Fiction and reality collide

It’s almost been two years since we heard about that strange flu first discovered in China. Our lives have been upended ever since. We are slowly coming to terms that we will never return to life as we knew it before.

What I wasn’t ready for was it to be depicted in the fictional world. Recently I was confronted with this twice in one week. Not only was I not prepared for it, I was also overwhelmed by the emotions I experienced.

Continue reading “Fiction and reality collide”

Discovering Shinrin-Yoku

Whenever we visit my husband’s family in England I really look forward to walking in the nature reserve near their home.

Formerly a farm, the nature reserve is now 33 hectares of wildflower meadows, woodland, ancient hedgerows and ponds. While we are visiting I walk there most days. I refer to it as my “happy place”.

Continue reading “Discovering Shinrin-Yoku”

Summer Reading Frenzy

This summer I went on a reading frenzy.

Holidays, long flights, sport on the television gave me the opportunity to indulge in my favourite pastime.

Over the past 12 months or so I have been focusing on books that furthered the purposes of my sabbatical. Books that I could blog about on my journey of discovery.

Well, I have discovered that after a while these books can get boring. One reason why I haven’t blogged in ages is because I was working my way through another book of discovery. However, I got stuck halfway through. I felt guilty because I wanted to read other books but hadn’t finished this one for my blog.

Then I remembered my earlier discovery; there are too many good books in the world to waste my time on one I am not enjoying.

I am pleased to say after reading 12 books in eight weeks I have rediscovered my passion for reading for pleasure.

So what were the books that took me on my reading frenzy?

Cedar ValleyCedar Valley by Holly Throsby – Coming from rural Australia I have an interest in stories set in the Australian countryside. It sometimes helps with my homesickness. I’ve read Holly’s first book Goodwood and liked it. Cedar Valley didn’t capture my imagination as much possibly because it came to quite an abrupt ending. However, it was still an enjoyable read, especially as it was my first fiction book in some time.


One hundred yearsOne Hundred Years Of Dirt by Rick Morton – Another one based in rural Australia. This time non-fiction. I was somewhat disappointed by this book as I was expecting the author to focus more on his mother’s battles raising her children alone in the outback. However, I still found it quite interesting, especially his perspective on the lack of diversity of journalists (from a socio-economic point of view) and the implications this has on media news and reporting.


The Virgins LoverThe Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory – My other area of interest is historical fiction and Philippa Gregory is a champion of this genre. I’ve read quite a few of Philippa’s books (as you’re about to find out). The Virgin’s Lover was an easy escapist read which lead me to…..




The last tudorThe Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory – After reading about Queen Elizabeth I, I thought I’d follow up with the story of her cousin, Lady Jane Grey and her sisters, Katherine and Mary. I’d read this book before so it was an easy read and included more on Elizabeth from another woman’s perspective.



The other boleyn girlThe Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory – To continue the focus on Elizabeth, I then read more about her mother, Anne Boleyn, and aunt, Mary. By this time I’d had enough of the Tudor England and returned to 21st Century rural Australia.




Year of the farmerThe Year of the Farmer by Rosalie Ham – Again I went with a known author (Rosalie also wrote The Dressmaker) and wasn’t I disappointed. This “love” story was set around farmer’s access to water and government bureaucracy. Having lived in both New South Wales (somewhere in the middle of the Murray Darling basin) and South Australia (at the end) I’m particularly interested in the differing and competing perspectives of water use in this region.


Girl with a pearlGirl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier – As I was spending a few days in The Hague, Netherlands, I wanted to read a book set in the area I was visiting. I’d not read Girl with a Pearl Earring, so this was the perfect opportunity. It really added to my visit and was topped off by the chance to see the painting by Johannes Vermeer.



Dirt musicDirt Music by Tim Winton – Back to rural Australia and Tim Winton’s book Dirt Music was one I’d been wanting to read for a while. I almost didn’t read it due to a review of the book by someone who totally didn’t understand the background of the characters (perhaps he/she wasn’t from Australia?). Anyway I very much enjoyed it and now want to go back to the Margaret River area.



The tattooist of auschwitz.jpgThe Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – Back to Europe again, this time the mid 20th Century. This book has been on the top of many reading lists and I was interested to read an account of someone who had lived though the horrors of Auschwitz. However, as I read the book I felt a certain sense of incredulity, that what happened to the characters was a little unbelievable. When researching the book further I found out that that some of the story, which read as factual, has been proven as incorrect or dramatic licence taken. This lead me to be somewhat disappointed with the book. I think if I’d known this before reading the book I would have taken a slightly different approach in reading it.

