Happy New Whatever-You-Want-It-To-Be

(Disclaimer! Most of the below photos are not owned by me!)

Besides the fact that I’m a glass half-full gal, on this final day of 2015 I feel universally compelled to write a post of inspiration.

Quotes are all around me at the moment, proliferating in particular online. I didn’t really know what position to take on it, but I found light-hearted humour in the following example:

997001_546611032164849_2806534199451118964_n

Then I saw a funny and eye-opening one calling into regard all those people who are all New Years Resolution talk and no action:

10650028_10153905275624923_5309586630723816882_n

My daily calendar told me something else today, that was sweet and promising:

2015-12-31 08.33.49
(this is the only photo I own, but feel free to use as you please 🙂 )

Then I saw a ‘woah’ one that made me go “Yes!” Lleyton Hewitt fist-thrusting in the air style. “I will do it!”

d324ec4be07812ad83eee4b38ccb8b9f

And then that quote reminded me of one of my all time fave New-Year quotes, something that I think most writers would appreciate the symmetry of and hold close to their chests:

365-book_72

All of these quotes are well and good. They are inspiring and promising to the right person seeking it. I used to write myself New Years Resolutions, every year. Sometimes 5, sometimes 10, sometimes 7 (because it’s one of my lucky numbers). I started to realise that it was hard to hold onto promises I made myself when I wrote them down and didn’t look at them for the rest of the year. Even when I did save it in a spot I could bring up time and time again, I felt an enormous amount of pressure to commit myself to something that was a year-long project. Sure, there are things we should commit to for life – eating right, exercising, drinking plenty of water. These are all good, positive steps to getting the most out of your life. Yet still, I never managed to keep all of them, faltering at some point (sometimes after a month if I was lucky) and it just left me with an air of disappointment.

I think every day is a reason to start anew, start afresh, and make resolutions for your life. Keeping a list to keep track of is good, but you need to allow for life’s little adjustments and remain flexible to changes that may come. How ridiculous is it to commit yourself to one way of being for an entire year, when as a species we are forever changing? Change is necessary for reaching milestones and goals that we set ourselves – no one wants to remain ‘stagnant’ for the rest of their lives. It’s a part of life, and just as we change, so will our goals and dreams for the future.

Which brings me to the quote I think best sums up my interpretation of the new year. Happy 2016 All. Hope it’s everything you want it to be.

1005911_10153443387989092_4933764249777785219_n

Advertisements

This should be more Common

The Common
26 Commercial Place Eltham

We were looking for a place to eat in the Eltham/Greensborough region one Saturday night, and the picture of the restaurant’s interior on their web site looked bustling. In addition, the menu looked interesting and Indian-inspired, and so the easy choice was made to go to The Common.

When I called there was jazz music blasting through the phone, making it difficult to hear the woman I was speaking to. Was this just background noise, or a band? I asked her if it was too late to make a reservation for oh, an hour’s time. We were wanting to come at 7pm, and she sounded unsure, like the booking was pushing it. She spoke to someone on her end for a moment, and then came back to me saying “can you come 6:30 to 6:45?” Sure thing, we would rush to get out. This sounded good. I could understand why they may not want us arriving at a time when other diners were also arriving, as it may cause kitchen chaos as we then all ordered at the exact same time.

We walked in at 6:50… to an almost empty restaurant.

2015-12-12 19.20.44

It was so weird, I had to question the music I had heard earlier. Turns out, their website says they have live jazz music leading up to 6pm on Saturdays, which would have been great for us, but bad that we were now past that timeslot, and I was slightly concerned that the lack of atmosphere would make any cry for attention from baby girl that much more noticeable.

There was only one other couple there and two individual ladies sitting on their own. It was pretty quiet for Eltham on a Saturday. But then again, we weren’t locals.

It slowly filled up during our time there. A group, a duo of friends, some older groups arrived too. It was more of a reserved dining experience, for those with elegant tastes and quiet voices, even though there was ample amount of high chairs in one corner waiting to be used. It was an earthy-looking restaurant, on the corner looking towards the shops behind Main Road, including the Safeway there. Parking had been a breeze, since there was undercover parking for all the communal shops on that strip, so that was an added bonus. There was a lounge in the middle of the restaurant which gave it a more laid-back feel, encouraging locals and casual diners to sit and sip on their coffee while they flipped through some newspapers. And being the festive season, the place was decked out in Merry cheer and little Christmas trees. I loved it.

From the onset, the staff were very professional and on the ball. Our waitress immediately informed us that their oven was out of order, which meant there were a few dishes on the menu that were unavailable. Fortunately they weren’t any that we would have gone for, so that was great. (Thank God it was the oven and not the stove huh?) We ordered our drinks of wine and beer

2015-12-12 19.16.13

and then the mains of:

My Chilli Prawns – Fresh prawns marinated in a chilli tomato sauce with a trio of capsicums and served with orange infused rice

2015-12-12 19.31.28

Hubbie’s Porterhouse Steak – Char-grilled porterhouse served with roasted baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, rosemary potatoes and a red wine jus

2015-12-12 19.31.50

While Baby girl got the Popcorn Chicken – crispy chicken pieces with aioli and lemon, with the Rosemary Potatoes on the side with Dijon remoulade (kind of for all to share).

