Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Are you an Australian child of the 80s?

I have never had a conversation with anyone born in Australia in the 80s who is unable to complete the following sentence:

"I had the xxxx cake. "

In different offices of colleagues from very varied background, in other countries, among my older brother's friends and younger friends' siblings, the Australian Women's Weekly Birthday Cake Cookbook is a unifying factor. The tie that binds us, no matter how unlikely.

By the way, if  you attempted to fill in the blank with "rocket ship", then you are clearly lying. No one's mum made the rocket ship. You are done here*

The vintage edition of the Birthday Cake Cookbook, from a time when popcorn (rubber ducky, page 38), potato chips (rubber ducky again... no one I know ever had the rubber ducky), lime jelly crystals (the swimming pool, page 23), and a small piece of coloured cardboard (crawly caterpillar, page 46), were normal cake ingredients, has sold more than half a million copies since it was published in 1980.

 Just so we're clear, the 1980 version is the only version worth mentioning here. The updated "Kid's Birthday Cakes" is a pathetic imitation of the original. 

I definitely recall having the following cakes, many of which were made by my grandmother (with whom I share my birthday and my affinity for cake decorating:
  • Piano - 1991. I remember being so embarrassed that the party bags contained things like pens and paper clips rather than lollies.
  • Swimming pool (mum definitely made that one, because I remember it testing her patience greatly...) - I don't recall the year, but I know that my birthday party was at the Pine Forest and the jelly didn't set properly.
  • Little piggy - possibly 1990. All I remember is mum making the marshmallow flowers, which, incidentally, are super easy to make but look as though you put in a lot of effort.
  • Lucy ladybird - we camped in the back yard and my little friends were mean to me. So, you know, a normal day.
  • Maypole - my grandmother made this one, and we were at our now-defunct beach house. She used little tiny people and wrapped them in ribbon for clothes. I don't think my cake was covered in green-dyed coconut grass though.
  • Dolly Varden - could have been 1992. My party was in the garage. The cake was piped all over, like the icecream version and dancing girl, and came complete with dismembered doll. The doll body must have been covered in fondant or royal icing, because I remember gnawing the hard icing off after the fact.
My brother and I attempted to recreate the magic for my nephew's 1st birthday. You need a very big cake board...

Hilariously, my brother thought that it would be possible to ice the thing with a sort of foodie ganache which was liquid, because they wanted to avoid "that sickly-sweet butter cream". Hah. Hahahaha. The structural integrity of these things depends on butter cream.

Yup. Nailed it.

*Originally I asserted that no one's mum made the castle, but my over-achieving colleague informed me that in fact, her mum made the castle and that "it's not that hard". It is, after all, made of a square cake with some upturned ice-cream cones.... to my 10-year-old self, the magic seemed much greater...

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Some thoughts about rabbits

I was browsing the interwebs this morning, and found this blanket cloak. It is clear to me that I require this travel warming gown leg warmer. As clear as the day.

Just so we're clear, I wasn't actually looking for a portable cloak fleece... as it happens, everyday happy smile also purveys an awesome felt handbag organiser, and that is what I was looking at...

I am thinking of buying some to add to my stash of presents* as I have the same in green and it is great. I don't think mine ever looks quite as organised though...


Some other thoughts about rabbits, of the non-fleece cloak variety.

Things that are true about rabbits:

1.    They are definitely super cute. That cannot be disputed. And obviously, mine are the cutest.

2.    They dislike being held, stroked or looked at. They have sharp claws, powerful hind legs, and are not above a warning nip to put some asshole back in her place. Rabbits are terrible pets for children.

3.    Rabbits chew everything, including but not limited to: telephone cables, ethernet cables, power cables, screen door mesh, screen door rubber, table legs, chair legs, actual legs. 

Things that are categorically not true about rabbits. Do not believe what anyone tells you:

1.    Their digestive systems are not as sensitive as the rabbit blogs lead you to think. See point three, above. I have also concluded that they are impervious to the forces of electricity. See point three, again. 

2.    You cannot really litter train a rabbit. Saying that the rabbit will pick its own toileting location does not equate to ‘litter training’. Binky decided that her preferred location was the carpet at the front door. That was not the same location as the litter box. 

3.    Although I have seen video evidence on youtube, I do not believe that rabbits can really be trained to wear a harness. And I think that to get a rabbit to show-jump you must drug it with powerful chemicals.  


