Apr 30, 2016

This and That On A Saturday Night.


Bedtime was early tonight.  The house is quiet in the nicest possible sense of the word.  And I appear to be on top of the laundry and cleaning for a change.  Possibly because I've turned a blind eye to quite  a few things but possibly not.  I'm going with the latter tonight.  

It was one of those hectic weeks and by Friday night, all I really wanted to do was have a Dr Oetker spinach pizza topped with basil from my herb pot, tomato and some extra cheese for dinner.  So I did.

Overjoyed to have been able to really taste my coffee this morning!  So glad to be seeing the back of you, annoying autumnal head cold.

Preschooler SSG and I stepped out this morning to celebrate my first day of feeling like a full member of the human race since I caught some kind of cold last weekend.  There are lots of things that are annoying about getting older and busier but the worst is how long it takes me to get over those simple bugs you get every year as the seasons change.  To go from being totally over one in three days to still struggling after six really sucks.  Especially when you've got twice as much to be adult about now as you did back then.  It's also ironic given the number of vitamins and superfoods that make up my 'so now I'm forty' diet.

My newly healthy self cooled her hiking shoed heels at the edge of Westfield's play equipment after lunch today as Preschooler SSG did preschooler HIIT for half an hour (mostly) within its boundaries.  There was a brief interlude on the Wiggles ride but $2 later, he was back suspending himself on the pyramid cushions and tearing up the steps.

Back at SSG Manor 2.0, my trusty cherry red Le Creuset casserole made an appearance on the stove for another batch of Jamie Oliver's Brown Windsor soup.  When you're cooking with your best pot, sipping your afternoon cuppa from a bit of Wedgwood really is the only way to do it.  I received this mug from a beautiful friend a couple of years ago and while its too beautiful to be used everyday, it's also too beautiful to spend its years in its box on a shelf for safe keeping.  I usually have my breakfast cup of tea in it and it's such a beautiful way to start the day both on account of the mug and also the memories I have of my friend.

I found myself a bit of a gift to self in my wardrobe this afternoon.  This LUSH gift set was an extra from my Christmas present shopping last year and it has been sitting in my wardrobe ever since.

The soap is called 'Respect Your Elders' and now that I'm an elder and a mother, I think it's rather fitting that it now graces the soap dish in my shower.  Alongside a cake of ARCONA's kiwi cream bar cleanser.  Between the two, I'm certain I'll be able to fight all my visible signs of ageing one shower at a time.

It's been a while since I've used LUSH soap and I'd forgotten how much fun they are.  'Respect Your Elders' contains elderflower, bergamot, buchu and olibanum.  It has a soothing smell that's neither sweet or musky.  I also love the deep purple colour and the peeks of elderflower blossoms through the soap.


I'm bringing the Rose Jam shower gel with me on my next big adventure.  Don't know where the time has gone but it is now only 38 days until I leave for New Orleans.  I've been looking forward to the trip for so long.  Getting on that plane and being unreachable for 20 hours has been a carrot dangling in front of me through crazy days at work and challenging moments in the preschoolerdome.  But now that it so close, I'm beginning to miss this crazy juggling act and the way it constantly tests the boundaries I thought I had in every aspect of my life.

That was a bit left of field.  Don't know quite how that paragraph relates to the first sentence about the shower gel but yay, major trip shower gel decision made.

Besides finding the official shower gel of New Orleans 2016, the other big decision for me was what to do about phones an SIM cards whilst away.  I did try a Telstra travel data pack for a trip once before but it annoyingly didn't work at my destination.  Fortunately, Telstra were good enough to refund me the cost.

Having a local SIM in Singapore was so convenient that I decided to do the same for the US and have just ordered  US SIM from Telaway.  It's prepaid, data is included with unlimited calls and SMS to Australia.  You also get to keep your Australian number with this SIM.  For my trip of 10 days, the SIM cost $59 USD and will be mailed to me in Australia so I can set it up from the airport.  Fingers crossed it all works.

Do you have a favourite mug?  Is there a story behind it?

Have you tried prepaid SIM cards for travel in the US?