2015-12-12 19.31.43

2015-12-12 19.31.34

The presentation was sensational. Very visually pleasing. I love black servingware, and these colourful flavours were just bursting out at us. I especially loved the black slate that baby girl’s food was served on, it was very modern.

Hubbie had made a point out of checking if the steak he ordered was definitely going to be char-grilled, telling our waitress that he had had ‘fake’ char-grill before. God help me. He is obsessed with this char-grilled thing. He enjoyed his meal, but again, didn’t believe that his Porterhouse was char-grilled. What am I going to do with this man?

I loved my dish. There were many many prawns, which was such a fresh change from prawn dishes that give you like 3, or 4 prawns, if you’re lucky. Everything was saucy and flavoursome, however there was no real hint of chilli. Maybe the slightest warmth, but nothing that I would personally call spicy.

In terms of kids meals, these guys have won on the presentation front by a long shot. So often when I order kids meals out, we get such a sad and boring looking dish, that I feel bad encouraging baby girl to eat it as I am so uninspired myself. Even though the presentation was simple, it was smart, using colour to wow the diner even more. I was very impressed. And the popcorn chicken and the side of potatoes, not only looked good on the plate, but they all tasted good. Baby girl interchanged between the two happily before going walkabout. It was refreshing to see a variation on the standard chicken meal you find so often on offer for the kiddies.

Soon after this, I had to do a nappy change for baby girl, and thank God they had a change table. It was a fold out compacted next to the sinks in the women’s bathroom, but it was light and easily manoeuvred, and I was able to do my change on baby girl with no problems. It would have been a tight squeeze had someone come into the bathroom while I was doing this, since there are only two cubicles and I was right in front of the basin area, but fortunately this did not happen. The bathroom was modern and new, another plus.

I herded baby girl back into the dining area and we decided to share some dessert, while Hubbie opted for a short black. I decided against caffeine, only because I’d already had two that day. I wonder now why I didn’t just go a third, really, but now knowing how Hubbie’s experience was, maybe it’s better I didn’t.

2015-12-12 20.34.59

2015-12-12 20.30.25

We all shared the Deconstructed Cheesecake. With a pistachio biscuit crumb foundation, topped with a light white chocolate mousse and served with a mixed berry coulis, this thing really did look divine. The biscuit was crunchy with great texture, and the cheese part was just that, definitely more cheesecake then chocolate mousse, but still, amazing. There were no problems in finishing that dish between the three of us.

Hubbie’s coffee wasn’t as impressive. The crema looked alright, however it was a very short black, short even for the short cup it was in. And then when he tasted it… he didn’t like it at all. I’ve been trying to ascertain this ‘bad flavour’ he said, so as to avoid writing ‘bad flavour’ in my review, but he couldn’t put his finger on it, other than to say it had a bad taste. Not burnt, bad. Being the end of our meal, it was slightly underwhelming to hear.

It had been an odd night, with some really exciting finds and then some average ones. We were still puzzled by the need for us to be there before 7pm, and arriving to an almost empty restaurant. We rushed so much, for that. The only thing I can think of, which seems the most likely, is that there was only one chef in the kitchen, and perhaps they had to think of that when seating people down and placing orders. There were two other people ‘on the floor’ and towards the end of the night another man was there too, so there wasn’t a huge amount of wait staff. They were all lovely though and it was a great night… just with a dose of puzzlement, that’s all.

Food: 8-8.5/10. I waver here because my prawns were not chilli, and Hubbie’s steak wasn’t char-grilled, OR SO HE SAYS. Everything else was great, and the menu is one to be explored further.

Coffee: 4/10. I have to go off of Hubbie’s rating in lack of my own caffeine beverage there, and he just didn’t like the taste.

Ambience: Quiet, post 6pm. Relaxed, but in a refined manner. I think it’s a different story when the music is on, that’s what it sounded like anyway. Would have loved a bit more pizazz while we were there (which can’t be helped by them I know), it was just really-toned down.

People: Friends and older folk catching up. I didn’t see any other kids that night, but there were high chairs.

Staff: They were really good and very friendly. Informative and professional.

Price: It was about $130 all up – that consisted of 3 and a half mains, 3-4 alcoholic drinks, dessert and coffee. Some dishes were on the ‘up’ side, but having said that the quality and presentation of the food was up to scratch.

Advice: I don’t know whether to say ‘reserve ahead’ or ‘just rock up’ here. They seemed quite definite on the phone about what time of night we were arriving, whereas while there I saw a few people come in with no reservation. Do what you feel is right for your crew.

In a nutshell: Despite some mixed feelings about various components of the night, it was favourably skewed to the positive overall, and I was impressed with the surroundings and elegant ambience of the restaurant. The menu is worth perusing and exploring, and God damn it I’ll even order a coffee next time to see what Hubbie was going on about. Seeing as this is an area we may often frequent in the future, I think we will definitely be coming back to this place, more Commonly.

