Posts Tagged ‘lifestyle’

A homemade present that won’t end up being regifted.

This month, I’ve pledged to buy nothing new.

I confess I had one slip up last week. I ordered a Grobag at a 50% sale, for who can resist the lure of double zips and pastel safari animals? Obviously not me. Other than my one illicit internet purchase (and permission to blatantly ignore the more pertinent question of why I feel the need to own numerous Grobags), I’ve been tracking pretty well, keeping my purchases limited to food and medical expenses.

Then the birthday parties came.

Two of them to be exact, for a 2-year-old boy and 3-year-old girl. It’s one thing to deprive yourself of shiny new things (Grobags excepted). It’s quite another to turn up empty-handed to a birthday party, saying, “sorry, my middle-class guilt means you miss out on a present.” I didn’t have any gifts on standby and I wanted to make sure our little friends received something special, so my only option was to DIY. Scary images of coloured paddle pop sticks swathed in fuzzy pipe cleaner sprang to mind, then I remembered a post from Bakerella featuring Cowgirl cookie mix jars. I thought it was a nice idea for children old enough to enjoy baking with their parents. Here’s what I came up with:

'Fairy cookies' for the girl

cooking instructions on the back

'Spotty cookies' for the boy

The jars are $2 ones we had in our house, originally from Kmart. I made a test batch of the cookies before I layered the ingredients, and they were pretty good. Chewy and firm, with a sugary hit that kids will appreciate (parents not so much).

Now if only I could think of how to DIY presents for two upcoming infant baptisms. A framed copy of Footprints, anyone?

Hmm, maybe not.

Have you ever given someone a homemade present? What’s a great DIY gift idea for ‘the masses’ (i.e. friends and distant relatives at Christmas)?


Can anyone recognise that movie line?
Or how about “As you wish”?
Or, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die.”

Are you one of the millions of people who can quote lines verbatim from The Princess Bride?

Good Morning America recently reunited the cast of this cult classic. In the video below, they joke about the lines that have haunted them since the movie was released (jump to 1:20 for the start of the interview). They’ve all aged pretty well, don’t you think?

I love how movies dwell in our collective consciousness, more than any other aspect of pop culture. My husband and I can recite entire lines from The Blues Brothers, Star Wars, Aladdin (the husband can sing the entire Prince Ali song off by heart), Clueless, The Matrix, Pulp Fiction, Catch Me If You Can (why didn’t I concur??)…the list goes on.

Which movie from the 80s or 90s do you know off by heart? What movie line do you often hear quoted amongst your friends?

Watching sport is like watching paint dry. Discuss.

So apparently there was an NRL grand final last Sunday night. I didn’t watch it, nor do I know the score. All I do know is that Manly – the maroon coloured jerseys with sea eagles on them – played some other team (I have no idea who) and won.

And a whole lot of people facebooked about it the next day.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had zero interest in watching sport. I don’t follow the swimming. I can’t tell the difference between the different rugby codes. I couldn’t sit through more than five minutes of the Tour de France, not even for the scenery. I could blame my race’s aversion to contact sport for my ignorance, but I’m afraid I have the same attitude towards the tennis (a favourite sport amongst Asians). Nadal who?

Now before you label me some sort of killjoy, I’m not against sport in principle. I saw Invictus. Improving morale, instilling national pride – I’m all for that. I wouldn’t even go as far as Mia Freedman did, when she poured cold water on Cadel Evan’s cycling win by claiming sportspeople aren’t real heroes (though I did think she made a good point). My aversion to sport is far less profound. In short, and I’m getting ready to duck for cover as I write this, I find the whole process boring. Tedious even. I get easily distracted by everything else surrounding the game: the ads emblazoned on the field, the pale fleshed streakers, what Bec Hewitt is wearing on the sidelines.

