Monday, June 29, 2009

Happiness is not only free, it can save you money

We all know how we can save a few extra dollars if we really want to do so.

There's no shortage of money-saving tips around, including simply from what we can pick up by talking with our neighbours, family and friends and work colleagues.

For example, we know that it makes sense to buy groceries in bulk, and fresh produce when it is in season. It's cheap (not to mention better for the planet) to grow some of your own food and cook at home from scratch (I took the picture above of our lemon tree today, and that heavy, glowing lemon is destined for a pudding soon!). It's also a good idea to hunt around for the best deals on phone and internet, electricity etc. as well as selling stuff you don't use or want in a garage sale or online.
Buying season tickets with friends or family for access to attractions, entertainment venues and sports games is good value for money - my list goes on and on!

But there's one interesting thing I've noticed about my own spending habits. Emergencies aside, such as the fridge dying suddenly, or the car needing an unanticipated major service, my husband and I tend to spend more money when we are stressed or unhappy.

We consume more takeaway food when we're feeling too blah to organise ourselves to cook, and more beer and wine, and we visit cafes to buy more coffee and more cake. A little more chocolate and brie will sneak its way into the grocery shopping trolley than usual. And we're more likely to buy books or cds (the husband), earrings or makeup or visit the hairdresser's (me) in an effort to cheer ourselves up or out of a feeling that we deserve it because of recent bad breaks.

Disorganisation and stress go hand-in-hand in our home, and so we start to get late fines and other penalties because bills have been misplaced and library books go missing. I feel less optimistic about canvasing for freelance work, which results in an overall lower income at the end of the year.

Looking longer term, stress, which I'm thinking of here as a physical manifestation of unhappiness, impacts our wellbeing over weeks and months. So, if we were to remain unhappy we could expect to have more doctor's bills to pay and medicines to buy because we're more suseptible to colds and flu, aches and pains.

Even longer term than that, stress is linked to heart disease and other illnesses which means more expenses.

What do you think? Is it possible that getting happy will help you cut expenses?

If so, then what? Does having more money make you even more happy?

What is happiness anyway and how do you 'get it'?

I hope to explore happiness and money further with you in future posts.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Happy baby plants

I've filled a little planter with fertile soil and these varigated pansy seedlings, and tucked them in all snuggly and warm with sugar cane mulch, in the hope of getting a pretty pickable display of happy-faced flowers in spring.
It's a nice bonus that we get to see the odd one or two flowers during winter as the plants grow, but it's hard to stop my little girl from picking them! Just to the left of this one you can see the stalk of the flower that she's already removed.
I wish she'd leave them alone when there are so few of them but I don't like to growl at her for taking the flowers, especially when the reason I bought the plants was so that she could enjoy picking them.
If only she would at least keep them for a while instead of immediately scrunching them or ripping them up!

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Friday, June 26, 2009

10 best proofreading tips

So you've worked really hard and finally finished writing your essay, article, presentation, report or marketing copy. You've run a spell and a grammar check in the 'right kind' of English, eg. American, Australian or British. Now you want to make sure there aren't any errors hanging around that might undermine your credibility or distract a reader from the message you want to convey.

First, a disclaimer. I don't proofread my own articles, only other people's writing. I don't recommend proofreading your own work. Everybody makes errors in copy, and it is very hard to see all of your own mistakes. At least one other person goes over any article I write with a fine-toothed comb, sometimes two or three people, before they are published.

Sometimes however, especially if time is limited, you need to do it yourself.

These are my top ten tips for proofreading your own or someone else's documents. Technically they encompass copy editing as well, as in practice the difference between them is often blurred.

I have left two mistakes in these tips. See if you can find them. And I definitely want to know if you find more than two!

1. If you are going to proofread your own work, print it out and stick it in a drawer.

Don't look at it until you've at least gone away to have lunch or work on something else for a while. Preferably leave it for a day or more.

