Friday, December 27, 2013

The Great Australian Road Trip

This Christmas we ended up taking an unexpected drive to Townsville. From Brisbane, that's a 2,600km round trip. 

In my childhood, my parents often took us on long camping holidays, so I'm no stranger to 8-10hr days in the car. And in those days, there was no air conditioning! We drove so many places, I was lucky to see so much of this amazing country. 

As a road trip veteran, I immediately took steps to make this holiday drive as comfortable and cheap as possible. Here's my best tips for long car trips - sans children, anyway. 

- plan your route using online road condition information. In Qld for example, there is still a lot of flood recovery roadwork happening, which adds to your travel time. 

- pack lunch, drinks and snacks. Seriously, this will save you so much in servo food. At least $50 a day for us, I estimate. Fill a thermos with hot water and take coffee, tea and milk for a cuppa on the road. Pack the esky full of ice and get cheap drinks from the supermarket if you prefer something cold. Carry plenty of water, no matter where you're headed. 

- make frequent stops; every two hours is recommended. Pull out a sandwich and have a cup of tea from your thermos. Admire the scenery at one of Australia's many lovely roadside parks or rest stops. OR take advantage of our fabulous network of Driver Reviver stops. You can get road/traffic info from a local while you're getting a free cuppa!

- check your tyre pressure at your first fuel stop. Properly inflated tyres will give you better fuel economy.

- if someone is in the back, a pillow is a great idea for any long trip. 

- think about music. I cannot stress this enough. Take as much music as possible. We now take not only a big box of CDs, but an adapter cord that allows playback of our iTunes libraries from our phones through the radio. 

- get a phone charger adapter for the cigerette lighter if you don't want to arrive with less than 20% battery.

- keep your camera in the car with you. You never know when something awesome will appear to take a photo of! If it's in the boot, you might miss capturing that animal/sunset/mountain view. 

- wear comfy and non-restrictive clothes, and slip-on shoes. You'll thank your past self at the end of the long day. 

- if driving at dawn, dusk or at night, keep a sharp lookout for wildlife, particularly kangaroos. 

And most of all - embrace the experience and have fun! A lot of people don't get to see much of this beautiful country of ours so you are privileged!

Got any other goo road trip tips for me?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Surely Sarah's Christmas Blog Round-up

As I haven't blogged much about Christmas this year, I thought I'd put together a post bringing together all the lovely blogs I've been reading recently that cover the subject nicely. I hope you find them as entertaining, helpful and interesting as I did.

Happy reading! And if I don't get to blog between now and then - have a Happy, Simple and Relaxing Christmas!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fighting Food Waste: Mince Pasties

Recently I had some uneaten burrito mince and some sausages in the freezer. It was a Saturday night and the pantry was a bit bare, so I googled a bit to see what I could do with my leftovers.

The answer that appealed to me most was - pasties! I had bought some puff pastry on a whim a while ago, not sure what to do with it but this was perfect.

Please forgive the photography in this post - I am aware it is a bit horrid. It was night and I was using my phone. A food blogger I am not!

Anyways, here is the method I used:

 1. Got out some frozen peas, carrot and corn.

 2. Chopped up the sausages into small bits and fried the lot in a saucepan until it was heated through and the veges were mostly cooked. Seasoned with salt and pepper. My mince already had a packet of burrito seasoning in it, but you could add curry power or paprika or ground chilli to taste.

 3. Cut each sheet of puff pastry into four squares. Scooped a little of the mixture onto each square.

 4. Fold each square into a triangle, crimp edges with your fingers. Look at that beautiful crimping! Ha ha. Transfer to lined baking tray. Brush with a little milk or egg so they brown up nicely.

5. Bung them in a hot oven for a while. I'm very sorry, I can't remember for how long. I'd recommend giving it ten minutes then checking!

These parcels got the thumbs up from fussy hubby, so will definately be making again! I was so happy to use up the things that a year ago, I actually would have thrown into the bin.

Got any new food waste-busting ideas for me?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Farm Photography

When I was up at my parents' place a few weekends ago, I got out the Nikkon and went around trying to find some new things to photograph. I particularly wanted to try small things - macro photos if you will. Well, it is hard. Clearly I need to do some sort of reading on the subject!

Ick alert: there is a photo of a daddy-long-legs spider below. I've put it at the bottom so you can skip if that freaks you out.

I am so proud of this one. Have you ever tried to take a photo of an ant? They never stop moving!

Do you see the bird? I have no idea how bird photographers capture anything. Talk about flighty subjects.

The moo-cows weren't being particularly friendly. But this shot does show quite well how horribly dry it is out there at the moment. Farmers need rain!

My mum has managed to successfully grow frangipani, despite zero-degree winters. I'm so impressed!