    *My friend Nicky once told me that possession of a present box is a mark of adulthood. Whooosh.... I've made it!!

    Saturday, January 24, 2015

    Retail therapy

    I never knew that the Australia Day long weekend meant that there were sales on. How could I not have known this?

    To commemorate 1788, whatever you wish to call it, you should go shopping. It's the right thing to do.

    Australia Day Shopping Spree

    Allow me to guide you:
    Sportscraft has 20% off new arrivals, bigger markdowns on sale items, and free shipping this weekend.
    Oroton has the online outlet open, and there are some handbags with deep, deep discounts.
    French Connection has some cute tops on sale.
    Review has an extra 30% off reduced items (and $75 off full price dresses, which means a new Review dress will only cost you an arm, rather than an arm and a leg).
    Birdsnest has free shipping all weekend with code AUSDAY.
    ASOS has 20% off full-price with BBQSHRIMP.
    Shoebox has 26% off everything... see what they did there? 
    <a href=>Ezibuy</a> has an additional 20% off everything, including reduced items using JAN20
    ShopSaison doesn't have a special sale on, but you should go and buy many things anyway, because everything is so lovely and they put so many free samples in with each shipment.

    If only pay day lined up with Australia Day. If only. 

    Things you should never do

    When I first started wearing Chanel perfume (after some serious soul searching, followed by the realisation that it really can't be had cheaper online) I got caught out a few times because of how strong it is. In the confines of public transport, there was just too much sillage. I would try not to move too much in the hope that the cloud would settle around me, but I knew people were judging.

    By the way, I never knew until now that it is pronounced see-yazh... not sill-age. Embarrassing.

In honour of my faux pas, and in addition to the seven things you're not supposed to talk about, here is a timely reminder of some other things that you should never do, especially on public transport in summer:

    1. You should never wear Clinique Aromatics Elixir or Marc Jacobs Daisy.

      Aromatics Elixir smells like an old lady who has been rolled in old-lady-perfume and mothballs for a decade. Per Fragrantica (authoritative source), its longevity is "very long lasting" and sillage is "enormous", which makes it inappropriate for use on public transport (or, I would argue, any kind of use at all). I once had a sample vial, and about 30 minutes after a single spray on my wrist, I vomited because of the migraine it brought on. And no amount of scrubbing could get rid of it.

      Marc Jacobs Daisy I do not understand. It's obviously popular because there are now 760 different variations, but it smells of nothing except synthetic musk and something else revolting. I've read a lot of reviews that call it fresh, and light and inoffensive, but it just turns my nose. I am in agreement with the reviewers on Fragrantica who liken it to bananas, shampoo, canned strawberry pie (is that a thing?), play doh, the smell of a cheap shoe store, and bad memories.  

    2. You should never smell really bad first thing in the morning, especially in the closed confines of a train carriage. If you are a stinker, you have options!! Shower and use clinical strength deodorant. You don’t even have to use deodorant. Just shower, wear clean clothes, and keep your arms down. And stop bitching about how men are discriminated against because they have to wear suits while women wear skirts and singlets in the heat. Just take off your jacket, fool!

      If you don’t want to block up your pores with toxins and get cancer or Alzheimer’s Disease, why don't you do some reading instead and learn that there’s no conclusive evidence to support a link between antiperspirant deodorant and cancer.

      Also, patchouli is not deodorant. And those hippy crystals do nothing. I know because I'm allergic to, and so have tried, everything, including hippy crystals.

    3. You should never take your bike on the train in peak hour. It’s just rude. Also, logic dictates that if you’re taking your bike on the train, you are not riding it; therefore, no one needs to see your lycra-strapped pouch. 

    4. You should not have loud phone conversations, unless they are very interesting.
      Interesting topics include friends who are cheating, poor life choices, and whether NARS The Multiple is as good as everyone says it is. Uninteresting topics include anything that makes it clear you are a wanker (expensive cars, how you talk to people who are beneath you, and anything related to ‘the markets’) or work in HR.

    5. You should not brush your long, tangled, nasty damp hair when it is in flicking distance of those around you. I know that some people are against grooming of any kind on the train, but at least when someone is putting on their makeup there’s no danger of coming into contact with their bodily fluids or particles. Your dander is disgusting. No. No no. 

    And just so we're clear on the seven things you're not supposed to talk about (your period, diet, your health, how you slept, your dreams, route talk, and money): nobody cares. I can't help myself... so all of those things feature heavily in my day-to-day conversations.

