Jul 31, 2011

The Weekend Is Nearly Over.

At last.  Sorry if you've been enjoying a relaxing couple of days, but my brain needs a lie down and a bit of space from my phone.  Monday is looking pretty good from here, to be honest. 

Hasn't the sun and clear blue sky been magic in Sydney?  People are taking to the streets in the afternoon again, on their bikes and skateboards, arm in arm or in their prams.  I even smelled a barbecue this evening. I'm getting excited for spring / summer already.  Have I got long to wait?

I am being a bit of a drama queen.  I managed quite a few non work related activities including some home yoga practice (I can never manage more than 19 minutes on my own for the record) and a relaxing beverage or two.  My dedication to Dry July has seen me resume that twentysomething friendship I had with Diet Coke and lemon.  It seemed so sophisticated yet chilled out at the time and a decade on, not much has changed.

I did overcome my housework inertia enough to contemplate cooking dinner last night.  My Donna Hay shopping list notepad was at the ready as I read a lamb cutlet with spicy chickpea hummus recipe from the magazine.

You can another one to the tally of the number of times I've commented on the alarming price of lamb in the middle of winter.

But I got to Coles and my lofty ambitions crumbled when I saw this lamb mini roast and these Continental Cook-in-Bag packets.  I think these things happen when  you walk to Coles in uggs and faded blue trackpants.  It could just be me though.

It all turned out well in the end.  I didn't even have to do much with the ingredients when I got home.  Mr SSG took charge and we craftily used foil baking trays for the roasting, effectively halving the amount of washing up.

This is perfect if you're looking for a low maintenance lamb roast that you won't regret bailing on Tom Cruise for (is this refernce to 'mum's doing a lamb roast' even relevant to the kids of today?).  Lots of flavour without the tell tale 'packet mix' taste you can get with some recipe bases.

The other highlight of the weekend was visiting baby X.  Willow and Lotus, he has received many compliments on the Jumpie I bought him.  There's something grounding and calming just holding a baby.  I'm a bit nervous about protecting the necks and heads of newborns, but older babies are always welcome on my lap.

Before I go, I have news.  A couple of wonderfully generous SSG readers have sponsored an exciting skin care giveaway that I will be announcing next week.  It's a fabulous Australian certified organic cosmeceutical brand and I'm loving what I've tried so far.

So, the advice from the desk is to defer your skin care purchases until all is revealed.

Jul 30, 2011

The Problem With Bricks and Mortar Retail.

Do you sometimes feel that it's just too hard to do bricks and mortar retail (unless it's for groceries and even then....)?  

A magazine added to the week's shopping does ease the pain of the weekly grocery shop just a little...
There has been a lot of press recently about the 'shock' profit losses at Australia's two biggest high end department stores and the comments posted by readers whenever either of these chains is written about really shows the depth of feeling many people have about the standard of service and range of products on offer at these premium retailers.  The general consenus has been that shopping at department stores is an experience best reserved for visits to the overseas shopping meccas our strong dollar has practically forced us all to visit on our now more frequent and extravagant foreign travels. 

The latest strategy the retailers have hatched in an attempt to turn around their losses is to revamp their range of designer fashion and to wean us off heavy discounting dependency.  The idea being that Australian consumers will be so excited about new brands coming to our shores we won't be able to wait for the discounts, we'll high tail it in store and pay full price.  Mysteriously, both stores are launching their new season Spring/Summer collections with desert themed soirees and the paying public's response has been .... blistering.

I'm guilty of waltzing through department stores for a bit of sight seeing as I nurse a cup of coffee and self directed product research (outside of the beauty hall, I have never actually been able to find anyone to ask a question of).

Recent trips to the shops with a definite purpose have been somewhat frustating.

I needed to get some new jeans hemmed and the only place I could get it done in the local gleaming shopping and cinema megaplex was at the dry cleaners.  Except that anyone needing mending their had to use the centre toilets to pin their own hemming.  The saftey pins were free though!

Then I  made the rookie error of picking the only 2 items on a deceptively labelled sales rack that weren't included in the discounting at the kitchen wares store.  Pricing seems so much clearer on websites.

