Oct 30, 2015

An Early Summer: Pros and Cons.

Can I have a show of hands for anyone else who wants summer with her soothing, laid back vibe to start work a month early on Monday?

We've officially got a whole month more of spring to go but summer, I'm ready for you to come back into my life right now.  Summer, you always makes everything better for me.  Crazy work days, impossible to do lists for my days off, weekends spent catching up on housework whilst simultaneously getting ready for the coming week....  It's all never quite as overwhelming when you can feel the sun on your bare arms, see a faint tan on your 5 am just out of bed face and drive home under that beautiful golden summer evening sky.

It was the restorative powers of sun, sand and surf that drew Toddler SSG and I to Bondi Beach yesterday.  The promise of going out, a bus ride and a babycino saw Toddler SSG fed, bird bathed and dressed in record time.

And weren't we well rewarded for our efforts?  We arrived at Icebergs just in time for the sun to have taken the chill out of the morning air and it was also that sweet spot of the day before the scorch sets in that makes walking barefoot on the sand or pavement akin to beach side fire walking.

I could just look at this view forever.  I have a little video on my phone of the crashing waves, the surfers and those lazy clouds and it's currently getting more plays on my phone than my doting aunty and mummy video clips.

We were actually at Bondi for Sculptures by the Sea but the logistics of taking Toddler SSG safely through the exhibits were beyond me after our adventures at Icebergs (one spilled babycino just outside the gym and several jail breaks down the stairs to the pool that was closed due to the high waves).

So we went off in search of a barber for Toddler SSG's pre Christmas hair cut.

We found ourselves at Chop Shop which is the funkiest barbers I've ever seen.  But then again, being in Bondi, that's pretty much par for the course.  With its retro barber chairs, a wall of fame featuring male celebrities with iconic hair and kitsch ornaments nestled between hair dryers and combs, it's hard not to feel hip by association simply by setting foot inside.  Oh, and Toddler SSG left with a lovely do as well with 'movement in the sides' while still 'keeping things short, yeah?'.

I've lived in Sydney long enough now to know that October is jacaranda month.  So I'm glad that I finally managed to see the purple blooms  in my new neighbourhood on yesterday's travels. Seeing their vivid colour through leaves and branches and against the sky always makes me smile.  I think I'll have to be careful with what I wish for when it comes to early summers because then I'd miss out on my yearly jacaranda fix completely.

And I'd also miss out on sunflowers too.  This beautiful bunch lit up a communal table at Little Jean during last weekend's Saturday morning coffee and pastry run.

It was a big weekend in food, actually.  We also made it to the night noodle markets.

I know they're technically a night market but we arrived early to accommodate toddler dinner time and also to avoid the evening queues at the stalls.

We found old favourites like xiao long bao

and some new ones like these dishes from Bao Stop.  Toddler SSG was a huge fan of the Peking Duck French Fries while I'm glad I embraced carbs and batter in the shape of my Korean Fried Chicken bao.

For dessert, we waddled over to Miss Dipity's ice cream stall.

Toddler SSG waged a heroic battle with his chocolate soft serve topped with Dutch cocoa rice crisps.  I had no idea chocolate soft serve could travel so far on such a small person.

My dessert of choice was a peanut butter popsicle dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with pretzel pieces.  Just looking back on this photo is making me crave one right now actually.

One of the good things about having dinner at toddler o'clock is that there's still plenty of daylight left over afterwards.  Which you can spend running alongside the water feature in front of St Mary's cathedral.

Or just admiring the cathedral from afar if you're the owner of a slightly older pair of legs.

What else has been happening at SSG HQ lately?

Ah yes, a new Kiehl's release.  I'm a huge fan of their Midnight Recovery Complex aka the miracle oil in the dark blue dropper bottle with gold writing.  There's now a miracle oil for use during the day in a clear dropper bottle with white writing.  It's called Daily Reviving Concentrate and costs $61 for a 30ml bottle.

Looks like I'm all set, skin care wise, for next year's work trips.

I have samples to try thanks to Angela at Bondi Junction who also put me onto the Christmas gift pack version of the face cream I ran out of thereby saving me dollars.

Chemist Warehouse has become my new Priceline.  It's dangerous having one just down the road.  Their ridiculous discounting is just making me spend in order to save....

I'm officially doing Christmas at my place this year.  And I've started catering early with this 32 count carton of Merryteasers from Costco.  They're all you need for dessert (and breakfast) on Christmas day, aren't they?  Besides trifle, I suppose.  I have no idea what mains will be for lunch but rest assured, there will be an epic cheese platter somewhere.

