Prior – 3/5
Mischling by Affinity Konar – 4/5
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – 4.5/5
Three Time Lucky by Sheila Turnage – 3/5
Joe Cinque’s Consolation by Helen Garner – 4/5
The Many Selves of Katherine North – 3.5/5
Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith – 3/5

The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis – 4/5
Anne’s House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery – 4/5
Death Before Wicket (Phryne Fisher #10) by Kerry Greenwood – 3/5
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer – 3/5
Cockroaches (Harry Hole #2) by Jo Nesbo – 3/5
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – 5/5
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – 5/5
Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson – 4/5
Fair Game: The Incredible Untold Story of Scientology in Australia by Steve Cannane – 3/5

The Dry by Jane Harper – 4/5
The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell – 4/5
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies by Fredrik Backman – 3.5/5

The King Maker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory – 4/5
One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson – 3/5
The Strays by Emily Bitto – 5/5
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld – 5/5
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta – 3/5
Heartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach – 3/5
The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch – 3/5
Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal by Alexandra Johnson – 4/5
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness – 4/5
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance – 4/5

True Stories: Selected Non Fiction by Helen Garner – 3/5
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – 5/5

A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work by Bernadette Brennan – 4/5
Summer at Mount Hope by Rosalie Ham – 4/5
Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford – 4/5

The Girls by Emma Cline – 4/5
Hold by Kirsten Tranter – 2/5

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer – 5/5
The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey – 4/5

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – 5/5
The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking – 3/5
So You’ve Been Publically Shamed by Jon Ronson – 3/5
The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman – 3/5
The Mothers by Brit Bennett – 3/5
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult – 3/5
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterson – 3/5

Once We Were Sisters: A Memoir by Sheila Kohler – 2.5/5
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – 4/5
Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson – 3/5
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin – 4/5
The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion – 3/5
Open by Andre Agassi – 4/5
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff – 4/5
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – 5/5

I started and finished the year with five star books, not a bad way to go! And can you tell that my uni studies took over my attention from July to October? Now, tell me about your 2017 reading life.

Be back soon,





Posted in Books, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Smile File – What actually makes me happy?

Continuing my pursuit of a happier, lighter, more positive and more content life I picked up Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, which someone on Litsy had recommended I read. I knew it was good and exactly what I needed when I realised I couldn’t stop taking notes – I embraced it! One thing struck me early in the piece, as Gretchen was discussing what resolutions she was going to focus on in her own year-long happiness project; I didn’t really know what made me happy at all.

I asked Mr Good what he thought made me happy, hoping someone close would have more insight about me than I did. His immediate response, reading! He’s right, that definitely makes me happy but it seemed too simple, too mundane. I do that everyday but I’m certainly not happy every day. I put the thought aside and read one. So much of what Rubin wrote struck a chord with me, and a few things really didn’t… but the point she made repeatedly was that her project was for her and wouldn’t work for anyone else. You have to build your own happiness profile. So here are a few things that I took from the book and a couple of ideas about what actually makes me happier that I will hopefully build into my life a bit more.

Thoughts from the book:

  1. Eliminating clutter cuts down up to 40% of housework!
  2. Don’t expect praise or appreciation – do something because You want to, need to or because it will make YOU feel better/happier.
  3. What you do everyday matters more than what you do every once in a while.
  4. There is a negativity bias – this means that you need far more positive interactions to counteract a few negative ones (think about how this impacts on relationships/marriage). Related – avoid criticism, look for the positives
  5. Happiness is improved if you have a sense of purpose and growth (this explains why studying is so important to me)
  6. The more parts that makeup your self-identity the less threatening it is when one is lost (I think I have few which is why losing my job left such a hole)
  7. Tell yourself, “It’s fun to fail” (then apply for the jobs that seem out of reach)
  8. Singing makes me happy
  9. Remembering happy times makes you happier (photos are important)
  10. Anticipation gives as much happiness as an event (so embrace/enjoy the planning)
  11. Staying connect is possibly to most universally important way to build happiness – maintain friendships, do the little things, look for new friendships.
  12. Use your best stuff now – don’t save it for “special”.
  13. Spend your money mindfully.
  14. Ideas for keeping a journal (1 sentence journal, gratitude journal)
  15. Pursue a passion
  16. Meditation works for lots of people, but you need to find the right way for you.
  17. Use humour and tenderness to make a point, rather than anger or irritation.
  18. Listen intently, don’t interrupt.
  19. Find a mental area of refuge – things to think about when you find yourself dwelling on negative thoughts.

