Monday, April 30, 2012

Keep Calm and Cook Bacon

Change is not easy.  I am the first to admit that I resist it.  It takes effort, and its so much easier to sit here in my Pit and let things go to hell around me.

I've taken on a lot of change over the years. And these days I'm getting the hang of it.  One thing I know is to Keep Calm about it.  Don't stress, otherwise it will collapse on you in days.  Set your goal/s, make sure they are realistic, then head steadily towards them.

Bacon will help. Unless you have moral and/or religious grounds against it. In which case insert comfort food of choice.

What I mean is, REWARD yourself.

There will be up days and down days.  You will succeed at some goals, and you will utterly fail at others.

But regardless, be KIND to yourself.

Every time I make changes some of them stick, and some don't.  But I always end up in a better place than before.

So, today/tomorrow I launch myself into the next phase of change in my life.  Nothing dramatic, just life-style adjustments, needed ones.

  1. Taking being a Work At Home Mum seriously - this means a set routine of running the house / writing.  I've been figuring out what works for me/family over the last few weeks and now have a schedule.  Yep, it gets derailed every single day, but already my productivity is up and frustration is down.
  2. Weightwatchers - Put on 8kgs over the last year, clothes too tight, look like a sausage bursting out of its skin and double chin developing (shudder).  Weightwatchers has worked for me over and over. Also, on Weightwatchers I can cook and eat bacon.
  3. C25K - Excercise. I walk, a lot.  I used to run, a lot.  Am taking on the Couch to 5k to start running again.  Do not expect to see me in a marathon anytime soon.
  4. Month of Happiness - Naomi over at Seven Cherubs is doing a month of happiness.  Check out her blog to get the details.  We all need to focus on the good stuff.

How about you? Thinking about change? In the midst of change? Wanting to change but overwhelmed by it?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Motivation and Commitment in Your Writing Life

Old burblings, reburbled

Below are my notes from a talk by Dr John Barletta, given at the Romance Australia Author Day back in 2010.

They are a bit scatty (sorry), but there is some good information about positive psychology, flow and personality, and his rules to say alive.

Dr Barletta will be talking at the Romance Australia Conference in Brissy in August 2012.  Catch him if you can, you won't regret it. Info here


Dr John Barletta is a clinical psychologist who came to talk to us about Engagement and Flow in your writing life.  These are my notes from his (rather hurried) talk, and I think they give a few starting points where writers can examine their own motivation (or lack of) to write.
  • The problem with wanting to write, but not following through, is not due to a lack of information, rather it's about motivation and commitment
  • Be careful of the shoulds.  "I should do this," "I should do that," but never actually doing them and getting caught up in the fact you haven't done them.
  • To change from an unmotivated writer to a motivated writer, you will go through the Stages of Change
  • Don't fall into the trap of 'learned helplessness', ie, believing you are helpless and therefore not helping yourself.
  • Referred to Marty Seligman and his positive psychology website 
  • How to thrive
    • Happiness comes from a good life (Eudaimonia) which is made up of
      • a pleasant life - emotion (love) and pleasure
      • engagement - competence and mastery
      • meaningful life - meaning and purpose
  • Flow and Personality
    • Flow - or being 'in the zone' when you write, is where you want to be
    • When you are in the flow you feel tireless, serene, ecstatic (ie outside yourself), immersed and impervious to outside events, have greater creativity, confidence in completion of activity
    • There is a personality type which falls more easily into this state of flow than other types, called the Autotelic personality
      • Autotelic personality has high concentration, persistence, low self-centeredness, high rate of performing actions for an intrinsic reason, ie, I write because I must
    • How to develop an Autotelic personality?
      • Set clear goals
      • Become immersed in the activity - mindfulness training can help with this
      • learn to enjoy the immediate experience and immediate feedback
      • "perfect practice makes perfect"
  • Everyone has (at least) twenty four signature strengths - can take a test for these at Marty Seligman website above.
    • Use those strengths brings happiness
  • Rules to stay alive
    • Learn to retreat and advance from every position you take
    • Guard your impotence as your most valuable weapon, ie, be up front about your limits, use them to say NO
    • Face the fact that you will grow old and die
    • Develop a sense of being
    • Laugh at the absurdity of life

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Disaster

Last week it rained, and rained. Torrential downpours that lasted for hours.  Everything flooded, trees fell over and driving became a combat sport.