Apr 29, 2016

The Weeknight Book Club: 'A Mother's Story' by Rosie Batty with Bryce Corbett.

"I have joined a club, a club that nobody ever wants to join.
How on Earth, when you become one of these tragedies — these worse-case scenario tragedies — how do you live with murder?"
'A Mother's Story' - Rosie Batty
“Violence towards anyone, man, woman or child, is never acceptable and never the right choice. It is similarly not okay. As the Australian of the Year, I’m committed to building greater campaigns to educate and challenge community attitudes. I am on a path to expose family violence and to ensure that victims receive the respect, support and safety that they deserve. And to Luke, my little man, you did not die in vain and will not be forgotten. You are beside me on this journey and with me every step of the way. Thank you.”
The concluding paragraph of Rosie Battie's speech on accepting the honour of Australian of the Year 2015.

For readers who may not be familiar with Rosie's story, she is a tireless crusader against family violence a well as our 2015 Australian of the Year.  Rosie's identity to the wider public came as a consequence of the most tragic and devastating circumstances.  On February 12 2014, Rosie Batty stood 50 metres away from the cricket ground where her 11 year old son Luke was killed by his father Greg Anderson.  Greg Anderson later died in hospital after being shot at the scene by police.

I started reading Rosie Batty's memoir 'A Mother's Story' with both curiousity and apprehension.  How does a mother even begin to be able to put down on paper the painful nightmares of both an abusive long term relationship and the violent death of her son at the hands of her former partner?  Would the memories be too confronting and too graphic?  How would I relate to her story as mother and as a woman?

I've come away from reading 'A Mother's Story' with even more admiration and respect for Rosie than I had before knowing her and Luke's story.  It must have been incredibly difficult but also a testament to the good person that Rosie is to keep her discussion of Greg and his severe mental health and personality issues on a respectful and factual tone.  Rosie writes with such a warm and engaging voice it was somehow 'easy' but also jarring to read about the violence she and Luke suffered at Greg's hands.

In her memoir, Rosie provides an insight into how her childhood may have shaped the romantic relationships she found herself in as an adult.  She remembers being a young child in denial about her mother's death for several months in the hope that there had been a case of mistaken identities at the hospital.  She also remembers her stoic and somewhat distant father doing his best without his wife before eventually marrying a lovely woman who provided stability, boundaries and routine for Rosie, her brother and then a stepbrother she came to love with a passion.

Restless legs and a desire to see more of the world saw Rosie leave the family farm in rural England for adventures around the world and finally a working holiday in Australia that extended itself due to her love of the place and its people.  In Australia, Rosie begins to understand some of the issues within herself surrounding marriage and men as she navigated the dating scene.  The failed relationships each served as learning experiences for Rosie and she was always able to end things and move on.  Until she met Greg.

Outwardly, Greg Anderson appeared a departure from the 'type' Rosie was learning to avoid.  He had good prospects, presented himself well and for a short time, their relationship was romantic and filled with the good things about being a couple.  It didn't take long, though, for the veneer to chip away as more than one of Rosie's friends advised her to be rid of him.  Inappropriate comments, menacing behaviour and an obsession and misinterpreted perceptions of organized religion made many people around Rosie feel uncomfortable in his presence.  Greg appeared to have a temper as brittle as kindling, delusions as to his self worth and ability as well as an impressively sized sense of entitlement.  He wasn't able to hold down jobs and it was always someone else's fault when he lost a job.

With the benefit of hindsight, we'd all run away from the Gregs of the world but something made Rosie stay.  A sense that she could somehow rescue him from his failings.  And then the news that she was pregnant with his child.

As the pregnancy progressed, so too did Greg's descent into permanent unemployment, fits of abuse and intimidation and periods of what sound like psychosis with hallucinations and feelings of paranoia.  Rosie realised that she'd be raising their child on her own and gladly made plans contingent on this.  She also hoped to give their child the chance to get to know their father.  There was a point when she could have moved back to England with the baby to live with her family but fear and a hope that things would change kept her in Australia.  It was also hard for her to give up the life she had created for herself.