The Common Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bill in the hand, Bird in the Sand

Birdie Num Nums
745 Nicholson Street Carlton North

The annual KK Christmas catch-up, originally girly but now inundated with littlies, was the reason for our get together at this Nicholson Street eatery one cool yet sunny Saturday morning.

Knowing it was in Carlton North, and the street it was on, parking was always going to be an issue. Fortunately, there were loads of car spaces (not so much available ones) in the block behind Birdie Num Nums, so after a bit of concerted driving we found ourselves a 2-hour park.

It’s a funky, airy café upon entry. High ceilings, quite spacious, with a kind of minimalist industrial feel. And some birdcages hanging from the ceilings thrown in too, of course. I wasn’t too concerned with the interior – the courtyard was what I was finding myself terrified about, and it had even been mentioned on a sign at the front of the café, heightening my sense of trepidation even more.

We walked through the indoor section, past the kitchen and toilets, to the tables surrounding the –

DUM DA DUM DUM.

Sandpit.

This bloody sandpit had been the primary motivator in our decision for going there. There were five of us girls, and between us, 4 kiddies. KK wasn’t what it used to be anymore: there was no more gossip about who did what and when by then; we didn’t all sit hunched over the table in deep discussion and D&Ms about life and our reason’s for being on this earth; and we didn’t stay seated at the table for the full duration with only a toilet break to freshen and reapply some gloss.

No. Now our banter about random events and everyday life was often interrupted with “baby girl! Stop that! – What were you saying about that colleague?” The topic of kids heavily dominated our conversation, even those of us who had none spoke of their nieces/nephews/kids in the fam and just about everything relating to kids possible. “How do you get your girl to brush her teeth?” “Have you heard him saying fuck? He says fuck now.” “Baby girl blow a kiss – good girl!” And it was impossible to stay seated for more than 15 minutes at a time, as we got up to clean our kids/assist them/stop them crying/starting a fighting/losing their shit at a toy, even those without kids were often reeled in and made to follow them around (ahem, my daughter). There was no rest for ANYBODY.

But, it was as we had always dreamed. This was the stuff we had spoken about in high school – catching up, and our kids playing together. It was awesome that it was now reality.

So, naturally, having so many kiddies to reign in, one of the girls mentioned this sandpit place she had been to. Their website even says the sandpit is great to keep the kids amused while the parents can sit back and have a break.

You know, that’s fine and all… it just occurred to me days before the actual KK catch-up: ‘How do you consider cleaning sand off of kids after-the-fact, a break?’

Cleaning sand? Is this most annoying and irritating of cleaning tasks, off of kids out of all things, considered a break? Are you kidding me? The mere thought of getting rid of all that crap, even if you had the most blissful uninterrupted two hours of your life while your child ground down sand into every crevice of their body, rubbing it deep into their hair and rolling around in it like a pig in mud, that my friends would surely diminish any happiness I had previously felt. No, knowing that after your amazing coffee-time, you had to scrub and clean and rinse, and still find sand in your child days and many baths later, no, there could be NO happiness there.

This was the dread I was feeling as we ventured into the outdoor area.

Back to Birdie’s. There were quite a few outdoor tables and options in the large yard, some with umbrellas, and this was good since we had failed to remember to reserve a table for our large lot. Fortunately we sat down straight away, within easy access right next to the sandpit (yay).

Soon we ordered, and the kids meals arrived first.

Baby girl got the Pikelets, maple syrup (on the side) & fruit

2015-12-12 11.28.16

The meal didn’t look spectacular, but she did love the pikelets, in particular the seasonal watermelon that was present, so kudos for that. Soon after the rest of us received our meals, and we fit it in in amongst the ripped paper and cards and new-found goodies from our Christmas exchange, to the background sound of baby girl’s squeals of delight at the sight of MORE food arriving for us.

I ordered the Portobello Caps – baked Portobello mushrooms, wilted spinach, poached eggs, cheeses and a drizzle of truffle oil, served on sourdough toast

2015-12-12 11.33.21

With a cappuccino.

2015-12-12 11.18.05

Lucky I actually took a photo of the menu, because I was sure I was getting many mushrooms, rather than the singular large one that was on my plate. Despite the menu saying Portobello mushrooms, I didn’t mind, I realise it may have been a seasonal thing where they didn’t have a particular menu item available. All in all it was a good meal, the eggs were poached well with a lovely runny yolk, but nothing was really wow. I guess with the garlic flavour atop the mushroom, that was strong in itself and the rest of the meal was fairly bland in flavour to compensate. I still ate it all as I was really hungry, but it just wasn’t spectacular.

To top it off, I had mistakenly ordered my cappuccino at the same time – my bad. It was just easier doing it all at once rather than later. However when I did sip my coffee, a tad after receiving it, it was unusually lukewarm, which makes me think it wasn’t hot at all on arrival. This was a bit disappointing because with the (lack of) speed at which I drink coffee with baby girl besides me, it ends up being quite cool. This day, my cappuccino was had cold. Damn.

