Archive for September, 2009

I’ve been meaning to rant about this for a while. A post about the pitfalls of debit cards over at Get Rich Slowly has finally spurred me to action.

For those of you looking for the weekly update, it’s coming. Last week was a big week and so I need the right headspace to tell you about it.

In Australia I was mostly on top of my finances. Bills got paid (mostly) on time, I had a regular savings plan, my credit balance was steadily declining after rising during the very lean university years. I had good systems set up to ensure that I didn’t overspend.

I’m quickly realising how much the Australian banking system actually helped with this. Here, in the UK, I’m increasingly frustrated that these systems are not normal, and hence what I am presented with is, to me, weird; part 3 in the ongoing “Things that are weird” series. (more…)

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My uncle, who also worked as a public servant for the NSW government at the same time I did, has a slogan which he repeated ironically everytime we discussed our work:

“Working to make the state of New South Wales a better place for the people of New South Wales”

Now, irony and self-deprecation is appreciated in our family, so it was always delivered in a slightly sarcastic, political patter, so you didn’t take it too seriously. But now I wonder.

My work ethic has substantially dropped off. I’m just not really interested in what I am doing at my current position, and every so often I wonder why, as this place does have the potential to be fantastic, so there must be something specific.


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It’s almost 6 months since I arrived in England (arrival date: 27 March).  In some ways I feel like I’ve been coasting through, and getting grumpy with myself about why I am not balancing my life as I did a year ago.  One theory is I don’t have enough energy to do anything much following the BIG MOVE. Which may be true. However, midway through last week I realised that this is actually what’s been going on:

Realisations Normally I can juggle many areas of my life successfully. Working on each are as they need to be addressed, confident that I’ve got most of it under control.

Recently I’ve had a nagging worry that I should be doing better (note the use of the word should – guilt word). I should be taking action to get a more enjoyable job, I should be taking action to get us into our own house, I should be more active, more sociable, more…

Then I had a realisation, that in fact I have been doing as I normally do, it’s just that one of those juggling balls, namely my relationship, and the related ball the relationship with L, have been taking up most of my concentration. There’s a secondary one, coping with change, which is taking up most of the rest of the concentration. Such that I’m really only able to do the minimum to just keep the job/career, finances, fitness, social life, etc. balls in the air.

This is starting to change. Thankfully.

Last week we made a firm decision that it’s time to move. So I took a crash course in house hunting in London. Decline gave me some excellent advice during our fortnightly catch-up.

So I started the difficult task of working out which part of London is we should focus on, and how much we should be willing to pay. Online rental sites (hooray rightmove.co.uk) are useful to get an idea of standard house prices, availability, quality… Knowledge I take mostly take for granted in Sydney. As an aside, this might also be the reason that Sydney’s population generally remains so static, once you are familiar with the peculiarities of an area and have found your best fit it’s a lot of effort to regain the knowledge.

London has a few more variables to throw into the mix when deciding what price range you are comfortable to pay. There’s rent, of course. Also Council tax (equivalent of rates) which is payable by the residents of the property, not the owners, and can change by over 100 pounds per year. And travel expenses as an additional zone adds to the cost of a seasonal travel pass. It’s all very confusing.

Once this is decided, then you have to work out what the neighbourhood is like. A very fraught excercise for non-Londoners.

We wanted to spend Saturday looking at potential flats. In the end we only saw two. This is mostly because you need to make an appointment with an estate agent to view a property. A complete contrast to my usual Inner West experience where house viewings occur in 20-30 min blocks for as many people as possible. So now we have to take a day off work and get very serious about looking at as many properties as possible so we can be comfortable with our chosen compromise between price, quality, features and space.


I think this week marks the start of phase 4 of this journey: Moving on Together. We know we’ve made the right decision to share our lives, now to make those lives betterer. (yes, a deliberate typo)

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On sharing a house

I’ve been living out of home since I was 20, a total of 11 years now (yes, you can all guess my age if you didn’t already know it…) In that time I have lived in 6 different houses, with 17 different people (not including an additional 5 regular visitors, e.g. siblings and SOs of my flatmates).