The kissing seasonThe Kissing Season by Rachel Johns – This was a random read. I woke up during the night and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I’d just finished the above book and needed something to distract my mind which was running at a million miles an hour. I’ve read the Kissing Season a few times, it’s a quick easy read, a love story set in coastal Western Australia. After two hours I finished the book and fell asleep.



The nowhere childThe Nowhere Child by Christian White – While this books starts in Australia most of the story takes place in the US. This is Christian White’s debut novel and I really enjoyed the twists and turns. Just when I thought I’d figured it out Christian throws in a curve ball. The Nowhere Child is definitely one book I will read again and I’ll be on the look out for Christian’s next novel.



Ask again yes.jpgAsk Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane – I found this book through The Bibliofile’s blog. The Bibliofile said “This type of book, with its detailed character sketches and focus on family relationships, is not going to be for everyone, but if you think it sounds interesting, you’ll probably love it.” It sounded interesting so I thought I’d give it a go. It definitely was interesting but I felt like there are a few too many unanswered questions, like why Peter’s parents didn’t like Kate? The big reveal about Peter’s mother’s past should have elicited some sympathy but didn’t really help her character. Did I love it? No. But I kind of liked it.


(Main Photo by Dan Dumitriu on Unsplash)

Busy, Stressed and Food Obsessed! by Lisa Lewtan (Part 1)

I am a work in progress and I know I’m not perfect. But I’m OK with that.

My blog post today falls somewhere between a book review and a diary entry.

I have just started reading Busy, Stressed and Food Obsessed! by Lisa Lewtan and am working my way through the “assignments” at the end of most chapters. Rather than review the book as I usually would I thought I would share my progress as I work through the book.

Chapter III: What is my story?

I grew up in a family where we were told to “eat everything on our plate” and to “not waste food”. Growing up in a family of five siblings with not a lot of money or opportunities to eat out our main meal was the basic meat and three vegetables. Treats really were sometimes foods. And if you had something delicious (bacon, chocolate or lollies) you ate it quickly so no-one could steal it.

Fast-forward to now; I can eat what I want, when I want. The trouble is I want to eat everything all the time. I think about food often. What am I going to eat next? When am I going to eat next? I eat when I am bored, stressed, sad, happy, relaxed. I eat to reward myself. Hunger is rarely in the equation but when it is, the feeling is magnified 100 times. If you look up the word HANGRY in the dictionary there is a picture of me.

Many of us get caught in the pattern of over-scheduling our families and ourselves. Your to-do list is your map. Your cell phone is your compass. We say we hate it yet we just keep doing it. We rarely give ourselves permission to sit down and reflect, think abut our choices and our true desires and schedule our lives with our dreams and long-term goals in mind…. So we just keep going and going, getting more stressed along the way. Rather than slowing down, we turn to prescription drugs, wine and food.

Chapter IV: What is keeping me busy in my life? Is it satisfying or draining?

  • Work, which comprises roughly 35% of my waking hours = Mostly unsatisfying (sorry boss)
  • Household administrivia (cooking, shopping, tidying, helping my son with his homework) = Mostly unsatisfying
  • Exercise and meditation = Satisfying (but only 1.5% of my waking hours)
  • Obsessing over what are we / what am I going to do next = DRAINING
  • Socialising with friends and family = Very satisfying (but this often revolves around food!)

Just like watching porn works to excite its viewers to want more sex, food porn excites its viewers to want more food! As a result, we are thinking, planning, and dreaming about food all day long. Is it any wonder we are all food obsessed?

Chapter V: Start paying attention. Start noticing conversations about food, pictures sent to you, billboards and commercials, and how often you find yourself thinking about food.

A snapshot of my day

Wake up: flick through social media posts from friends about meals they ate last night and recipes for cakes and chocolate. I’m thinking what am I going to eat for breakfast. Do I need to put something out to defrost for dinner tonight?

Busy stressed

On the way to work: I’m tired. I need caffeine, I need a cup of tea.

Mid morning: Hmmm I need a break from work. Maybe a snack. No I’ll resist and have another cup of tea.

Late morning: Lunch is coming soon. I’m getting hungry. I need to make healthy choices.

Lunch time: (in the cafeteria, lots to choose from) There’s the healthy choice, a salad. Oooh no, there’s dumplings for lunch. Yum I love that. I’ll have that. Scroll through social media and see what my friends are having to eat (see below).

Screen Shot 2

Mid afternoon: Hmmm I need a break from work. Maybe a snack. No I had too much for lunch. I’ll resist and have another cup of tea.