Nothing was that ordinary though that a bad time was had, and again, we had the best company to compensate for any shortcomings brought on by food, drink or otherwise. The service was great and we had one lovely lady take a photo of the group of us – lovely until she denied us to pay separately up at the counter when we were paying our bill. We had first been told by another waitress that they usually don’t split bills on the weekends, but that it may be possible if they weren’t busy. Considering the entire courtyard area had emptied out in the last 20 minutes prior to our departure, bar one other group, we thought we could definitely get by with a split bill. However when the photo-taking lady told one of us she couldn’t put our bills through individually, we then had to stand there at the front counter, with prams and bags and kids milling around, and take up one end of an empty table as we tried to work out what we owed, in doing so heavily inhabiting the front part of the shop for the next 5 minutes. Lady, I realise it’s against policy to split bills on weekends. But 1) you weren’t busy, 2) instead of getting us out quicker we turned the interior into a fiasco as we tried to work out what we each had to pay, and 3) we left with bad feelings. Tsk tsk tsk. I don’t think it’s worth it from an owner’s perspective, don’t you?

However, I did leave feeling rather accomplished. Right after our arrival there, baby girl had touched a toy near the sandpit, and had immediately come to me with hand outstretched – she didn’t like the sand on her hands. Bless. Thank you Lord. She is most definitely my daughter. She didn’t go into the sandpit the entire time, nor did she play with overly sandy toys (tee hee hee).

Food: 6.5/10. Okay, but I expected more.

Coffee: 6.5/10. It wasn’t delivered hot, and it wasn’t my preferred coffee bean flavour.

Ambience: It was very cas in the courtyard, what with the colourful chairs and sandpit and toys occupying all spaces.

People: Lots and lots of families out back. Inside they seemed quieter, and there were much fewer kids. The courtyard is THE family hang out.

Staff: They were lovely, and we were happy right up until bill time…

Price: My orders tallied up to just under $30, which I think is spot on for this kind of eatery in Carlton North.

Advice: You might need to search for parking behind the café. Give yourself extra time to do this especially on weekends. Bring money too, because like one friend of mine, you’ll be shitty when you realise you can’t pay by card in your denied split bill. The courtyard is the place to go for families and kid playdates, but as my friend well acquainted with sandpits says – “the less layers the better!” Just beware.

In a nutshell: If you don’t mind your child getting covered in filth as you sip your lukewarm coffee, then this is the place for you. I didn’t mind it, and seeing as baby girl didn’t bathe herself in the grainy stuff, I feel okay about going back. However there were a few downers, and so with that in mind it may take me a while to forget these Birdies – I mean boo boos – and consciously decide to venture back.

2015-12-12 11.06.25-2

Birdie Num Nums Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The true meaning of Christmas

‘Be Nice to People. This is a stressful time of year for many.’

Is what my daily calendar said to me on the weekend. I was fortunate to have the only problems of trying to find some last-minute presents amidst the madness of shopping centres, with the addition of cramming in time amongst work and baby girl and writing to make gingerbread cookies, and a gingerbread cheesecake for Christmas day.

I am so, so thankful to have these festive challenges. I will not call them problems.

You know what a problem is? Terminal illness. Disease. Young children fighting for their lives. Being unable to move, or speak, or do anything for yourself, because an illness has taken hold of your body and has you captive against your will.

I was thinking about the concept of giving earlier this month. It’s a time of year when there is such an emphasis on gifts, and an abundance of stuff, that the true meaning of Christmas is often forgotten. Along with family, and love, and appreciation, I believe one fairly prevalent theme behind this time of year is in giving to the unfortunate.

I was at a shopping centre and was stopped by a young guy trying to organise monthly donations to the Starlight Foundation – a fabulous organisation that grants wishes to children with terminal illnesses. Terminal and children. Those words should not belong together in a sentence.

I wanted to help, but I couldn’t dedicate my money in such a consistent manner as to be donating a certain amount every month. I wanted to do a once-off donation, but his stall that day was to gather as many consistent donations as he could. He let me off gently by saying “You can make a once-off donation online – just promise me you’ll do it alright?”

I often get letters by the Stroke Foundation too, ever since a family member suffered from one and I decided to donate. That reminder, along with the above incident, and Christmas lights strung outside houses and carols warbling about “good tidings to the world” ringing out through stores, I approached Hubbie with an idea.

On a particularly low day, days later, I went online and donated to three organisations. Two were for conditions that close family members of ours had been affected by – Stroke and Brain Cancer. The third one was The Starlight Foundation. I don’t go back on my promises.

They were the best presents I’ve given this year, and it’s not even Christmas day yet. I had been feeling low, but I knew it was no where near what people dependent on these organisations were feeling.

Together, Hubbie and I decided, that we’ll have a new Christmas tradition. Along with the Buble songs playing throughout our home in December, my kikki.K advent candle burning down to the number 25, and the smell of gingerbread occupying the house leading to the Merry day, we’ve vowed to make a donation to organisations important to us each Christmas.

Because, when you think about it – if you can buy $50-100 presents for members of your family, I’m sure there’s $30 or $40 bucks somewhere there to spare for an organisation that you think matters. If we all made a little contribution, no matter how small, imagine the tremendous impact it would make for the people with REAL problems at Christmas-time.