Tail light on an old car my brother keeps in the dairy. I'm not sure, but I think this may be the Falcon ute that I learned to drive on!.

Daddy Long-Legs Spider

Do you do any macro photography? Or animals? Any tips?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Summary - 1st December

This week I have been...

Reading - All Good Things by Sarah Turnbull. A memoir of the author's life when she moved to Tahiti. It's pretty cool.

Tidying - my patio and yard. A huge job, but one that is very satifying.

Loving - those moments when you stop and just breathe. Like when I saw this beautiful Moreton Bay Fig at the markets today. What a glorious elder of its kind.

Watching - a mish-mask of television including The Walking Dead, NCIS and Sleepy Hollow. I like to pretend that Ichabod from Sleepy Hollow is James Norrington from The Pirates of the Caribbean's long-lost brother. (Don't blame me, it was on tumblr).

Dreaming - of landscaping my pool area with terracotta pots and minimalist spiky plants.

Thinking - a lot about Christmas. I wrote a guide to a Happy Homemade Christmas last year, would like to do something similar this year, but I'm not going to be doing much homemade stuff! So I might just curate some great other blogs that are doing it.

Baking - my own pizza dough! For the first time, I was insanely pleased with it. I also made a banana loaf today, finally used up all those over-ripe bananas in my freezer.

Hanging - out at the farm. Went and saw mum and dad last weekend, did some deep-breathing and chilling out. Going up to the farm recharges my batteries. I took some photos, which I have the intention of blogging but are still on my camera...

Looking forward to - work winding down after we complete end-of-month accounts this week. More scrapbooking in two weeks. And then some time off!

How's your week been?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Blogging and the self

I had a manager once who was a big advocate of journaling. Not just personal diarising, but writing about your professional life. She believed it helped relieve stress, organize your thoughts and aided problem solving. She also used to tell me that it was a great way to find out more about yourself. 

I think she was right. The more I blog, the more insight I gain into the type of person that I am. When I read things I have written, things about my personality become clearer - what is important to me, what I believe in, things I'm passionate about. 

Recently, I learned that there is a blogging conference happening next year that is taking place on a cruise ship. My heart leapt. Two of my favorite things! Blogging and big ships! But then I realized there is no real way I could afford to go, unless I got a sponsor, or earned enough from this blog to pay for it. 
I briefly toyed with the idea of monetizing this blog but after googling a bit I quickly lost interest. There's a reason you don't see any advertising or sponsored posts on here. It's because I'm fundamentally lazy. I don't even keep an editorial calendar (I've heard that's a thing) - how could I organize myself enough to attract advertisers or put brand pitches together? Ha ha. I just don't have enough interest in it to make much of effort. A bit like my relationship with housework actually. 
That doesn't mean I couldn't. Money IS a pretty good motivator. And it doesn't mean I'm not going to monetize or open up the blog for paid content in future. It just means I've learnt enough about myself through blogging the last few years to realize I'm no go-getter. I'm a Slow Blogger. 
I'll continue to write a about things if and when the feeling grabs me. Because that's how I roll... For now, anyway!
Has your writing helped you gain insight about yourself?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fighting Food Waste: Herb Butter

If you're like me and have a black thumb when it comes to plants, growing your own herbs is something that you may struggle with.

So when you do buy fresh bunches from the shop for whatever ambitious cooking endeavour you're embarking on, what do you do with all the leftover?

Well, you make herb butter.

This is an old frugality chestnut, but I recently saw it on Save With Jamie. I had some flat-leafed parsley left over and it was rapidly wilting in its little plastic container, so I thought I'd give herb butter a go.

The method is pretty simple. Get a big block of butter. Leave it on the bench for a while while you have a cup of tea and a sit-down.

Come back and finely chop your leftover herbs. I'm assured you can use any you like. I used my mezzaluna because I have hopeless knife skills (and also it's fun!).

Put the herbs in a bowl with the soft butter and mix it all up.

Spoon onto some baking paper and mush it into a little log. Wrap it up and twist the ends. Put in freezer.

Here's the important bit: remember it's in there! Take it out to spread on crusty bread for soups, on top of steak or whatever you fancy. You could also add some garlic to make it even more awesome.

Fighting Food Waste will hopefully be a series here at Surely Sarah, feel free to tell me your tips!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On the Garage Sale Trail

Last Saturday was the 2013 Garage Sale Trail. It's the third year it's been held and my first time! Hard to believe I know, but for some reason this regular opshopper had never checked it out before.

The idea of the Garage Sale Trail is to organise folk around Australia to hold garage sales on the same day, with the goals of sustainability, growing community and helping money change hands for people and charities.

With the help of the interactive map on the website (which displayed sales in your area that people or organisations had registered and enabled you to create your own "treasure trail", so handy!) and the mobile app, off I went with a purse full of change and high hopes.