Home from work: Arrgh! I’m exhausted. But I have to start making dinner. I’ll just have a snack while I’m getting dinner ready. I’ll make it a healthy choice. Fruit! Yeah, fruit is good.

10 minutes later: I need to taste what I am making. Yum, not bad if I do say so myself. I need another taste (repeat, repeat, repeat).

After dinner: I’ve had a hard day. Scroll through social media (see below). I deserve a treat. Chocolate and a glass of wine. Some more chocolate. It’s almost all gone, I better finish it off…..



Busy, Stressed and Food Obsessed!: Calm Down, Ditch Your Inner-Critic Bitch, and Finally Figure Out What Your Body Needs to Thrive, Lisa Lewtan, Healthy, Happy, and Hip, 2015,  ISBN: 978-0-692-50051-4

Book Review: Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

We are each as vulnerable as the next person on the planet, and that was both a terrifying and enlightening fact.

Having recently read and reviewed Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, I was looking for a new book to review for my next blog post. As I searched for options I kept being drawn to Any Ordinary Day: Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens After the Worst Day Of Your Life by Leigh Sales; a book that was very similar to Option B that I disregarded it. In the end I realised that there must a reason why I kept coming back to this book, so I should just go ahead and read it.

And I am glad I did. To some extent it is very similar story; a high profile woman blindsided by events beyond their control, reflecting on what happens after the worst day of their life and how we can all build resilience to work through life-changing events.

However, while there are many similarities and take-aways both give different perspectives. As an Australian Leigh’s examples, the Lindt Cafe siege, Stuart Diver and Thredbo landslide, the Port Arthur massacre, all resonate with an Australian reader and may not have as much meaning to those who have not lived in Australia in recent decades.

Leigh is also a journalist and gives her perspective on the media’s role in a victim or surviour’s journey. (Something I would have been interested in hearing from Sheryl given her position at Facebook.)

This was probably the part I read with most interest, as I believe that often the 24 hour media news cycle can make things worse for someone who has just experienced the worst day of their life.

Maximum public curiosity and therefore maximum media harassment coincide with the peak vulnerability of the people involved.

It was interesting to read how Leigh justified her role in this by it being “in the public interest” and if she didn’t do it someone else would.

Journalism has a culture that values and rewards breaking news, fresh angles that keep stories on the front page and juicy details that make people talk. From day one in journalism school, you’re taught that while you must behave ethically towards the people on whom you report, ultimately you serve the public above all else.

Coincidentally, I studied journalism at the same time as Leigh but moved away from it as a career pathway as I felt uncomfortable with the process. I feel that it is unethical to turn people’s suffering into “news” for public consumption and make money for the media owners and advertisers.

Another factor I found interesting was how many people she interviewed believed that faith helped them through.

This was something that also surprised Leigh.

Louisa’s positive attitude, born of her conviction that God has a plan for her, is admirable but I still have a hard time thinking the way she does.

This lead her to speak with a priest about his role in supporting people as they work though their experience.

Religion is an extraordinarily helpful tool at times of grief and loss because it offers both an explanation for the inexplicable and a supportive community.

Ultimately, whether it is a religious community, family and friends, people where you live or even people who live on the other side of the world, community is important.

Like Dunblane in Scotland and Port Arthur in Tasmania. Walter Mikac, who lost his family in the Port Arthur massacre, found support by connecting with a network of fathers who had lost children in the Dunblane school massacre.

Prior to that, I was thinking, There’s nobody in the world who really knows how I feel. Being in their company was a really healing thing.

Like Sheryl, Leigh also focuses on how friends and colleagues react to survivours and victims and how important it is to let go of our own concerns and insecurities to be there to support the person.

The fear is you’re going to do something that makes it worse. But I know now that the worst thing you can do is ignore it or pretend it’s not happening and not be there for them.

This reinforced to me how important it is to confront my fears and insecurities and to genuinely be there to support my family and friends during difficult times.

I completely understand that compulsion to look away, and so it seemed strange to me, as I embarked on this book, that I was choosing to do the opposite, to walk towards the pain and suffering, particularly when there had been a modest measure of it in my own life. Now that I know more about how our brains work, I think perhaps it was an effort to impose control. If I could understand the things that rattled me, perhaps I could harness my own rampaging fear.

Hmmm, perhaps this is why I was drawn to this book……

And the quote which resonated with me most?

