What I read in 2014

2014 would have to come close to the biggest year of reading I’ve ever had.  It was helped along by some real page turners, the countless picture books my children have been read, Miss Five’s discovery of chapter books and the completion of the first of two years of a master’s course.  There were days where all I really did was read in one form or another.  It’s a very good thing that above pretty much everything else, I LOVE to read.  I would pick it ahead of TV, gardening, cooking or pretty much any of my other leisure pursuits.

So here’s a list of the books I’ve read (for me) for pleasure.  I’ve linked to those I’ve reviewed (I’m very far behind on writing the reviews).

1. Murder with the Lot – Sue Williams
2. All I Know – Mary Coustas (NF)
3. The Marriage Plot – Jeffery Eugenides
4. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
5. The One Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Joansson
6. The Last Days of the National Costume – Anne Kennedy
7. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
8. All That I Am – Anna Funder
9. The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan
10. The Fault in Our Stars – John Green (YA)
11. Reading Magic – Mem Fox (NF)
12. Three Dollars – Elliot Perlman
13. Lilian’s Story – Kate Grenville
14. Far from the Tree – Andrew Solomon (NF)
15. The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden – Jonas Jonasson
16. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler
17. The Railway Man – Eric Lomax (NF)
18. A Fortunate Life – A. B. Facey (NF)
19. Railsea – China Meilville (YA)
20. The Promise – Tony Birch
21. Nine Parts of Desire – Geraldine Brooks (NF)
22. 12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northup (NF)
23. A Fictional Woman – Tara Moss (NF)
24. In The Woods – Tana French
25. Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
26. Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
27. How to Kill Your Husband (and other Handy Household Hints) – Kathy Lettes
28. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins (YA)
29. The Husbands Secret – Liane Moriarty
30. The Red Queen – Phillipa Gregory
31. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
32. Catching Fire (Book #2 Hunger Games) – Suzanne Collins (YA)
33. The Wife Drought – Annabel Crabb (NF)

That’s almost three books a month, not a bad effort.  But of these 33 books which were the best, which were less pleasing (I don’t finish the ones that I really don’t like) and what did I learn in my year of reading (other than an awful lot about how to write an academic literature review and prepare a research proposal – I won’t bore you with those).

Top Five – these are the books that stay with me the most, that got under my skin or into my head.

1. Gone Girl
2. The Promise
3. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
4. 12 Years a Slave
5. The Husbands Secret (almost equally Big Little Lies – same author)

The Hunger Games books (of which I’m three quarters of the way through the third one) came close also, but that may be because I’ve been reading them most recently.

Least Favourite
1. How to Kill Your Husband – Kathy Lettes’ joke wore pretty thin pretty quickly
2. The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden – only because I read it too close to the first Jonas Jonasson book and they are VERY similar.
3. The Last Days of the National Costume – interesting idea, poor execution

Everything else was worth the minutes and hours dedicated to it.  I think that makes for a pretty successful year of reading.

So what did I learn:
1. My favourite authors never let me down – these include Philippa Gregory, Elliot Perlman and Jeffrey Eugenides from this year’s selection.  I think I’ll always retreat to my small list of favourite authors at some point every year purely for the fact that I know it’s going to be a great read.

2. Non-fiction has much more to offer than I had previously thought – this year I read nine non-fiction books, including a couple of memoir/biographies and all were enlightening in some way.

3. There is a wealth of great reading for young adults (and old adults alike) which bodes well for creating a new generation of avid readers – hopefully I’ll produce two of them!

4. I’ve discovered some really great new authors this year and I hope they keep writing so I can keep reading there work.

5. I haven’t delved into the classics much at all this year – with perhaps the exception of A Fortunate Life.  2015 I shall endeavour to remedy this!

So tell me about your 2014 in books.  What did you love?  What did you not love?  What did you learn?  And most importantly, what’s on your summer reading list?  I’m off for ten days at the beach which for me means READING TIME!