I probably should have added another one to make it a nice round number, but I don’t feel the need to pad.

Now, how are these thoughts and ideas going to lead to change? That is not entirely clear right now, but I have a few key priorities.

  1. The next job I have has to add to my happiness. This is hugely important to me and means that I need to be selective and thoughtful. I have refused one job already this year because I knew I’d hate it.  I need to be brave enough to do that until the right one comes along.
  2. If reading and singing makes me happy I should make sure I find time to do that whenever I can. The reading part is really not an issue, but at least I can do it with more purpose and without guilt. As for the singing part, I’ve started a Spotify playlist of songs that make me happy to sing, it’s totally daggy and with lots of Dolly Parton and 80s pop (Miss Six now things Cindi Lauper is the greatest thing ever!). I put it on when I’m cooking, cleaning, playing with the kids ( in fact I have it on now).
  3. A messy, cluttered house increases my anxiety and I should say that more openingly. I’ve done a couple of things for this. Firstly I cleared a couple of troublesome dumping zones and put up signs that say No Dumping. I feel so much lighter seeing clear surfaces. I’ve also put reminders for myself around the house – these say “Remember the one minute rule” (if it takes less than a minute put it away/do it now). Finally, I’ve started a ten minute family evening pack up time. For ten minutes we all work to clean an area up. I did this so I wouldn’t feel so resentful that I seem to do all the tidying and cleaning.put in them.
  4. Keep/record happy memories. I pinched this one straight from the book, but I intend to make the girls files boxes with one file for each year to keep their certificates, photos, mementos etc. I also want to get some standard sized photo frames and get photos printed from holidays etc so I can see these happy times everyday.
  5. Exercise is important, I feel better and sleep better, but I find it boring. I need to find ways of doing exercise that I like and keep up some variety – not the same thing each time. I need some help in this department. Ideas?
  6. Look for where the stress comes from and how to eliminate it. I cant always do this, but there are small things that drive me crazy. One has always been mealtimes. That is definitely getting better as the kids get older. But I’ve also started doing things like the candle (mentioned in a previous post), putting the food on the table so everyone can serve themselves and making sure I cook some sure-fire winners. Another thing I find stressful is the constant nagging of the kids to pack their things away. The steps I’ve taken to combat this include shutting their bedroom door and not worrying about what’s on the other side – it’s not my problem. I’ve told them I won’t enter if it’s too messy which means I won’t help them look for missing shoes, ipads, teddy bears etc. This sometimes backfires though and it hasn’t motivated them to tidy up at all. I need some better strategies for this.
  7. Keep up the personal growth (studying, challenging jobs, career goals etc)
  8. Lastly, I’ve started looking for more fun in everyday life. I love listening to the kids laughing hysterically, so anything that brings that on makes me feel good (it usually involves fart jokes). I dance crazily, make up terrible jokes, do silly voices or silly walks. One day Miss Six commented in complete shock at how happy I seemed (now that’s pretty telling!)

There’s two other things I’ve noticed in all this thinking about happiness. Firstly, on days when I’ve managed to do a lot of the things that make me happier, the things that usually make me cross don’t bother me so much. I yell less, I snap less, I can see the positives ahead of the negatives, I can make a joke of it. Secondly, Mr Good seems happy that I’m working on my own happiness. This might seem obvious, but he’s usually pretty blase about my “little projects”. Makes me think my lack of happiness has been more of an issue than I thought.

And to finish I’d like to ask you, what makes you happy? Are you more aware of yourself than I was? I hope so. Please share!


Posted in happiness, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Sun, rain and the garden

The start of summer has been a funny old thing here in Ballarat. The end of November got really hot with a string of days in the high 30s (Celsius) and then the first week or so of December we had the heaters back on and the winter clothes out. Then we had rain, quite a lot of rain – though far from the record breaking rain that was predicted. And now, it’s back to sunshine and the temperature is heating up again. I wonder what all this up and down does to the growing cycle of the plants I’ve been putting since early November.