It was also school holidays.

But that was not the worst thing. Oh goodness no.

You see I'd got my stash of seeds out, and instead of returning them to the shed I'd stacked them on a window-sill under the deep eaves of the house.  Protected or so I thought.  I glanced at the boxes a couple of times over the week, and decided they were fine, and would come to no harm.

How wrong I was.

A couple of days later, when the rain had stopped I went to put them away properly, only to discover that both boxes were half full of water.  All my seeds, every single one, had been soaking for over two days.
Seed boxes - recycled huggies wipes boxes!
They'd turned into a horrible smelly sludgy mess.  A few packets were okay, the commercial ones that were packed in foil.  But alas most of mine were Diggers seeds, which come in a paper packet (though I think they've changed this recently).
So I carefully laid them out, and covered the wet seeds with a damp nappy (my cloth nappies never graced the bottom of any child, and now get used as tea-towels) to stop them drying out in the sun.
So many seeds
And then I got stuck into the garden.  It took me three days, pulled every muscle I have, got sunburnt, dehydrated and overall pretty crappy tempered, but I did it.

Planted up every single vegie bed, got every single seed in the ground...
Covered in wire to stop the chooks digging up the lot if they escape
There is a mish-mash of everything.  All the pea seeds got mixed up, so I don't know if they are snow, greefeast or dwarf.  My crop rotation scheme is totally out the window and we shall be drowning in beans by spring.

I optimistically planted the cucumber and melon seeds. I doubt very much they'll survive winter, but I couldn't just throw them away, and maybe it'll be a mild one.

I'm actually glad about it.  One of the things I lost in last year's fug was the garden, and I've been totally daunted about getting it back on track, what with the weeds and the clearing out that needed to be done.
So it was a good thing, my seed disaster.  I reconnected with the garden, and already I'm out there every second I get a chance, inspecting and seeing if anything has sprouted yet.

So thanks for the lemon, life, much appreciated :)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Big Day Out: Kookootonga Nut Farm

After we picked apples at Shield's Orchard and rode up and down the Zig Zag Railway our final stop on our Big Day Out was Kookootonga Nut Farm.  At Kookootonga you can pick walnuts and sweet chestnuts from mid March to late April each year.

Its situated in the divine Mt Wilson / Mt Irvine area - which is quite simply, one of the most beautiful spots in the Blue Mountains. Somewhat off the beaten track, the environment there is cool and wet, like a little slice of Tassie amid the harsh dry Aussie bush.  Perfect for growing the two English classics, Walnuts and Chestnuts.

Of course, we met our nemesis, the Chrysler Car Club on the way.  But thankfully their convoy had broken up somewhat, and they were no longer attempting to drive other cars that cut into their line, off the road.  Small mercies.  Lovely people, no really.

Of course turning up to pick chestnuts with two tigers in tow caused some speculation!  But we got our buckets and were shown where to find the chestnuts and left to our own devices.  The place was heaving, with bus groups and families, but the place is huge and you can easily find your own tree or three to forage under.
Tigers going up to hill with our buckets
 Chestnuts littered the ground. You don't pick them off the tree, they fall when they are ripe and you pick them up.
A beauty
They have incredibly prickly shells, and the best method is to tread on the shells, so they split open, and then gingerly get the nut out.  Sensible people had gloves.  We did not.
Stamping on chestnuts
Prickly Chestnut shells
Being the epitome of organisation I only had $12 in my wallet.  But that still got us this many chestnuts (about 2kgs I think).
The haul
Then it was finally time to head home.  It took us about two and half hours to get back from Mt Irvine to the Upper Upper North Shore.  But the traffic was heavy until we got to Windsor on the other side of the mountains, so mid-week, non school holidays you could easily do it in two.

Cannot wait to go again next year :)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Big Day Out: Zig Zag Railway

Part Two of our massive day in the Mountains.  Having picked 10kgs of apples at Shield's Orchard we flung ourselves back into the car and hurtled onto Bell's Line of Road once more.
Well, I use hurtled euphemistically.
You see we managed to end up behind the 40+ members of the Chrysler car club, who were having a leisurely day out.
So it was a slow and scenic drive.

