Stuff I see, which you might not.

EverydaySparks, Herb Gardener

Last year I was part of a group of bloggers who posted about Hope and what it meant to them. Amongst the pictures that I included in my post was a picture of my herb garden in its infancy – I had hope that the teeny tiny basil, parsley and coriander plants would grow into impressive market gardens. Well, the coriander got knocked over and eaten by a possum or bush rat or some other weasel-type character in a daring night-time raid on my balcony and that was the end of that.

But I am pleased to report that, largely due to the herb-sitting efforts of my lovely folks and sister-in-law Jo, I now have a basil tree and a parsley patch. I have even become the herb providore to my ancient neighbours – I may soon open a roadside stall, EverydayHerbs. Life on the land is very satisfying, so I wanted to share it with you – hopes and dreams can come true, my friends!

The way they were, back in the day...

The way they were, back in the day…

The Basil Tree.

The Basil Tree.

The Parsley Patch.

The Parsley Patch.

And I don’t actually really like coriander anyway, so HA HA HA to that thieving possum / bush rat / weasel.

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Wake Up Sydney!

Wake Up Sydney! That’s not an order, it’s the name of a kind of movement that Sydneysider Jono Fisher started in 2008 after he quit his corporate job, became a manny (not as in Handy Manny the cartoon character, but as in a male-nanny manny) and generally took his life on a different path. Jono was burnt out, exhausted and his successful business career no longer held the appeal that it once had – in his words, it all just felt wrong. (I hear ya, Jono Fisher.)

So Jono started Wake Up Sydney – “a community of 12,000 people celebrating kindness and courage”. Jono’s goal is for Sydney to become the “kindness capital of the world”, encouraging us to be kinder to each other and build a stronger sense of community and connection in this super busy city. I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but like this idea a lot. And to help people get started, the website has a heap of info and suggestions for being kinder to ourselves and others.


You can even request a pack of free “kindness cards”, which you can then use to accompany random acts of kindness, encouraging the recipient to pay it forward and do the same.

I read a story somewhere once that has stuck with me and seems to me to be a great example of this kind of thing: a couple and their young kids were having dinner at a restaurant and when they went up to pay, their bill had already been sorted by an older couple who had been dining near them. The older couple had left a message to compliment them on what a lovely family they were and what a great job they were doing raising their children. Apparently, this same thing had happened to the older couple way back when they were younger and they wanted to share that kindness and warm, fuzzy feeling with these young parents.

It might be sappy, but I think that is pretty awesome.




I really like the kindness cards – I have just received some and will get them out and about working their magic soon. If you’re interested, the Wake Up Sydney website (where you Sydneysiders can order some cards too) is here. And if you’re not in Sydney, I’m sure you can still do this and be kind, wherever you are!

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Beware the addictive app

A confession – I think I am addicted to an app. It all started out innocently enough – I was talking to my 7 year old niece about my new favourite game, Jewel Mania. (You have to match coloured jewels to remove them from the screen and win points – I assure you that it’s way more fun and challenging than I just made it sound.) Anyways, as I showed her, Ells said that they had found an even better game – similar to Jewel Mania, but with lollies. Sounded pretty perfect to me, so I searched the App Store and found what she had been talking about. And that was the beginning of the end.

Candy Crush is a brightly coloured game filled with jelly beans and a heap of other lollies, including – if you’re very lucky – chocolate freckles that can magically destroy all of one colour on the screen. I know, AMAZING, right? At first, it’s easy and you can fly through the levels. Then, the challenges get harder and since I am unwilling to pay money to play the game (I have some limits, see!) it can take a while to get through a level. If you’re willing to pay real $ for your fake candy, you can accept the advice of the patronising prompt that appears from time to time – something like “You seem to be struggling with this level. You can buy a [insert crazy sounding candy weapon here] for only $12.99!” But I’m old school, so I’ll save my money and take my sweet time (see what I did there?!) to get through the game using just my wits and my broadband data allowance, thanks very much.

Don't be fooled by the bright shiny candy - this game is brutal.

Don’t be fooled by the bright shiny candy – this game is brutal.

When I say I’m addicted, I don’t mean that I have my phone out all the time, playing the game. Mostly because I just can’t do that – if you don’t pay any real world $, you can only make five attempts at the level before you are ‘locked out’ and have to wait some hours before you can play again. So, I can still function in the real world – go out to dinner, work, see a movie, drive the car. I could stop playing any time. If I really wanted to stop, I could. Just like that. Truly.

One of my favourite features of the game is actually the soundtrack – there is some kooky background music and occasionally a voice that sounds eerily like Barry White compliments you on your moves, cooing sweet nothings like “Tas-ty“,”Sweet” and “Divine”. He’s very encouraging, if a little creepy, that Candy-Barry-White.