    But never on public transport.

    Saturday, January 17, 2015

    I think that's a dollar bill stuck in my craw

    In Japan last year, during our annual pilgrimage to Rinku Premium Outlets, I made a big mistake. Two mistakes, actually.

    First, had I known that Under Armour heat gear costs as much as an actual wood-fired heater in Australia, I would have bought more of those shirts. Second, upon testing the North Face Terra 55L pack, I should have just sucked it up and purchased. At the time, I didn't think I needed or wanted a second (smaller) pack, but now that we have decided to become adventurous campers, I realise my thinking was all wrong.

    My outdoor adventure essentials...
    I already own most of this...and although I don't usually advocate buying clothes too small in the hope of losing weight, I'll admit that I deliberately bought the Marmot GTX pants in M, which was a touch snug, as a motivational tool.

    Late 2012
    You have heard, haven't you, about how people who shop online are going to ruin the Australian economy?  And how online shopping will cost Australia thousands of jobs and it's all down to the GST threshold for overseas goods being too low. [2014-15: they're still talking about changing the GST threshold]

    For someone like me, who has a pathological fear of both crowds and shop assistants, online shopping is mecca. I can browse at my leisure which, since I leave the house each morning before 9am and return no earlier than 7pm, falls far outside normal retail hours. I can answer my own questions, rather than trying futilely to catch the eye of the indifferent and haughty casual worker who doesn't want to help, doesn't know the answer and couldn't give a shit anyway (General Pants, JB Hi-Fi, the George St Apple Store, Bing Lee, any Myer store etc).

    Combine a phobia of others with lack of choice and poor service, and the result is that I would much rather spend my time and money browsing the glittering, shiny halls of the interwebs. I am ruining Australia with my love of cheap overseas goods and thirst for a bargain.

    I am happy to pay a premium to shop from an Australian store, even though the majority of large online Australian retailers charge higher shipping prices, and take longer to ship things, than the US and UK sites I frequent. Sometimes it's more convenient to buy local. Sometimes I need to try it on or feel the fabric.* Sometimes in the fabric store, where all the assistants are motherly types who remember my name, I like to ask for advice about what colour thread I should buy. And I understand that our wages are higher, and our rent is really expensive. That's all fine. I don't mind paying a bit extra! But there are limits!

    Well well... in 2012 I went on to do a detailed price breakdown (and took into account differences ex GST, inc shipping), although at the time it was skewed by the very strong Australian dollar. I've updated the prices and summarised below:

    Australia (AUD$)
    Nars The Multiple
    52 - Mecca Cosmetica
    39 - Sephora (USD)
    OPI Nicole nail polish
    14.95 - Adore Beauty
    6.99 - Ulta (USD)
    Kate Spade lacey zip wallet
    359 - Dstore
    255 (AUD) - Nordstrom
    Aveda Clove conditioner
    39.95 - Aveda AU
    23 - Amazon (USD)
    Clinique eyeshadow quad
    60 - Clinique AU
    47 (AUD) - Strawberrynet
    Benefit benetint
    55 - Benefit AU
    30 - Sephora (USD)
    North Face terra 55L
    280 - North Face AU
    143 - Back Country (USD)
    Salomon Ellipse hiking shoe
    150 (was 200) - Mountain Designs
    104 - Amazon

    When I first wrote this is 2012, many of my favoured US retailers either didn't offer international shipping or they used Fifty-one/Borderfree, which were expensive and didn't have flat-rate fees. Since then, a lot has changed. Modcloth, Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom, Macys, J. Crew and more offer cheap, flat-rate shipping once you purchase over ~100 bucks' worth of merch.

    I am also frustrated by the lack of variety available in Australia. For example, if I want a pair of Marc Jacobs mouse flats, which I do,  I can choose a single style which is sold by David Jones for AU$429. Or I could buy the pair that I really want from Nordstrom for AU$255. Where is the incentive to buy in Australia?
    Presumably, retailers moving wholesale stock are paying much less for the privilege of filling up shipping container than a retail customer pays to have one parcel put on a jet, so I just don't understand how this whole system works.

    I'm happy to believe the possibility that the supplier charges a premium that has to be passed on, but what about brands that have store-fronts or department store concessions in Australia (eg. in the table above, Aveda, Benefit, Clinique)? Call me cynical, but what a massive surprise that even now Australia has Sephora, everything costs a lot more.

