11 December 2012


Something rather surprising and unexpected happened to me in early November. I was removing the black shelving from the back of my desk, and wondering how to paint the laminate white, in accordance with my new décor goals.

And I suddenly looked at all the STUFF that I'd removed from those shelves — and was hit by the realisation that I didn't need all that stuff on my desk. I didn't want it there. I practically never used it.

Surrounded by all the gumpf on my office floor, I did what any sane person would do ... I hit the web. I read a few 'decluttering' blogs, and then stumbled upon Miss Minimalist's blog. I read. The mist descended ...

... A few hours later, I stumbled from my room. I saw everything in a new light. Minimalism was a thing I'd never heard of — frugal living, green living, all these, yes — they have similar methods, goals and outcomes, and I've worked at them in the past, but the philosophy of minimalism struck to my heart.

For years I have felt massively weighed down by our STUFF, all the belongings and clutter we haul from place to place. I used to feel envious of those nomads who could pack up everything in a few bags, hop on a camel, and head off, at a moment's notice. Well, I wasn't envious about the camels ...

I downloaded Miss Minimialist's (Frances Jay's) book The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize and Simplify Your Life to my iPad (it seemed a little weird to order a physical book about the minimalist life!). I kept reading. From Miss Minimalist I ventured to other blogs. The Minimalists is another one I like.

Image from Apartment Therapy

Several things in Frances' book really made sense to me personally. A big one for me was the relentless drive for perfection ... you buy another set of measuring cups because the ones you have aren't quite perfect enough. Once everything in your home is perfect, then will life be perfect? I know that this drive to 'find the best X' really was a problem for me. Kitchenware was especially a problem, my big weakness (not shoes or handbags, but garlic presses and cookie cutters). I would get the 'wanties', and with online buying being so easy nowadays, we had a weekly parade of delivery vans at our door ... (mind you, a lot of them are for Glass Son's glass supply deliveries).

I also found Frances' methods very effective ... tip everything out of a drawer, shelf, or cupboard, and assume it's all going. Only put back in the things you choose to keep! This is such a different mind-set from the 'throw out the stuff you don't want' tactic.

Since that epiphany, I have gone through nearly everything in the house at least once. I'm better at the process now, and am having a second go at rooms. I've done the bedroom, ensuite, office, pantry, linen cupboard, kitchen (that was a big one), the living room, dining room, books, and even my yarn stash. It's addictive, I can't stop working on it ...

I've unsubscribed from shop / sale site email lists. I've cancelled catalogue mail outs. I even deleted my lengthy 'lent to' list, where I was keeping track of who had which books or things I'd lent out ... let them keep them.

I reckon I've given away about half of our belongings now, but I'm not done yet ... 75% is my goal. I have a bit of a reputation in Freecycle Canberra. Most of my books went to Lifelife for their famous annual book fair. I donated yarn to a local nursing home. Friends have taken things off my hands. Doggy toys have been passed on to animal shelters (how many chewy toys do two chihuahuas need, after all?!). I sold some stuff (books, yarn, and designer label clothes) on eBay. There's been a few trips to the local tip. Each time something leaves, a little more weight lifts.

Image from The Minimalists
The upheaval and mess surrounding this process has been massive ... it looks like we're moving house. But I think the place is starting to look better now.

Here are a few before and after photos ...

My filing cabinet. I went from 4 drawers jam packed to only one. Papers with personal information on them were shredded before being recycled.

And the laundry ... I gave away several boxes of things we never used (duplicates of cleaners, floor wax, nappy soak, and so on). 

Because I'm not just tidying up, but getting rid of nearly everything, and only keeping what we actually use and need, the rooms aren't getting messy any more. You would not believe how much easier it is to keep the kitchen clean now, with half the amount of crockery, cutlery, cooking pots, bowls, and so on. How many knives or mixing bowls can you use at once, anyway?

Miss Minimalist's Short Guide to Consumer Disobedience really struck a chord for me, too. What is completely staggering to me is how I can now go to a shopping mall, walk around, and feel completely unaffected by the advertising and sales and all the stuff in all the shops — yes, even the kitchenware shops — I test myself by going into them. I can step into a bookshop and come out with nothing. No more wanties.

In the past six weeks I have bought about three things that weren't food, bills, postage, petrol, or medicine. A few pieces of Japanese fabric from a shop I wasn't likely to visit again, some net curtains to replace torn ones, and four teaspoons.

When I've cut back on spending before it because we had to, and were poor, or trying to be frugal. I could do it, but felt deprived. I was being strong, but fighting my desire to buy things. Now, with a minimalist view on life, I don't actually want things any more. I don't feel deprived at all.

I have been challenging myself every step of the way, and doing things like finding homes for sentimental items, like a little ceramic chipmunk from Mexico, from when I lived in Arizona as a child. I can remember living there, and I don't need to keep a knick knack to remind myself. I took a photo of it, and then let it go.