But, eventually, we arrived at Clarence, where the Zig Zag railway begins, high above Lithgow.

Lithgow is an old mining town and back in 1890 the trains were a vital link to transport the coal to the coast.   However, because its an incredibly steep rise from Lithgow on the western plains, to the ridge which leads across the mountains to Sydney, trains were not able to go directly up.  Instead they zig-zagged across the near vertical cliff walls.  Stopping after each rise and changing direction to take the next climb.

Of course they eventually built a tunnel system and the Zig Zag railway was left in the caring hands of volunteers, and steam and diesel train enthusiasts.  Who have maintained it with the love it deserves (why yes, I am a train nerd, I caught it from my Grandfather).

We were supposed to be travelling by steam on Thomas the Tank engine (and yes, this is a full size steam engine with Thomas's smiling face).  But Thomas's boiler went phut just before Christmas and they are still struggling to fix it.  So he was waiting for us in the sheds, down at the bottom of the valley (along with a world of fun).

Instead we caught the diesel engine.  Without doubt one of the most awesome living examples of steam punk I have ever seen in my life.  An incredible bit of machinery (yes, train nerd, sorry).
Diesel Engine
All aboard
Down in the sheds at the bottom of the valley there was a carnival.  It was cheerful and the kids had a ball.  But, there was something about the place, a sense of abandonment that you only really get with places that were once really busy, and are now left empty.  I would not be there alone at night, not even if you paid me.
The Sheds
They had the most amazing face painters - usually you expect a butterfly or a flower on the cheek, but Miss 6 asked for a tiger and this is what she got.
 After an hour it was time to catch the car back up the ridge.
So exciting to be on a train going at 10kph

Next stop Chestnut collecting.  Yes, they still had painted faces :)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Big Day Out: Apple Picking

Its apple pickin season here in NSW, and last Sunday we undertook our annual trip to Bilpin to visit Shield's Orchard.  This trip also involved the zig-zag railway AND Kookootonga Chestnut farm, but more on them later.

Bill Shields keeps the Shield's Orchard website up to date, so if you are going you'll know what you'll be picking.  They the have a huge variety, from Sundowner to Pink Ladies, Braeburn to Golden Delicious (plus others, just ask if you've got a favourite).  The kids and I love slightly sour Granny Smiths, and we were spot on timing-wise, the Granny Smiths were dripping off the trees.
Being 6ft 5 is useful, and not just when there are lightbulb issues
The kids love the place, though the allure of picking apples did wear off after a time.  Still Miss 6 found other ways to amuse herself.
Her: I've found a 2-leaf clover, they are very rare
Me: You just pulled a leaf off that one
Her: No I didn't
Me: Yes you did
Her: I'm going to make a wish and keep it... "I wish I could find a four leaf clover"
Our 10kgs of Granny Smiths... (last year we had over 40kgs, but this year I was being restrained, though, if given the chance I'd go back and clear out anything that was good for cider)
Around 10kgs
Ambling back to the shed.
Following the white line 
Cannot recommend Shields Orchard highly enough.  Awesome day out, and Bill and co are lovely, and so interested and passionate about apples, their Orchard, and being a food supplier in a modern environment.  One of their reasons for being is to educate kids and families about how and where their food comes from, and they do it spectacularly well.

This year Bill has Julie apples.  This is a new variety for which Shield's have plant breeders rights.  Bill was kind enough to let us taste a Julie and then gave us four to take home.  They were beautiful. Possibly one of the most divine apples I've ever tasted. Crisp and sweet and perfectly apple-y!
A Julie
Thanks Bill and everyone at Shields.  See you all next season :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

PS I Love You

We spent the long Easter Weekend in Port Stephens, whose tagline is PS I Love You, and it is well earned indeed.

Caitlyn Nicholas and offspring on holiday...
Yes, my 6 and 7 year old are both that tall
No I am not short - AVERAGE HEIGHT PEOPLE, average
So many awesome things to explore...