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Garden Share Collective – January, 2015

Welcome to 2015’s very first blog post and the first for quite a while.  I have enjoyed a break from most of my regular schedule over the last couple of weeks and have spent some lovely, quiet time with my family, close and extended.  We had a very exciting (for the kids) and happy Christmas and brought in the New Year with a sedate gathering with my siblings, their partners and children.  The food was great! We had cleared out pretty soon after  midnight (as happens post children) and then on New Years Day Mr Good headed up to the river (Murray that is) with mates for a few days.  The kids and I spent a gorgeous day at the beach and then hunkered down inside to endure a couple of days of horrendous heat, wild winds and then a drenching storm.

The garden has kicked into summer gear and I have started picking a few new things here and there.  I’m looking forward to the real summer harvests (ie tomatoes) but in the meantime here is my garden update as part of the Garden Share Collective.

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What’s growing:
About 20 tomato plants of various varieties and various stages of growth
Lots of strawberries
Five capsicums (is it just me or are these super slow growing, any tips to give them a boost?)
Two yellow and one Black Jack zucchini
Two butternut pumpkin
Beans of various types
Two sugar snap peas (have not had much luck with these)
Three Lebanese Cucumbers (another slow grower)
Potatoes
Kale
Spring Onions
Mint
Parley
Thyme
Rosemary

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Harvesting
Strawberries – a least a couple of handfuls every few days
Kale
Spring Onions
Herbs
A few sugar snap peas
The first three beans
The first yellow zucchini
And the last of the big garlic harvest (no more in the garden now)

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To do:
Lots of weeding – need to keep on top of the kykuyu grass
Watering
Pest control – I have white flies in plague proportions and the pear tree has pear slug.  I think I’ve conquered the slugs until the next lot of eggs hatch, but the white flies are making a complete mess of my herbs, potatoes and are starting on the beans.  Apparently this is a bad year for them – any one else have trouble with white fly?  Think I’m going to have to spray with Pyrethrum.

To finish I thought you might enjoy like these pictures capturing my two girls enjoying the rain and coo change after the terrible weather we had on Saturday.

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Reality Bites – Mealtime meltdowns

This is a well-trodden blog post theme for me, the seemingly never-ending dramas that occur at the dinner table.  Friends tell me it gets better, as yet I have no evidence of that but as I rarely see a 17 year old have a meltdown tantrum when eating out I can only assume they are correct.  Instead of going on and on about my frustrations around the dinner table I thought I’d make a little list.  My top 5 dinner dramas….. here we go.

5. A relaxing meal out – an oxymoron if ever there was one. I physically tense up in restaurants with the kids and not because they are horrible generally.  I just find the potential for the horribleness to come out (which it does very ocassionally) enough to set my teeth on edge.  I want them to be able to sit at a table, eat nicely, not disturb others around them and let everyone enjoy they’re meal.  I feel like other are judging me and my parenting based on the behaviour of my children.  So is this paranoia or something based in reality?  Who knows?  But what I do know is how often I’ve heard (and even said before having my own children) the line “My children will never behave like that in public” – or some version of it.  There seems to be unrealistic expectations about how children should know to behave and it’s bad parenting if they don’t fit that criteria.

4. No soup for you me!  My kids hate soup, pretty much universally.  I love soup, I want to make soup, eat soup and enjoy soup without a complete break down ocurring as the bowls are put in front of them.  What’s worse, they too used to love soup.  What the hell changed?

3. Cutlery, it’s there for a reason.  Use it!  Your hands are disgusting.  But if you insist on using your hands DON’T TOUCH ME!  Granted Miss Five is a gun with a knife and fork these days, her sister,  not so much.

2. Chilli, pepper, spice, I miss you so!  This one is reserved for Miss Five only.  She can spot a crack of black pepper at fifty paces.  A minuscule amount of chilli will send her racing for the tap as though flames are about to shoot from her mouth.  A curry is just not going to happen, I’ve tried!  Miss Three loves a bit of spicy sauce, a grind of pepper or some spicy salami.  She’s a girl after both Mr Good and my hearts.  And while adding our own heat or spice to the end product is okay, it’s just not the same as cooking it into the dish.