All is not lost though, Kiehl's Australia has come through once again.  They had a recent facebook follower promotion where you could drop in at your local outlet and on showing proof of your facebook follower status, be offered some generous samples for no coin at all.

In other Kiehl's news, apparently the Rosa Arctica cream I found at Neiman's may be coming to Australia next year!  It seems that head office has received more than a few requests for this to happen.

Taking photos with an iPad of an iPhone is actually much harder than it sounds.  Especially when you want the iPhone screen to be 'live'.
Which is where Mr SSG comes into things.  I had this tricky set up where I was going to take a photo on Mr SSG's iPad of my iPhone showing my Kiehl's facebook follower status against a background of Kiehl's products I already use (to refine the selection process for the free samples).  Then, all Mr SSG had to do was to show his iPad to the sales assistant and Bingo! 

Mr SSG coming through with the goods.

Mr SSG did good in difficult circumstances.  Operation Kiehl's Sample Haul happened to be the day he forgot to bring both his phones to work.

Jul 29, 2011

Splendour in the Sun.

For the youngsters amongst us, this weekend is Splendour in the Grass, on the Sunshine Coast.  Older music lovers like myself (who will be working through the weekend and who also have rough living conditions aversion disorder) will be listening to the highlights on Triple J from the warmth of either car or home.

I managed to get away from work a little early yesterday for a little Splendour in the Sun before a long weekend of work.

I was rewarded with this burst of winter afternoon sun.

And blue sky.  Looking up at the infinite expanse of sky always lifts my spirits and makes me remember again that the world is inherently a good place and that that humanity has so much to be thankful for.  It is very easy these days to get caught up in the negative news of the world but at least in this little patch of the planet, we have blue skies and peace.

I never thought that dry bitumen would bring such a big grin to my face.  The privilege of crunching over the bitumen as opposed to squelching across the mud and puddles of the last week or so.

Wouldn't you know it?  There's more sun today.  It's streaming in through the office window and there's more of that blue sky too. 

The weather is too glorious for a long post just this minute.  I'm off to make myself a cup of tea and sip it to a soundtrack of ABC Classic FM.  Triple J, I will get to you this weekend.

Have a lovely day and catch up with you later. 

Jul 27, 2011

Paint Brushes and Airbrushing.


Margaret Olley - 24 June 1923 - 26 July 2011

There are a suprising number of good things about being on the road to work at 6 in the morning.  Besides the traffic (or lack of it), I had the chance to listen to a radio interview the late artist Margaret Olley gave at her Paddington home / studio.  I am not an art expert but Olley was one of Australia's most talented female artists, more recently famous for her still life work.  She has been a very generous benefactor to the Australian art scene too donating her own works to many galleries across the nation.

The radio interview was fascinating.  Then 78, Olley took her interviewer through her lushly decorated townhouse. After she had greeted him at the door and graciously took the bunch of flowers he offered her.  The house sounded like a series of scenes and props for her work.  There were flowers and vases everywhere as well as cold cups of coffee and full ashtrays.  Each room had four or so canvases casually arranged within, Olley would just move around the rooms lead by season and her temperament.  As she got older, she hardly left her house to paint, relying on what was around her, her memory and the changeing light in her house with the season and time of day for inspiration.  Hence the need for all house guests to arrive at the front door with a bunch of flowers.

Imagine if blogging was an artistic medium akin to painting.  There'd be a laptop or desktop in every room of my house with objects of inspiration waiting to be written about (or to be ordered online).  I'd never leave a cup of coffee to get cold though or smoke, perhaps I'm not an artist at the same level.

On a personal note, Olley revealed the source of her success.  It was to have 'just one person who believed in me'.  In her case, it was her mother, but the artist went on to say that 'all we need is that one person ... lover, parent, sibling...'  She also was continually striving to push her boundaries and that sometimes involved 'painting over' parts of her work she thought were the best part of the piece, 'often that's what needs to go, you see'. 