Just imagine. Now is the best time to make a difference.

A Year of Happiness

the_happiness_project_hero2

GRETCHEN RUBIN – The Happiness Project

“A happiness project was no magic charm.”

The above eye-opener comes in July from Gretchen Rubin, over half-way into the author’s year-long project into happiness – how to get it, how to be it, and everything else associated with making your face turn into an upward curve.

It’s actually taken me way too long to write this review. I kept reading other books, and failed to update my notes on all my read books, making me fall way behind on my reviewing. I can’t give an explanation other than to say I was lazy/uninspired, and in relation to this particular book felt it much too hard due to the vast and confusing landscape of ‘happiness project.’

I purchased this book at the end of 2013, a limited edition one that was sold through the beautiful stationary store kikki.K. It came at a time in my life when there had been a huge amount of upheaval. I was in the store shopping for Christmas presents with an almost 4 month-old baby girl, following a year that had involved a major and distressing death in the immediate family, with then the subsequent birth of our daughter. With all the ups and downs, it was hard to imagine us ever being normal again. I was hopeful, as a glass-half-full gal always is – but it was so hard to envisage us living life to the full the way we used to. A book on happiness sparked my curiosity, and besides, I was always drawn to self-help type books. We can all improve ourselves.

I was soon to discover that Rubin had divided the various paths to happiness (as she felt them to be), into 12 areas, and would allow herself to focus on one major aspect, with its various subdividing offshoots, each month. I thought, being so close to January, that I would go along on the project with her as she had done, and decided to read the chapters month by month, in so doing my own kind of year-long project analysis of my life. I wanted to take my time and think these concepts through.

This is the book I read during the span of 2014.

This was a project into happiness, but what I loved was that it gave an insight into human nature, the way we are as society, and gave me a good sense of who I really was via the questions it posed. The book was set up in 12 areas of happiness building – for example March was “Aim Higher!” with the ‘Work’ tag associated with it, and some of the goals she had outlined for that month were “enjoy the fun of failure,” “enjoy now” and “launch a blog.”  (We’ll come back to that one later).

At first it seemed a little confusing, and as a novice into this field also somewhat bewildering. In her initial research into happiness, she discovered the personal principles that would help her to stay on track during her project, which also coincidentally turned out to be 12, which she called her ‘commandments.’ Then there were the ‘secrets of adulthood,’ the goofy things she had learnt over the years, and her ‘resolutions chart’ would help to keep her on track as she checked herself and her goals against it, month by month. All of this made me feel like the whole thing was awfully complicated and too-thought-out. I mean, if you want to be happy, identify the problem, figure out the solution, do the research, and go. I guess there wouldn’t have been much of a book if she had taken a simplistic approach, and also, I do empathise with the need for lists and ticking off items, as all avid-organisers and OCDers can attest to. But this was going to be one of many baffling (and awfully irritating) things about Rubin that bugged me.

Rubin’s sentiment for starting the project rang true for me. She didn’t think she was necessarily unhappy, but she did feel as if she should be happier and more appreciative of the life she led, following her lightbulb moment one day with the profound question “Is this really it?” singing out in the background.

From the get go, I immediately started to learn things and discover ways that would make my life easier, in turn making me happier. Organisation was key to happiness, with the obvious revelation that outer order does bring inner peace. This helped me to understand why I do always need to clean or sort before I start a project, because I feel scattered by things that are around and distracting me. I took on board two of her suggestions: the ‘one-minute rule’ and the ‘evening tidy up.’ The first one refers to tasks that should not be delayed if they can be done in less than one minute, and the latter is as it says, helping to give you a more relaxed and serene start to the following day, when all your crap is organised. This especially helps with kids I think, and it really made me realise that a lot of the jobs we often put off can be done quickly, when we can identify how long it will take to do it and then just do it. Take my current example of changing flat batteries in baby girl’s toys. All I really need to do is get her toys, turn them over, find out what kinds of batteries are required, go to the battery drawer and change them. That’s it. It won’t even take 5 minutes. Yet the act of putting it off will make this job seem like the hardest one yet, just by the fact of constantly delaying it.

Realistically though, we have to understand that some things will never be ticked off, and they will either be ongoing jobs or things that will create more jobs for us to do. This reminded me of an entry I read many, many years ago in Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, where he said (and at the time it blew my world) that our ‘Inbox’ will never be empty. We’re constantly trying to get everything done, but it’s just not possible. Understanding and accepting this is one of the key things to calming down and stressing less.

I got many other ideas from Rubin, such as the ‘6 second hug,’ a hug that for that minimum time is enough to produce mood-boosting chemicals to promote bonding; having a simple thing like a candle in your office can give you a sense of peace and help you to work smarter; and when she wrote about creating traditions in the family to foster love, I couldn’t help but think of all the singing and dancing that we do with one another, as well as our special family ‘eskimo kisses’ where Hubbie, baby girl and I rub noses with one another.