Unfortunately I completely bombed out! I think I was too late, as you may know, the early bird gets the worm. But this little worm had a sleep-in.

Nevertheless, I had fun poking about in other people's stuff, and you never know what gems you are going to find.

At the end of the day, the Garage Sale trail had over 13,000 sellers registered across the country, 1.5m items listed for sale and they project over $4.5m will flow into the local economy as a result of the day. That's pretty amazing stuff.

Did you do the Trail? Do you love or hate garage sales?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sarah Suggests: Welcome to Night Vale

I'm not really a podcast kind of girl. I prefer watching things to listening as an exclusive activity, and apart from a few episodes of "Made of Fail", I haven't ever really been interested.

But that changed when I started listing to "Welcome to Night Vale". I kept hearing about it everywhere on twitter and tumblr. I saw fanart that I didn't understand and people shipping characters I'd never heard of. From a podcast. Take a moment to wrap your head around that one. Anyway, I now listen to it on the train to work, which can be a really weird way to start your day.

So what is Welcome to Night Vale? Well, going by their website, it's "a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale." What you also need to know is it's fictional. But I'm hoping you will get that by the end of the first episode.

The bigger question, is why is it suddenly the biggest podcast on iTunes? Techgeek attempted to answer this recently. Basically, it makes weird seem normal. Clouds that glow and rain dead animals, mysterious angels, a levitating cat and a ban on going to/looking at/thinking about the dog park are all part of life in the desert community.

The other interesting thing is that the popularity of the podcast seems to have been contributed to a lot by Hannibal fandom. I guess if you like Hannibal, you'll love this. And even if you don't like Hannibal, but like offbeat, quirky and unique things, you will love Welcome to Night Vale also.

Download from itunes here
Personal fave merchandise: Night Vale NRA stickers
Check out the fanart on DeviantArt here
Search the tumblr hastag here (must be logged in)


Sarah Suggests is an ongoing serious in which I will highlight stuff I think is cool. It might be a book, a movie, a tv show, a magazine, podcast, song - whatever!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Blog Action Day - Modern Abolition


Abolition is a world I associate with the American Civil War. With Abraham Lincoln and Gone with the Wind. But recently I learned there is such a thing as modern abolition and that was quite a shocking thing.

Because if modern abolition exists that means there are modern slaves.

Oh, I knew there were still slaves in our world. I am not completely blind to sex trafficking, and I've seen Blood Diamond. And I remember reading a book once about a young girl from Africa (sorry I cannot be more specific than that, I genuinely cannot remember where she was from) who was sold into domestic slavery in London, to a wealthy couple, her own countrymen. But I haven't thought much about it since.

This month, mum bought me a copy of Peppermint magazine. I've never read it before - kind of always considered it to be a bit expensive, a bit hipster. But what a revelation - it had an article on "Made in a Free World", a "network of individuals, groups, and businesses working together to disrupt slavery and make freedom go viral." Founded by an amazing guy named Justin Dillon, they work to raise awareness, increase transparency in our supply chains and engage people, groups and businesses about modern slavery.


There are an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide. Take a moment to think about that number. TWENTY-SEVEN MILLION. That's more than the population of my country. That's more people in slavery than ever before in the history of humanity.

They exist in so many more industries that one would guess. Not just the sex trade - there are slaves laboring in manufacturing, mining, agriculture and fishing.

What I do like about Made in a Free World is that their action plan does not include boycotts. Instead, they work to try to help businesses identify slavery in their manufacturing chains, exposing forced labour where they may not have even realised it was happening. They also are trying to raise consumer awareness via their Slavery Footprint website, which can help you identify how many slaves work for you. Yes, YOU. How many slaves helped make your coffee, or grow the crops used to make your clothes? I did the survery. It said I had 34 slaves working for me, mainly in the areas of medicine, gadgets, electronics and car manufacture. Now that's an eye-opener

Here's a great video about children enslaved in Ghana's fishing industry.

So what can you do? Read about the issue more. Get educated about it. Here in Australia, Anti Slavery Australia works to help those in slavery or forced labour situtions. This may be anyone who is trapped working in their family's shop and paid no wages to a sex worker being held to "work off a debt". Have a good read of their site, there are many things you can do to get involved. You can volunteer, donate, fundraise.

But I think the most important things are awareness, and questioning. The more you know, the better the decisions you can make about your consumerism. The more questions we ask, the more exploitative practises are exposed.

How many slaves work for you?

{This post was written for Blog Action Day 2013. This year's theme is Human Rights}

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Microfinance - lending through Kiva

Today, I lent money to a lady in Cambodia to build a toilet. How? Through the wonders of microfinance.