I’m okay being at odds with most Australians, especially those who pursue sport like it’s their patriotic duty. The only difficulty, though, is marrying into a cricket-loving family. I still remember the shocked expressions the first time I told my in-laws I didn’t understand how runs were scored. My dear husband nearly choked on his beer. So I decided that in the same way one learns how to drink a short black coffee, I’d join in the fun and learn how to at least appreciate cricket. That was four years ago. Since then, I’ve progressed from reading a book during the coverage, to vaguely recognising the players and finally, last summer, actually enjoying watching a Twenty20 match.

Now if I could only remember the difference between running down the wicket and taking someone’s wicket.

Do you struggle to share Australia’s excitement over various sporting events?

Images by today is a good day and cwgreeny.

Are we no longer teaching our children morals?

It’s a question worth asking, especially in an age of rioting, consumerism and the Peter Pan syndrome. Has a steady cultural diet of individualism left our society with generations of young people unable to tell right from wrong?

Yes, according to two articles I found this week.

The first piece, by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, calls for a return to teaching kids traditional virtues in light of the London riots:

We don’t know what we believe in and are busy bringing up children who share our confusion. The result is that we have massive numbers of people who are dishonest, indifferent to casual violence or aggression, and devoid of respect or consideration for others…Where does this come from? Mainly it comes from an espousal of moral pluralism – the idea that there is no such thing as a general right or wrong, only differing visions of them.” Read more here.

The other piece, by David Brooks for the NY Times, discusses the findings of a study in which 230 American young adults were interviewed about their moral lives.

According to the study’s authors, when asked about wrong or evil, the interview subjects could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunk driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner.

Brooks writes:

“Smith and company found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism. Again, this doesn’t mean that America’s young people are immoral. Far from it. But, Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading.

…In most times and in most places, the group was seen to be the essential moral unit. A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people’s imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. But now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.”Read more here.

Interestingly, both articles have a different take on how to solve the problem. While Smith calls for Western society to “decide again to believe in something and begin to teach those values”, Brooks seems to think any moral deficiency amongst young people will “sort themselves out” once they get married, have kids, enter a profession or “fit into more clearly defined social roles”. The difference between these solutions is whether you hold an optimistic or pessimistic view of human nature. Is good behaviour innate or imposed? Are we essentially good people who naturally fall into moral order once puberty ends, or self-seeking creatures that need to be taught good behaviour?

And if the latter is true (which history suggests is the case), what kind of morals do we need to teach our children?

What kind of morals do you teach your children? Do you agree with the authors of these articles?

Image by στρατός

How to entertain without the fuss

When Australians invite people over for dinner, it’s usually a pretty casual affair – meat on the barbie, a roast in the oven, some takeaway from the Thai place down the road and a good DVD.

Sometimes, though, there are occasions that call for a little bit of effort. Not the showy kind, mind you. I’m not talking about making a fuss to impress your guests with your inner Nigella, or having an expensive living room that resembles a spread from Vogue Living. I mean adding those little touches which make guests feel appreciated. Taking a little extra care, when time allows, to mark a birthday celebration as special. Making things ‘a little bit fancy’, for no reason other than the sheer fun of it all.

While all you need to be hospitable is an open home and a warm heart, we could all use a little help when it comes to creating a special evening. Leila Gunning from underground restaurant Tablenosh (check out her Fountainside interview from last week) shares some helpful tips about how to go that extra mile when having people over with minimal fuss, cash and culinary talent.

Here’s what she says:

1. The initial welcome is important if you’re having people over who you don’t know very well. Be sure to say, “Come in, have a seat, have a drink, etc”. Give that real sense of ‘my house is your house’, even though they’re a stranger.
2. Don’t be put off enertaining if you have a small house. There’s something to be said for cosiness. At our old place, our lounge room was tiny but we crammed everyone in. I had two couches and a chair, then I would just add more chairs around the coffee table. That was really good, because it just forces people to be friends when in close proximity to each other.I also try and light some candles for low lighting, so it feels cosy and warm when people enter the room.
3. Make sure you always have chairs set up for chatting. Imagine your lounge room filled with people and think, “who is talking to who?” You don’t want a room where one person is talking and everyone is staring at them (i.e. a big circle). If you’re in a larger space, try to create smaller pockets chairs, so less outgoing people will feel comfortable talking.
4. Background music helps. At Tablenosh, I do an eclectic background track, tunes people are familiar with. I think old classic music works, like James Taylor. It’s amazing how music does bring a bit of comfort.
5. “Special food” can be easily done. It doesn’t have to be homemade chocolate truffles. There are so many little good things you can just find in the supermarket. Get some good cheese and put them on a platter with biscuits. My favourite is fig with brie. Even if you’re doing doing individual canapés, slice up a baguette and put a piece of cheese on it. I have noticed one thing though – if you individually prepare little servings, it’s more likely to get eaten than a shared platter where you have to stand up and go in the middle of the room to cut your piece.
6. For a fancy drink, it’s easy to do a little cocktail or mocktail. Splash pear juice in some glasses and dump in some champagne for a nice cocktail. Give anything an extra touch by dropping a frozen raspberry into the bottom of the glass.
7. One hot food tip: something that always goes well is pork belly. It sounds snazzy and it tastes amazing. The first time I made it (and I’ve done it about four times now), I thought it was going to be so hard. It was so easy! You just can’t overcook it. It keeps getting better, more and more tender. Just add some roasted vegetables and some store-bought apple sauce for a nice meal. And it’s cheaper than chicken!
8. Think about the personalities coming over. If you know who is coming and their personality, I would suggest pre-placed cards. It makes a huge difference to a sit-down dinner. Think about introverted people and breaking them up around those who talk more. I’ve had tables that have just magically worked, and I’ve noticed it’s because there’s a good combination of people who will ask a question, people who will jump in and carry the conversation (the ‘chimer-inners’) and people who will listen – those who like the one-on-one chair placement in the lounge room as they’ll never be the person talking and having everyone looking at them.

Thanks Leila for the tips! Do you have any more to add? How do you create a sense of occasion with minimal effort, money or culinary ability?

Image is from the Tablenosh website.

Six Things My Father Taught Me

I have a lovely father; something I’m growing to appreciate more as the years go by. In honour of him (and because he’s a terrible person to shop for when it comes to Father’s Day), I thought I’d share six things he’s taught me over the last 28 years.

 1. Money doesn’t make you happy. I remember as a child, walking past some expensive waterfront homes and remarking to dad (who loves a good scenic view) how great it would be to live in one of them. Dad, in a somewhat bemused tone, replied, “I don’t need a waterfront house. I’m happy just enjoying the water while going for a walk, and I can do that any time!” Clearly, Dad is a true Chinese who appreciates the value of getting something for nothing. But he also taught us to be content with what we had, even if it didn’t involve many creature comforts. He reminds me of Paul in the book of Philippians: I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

 2. Humility is an art that is practiced every day. Dad has much to boast about, but constantly puts other people in the spotlight. He takes criticism, even when it’s unjustified. He’s a big believer in the common good and serves tirelessly, without making a big song and dance about his efforts. He doesn’t make a fuss over someone just because they’re a big name, but treats everyone the same. He gives in secret. He prays behind closed doors. I could go on. If only more young men could be like him.

 3. It matters who you marry. As kids, Dad would often jokingly quiz us about what kind of person we wanted to marry in the future. Having done a lot of marriage counseling in his line of work as a pastor, he was adamant that the character of the person you marry matters. Choose well and it will bode well with you in the future.

 4. A heated debate never hurt anyone. Dad is a champion debater. He also enjoys playing the devil’s advocate – something which used to infuriate me as a teenager, but I can now see the benefits of. Years of debating with dad has made me sharper and more discerning when it comes to different ideas. And it has taught me not to take things too personally.

5. Understanding yourself is half the battle. Self examination is a big thing with dad. In another lifetime, he would have made a very good Greek Chinese philosopher. When talking to him about an unwise decisions or mistakes, he’ll often ask, “why did you do that?” or “what motivates you to behave in this way?” It’s a valuable habit to adopt, as often we try to correct our mistakes without understanding the underlying attitudes that cause them.