2. Activate the cone of silence.

You will be wasting your time if you don't allow yourself to have the kind of concentration that surgeons require when they make that first cut. So choose a time when you're not likely to be interrupted. Just like in an operating theatre background music is ok but turn off the TV or radio. And save your cup of tea or coffee for later.

3. Tool up.

It's useful to have a pencil, notepad, opaque ruler, dictionary and a style guide. Use the ruler so you can only see one line at a time. Or use your finger or your pencil to touch each word as you go. It forces you to slow down and really look at each mark on the page.

4. Do a number of passes.

Read it once to look just at the headings, once to look at the body of the text, once to look at tables or graphs, once to look at footnotes, and so on.

5. Read it backwards.

This is a tip I learned from a seasoned major newspaper sub editor. He read every word in reverse order, from the bottom of the page to the top. It makes you slow down and concentrate, and stops your brain from predicting what's ahead and not 'seeing' errors.

6. Read it out loud.

It's great if you can team up with someone. One of you reads it aloud from the screen or the original copy or another copy, while the other follows along on their copy. This really helps a lot with getting the grammar right so that sentences flow properly, and also when there are lots of numbers to check.

7. Don't forget to notice the page numbers, the masthead or letterhead, and headings.

8. Look out for homophones.

These are words that sound the same but are spelt differently and have different meanings, such as bear and bare, hare and hair, stationery and stationary, practice and practise. Also handy is a sixth sense for words that commonly get subsituted for each other - such as affect and effect.

9. Strive for consistency in content and formatting.

This is making sure, for example, that if titles are in bold font, they are always in bold font, or that dates are in the same format throughout the document. It also applies to the spaces between paragraphs, or between text and figures, the size of margins etc.

10. Always try to have someone else check it for errors.

There will often be something you missed.

I could go on, but these are the main things I do when I am proofreading and editing copy. Please leave a comment if you have any great tips to add.

Finally, did you spot the errors I left in on purpose? In point number 8 there's a 't' missing in 'substituted', and there's less space between points 9 and 10 just after the relevant point about consistency.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Adding it all up

7 hours of thinking, "Oh, no, what have I done? I already have two kids under four."


9 months of sickness and discomfort, ranging from mild to severe


3 hours of intense pain, and at the end a kind of agony which seems to separate you from your very body


12 months of sleep deprivation which plays havoc with your marriage and your sanity

= What?


I would do it all again in a heart beat, my love. A hundred times over.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Are you addicted to the Internet?

A recent discussion on Faith and Family Live centred on, not internet addiction exactly, but the temptation to spend too much time online at the expense of time doing what you really need and want to do with the precious, limited hours we have each day.

It was timely for me, as just a couple of days before I had written this in The Catholic Weekly.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A coffee junkie? Me?

This is how my husband loves me, bringing home this yesterday to replace the one I broke.

Tea's fine, but compared to coffee it only goes so far doesn't it?

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Want to be a better writer? Me too! Let's do this

This week I had a look at the Sydney Writers' Centre ( blog and in mentioning some books for writers it named Stephen King's On Writing as a classic of the genre.

It sure is, and with good reason.

If you haven't already read it, go and buy or borrow it, and get motivated.

The first half of the book, about his life, is interesting enough. But the second is what I found really exciting when I first came across it years ago, and reassuring every time I go back to it.

He says that writing talent alone is not enough; that at least four to six hours a day of reading and writing is necessary (it's what he does); and that with some basic learnable skills and a work regime, a competent writer can become a really good writer. And a good writer can always become a better writer.

That's 28 hours a week, including a lot of time reading. That's reading good, bad or blah writing, because you learn something from each kind. He put in hours like that while he was married and working full time in a labouring job before he got famous with Carrie.

He reads 70 to 80 books, mostly fiction, a year. That's more than a book every week.

I probably used to read that much too, once. I'm not sure that I can put in those hours these days, with three young children, a house to run and a marriage to keep healthy, but I get close sometimes.

And you can too, especially if you count in the hours you might already spend in a week on reading and writing for work and/or pleasure.