I'm hoping you have heard of Kiva. I first heard of it a few years ago via twitter and have been a fan ever since. Today, I financed my third loan with them.

So what is microfinance? Well, it's "a general term to describe financial services to low-income individuals or to those who do not have access to typical banking services.Microfinance is also the idea that low-income individuals are capable of lifting themselves out of poverty if given access to financial services. While some studies indicate that microfinance can play a role in the battle against poverty, it is also recognized that is not always the appropriate method, and that it should never be seen as the only tool for ending poverty." - (via the Kiva website)

I'm not naive enough to think that my $25 contribution to Vesna's loan will lift her out of poverty and into financial abundance. But I hope that it will make a difference to her life. What is more important than having a sanitary place to go to the toilet?

You can fund loans for all different types of business ventures or reasons. You can lend to people all over the world. If you find the choice overwhelming, it helps to have an idea in mind of who or what type of venture you'd like to contribute to.

Today, I used the messageboard of one of my "teams", Nerdfighters, to find Vesna's loan. Teams are simply self-organized groups of Kiva lenders where members connect and have shared lending goals. Someone else had funded her and posted a message about it.

I knew that I wanted to lend to a female, and usually I focus on those who are trying to start or maintain a business to support their family. My last two loans were for a lady in Kenya for her clothing shop and a lady in Uganda for her beauty salon. But today, Vesna's situation spoke to me and I didn't hesitate to hit the lend button.

Now, Kiva has been criticized for various things over the past few years, and I'm not unaware of the issues surrounding some of their loans and practices. In particular is a worry about partnering with Strathmore University and its association with Opus Dei. They addressed these concerns here. However, at the end of the day, I'm satisfied that the loans I'm making are helping those who need it. I encourage you all to do some googling and research before lending via Kiva or using any sort of microfinance website, in the same way you would look into any sort of charity before handing over your hard-earned money for a donation.

One last thing - I was not sure about Kiva's loans to First World country borrowers. What possible reason could a person in the US need to access microfinance? Would I be funding someone's food van startup in Brooklyn? But then I realised that even in the First World, there are people that are unable to access bank financing. It's a personal question, but one worth thinking about - does Dennis from Newark deserve to have the right to ask for a loan to fund his window cleaning business, as much as Karo in Armenia for tyres for his truck?

*This is not a sponsored post. I just wanted to share my latest loan with you all, and put down some thoughts about Kiva that I've been having lately.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A lesson in patience

I had the most horrendous train ride one morning last week.Well, it was more eye-opening than anything.

A mother got on with her two young boys. My first two thoughts were "Who takes small children on a peak hour service?" and my second "Who brings small children into the Quiet Carriage?". Then I tried to squash these thoughts. Because -
1. She probably had to; and
2. She probably didn't know or if she did, didn't care.

Because these two kids, though angelic-looking, were not very well behaved. I think that's putting it politely. Every minute of the 40-minute journey to their station was spent with mum trying to get them to sit down, stop fighting and stop yelling. Basically, to behave in a socially-acceptable manner in public.

By the end of it my heart was just breaking for her. She was so patient, so consistent. I could tell she was a fan of speaking to her kids like they were adults, and there was nary a "stop that!" to be heard. Instead, she just asked them to behave better, reminding them of where they were going.

And I'd like to give a kudos to my fellow passengers too. There wasn't any tsk-tsking, rolling eyes or big sighs. Nobody told her to keep her kids under control, or suggest she leave the Quiet Carriage.

When she finally got off, still encouraging her unruly children instead of rousing, I thought - THAT COULD BE ME ONE DAY. And also I HOPE I'M A MUM LIKE HER.

I got a lesson in patience, something I think we all could do with from time to time.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Getting Ready for Storm Season

Get ready, Queensland.

No, seriously, you need to get ready. Why? Because storm season is once again approaching! I've blogged about prepping for the unexpected before, and one of the things I am hellishly passionate about is being somewhat ready for things like rain, hail, wind, lightning, floods, bushfires, blackouts, cyclones and plagues. Ok, maybe not so much that last one (though speaking as someone who has lived through the horror of a mouse plague, I would not wish one on my worst enemy).

This year, Queensland Government has launched Get Ready Queensland week. It runs from 14-20 October and focuses on knowing the risks, being prepared, staying alert and knowing when to take action. Visit their website here for more info,or hit up your local council site. My council, Moreton Bay, will be having stalls at local Bunnings as well as sausage sizzles around various neighbourhood centres, to help educate people on how to prepare for storm season.

You can even download their brochure here. It's full of great tips!

Yesterday, hubby and I decided to muck in and try to clear some of the shed-building debris that has accumulated in our yard. There were steel offcuts, wooden fence palings and the entire old garden shed to be gotten rid of, plus some old chairs that we have been meaning to throw out for years.