I met another minimalist, with years' experience under his belt to my weeks', on Freecycle; he and his family only replace things when they get broken. And no, he wasn't some long-haired hippy, he was a softly-spoken distinguished British gentleman.

The family has been supportive too. Hubby has halved his wardrobe, and is thrilled that I'm doing all this (especially as I'm doing it, and he doesn't have to!). Dotter has started to work on her room. Don't think Glass Son has done much, but there's only so much you can hope for, hey?

This is very much an ongoing process ... rooms need to be revisited, I'm getting better at culling and making the hard decisions as time goes on, and there's the daily battle against new stuff coming into the house. I want to digitise our whole photo collection, and remove the originals from the house.

But with each success over each area, whether a drawer or a room or an attitude, I can feel our life becoming simpler and easier. This is more than just 'decluttering', it's a philosophy of life. Lighter living on this planet. Less consumerism. Less clutter. Less housework. More time for the important stuff, like family, friends, and enjoyment of life.

Now, I just need to survive my nemesis. The Garage. Oh god, the horror ...

(If you'd like to venture into this minimalism world too, I strongly recommend reading Miss Minimalist's blog posts. Take it a little at a time!)

06 October 2012

Freezer Meals - Obsessed? Who me?

I'm in the midst of a short stint as a magazine editor, and by the end of the day working in an office, and all the driving, I'm completely worn out — all I want to do when I get home is collapse into a chair with my knitting, in front of the telly. But there is this distressing need to ingest food every single  night (can you believe it?!), and a family of four to feed, with — ideally — nutritious meals.

I quickly discovered that I couldn't afford a Jeeves, and the realities of a family consumed by chronic illness means They are often too unwell to help in the kitchen ... so I decided to give the recent 'fad' for 'cooking in advance and freezing' a try.

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

This has made such a difference to us! Last weekend I chose eight dishes to make in double or triple quantities. Admittedly, buying all the groceries and then cooking it all is quite a feat — it took me all day, and was possibly a tad over the top. It would have been sensibler to have started with four or five dishes, not eight.



It is so delightfully easy to come home and just defrost something, or for someone else in the family to put the contents of a packet into the slow cooker, and turn it on.

This weekend I've made a couple more dishes to restock the freezer, but I've actually run out of room in the freezer. Ooopsies. I am seriously considering getting a small chest freezer to accommodate more meals.

While cooking all those meals at once is admittedly a lot of work, it's easier than doing one meal at a time because:
  • You don't have to put all the groceries away when you get home, if you just start cooking with them right away. Make a day of it!
  • You can buy in bulk if you want, which reduces your cost per meal.
  • You've got all your cooking gear out, which makes it easier to do multiple meals at once.
  • You're making double or triple batches of each dish, so one lot of prep leads to two or three meals.
  •  You can lug out the food processor to chop veggies en masse (rather than wielding your knife or grater).
  • Yes, there's a lot of washing up, but it means you have minimal washing up during the week.
Some tips I've come up with in my very limited experience so far:
  • Look for family favourite recipes that can be frozen, and either fully cook them, or partially prepare them. Avoid anything too heavily creamy (or put instructions on the bag about what dairy etc to add on thawing).
  • Fling the ingredients for a stew, soup, or curry into the bag, ready to cook (see pic above, of Massaman Curry in a bag). I like to fry the meat first, but all the other ingredients can just be tossed into the bag, without mixing.
  • Use a food processor to make heaps of grated carrot, diced onion, chopped celery etc. I like to add finely chopped 'stealth veggies' to various dishes, where my kids won't notice them. And yes, they're in their 20s, and still aren't great at veggies  :p
  • Label large ziplock bags with the name of the meal, the date, and instructions on how to finish cooking, and/or the recipe book it's from.
  • Decant the cooled meals into large ziplock bags. It's important that they're not still warm when you put them in the freezer! Don't make your ice cream melt, not that I'd know anything about that at all ...
  • Put a baking tray into your freezer, as a flat surface for the bags to lie on as they freeze.
  • Do a large batch of meals to start with, and then top up with a few meals cooked on weekends after that, to replenish what you use during the week.

I used to do a weekly menu plan, of seven dishes, and buy everything for those dishes, but found it a massive amount of planning, which I often avoided, plus I still had to make each dish after a full work day. This is so much easier, as you only have to choose a few dishes at a time!