Some things have really taken off, like the corn. I put this in on a whim after getting some free seeds and I think all but one seed has germinated well.

The lettuce is going gang busters, but some is itching to bolt and the leaves have turned bitter.

The tomatoes and the capsicum are also looking good, with the beginnings of fruit and some more flowers coming on.

I have parsley in all its stages. Seeds just starting to grow, full grown plants providing lots of leaves for cooking (there’s no such thing as too much parsley is there?) and one that has gone to seed which I’ll use to scatter around and keep the cycle going.

The zucchinis, though, have been a little slower to get going. And the cucumber, which I always find a slow grower at this time of year, has barely changed.

Then there are the total failures. Only one of about twenty sunflower seeds has survived – I suspect the rest got taken by the snails early on. And the basil seems to have failed to poke their heads above ground at all.

Finally, there is one area still choked with weeds which I must tackle soon. It’s a particularly troublesome spot given that there are several established plants (most of which I don’t really like, ie contoneaster). a dead tree with ivy growing over it which is too expensive and difficult to take out and then there are the large landscaping pebbles and black plastic, clearly doing nothing to keep the weeds down. I really just don’t know where to start with all this.


It’s going to be hot tomorrow, too hot for me to get out in the garden, but the rest of the week looks perfect. I’m hoping to tackle more weeding, get some more plants in and have a tidy up in the front. What’s happening in you’re garden at the moment? And if you’ve got a solution to my troublesome spot please send them my way!


Posted in Gardening, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Smile File – Finding the silver lining

I went away last weekend with my gorgeous book club friends. We rented a house at the beach, bought foods we all enjoyed and essentially sat around eating, drinking wine and talking books. In the course of our many and varied discussions, we got talking about self-identity and being satisfied with ones lot in life, looking for the silver lining. This is not something I’m naturally good at, and have especially found difficult for the last twelve months. But I’m on a mission to find the happiness in life (I even bought happy pants!) and so I decided I should look at the things I’ve been able to do this year which I would never have been able to had my life not taken its unexpected turn. I’m going to try and find the silver lining of losing my career.

  1. A return to study and a potential career change. This would never have happened if I was still teaching despite the fact I had contemplated a move into librarianship many times over the years. But going back to uni to do something quite different and then leaving an established career to launch a new one is daunting, perhaps only for the brave. I’m not the brave. I’m here not because of a decision I made but one that was forced on me. Nevertheless, I did make the choice not to pursue another teaching contract, started the course and began applying for jobs. There’s a certain degree of courage in all that and I’m feeling pretty positive about it all. Silver lining right there.
  2. I got to see lots of movies in the middle of the day with just a few other people. They were lovely, I chatted to them about all sorts of things. Plus the movies were great.
  3. I have spent lots of time with my parents, especially Mum. I can drop around for coffee or meet her in town for morning tea or lunch.
  4.  I could help my sister out with transport and babysitting (and nag her to make doctors appointments). My gorgeous nephew now comes running to greet me at the door, arms and grin wide. That’s pretty special.
  5. Reading, reading, reading! I set me challenge pretty high this year, 52 books, one a week. I thought I was being ambitions. I’ve passed it already and I think I’ll hit at least 65 before the end of the year.
  6. I’ve visited several art galleries. I saw Van Gogh and Dior in Melbourne as well as regular viewings of the local galleries.
  7. I’ve sorted out many of the trouble spots in the house – those spaces where things go in never to be seen again or the dump zones which always look untidy and cluttered. Things are not perfect, the studying interrupted my progress somewhat (not a bad thing) and two children and a messy husband don’t help but plenty of progress was made and it makes me feel better to have less clutter around.
  8. Working in a primary school. When I first applied for teaching courses I included both primary and secondary options but ended up in a secondary course. Primary teaching always appealed to some degree (especially the older year levels). As a relief teacher I can work in both primary and secondary and have now taught at every level from grade 1 to year 12 (I have managed to avoid prep so far). I’ve had to adapt to the lower levels – very simple instructions, don’t expect too much writing etc – but I have really enjoyed it. It’s a bonus not to be sworn at or completely ignored.
  9. Spending time with Mr Good. Considering we are both at home for six hours a day together (most days) you’d think I’d be sick of the sight of him. But it’s been nice to chat a bit during the day – his work is pretty demanding so I have to pick my times – and to go out for the odd lunch together.
  10. Taking a holiday outside of the school holidays. We did have to take the kids out of school for a week but I think it was well worth it for all of us. Getting to see other cultures, talk to people who have such different lives is a terrific educational experience. One we intend to repeat (hopefully next year).