Anyways, I wanted to share the good news that this morning, I finally passed Level 34, on which I had been stuck for at least a week. I had come close before, but after an embarrassing number of attempts (thankfully, they don’t tell you how many), I finally made it. Now, I’ve never run a marathon or won a Nobel Prize, but I imagine that’s pretty much what it feels like. It’s going to be a good day!

(As an aside, my sister S currently runs a very successful virtual farm, my sister Jo used to run a fancy and very busy virtual clothes shop and I have successfully managed some very challenging virtual restaurants, diners, hairdressers and hotels. Still trying to find the best way to detail our extensive business experience on our CVs, though.)


Special gift ideas for your Valentine

Now that the festive season is out of the way, it’s time to move on to the next exploitable holiday in the calendar – Valentine’s Day. Now let me just state for the record that, even though I don’t have a Valentine (waaa waaa), I still think that the idea of celebrating love and giving thoughtful trinkets is a fabulous thing. But, I fear that many poor saps get trapped by savvy marketers and become convinced that if you love someone, then this is the day you must step up and show them. Preferably on a grand scale and the more public the declaration of love, the better.

I do worry about those romantic fools, hoodwinked into spending too much money on questionable jewellery, giant I WUV U bears, scent-less roses that have magically tripled in price, dinner accompanied by the soothing sounds of the piano accordion. That sort of thing. Never fear though, I have scoured etsy and come up with some great gift ideas for your Valentine – gifts that won’t break the bank, cause offence or mis-spell love. You’re welcome.

Firstly, from Crafted Cookies, a pair of very cute sweet treats for Valentines. Or for police to give to criminals out on parole. Or for teachers to give the naughtiest kid in the class. Or for creepy Valentines-from-a-distance (I think the technical name is ‘peeping toms’) to give the object of their affection. It just works on so many levels.

I love you. So look out.

I love you. So look out.

I actually really like this next one, a cool necklace from A Charmed Impression. But I do have to question their chosen model in the promo pic, given its inclusion in the Valentine’s Day collection…(To be fair, Katie’s necklace does appear to feature an ‘S’ for Suri (I presume it’s not for Scientology, anyways) rather than a ‘T’ for Tom.)

Valentine Schmalentine says Joey from Dawson's Creek.

Valentine Schmalentine says Joey from Dawson’s Creek.

And another idea that I like, but question their photo choice for the Valentine’s Day collection, comes from Jubile Jewel. They are sterling silver initial earrings, which make a lovely romantic gift for your special someone. But could result in some mis-communication or a fight if your beloved happens to be called Fred Ulrich. Or Fanny Underwood.

Not quite the romantic sentiment you were after...

Maybe not quite the romantic sentiment you were after…

Another interesting gift for your sweetheart comes from Plantables & Paper. It’s a love letter kit, which apparently provides you with 50 small cards with a typed intro on each, to get your romantic sonnets flowing. Although this one in the picture does feel more like it’s leading you to put an expiry date on it. If that’s something that you want to convey, maybe Valentine’s Day isn’t quite the time to do it. But when the time is right, if you use this card, it will definitely seem like a smoother delivery of a much nicer message. Of course, I take no responsibility if that presumption turns out to be false and you sustain an injury.

15 February 2013. At least.

15 February 2013. At least.

And I couldn’t resist sharing this personalised ceramic mug from 39 Cups. Perfect for a Valentine who’s a bit of a geek or a word-nerd. And we all know there’s nothing AT ALL wrong with that. It’s a word search, hand-painted onto a mug, with four words circled – your Valentine’s name, plus three words that describe them. Please note that each of the three descriptive words has to be 10 letters or less though, so it’s too bad if your man is really multi-faceted, or your lady is simply extraordinary. 

This mug appears to be for Ashley - a sexy & stylish skater. Uh huh.

This mug appears to be for Ashley – a sexy & stylish skater. Uh huh.

Well, that’s plenty of Valentine’s Day fodder for you right there, so I’ll stop now. But I do reserve the right to publish some more pre-Valentine’s Day posts if I discover other gifts for your consideration. Or if you find any true gems that I can share, please email me!

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Pictures of the week

A lazy post on a sunny Friday – here are three pics of things that made me confused / creeped out / happy this week…

Firstly, the promo posters for the musical Legally Blonde at The Star casino here in Sydney. (For the record, I visited the casino with my friend B, not to gamble but to eat macarons and gelato.) I am really not sure of the tag line: Makes you feel how you want to feel! Huh? I’m not sure if that’s a line that I’ve forgotten from the movie, or if it’s being issued like an order from the kinda cranky looking, arms-folded Cameron Daddo. How does he know how I want to feel, anyway? And who is Erika Heynatz’ underdressed character? So many questions left unanswered, but not enough to entice me to buy a ticket.