These are the meals I've made so far. Get inspiration from your crock pot cookbooks, and there are a bunch of other resources, a lot of other bloggers have recipes and tricks and tips. I've pinned links to some on my Pinterest Food and Drink board.
  • 'Porcupine' meatballs (meatballs with rice in them - to be cooked in slow cooker)
  • Massaman Beef Curry (cook in slow cooker)
  • Lemon Pepper Chicken (breasts in marinade, to be fried)
  • Tuna Bolognese Sauce (heat and serve over pasta)
  • Veal Pizzaiola (defrost and bake)
  • Pumpkin Curry (cook in slow cooker)
  • Risotto (reheat and serve)
  • Chilli con Carne (reheat and serve)
  • Chicken-Stuffed Roast Potatoes (bake)
  • Shredded meat from a roast chook (to use in other dishes as needed)

30 September 2012

Shabby Chic Cushions

A few months ago I joined Pinterest (yeah, I know, I know, a million miles behind everyone else). And on my 'Home' board, I suddenly realised that everything I like in interior design is white. And my home is anything but!

So, I've decided that — while I can't own the house I'd like to have — I can at least create the interior design I'd like. And I love simple shabby chic / beach / country sort of style ... not the frilly stuff with sappy sentiments, but the sparse, weathered, somewhat French countryside, beach house sort of look. Old glass, cut crystal, white jugs. That sort of thing.

What I like about this style, too, is that it's inexpensive. Make do, use what's to hand, rummage around in op shops, paint things, make it yourself, adapt and be creative.

This is my first reformation of my soft furnishings — some simple and quick cushion covers for the sofa (which will eventually get a white dust cover).

The one on the left is a white t-shirt (op shop) with a lace overlay (remnant of window curtain lace stuff, free).

The one on the right is a t-shirt, too (also op shop), which a great 'Frenchy' print, with words and sequins!

I simply cut out two squares from the t-shirt, 45 cm square for these particular ones, used the shirt's hem edge as the opening for the cover, and stitched together the other three sides. Popped the old cushion insert in, and hand-sewed them shut.

With the lace one, I sewed the piece of lace onto the white square first, and then added the back piece of the cushion cover, and sewed the lot together.

Easy peasy!

Also - this is my 600th post!! Goodness me!

03 July 2012

Angora Cowl

Don't die of shock, it's a knitting post!

Here's my latest design, a long cowl with a flared base to cover my shoulders. It's long enough to wear as a snood as well. My main goal was to have something simple and not too lacy that would keep me warm at my desk.

I used some lace-weight angora sent to me by a dear friend.

I've recently had a short contract working at the Australian Government's Attorney-General's Department (copy editing their website). I had an hour each way on the bus to and from work, so plenty of knitting time! As a result, I finished this in about three weeks.

I will write up the pattern and put it on Ravelry soon. Any ideas for a snazzy name?

17 June 2012

Sam, I am

Introducing my newest nephew, Sam! Born to my sister and her husband 20 hours ago, in New York. Mum and bub doing well (despite the 1 hour labour!).

Given that he was nearly a week late, he's probably inherited my family's Lateness Gene  ;)

Times like this it's very hard to be living on another continent.

25 May 2012

Husky Holiday

Having my annual week's holiday, staying with Hubby at the wonderful Huskisson Bed & Breakfast. It's roughly a 3 1/2 hour drive from Canberra.

We've had great fun wandering about on the rock pools, and have found heaps of fossils! Below is just a small sampling.

24 April 2012


I've just finished my two new Dummies titles, both about cryptic crosswords; I emailled the final edited proofs to my editor a few hours ago!

So I have time for a bit of a progress report at last.

Workwise — I've just written two Dummies books in 4 months. OMFG. Ridiculous working hours. But it's all finished now. The books will be out in Australia, the UK, and the USA/Canada in August, I think. The books' launch will be at the end of August in Canberra, and I'm also hoping to be able to organise some book signings or similar in Melbourne. And next month I'm accompanying the Wiley sales rep around some Canberra bookshops, to help promote the books! It's very exciting to get to do some of this 'real author' stuff with Wiley, I've never had the chance before (as my previous titles have been published by Wiley USA, and they didn't offer to fly me over, LOL).

Bodywise — Since starting in August last year, I've lost 17 kg (that's a bit over 37 lb). I'm back to my pre-Prednisolone weight! I am aiming to lose another 8–10 kg, though, to have less stress on my artificial hip, and feel happier about how I look. My doctors are all frightfully pleased with me, and I'm pleased with me too, it must be said. I've been able to drop one of my blood pressure medications, too!

The MyFitnessPal app has been invaluable. I don't use it to track my food so much nowadays, as the dietary changes are second nature now, but it's great for keeping tabs on my weight.

I've been on a plateau for the past 6–7 weeks, which is rather frustrating. Probably not a coincidence that it's been the same time that I've been working 12–15 hours a day, 7 days a week, to get the second book written in 6–7 weeks.