We walked on the huge sand dunes at Stockton Beach
Went Rockpool-ing at Anna Bay - saw blue starfish, octopus, squid, sea anemones, sea squirts, fish, crabs, and sea jellies.
Ate the best fishnchips in NSW at Bubs Fish and Chips in Nelson Bay (omg, it was so good)
Explored Fingal Bay - amazing new park for kids there
Wandered around Lemon Tree Passage and saw dolphins just outside the marina, and ate the best garlic prawn pizza ever, made by possibly the most hung-over individual I have ever seen who was still remaining upright :)

Sunset on our last day - we'd just been on a walk and spotted two Koalas (wild ones)

And the best part of it was that we didn't pay for anything.
Well apart from the food and our cabin, obviously (and don't even mention petrol!).
But activity-wise we didn't spend anything.
We didn't need to hire jet skis, or go on 4WD trips, or take helicopter rides, or go to fun parks, or have boat trips.
There was so much to see and do just there, with the beaches and the estuaries, and we could have easily been entertained for another week.  We didn't take full advantage of the walks and beaches, because we didn't have time.

I'm a convert. I'm in love. Yes ideed. PS I love you :)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Exciting News: Drive Me To Distraction

My New Years resolutions for this year, made very close to midnight on Twitter, were three things.
  1. That 2012 be my year of writing
  2. That I'd wear nail polish on my toenails
  3. That I'd drink gin
Interestingly, I've stuck to the first one, and totally bombed out on the second two.  Well, I ran out of gin, and am working my way through the alcohol cabinet before I go out and start buying new bottles of anything. I sound like a complete alcoholic now, don't I?

Anyway, without further ado, I'd like to take a deep breath and announce that I've contracted Drive Me To Distraction with Momentum Books, the e-publishing arm of Pan Macmillian.

Which means, I'm going to be a published author again.

OMG, I'm going to be a published author again!!! :D

Its been a long time between novels for me.  

After Secret Intentions was published I was diagnosed with a scorching case of Post-Natal Depression.  I made a decision, at that time, to step back from publishing (hell, I was such a mess I could barely make myself a cup of tea, let alone market a book).  In any case, I found my anti-depressants totally squashed my creativity, and writing took more energy that I had to give. 
I let it go.  
Well, to a degree. I never stopped blogging!  But what I wrote about became what was happening in everyday life. Not fiction.

A year passed.  I found my feet and with the help of a brilliant counsellor and the anti-depressants, I slowly recovered from PND.

Then the wonderful Trisha Telep asked me to write a short story for The Mammoth Book of Special Ops Romance (The Grey Man) and the popularity of that led to a big jump in sales of both Running Scared and Secret Intentions.  The writing spark began to flicker once more.

18 months after my diagnosis, I stopped taking the anti-depressants.  Still wary of putting myself under to much pressure, and dealing with Miss (now) 6, who as it turned out, had Aspergers syndrome, I did not dive right in, but instead started to write.  The stories were stories of my heart; named Drive Me To Distraction, The Bunker, Running With The Hunted and Fat Chance.  They followed no rhyme or reason, or structure or rules.

And then in early 2012 I decided it was time to start submitting again, just to see what would happen.  By mid February I had five full requests from seven query letters, and things were looking pretty exciting.

Which brings us to today.

I have read and signed the contract.  Sent it on its way, and am filled with a huge sense of satisfaction and anticipation.  My story will be out by the end of the year, and I am so excited to be back.  


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Enduring The Insanity and Rhubarb & OJ Ice Blocks

Yes, yes, I've been watching River Cottage again.  Its school holidays, and I have the whole entire family in the house all day, every day.  I'm teetering on the brink of sanity at the best of times, but now...?

River Cottage is happy and calm, everyone is nice, no one demands breakfast then spits it on the floor, or refuses to eat anything but cup cakes.  The garden is neat and tidy, not a desolate chook poo covered wasteland, nor are there avocado trees glaring accusingly from where they sit, unplanted, in their pots.  The kitchen is clean, no maggots in the scrap bin, no mildew growing in the grout on the sink splash-back.  And everyone seems content, not having a screaming fight with their sister because its 12 hours before another room unlocks on pet hotel.

So yes, I have been watching River Cottage, and in a fit of deluded enthusiasm decided to renew my quest to get Miss 6 to eat something other than white bread and honey.

No I didn't seriously think I'd get her to eat anything with rhubarb in it.