Say what?

Say what?

Then to the kinda creepy swing set that appears to be watching me from its monkey bar glasses. They look to belong to some disapproving lady (or an owl) and they make me sit up straighter, speak more politely and watch my Ps and Qs, that’s for sure.

Here's looking at you...

Here’s looking at you…

And on to one of my favourite desserts. It’s a Jell-O product from the USA – the pale green powder magically produces bright green pistachio pudding, complete with pieces of pistachio nuts that I swear weren’t there in the packet of powder. It’s like a miracle. Oh, and the protein in the nuts automatically makes it a healthy dessert option. And there’s calcium in the cream that goes on top. So, it’s basically as good as fruit salad, I think.

Fruit salad. Ish.

Fruit salad. Ish.

Have a great weekend!

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Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

My lovely friend Sophie is leaving Australia in two weeks to go and work in Hong Kong. So, what to get a good mate who is flying away, with no set return date, as a reminder of the good times we have shared here in Sydney? We caught up last night for farewell drinks and as I passed the tacky gift shop at the ferry terminal on my way to the pub, a few goodies caught my eye. I went in and, despite the crazy prices ($8.99 for a tea towel? Really?) I found it difficult to choose. Mostly because I was choosing on the basis of reducing the stock of the most hideous things so that they didn’t end up in the hands of unsuspecting tourists.

There were many interesting items, but insisting on only the best for our Soph, I settled on the following to accompany her to the East.

Professional AND educational, Soph can wow her new colleagues with this notepad and pen.

Professional AND educational, Soph can wow her new colleagues with this notepad and pen.

I am sure this shopping bag is endorsed by the elders. A nod to diversity - we love it in HR.

I am sure this shopping bag is endorsed by the elders. Just the thing for an HR lady with responsibility for Diversity.

My favourite - you can't really see the glittering sapphires. Or the action of the opera house that spins round and round. Priceless.

My favourite – but you can’t really see the glittering sapphires. Or the action of the opera house that spins round and round. Priceless.

Needless to say, Soph was speechless and a little overwhelmed by our gifts, I think. I said she could perhaps have the key ring made into a giant pendant if that suited her better – I think she is taking that suggestion on board. Bon voyage, Sophie – we will miss you very much but look forward to visiting you later in the year! And you’d better be using that fabulous (yet traditional) shopping bag when I come over, lady…


In the hot seat

Gizmag is a fantastic site full of innovation and interesting ideas – some more practical than others. I’ll let you decide which camp this design falls into, but after I saw it last week I knew that I had to share it with you…

Firstly, do you remember those Hypercolor t-shirts that changed colour with your body heat, so you could do something totally crazy like leaving your coloured handprint on someone’s shirt, only for the shirt to return to its original colour minutes later? Just in case you’ve forgotten (or you never knew the magic of Hypercolor back in the day), here’s a pic and a link to the Wikipedia site. (This also shows that there really is a Wiki for almost everything, yes?)

Oh, Hypercolor - you so crazy!

Oh, Hypercolor – you so crazy!

Anyways, back to the Gizmag find. It’s a variation on the Hypercolor theme – furniture for your home that changes colour when heated. Yep, if you put mugs on your table, they’ll leave a mark (which will then disappear when the area cools). If you are someone who insists that everyone uses a coaster, this concept may really freak you out – I’m sorry. Of course, it also means that your body heat will leave its mark – a handprint, your arms leaning over the table and, of course, your bum when you sit on the bench.

Thermochromic is the technical name for it, apparently. The mugs and hand prints are cool and fun to look at, but I really don’t want to be taunted by the size of my bottom, highlighted for all to see after I get up from the bench. Especially if I had a second helping of tiramisu for dessert. But I think the idea behind it is very clever and I like Jay Watson’s work very much.

Your mugs will leave their mark. [Pic from Gizmag]

Your mugs will leave their mark. [Pic from Gizmag]

Handy. [Pic from Gizmag]

Handy. [Pic from Gizmag]

It's almost spooky - there you were. [Pic from Gizmag]

It’s almost spooky – there he was. [Pic from Gizmag]

You can check out the Gizmag post here and the ‘Linger a Little Longer’ collection (amongst others) on the Jay Watson design site here.

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Sydney. So hot right now.

Today is a very hot day in Sydney. Really hot. When I was going into the city this morning, it was 27 degrees at 9am. It’s the kind of weather that makes me say yikes – and I don’t say yikes very often, let me tell you. They’re predicting that it’ll be the third hottest Sydney day ever recorded – the hottest back in 1939, then New Year’s Day in 2006, then today. 43 degrees or something crazy like that.