Having written that, I feel quite privileged to have had this time now. It may not have been my choice, I may not have always seen the silver lining, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of making the most of it. What 2018 holds for me remains to be seen, but I will endeavor to continue looking for the silver lining and taking advantage of the opportunities that come my way.

Posted in Family, General, Goals, Lifestyle, travels | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

My Favourite Podcasts

I have an increasingly long list of podcasts that I subscribe to and an even longer list of ones I haven’t quite got to yet. I love them. Podcasts have opened my world up to so many new ideas, people, books, and topics that I would never normally show an interest in. I listen just about every day to at least a couple of episodes, sometimes bingeing a whole series, one episode after another, sometimes listening only as the episodes are released and not going through the back catalogue or starting at the beginning – it really depends on the style of podcast it is.  I have written once before about podcasts, discussing This American Life, Serial (don’t bother with season 2 in my opinion) and S-Town (brilliant!!) which are all worthy starting places. But since this post my listening catalogue has exploded in size and frequency, so here I’ll be sharing some of my newer discoveries.

  1. Chat 10 Looks 3 – This Aussie podcast features the indomitable Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales. These two witty, intelligent and extremely busy journalists share a friendship that they let the world eavesdrop on in this podcasts. There are a LOT of in jokes, so either let them go or have a listen to the back catalogue to pick up on where they began. Mostly, this podcast is where they share what they have been reading, watching, listening to (I have found lots of other podcasts to listen to through them), cooking and doing. It will leave you reeling trying to figure out how they fit it all in (it’s not like they have day jobs or anything!), but, if you’re anything like me, you’ll also be in hysterics at their quick wit and merciless ribbing of each other.  PS there is a Facebook page as well which I followed and then had to hide because it was so overwhelming it filled my entire feed. The community is incredibly generous and positive – a pretty rare combination for online communities.
  2. Conversations with Richard Fidler – If you’re a fan of ABC radio you’l probably already know Richard Fidler’s Conversations, it’s an incredible segment/podcast but I’ll admit it took me ages to get onto this one. The reason for this was that I was overwhelmed by the number of episodes and didn’t really know where to start. In the end I downloaded a collection of his interviews from my library app (BorrowBox) and was hooked. His interview with Jeanette Winterson was mesmerizing. But even better he interviews people that lead extraordinary lives that most of us would never hear about. So don’t be like me, get onto this one, it doesn’t matter where you start you’ll find something engaging and fascinating.
  3. Dirty John – This is my most recent binge listen and the creation of Chris Goffard, a journalist at the LA Times. It tells the true story of a middle-age woman, Debra Newell, and how her life became intertwined with con man John Meehan. It’s a bit like watching a car crash, I just couldn’t turn away despite my utter bewilderment about what was happening and how a  successful and intelligent woman could find herself in such a position. The story is masterfully woven together by the creators and includes interviews with many of the main players (although not John himself). I think if you like podcasts like Serial or S-Town or true crime podcasts this one might also be worth a try.
  4. Australian True Crime – This is not a genre that I would have thought I would enjoy, but it turns out I really do. This particular podcast is hosted by Meshel Laurie and Emily Webb and they discuss…. Australian true crime stories. This is usually by way of an interview with someone fascinating. That might be a retired or current police detective, a true crime writer/journalist/researcher, an academic, a survivor of a crime and occasionally even a criminal themselves. Often the cases are extremely high profile ones that many of us remember, but sometimes they are lesser known crimes whose impact on society has been hidden. Each episode usually focuses on just one case – though this is not always so – and the content is often quite disturbing. It’s not for the faint hearted but if you’re into True Crime put this on your list. (Other great True Crime podcasts I’ve listened to recently include Trace and Phoebe’s Fall – both Australian podcasts that follow just one case in a similar style to Serial.)
  5. Hidden Brain – I listen to a whole range of NPR (National Public Radio – in the US) podcasts, all of which are great and I could have talked about here, but I decided on Hidden Brain because it’s a bit science-y which is something I’m into at the moment. According to the website Hidden Brain uses science and storytelling to explain some aspect of the world or ourselves. That’s it in a nutshell. You’ll learn something about science and about humans and you’ll be entertained while you’re learning. I’ve learnt about why we choose to avoid negative information (ie about our finances or our health), why we feel nostalgia, how brain surgeons and airline pilots use simple checklists to avoid killing people by accident, about behavioural economics and so much more. I never delete an episode that sounds uninteresting because I’ve discovered that they can make even the most mundane part of life fascinating and I always learn something.  (Other NPR shows I listen to include Code Switch, Fresh Air and Invisibilia – they’re all great and they all make me learn or question).