All that I can tell you is that life is richer, kinder and safer than the news would have you believe. People are more decent. The things you think you wouldn’t be able to survive, you probably can. You will be okay. There’s really only one lesson to take from all of this and that is to be grateful for the ordinary days and to savour every last moment of them. They’re not so ordinary, really. Hindsight makes them quite magical.


Any Ordinary Day: Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens After the Worst Day Of Your Life, Leigh Sales, Penguin Random House Australia, 2018, ISBN 978-1-760-14417-3


Book Review: Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant

I searched for ways to end the sorrow, put it in a box, and throw it away. For the first weeks and months, I failed. The anguish won every time. Even when I looked calm and collected, the pain was always present. I was physically sitting in a meeting or reading to my kids, but my heart was on that gym floor.

In Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy Sheryl Sandberg opens up about the grief she felt following the sudden death of her husband, her concerns about how their children will grow up without a father and her relationships with family, friends and colleagues.

However, this book is more than Sheryl’s story of the aftermath of her husband’s death. It is combined with research on finding strength in the face of adversity, building resilience and overcoming hardship.

Co-authored by Adam Grant, a psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Option B offers advice on how you can build resilience in yourself and help others experiencing similar crises.

While I have never faced the devastating shock that Sheryl Sandberg experienced, I believe it is important to build resilience in order to tackle everyday challenges.

You don’t have to experience tragedy to build your resilience for whatever lies ahead.

I was also interested to read how this experience impacted Sheryl’s beliefs given her views expressed in her previous book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

I found much of the advice she and Adam gave to be helpful and thought provoking.

… psychologist Martin Seligman found three P’s that can stunt recovery: (1) personalisation – the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness – the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence – the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.

It also made me honestly reflect on how I have supported (or not supported) friends and family going through hardships. And acknowledge that I really must do better.

For friends who turn away in times of difficulty, putting distance between themselves and emotional pain feels like self-preservation. … Others get overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness … Simply showing up for a friend can make a huge difference.

What I liked about the book was that it not only focused on steps in which an individual can build resilience but also how to raise resilient kids, build strength in communities to overcome obstacles and prevent adversity and create a workplace culture of embracing and learning from failure.

What I found frustrating was that the book didn’t seem to adequately achieve being either a memoir or a self-help book. It just seemed to be, well, kind of half way. And it left me somewhat disappointed. Luckily through reading the previous chapters I had built some resilience!

Resilience in love means finding strength from within that you can share with others. Finding a way to make love last through the highs and lows. Finding your own way to love when life does not work out as planned. Finding the hope to love and laugh again when love is cruelly taken from you. And finding a way to hang on to love even when the person you love is gone.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant, London, WH Allen, 2017, Epub ISBN 9780753548301











An insight into my strengths

With my sabbatical nearing the end I am reflecting what I really want to do in terms of work. When I was younger, work was a central part of my life. It was essential to who I was. Now work is less important, other things define who I am and what I do with my life. I do not live to work.

However, I do want my work to be engaging, my strengths best utilized, and fit with my values. I don’t want to waste my time doing something that I don’t enjoy and doesn’t take advantage of my strengths.

So what are my strengths?

I had a reasonable idea but wanted something more objective. In my search I was recommended CliftonStrengths.

Don Clifton’s StrengthsFinder is based on 40 years of research. Millions of people have used CliftonStrengths to discover and describe their talents.

I have found that personal and professional development often focusses on improving your weaknesses. As a child you are told you can be anything you want to be as long as you work hard. But the reality is if you have always struggled with maths you are unlikely to be a great accountant. Tom Rath, author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, recommends putting our energy into developing our natural talents.

You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.

According to research by Gallup (the company behind CliftonStrengths), having the opportunity to develop our strengths is more important to our success at work than our role, title or even our pay.

In the workplace, you are six times less likely to be engaged in your job, when you’re not able to use your strengths in your job.

Consider this; when you’re unhappy at work you are more likely to:

  • dread going to work,
  • have more negative than positive interactions with your colleagues,
  • treat your customers (clients, students, patients) poorly,
  • tell your friends what a miserable company you work for,
  • achieve less on a daily basis.

CliftonStrengths identifies 34 themes of talent, or core personality traits. Through an assessment where you have just 20 seconds to answer each question (top of mind responses being more revealing than if you have time to think about it) your top five strengths are determined and all 34 are ranked.

So what are my top five?