So I did well by bringing snacks on my Costco run (to help me resist the call of the pizza slices and bottomless cups of Pepsi Max) but I couldn't resist the call of this Lucas' PawPaw multi pack.  Or the 30 roll units of 'real' sized toilet paper rolls.

Might splash out for a tray of sushi the next time I'm there.

As well as crossing the road to the new Kmart and Aldi.  You might have to send a search party out for me the next time I do a Costco / Kamrt / Aldi / Woolies run.

Myriam and I are still emailing between Paris and Sydney.  There are new developments in the form of the Anjou which is also reversible but lined with leather rather than fabric.  I have been persuaded and am hoping it won't be too much longer until my bag arrives.

Are you hosting Christmas this year?  Any hot tips for what to serve for lunch?

Does summer make everything better for you too?

Have a lovely weekend.

Oct 23, 2015

Friday Frocks and Fragrance. Right Hand Rings.

You know you're in for a lovely easing into the weekend kind of Friday when The Daily Mail provides you with some superior 'What Kate Wore' photos.


The Duchess has been making the fashion front page this week with outfits she's worn for public engagements commemorating the UK visit of President Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan.  My favourite of her two most talked about looks is this lace dress by Dolce and Gabbana.  It's the colour I'm loving the most.  It's an unusual choice for lace dresses these days which heightens the impact of what looks like a run of the mill (if D&G could ever be accused of being 'run of the mill') formal frock to make a statement whilst playing it relatively safe.

Kate favourite, Jenny Packham, created this red gown for the formal State Dinner to welcome the Chinese president and his wife.  I don't know.  It's just plain old safe to me.  I haven't seen a full length photo of the dress, though, but I'm just feeling 'safe' from what I've seen.  Purposely so, I suppose, given that the dress is in competition with that beautiful family Lotus tiara and some pretty spectacular arm parties.  Best not to try too hard when you're bound to compete unsuccessfully against the power of the rock.


Speaking of jewels, I've just successfully placed an order with Blue Nile and it was such a lovely experience, I thought I'd briefly discuss it today.  Buying myself a right hand ring has been on my bucket list for quite a while now.  But I've never quite been able to justify it before now.  Then I turned forty, managed to achieve some personal goals and in the process found myself both more resilient and in a better place than where I was even a year ago.  If all of the above wasn't enough reason to 'treat yoself' as my friend C is wont to advise and encourage me, then I don't know what is.

So treat myself I did with a piece from Blue Nile.  As luck would have it, Blue Nile recently ran a 15% off promotion so in a case of right time, right place, I placed an order for a ring similar to the one pictured above.  I'm going to spare you photos of my new bling because my career as a hand model is officially over before it even began.  Veins, saggy bits and weird discolouration from the veins and work related injuries have left me with hands that no amount of photoshop could transform.  And yes, there's no point posting a ring action shot if the photo makes everything featured look like crap.  Maybe I'm being too hard on myself.  Aren't hands notoriously difficult to photograph?  Or was that draw?

I went with Blue Nile because of their solid reputation online and the ease of communicating with them from Australia.  More importantly, they had what I was looking for without the sting of paying for a brand name or trademarked design.  I found their site very easy to navigate and that all the information I needed about various ring options was clearly explained.  They also have a service where you can order plastic ring sizers to help you decide what size to order.

With regards to shipping, Blue Nile give you the option of paying taxes (namely the good old Australian GST) through an affiliate firm.  I prepaid the tax and had no hold ups with my purchase through Australian customs.  It took four days for my order to arrive and I'm so delighted with my ring that I've worn it with my pyjamas, whilst doing the housework and when I'm supposed to be wearing it - out and about.

Included in the parcel (along with sturdy dark blue presentation and storage boxes) is a valuation certificate.  It's not an independent valuation from what I could see but it was in Australian dollars and was a dollar value about a third more than what I paid.  I haven't bought jewelry in Australia so I'm not sure if this price difference is standard practice or not.  Perhaps a reader might like to clarify in comments.

So, all in all, I'm a very happy customer.  Long live the right hand ring!  And I hope this review has been of help to you if you were considering a Blue Nile purchase.

As we inch ever closer to the weekend, I'm keeping an eye on the weather forecast and hoping that my opening my bottle of Beach Walk yesterday is a good omen for the weekend weather. This was a purchase from Sephora on my trip to New York this past June.  I'm not sure if it's available in our Australian stores.