I’ll stop now. I have plenty more to share but perhaps I’ll save them for another time. As always, I’m keen to hear what you’re listening to. Is there a podcast that I’m really missing out on? Hit me up with some suggestions in the comments.



Posted in Podcasts, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Restoring the Patch


How good do my potatoes look! Can’t wait to taste them.

It’s been quite a while since I really got stuck into the vegetable garden and I really haven’t grown that much to eat in the last twelve months. When I think back a couple of years when the patch was at its most productive and I reveled in my time out there each day it makes me a little sad that I let it slip. It is quite a lot of work to keep a really good vegetable garden going and I seemed to lose the motivation to do that. Thankfully, that is returning and this was the second weekend in a row where I worked out in the dirt for large portions of the day.

After a quick trip to the  market and the local Food is Free site for a few seedlings (cucumber, zucchini, another tomato, capsicum and some herbs) I got stuck in. My favourite bed now has lettuces at the front (these have been in for a few weeks already and I picked up free from Food is Free), then a row of tomatoes and a capsicum  with basil seeds in between and behind them some sunflowers seeds. I’m experimenting a little with both the combination and the location. This bed does not get full sun being against the Western fence so it will be interesting the see how productive these plants are in the long run. I opted to plant them in that bed because I haven’t grown tomatoes there before and I felt like I needed to rotate my planting a bit more.


In the other bed along the fence I’ve planted the zucchinis. These seem to grow prolifically wherever I plant them so lets hope it’s the same this year. Disappointingly I couldn’t get a yellow zucchini seedling so it will just be green ones this year.

In the two spots that do get full sun I have strawberries and corn in one and wasabi lettuce, cucumber and parsley in the other, with some rocket, chard or kale yet to be planted. I did have another bed that I’ve decided to transform into a perennial herb bed, but that’s still a work in progress. Mr Good is going to build a passionfruit frame for the back – which will also cover the ugly shed wall – and then I thought rosemary, thyme (perhaps a couple of varieties) oregano, sage and maybe tarragon. Is there anything else I should put in there?

As well as all the planting I did today, I also dug over all the beds, added compost and poo and then laid peastraw around everything. Needless to say I now have sore hands and aching limbs. I bet I sleep well tonight.

I have yet more plans in place that I’m hoping to get to soon so there should be more garden related posts in the coming weeks. It’s so nice to be able to share what I’ve been doing, but I’d really love to hear what you’ve been up to in your patch (add a link to your own blog in the comments if you want to). Let’s face it, I need to motivation.


Posted in Gardening, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


Two years ago when I was working four days a week, studying part time and trying to keep on top on the house, get the kids fed, clothed and where they needed to be when they needed to be there, I got home one afternoon to an empty house but that was in such a state of utter chaos that I turned around and walked out again. I was disgusted and so, so cross that my family had left such a mess with an unspoken expectation that someone else (ie ME!) would clean it all up. I was furious and could not stand it any more so I wrote a terse note and then retreated to the library for the rest of the afternoon. I wandered the shelves and randomly picked up a book, then settled into a couch to read. Three hours later I stood, bleary eyed and utterly shocked that so much time had passed without me realising just how long I had been there. The book that so absorbed my attention that afternoon and took me far, far away from that messy house was Celeste Ng’s first novel Everything I Never Told You. I ended up borrowing that book and finishing it the very next day. So when I heard she had another book coming out, Little Fires Everywhere, I was waiting with much excitement. I even shelled out the money to buy my own copy – something I never really do these days – knowing that I would NEED my own copy. But I was strong and didn’t open it until I knew I had a day or two to devote long stretches to reading, uninterrupted joyful reading. And that’s just what I did a couple of weeks ago, getting through it in just two days. She did not disappoint.