In particular, one of her goals actually set me on my own journey, as just as she started her own blog in March, so too did I follow a couple of months later – bringing me to where I am today! For that I am utterly grateful for her ideas. She had come across to writing from originally clerking, and so I felt it was encouraging to me, since where she is, writing full-time, is where I want to go.

Writing related, she mentioned a self-publishing website where she was able to create a book out of the journal she kept of her daughters first 18 months. This definitely spiked my interest as I too have kept lengthy journals of the exact same thing, and also I would love to have a hard copy of my first blog which is still being (un)read out there in cyber space, as memory of my life and writings when I first started out in the blog forum.

There were so many nuggets of life and happiness wisdom that it was hard to keep up. Things like:

“Experts says that denying bad feelings intensifies them; acknowledging bad feelings allows good feelings to return.”

“Happy people don’t need to have fun… the absence of feeling bad isn’t enough to make you happy; you must strive to find sources of feeling good.”

You can gain happiness from tasks that actually don’t make you happy in the process: my recurring ones are writing and throwing parties. That was a puzzling, yet true, revelation. Also, there was the ‘arrival fallacy’ which is the assumption that when you arrive at a certain destination you’ll feel happy. What makes you happier though, is the anticipation of it (something I think often about and have touched on here). Usually reaching significant goals gives you more challenges and work (i.e. the ‘Inbox’ is never empty!) which is why it’s so important to take pleasure in the atmosphere of growth. That is the fun part.

The most challenging tasks, give you the most sense of reward and accomplishment. Harder, therefore = happier. Last year when I made up all the invitations for baby girl’s christening from scratch, little did I realise how much running around, work and preparation would be required. But when I finished the lot, boy was I proud of myself.

One of my ‘woah’ moments came when I read about the fear of failure. She said that to succeed more, we had to acknowledge that we would fail more. She calls it the ‘fun of failure’ to help counteract the dread she feels. But my favourite quote was when she referred to a friend of hers, who always says whenever crisis strikes

“this is the fun part!”

Kind of like yelling “plot twist!” when something in your life doesn’t go to plan. I LOVE IT.

However, I also discovered questions that I really didn’t find an answer to. For example, she spoke about a controversial topic – does money create happiness? Can more of it, really make you happier? This was very dependent on your experiences, and also how much you had in relation to people around you. I realised in reading that chapter that I love buying coffee out, and eating out (Food Reviews anyone?) and yet I didn’t get an answer as to why that might be. Did it make me feel good, knowing that I could buy food and drink? Was it the fact I didn’t have to make it myself? I’m still pondering that one.

And just as I couldn’t discover why I love to eat and drink out so much, so too did I struggle to work out the character behind Rubin. At first it was slightly unnerving to read her accounts of ALL the books she read on a regular basis. Early into the book she recounted at list 20 titles just on one page. Being an aspiring author, this made me totally jelly. Then with all the ongoing references to an endless amount of books and quotes, I couldn’t help but think that she planned the book really well, or just retained a stupid amount of information that I never could. For her sake, and being the organised being she is, I hope it is the former.

My love/hate with Gretchen had begun.

There were other moments that made me feel inefficient. She talked about reading a lot, as any author would, and one of her goals one month was to ‘read at whim,’ where she noted about a zillion different writers and topics. I remember thinking ‘she has two girls, right? And one of them is a year old? And she does this how?’

She wanted to read, so much more than she usually did, even though her main work centred around it… and yet she wanted more time to pursue her passions, she wanted to read more for enjoyment.

I found one explanation as to how she finds all that time to read when she said:

“We had plenty of money to do what we wanted.”

But I wanted to reach through the book and slap her when I read this, when she was taking on the challenge of writing an entire novel in the month of September:

“Writing the novel was a lot of work, but I had less trouble squeezing the writing into my day than I’d expected. Of course I had it easier than most people, since I was already a full-time writer, but even so, I had to scrimp on time otherwise spent reading newspaper and magazines, meeting people for coffee, reading for fun, or generally putting around. My blog posts became noticeably shorter.”

Did she want writers around the world to unite against her? Don’t rub salt into time-poor writers’ wounds, Gretchen.

However, my frustration with her reached boiling point when I discovered from page 255 onwards, that not only does Rubin have qualities very like a person in my life who infuriates me, but she was actually her. This was a rude shock and made me question how I could continue reading a book from someone who I didn’t have any time for in my life, let alone let them teach me about being happy. Pffft.

In this section she spoke of her realisation of interrupting others, pushing her opinions onto friends in the example of forcing clutter clearing onto them (gosh she sounds like a delight), as well as a party of other very unfavourable qualities: she was a topper – “You think you had a crazy morning, let me tell you about my morning;” she was a deflator – “You liked that movie? I thought it was kind of boring;” and she was belligerent, looking for ways to contradict what people said.

When she went on to say that her first instinct was to argue with people when a statement was made, I made the following colourful note:

‘Yes! That’s her! Why argue? Go and argue with yourself over how you’re a fucking moron. (Did she write this in secret?)’