Toddler SSG and I felt like we were part of Noah's ark yesterday as we pottered around the house while the rains fell all day.  From puzzles to DVDs and from books to colouring in, we managed to fill our day but we'd rather be out at the Night Noodle Markets this Saturday if the weather permits.

Do you wear a right hand ring?  Is yours attached to a memorable period of your life?

Oct 21, 2015

New Furniture. My New Size Zero Toilet Paper Rolls.

Don't you love the problems that this time of year brings to one's workplace?

It's been such a great blueberry season so far this year that Toddler SSG and I have become used to having them as part of our regular fruit rotation at home.  I don't remember local blueberries ever being as abundant, well priced and all round delicious as they have been this year.  The only hitch is trying to eat a punnet that you just ducked the road to buy at work.  You know how it is with work issue paper towels.  It doesn't matter how many you use, they never seem to blot as well as the roll you have at home on the kitchen bench.  And there's never a spare, clean colander  in the cupboard with which to drain your berries either.  But I got there in the end without flooding the kitchen or ruining the office carpet.

I got a bit touristy again yesterday on my day off.  I went for a swim at Cooke + Phillip on College Street.  Taking the bus in from home is actually the least stressful and most cost effective way for me to get to the pool, I've decided.  It also has the added advantage of giving my pilgrimage to the lap pool an air of adventure as I share the bus with people dressed for the beach and older locals immaculately dressed for a day out at the museums and galleries in the city.

The pool's cafe does a superior skinny cap that comes with free friendly service.  There aren't that many places in the CBD where you can kick back with a $3.80 large coffee as you sit among poolside deckchairs with the steeples of St Mary's Cathedral soaring heavenward above you.

Coincidentally, my bus stop for the ride home doubles as one for the hop on and hop off bus tour of Sydney and Bondi.  It's hard not to feel a little foot loose and fancy free when you're surrounded by people committed to having a good time despite the peak hour congestion.

Back at SSG Manor 2.0, the oddly angled corner of my bedroom has finally found its purpose thanks to this Albero coat stand and ladder shelf from Mocka.  Priced at $89.95 each, they've created storage and order in an area of my room I've been struggling to make good use of.  All you need to assemble the coat stand is an Allan key (included in the box) and a Phillips head screwdriver for the shelving.  I didn't find either too hard to assemble on my own but I did have trouble getting the front edges of the shelves to screw in tightly.  But it was nothing a little Blu Tak at the end of the screw couldn't fix and the shelves have stood up to my piling perfume bottles and other bits and pieces on them without collapsing.

My eyes weren't deceiving me at the shops on Saturday, after all, our toilet paper rolls really have been downsized.  I was thinking that the multipacks on display were looking a little size zero bony (without any accompanying price reduction) and the disparity became even more obvious when I was restocking the cupboards this morning.

Look at them!!  My new lot are around two thirds the size of the roll from the last batch I bought at Costco.  I'm not sure what to make of this.  I know it was really actually 'good for us' when chocolate and chips started being sold in smaller serves but toilet paper?  It hadn't ever crossed my mind to think about whether I should be cutting back on the toilet paper....

What's your take on the shrinking of Australia's toilet paper rolls?  Is it better for the environment?  Will is help Kleenex maintain their profit margins?  Should we make do with less?  Is this a sign that I have to hit up Costco for loo rolls next week?

Oct 19, 2015

The Weekend's Spontaneity.

That first weekend you make it to after working the previous one is always a special one.

With a full fortnight of work behind you, the hunger and need for your customary Saturday morning coffee and pastry at a favourite local cafe seem more pressing than usual.

But best of all, having the days of your weekend free opens up precious time to play.  I'm quickly becoming an expert at express Duplo assembly.  And together, Toddler SSG and I have put out quite a few imaginary Duploland fires in the loungeroom this weekend.  You'll be happy to know that there's a large kettle and a comfy bed at the station and that's where we leave our fire crew each night before bed.

Toddler SSG and I also managed a collective personal best in the weekend television stakes.  We lasted a whole 2 hours on Sunday morning before I 'had' to turn on Peppa so that I could run off and have a shower.  As you can see from the photo above, it did see me pull out the big guns in toddler entertainment.  We were eating 'toast and butter and strawberry jam' paper cut outs while mummy drank her 'very hot cup of tea'.

Gardening experts, if it's not true that fresh lawn clippings act as a mulch and natural weed repellant on a lawn, I don't want to know...

I bet this is a photo you'd never thought you'd see on my blog.  A lawnmower propelled by yours truly.  But it's happened.  My lawn at SSG Manor 2.0 is so tiny that I don't see many gardeners being terribly keen to add me to their books.  So I picked up Aldi's (naturally) manual lawn mower the other week with mum and so far, we've managed to give the lawn a going over once a week.