For me it means being organised, and resisting the temptation to vege out in front of the TV when I've finished the housework and the kids are in bed, but I can do it.

To help you get in the extra reading King suggests turning off the TV (the glass teat he calls it), listening to audio books in the car while driving, reading while on the treadmill, and reading while on the toilet!

So with King's permission I'm going to read more and not feel guilty about it, because it's work.

Non-fiction is my thing, and last week I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Next I might try to get my hands on one of the other books recommended in the Writers' Centre blog:

The Little Red Writing Book by Mark Tredinnick;
Writing From Start to Finish by Kate Grenville; or
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.

What are you reading? Got anything great to recommend, either fiction or non-fiction?

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Encouragement for women

For whatever reason - a lack of close, ongoing connections, unawareness, apathy, self-absorption, lack of opportunities, or the sheer busyness of life - it can be easy to feel cut off from the support of other women at a deeper level.

And I don't know about you, but I get a lot of my inspiration and encouragement from other women.

I still enjoy the old 'deep and meaningful' with a girlfriend or two, but they are pretty rare these days. And when I do catch up with girlfriends, there are usually children around to get drinks for, give cuddles and read books to, or push on swings.

Or waiting urgently at home one or another of us has a pile of reports to do, permission notes to sign, or a husband wanting attention.

We converse in harried snippets with meaningful undertones and there's never enough time to plumb the depths of all that we want to say.

I think women's magazines try to address this need in their own way. They try to be our best friend, and what a crock that is! In the main, the popular mags have contributed hugely to so many women's self-loathing (even while we still love them and they are so addictive!).

Newer forms of social media are a different story. They facilitate conversation, which is such a natural means of connection for women.

Things like facebook, twitter and similar platforms are perfect for those little, unschedules bits of down time (often very late at night when it's too late to call) that come up unexpectedly when we want to remind our friends, 'Hey I'm here and I'm thinking of you!'

The internet in general is a logical place where women are creating nurturing and safe places to connect with other like-minded women for the purpose of offering and receive support.

I've done a little looking around and I can vouch for these, a mix of Christian and secular, and online and 'real world' initiatives.

Check them out for some inspiration, guidance and connection with other women trying to get maximum enjoyment out of this crazy little thing called life:

  • Sisterhood is a Canberra-based initiative for Catholic single and married women to provide mutual inspiration, support and formation.

  • Simple Savings offers tips and encouragement for saving money and working smarter, not harder, so you can live the life you really want. You do need to pay a subscription to be a member of its forum however.

  • Your local council or public library will have flyers or a community noticeboard advertising events, businesses, groups, and special initiatives where you might find other like-minded women in your area.

  • Live first, write later. Don't forget that I would love to hear from you too!

Drop me a line if you have any more suggestions to add to these.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Winter lovely

It is winter in my part of the world, and I can tell you that I am not a fan.

Why do I resent the cold and damp of winter so much? Maybe because I live in a country which is relatively hot and dry and I have identified with its outdoor beachy and barbequey culture, so I don't like being reminded that it is not always like that.

It is also really, really cold inside our house. Indeed, most older houses in Sydney are simply not built or fitted out to cope with extreme temperatures.

I just have to remind myself that it could be worse, there are only a few weeks to go and I should just put on a coat and get over it. And, as Catholics say, offer it up!

Plus, there are some recompenses for putting up with the fog and cold. Our camelia shrub is showing off its first few bright pink rosettes and it is absolutely bursting with fat, green, eager buds.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Freedom from Fear

The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.
Aung San Suu Kyi Burmese dissident & politician (1945 - )

In Australia this week we are honouring our refugees, people who have faced often terrible trials in their native countries and with great courage have made the journey to freedom in our country.

This year's Refugee Week theme is Freedom from Fear, and today I visited a photographic exhibition of the same name. It shows the faces and tells the stories of 10 people who have made Australia their home after being forced to flee their own countries.