 So we borrowed a trailer from a friend and loaded it up. Twice. Two trips to the dump later, we have managed to get rid of most of the major risks. Can you imagine if any of this stuff had gotten airborne in a windstorm?

It was a heck of a lot of work but very worth it - not only for the peace of mind but having that junk out of the backyard is pretty great too!

There are still quite a few things we need to do to be completely ready - clean the gutters, do a battery check on all our torches, do an inventory on our go-bags, check the drains, do a stocktake on the pantry and make sure we have bottled water on hand.

And THEN, I might feel prepared for what mother nature decides to throw at us this year.

Do you prep for storm season? Got any hot tips?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The pleasure of food

I never understood "foodies" and their boundless enthusiasm for food. Still don't. Sure, I enjoy food and I get as much pleasure out of eating peanut butter out of the jar as the next person. But I don't go into paroxyms of delight over fancy restaurants and their menus of food I've never heard of. I don't fangirl on chefs (except tv ones).

But cooking... ah cooking is different. I didn't get some people's passion for cooking until I got older. The only subject I didn't do well in at high school was Home Economics. In fact, if my friend didn't save my meringue or jam every time I probably would have failed.

Fast forward to the last few years, to when I've become a homemaker. At first, cooking was a chore. Then it was occasionally diverting. Then I discovered tv cooks and actually got interested in recipes and cooking. I totally missed the beginning of the Jamie Oliver bandwagon (remember The Naked Chef? I was all PFFFT WHATEVS at the time) but now I'm firmly on it. Nigella is a bit of an idol. Hugh from River Cottage inspires me.

This week, I've been having a shit time at work. Well, let's be honest, it's been a stressful month. Monday night I came home and made a Nigella recipe I've never done before (Pea and Pancetta from Nigellissima). Tuesday night I challenged myself to do a Jamie 15 Min Meal for the first time (Grilled Steak, ratatouille and saffron rice).

And heck if I didn't enjoy it. Get pleasure out of it. The creation of the food felt joyous. The eating part was good too. It was a great stress-buster.

Tonight was a bit of a fail because I came home and had a drink then didn't feel like cooking. But maybe two awesome meals is enough for this week.

Oh and I'm totally saving my pennies for Save with Jamie. Why? It combines two things I'm passionate about at the moment - frugality and lessening food waste! 

Do you love cooking? Baking? Why? Tell me I want to know.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Problogger Training Event Takeaways

Today is a week since I attended Problogger Training Event on the Gold Coast. I was admittedly nervous for my first blogging conference but it ended up being non-painful; and happily, also personally valuable.

I invested in my ticket price waaaaay back at the beginning of the year. Why? I'm still not even sure. I asked my hubby if I could spend 250 of our hard-earned clams because "it's something I'm interested in". He agreed, because he's a good guy.

Yes, in the back of my brain I'm a little interested in the fact that people earn an income from blogging. And I was excited to meet people from the internet who have become friends. It was also fun to see "big" bloggers in the flesh. 

But the best part was the learning. I was a little sponge, soaking it all up. I realised I totally miss uni. Not the exams, but the finding out of interesting things. I am interested in blogging, therefore a whole conference of speakers addressing blogging issues was totally cool to me!

And the best part was managing to sort through and solidify some of my writing goals. I've always written online - way back to my Livejournal days at uni- but the content has changed a lot. I used to be all about sharing my online life - cool fandom stuff, fan fiction and such. Now I write about my offline doings - what I call "real life". 

Problogger has helped me to identify some of the reasons I blog and also point me towards some goals that click with me. It's funny, I went expecting to be excited about the technical side of blogging: google analytics, cross-platform marketing, ebooks. Instead I was intrigued by the emotional aspect of what I do - telling a story, helping readers find solutions, writing for good.

My favourite sessions:
Sure, I'm hardly a n00b at this game but I couldn't pass up the chance to see Pip's session. I have admired her work for so long, and she is just so infectiously enthusiastic about STUFF. She talked about the rewards of building a community of engaged readers, which I loved. She advocates using your blog for good and being a good blog citizen by reading and commenting on others' posts. I learned from her that sincerity is should be at the heart of everything you do. I also liked that she uses the word "amplification" instead of marketing. 

I cannot believe I had never heard of Bernadette. Her marketing philosophy - focused on people, not product placement, was so refreshing. She told me that every click on my blog was a person looking for something, and never to forget that each of them is giving me the gift of their precious time. Think about trying to answer their problems or make a difference in their lives. Look at what people are reading most on your blog, not how many. Relevance is the key. The main message though was that people like things for how they make them feel (not what they actually are) - when you apply this to blogging, you can try to build a lovely community of folk who care about the same stuff. 