It struck me then that for many artists, their work is both an execution of their great skill but also an expression of their internal journey.  That art changes lives and life also changes art.  The gift to those that view the final work is that there are two journeys being offered - the artists as well as their own.

Margaret Olley died at the age of 88, in her townhouse and in the middle of preparing her work for a major show.  I know that the world will mourn her passing, but she died on her terms, in sound mind and body and doing what she loved most in the world.  I'm happy for her that it ended this way.

From birdsdecoratebranches.blogspot.com
One of the ads that fell foul of the ASA
Moving right along.  From paint brushes to airbrushing.  In the UK, 2 L'Oreal Paris ads have been pulled by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for false claims about just how much two of their foundations can do to a real woman's skin without the added benefits of extreme airbrushing. 

The women at the centre of the ads are Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington.  Two beautiful women who I suspect look better than most of us even without makeup.  But whose digitally unaltered faces still didn't meet the exacting standards of L'Oreal's advertising campaigns. 

There is one part of me who applauds the ASA and their stance on the increasingly unreal world of 'natural beauty' in the cosmetic industry.  But there is another part of me that is able to just look at these ads, take them at face value (pardon the pun) and think how lovely the model looks in the ad.  Without beating myself up for not looking the same no matter how much I spend on cosmetics and how much of it I wear. 

Am I alone in being able to separate my self image and self confidence from the high gloss, super perfect world of advertising?  I don't buy cosmetics with the aim of looking air brushed perfect.  I take the generally vague and imprecise claims of the make up houses with a whole salt pig's worth of salt and buy products which make me look better and don't break me out in hives.

What are your views?  I'm not a mother so perhaps I don't see the same self esteem issues that unrealistic magazine advertising has on young women's psyche.  Yet I did grow up surrounded by media images of unrealistic women.  But perhaps air brushing and photo editing was not as sophisticated  back in the day.

Jul 26, 2011

When Comfort Carbs Fail.

Comfort carbs and I are in the process of reevaluating our relationship.  We used to be such reliable friends in the bitter cold of a winter afternoon, bonding over a hot cup of tea, but something's different these days.

I don't know if it's something I've done or said to them but our relations have been strained of late.  First it was a burned batch of golden syrup dumplings and now a leathery bread and butter pudding.

I thought I did all the right things too.  As a gracious hostess, I used a generous swig of brandy to soak the raisins.  And there was real vanilla essence.

I celebrated the diversity of baked goods by using both croissants and fruit bread.

Perhaps my mistake was trying to add chocolate to comfort carbs.  Too many 'c' words in a dish is a recipe for disaster.

It all looked fantastic in the pan before baking and then something went wrong in the oven.  It over baked and the custard wasn't sweet enough.  Even the chocolate couldn't save it.

I think the man in the larger photo used to play cricket for Australia.  He now plays Nintendo Wii for the nation instead.  I think he just got married.  I could be wrong though....
The rccipe I used was from 'The Carly Findlay New Idea' rather than from Carly herself.  Perhaps I should have just asked Carly to share her recipe with me.
So, I'm giving comfort carbs a bit of space for the moment and savoured some new experiences. 

Like black soap.  This one's from Crabtree and Evelyn and don't worry, it doesn't leave your skin embalmed in a later of black.  It is a soap that challeneges your senses and perceptions.  It smells of the sea yet to look at, it conjures up the dark arts.  Shower time is such a provocative and intellectual ritual these days as I try to reconcile these concepts.

I also have a new caddy of tea bags in the SSG Manor kitchen.  Have you tried T2's French Earl Grey?  It is a completely different being to any Earl Grey you may have previously tried.  It's not bitter but instead has a little hibiscus in it.  Very fragrant, it smells of roses and softness.  It's the tea to take you to Paris at your desk.

How are you coping with winter?  Do you have any suggestions for a good bread and butter pudding recipe?  I promise not to spike it with chocolate this time.

Jul 24, 2011

The Real World Domestic Goddess App. 4 Ingredients Revisited.

