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!


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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.

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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.



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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.


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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,


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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.

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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,


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