I was excited about this session because I've been thinking for so long about how to incorporate more acts of social good into my life. These guys talked about digital volunteerism and how charities are often not social-media savvy and most would welcome any blogger outreach. They talked about using a blog's influence to spread word or causes and raise profiles of campaigns. I also heard  about Blog Action Day, an annual event I'm keen to learn more about. 

In short, my brain is now buzzing with ideas. I want to write all the things. And I hope you all will help me!

Have you ever been to a blog conference? What did you learn? Did I meet you at PBEvent and I'm not following you on social media? Let me know!

PS - Meanwhile, how much exposure did QT Gold Coast get from this event? Trendy hotel, savvy PR folks.

--> Linking up with Slapdash Mama for The Lounge.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Behind the eightball

I woke up this morning, stumbled into the kitchen, took one look at the mess and started making pancakes. 

Chores in my household are a bit behind at present - life has gotten in the way the past week or so. 

In between building the new shed, having a houseguest, a family emergency (impromptu trip to the farm) and two days of Problogger Training Event, I guess we have an excuse. 

As I attempted to wash up the mountain of dirty dishes, I shared a bit of a lightbulb moment with my hubby; that instead of focusing on the things that haven't been done, I should take stock of what HAS been achieved. 

Our massive dream shed is over halfway up. We were blessed that my mum was not injured badly in her accident. And I spent two days just learning about blogging, which was a great investment in myself. So what if the washing wasn't done?

What have you achieved this week?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Problogger Event Prep

So. Problogger Training Event.

MAN, it has come up quickly. It only seems like a few weeks ago I was buying my ticket.

This will be my first blogging conference, and I am not ashamed to admit I’m more than a little nervous. Mainly because I’m not great at meeting new people and social situations are a challenge.

So, in order to confront my fears and make sure that I do get the most out of the 2 days of talks I’m going back and reviewing the reasons I wanted to go in the first place.

- I wanted to learn more about blogging! Easy!
- This year’s event is on the Gold Coast, so I can feasibly go. Previous events in Sydney or Melbourne were just not even in the realm of financial possibility.
- To hear some of my favourite bloggers speak

And some things I shouldn’t worry about:

- What I’m wearing; because I’m not a fashion blogger and should not really care about being judged on appearance anyways
- Making friends with everybody; because this is unrealistic
- Not having a laptop or iPad; because I shouldn’t feel inferior for not having gadgets
- My phone battery running out; because there’s nothing I can do to stop that happening!

Things to take:

- Notebook & pen (I’m old school)
- Iphone for tweeting and instagram, with backup battery pack
- Cardigan for air conditioned conference rooms
- Snacks (just in case)
- A positive attitude

Wish me luck!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Cheer up at the office

If you're like me and have a desk job, sometimes the Cubicle Life (not to be confused with Thug Lyfe) can make you feel like you're living in a Dilbert comic.

It can kind of grind you down, as anyone who has seen Office Space will agree. So here's my tips on making your day at the office more bearable.

- Make your desk nice. Studies show that adding personal items can make it a nicer environment to work in. Duh, right? I'm always suspicious of anyone who doesn't have personal items on their desk. Weirdos. I have sarcastic calenders, a photo of me and my husband, hand cream and a stress ball. Do you have a favourite colour? Decorate with that. It'll cheer you up more than a "Hang in there!" kitten poster.


- Plants. If you're allowed, get one for your desk. They're great. I don't recommend fish though - they tend to die and give everyone a sad.

- Drink your favourite drinks. If you love coffee, take in your favourite brand. If you're a tea-drinker, brew your best leaves in a little teapot for one. Or if that's too odd (though I've seen people do this everywhere I've worked), buy beautiful boutique tea bags and drink a cup every day. I like to have mine in the morning, so I'm sipping it as I open my email. Makes the day more bearable.

- Take awesome food for lunch. Seriously, having yummy food to look forward to in the middle of the day can be a great way to boost your mood. Nothing kills my happy like realising it's 15mins until lunch, but then remembering I only have 2 minute noodles. If you can afford to buy lunch, perhaps restrict yourself to one great one per week. Go for a walk in your lunch break to find cool places to get food. This has the bonus of getting you out of the office. Which segways nicely to my next point...

- Get out of the office if you can. I fail at this one. But before I knew my workmates and gossiped my way through every break in the lunchroom, I used to go for walks around the city blocks near my office. Fresh air does the brain good, plus you get the blood pumping after hours of static sitting at your desk.

- Cool stationery is cool. Though perhaps this is just me. I am fussy about pens but there is so much cool papergoods out there just begging to be used. If you're like me and frequently splurge on KikkiK stuff that you never use, take it into the office! Everyone loves a pretty post-it. Yes even the grumpy old guy in accounts.