    Coming back to my Rinku error, North Face block the sale of their products in the US, so retailers cannot ship to Australia. That pack I want... should have bought it in Japan when I had the chance.

    Maybe I will just have to go to America and do some shopping...

    Sunday, January 11, 2015

    Buy now, regret later.

    If you have enough money, you should buy this merino hoodie right now. Preferably in 'jazzy'.
    Toasty, but not clammy, under my rain jacket in 上高地, Kamikōchi

    macpac Miro 280 gsm hoodie in jazzzzzzy

    I have it in grey marle already, and it served me well in Japan. The macaques found it very approachable. Because of the way the hood is set in, it doesn't grab at my neck. I hate a hoodie that feels like a garotte.

    Post-Christmas sales, I bought another. I needed the pink one. And it was on sale. Perhaps it will make me go up mountains faster, or with more ease...I did feel some regret afterwards when I looked at my credit card statement, but in retrospect, it was probably the goretex pants that broke this particular camel's back.

    The fit is quite relaxed, so you can go down a size and boost your ego (I bought the 12). I think that macpac in general has generous sizing, because in an online shopping spree last year I bought two other merino baselayers, and the 14 is a bit loose. I should have exchanged them but I was too lazy, so I might try to shrink them in the tumble dryer instead. That will also probably involve some feelings of regret.

    If you don't have enough money, you should buy instead this merino top/hoodie from Kathmandu, which I also own. It's only 195 gsm, so it's very light and you can stuff it into a day pack easily. It's in clearance at the moment for $50.

    For what it's worth, I don't think that the quality of Kathmandu merino is as good as Macpac. I'm more inclined to go for Icebreaker anyway, but I can usually only afford to buy a single sock.

    Oh, and no one paid me for this opinion, but I wouldn't say no if they tried.

    Saturday, January 10, 2015


    I have decided to resurrect draft posts written over the years; it's reassuring in a way, that nothing much changes, even years later. Or tragic. I don't really know...

    Life is relentless, isn't it.

    Lately I feel so busy, and yet I'm not really doing anything at all. I always feel like I should be doing something (mostly exercise or homework...), but spend so much time thinking about doing things, and then feeling bad about not doing them, that I achieve nothing.

    Over Easter, I went to the beach with my mother for the long weekend. It rained heavily, and I forgot to take my medication with me, so I spent a number of days in a dizzied, nauseous haze. I hurt my shoulder and ceased being able to move my neck. It rained some more. I curled in the bed with my dog and read Agatha Christie. We walked, and the dog and I chased sea sponges on the beach until my neck began to hurt and she got tired of such trivial matters. 

    I tried not to think about work, or money, or being thin. It didn't really work. Especially not the being thin part. I just like eating bread too much.


    Mostly now,  I feel I should be doing something. The difference now is that I just own it, and have come to terms with my tendency to procrastinate. Actually, now it's not exercise, it's housework. I look around me and am so overwhelmed by how much junk (clothing, mostly) surrounds me, and it's too hard to process. I would dearly love to pay someone to come and clean it up for me, but I am scared that they will throw out something precious.

    In 2011 I experienced discontinuation syndrome for the first time (I say the first time because I'm very bad at taking tablets every day, and so it was the first of many, in spite of how terrible it made me feel). It was pretty unpleasant, best described as the heart-racing feeling of a panic attack combined with nausea, vertigo and the sense that my eyeballs were moving one way and my head another.

    I firmly believe that SSRI and SNRI drugs can be helpful for many people, and I'm not a conspiracy theorist who thinks that it's all a plot by Big Pharma to make us addicted to mind control drugs and funnel billions into their pockets (or whatever other sinister plan fits this profile), however, I never knew that discontinuation was a thing until I missed two tablets in a row. I think that doctors should probably lay a few more things out on the table prior to prescribing SNRI/SSRIs.

    There are numerous adverse effects caused by SNRI/SSRIs, and although they're all in the Consumer Medical Information, I don't recall every really discussing them with the doctor until a few years down the track when they were starting to become problematic. At any rate, all drugs have side effects, and so in the end I made a choice between being able to function like a normal human being and drug-induced effects that were ultimately transient. Switching to a new, far more expensive, drug class (melatonergic drug agomelatine [Valdoxan]) has helped with many side effects, in particular, there is no discontinuation.  Always choices and weighing up to be made...

    I am still a worrier. About most things. 

    And I still have no idea whodunnit in an Agatha Christie novel until it is laid for me, on a plate, on the last page.