Bec and I used to talk about this topic quite a bit when we lived together in Newtown (one house and 4 flatmates ago). It’s an interesting experience, one which we agreed we should all go through as part of becoming an adult. You learn so much about yourself while living with other people in a share situation. You also learn a lot about other people. (more…)

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Autumn has arrived. There’s a chill to the air in the morning, the sun is getting up later, I’m remembering to not leave the house without a coat or a light scarf (which had been mostly unnecessary for Summer).

To be honest, I’m enjoying it. I was a bit over the extended Summer I’ve just had. My body and senses wanted a break from the warmth and brightness. It was craving a chill to the air, cold noses, rugging up in coats and blankies. I know that in winter I will absolutely hate these things, but, I have a very strong sense of cycles and rhythm and my body and subconsious were constantly trying to tell me that it was supposed to be cold and they’d like a break from heat and humidity now. Please.

This may seem odd in a society which is devoted to following the sun, and to comfort. I’ve had a few strange looks from people here when I’ve mentioned I’m sick of my extended Summer (although this may be because I am ignoring the complaints about the weather heirarchy). However I feel that cycles are important. Change is important. Relishing each season for what it brings is important. Trying to cheat the natural cycles, or getting frustrated because it’s not always warm is pointless and stressful.

Leading on from the advent of Autumn is shopping! Maybe this is why I’m enjoying it. I’ve not spent any money on clothing during Spring and Summer knowing that I would need to purchase heavy coats and boots and scarves and gloves and layers and hats and trousers and socks and all things to stop me getting desperately cold in my first winter in England.

Last week was the start of this process. I now own a couple more merino wool jumpers and a long cardie, argyle socks and stockings, a merino wool smock dress, stripey long-sleeved tops, plain long-sleeved tops and a faux sheepskin hooded coat, all courtesy of UniQlo (we love UniQlo). We probably spent more than we meant to in the store, but they are all good quality, simple items that will last us for a number of years, even with heavy usage, so in my book that’s entirely OK.

I’ve also acquired a pair of black brogues, to wear on rainy days when I’m sick of boots, an angora cardie, and a gorgeous maroon silk, empire line, knee-length dress. With pockets! It’s lovely. (I meant to take a photo yesterday after wearing it to work, but was a bit worn out after my commute home).

Still on the list is a pair of knee high, flat soled boots (or two). Ankle boots (casual pair, and a work pair). Warmer fabric trousers to wear to work. Heavy knitwear that I was covetting last season in Australia and never purchased, but were out of stock when I arrived here. A long sleeved, floral dress to wear under various layers. More leggings and a pair or two of wool tights for the keeping warm of legs. A warm waterproof hooded jacket.

The question I’ve been meaning to ask: what do you deem necessary to get through a Northern Hemisphere winter? What really obvious thing am I possibly going to miss and regret not owning?

(we did some other stuff as well, including me staying in London unexpectedly overnight and having a very lovely breakfast with Mikki and J the next morning, and building of lego towns with L. But weekly update posts do not always need to be in the format of monday, tuesday, wednesday etc. )

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As a result of unexpectedly changing our plans on the weekend, the planned homemade pizza dinner on Sunday night didn’t happen. (Homemade bases, yum!). So I decided to use up the bulk of the ingredients in a pasta dish on Monday night.

Except I was tired and a bit dopey yesterday, so I kept forgetting what I wanted to put into the dish and which order to put them in.

It started out as a flavoursome oil-based sauce for some lovely tri-color spiral pasta shapes we had. Onions, pancetta, zucchini (courgette), whole basil leaves, then deglazed the pan with some left over red-wine. I was considering finishing it off with the rocquette that was in the fridge, tossing it all back into the drained pasta pot, adding a slather of good olive, mix it all together, serve.

Then I remembered that I had some creme fraiche to use up, and decided that zucchini needed tomato if I was going to make a creamier sauce. So, in went some tomato paste as well as the creme fraiche. This wasn’t the strong flavour hit I was after, and was more reminiscent of a mild nacho dish than a sauce for pasta. Then I remembered I meant to add some chopped up cherry tomoatoes with the zucchini. So they went in after the creme, as did half a tin of tomatoes to take off the dominant creme fraiche taste .

