Tuesday, October 30, 2012

5 steps to our dream cottage (5 ways to save)

It's comforting to know that I'm not the only one completely baffled by the rising cost of living. Reading through your comments (thank you all so much!) it became apparent that the expense of day-to-day essentials is a universal concern. Regardless of location or family size, we are all affected.

Last week I embarked on a little project to document how I spend my money (more precisely, where does all my money go?). The results were as I expected:
  • Daniel and I spend, on average, $65 a week on coffee (in cafes and takeaway). That's well over $3000 a year. If we buy a slice of cake, some banana bread or convince ourselves that breakfast/lunch is in order, we can easily spend $100+ a week ($5000+ a year) in cafes. 
  • A significant amount of our pay goes on groceries - but I honestly believe that I can reduce our fortnightly bill with more forethought (and possibly shopping online)
  • When we run out of milk or bread the trip to the shops always results in milk, bread and a few non-essential items that happen to be on sale.
  • Bills - the worst kind of mail. Our electricity payment just increased by $50 a fortnight (!) which basically cancels out the reduction on our car insurance and phone/internet bill.
The next step? Creating a realistic budget. Our pay varies greatly from fortnight to fortnight hence it makes sense to work with the absolute minimum income and treat the occasional extra invoice as a savings/spendings bonus. I've been perusing the suggestions made by the Barefoot Investor and I really like his approach to saving - ie. put money into your savings account before you pay any bills or spend any cash, even if it's only $20. He is also a big advocate for living in the now; don't forgo your daily coffee, a celebratory dinner out or a beautiful bunch of flowers just so you can save - otherwise you'll just be miserable. One reader mentioned that her daily coffee is like soul food, a little treat that induces happiness. I wholeheartedly agree - saving is important but today should be lived and enjoyed hence Daniel and I are aiming to find a savings/spendings balance. Our savings goals?
  • a little cottage that we can call our own...even if it's 5-10years away.
  • private high school education (the public high schools in our area leave much to be desired)
And this is our plan:
  1. Buy a coffee machine so we can enjoy a cappuccino at home...but still go out to a cafe a couple of times a week (there's some great espresso machine and grinder advice in the comments section of this post)
  2. Shop with awareness - meal planning each and every week
  3. Make more food from scratch (I'll save this lengthy discussion for another post but I'm also mindful that making bread/biscuits/crackers/jams every week is not realistic for me right now, and that's ok)
  4. Grow food in the garden (currently a work in progress)
  5. Allocate a set amount of 'spending' money each week  - and always use cash. Basically, I find it harder to spend cash. Handing over my eftpos card is easy - it's invisible money. My 'spending' cash will go on things like takeaway coffee, flowers, magazines etc
I'm feeling quite inspired about this new take on financial matters and I promise to share my success and failures as I go. I think it's a good time of year to be mindful of money, as Christmas approaches and the spending mayhem begins. This year I'm sticking to my golden present rule and aiming to buy local and/or handmade. Simple and beautiful is my intention. I've also organised a little something for you...three readers will win a truly wonderful children's gift package that will ensure a very affordable Christmas. Stay tuned.

Finally....a little perspective:
  • If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep...you are richer than 75% of the world
  • If you have money in the bank, your wallet and some spare change, you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy - found via 4myearth

Saturday, October 27, 2012

avenue rd

One guess where my spending money went this week...

For the first time since Poet was born, Daniel and I had the opportunity to spend the day together sans children. I had an editorial meeting mid-morning so we grabbed a takeaway coffee on the way and later indulged in a long and decadent lunch. It was our first date in 15 months; well worth the cafe splurge.

Avenue Rd in Mosman is one of my favourite Sydney cafes - impeccable service, great coffee, wonderful food. Sitting outside on the bench seat, we could have easily been in Melbourne (perhaps we wished we were). I ordered the prawn and chorizo fettuccine and Daniel had a pork belly sandwich with aioli and apple sauce. We both declared it the best sandwich in the world. 

Design aesthetic: European art deco (with a little bit of grunge) Coffee: so good 

In the past few days we've started looking for an at-home coffee machine. We love the idea of perfecting a cappuccino (although getting jittery in the process is a definite con) and we're hoping it will save us some money in the long term. Any suggestions?  


"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2012."