I started to, through my new-found anger towards Rubin and resurgence of hatred towards that person in my life, discover snippets of happiness-inducing tasks in the book that could help me on my own path, and help me in dealing with my frustration at infuriating people such as this. The following two quotes made me feel better about myself, as I pondered and focused instead on my own private insecurities, and why people like Rubin and others made me angry the way that it did. Insight can be a wonderful thing.

“Enthusiasm is a form of social courage.”

“It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light. We nonjoyous types suck energy and cheer from the joyous ones: we rely on them to buoy us with their good spirit and to cushion our agitation and anxiety. At the same time, because of a dark element in human nature, we’re sometimes provoked to try to shake the enthusiastic, cheery folk out of their fog of illusion – to make them see that the play was stupid, the money was wasted, the meeting was pointless. Instead of shielding their joy, we blast it. Why is this? I have no idea. But that impulse is there.”

Critical people appear smarter, and gain superiority from their know-it-all attitudes – but there is nothing superior about putting another person down, no matter what form it comes in.

And then, Rubin was giving me advice. Rubin, so similar in character to that person in my life, was giving me advice on how to deal with a person, like her! She spoke of rumination, which was dwelling on slights, unpleasant encounters and sad events, which led to bad feelings and often depression for women particularly as they were more likely to ruminate. This discovery rang true for me, as often following a troubling encounter with someone (that person), a solo drive in to work, alone with my head, can be absolute hell. But the idea of an ‘area of refuge’ which she invented to avoid her tendency to brood, sounded like a brilliant idea. She decides to think of one of Churchill’s speeches, or something funny her husband has done. Although I haven’t had a proper think about how to implement this, it’s certainly a life-task I will be coming back to. It’s like I was meant to read it.

In accepting Rubin’s help, I actually came to realise there were things about her that I liked. For example, she admitted to her faults (and wrote about them for all to critique), something not many people could easily do. She was human, getting upset at her husband and children for everyday things, and had to accept defeat the way many people did, giving up on one of her goals, a gratitude notebook, because it started to feel forced.

Finally, one final thing tied us together and made me much more sympathetic towards her. Her crap handwriting. I too suffer from shithandwritingisis, and it was refreshing to learn she couldn’t write lyrical prose for 45 minutes in a beautiful journal every day, because she wouldn’t be able to read it afterwards! Ahh, kindred spirit.

And, after all that, there was this:

“I love writing, reading, research, note taking, analysis, and criticism….”

This only confirmed to me that I was doing, what I was meant to be doing. In my free time, it’s all about books, notes, reviews, writing… This is where I am meant to be. This is where I am happy.

Although some of the above were tasks I could implement into my everyday life, there were other passages I read, those kind of insane life-changing lightbulb ‘Aha!’ moments that left me with goosebumps I would never forget the feel of.

She told the story of a man who would take his sons out because they would wake early every morning and his wife wanted to sleep in. They gave up trying to convince them to go back to sleep, so the man let his wife sleep and took them out, he got coffee and then watched them play in the park before returning home for breakfast. Rubin said these days, the couple slept late, but the man’s memories of those days with his young boys are the clearest and happiest of that period.

Excuse me while I cry.

Following that story came the highly appropriate quote, and also one of her ‘splendid truths:’

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

This quote quite literally gives me chills. It has become one of my favourite sayings, and a bittersweet reminder of parenthood. It puts everything into perspective, at a time of my life when there are difficult days, when things feel so hard, when I just wish certain stages were over. It reminds me that nothing lasts forever, and only to look back on the last two and a half years to realise that. It’s a scary thought, and a hopeful one too. It puts me where I’m meant to be most importantly, which is in the present.

A second profound insight interestingly came from a reader on her blog, who wrote:

“One day – I was about 34 years old – it dawned on me: I can DO ANYTHING I want, but I can’t DO EVERYTHING I want. Life-changing.”

Hell yeah. We can’t do it all, though in the name of positive thinking, we should be able to. Just another thing to think about, and to remember to do things that make you happy, rather than trying to do everything, just because we can. Focus on those things that make you smile. I’m sitting her typing at my laptop while baby girl naps, but when I re-read this, I’ll feel good about my writing efforts (remember, greater challenge, greater reward).

There was I poem I also came across that struck a particular cord with me, and thank God I googled it before re-posting it on facebook. It was an 18th century epitaph, those things you find on gravestones:

“Remember, friends, as you pass by,

As you are now so once was I.

As I am now, so you must be.

Prepare yourself to follow me.”

It is actually quite eerie, and yet when I first read it I found it to mean something else entirely. In line with my negative take on the saying ‘every dog has its day,’ I felt like it was a promise to those, that their day will come, that they will have hardships, and especially my friends without kids: ‘You will see how hard it is one day too.’ I don’t know why I am compelled to think like this, and why for a glass hall-full gal I am thinking on the negative side when it comes to this dog saying. I know that parenthood is hard, and I know that there are many out there, who like I was before kids, just don’t get it. I think, as weird as it sounds, I feel it’s comforting that I won’t be the only one in life with troubles and dramas. Sounds ridiculous, I know, as if no one has issues. We all do. But knowing you’re not alone, and other people will follow in your steps and have your problems, just as you will follow in other people’s steps and have their problems, makes me feel like we’re in this thing together.

