Dec 31, 2013

Dear 2013.

Dear 2013,

I just wanted to write to you to say goodbye properly but I'm struggling to find the right words. I don't remember any other year of my life which has managed to bring both great joy and sorrow simultaneously.

I have such mixed feelings about your leaving to make way for 2014. I'll be glad to see the back of you because it will signify that the past is getting further and further behind me. But 2013, you were also a year filled with firsts that I wish could last forever and that time could stand still as far as those special moments are concerned.

And then there were times which were quite painful and traumatic. It was the element of being caught totally by surprise that I found the hardest. The faith and trust in things that were not quite what they seemed or promised to be. The somewhat naive belief that how you treat others will be the way that they treat you in return.

The funny thing is that every single day of you was a cause for celebration. Not a day went past without at least one little thing to feel grateful for, one experience that made me feel happy to be alive and healthy. Over this year, people have been brought into my life saying just the right thing at just the right time.

You'd never tell from browsing Amazon but there are in fact some situations in life for which self help books haven't yet been written. Sometimes, all you can do is to have faith. In God, in yourself, in the good people around you. Sometimes, all you can do is accept because fighting is futile, draining and turns you into a person you'd rather not be.

As I look back on the mole hills (that I made into mountains via this blog) of my life before 2013 hit me like a truck, I realise that I was being prepared for a year of life defining change. Issues I'd faced before in their 'lite' version were brought back into my life with such force this year that I'm sure they should have been labelled 'super concentrate' or 'dilute before use'.

So I guess it's goodbye, 2013. You were quite a year. I seem to be at that stage in life where every year is 'quite a year'. So much change, so many defining moments. It's no wonder the years fly by faster and faster and I feel older and wiser as they do. As always, I end this year even more grateful than I was last year for the good and beautiful people I call my family and friends. For their generosity, their support, their concern and their time. I know I've shared many an F bomb loaded conversation with you this year and I thank you again for just listening and dropping a few of your own in solidarity.

I don't have resolutions for 2014 but rather hopes for how I will navigate the uncharted territory that the year will inevitably deliver. May I keep my eye on the bigger picture and when in doubt, remember to just breathe and know that it will all be all right in the end. Even if I can't see how at the time. It just will. But in the meantime, there will be love, good books, shopping, travel and that gorgeous little boy of mine who will bring smiles to my face that reach both my eyes and my heart.
Take care and may we all take from 2013 the best that it gave us and leave the worst where it belongs.

To new beginnings and a wonderful 2014 for us all.

Dec 30, 2013

Christmas, Please Don't Go.

Christmas, I miss you already.  Please don't go just yet.

I love finding front doors in the neighbourhood still proudly wearing their wreaths. 

Toddler SSG is still collecting goodies at every shop and cafe we visit.

It's all from Ikea.  Except the candle holders that you can't see too clearly.  They're slightly fancy Georg Jensen.

And Christmas decorations, I'll miss you the most.  Every year it's a different theme for us but every year it's a chance to deck the house out with bursts of colour, to hang things off hooks on the door and also to dress the table for a candle lit meal.  It's a tradition of mine to get my inspiration from Ikea's range each year and add bits and pieces from what I already have at home.

Toddler SSG's old baby bath doubling as a drinks trolly this year.

Food wise, Christmas was special for all the foods I could eat this year.  My pregnant self could only look on wistfully last year at the plates of ham, oysters and soft cheeses.

Accompanied by a glass or two of mid morning champagne, of course.  Seriously, how much less of a stress is it to get Christmas lunch ready when you're sipping champagne as you work?

It might not be fancy, but these are my food moments of Christmas 2013.

Camembert and Roquefort with quince paste on our cheese board.

Smoked salmon and dill flavoured cream cheese roll ups.

Not Quite Nigella's Cheese Puff Bread that saved Christmas dinner.  So easy to make and very taste.  The tapioca flour is an unexpected ingredient but did the trick in making this bread chewy.

Dessert was tiramisu featuring five shots of espresso sweetened with six teaspoons of sugar.

As well as generous slugs of Kahlua in the cream mixture and in the sponge finger dunking liquid.