[source: kikki k]

So what do you do to cheer yourself up at work?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Summary

This week I've been...

Loving - the warmer weather! It's spring, this makes my heart so happy.

Listening - to new singles from a range of artists: Daft Punk, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry. I like it all.

Reading - a Young Adult novel The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. I really liked this, and am happy to discover it's a series. It's set in modern London with a Jack the Ripper copycat on the loose. Next up is Shadows of the Nile by Kate Furnivall. It's a 30s-set mystery where the heroine searches for her lost brother in Egypt. And you probably know I'm a sucker for anything from that period.

Watching - Ripper Street. This show, like the book I've been reading, also has a Jack the Ripper theme, leading me to have a bit of an obsession with it lately. I love this show because a) Victorian London b) Matthew McFadyn's dialogue c) it's got Bron from Game of Thrones.


Anticipating - the return of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries this Friday.  So happy this show got a second season. And Kerry Greenwood has a new Miss Phryne novel out later this year, joy!

Diverted by - the election. I'll be very interested in the polls on election night. I have been much more interested in our policital process this time around, and have actually taken notice of policies and personalities. This is in sharp contrast to previous elections where I have mostly tried to ignore all the hoopla. I wonder if this is a symptom of getting older?

Worrying - about putting up our big shed next weekend. I keep thinking something disastrous will happen.

Doing - housework, all day. consistency is the key to keeping up with it, as any person will tell you, and I've let it slip lately.

How was your week? Read any good books lately? Or recommend me something to watch? Ever built a shed?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Frugal living

 [source: own photo]

I don’t like talk about it much but as a household, we are finding it tough to cover bills and put away any savings. This living from pay to pay thing is getting old, and though we have made some changes to our lifestyle, there are still some things that we have not been willing to cut back on or give up in order to curb our spending.

Last week when a trip to Coles for the “bare necessities” to get us through to payday cost me $45, I ranted a bit on Twitter and had to wonder – how in the hell are families getting along? We  just have the two of us and I cannot seem to budget so that we are comfortable on our current income.

Reading this blog recently on Rhonda’s Down to Earth  made me have a think about what more we can do to live more simply, more frugally, make our money stretch further.

So, what have we already done?
  • Swapped to shopping at Aldi rather than The Big Two Supermarkets. I save at least $30 a week doing this, though the fruit and veg is not very good quality. Thinking about shopping separately for it at the local grocer but this necessitates an extra trip somewhere which is just beyond me sometimes
  • Cut down to fast food once per week. We get pizza on Friday nights – but it is expensive pizza because we both believe that paying a bit more to get something nicer than the cardboard served by the franchises is worth it.
  • No longer buy magazines in the quantities we used to. Now, we have subscriptions gifted to us or purchase as a special treat only
  • I hardly ever buy new clothes. When I do, it’s usually from the op shop. I try to buy all my accessories there also
  • I’ve stopped buying vintage homewares; it was getting to be a bad habit! I have far too much stuff already, need to sell some 
What more can we do?
  • Make our own passata – we use a lot of it, and although Aldi sauces are only $1.80 a jar or something, I think we could make some cheaper
  • Explore frugal recipes, making meals go further
  • Make our own pizza instead of getting take away
  • Grow some veges. This has been high on my list for a while but I don’t have a place to do it yet. Now we have some bricks left over from the old shed knockdown, I’m hoping that we can make a proper garden
  • Grow our own herbs. Must do!
  • Learn to sew. Repurposing old clothes looks fun and is a great way to reuse old things, something I am passionate about.
  • Start making our own bread. I have a breadmaker that I never use!
  • Make my own birthday/gift cards. I have so much scrapbooking stuff this should be a breeze. Saves at least $5 a pop! 
Things I still don’t think I/we’ll give up:
  • Foxtel. We enjoy it too much and watch it all the time. But perhaps we can cut back on our subscription, get rid of the some channels to save a few bucks a month.
  • Movies. We go at least once a fortnight and use a reward card to redeem a free ticket with points. But it can still be an expensive exercise when you factor in snacks and drinks. Alternative – go on cheap Tuesdays.
  • Soft drink. Both hubby and I are addicted and spend quite a bit. Because the cost of Coke is astronomical at service stations and corner stores, I try to buy in bulk from Aldi each week.
  • The occasional scrapbooking supply purchase. It’s my hobby dammit. But I commit to buying a lot less and to a “scrap your stash” mentality for the foreseeable future.

And of course I'm reading a lot of simple living blogs. What are you doing lately to save money/simplify your life? Any tips?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Content is King

Content is king. That’s the mantra I’m hearing around the Internets these days. It’s probably true.

At my work, we say CASH is king, but that’s because, y’know, we are an Accounts team. So cash is good is real life, but online it seems that content is necessary to generate it.