  1. DisciplinePeople who are especially talented in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create. Initially I thought Discipline was about self-control (definitely NOT one of my strengths) but I am all about routines, structure, and being organised.
  2. InputPeople who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information. I really do find so many things interesting. I love to read just about anything. I love to travel because each new location offers a new experience.
  3. CommunicationPeople who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters. This is what I am all about. I love to write (hey, blogger!). I love to talk. I love to bring ideas to life, to energize people and to inspire them to act.
  4. HarmonyPeople who are especially talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement. Of my five top strengths Harmony is the the one that that is least descriptive of me. I do like to argue and put my opinion forward. However, I do believe that while people’s opinions matter and people should speak up, we should be working towards agreement and consensus. We do need to find common ground.
  5. RelatorPeople who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal. I don’t always feel comfortable meeting new people or confident striking up a conversation with an acquaintance,  but I do gain strength from being around close friends and believe that so much more can be achieved by being friends with my colleagues.

Now I have an insight into my strengths it doesn’t end there. CliftonStrengths offers advice on how to develop your strengths and on managing areas of less strength (e.g by seeking others with talents in those areas). They also help you to be aware of blind spots caused by your strengths.

I am working on an action plan for improving and applying my strengths into the future.

To start with, each week I plan to select a different strength in my top five and ask myself, “How can I use this strength today?” and at the end of each day, reflect on how I intentionally used this strength and think of the impact it had for me.

Secondly, I plan to ask those who know me, especially my former colleagues, three questions relating to my top five strengths.

  1. What was your initial reaction to my report?
  2. Which strength or strengths do you see most in me? Can you give me an example?
  3. What do you see as my greatest strengths?

I hope that by focusing on my strengths, rather than my weaknesses, I will gain a clearer picture of how best to use my time and how I can best can contribute to my community.

(Photo by Alex wong on Unsplash)
Strengths Finder 2.0, Tom Rath, New York, Gallup Press, 2007, ISBN 9780-1-59562-015-6


Book Review: The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape

If you want financial freedom, you need to take charge.

For a supposedly intelligent person I’m really not that smart when it comes to money. I have been lucky enough to have good jobs, am always cautious not to spend more than I have and avoid debt as much as possible. However, over time I have had that niggling feeling that I should be doing more with my finances.

Truthfully, I never had enough mental energy to think about it, let alone learn and understand all the financial terminology. Add that to a lot of negative media about unscrupulous financial advisers and knowing more than one friend who had lost a significant amount of money taking their advice. It was all too hard and overwhelming.

You can live the rest of your life with excuses about your lot – most people do – but they sure as hell won’t protect you from the financial fire that’s eventually going to work its way to you.

One of the goals I set myself at the start of my sabbatical was to gain a better understanding of financial matters and sort out our financial life. I spent a few months procrastinating, doing a few internet searches, reading a few articles but not really achieving much.

Then while browsing in an airport bookstore I came across The Barefoot Investor: The Only Money Guide You’ll Ever Need by Scott Pape.

This book – and the solid-as-a-rock steps it gives you – is built on values that have stood the test of time.

And that is what hooked me. No promises of get rich quick schemes. No give up a coffee a day and you’ll become financially secure. Just honest, down to earth common sense.

I don’t want to get carried away but this book changed my life. The Barefoot Investor is easy to read and more importantly the author clearly explains how to put his advice into action. The Barefoot Steps start with scheduling monthly date nights. (Scott even suggests a glass of wine or two!) Now this is a financial advisor who gets me!

The Barefoot Investor starts with a section called Plant where you build your financial infrastructure. Scott recommends setting up a number of bank accounts, or buckets, and give them memorable names like Spend, Splurge, and Smile. He outlines options for superannuation and insurance and how to cut your debt.

The second section, Grow, discusses buying your own home, investing and providing a bucket (called Fire Extinguisher) for emergencies.

In the third section, Harvest, he talks about how you can pay off your mortgage, have enough for retirement and even leave a legacy for your children.

I am working my way through Scott’s recommended steps. I’m not finished yet but when it comes to financial matters I expect that I will never finish. (More date nights! More wine!) And be warned, not everything applies to every reader. This is a book written for an Australian audience, some information such as the superannuation advice may not apply. However, the core ideas are sound and could be adapted for most people’s situations.

Also reading the book won’t solve all your financial problems. You have to do the hard work. The tips on where to look for more information and scripts to help when you call your bank and insurance company give you the confidence to do what you need to do.

I have joined the Barefoot Investor cult!

From this point on, no matter what you face in the future, you can look yourself in the eye and confidently say to yourself… I’ve got this.

The Barefoot Investor: The Only Money Guide You’ll Ever Need, Scott Pape, John Wiley & Sons Australia, June 2017, ISBN 9780730324218