It's always a nervous moment wondering whether you've enough of the sponge fingers, cream and coffee mixture to fill your dish.  But I did.  Huge sigh of relief.

I broke with tradition and used grated dark chocolate instead of Flake for the topping.  It was a wise move.

When I finally roused from my food coma, there were four more days of the Christmas break to relax through.  Which we spent mostly at the pool, at the park and yes, eating some more.

How was your Christmas break?  Are you at work today with the Christmas lights switched on, just because?

Dec 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Just dropping in with a quick post today.

Merry Christmas!  May you be blessed with peace, hope and joy.  In amongst all the food, family, presents and mayhem, may you also find a few moments for yourself.  To reflect, recharge, refocus.  Whatever it is that your soul needs most.

I'll endeavour to do the same, once I've finished work and found a cafe that'll do me 5 shots of espresso in a large cup with 6 teaspoons of sugar so that I can make my tiramisu for tomorrow's lunch.

Dec 23, 2013

The First Rum Ball of Christmas.

We mightn't have a tree up this year or a wreath on the front door (due to OH&S issues related to living with a toddler) but we do have rum balls.

The raisins were doused in Bundaberg rum on Saturday afternoon...

And come Sunday morning, all I had to do was assemble the rest of the ingredients, as listed in this recipe.  I then used the Exclusively Food version of the recipe for the preparation.

What I like about Amanda and Debbie's recipe is that all the important steps take place in the relative safety of a food processor bowl.  There's no risk of knocking someone out as you try to crush arrowroot biscuits in a bag on the bench top and there's not too much stray cocoa powder read for little fingers to then paint all over the kitchen cupboards.  The resultant dough is also very dense and smooth.

Does anyone else get excited at the sight of a bowl of freshly opened desiccated coconut sitting next to neatly lined Christmas tins? I got these from Ikea and they're one of the cutest versions they've released.  I think the set of three were under $5.  

Rolling and dusting the first rum ball of Christmas is definitely an Instagram photo worthy moment.

It's hard not to feel like an oasis of Christmas kitchen calm when you've made a batch of rum balls.  They're so easy to make they're practically effortless (except for the washing up).  They manage to look both home made with love and store bought perfect at the same time.

You can never have too many bottles of Moet.  Here are quite a few of mine being gifts for colleagues and there are a few more at home waiting for Wednesday.  Thank you, Costco!

I'm hoping that a little of that oasis of calm hangs around in the kitchen until Wednesday because I'm hosting Christmas lunch.  My sister in law is gallantly providing the ham and a salad.  I've been stealth shopping over the last few weeks and collected the beginnings of a cheese platter, a smoked salmon based breakfast and the official SSG Manor Christmas beverage - Moet.  I'm planning a lazy girl's Bellini arrangement that will see me blitz canned peaches and pour this into the bottom a champagne flute before adding peach schnapps and champagne.

It's taking all of my willpower not to do an early test batch of Bellini's with the canned peaches.  Instead, I've been getting my canned peach fix over my cereal.  This was always my favourite school camp breakfast.  Especially when a generous hand was applied in spooning over the peach syrup after the milk had been poured.  Cheerios are all I have in the house at the moment but the best version of this breakfast involves Rice Bubbles as the cereal.

It's going to be a surreal Christmas for me.  Last Christmas was a no cheese, smoked salmon, champagne or ham affair for me.  I was also roughly the size of a beached whale (with the energy levels to match), waiting for the early stages of labour.  Not that I actually knew what they might have felt like.  And here I am this Christmas wrapping Duplo up for my little boy who is now almost one year old.  I do get wistful for that bump of mine and that expectant waiting sometimes but I'm enjoying motherhood way too much to be wanting to turn back the clock. 

There's only one more working day before Christmas for me.  It's the usual Monday chaos around these parts but it's cheerful chaos as everyone just does what needs to be done to get people home for Christmas Day and to make the break more pleasant for those who can't and will be staying with us for the duration.  I took one for the team today and got myself a caramel slice for morning tea.  It was meant to have been a banana but it's Christmas, right?