So, Rhubarb and OJ Ice Blocks... RECIPE HERE

Rhubarb from the garden
Ignore the strawberries, I spotted them when I was getting the rhubarb
Orange from California, sigh (WHY COLES WHY??)
I cooked 5 sticks of rhubarb with the juice of the orange, some honey and brown sugar until they were soft.
Then into the whizzer to get rid of any chunky bits
And the rather lovely end result

Hubs and I loved our, Miss 7 liked hers, but it was too rich for her to finish, and Miss 6 refused to have a bar of it, except for digging hers out of the ice-block maker with her finger and eating it that way (is that a win? Maybe a win the battle, lose the war, kind of win, or the other way around. Hmm)

Now I am not usually one to tease, but I have news, big news, but I'm not saying a thing about it until Monday.

Thus the insanity continues.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Whole New Meaning to a MacChicken

Next-door's dogs dug under the fence this morning and caused there to be much squawking and panicking (chickens), swearing and bellowing (me), and running about and barking (the dogs).

No harm done, but when I came back inside I found this refugee.
At least she didn't poo
Now do you see what I must overcome to blog!!?!!

She let me pick her up and put her outside, and is now back in her coop with the others and some breakfast :)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Easter Miracle & Home made Strawberry Ice-blocks

So, as all you wonderful lovely fabulous regular readers know (I love you guys, I surely do :)), I lost my blogging/gardening/cooking mojo a while back, then got injected with copious amounts of B12 and It All Came Back.


River Cottage and its plethora of TV shows and books have been around for a while.  In the miasma of the last few years they sort-of passed me by.  But, recently, I've become addicted -  the food and the cooking encapsulate everything I was taught as a child by my English Grandparents, Aunt, and Father.  All of whom had/have the dual aims in life to either be outside in the garden growing stuff, or inside in the kitchen cooking it. So, not surprisingly, River Cottage truly resonates with me.

I was watching River Cottage Everyday (Fruit) yesterday, and HFW made some sublime Strawberry Ice-blocks.

In our much neglected garden, the Strawberries have had a late summer burst of activity.
Got 250g worth!!
Tossed the 250g of strawberries into the blender with 25g icing sugar
Into the whizzer
 Then poured the mixture into our ice-block making thingy
This is a zoku
It is utterly brilliant
Makes ice-blocks in about 5 minutes
 And result...
Home made strawberry ice-blocks
One of my many aims at the moment is to try to get Miss 6 to broaden her diet (presently it's white bread with honey, and apple juice). And this was a total win (once she got over the presence of strawberry seeds, and I suppose a better mother than I would've sieved them out).
She then turned around and ate a banana, at which point I fainted with delight.
And THEN she ate some frozen yoghurt drops.  Well butter me up and call me a Sayo, its an Easter Miracle.

Yeah, it'll be back to white toast tomorrow, but for today I'm grabbing my glimmer of hope with both hands.
The Organised Housewife

Monday, April 02, 2012

Autism Awareness Day/Week/Month/Life: I can't do it

Miss 6s Aspergers diagnosis is like a slowly healing wound.
Mostly I don't really notice it, but now-and-then I bang it,
and THEN I notice.

Autism awareness day/month is banging that very sensitive part of my psyche, big time.
Much to my surprise, actually.
Maybe it's part of the grieving process.
Maybe I'm onto anger, or denial, or something.

I wanted to be involved with give-aways.
I wanted to 'raise awareness.'
I wanted to talk about how every day in my house is autism awareness day.

But then Miss 6 had yet another meltdown,
and we had the therapist at home yesterday,
and she wouldn't eat,
and she doesn't sleep,
and I can't brush her hair,
and she's taken against the Easter Service at school - meaning I'm going to now have to enter into lengthy negotiations and contingency plans to get us all through that hour of existence
and being around her right now is like being around a ticking bomb, as  excitement over Easter, mixes uncomfortably with the change of routine from school to holidays.
In fact being around her is always a ticking time bomb.
I am endlessly balanced on a tightrope.
With no safety net.
All day.
Every day.

And each time I see all the Autism Awareness information out there
I grit my teeth just a little harder
Because this year, to me, its a reminder that
I've been welcomed into a club (so warmly, and with such open arms)
But I don't want to be there
I don't want to deal with all this
I'm over it
I want it to go away
I just want normal
No screaming
Just one day, with no screaming.