1. I’M BORED!  That’s me talking, not the kids.  I’ve given up my usual wide variety of dishes and have started serving up the stock standard meals week in, week out.  Spaghetti bolognaise, tuna mornay, fish fingers/fish fillets and veggies, fried rice, grilled meat and salad, kebabs and rice, tacos.  I’m bored with it all, I’m bored cooking it and I sure am bored eating it.  The dramas are fewer but at the expense of anything particularly interesting to sit down to.  I do add a new recipe in there every now and again, but mostly it’s the same old, same old.

It also doesn’t help that at least half the nights of the week I eat with just the girls, so there’s not even some adult conversation to dull the pain of eating with whining, fussy, messy kids.  I have two saviours though when I think I’m going to snap.  Wine and TV – the wine for me, the TV for them.  I wouldn’t normally suggest letting your kids eat in front of the TV, but occasionally it does the trick, they eat and don’t complain about the food.

I’m linking up with Jess again this week.  Click here to check out her post (when it goes up).

In the meantime, tell you’re tricks for surviving mealtime dramas.

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Reality Bites – Whinge-a-thon winner

Remember last year a friend and fellow blogger, Jess, and I wrote a short series of posts about the realities of living with young children and being mostly at home with them full time (even if we do work or study as well in there somewhere)?  Well, we’re bringing it back.  Perhaps it’s a sign that we’re both finding the children a touch trying and the realities are biting particularly harshly just at the moment.

This first post of the second series of Reality Bites is all about the whingeing.  I think five year olds might bring a new highs to the world of competitive whingeing.  It’s something about the pitch of their voices, the particularly drawn out vowels (Muuuuuuuuuuuuum!) and the sheer consistency of it.  For Miss Five it begins at about 6.30am and continues until 7.30pm, with a break for the hours she attends kinder.  Apparently she NEVER whinges, whines, complains or acts out in any way.  What’s with that?!  Couldn’t she get a least a small part of her whingeing quota out on someone else?

Now one clear trigger for this excess whingeing for Miss Five is tiredness.  She’s the kind of kid that just needs her sleep and if she doesn’t get it the end of the day can be complete torture for all of us.  Add to that it’s the end of the year and all kids are more tired than usual (aren’t they) and in need of the rest and lack of scheduling the holidays will provide.  I look forward to those slow mornings and our beach holiday in the hope that the whining too might subside at least a little.  Of course I also dread the holidays just a bit because there will be no kinder to break things up and provide some solace for her and the rest of us.

Our strategy to deal with the whingeing has been one straight out of the Parenting for Dummies handbook, bribery!  If she doesn’t whinge all day she gets a jelly bean.  It helps a little as a gentle reminder that the voice is edging towards that terrifying pitch and the vowels are becoming dangerously elongated.  It’s generally enough to pull her back into line for a while at least, but I must say that packet of jelly beans has lasted a LONG time.  Of course bribery for good behave is a clear no-no for many parenting experts…. it’s a good thing I claim no expertise in this endeavour so I can get away with it.  However I have done a little research on the whole why kids whine thing and here are a few things I came up with.

1.  Kids whine to get attention, any kind of attention.  Solution: make sure they are getting some time with you doing something of their choosing everyday (the website said 2×10 mins with each parent per child per day, but I think you do what you can when you can).  But most importantly DON’T give them any attention (good or bad) when they whine and definitely don’t give them the thing they are whining about.  That seems like good advice, just walk into another room and ignore it.  Of course you need to set this up by saying that they are old enough to know how to ask nicely for something and be okay if they’re told no.

2.  Some suggest that whining is a signal for something else altogether, for a sense of being disconnected or loneliness.  In this case actually giving close attention and physical contact might be necessary.  This seemed more likely perhaps for younger children.  You can read more here.

3. Don’t you just love when expert advice directly contradicts each other!  However, I did find this website, which I liked a lot.  It identifies a whole series of reasons why kids whinge and how we can deal with them.

4.  Whingeing can go on for years, many years.  Some kids whinge and whine well into their teen years..  That is not a thought that gives me any comfort.

But it all honesty, I never find parenting advice as terrific as it sounds.  Real life is complicated and being consistent with whatever plan you have in place becomes difficult.  And then of course kids change constantly so what was working all goes out the window from one month to the next.  I just try to do what we feel is right for our kids at that time.