Other than a bit of a relax with family, I don't actually have too many plans for the next few days.  A swim, a bit of exercise, some online perusal of the post Christmas sales are some ideas I'll consider at my leisure in between ham and cheese croissants for breakfast followed by bowls of tiramisu for morning tea.  If I do venture out anywhere, what do you think my chances are of bumping into Brad and Ange?  I've got to do a run to the petrol station for some bags of ice on Christmas Day.  I'd better pull a brush through my hair before I leave.

Take care and may your lead up to Christmas be calm.

Dec 20, 2013

Early For Work On A Friday.

I don't think I could have written a post today without starting here.

They're home from Afghanistan for Christmas.  May this be a very merry Christmas for the Australian armed forces personnel who are now safely back in Australia with their families this year.  May your favourite beer be chilling in the fridge for you right now and you enjoy the simple pleasures of life in this country that the rest of us take for granted - the clean running water, the beaches, the order and the freedom.

Owls sweltering the heat at Westfield early this morning.  Unforuntately, while Coles is open at 7am, the centre's airconditioning doesn't fire up until much later...

The first heatwave of summer has officially arrived in Sydney today so I got myself to work extra early to beat the heat and the traffic dramas that always seem to accompany it.  Even the owls in the 'snow' at Westfield were coping poorly this morning.  Shopping centres first thing in the morning are different beasts to what they are come lunchtime or late afternoon.  There's a stillness and silence that echos off the just cleaned, glossily smooth flooring.  With just natural light filtering in wherever it gets the chance, the 'buy more, be more' gleam that usually bathes the immaculate window displays isn't as palpable.

There's excitement in the food hall.  The  purveyors of my favourite dark chocolate skinny mochas (after Max Brenner) are finally opening a branch to enable me to get a weekday fix down the road from work.  Mid December has come and gone but the workmen who were there today looked too harried for me to risk asking them when the actual opening date is.  But the light fittings are up and the menu too so hopefully I won't have much longer to wait.

Thanks to a tip off from S, I also managed to get a head start on the Sambag sale this morning.  With my coffee in one hand and the mouse in the other, I managed to find the flats I needed in the colours I needed.  Plural.  I got shipping confirmation within minutes of my order going through so hopefully I'll be able to show you what I bought very soon.  

We had our Christmas lunch for work this week.  It was on Wednesday and I'm still feeling full today.  I cheated and brought along this sushi platter.  We were thoroughly spoiled though with home made kofta, briyani, rocky road and pavlova amongst many other good things.  I figure that with it being less than a week now until Christmas, having dessert with every meal is perfectly acceptable.

Dress - ASOS, necklace - Red Phoenix Emporium.

My Michelle Obama dress from ASOS refuses to show its age.  No matter how many times I've put it through the washing machine.  I wore it to lunch with my new RPE necklace.

Is this one of the prettiest arrangements of artificial flowers you've ever seen at a garden store?  I was at Flower Power yesterday and almost couldn't leave.  Everything looked so beautiful, even the compost and fertilizer corner looked so inviting I almost imagined myself embarking on a major overhaul of my long neglected front garden.  Almost.  

Have a lovely weekend!  Stay cool, wherever you may be.

Dec 17, 2013

'Real Lives'. InStyle's Orange Pencil Skirt.

I hope Gwyneth's suitably impressed by how I've not defiled her latest InStyle cover by styling it with anything so common as a cup of takeaway coffee or a glass of bubbles.  Which is how I read magazines in real life.  

It's been an interesting time in the domain of celebrity lifestyles with no one being quite what they seem.  I know that this is nothing new but they've been all sorts of sensational revelations about the 'real lives' of Nigella Lawson and Gwyneth Paltrow that are so contradictory to the persona they (and their managers) present to the public.  Objectively, their 'real lives' are no one else's business but their own.  To varying degrees, we're all guilty of a disconnect between how the world sees us and what may be going on in the deeper waters beneath tranquil surface.

Should this matter?  Is it wrong?  I think not.  Sometimes, a little life compartmentalization is the best way to deal with the things in life that are beyond your control or a source of great pain and frustration.  Leaving behind parts of your life when the camera and lights come on (or for you and I, when we hit the daily commute to work or that line at the shops) can be a liberating escape.  To  keep on doing what nourishes and strengthens you through the difficult times is incredibly healing. To not even have that option would be incredibly bleak indeed. 