 6. Knowing God is a wholistic affair. Being a Christian involves all facets of your life: your work, your family, your money, your heart, soul and mind. Far from promoting a secular and holy divide, Dad taught us that everything can be done to give praise and glory to God, depending on where your heart is. He taught us to be discerning about every wind of teaching, but also to be genuine – to practice our religion in a way that is infectious and heartfelt.

What was the best thing your father taught you about life?

Image by CurlysGirly

Interview: renting with another married couple

A while back, I wrote about sharing a mortgage between two families – a post that has since become one of the most popular pages here at the fountainside. Every week, a stream of NSW-based people find my blog by googling “one mortgage, two families” or “how to share rent with another family”. It goes to show what we already know: living in Sydney isn’t always easy or cheap.

It’s for this reason I’m introducing Danielle,* who along with her husband, has been sharing rent with another married couple for the past year. When I visited her suburban, family-sized home to do the interview, I was struck by how warm and inviting it was. From the cosy living spaces to the well-tended garden and quaint kitchen, it was obvious this wasn’t your ordinary share house, and the benefits of living together extend beyond shared utility/internet bills. Danielle shares her experience below.

Soph: How did you come to rent with another married couple?

Danielle: We actually didn’t come up with the idea on our own. It developed spontaneously in conversation, on the way home from a party with our soon-to-be housemates. We weren’t particularly close to them, but we did get on well. As we chatted in that long car ride, we realised we shared a conviction about the importance of living out God’s love and grace in the context of community. We wanted to share not just an occasional meal, but our lives with others who believe in Jesus. Seeing how we both were not from Sydney and planned to live here for a few more years, the conversation naturally wandered down the path of how we could do community living together. We tossed around different living arrangements over the course of a year, then started seriously looking at houses together.

Soph: What did you enjoy about the experience?

Danielle: The companionship. It was nice not to have to come home to an empty house. We could watch movies together, discuss each other’s daily problems as they arose.

Also, learning from each other. My female housemate was my complete opposites, personality wise. I was happy to follow, she was happy to lead. I was extroverted, she was more introverted.  I’m a very open person and we had to come to the middle. I noticed she made an effort to open up with me and I respect her for that, because she really pushed her boundaries. It was challenging to give grace, to say, “You’re doing something and I don’t know why, but I know that it’s valid.” We had a pact that we could always come back at any moment after an event and say, “can I just ask what you meant when you did this?” Almost every time I asked, it turned out to be just miscommunication. We worked well together and complemented each other, because we weren’t trying to get in each other’s way. About once a month we would have a cuppa – just have deep talks and pray together. I learned so much from her, as she thinks about things differently.

Soph: What did you find difficult?

Danielle: There was some difficulty with having guests.  We were always fine with them having guests over, which they did more frequently than us, but it was a little irritating when they’d let us know very late sometimes. Also we had different styles of entertaining probably because of our different personalities. I would be fine to have everyone in as a big family night. With some of her guests, she’d rather have small gatherings, by themselves in another room.

It was really tough when our housemates informed us their situation had changed and they needed to move out. It felt like a break up because we had really melded. We knew we’d still see them maybe once or twice a month, but it wouldn’t be the same. It also had a negative impact on us. We had to move out too, or find new housemates in a short time period. But we made our best effort to be understanding of their situation and to put ourselves in their shoes. Still, we were so glad when we found another couple to move in.

However the blessing of living together far outweighed the difficulties. We are so thankful to have shared this special time with them, a time we will look back on it with joy.

Soph: How did you handle the everyday details, like chores, etc?

It’s very hard to hide such weaknesses when you live with other people. They will discover them eventually.