The story itself revolves around two families, one a single mother and artist, Mia with her daughter teenage Pearl and the other, the seemingly perfect Richardsons, mother (Elena), father and four adolescent children. These two families’ lives begin to intertwine as Mia and Pearl move into the rental property of the Richardson’s and Pearl forms relationships with each of the Richardson children. The novel opens at the end of the plot line with the immaculately maintained, Shaker Heights house of the Richardsons burning to the ground as they watch on, minus one child. Ng then skips back in time to explain how, and more importantly, why this happened. There are long-kept secrets, long lost family members and the bitter fight for custody of a baby between the birth mother and foster parents.

The story weaves and winds its way through each of the characters, seamlessly switching perspective, offering the insights of parents and teens in turn. The skill of the writing is never more apparent than in this ability Ng has to change voices and show this intricate story from inside and out and it’s why I became so involved and emerged in this world.

In this case Ng has also selected a most intriguing setting, the planned and highly regulated township of Shaker Heights. This setting acts as an analogy for the boarder story. Elena has based her every existence on the plans and rules she has set for herself and her life, she has followed that plan meticulously, but – like Shaker Heights – all may not be quite so perfect under the surface. In contrast Mia is erratic, unpredictable, bohemian and transient, everything the Elena is not.

While Ng has expertly inserted herself (and then us as readers) into the minds of these two very different mothers, her teenage voice is equally as strong with the five young characters being fully formed, complex and nuanced – something missing in so many novels. These are not two dimensional plot devices but rather interesting and purposeful characters in their own right, offering a very different take on the scenarios they are emerged in or that are playing out around them.

I have no negatives to put forward, Ng is a masterful writer and I will read everything and anything she writes. And of the 50 plus books I’ve read this year, Little Fires Everywhere has taken the #1 spot. It will be very hard to knock it off the top spot from here.  What’s you’re #1 for 2017?

Til next time,


Posted in Books, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

A Long Garden Weekend

This weekend was a long one in Ballarat thanks to our local show day being on Friday. It also coincided with the most gloriously sunny weekend we’ve had for a long time. While we didn’t make it to the actual show, we did take advantage of the weather to tackle the jungle of weeds growing in out back garden.  There’s still a few spots to me to clean up and the west side of the house is beyond my capability (I’ve decided to get some professionals in to do that), but the bulk of it got done ready to be planted out.

Here are some before and after shots for you.

This is what I dubbed the corner of shame! There’s quite the difference between the before and after. Some of this will be planted out with vegetables, but I need to reduce the size of the patch so it’s easier to keep on top of.

The rest, including this narrow bed pictured below, I want to plant out with some hardy but pretty perennials. Some of the beds are in shade a lot of the day, the rest are pretty much full sun. I’m after suggestions for what to plant – please offer them in the comments.


Another spot I tacked recently was the side path. Considering this is essentially a concrete path it defies logic that the weeds can be so persistent in this section, but clearly they love it.

And looking for some inspiration, Mum and I took a tour of the five gardens open in the  Ballarat Gardens in Spring event. There was one just around the corner on a very similar sized block to mine which was full of good ideas. The rest were on the outskirts of town on much bigger blocks. They were all beautiful, and I was completely jealous of the towering, shady trees, wide expanses of lawn and stunningly designed garden beds. I didn’t take lots of photos, but I’ve included a few of features or plants that I thought would suit my garden (many of which I’m unsure of the names, so if you know what they are please let me know).

Hope the sun was shining in your neck of the woods. Did you get out into the garden? Or do something else inspiring? I’d love to hear about it.


PS Glenn, if you’re reading this, my potatoes are going gangbusters, thanks for motivating me to get them in the ground a few weeks ago. You’ll be please so know I’ve also got some lettuces going really well, with more to come.