Have you got whingers at home?  How do you cope with it?  Tell me you whingeing stories.

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Pinterest in the Kitchen – Asian Flavours

I was once asked at a dinner party “If you could only eat one cuisine for the rest of your life what would it be?”   My immediate answer was Japanese.  It was a kind of strange answer for me given that I rarely actually cook Japanese.  Rather I go out for it, so it has this special aura about it, I eat Japanese sans children often with Mr Good and so I think of it with particular enthusiasm.  I also adore Miso Eggplant and love the clean, fresh and healthy flavours.  The children do love themselves a good sushi roll as well. But then someone else said Thai and I thought what good is it living if you can’t indulge in a spicy green or red curry with prawns every so often.  Then someone else said Italian and I realised that already that is the most common thing I cook and definitely my kids favourite cuisine.  Let’s face it the decision was impossible.  A dilemma on the same scale as penis fingers vs spider hat perhaps.

And all of this leads me to today’s post, my experimentation with a few new Asian dishes (thoroughly inauthentic I’m sure) thanks to my Awesome Asian pinterest board.

The first dish I made quite  while ago when I had splashed out and bought fresh salmon fillets for dinner.  I dearly wish I could stretch my budget to fresh fish more often – we all love it, though trying to navigate the ethics and environmental considerations when buying fish does my head in.  With that gorgeous salmon I made this Asian Salmon and Noodles dish.

My only alternations was to use a mild sweet chilli sauce in stead of the Sriracha sauce in the noodles.  Don’t do this, it needs more kick less sweetness than my version.  I would definitely use a spicy chilli sauce next time, perhaps added at the end after I’ve taken a portion out for the girls (or Miss Five who can taste a chilli flake at twenty paces) or sprinkle with chilli flakes after serving the noodles.  I also used a packet of egg noodles rather than pasta but it’s all pretty much the same right? And as we consider it sacrilege to discard salmon skin, I crisped this up under the grill and served it on top.  The whole thing was really delicious – despite being a little too sweet for my taste.

Sorry about the bad lighting.

Sorry about the bad lighting.

The second dish I really did some experimenting with.  It was based on this recipe for Mongolian Beef.  I wanted something I could have already prepared and then just throw in the wok ten minutes before serving.  So instead of following the method, I made up the sauce, threw in the meat and veggies and popped it in the fridge until dinner time.  At the last minute I decided it needed an injection of vegetables to I add carrots and snow peas.  It cooked up in the required few minutes, but would have been much better had I cooked the meat first, as directed, then the veg followed by the sauce and then returning the meat to the pan.  In the end mine turned a sort of muddy brown colour and I needed to thicken it with a little cornflour.  The flavours were still there and I loved the hit of ginger.  Both girls ate a whole bowl without a single complaint (a rare occurrence indeed).  I will be giving this a second go doing it properly next time.

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You’ll note the sprinkle of chilli flakes in the picture – added colour and gave a great little sizzle to the flavours.

So what’s you’re favourite Asian dish?  Is it kid friendly or do you have alter (or just not serve it to kids)?  I always struggle finding the balance between flavours I enjoy and ones the kids will tolerate.  And if you have to pick a cuisine for life what would it be and why?

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Wednesday Reads – A Fictional Woman by Tara Moss

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This was another audiobook I’ve listened to recently and having it read by Tara Moss herself gave it extra poignancy given the personal nature of much of this account of the treatment of women in today’s society.  Moss recounts her childhood, the loss of her mother as a young teen and her very early entry into the world of modelling.  Much of it was frightening.  The young age these girls were/are and the sorts of photos they are expected to participate in, the products they are promoting just does not correlate.  You know society has gone wrong when teenagers are used to sell anti-aging creams!  While Moss herself chooses to (or is lucky enough to be able to) avoid the ultra skinny model look, she sees it first hand in those working with her.  Girls so thin they start growing hair all over their bodies, girls with appalling teeth from throwing up all the time.  There didn’t seem any appeal to the life style at all – not even the cash, as Moss describes the years she went making almost nothing.