If I'd known how easy they are to use, I'd have bought a trimmer ages ago and gone DIY on my lawn well before now.  Better late than never, I suppose.

While we were outdoors, Todder SSG and I bedazzled our council bins with metallic number labels.  I could only find five at the hardware store this time which means I have to go back in a few weeks to get another four for the sides of the bin currently missing their sticker.

With everything unpacked and in its place at SSG Manor 2.0, spare moments during the day have been put to uses more pleasurable than the tidying, storing and fixing.  One of life's simpler joys has got to be looking out the your bedroom window and onto the calm leafyness of the street you can now finally call (and feel as if it is) home.

Other spare moments of the weekend went to making my first bulk batch of bolognese in my new kitchen.  Toddler SSG was on hand to stir the cold liquids together and also to precisely measure out the two cups of peas he felt the sauce needed but that he was also definitely knew he wasn't going to eat.  As the sauce simmered away in the slow cooker, we were treated to giggles and toothless grins from my Sydney nephew who visited with my brother and sister in law.

With the hard work of the day done and portions of my bolognese and fried rice packed away for the drive home in my sister in law's car, it was time to go up the road for a bit of a relax in the afternoon sun.  Our days of a cheeky Sunday afternoon beverage well behind us, we shared a round of coffees and freshly squeezed orange juice as watchful eyes gazed over the baby and the toddler.

Here's to those special moments with special people that just happen spontaneously.

Oct 16, 2015

Simplifying Life. Recent Reads.

I'm in the process of a subscription declutter.  You know the services, memberships and mailing lists that you sign up for with the idea that all that joining is going to make your life that much easier?  Only they don't.  And you end up not only not needing what you signed up for but then have to go through the process of getting yourself off lists and your credit card details off automatic deduction plans.

The cull this time wasn't as tedious as it has been in previous years.  Must be a sign that I'm getting to know my own lifestyle a little better each year.  The most embarrassing deletion this year was for apple Music.  Which I joined mainly because I wanted to get iTunes to work on my new phone but with my old playlists.  It's embarrassing because to this day, I have no idea what apple Music actually is.  Despite having paid for a monthly subscription for it.  If you know, would you mind providing an explanation in comments?  Thanks a million.

The subscription that wins MVP for this year for me, at least, is joining Westfield's ticketless parking service.  Can you imagine?  No more panicking about whether you put your parking ticket in your phone case, your wallet, the back pocket of your jeans, somewhere on the pram or in your toddler's hand (that last option is always doomed to expensive failure and will often see you paying for a whole day's parking on account of a lost ticket).  Registering your licence plate number and credit card details means that any payment is automatically taken care off on exit at the boom gate.  You also get free SMS messages recording your time of entre.

So far, the system seems to be going off without too many glitches.  Unless you've tried to claim free parking twice in one day (you get charged from the moment you enter the second time around) or if you are driving a non registered car (just enter your rego at the pay station or drive straight through to exit if your stay is less than 2 hours).

All of which leaves you more neurones and cortex to to store information like where exactly you parked and where you can find a great value sushi train.

I'm not sure I can help much with the former but for the latter ... Sushi Rio next to Coles should hit the spot.  It's $3.50 per plate ($7 for sashimi) and cash only.

In the spirit of my year long Festival of Forty, I've started to make some changes to my makeup routine.  My new mantra is simple and SPF.  Using three products as a base every morning is definitely not simple and even if I added up the SPF in each individual product, I still don't think I'd get much more than a mild and useless (in the Australian context) SPF of 12.

Which is why I've switched to MAC Prep+Prime BB.  At $42 a tube, it might sound pricey but that's not far off what the total cost of my DIY regime cost.  Prep+Prime BB is a game changer for me.  It's the first high SPF product that I've used that doesn't cake on my skin.  It also has a surprisingly easy to blend texture to it, with the consistency of a liquid foundation rather than the more pasty versions of competitor brands that I've struggled with in the past for the sake of a decent SPF.

MAC's Rome store shown for illustrative purposes today but who knows, one day?
As an added bonus for going instore to buy my makeup in real life (as opposed to guestimating my shade online to save a few dollars), I came away with a bonus beauty tip with my purchase.  The makeup artist assisting me taught me this trick for applying liquid concealer to the under eye area.  For better coverage, apply a think line of concealer down the side of your nose starting at the inner eye.  Take the line down to above your lip and then take it up and out.   You should end up with a two sided triangle.  Blend out with your brush and there you are - subtly concealed and contoured with the one product.