I guess if you weren't a domestic goddess, you would have stayed at the cafe drinking your coffee and remained in denial about the ironing.
I'm sure there's a clause in the Real World Domestic Goddess Manual / App about how the quality of 2 baskets of ironing can be greatly enhanced by first going down the road for a large skinny cap and bringing it home to sip between shirts as you check your Twitter feed.  Speaking of which, thank you 37 lovely people who've taken the leap of faith and followed me in my first 24 hours on Twitter.  I think I owe you all coffees. 

There was no end to my prowess with the laundry today.  After the ironing, I attacked those annoying 'shoulder loops' on my running tops.  Seriously.  Does anyone store their gym gear on hangers?  Or use the loops to tie themselves to the weights machine to make sure they stay for their whole workout?  I'm genuinely curious.

I know this is  controversial topic to be bringing up with a discerning readership such as yourselves, but do you own a copy of 4 Ingredients and have you used a recipe from it?  I got mine when I first moved to Sydney and realized that if I didn't cook for myself,  no one else would do it for me.  Every word on the cover promised to deliver what a novice cook like me needed at the time.  I've moved on as you may have noticed, to amass a forest's worth of food magazines and celebrity cookbooks but my recent declutter saw this trusty green book rescued from the amongst the skeletons of my early cooking life.

The good thing about 4 Ingredients is that the titles of the recipes usually tell you what the ingredients are.  Asparagus Soup?  Easy. A can of asparagus tips (much cheaper than the spears) and a can of cream of chicken soup.  The  method?  Just combine the can of drained asparagus with the soup and a cup of water and boil.

And here's my lunch.  The purists would say that this wasn't cooking, more food assembly, but it didn't taste too bad and came in at $4.49 for 2 -3 serves.

It's been another crazy weekend around the world, hasn't it?  We started with the unfolding nightmare of the bombing and then mass shootings in Norway at the hands of one deeply disturbed man who seemed to be acting alone.  Then the jubilation as Australia found in Cadel Evans our first winner of the Tour de France.  News has just emerged of a horrific bullet train crash in China.  The images from the crash look as if they were stills for a Hollywood action blockbuster.

And then there was the news of Amy Winehouse's death.  I don't think there is anything I can write that hasn't already been discussed on the world wide web.  All I know of Amy is her  music and that will live on because of her incredible talent.  Rest in peace, Amy and thank you for sharing your voice with the world.

Jul 23, 2011

Technology Finally Went My Way Today. Twitter.

Hello everyone, yes I'm still here. 

Here as in not carried away on the 160mm of rain that fell on Sydney yesterday and here as in still clattering away on my lap top.  I feel like a middle aged geek girl.  To keep my energy levels up during the marathon blog makeover and reinvention today, I had some Doritos and a swig of Diet Coke but lunched on sushi and green tea (the latter being my concession to old age).  Oh, and I went to yoga instead of doing some Wii Fit.

Still not convinced I left the house?  I don't blame you.  Here's the photographic evidence.

Not a terribly exciting photo, I know.  But I thought you might like to feast your eyes on photographic evidence that it did stop raining in Sydney enough for the roads to dry and for someone to wheel a trolley down the hill from Coles.  It is parked at an angle that suggests that the driver may have had it loaded with a few slabs of beer before deciding that carrying it home rather than wheeling it home would be the quicker option.

Then I did my best impersonation of a sun starved, water logged Londoner (people who ought to know in Sydney have been comparing our recent weather to typical London conditions) by trampling on our partially dry front lawn during a fine break this afternoon.

My moment in the cloud obscured sun.

Except that perhaps in London the footwear of choice would have been Hunters rather than Uggs.  Of all the shoes I should have bought this year, I'm kicking myself for not getting some Hunters from Jigsaw when I had a chance.

It's just sinking in just how much change has gone down on the blog today.  It has been much more than a stunning cosmetic makeover.  The change in the way the blog looks inspired me to think of ways that I could make the blog more interactive.  At first I tried changing the comments system but that didn't feel quite right.  Sorry if your comments got eaten up with that brief flirtation with Disqus.  Then I decluttered my side bar and found space for more additions to my blog roll as well as room for a list of your latest comments.