I've also had to ease off on my usual aerobic exercises, because my left hip (yes, that one) started acting up! It was a bit alarming, but after x-rays confirmed that the prosthesis looks wonderful and secure, my surgeon put the 'catching' and 'thunking' down to 'snapping hip' syndrome, basically, a tendon (probably the iliopsoas) was catching on the prosthesis. So no aerobics or heavy lifting for a month, and back onto anti-inflammatories. It does seem to have settled down, so I'm hoping to get back into my swimming and cycling this week.

Healthwise — my neurosarcoidosis is pretty well controlled at the moment. I'm on half the dose of mycophenolate that I started on (1,000 mg instead of 2,000 mg), and while there's a little recurrence of some of the nerve symptoms (numbness around my mouth, and a sensation of having a piece of hair on my eyelid), seem to be managing OK. My vision is steady, thankfully. I have found out, though, that I have early signs of cataracts, as well as the glaucoma (both probably caused by the Prednisolone). And guess what's a bad thing for cataracts? Medicated eye drops for glaucoma  :/  Going blind, no matter which what I do, it seems ...  well, at least you can have surgery for cataracts (shudder), while there's no cure for the vision loss from glaucoma. The sarcoid is possibly affecting my liver, as some of my liver function tests are still elevated, despite my weight loss.

Having a wedge resection on both my big toes next Tuesday, too ... I get recurring infections, which are a huge risk to my artificial hip, so rather than ending up on antibiotics several times a year, we figured it was better just to get rid of the cause of the problem. Having it under twilight sedation, and will need a week off my feet to recover, which I think I can handle after the past 5 months of work!

Familywise — our lodger has left. Jen's taking a break from studies, and has started her own little web design business, something she really loves doing. Rodger's going from strength to strength with his glass ... he's attended some more classes and workshops, and now demonstrates his craft at the Canberra Glassworks now and then on weekends. There is some talk about him teaching there. They're about to start stocking his marbles in their shop, too! First Blood is Sydney is thinking of taking him on as their main glass jewellery stockist. Hubby and I are looking forward to a whole week away at the coast at the end of May, too  :)

Hope to have some time and energy to catch up with blogs, and other work, and my long neglected hobbies and friends now!

18 April 2012

I'm alive!

Yes, I am still here ... writing the second Dummies book (Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies, a collection of 56 crosswords) in only 6 weeks was about half the time I actually needed. And I had to edit the first book at the same time. Working from 8 am til 11 pm every day, 7 days a week, for several months, is definitely not that enjoyable, I've discovered.

I still have to proofread the second book, the page proofs will turn up tomorrow. But after that's done, it really is all done! Phew! Pic is of the proofs for the first book (which is the detailled "how to" book). Lots of red ink (mine)!!

I should have used some of these new silly proofreading marks someone invented, LOL!

I'm having fun planning my first proper book launch, too  :) Current plan includes letter-shaped iced biscuits (cookies) and a cake with a crossword grid on it (I've even got a cool edible 'felt tip' black pen for drawing on icing). I was inspired by this cake, although I don't think I'll actually write clues, but just do the grid. I'll also be making a corset with crossword fabric of my own design!

Life is much calmer at home, our lodger left in early February, Jen's back in her room, I'm back in my office ... the puppehs get on fairly well, although Griff (who is a whole kilo heavier than Petal!) is getting rather dominant ... he's being desexed today, so hopefully this will help him calm down a bit!

24 January 2012

Teapots & Words

I know it's been ages ... blame these books! Between writing two Dummies books at once, and keeping up with my syndicated puzzle commitments, there aren't many hours left in the day. Plus we have a lodger now, and Dotter has moved back home, so she's in my office, and I'm in the family room, and ... it's good, but the house is very full and a bit mad.

Isn't this teapot PERFECT? It's a Paul Cardew design, which I discovered online. Only one shop in America was still selling it ... it's just a two cup pot. I especially love the ceramic fountain pen handle on the lid! They clearly didn't get a crossword setter in to help with the layout of the grids ... they aren't fully filled in, and include (unnecessarily and offensively) words about COFFEE. Shock horror!

Mr Griffles continues to grow both in size and adorablage. He is a little fluffy powerhouse, running full tilt at the world! He loves to chase it tail until he staggers from being so dizzy, and watches TV! I've never had a TV-watching dog before, it's so funny, he barks at the bad guys when they shoot their guns!

Griff is also a water dog - another first for us. He loves to splash his paw in his water bowl, and has a shallow wading pool out the back to play in. So funny!

He and Miss Petal are mostly getting on now — they'll even sleep in close proximity now ... there are plenty of tussles and growls and roughhousing too, though, but on the whole, I think it's going well. We've just got one of those clever 'slot into your sliding door' panels with a doggy door at the bottom, and Griff has mastered it in 24 hours. Petal isn't so keen on it though, even with liver treats on the other side!

OK, back to the insane and brain-hurting world of cryptic crosswords. You think it's mind-numbing solving them? Try writing them  >.<