But modelling was only a small part of Moss’s story.  She is also a highly successful crime novelist.  This success has not come easily.  There have been many critics, some who accused her of not writing her own books – she ended up agreeing to a polygraph test to subdue these rumours.  Who else has had to do that?  There seems an assumption that beautiful women can’t also be smart – she proved that was not the case on her appearance on Q and A at the launch of this book.  Many of her book reviews – written by women as often as men – make references to bodies, cosmetic surgery, or personal appearance despite it being A BOOK REVIEW!!

The second half of the book chronicles a range of issues facing women and where women are excluded or discriminated against.  These included sexual violence, pregnancy, motherhood and breastfeeding and politics.  I could relate to a lot of it and have found, since becoming a mother, that the world is not quite the even playing field I had experienced prior to having children.  The statistics are often shameful.  I particularly liked her discussion of why she calls herself a feminist – and not a humanist as other celebs have decided to go with.  Her sentiments were echoed in this recent article from Tanya Plibersek.  While there is a lot to worry about and a lot of work to do still in regards to sex equality, we have come a long way and there seems to be global attention now on the areas we need to work on, books like this included.  Let’s hope it pays off.

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Garden Share Collective – December

Wow, how did it suddenly become December?  Christmas is just around the corner now, but we are holding off the start of the silly season for a little while just yet.  The Christmas tree will stay in it’s box until next weekend.  But that is all beside the point, we’re here to talk gardens so let’s do it.  Welcome to another month of the Garden Share Collective, hosted by Strayed from the Table, where you can check out lots of other posts.

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Over the last month big things have happened in the garden.  Harvest wise I have picked all the broad beans….. there were a LOT!  I blanched most of them and put them in the freezer to use later.  I gave lots away to friends and family.  And I have a stash still in the fridge to add to my standard steamed veg mix which goes with anything from fish fingers to zucchini slice.

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The snow peas came in a steady stream over the last month (and before).  They’re still in the garden but looking pretty sad now so I think that might be the end of them.

I dug the random potatoes growing in the garden, some from where I planted them last year (and clearly did a poor job pulling them all up) and others from where I had dug in some compost.  It wasn’t a huge harvest, but they sure were yummy!  Boiled, then with butter and chives.

I pulled up half the garlic – I grew two varieties, a red one and a white one.  It seems the red one was ready for harvesting first, the other one is still going strong in the garden.  The bulbs weren’t huge, but they weren’t tiny either and I was pretty pleased with them (considering I had thoroughly ignored them all winter).

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Also going strong are my strawberries – and my strawberry munching monsters (dog included).  We get a bowlful every two days or so.  They don’t last long.

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There were also some parsley, mint, thyme, rosemary, silverbeet, spring onions, broccoli, kale and a couple of tiny cauliflowers I didn’t even know were hiding under the broccoli.

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Planting:

You’ll all be pleased to know that mighty grosse lisse is doing well in the garden and the other seeds I’d given up on have finally germinated, and potted up.  They’ll be ready for the garden this week I think.  I’ve planted lots of cherry varieties into the garden too which are looking fantastic.

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Capsicums have been planted out in two spots at two different times, the later ones are doing much better.

Zucchinis and Lebanese cucumbers are in, though I’ve lost a couple of each in the heat and will put a couple of seeds straight in the soil to make up for these.

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Finally beans and snap peas have been planted, again with a couple of losses, but not too many.

To Do:

Argh…. lots.

Firstly I need to finish planting out, more tomatoes, capsicums, some pumpkins, corn, basil and eggplants (and anything else that takes my fancy I guess).

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Watering, watering, watering (let’s hope there’s some rain in there too).

I actually still have a few of my broccolis in the ground which will come out in the next week or so.  Plus the silverbeet and kale that’s gone to seed needs to be cleaned up.

Mulch!!!!

Oh, and that path that STILL hasn’t been done.

There’s a bit of colour in my garden too at the moment which is making me very happy.  But I’ve written the lemon tree off – no leaves, no new growth, nothing, despite my efforts.

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And that’s a wrap I think.  Check back next month!!

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