Despite all his issues, Greg knew that Rosie and Luke were important to him.  Luke represented his legacy to the world and Rosie a meal ticket.  It was in his best interests to keep them both on a short leash and under his control because as the man he'd now deteriorated into, it was really unlikely he'd be an attractive proposition to anyone else.  In addition to violence, his tools were a cunning mix of working the legal system, playing up to the police when they attempted to arrest him and playing to Rosie's emotions as he called her to pick him up from train stations and to give him a place to sleep at night.  For Rosie, it was much easier to give in and keep some kind of peace for the sake of Luke.

But as Luke grew older, his initial adoration of his father gave way to suspicion and embarrassment.  Greg would often meet Luke at cricket practice having slept rough in his car overnight.  He'd then proceed to offer religious sermons to other parents.  He was rarely violent to Luke but would insinuate all sorts of untrue and inappropriate things about Rosie's relationship with him.  

Yet Greg was also a help to Rosie as she tried to provide everything she could for Luke in a financial sense.  Greg would share pick ups and drop offs, he'd help around the property.  Isolated in Australia, Rosie was somewhat dependent on Greg and it was something Greg used to his advantage.

Luke and Rosie were offered respite from Greg during his spells in communes and monasteries.  Rosie finding herself in a long term relationship also seemed to deter Greg.  Unsurprisingly, though, he eventually sabotaged that relationship leaving Rosie again vulnerable to him.

The lead up to Luke's murder represented a time where perhaps Greg realised that his grasp on his son and former partner was rapidly weakening.  They just didn't need nor want him in their lives. Court orders and other family law matters were frustratingly slow to enact and Greg just wouldn't engage with the process.  The police seemed powerless to protect Rosie and Luke because firm evidence of an immediate threat from Greg was always just out of their line of sight.

So the inevitable happened.  Greg took his revenge on Rosie by killing Luke and leaving Rosie to live the rest of her life grieving and suffering.  While that was his intention and Rosie did and will still grieve, her life has been given new purpose and meaning to advocate for those who have suffered through family violence.

The fall out from Luke's death shattered Rosie but also forced her to rebuild herself into a woman determined to not let Luke's death to have been in vain.  Along the way, Rosie looked clung to the 'small mercies'.  That though so physically close to the murder scene, her back was turned at the time of Luke's death.  That Luke would have died almost instantly during the attack.  That Greg also died shortly afterwards.

'A Mother's Story' left me inspired.  It's the kind of book that makes you reflect upon your own life.  To find the small mercies, to continue finding the courage and energy to live fearlessly and to not live with regret.  To Rosie's way of thinking, regret over decisions made in the past do nothing to change what has actually happened.  And flawed as some of those decisions may have been, they did bring a beautiful person into the world.  His time on earth was too short but his memory will live on forever within his mother as she continues her work because of him and the other hims and hers who need her voice to speak for them.

More information about The Luke Batty Foundation can be found here.

Apr 28, 2016

That One Time I Bought An LA Based, Vanity Fair Endorsed Skincare Brand From Sephora In Singapore: A Review and A Memory Revisited.

I've got a holiday skincare find to share with you today.  So if you're ready for the backstory then the brand history and then a bit of a review, sit back and let the words wash over you.

I love discovering skincare brands that just work from the moment you first use them.  It's especially rewarding when you stumble upon the brand whilst on holiday (as opposed to having it been sold hard at you).  Without the hard sell, it seems easier to be both objective and realistic in what the products may or may not be doing to your skin.  It's pretty much testing the products blind and, I have to admit, something I've not done in a very long time.

The place was Ngee Ann City, Singapore.  And the date March 8 2016.  I remember it all so well.
I was doing the most logical thing you can do on Orchard Road when the heavens suddenly decided to open upon its gleaming buildings and perfect sidewalks.  I went indoors and underground and lost myself in the seemingly endless eating and shopping options that are your average mall on Orchard.  Sephora is always a good place to start when you've hours to spend just browsing.

I actually did have something in mind to look for at Sephora.  I'd travelled just a little too light for this trip and was short on cleanser and toner.  I was looking for something hopefully in a travel size and sold as a duo.  This set by ARCONA fit the bill and I found it near the cashiers in the travel sized goodies displayed much like the way chocolate is presented at your average checkout at Coles or Woolies.