Posted in Gardening, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Smile File – The Little Book of Lykke

This year (and the end of last year) hasn’t been the most positive for me but despite some set backs I have managed to look on the brighter side of life more recently. I’ve become a little bit fascinated with the concept of happiness, how happiness is achieved, what brings happiness to different people, and hopefully to me. Recently I listened to the Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking who runs the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. It’s a short, amusing and practical little book, full of research into happiness all over the world and tips for how to bring a little more happiness into ones own life. One such tip was to keep a “smile file” which records nice things people say to/about you or nice things people do for you.  I’ve turned this idea on it’s head a little for this blog (though I’ll be keeping a smile file in my personal journal) and will be sharing some of the simple ideas I learn about for increasing happiness.

What follows are the things I took from this particular book:

  1. Eat like the French – light a candle, eat with company/family, eat slowly and ban screens. Eat with meaning and enjoy it.
  2. Get to know your neighbours – find out about them through an amusing questionnaire, create a neighbourhood directory (of skills and/or resources you could share), build a neighbourhood free library/book swap.
  3. Smile and chat to people you meet in the street or going about your day.
  4. Move more in your day (walk or ride instead of riding)
  5. Buy experiences instead of things OR save a big purchase for when you reach a milestone or achievement (I love this idea), that way the item will forever be linked to that positive event.
  6. When you’re at work (if possible) schedule uninterrupted time to concentrate on animportant task – turn off notifications, emails, messaging etc. This point was also mentioned in a Podcast I listened to recently, they called it “deep work”.
  7. Spend less time on social media and more time face to face with family and friends.
  8. Use wasted time (waiting time, commuting time etc) to read or do something productive.
  9. Live near where you work if you can – a commute of less that 15 minutes is optimal.
  10. Volunteer.

Some of these I do already – I volunteer at the girls school each week, I do lots of walking instead of driving or riding with Miss 8, and when I do work the commute is between 5-15 minutes depending on the school. Some I’ve tried but slipped out of the habit of – I’ve tried to limit social media but have fallen back into it recently, and dinner times have become a bit harried and rushed. And yet others are quite a ways out of my comfort zone – talking to people I don’t know and getting to know the neighbours pushes my introvert nature quite a bit, though I do know one next-door neighbour well enough to chat with and exchange home made jams etc with.

The book also gave me a few things to look into further. For example, Bhutan measures happiness instead of wealth and even has a Ministry of Happiness – I need to know more about that. And there is a street in Perth where they have put all sorts of initiatives in place to build happiness and create a social network for everyone. Tottenham has something call Incredible Edible which sounds fascinating. And of course there is the Happiness Research Institute itself and Meik Wiking’s first book, The Little Book of Hygge.

I’ll be back soon with some more smile file news, in the meantime I will be lighting the candles for dinner tonight and putting on my best French accent as we sit and share a meal. That’s enough to put a smile (or cringe) on anyone’s face.

Chat soon,


Posted in Books, Family, Lifestyle, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Flashback Thursday – My 2nd most popular recipe

This post first appeared on my blog just over three years ago and it’s been in my stats every week since then. I think that’s at least partly because it’s a Jamie Oliver recipe which would be regularly searched for I imagine. That aside, this is such a great recipe, so it doesn’t surprise me that it’s still popular.

I’ve just spent a few minutes re-reading that post. I generally enjoy doing that. It’s interesting to hear myself back, see how things have changed without me even realising it. For instance, I haven’t ordered half a lamb for ages, probably because once I started working more I stopped cooking as much.  The other thing I notices is the quality of the photo…. much better than the one from the old post I shared last week and from the ones I snap on my iPhone these days. That’s another thing I don’t do as much, photo shoots with my good camera. But one thing that hasn’t changed, I still love that Jamie Oliver cookbook and use it all the time.

Anyway…. here’s the recipe, give it a shot, it’s so worth it.

Recipe: Punchy Crunchy Lamb Noodle Salad


Sometime last year I won a copy of Jamie Oliver’s Save with Jamie cookbook through the Good Guys.  It has become a regular fixture on my kitchen recipe stand and has somewhat transformed how I think about food and cooking, especially the roast.  Sides are important additions to meals, not just last minute thoughts.  Sauces, gravys, dressings are a must and are generally pretty easy to whip up from scratch – his mint sauce for a roast lamb, yum!  The bigger the roast the better – so much scope for left-overs – and cheaper cuts with long, slow cooking make it a smart economic purchase.  Now I’m more likely to do a shoulder of lamb, than a leg, the chicken I buy is always the biggest I can afford (and usually free range) and planning the meals using left overs is exciting and new.  No longer do I do the standard shepherd’s pie or cold meat fritters – not that there’s anything wrong with these, but there are many other options – instead I whip out the Save with Jamie book and try to get a bit more creative.