And then, I decided to take it to Twitter.  I know, welcome to 2006, SSG.  I think it's the logical next step for the blog.  I know that for many of us, Facebook accounts hold a great deal of personal information that is closely intertwined with 'real life' and hence there may need to be a distinctio between it and the rest of your online activity.  Twitter, on the other hand is a series of 140 character posts that enable social interaction without the risk of feeling too 'exposed' with relative strangers who you think you might get along with.

I do hope you'll join in the fun with me on Twitter.  May I have more clarity in my tweets than I often do in my blog posts.

Thanks again for all your patience today.  I think Melissa and I are done with the final tweaking and I hope that everyone, regardless of operating system can read the blog clearly.

Take care and I hope to see you on Twitter.

Zebra Is My Print. Big W Polar Fleece Is My Winter Fabric.

These pre-dawn Saturday posts are becoming a bit of a tradition, aren't they?

Before I go any further, do you notice anything ... different?

The lovely Melissa at Suger Coat It has made over my blog!!  Thank you so much, Melissa!!

The consultative process was a hoot.  Together, we discovered so much about SSG.  Her colour is what we will now call SSG Blue, zebra is her true animal print (though leopard is also lovely) and well, what image says SSG better than a shopping bag?  A credit card possibly came to your mind but I think copyright infringement prevents the use of the CBA, Visa or Mastercard symbols for blog related purposes.

So here I am.   Sipping a hot cup of tea and draped in my winter morning uniform.  I think it is only fitting that my first post after the big reveal (it really is an Extreme Makeover, I love the new look to bits) be about shopping.

For the last few months, the financial pages of the papers have been full of tales of woe for the retail sector. Specifically the profit downgrades for the the heavy hitting department stores, Myer and David Jones and also the collapse of established national clothing chains like Colorado.

All sorts of theories have been supplied to try and explain it all.  Faltering consumer confidence as the uncertainty over Australia's price on carbon continues, the rising cost of food and fuel, apprehension about the global economy, the allure of online retailers both locally and abroad even the attraction of saving hard and ditching credit.  It has also emerged that 'aspirational shoppers' (I hate those two words together) are becoming more value and price sensitive and 'retreating' down a price range or two in a bid to make their budgets stretch a little further.

Financial analysts of Australia, I'm guilty as charged but not just for the reasons outlined above.  It's just so much easier shopping at Big W or Target for the no frills basics of life.  Take polar fleece for example.  A fabric largely ignored by the high street and designers of influence for many a decade (if not forever). Surely I can't be the only person in Sydney who values the longevity, low maintenence, non iron and quick drying properties of suburban (as opposed to extreme weather) weight fleece?

Which is where my local Big W comes in.  I just walked in found what I was looking for, paid (finally getting the hang of the self serve stations) and walked out.  At a nice price and without the drama of trying to find a cash register that actually has someone behind the counter.

Now comes the difficult task of parting with my current ancient collection of vests and jumpers.  Be strong, SSG.  Today is all about new beginnings.  If you survived and thrived after your blog makeover, you can clear out your wardrobe too.

Catch up with you later.  I hear silence outside.  Which means it's not raining.  Which means I can go for a run after all.

Jul 21, 2011

Rain. Does Kate Love J Brand Even More Than I?

Did anyone else look out the window today and wonder if this rain will ever end?  I'm actually also a little deaf from the steady drumming of raindrops on rooves and windows. 

I'm also a little frightened because it has been bucketing down for 14 hours straight.  I only know this because I got a clear break for my run this morning and it was down pour from then on.

To add to the chaos in Sydney today, Costco's first store opening here magnified the usual traffic chaos on Parramatta Road by a factor of around 987 462.  There were variable message sign warnings well before the evening peak hour(s) were meant to start.

Needless to say, I didn't even bother driving past Costco to find out what all the chaos was about.  There's only so far I'm willing to go in the pursuit of bargain priced, brand named groceries after a full day at work.  Give me a few days....