I used the white tea cleanser and raspberry toner that night and felt an immediate difference in my skin.  It felt smoother and more plumped out.  I also noticed that all my makeup was removed as well.  I was tempted to put it down to new product euphoria but strangely, the effect seemed to continue each time I used my 'Glow & Go' duo.

I was almost sad when I got home to Sydney from Singapore.  Not just because our holidays were over but because it meant that my new skincare finds would be packed away until my next trip.

Curious about just what and who ARCONA is, I started doing a bit of research into the brand.


ARCONA is a skincare brand founded by the late Arcona Devan.  The Arcona Studio is a day spa in Santa Monica that looks like heaven and is apparently much loved by all at Vanity Fair.  The success of ARCONA's products was initially spread purely by word of mouth but these days, its products are stocked all over the world.  Outside of the original Studio, online retailers seem to be the most accessible way to purchase.  In Australia, Sense stocks the range however the official ARCONA site has an online shop that delivers worldwide.  Independent retailers that stock ARCONA boast an impressive number of customer reviews praising the effect of ARCONA on their skin.  Interestingly, Sephora does not seem to stock the full ARCONA range despite stocking the travel duo.

Much is said about the ethos of skincare brands, their unique selling points, which celebrities consider them oxygen and all manner of impressive and seemingly 'scientific' benefits as demonstrated by positive looking graphs and percentages.  To most people though, I think what matters is that products work for them.  Other criteria that may be of relevance include whether the way the range is made stands in line with their personal beliefs about animal testing and also the exclusion of particular ingredients.  Cost is also a big factor and I admit that ARCONA is not cheap.  If ordering from a US retailer, postage is often around $50USD for an order of five or so items.

ARCONA describes its products as being 'high quality, luxury formulations and their unparalleled ability to make a positive change to the skin'.  The products are 'scientifically tested' according to the website and no statement is made specifically about any testing that may occur on animals.  There are no petrochemicals, binders or fillers in the range.  There are detailed ingredient listings for each product on the website.

I started my proper, back home in Sydney ARCONA trial with a travel sized set of The Basic Five for dry skin.  From Sense, the set cost $158 with a discount running at the time of my order.  The average size of each item was 15ml.  I've been using the set for a week and have barely made a dent on any of it.

A few photos of how the set is presented.

Included with the set is a routine to guide you on the use of The Five.

I'm always up for something new with a skincare regime.  This is the first time I've ever seen a seven day prescription rotating the way products are used each day so I was intrigued from the moment I opened the box.

Then I spent a few minutes identifying each of The Five on the schedule and mentally figuring out how it was all going to work each morning and evening.

I've stuck the treatment plan on the inside of my bathroom cabinet for safe keeping and easy reference.

And my tube of Golden Grain Gommage features a complete set of Preschooler sized toothmarks down one side.  As it should.  The Gommage is a mechanical exfoliator with corn, oats and glycolic acid making up some of its key ingredients.

The Kiwi Cream Bar comes in a solid plastic screw top jar that would travel well.  It doesn't feel like soap at all on my face even though that's what is looks like.  It just feels like a very effective but gentle cleanser.

Initial impressions

  • Solid, practical packaging with clear instructions for the way each item is to be used.
  • A little goes a long way, which is handy given the price point.
  • While no fragrances are added, many of the products have a unique scent.  Nothing overpowering but Desert Mist for example, smells like toffee to me.
  • I was surprised at how 'thin' in texture the serums and moisturisers were.  I'm so used to slathering on heavy creams and oils onto my skin thinking that they'd be more effective on my dry skin that it took a leap of faith to follow the ARCONA regime and not add any of my other potions and lotions on top of it all.
  • No breakouts, skin peeling or allergic reactions so far.
  • No issues with using makeup over these products (i.e. slippage, greasiness or dry patches).
  • The Basic Five doesn't include a toner or eye creams, items I've been using out of habit for a very long time.  I'm not sure if I even need them with The Five but I may try ARCONA versions with a future order and report back.
  • I like that the regimen is quick and easy (one you get the hang of what to use at what time of the day).  No waiting around for masks to do their thing.  No fancy brushes or other bits of equipment.