It is a moving and inspiring exhibition. I stood for a long time before a picture of a serene faced elderly woman. She had endured house arrests and beatings on the soles of her feet which almost crippled her, because the authorities thought she had spoken out against them. She also bore first of 12 children to her husband at the age of 15. She has written poetry all her life.

She is so happy to be free and so grateful to Australia. She described as "wonderful" doing hard labour picking cucumbers and other produce (work most locals won't do) to make money for herself and to send back to sick relatives in Iraq. Once, a man spat at her in the street and said, "We don't need Muslims in this country".

She replied, "It doesn't matter, I love you brother".

She has love written all over her face. Her photo reminded me of photos of another lady when she was in old age - Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

As I stepped back outside into the sunshine I was so grateful to be living in a peaceful society and for the simple freedom I enjoy to more or less shape my own circumstances.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Start each day with added sparkle!

Eat your breakfast! That's an order from a mother. Just because I care about you :)

It's such a simple thing that we all know is good for us and is so easy to do. But how many of us skip breakfast because we have so much else on?

Maybe you're a good, disciplined breakfast eater. Is there another simple, obvious change you can make that deep down you know will make a positive difference in your life, but you keep making excuses to put off?

If you're a Christian you might like my take on breakfast, mothering and prayer in my recent column in The Catholic Weekly:

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It's music to a mother's ears

when my three year old pleads:

"Where's my fruit? Daddy said when I watched TV I could have some fruit. Can I have a happle (apple) momma? Fruit! Fruit!"

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sublime orange and almond cake recipe

I am happy, because I have two oranges sitting on my kitchen bench and I can almost already taste this:


2 oranges
6 eggs
250g caster sugar
250g almond meal
1tsp baking powder
Extra caster sugar for dusting before baking
Icing sugar for dusting after baking
Margarine or oil spray (for greasing the pan)

Wash oranges and place unpeeled, in a pot of boiling water for 2 hours. Drain the water and allow the oranges to cool. This can be done ahead of time.
Preheat oven to 190°C.
Break 6 eggs into a mixing bowl or blender. Add caster sugar and beat or blend together.
Place the two oranges into the egg mix. Break up the oranges and then blend together to a smooth consistency. Add the almond meal and baking powder and blend.
Grease a 20 cm spring form baking pan with margarine (or vegetable oil spray) and dust with caster sugar.
Pour batter into the pan and sprinkle caster sugar on top and bake for 1 hour to an hour and a half or until the top is golden brown.
Dust with icing sugar to serve.

Recipe from

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Are we having fun yet?

Studies on women and work often show that they are working just as long, if not longer, than before they had the education and employment opportunities most enjoy today.

I know I feel as though I'm constantly working!

I'm building a business, I have three children under six, and I need to make sure our home life is relatively pleasant as well. We've got minimal child care and no money for household help, so leisure time is sparse.

If I didn't find ways to enjoy my work I would be waiting a long, long time before I had any fun.

Rewards don't work for me, I'm not good at delaying gratification, and I'm not good at self-discipline either. I can't just 'suck it up'.

Luckily making my bed with fresh sheets, feeling the sun on my face as I sweep the back steps on a cold winter's morning, interviewing a person who has had a rich and intriguing life, all hold some pleasure for me. I try to appreciate some aspect of everything I have to do.

For the one job I really hate - cooking dinner at 'witching hour', if tired, whiny children bicker and climb over each other to cling to my legs - inhaling a glass of wine sometimes helps to get me through. (Not overtly. I hide it behind the toaster, ok?)

What strategies do you use at home or in the workplace to help you get your work done?

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

First post!

Welcome to my first post!

I'm really excited about delving into some of life's little joys and annoyances with you and also hope we can tackle some big juicy life and the cosmos issues together.

Mostly I will be sharing snippets from my life as a wife and a mother of three young children, a freelance journalist, editor and writer, a wannabe photographer and a compulsive reader and thinker.

There is nothing more this writer loves than an audience. So thanks for dropping by and I hope to see you around a bit more.

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