Here in Australia, this last Sunday was Father’s Day and the request from Mr Good was a roast.  I had a lamb cushion in the freezer from my last lamb order (a friend and I split a lamb together a couple of times a year).  I hadn’t even heard of a cushion of lamb until this order, but after a quick explanation from the farmer we bought the lamb off we decided to give it a go.  A cushion is bascially a shoulder, bones out and then tied together to resemble a round cushion.  You can add a stuffing or filling to the centre before you tie it up, but ours was just the meat.  I cooked it for about 2 1/2 hours with some onions, beef stock and wine in the base of the roasting dish and covered with tin foil.  In the last hour of the cooking time I added potatoes that had been parboiled.  Carrots and pumpkin were roasted in a separate dish.  The foil was removed for the last 30 minutes to crisp up the spuds and the top of the roast.  The juices at the bottom of the pan made a lovely gravy.  After we had all eaten our fill of meat and veggies, I had about 400g of meat left over.

This is where I hit the cook book and see what appeals.  What I love is that most of the dishes using left over meat only require about 150-250g of meat and are very adaptable, add more veg if you’re light on meat or vice versa.  Some use up left over gravy as well – very useful considering I always make way too much.  This time around it was Jamie’s Punchy Crunch Lamb Noodle Salad that was calling my name.  The girls love noodles and the weather has started to warm up a little (though you wouldn’t know it today!) so salads are on my mind and while it does have a bit of chilli I thought it would be easier enough to make a small portion without the heat of the chilli that Miss Five is so fervent in her hatred of – Miss Three doesn’t mind it at all.  It turned out to be a very good decision, dinner was a hit!

Jamie Oliver’s Punchy Crunchy Lamb Noodle Salad

2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger, peeled and grated
1-2 red chillies (I stuck with one, but could easily have put a second in)
8 tablespoons of olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
300g medium rice noodles
2 carrots
1 cucumber
2 gem lettuces (these seem to be like mini cos lettuce here)
1 round lettuce (I only used the gem lettuce)
1 bunch of mint
250g leftover cooked lamb
1 tablespoon of sesame seeds
1 teaspoon of honey (this was my addition, not in the original recipe)

Add the grated ginger to a bowl with half the chilli (Jamie grated his, but I find this tricky, so just finely diced mine) oil, vinegar and soy sauce.  Mix and then set aside.

Put the noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water, then leave for 15 minutes or until tender.

Speed-peel the carrots into long thin ribbons using a vegetable peeler and slice the cucumber however you like.  I really should get one of those cool crinkle cutters, instead mine were plain half circles of cucumber.  Add both to a bowl.  Trim the lettuce and then cut into wedges – I love this way of slicing lettuce, it gives the salad a sort of structural appearance – and add to the bowl.  Then pick over the mint leaves and add those too.  Drain the noodles and add to the bowl.

Shred the left over lamb and put it into a frying pan on a high heat with the sesame seeds.  This is where I varied the recipe a little.  In the book Jamie’s lamb looks dark and glossy which I just wasn’t getting, plus mine seemed a little dry.  So I initially added a tiny bit of the lamb dripping I’d kept from the roast (another great tip of the book) and then I added a teaspoon of honey, which gave the lamb a bit more moisture and that lovely glossy look.  The honey also works with the chilli, ginger and vinegar in the dressing.

Mix the dressing up again, then drizzle over the salad and toss well.  Finely slice the last of the chilli and scatter this over the salad.  Finally top with the lamb and sesame and serve.

This recipe serves 4-6 people, but as it was just for two adults and two kids I reduced the quantities a little.  I also made a small non-chilli version for the kids using a third of the dressing ingredients.  Like I said his recipes are very adaptable and this would be equally great with some snow peas or other crunchy veggies so play around with it.  Lastly, even though I made a smaller version we still had plenty leftover (leftover, leftovers!).  It holds up pretty well to a day in the fridge and is excellent “wodged”, as Jaime would say, into a wrap for lunch.

Kids salad without chilli


Posted in cooking, Uncategorized | Leave a comment