Differences I've noticed from before using ARCONA

  • It just feels smoother and firmer.
  • I have a glow - despite being in the throes of a cold and a sleep deficit.
  • Makeup sits better on my skin.

It's probably overcalling it but since I've starting using ARCONA:

I've handled four hair elastics on my wrist level of busyness days (i.e. 11/10 busy) days with hardly any of the stress registering on my face.

I've looked so ageless in the face that someone thought this outfit was my school uniform from way back in the day.

And I've been embracing the LA love of clean eating with Passion.  These Roasted Wild Seaweed Flakes from Costco are amazing with brown rice dressed sushi style, by the way.

They have a lovely flavour and a bit of toasted white sesame in them.  Make them number one on the list for your next Costco run.  A carton contains 4 sachets and each sachet has eight serves, I've equated one serve to be used per one cup of cooked rice.  I might be wrong but it's working for me.

Close of up the sushi flakes.  Sorry about the lighting.  Was 6am or something when I was making my rice up.
This was my production line of Cookie and Kate's Veggie Sushi Bowls being made for future lunches this morning.

What's news with you in the skincare stakes?

Apr 26, 2016

The Hair Drying Chair. The Ladies At the Pool.

This possibly might not come as a surprise to you but I don't really 'style' or 'curate' the pictures I take of things I've bought for or done to SSG Manor 2.0.  Things get purchased, their packaging gets removed, most of their sticky labels get peeled off (provided they're easy peel, if they're not, most of the sticker remains where it is until it falls off from natural causes) and their surfaces get wiped down with a disinfecting wipe.  Then bingo, new item gets positioned where its needed in the house and bingo we can all move on with the rest of our lives.

Powder coated metal stool from Target. $29 each but there's an offer at the moment where you can buy a pair for $49.  Available in black and white.  And yes, the price sticker comes off easily.

And this, readers, is a case in point.  Meet my new hair drying stool from Target.

Technically its a bar stool but we're plain talking here at the manor so a hair drying stool it is.  Life is so hectic for all of us these days and that luxurious soak in the bath with a glass of wine and a good book all working mothers are meant to gift themselves after the children have been put to bed has its roots more in fantasy that any reality of mine.  A hair drying stool is a more attainable luxury for me.  It's hard not to feel a bit special when you've perched yourself on a comfy stool and tucked your feet wherever takes your fancy as you wave your dryer around your head and let your mind drift off to the tune of its loud white noise.

I'm having a chuckle at my own expense now because I think I've just written my own contribution to Coulda shoulda woulda's blog series Chairs and Their Anthropmorphic Personas.  The Target interpretation of iconic furniture designs - the chair an acquaintance of yours might own because her off duty world is all about mum jeans, hiking shoes, dryer friendly clothing and surfaces which can be cleaned at a pinch by antiseptic wipes.  

I'm sure the luxury of a sturdy white stool is what prompted Ariana Grande to pose as above for an album cover.

It's been all about the whimsical thoughts in my mind as the rest of me went about doing what had to be done.

I was at the pool this morning.  Not the actual pool above but another one, designed for a wider audience.  What they both have in common is lots of windows with natural light pouring through them and a few artfully placed palm trees poolside.

And it struck me.  One thing I'd like to do with all my time when I get to retire.  I'd like to be a lady retiree who gets to the pool to do her laps a few times a week.

I met a few of these ladies this morning and they're an absolute delight to be around.  There was a cheery greeting for every one of of us who entered the change room after them.  There was the latest gossip about their skirt chasing male friends.  There was the insightful analysis of the personality traits of their more dysfunctional siblings.  There was much happiness expressed at how easy life was when living alone and all you had to do was please yourself or host an adult grandchild, niece or nephew every so often.

Conversations were carried on between shower stalls.  Bits and pieces were efficiently packed into bags before being tucked into wheelie cases and with a cloud of talcum powder and a hearty 'see you next week, girls' they were off with a spring in their step and a bounce in their sensibly cut but youthful bobs.  And those smiles.  Those genuine smiles of women living life and enjoying it together.  Love your work, girls.