“As you are now so once was I.”

I think whether you’re brimming with happiness and bouncing off of rainbows, or whether you’re staring at that second bottle of vodka with deep desire, we can ALL use this book. Sure, one can argue ‘Why the need to read about being happy, just BE happy!’ And I agree. There were many parts of the book when I just found the whole project a tad complicated, and her second ‘splendid truth:’

“One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy.

One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself.”

was a bit of a chicken/egg scenario and rattled my brain as I tried to logically work out which should come first and how they affect one another. But at the end of the day, as long as you can eat both the chicken and the egg, we don’t need to work anything out. Just as we don’t need to think too much about happiness – just be it. And if all that fails, fake it ‘til you make it and as Rubin says and does

“Act the way I want to feel.”

It doesn’t have to be so technical, but then again, whatever works for YOU. Rubin had her splendid truths, her commandments, and that helped her in her happiness project. At the end of the book she supplies additional info and tips on how to better your life and even start your own happiness project, just as she started her own book club too (something I seriously pondered, and still ponder today).

Rubin gave me a lot of inspiration, confirmed for me I was on the right path, and gave me lots of nifty tips and tricks, as well as self-learning, and that is a lot more than other books can say. She vowed to stop reading books she didn’t enjoy, and I too realised that I shouldn’t feel the need to read short stories or stories of sadness/loneliness/woe, no matter how acclaimed they are or how well they’re written. I thought in depth about my ‘True Rules,’ a term she coined for a collection of principles developed over time that help you to make decisions and set priorities. Where one of hers was “When making a choice about what to do, choose work,” I soon discovered one of mine were “There’s a reason for everything.”* And when a reader on her blog listed all the groups and clubs they had joined that year and all the amazing experiences that had come out of that choice, I couldn’t help but think with awe ‘Imagine all the friends and experiences you’ll miss out on by not doing anything?’

The Happiness Project is a must-read for all. Even if you don’t like Gretchen (as I can surely relate to, at times), you will love the ideas and insight into YOU that come out of this book. It’s a helpful guide to come back to time and time again.

As my sauce-splattered kikki.K wash cloth says:

2015-12-21 16.35.01

Too right.

Please let me know your thoughts on The Happiness Project in the comments below, I would love to discuss with you.

(*True Rules coming up in a later post).

Playing with candle fire

Women and shopping, can be trouble. Maxed-out credit cards, anyone?

Women and online shopping – hell, that’s playing with fire. “Click, click, click, add to trolley, add to trolley, add to trolley – that’s how much? Where’s my other credit card?”

Women and online shopping and Christmas-time – WOAH.

Let me just say this: when I went online to buy a simple advent candle from kikki.K, all I intended to buy was the damn candle that had sold out in stores.

But then, free shipping over $50 happened. (Who wants to spend an extra $10 for shipping when their entire purchase amounts to $10?)

So anyway, days later, this box arrived at my doorstep:

2015-12-09 09.45.46

2015-12-09 09.45.20

2015-12-09 09.45.39

In my defence, the majority of the box was pumped-up bubble wrap, with the additions of my new 2016 dairy, a family planning pack with organisers and to-do lists and stuff, and of course, the highly-sought after advent candle (my precious).

Christmas, is the most wonderful time of the year.

5 nights to go…

2015-12-20 23.13.04

What (Aussie) Christmas means to me, my love

Sunny days and leafy trees

sprawled out in the yard on lounge chairs

squeals of laughter from the park children

the squeak of Mum and Dad’s backyard swing.

Prawn platters, Fruit pavlova

three courses and constant food in between

Ham is not the star – everything is

and it all goes down well with a glass (or few) of champers.

Flowy dresses and bows in tresses

the kids run barefoot on the grass

we can show some leg and we don’t care

Summer, holidays, carefree, go together.

Annoying things too, like crawling ants and invading-space flies

tightly-wound presents with ribbon, all screwed up

but this is the miniscule list I hold

for this oh-so-Merry day.

Balmy nights, revved up cars

light until past 9pm

cannot sleep, but not just for Santa

for waiting ain’t easy when it’s pushing 20 at midnight.

Eating drinking memory making

What do you talk about with those you love?

Why everything! And now let’s make some plans

about how we’ll take on the world together.

 

Hot sand replaces stinging ice

sunnies sit meandering instead of wrapped-around scarves

we still rug up on Christmas Eve

to our loved ones for warmth, but not heat.

Carols may sing of snow,

Santa may be in his jolly suit,

cards will show reindeer, eggnog, fireplaces

and the pine trees are not native at this time of year.

But those are idealistic visions

of a Faraway Place

a dream where one day I will be, and see, and touch

and live in reality.

My memories here are of sun, of outdoor fun,

sitting outside and making memories with loved ones

My Aussie Christmas

is the one I love the most.

 

(The above was inspired by a conversation I had with a work colleague about our different Christmas memories, since his ones stem from living in the UK. He found it odd that the Christmas we celebrate is so different from the one depicted in the songs we sing and the cards we send out. But like I said, faraway place 🙂 )