Danielle: We both had similar expectations for cleanliness and tidiness. We kept the living room pretty clear of stuff. Some chores were assigned to specific people, like emptying the kitchen bin. The boys had a magnet, when it was facing down it was my husband’s turn to take out the garbage, facing up it would be the other husband’s turn. The dish rack was one issue! Often there were dishes left in the rack for long time. In the end, we just tried to put away our own dishes from the rack straight after they dried.

Before we moved in, we toyed with the idea of taking turns cooking for each other, but we decided to cook separately in the end, in order to allow the most freedom, since our cooking/eating styles and times were quite different. We often entertained guests separately in the house, so it did sometimes feel to me more like we were two couples living separate lives. Nevertheless there were many great spontaneous chats in the kitchen as we prepared our separate meals, and having generally one weekly dinner together did give us sense of community.

Soph: How did you deal with conflict?

Danielle: Both couples made an effort to be very understanding and gracious. That atmosphere made it easy to deal with things. Our weekly dinner together was our designated time to catch up, and bring up any issues we had. It was really good to have that designated time to bring up issues to discuss. It meant we didn’t have to worry that at any moment or when we got home from work and were tired, the other couple would bring up a conflict issue. It allowed us to relax more the rest of the time.

Soph: Did living with another couple make marriage challenging?

Danielle: Not really. It was almost better because my husband is introverted and needed his ‘cave time’, whereas I need people and would get irritated with him if he wanted to be alone. Living with another couple means I can be with people and can still give him his cave time. It took the pressure off him to fulfil all those social needs for me.

Soph: What would you change if you could do it all again?

Danielle: I would have changed my levels of openness to match hers more on certain issues. I would have been more assertive in voicing things that where issues for me. I avoided conflict too much. It also would have been good, before we moved in together, to share more openly about our own particular known weaknesses and struggles. It’s very hard to hide such weaknesses when you live with other people. They will discover them eventually. It’s good to just get it out there in the beginning so people know what they’re getting into, but also so that they can understand you better and be more gracious.

Soph: What did you learn from this experience?

Danielle: Looking back, I really do see how this experience has stretched us to grow in maturity, selflessness, love and grace.  It helped us to become more like Jesus. It’s made us better people, and we’ve established a close relationship with this couple that will hopefully last a lifetime.

I’ve also learned that no one is perfect and we all have weaknesses. We also all have different strengths, and no person is more valuable than another. Humility is so important in relationships. It’s helpful to others when you’re brave enough to admit your weaknesses and struggles. And dealing with other people’s weaknesses is an opportunity to demonstrate grace. I’ve grown so much in my ability to give people grace and acceptance when I don’t understand them.

*Not her real name
Image by pixieclipx

Can a facebook status update ever be genuine?

When you’re constantly exposed to social media, it’s easy to think everyone has a better life than you.

Often, I’ll read blogs written by people with interesting lives and feel like mine is dull by comparison. Or I’ll scroll through facebook and feel insecure, reading about the fabulous activities parents do with their children. Everyone seems so together online. They know more about current affairs; have more interesting hobbies and are much more passionate about ending famine in Africa than I am. Difficulties, when portrayed, are either full blown dramas or a trigger for some sort of spiritual epiphany. It makes me wonder: are we authentic online communicators, or do we exaggerate our lives for the sake of a good story?

You can never be 100% real on social media. Blogs, facebook and Twitter – by their very nature – require a certain amount of editing. And it’s only natural that when you distil your life into a status update or snappy blog post, you turn up the colour saturation. Highs become higher. Lows become lower. Photos look like they belong in a gallery. We do this because reality is far less interesting than artifice. No one wants to hear about our middle-of-the-road experiences: babies who are neither happy nor overly grumpy; an event that was neither a triumph or disaster. It’s like watching the highlights package of someone’s life. Everyone knows Ricky Ponting is a more exciting batsman when you watch a 60 second montage compared to four days of live cricket coverage.