The planets for reading seem to have aligned in my life recently so I have a few books to share if you were thinking of something easy but absorbing to curl up with this weekend.

'Prick With A Fork' is Melbourne based food critic, Larissa Dubecki's memoir of her life as a cynical and somewhat defeated waitress.  It's an especially fascinating read if you're a Melburnian yourself as I'm sure you'll be able to appreciate Dubecki's scathing observations on local hot spots and suburbs.  I found the first few chapters hard going, the astute observations all came with a thick coating of bitter that was almost too effective in cutting through the wit.  I was actually in a pretty 'over it all, really' frame of mind when I started reading and would've thought that my ambient level of cynicism would have helped but it actually didn't.

I don't know what changed by the time I'd made it a third of the way through, it might have been my mood or Dubecki's or possibly both of ours but I'm glad I persevered.  'Prick With A Fork' covers familiar territory with regard to the ruthlessness of the restaurant industry but it does so with some highly memorable and unique cautionary tales with a distinctly Australian flavour.

'Pretty Baby' is Mary Kubica's new release, hot on the tails of the best selling 'The Good Girl' which I've reviewed previously.  I've just found a beautifully written review for 'Pretty Baby' on the NPR website and I'm linking here for your reference.

Briefly, 'Pretty Baby' explores the lives of social worker Heidi and Willow, an apparently homeless young mother.  A passionate 'do-gooder' who lives a comfortable life in Chicago, Heidi becomes so moved and intrigued by the pitiful sight of Willow and her baby at the train station that she engineers another meeting with Willow and eventually invites her and her baby to share the apartment Heidi shares with her husband and a sullen teenage daughter.

In true domestic noir fashion, neither woman is exactly as they seem.  Willow seems strangely detached from mothering her baby girl and as the novel progresses, we step back into the traumatic years as a foster child that seem to have made Willow the person she is today.  Heidi, on the other hand, seems to have more than a professional interest in helping Willow with the baby.  We discover Heidi's personal tragedy with the loss of a baby through still birth and also that Heidi has been secretly hoarding baby clothes for an imaginary daughter.

For me, the suspense of 'Pretty Baby' lies in trying to unravel Willow's past life and what precipitated the double murder she was implicated in.  But it's a challenging task when faced with distractions of Heidi's present day life with her husband Chris and his constant travelling for work which comes with all sorts of distractions that Heidi tries not to be suspicious about.

As I wrote in my review of 'The Good Girl', I'm a solid fan of Kubica's fast paced writing and her clever twisting of plots, time  frames and situations.  Here's hoping that novel number three is on the way soon.

'The Luckiest Girl Alive' by Jessica Knoll follows in the line of recent 'Girl' best sellers (Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train to name a couple) but don't let that mislead you into thinking that you've already read all you've ever wanted to about girls with long shadows and dark secrets in their lives.  Jessica Knoll is herself a former senior editor at Comsmopolitan and there are rumours that Reese Witherspoon has bought the film rights to the novel so there's pedigree and form right there.

Ani is 'The Luckiest Girl Alive'.  She works for a fashion magazine and lives in Manhattan and came from humble but aspirational roots outside of the borough.  Through sheer will, self discipline and perhaps a touch of a personality disorder, Ani has transformed herself from the Tiffani of her youth.  Ani's body has been chiselled to perfection at the gym and through an extreme diet.  Her wardrobe is a study in single digit sized  clothes that give her the style of a socialite with old money that she aspires to be.  And she hasn't got far to go in reaching her dream - a high society wedding to a 'catch' is only months away.

But Jessica Knoll obviously loves a challenge because Ani's story isn't just about living the dream with perfect hair, nails and wardrobe.  Ani's a little troubled and who she is now seems to be a response to a number of traumas she experienced at high school.  Her gang rape is revealed fairly early in the novel but there's also something else she survived that she is still trying to reconcile in her jumpy and at times bitterly cruel mind.

As hateful as Ani is (she delighted once in leaning on her green pen as she talked to a coworker standing at her desk so that the pen would inch across the desk and slowly stain that coworker's white linen skirt), you find yourself continuing to read because of her.  For all the hateful things she says and does, there are moments when she surprises you and stands up to defend the innocent or the underdog.  You read on because you both want to read more of these moments but also to discover if Ani finally finds the resolution (or should that be revenge) she seeks in adult life after the traumas of her teenage years.

Reese has some excellent material in 'The Luckiest Girl Alive'  with which to produce her next film with.  I wonder who she will cast as Ani?


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