What's that little thing you do for yourself after the rest of the house has gone to bed?

Is there anything you can see yourself doing (already) when you're retired and have all those hours in the day to live just for you?

Apr 25, 2016

ANZAC Day 2016: An Informal But Heartfelt Remembrance.

I wasn't as active in this year's ANZAC Day commemorations as I normally like to be.  Even if I'm not at any of the programmed services or marches on the day, I'm usually able to be part of the dawn service via the radio or television but it wasn't to be this year.  I had a moment to reflect and give thanks in prayer at dawn thanks to a pre dawn courtesy / wake up call from work (they're good like that) before getting dressed and organised for the day ahead.  But it wasn't quite the same without the sombre dignity of the long bugler playing the Last Post.

Then I got to work and had another moment to pause up on the ninth floor as I looked out at this view over the rooftops of university colleges old and new.  In decades past, there were men who lived at these colleges.  Men whose lives and destinies were changed by the world wars.  I don't think there's a corner of Australia where its possible to forget the selfless sacrifices made so that we may lead our lives in a nation of peace, freedom and unity.  I will never forget and I will forever be grateful.

I attended one of the final ANZAC Day parades whose route took in George Street way back in 2014.

This is what George Street looks like on ANZAC Day 2016.  The parade has been redirected around the light rail construction that has turned George Street into some kind of surreal corridor of carless silence.  On weekends and public holidays like today, it's like there's an air pocket that insulates the street from the bustle and activity of the rest of the CBD.

To make up for my working much of this long weekend, Preschooler SSG and I went on a little adventure when I clocked off this afternoon.  Public transport featured prominently on our schedule and he was beside himself at being able to ride such steep escalators, to be able to sit on the second level of seats on the train and then being able to say 'goodbye train' twenty times at the end of each journey because the trains were so long it took that many goodbyes for them to finally disappear from sight.

We caught fleeting moments of the ANZAC spirit as we made our way through the city.  Even though we missed all the formalities I wanted Preschooler SSG to be there amongst the veterans and relatives of veterans all proudly wearing breast pockets decorated with medals with a quiet dignity. For him to see currently serving men and women in their uniforms.  For him to have an inkling of how it all fits into the incredibly luck life he is so privileged to have here in Australia.  A special surprise was to have the doors of our train open onto an impromptu performance by a uniformed military band on the train station platform.

Of course it wouldn't be a trip into the city without my subtly diverting our path through the  stores of Japanese mega retailers who now call Sydney home.  First stop, Muji.

Where there were endless glass and wood cabinets stocked with perfectly placed bottles, boxes, packages, soft furnishings and even beanbag-ish sofas.

Only in Muji-land is it plausible to call a beanbag a sofa.
Preschooler SSG tested all the sofas and the beds but wisely gave the glass tableware and delicately balanced hanger arrangements a wide berth.

We then went to Daiso where Preschooler SSG found his form in the chasey slash hide and seek stakes so I was thus unable to obtain any field trip photos for the blog.

Here's what I bought.  Photographed out of context and in respectively.

18cm (as opposed to 16.5cm) plastic chopsticks with cases for my lunches at work and beyond.  Much more environmentally responsible than those snap apart wooden chopsticks I've been using.

And some spendy Japanese made rice vinegar and pure sesame oil.  The Regent Place Daiso features a small Asian grocery corner which is where I found these items.  I haven't seen the concept in the suburban Daisos over at Chatswood or at the Macquarie Centre.  Both places I feel I need to visit again soon.  To reconnect and relive some lovely memories of both areas.

You can't go wrong with a slab of top shelf banana bread after an afternoon exploring the city,

Then we stopped off for afternoon tea before the train and bus rides home.

Dinner was another round of Plate Got Ate's sausage rolls.

Live in the moment and make sure you serve yours with ketchup that's been cut with a hefty squeeze or two of Sriracha.

And don't forget to correctly hashtag your freezer bag for any leftovers you may find yourself with.

How was your ANZAC Day?


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