Image courtesy of yahoo.com.au

Truth be told, I'm just a little fragile today.  Dr Nina chose Dr Patrick and not Dr Chris in Offspring's season finale last night.  I know that she had to choose a real but imperfect love over one that was based on dreams and what ifs for so long but I'm still gutted.  I am ashamed to say I did the diehard sports fan act last night and turned off the television the moment it was clear my team was not going to win.

Still, there's not much else a girl can do but brush her hair off her face, swing her stethescope around her neck and stride purposefully into work with a defiant smile on her face.

It was just as well I did because the Duchess of Cambridge was in the SMH today.  And if I hadn't been so organized today, I wouldn't have brought the paper in with me to work today.  The article was about the influence of women with constructive and prominent roles in society who are not only role models but also a source of fashion inpsiration for other real women.  I will not rise to the bait of an oblique but sarcastic reference to spokes models at this point.  I will not.  Moving right along.

Will you look at that caption?  The Duchess is a J Brand lover too.  Apparently this has been a major windfall to the Australian importer of the brand.  They are struggling to keep Australian stores stocked because J Brand is flying off the shelves (even at Australian 'high cost of everything, we have to factor in the price of carbon and rental' prices).  Such is the power of Kate.

Okay.  Yes I did.  Go to the Revolve site and have a browse.  And a one click purchase.  My only defence is that for once the price in AUD was much cheaper than in USD.  If that's not a reason to keep up with the Duchess of Cambridge, then I don't know what is.  All will be revealed when Revolve's expedited, free international shipping has worked its magic.

Take care and stay dry - tomorrow is Friday!

Jul 20, 2011

Christmas in July.

This is a general announcement to the Santas doing Christmas in July for the southern hemisphere this year.  There's no need for you to enter SSG Manor into your sat nav.  We don't have a chimney or carrots for the reindeer.  It's also raining so hard here an ark would probably be a safer option than a sleigh.

We're also pretty well stocked in the gift wrapped goods department.  There's nothing like finding a little something from Neiman's in the spare room on a rainy day.

Rosa Arctica - that just says winter face cream, don't you think?

Here's a jar of Kiehl's you won't see every day in Australia.  Apparently, it's a Neiman Marcus exclusive. 
Hand harvested at full bloom though not by my hand.
The tricksy thing about the Regeneration Flower is that it is able to 'survive 31 months of extreme dehydration'.  Does this mean that I only have to use the cream once every 31 months?  If so, this was a very economical purchase indeed.  I quite like it though, it's heavy enough for my dry skin and gets absrobed pretty quickly - so it's great as a day cream.  So Kiehl's, I won't be putting Rosa Arctica to the once every 31 months test.  I'll be using it daily from now on.

Continuing with the Christmas in July theme, we now move on to chestnuts.  Not the roasting kind (though I've got potatoes roasting for dinner tonight and they smell like heaven) but the Laura Mercier Caviar Eyeliner in the shade 'Chestnut'.  It's a great shade, a taupey dark brown that is a great shade for day.

Wouldn't you know it, there's a Chestnut-esque colour spectrum going on for dinner tonight.  I don't know what to be more excited about - the fact that cooking salmon fillets have provided the answers as to what shades of eyeshadow work with my eyeliner or that I've managed to pan fry salmon without having it fall apart.

But there's more!  The glaze worked as well.

Those restaurant plate artistic splotches and dots got lost in the execution.

It's not high art but at least the glaze looks glossy!

I was pretty dark about the mainstream media in yesterday's post.  I've put my money where my mouth is today and avoided it like the plague.  I had news radio on in the background while I was catching up on paperwork.  It proved to be an education and very low irritant soundtrack to my day.

I heard Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd deliver his statement about his upcoming heart surgery.  Despite it being penned by a mostly Liberal voter, Mr Rudd will always have special place on this blog.  Anyway.  There were the usual Rudd theatrics and diplomacy bits in the announcement but full points Kevin for not making the whole statement about you and how this surgery will impact on your political future (it was negligible for the record).  He used the final minutes (!!) to highlight two issues we need to address for the health of Australia - higher levels of organ donation and the shocking rates of infectious disesease in Indigenous Australians that are all but erradicated in the rest of the Australian population.

Gotta go.  One word.  Offspring.


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