Then, I remembered the grated mozzarella and the parmesan in the fridge and decided to make it a 2 cheese-cremey-hint of tomato pasta sauce. Which thankfully tasted fine, as it was behaving more like an omlette by the time it had finished cooking. All that cheese.

The boys happily ate it up, I enjoyed it, but I would certainly have never set out to make such a strange hybrid. Oh well, the joy of experimental cooking to use up what’s in the fridge.

Edit: Maybe I should have made this Zucchini Pasta Carbonara instead.

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I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with this space. Where to take it. What to write about.

It seems to me that this blog has 3 functions and this will be the basis of what I write here.

1. Keeping my nearest and dearest up to date on what’s happening – the “this week” posts. Categories: weekly update, family, food, work.

2. Reflections on being an immigrant in England – predominantly the “Stuff that is weird” and “Things I like” posts, although I am thinking this will become a wider theme. Categories: community, culture shock.

3. Progress on learning how to fly – goals, relationships, step-parenting, attitudes, posts relating to the journey to becoming the person I would like to be (which is not to imply that I am unhappy with who I am, I just acknowledge that this is always a journey). Categories: adventure, flying, goals, home, philosophy, resolution.

There will of course be the occasional post that doesn’t fit into any of the above 3 areas, but this is the direction that I want to take this blog. Hopefully these topics will be of interest to you as well.

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Like many people, I accumulated a lot of stuff over my twenties. Gifts from family and friends, aspirational things I thought I needed while trying to work out who I was, things I kept for fear of needing them at some stage in the future. Mostly functional things, as didn’t have the slack in my budget to allow me to think I could have non-functional things.

The weight of this stuff was apparent every time I moved house (6 times in 9 years). By the time I moved into a place in Newtown in 2007 I’d already realised that I wanted a lighter life, but the process of letting stuff go was difficult, as I’m sure many people have found.

Tiny Colanders

Luckily the perfect solution came along: move halfway around the world! An impetus, a catalyst. I decided to reduce my belongings to only what was entirely necessary, or that had a very special significance.

It wasn’t easy, and took a lot of emotional, physical and mental effort. At the stage I had to get rid of some of the more essential items, I was surprised at how much it affected me to give up the rugs that had been on my floor through 3 moves. I realised they were the first things to go down when I did move, and created a sense of homein a new space. Something that had become very, very important to me. Seeing my belongings in the house of a dear friend who needed furniture and kitchen items was also strange, but good. A perfect example of reciprocity.

In the end I moved here with 19 boxes (most of those were archive sized boxes) and 3 suitcases. That’s it. It’s wonderful 🙂

We’re going to be moving again soon, and I’m starting to prepare myself for the mad packing sessions to come. However, I keep happily reminding myself that I no longer have 2.5 lives worth of stuff, more like 0.5 a life’s worth. Most of the things in the house we currently live in do not belong to either Jed of myself, as they are accumulations from previous occupants of the house. So they will remain, if our flatmate wants them, or will need to be re-housed (hooray freecycle!).

It’s nice to relish in this feeling.

This post was inspired by recent thoughts, but also a blog post I just came across: How to let go of possessions as it reminded me of the process I went through to get rid of my stuff to worthy homes. I worked in sustainable waste policy, just hiring a skip to send to the tip was not an option.

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As an anti-dote to the Things that are Weird posts, since there are (of course) more good things about living here than weird things.

1. The light quality. It’s so much softer, more restful. Still bright, but not scorching. Love it.

2. Clouds. I’ve always loved looking at clouds, I even have a Flickr set devoted to photos of them. The clouds here are fantastic. They scud across the sky, or hang there as a gigantic sky sculptures.

3. Plants. They are green and lush and just everywhere. Wildflowers tend to be the flowers I love – foxgloves, sweet pea, blackberries (OK not a flower, but I love looking at them), and ones I am recognising and coming to appreciate.