So does that mean you can’t have a authentic experience on social media? It depends what you mean by authentic. Often, we think something must be unmediated in order for it to be genuine. We distrust politicians who are overly rehearsed in their public addresses (Julia, take note). At church, we often perceive prayer as ‘from the heart’ if it’s ad-libbed rather than recited. But mediated communication doesn’t always have to be disingenuous. Sometimes it’s helpful – even necessary – to filter what we share.

A better way of thinking about authenticity is through the lens of humility. Mediums like facebook and Twitter turn users into voyeurs. People watch as you interact and inevitably, they will form a judgment about you based on what they see. This begs the question: why do we choose to share certain aspects of our lives? Is it to paint ourselves in a favourable light? Cultivate a certain persona for ourselves? Impress, influence or simply gain approval from others?

A humble person does none of these things. They don’t dramatise events for attention. They don’t overplay their talents or good fortune, nor do they underplay them in order to garner sympathy. This is because a humble person isn’t out to take glory for themselves. Their orientation is always outwards, even on a medium as narcissistic as facebook. Authenticity comes when we are humble about our lives. When we don’t feel the need to impress or draw attention, we become free to present ourselves simply as we are.

What do you think? Is it possible to be authentic online? How?

Image by Leunig. Found on Nathan’s blog.

Period dramas. Why do women love them?

I’ve never been a huge fan of Jane Eyre.

It’s not because I didn’t enjoy the book or find it a compelling read. The reason has more to do with my mother.

When I was young, mum would often talk about how she identified with Jane Eyre’s misery at Lowood school for girls, having migrated to Australia as a teenager and gone to boarding school herself. Whenever I read the opening chapters of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, I can’t help but think of my poor mum, all alone in such a dour environment. The association is hard to shake off, even now as an adult.

I’d still like to watch the upcoming movie, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender as Jane and the enigmatic Mr Rochester. I probably won’t, given that I see two movies a year. But from watching the trailers, I’m already in love with the film’s gothic aesthetic. Doesn’t the setting of the film look incredible?

Women (well, at least the women I know) really enjoy watching period dramas, especially those of the Jane Austen/Bronte variety. What’s the appeal? Is it the long leash it gives your imagination? Watching a courtship hurtle towards the inevitable happy ending? Swooning over the somewhat dishy Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice?

Are you a fan of period dramas? Why?

Are you part of the food paparazzi?

Does your facebook profile detail every restaurant you’ve been to in the past month? Do you reach for your iPhone as soon as a plate of food hits the table? Then chances are you’re part of the food paparazzi: a growing group of foodies who use social media to share their culinary experiences. Despite the free publicity, not everyone is happy about their snap-happy habits. Melbourne restaurants have started to ban photos of their food, claiming badly taken pictures are bad for business. The Herald Sun reports:

Guy Grossi, of Grossi Florentino, said restaurateurs needed to be sensitive about the way photos were used. “If the photographs aren’t taken well or aren’t taken properly, it can be very misrepresentative,” he said. “Pictures of half-eaten dishes can be misleading … and there are other patrons dining, so we are very cautious and sensitive.” CBD venue Bar Americano and its sister venue, cocktail bar Der Raum, in Richmond, also don’t allow photos of the food. “We want to represent the product in the best light but it’s also about creating an environment,” owner Matthew Rees said. “We want people to enjoy their drinks and the people they’re with, rather than taking pictures and immortalising every moment.”

A ban seems extreme to me. People generally upload something because they’ve really enjoyed their dining experience. Camera skills aside, I’m far more likely to try a new place from a personal recommendation than a glossy photo in a magazine.

Anyway, here’s some other tidbits to enjoy this Friday*:

1. A ballerina and hip hop dancer battle it out in this 2007 Nike ad, aired in Russia:

2. Have the London riots made your head spin? Read this thoughtful account from London based freelance writer Laurie Penny. A snippet:

“Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night.”

3. Arthur over at Cyberpunk + Blue Twin urged us this census to stop the over-representation of Christianity.

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

*Blogging six days a week has become unsustainable, so I’ve decided to bring it back to five days, with Weekend Links on a Friday. Thanks for reading :)

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