But that only applies if your aim is to get rich through blogging, or vlogging, or vine-ing (is that possible?) or what have you. I like to think that most of us out there are creating things for the joy of sharing it, and also for the betterment of humankind as a whole. Or as vlogbrothers put it, for the decrease of WorldSuck.

Sure, your video of your cat being cute may not solve world hunger, but in some small way, I’m pretty sure it will cheer up somebody who is having a bad day. Many bloggers get emails from people saying that posts they’ve written have touched them in some way, encouraged them to take steps to solve problems in their lives, or reach out for help when they need it.

I guess what I’m thinking about this today is the hope that good content will hopefully, on average, equal good internet. And if we keep trying to share ideas and have conversations with each other, then we may just make a difference to the world. Maybe one or two people at first, but sometimes the smallest thing can touch many lives.

I mean; when you post a recipe, people try it and gosh darn if there isn’t joy to be found in the making of food. When you write about how you have been feeling down lately, and what you’re doing about it, or your struggle with a certain issue – readers can relate, and take away advice from your experience. When you make a video about how you think a certain thing is cool, or an issue that needs to be talked about, people listen. Blogging and vlogging means reaching out and touching someone. But hopefully in a helpful, entertaining, non-creepy way.

So what I’m trying to say is: create original content. Say what’s on your mind. Tell us about what you’re up to. Share cool stuff you’ve found. Sure, you may be able to make some money. But surely that isn’t the main point?

What great content have you found lately? Has a blogger or vlogger taught you something, made you happy or helped you out recently?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Good service is hard to find

Whatever happened to good service? Got my ranty pants on because it’s Monday.

We’re currently building a big shed. This is so that the cars/car parts which currently occupy my patio can have a home, and the mechanic of the house can have a Man Cave. This has involved getting in experts – because much as C believes he could lay a concrete slab, he did concede that perhaps it was best to leave it up to people who know what they are doing.
So we called a few concreters. We got word of mouth recommendations and even a family friend to do a quote. But they kept making appointments and not showing up. ALL of them. Not just one or two. Every contractor we were dealing with broke appointments without so much as a courtesy phone call.
I was frankly shocked – how can they run businesses like this? In a trade industry where reputation can sink you as easily as it can get you work, why give such bad service?
Long story short, we finally got a good quote and a firm promise to begin work. A loud beeping bobcat showed up at my house at 6.30am this morning and commenced making eternal enemies of my neighbours. The actual shed kit is being dropped off in a few weeks, I guess we’ll see if that goes smoothly.
Let’s just say, I’m glad we’re not building a house. I’m beginning to see why people on Grand Designs have such headaches. Wouldn’t be a building project manager for quids.
Have you been let down in the customer service department recently? And did you badmouth the company to your friends or on social media afterwards?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday Summary

 [image source: own]

Happy Sunday everybody!

Doing - some blog reading for the first time in a long time. Doing my best to leave comments but sometimes I really just don't have anything to say and I struggle. Sigh.

Reading - just finished Dan Brown's Inferno. I liked it - but then I've liked his books since Angels and Demons. Yes, the plotline is sometimes very conveient and our bumbling hero is more lucky than smart - but the pace never slacks and you get to learn stuff along the way. This time, I learnt a heck of a lot about Dante and Renaissance art! The visual guide for this book would be very handy too. Who knew? Next, I'm going to start a book I've been wanting to read for AGES, a YA novel called The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.

Watching - I've been trying to get through the first season of Hannibal but finding I can't watch more than one or two episodes at a time or I get terrible nightmares. If you've seen it you'll know what I mean. I thought that shows like SVU and Criminal Minds had numbed me to the horrors of the human psyche but this is a whole new level or horrifying for me. Now wanting to see Silence of the Lambs (nope, never seen it) and read Thomas Harris' novels.

Making - cards! I know, how quaint. But I had two birthdays coming up so I got out my brand spanking new Close to My Heart scrapping stuff and stamped my way to glory. Ended up with ink EVERYWHERE (how do they stay so clean in the Youtube tutorials?) but the cards turned out great. Can't show you because a) gave one away today and forgot to take a photo; and b) the second one is for a reader of this blog and want to surprise her! Did I tell you I'm officially a Close to My Heart consultant? Ha ha not seriously but I did buy the consultant's kit because it was no obligation and had so much cool stuff in it.

Wishing - that we could afford to shop anywhere other than Aldi again. Don't get me wrong, I am a HUGE Aldi fan, but sometimes I get sick of their same same stuff and crave some Kraft Peanut Butter.

Planning - possibly I have been watching too much River Cottage Australia, but I'm bursting to start a vege garden. Other half keeps says "when the shed is finished". May have to take matters into my own hands and start some pots.

So... whatcha doin'?


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