I don’t think the pretty weather people on commercial channels are true scientists though, so I was happy to hear a prediction from my dentist when I visited his torture chamber this morning. Apparently, his wife told him that it won’t be getting really hot ’til around 6pm today. But now I am a little more worried, because when I went outside after lunch, the incredibly hot wind nearly burnt my face and knocked me over. So if the dentist’s wife is right (and of course I presume that she is), it should be around 75 degrees later this evening. I have already eaten some fruity gelato, drunk some icy cold Coke Zero Cherry and finished half a lamington in preparation.

Oh, you look so innocent and pretty today, Sydney. But you are too hot for your own good, I tell you.

Oh, you look so innocent and pretty today, Sydney. But you are too hot for your own good, I tell you.

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Rubber Duck goes to the Festival

Yesterday, my friend B and I went to check out Rubber Duck at Darling Harbour here in Sydney. Rubber Duck is pretty much what you’d imagine him to be – if you have ever imagined a giant yellow duck that is five stories high and five stories wide. He is here for the Sydney Festival and has really brightened up the place. Created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, Rubber Duck is part of a collection of larger-than-life urban sculptures, which Hofman hopes will “astonish audiences and give them a new perspective on public spaces”.

Pic taken by my friend Jane as Rubber Duck arrived in style through the open bridge at Darling Harbour on Saturday.

Pic taken by my friend Jane as Rubber Duck arrived in style (with a little help from a tug boat), swimming through the open bridge at Darling Harbour on Saturday.

Good afternoon, Rubber Duck.

Rubber Duck, at home in Sydney.

Mission accomplished with your Rubber Duck, Mr Hofman. You’ve said that his purpose is “to do no more than amaze” and while he amazes, he also puts goofy smiles on visitors’ faces as they enjoy his sunshine-bright yellowness and the memories he stirs – mostly of Ernie from Sesame Street. Rubber Duck has toured the world, but am sure he’s enjoying his current home in the very public bath tub of Darling Harbour.

Brightening up the view for some city office workers.

Brightening up the view for some city office workers.

If you like ducks, sunshine, photo opportunities or smiles, this Festival event is well worth a visit. Rubber Duck is in town until January 23 – you can read more about the Sydney Festival and Rubber Duck here.

The end.

The end.

And if you can’t make it, or even if you can, here’s an old favourite – I’m sure Ernie would be awfully fond of the giant Rubber Duck too…

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New year’s resolution #12 – the food expansion program

A couple of years ago, I realised that it was time to expand my food horizons. That’s not to say that I don’t like a wide range of foods, but I had fallen into a bit of a rut and wasn’t trying many new things. So I set a goal that I would try a number of new foods/drinks every month – most of them were things that people laughed at because they were so mainstream and not remotely adventurous, but had somehow never been part of my adult diet: lamb, a Slurpee, sushi, a protein bar, Vegemite, ham, calamari. Stuff like that. Family and friends were very supportive (although they did laugh A LOT at my expense) and made suggestions about what I might like to try next, which helped to keep me honest.

Thanksgiving 2012, I tried yams covered in marshmallows. Verdict: not for everyday, but sweetly delicious.

Thanksgiving 2012, I tried yams covered in marshmallows. Verdict: not for everyday, but sweetly delicious.

I do remember shocking some of my work mates when, on the last day of a month, I was in a panic to fill the final spot on my new food list and my friend Ams rushed me to a city food court to buy Bubble Tea. Have you ever tried that stuff? Yikes. Make that yikes with giant gelatinous balls of tapioca in it. Their packaging system was very cool though and I was enthralled by their production line, but when it came to actually drinking the beverage, it was a struggle. I could only get about halfway through, which was enough to put it on the list.

Bubble Tea image from Wikipedia. Ah, brings back memories.

Bubble Tea image from Wikipedia. Ah, brings back memories. Just look at that tapioca, pretending to be a cute design on the container. Don’t be fooled!

Anyways, I have decided that I’m going to try another food expansion program this year, so I can make sure that I’m trying new things and not going for the same old food and drink options. I’m telling you now so that it’s out there and I feel obliged to follow through. I expect some hits and misses as I aim for five new foods/drinks per month. As an aside, if I am dining or drinking with you in the real world, please remind me to look beyond what I would normally choose from the menu…who knows, but I might find my as-yet-undiscovered new favourite thing. Of course, there’s always a chance that I’ll find another bubble tea, but that’s all part of the fun of broadening horizons and finding everyday sparks (and keeping work-mates entertained). Bon appetit!