Oh, that was a bit bleak.  But positive at the same time, I hope?  Don't always get the chance to write mindfully on the blog at the moment.

Skirt - ASOS, T - Emerson (Big W), bangle - Mai Tai Collection, necklace - Red Phoenix Emporium

Getting back to the Gwyneth InStyle.  I have to admit I wasn't very hopeful of finding anything in my price range or remotely wearable despite the promises on the cover.  However, I was happily proven wrong because look at what I found featured in a budget friendly feature?  The perfect orange pencil skirt for summer.  What's more it was from ASOS.  I shut the magazine and went online faster than you could say 'super fast free shipping to Australia' (it really does take that long when you're trying to wrestle the iPad free from your toddler).

I managed to get the skirt for $47 and it arrived yesterday.  I only ordered it early on Friday morning.

Skirts as soft furnishings and peace lilies in the bedroom.  I am sure Gwyneth would approve.

Not only is it great to wear, it doubles as a summer throw for your bedroom furniture.

As an aside, returns are also super easy with ASOS these days.  They have an Australian return address which makes posting less tedious.

I'm not the only person feeling the Santa's Grotto theme for the office.  One of my workmates brought us in these adorable home made meringue trees.  They're so much nicer than the store bought version.

Dec 16, 2013

Monday At Santa's Grotto.

Objectively, how bad can a Monday be when the first thing on your to do list is organizing Christmas gifts?

I've been put in charge of gifts for our department at work this year and it's been a job I've approached with military precision. I've been listing and cross checking lists for weeks now and there isn't a spare inch of floor space in the office which has now been code named Santa's grotto.

I know we're living in the age of Excel spread sheets but they drive me mad. I've not been able to make sense of Excel despite the best intentions of my colleagues. I don't mind the table function in Word but Excel is mind field of weird functions, words that turn into meaningless strings of hash tags and symbols and boxes of text that are too small to fit anything meaningful inside.

Instead, I've got my well thumbed hard copies which are a mish mash of handwritten and typewritten notes, red pen, pencil and highlighter. With a series of crumpled dockets stapled in for good measure. They're all currently housed in a non descript manila folder, just in case anyone else in the office stumbles upon the master copy of the gift list and then manages to decipher my scrawl.

Thank you, Ikea for making gift wrapping such a breeze this year.

Anyway, we're all good now. Thanks to a combination of great, complimentary gift wrapping (Crabtree & Evelyn as well as T2) and some easy but very effective, DIY options (Ikea's Snomys collection, I was done in just over an hour. Which then gave me time to make a start on looking for Toddler SSG's Christmas gifts. Must. Not. Go. Overboard. Must. Be. Age. Appropriate. Those wooden train sets and airports look like so much fun though....

Fed up with my endless whinging about supermarket teabags? I am. So I've decided to make the switch to loose leaf teas. My latest find it T2's Good Morning. It's a strong brew that really puts you in a good frame of mind for the coming day.

My Mix order - a T shirt dress, a maxi dress and the famous ikat pants.

Of course there's been Christmas shopping for me. I've got my Christmas wardrobe sorted thanks to Mix Apparel and their super speedy shipping (ordered crack of dawn Friday, arrived Saturday morning). The theme is blue and white, in case you didn't get the hint from the photo.

Dress - Mix Apparel, necklace - Red Phoenix Emporium.

This is the striped T shirt dress which I wore on Saturday. It retails for $19 but I got it and my entire order at 20% off with free shipping.

I survived Westfield Chastwood yesterday to bring you good news. Yes, we in the North Shore catchment area are to be Zara-ed. I was so excited I'm sure it's the reason I had to ask the concierge for a map of the shopping centre.  That's right, me, the girl who used to be fluent in the international language of shopping centres.  The one who could find the coffee outlets, food courts and stores of interest even in malls whose signage was not predominantly in English.  I don't know who I am anymore.  I obviously need to train up again for 2014's travels.

Anyway, take care and hope your Christmas preparations are getting along nicely.


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