4. The cafe downstairs from work with the lovely Italian men who call me Bella, and say Bourgiorno to me every morning and make my toast and coffee without me needing to say a word. They also the best steak sandwich on the planet. Tender, juicy, right balance of ingredients. It’s been a goal to find a good steak sandwich for years. Yay Italian cafe that is a restful place in the morning just before work! Wish I could take them with me to all future employment situations.

5. Summer is lovely. I don’t care what the popular opinion is, summer is really pleasant, like a few months of the nicest September or March days in Sydney, not too hot, lovely breezes, long twilights.

4. Berries! I didn’t really get the love of berries in Australia. With the exception of fresh blackberries. English strawberries are divine, raspberries are to be consumed whenever possible.

5. Most people speak softly. This has reduced my incidence of noise sensitivity which is fantastic. One less stress point is a very good thing.

6. Variety of ingredients. Sydney – Newtown has a better selection of places to eat, but England has a much better selection of ingredients, which are easier to access. Perhaps this is why I am doing more cooking here. Which is also a good outcome.

7. In my opinion the discourse around sustainability is more balanced and advanced. This is probably the subject of a future post. Or one in a related blog if ever I get it up and running which will focus on policy/sustainability rants, rather than muddy-ing the two together.

There’s more, but 7 will do for now.

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Happy faceOne of my favourite subjects!
(The photo at left is not something I ate this week, it’s an old photo, but, there were no photos this week as my camera is not working. Hopefully only needs new batteries)

There were lots of food experiences this week. Nom!

Monday was a bank holiday. I’ve just finished reading a series about an English woman who ends up living in Liguria, Italy, which was peppered with tasty food descriptions. So I couldn’t resist cooking up a meal of antipasti, and inviting some friends over to share.  Crumbed sardines, roasted marinated baby eggplants, cherry tomatoes filled with pesto, roasted zucchini/courgettes in tomato jus (which I made up from the scopped out cherry tomatoes centres), chorizo, pork pate, baby spinach leaf salad.

All accompanied with some griddle bread, which was suprisingly easy and very tasty. I made the dough up at 6 pm and let it sit while I finished the other dishes, then pulled off hunks of dough, flattened them by hand on the bread board and did two at a time in the fry pan. we ate at 7.30. They were still a bit moist and chewy in the middle, but cooked. I’d highly recommend this if you need something to accompany dipping type foods and don’t have any biscuits or breads to hand. (Note I put in much less salt than this recipe calls for. Salt is good in bread if you need to store it for some time, otherwise you can use much less).

Last night I did a roast chicken with veges and salads for another couple of friends, including home-made gravy. I’m now officially confident in my ability to make a really yummy roast dinner and will stop asking Jed if it’s tasty. I’ve always been really confident at cooking East Asian foods, thanks to the year in Thailand, and Italian foods, thanks to growing up in Sydney, but traditional English/French style foods were a bit of mystery to me. I used to call up my sister whenever I needed to do a lamb roast to ask her how long it needed to cook. However, as I now own a copy of The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander, having watched how a trained chef friend and her husband used to throw together a Saturday afternoon lunch this gap has mostly been filled, and cooked many roasts in this country, I am happy that I can turn out a very good roast and gravy.

Jed made (under my direction) a simple apple tart from apples that a colleague picked from her allotment tree. Not surprisingly they were really, really crisp and fresh. Also, not surprisingly there were a couple of worms inside the apples. Truly fresh and natural apples.  The planned tart turned into an upside down crumble as I forgot to defrost the shortcrust pastry and so we made a biscuit base instead. Still, really tasty.

There’s lots of apples left over, so I’m thinking baked pork with juniper berries and apples later in the week, as I found a recipe for that in the foraging book that Jed bought me. we have a cabbage to use up as well, to might try to become proficient at braised apple, cabbage and cider vinegar.

Otherwise, we tried out the other local Italian place on Thursday night and were happily impressed. Had supper with Scruffy and Bec in a hippy organic pub in Brighton on Saturday. (and had Domino’s pizza on Friday night, but don’t tell anyone. shhhh!)

While on the subject of food, here’s a list of food blogs that I regularly read, which you might find interesting, or a good source for recipes:

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