Che: Tiger fun at a little friend's birthday party
Poet: Teeth grinding in her new room. More importantly, look at those curls! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

pottery green bakers

Sometimes when we drive into the city we stop at Gordon for a coffee and a bite to eat. Yesterday we discovered Pottery Green Bakers - a tiny, bustling cafe with definite quirk. Daniel and I both agree that it looks a little like an urban terrarium; if it were a movie it would be Tim Burton's baby.

There's wilted wildflowers in steel urns and freshly baked sourdough lining the wall. Plants are suspended from old shipping pulleys and lights dangle from exposed beams. A French lounge sits in the corner, friends huddle around low tables.

Design aesthetic: rustic opulence. Coffee: best I've had in months.

Which begs the question - how do you like your coffee? And where do you buy yours?

ps. sarah...thanks for introducing yourself. it was so lovely to meet you x

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

on writing a blog

In those first few months of motherhood, as I navigated my way through the newborn haze, I discovered a community of women who were writing about their parenting experiences online. Five years ago I fumbled around with some rather foreign-to-me blog settings, uploaded a photo and wrote a little bit about Che. My intention was simple - document and celebrate my family life.

Che & Fidel is now a significant part of my writing portfolio, a small publication where I'm at the creative helm. I like to think that it is a place of calm in a rather chaotic online world; somewhere to come while you drink tea. A breather, perhaps.

I've been humbled by emails and comments requesting advice on blog writing. Some of you have asked about writing to engage your audience, others have asked about writing professionally and some of you want to know more about taking photos

To be honest I feel a little inadequate giving advice. Why? Well, I've spent the past five years writing because I love it; honest snippets of my life that serve as a reminder of the good. A gratitude journal, of sorts. I've written about my personal life but I constantly remind myself that some things needn't be shared. Thumper said it best: "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothin' at all." It's a personal decision I've made and it's one that I stand by.

Aesthetics are important to me and it was my aim years ago to learn to shoot on manual and create images that complimented my words. Perhaps it's all that time I've spent working in the magazine industry; a photograph often attracts the reader's attention and encourages them to read on, the allure of a beautiful capture. I've spent hours upon hours reading tutorials about html and learning how to customise my blog settings. I'm happy with what I've created - a simple format that is easy to navigate. In a lurid, flashing www world I seek white, quiet space.

Five months ago, after much procrastination, I decided to accept sponsors on my sidebar. It's been a pleasure to work with creatives who share my values. The fact that they recognise and respect my words and photos, my labour of love...well, it's the greatest professional compliment I've ever received.

I do invest time and energy into Che & Fidel and I firmly believe in quality over quantity. If I don't have anything to write about I don't write anything at all. Sometimes I step away for a few days and at other times I have a long list of story ideas that equal a month worth of posts - rarely do I write them all. 

I am more than happy to answer your specific questions in the comments section so please, go ahead and ask. And thank you....for reading and commenting and seeking my opinion. 

on working from home - part one
one working from home - part two

top photo by tim - taken in winter when the water was cold but refreshing

Sunday, October 21, 2012

the cost of living

I've spent the past few weeks worrying about pondering the ever-increasing cost of living. Our simple life is becoming expensive and it's rather shocking to see the bills go up while our (rather humble) income stays the same. 

I realise the "grocery bill" issue is a ubiquitous one but me oh my, the cost! My big fortnightly shop has risen by a good $50 and my sneaky "top-up" shops are far more frequent, disappointingly so (what happened to the memo about the insatiable hunger of five-year-olds?).  To keep up with our fresh food intake I'm ordering a bigger box from our organic home delivery service, raiding Popa's vegie patch and encouraging my own seedlings to grow, grow! Popa is also helping me establish a Bush Turkey-proof raised garden-bed so we can eat more from the garden and buy a little less. 

But still, food is only one part of the equation and even though Daniel managed to knock $30 off our monthly telstra bill last week (he spent over an hour on the phone, he's good like that) there's still a long list of outgoings. 

So, this week I'm doing the classic magazine feature where the journo writes down every single thing she buys. But let's be realistic, there's not going to be any "taxi fares" or "drinks with friends" or "must-have leather handbag". There will be a whole lot of "2 litre milk," "take-away coffee"* and "pre-school fees." Boring but insightful. 

Budgeting is absolutely necessary but I'm wondering, what is the best way to realistically budget so everything is covered and there's enough money for all the little everyday things? 

*I already know that cafes are costly...but gosh I do enjoy them. 

Photo: Popa's abundant garden..inspiration for my own

Saturday, October 20, 2012


"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2012."

Che: I see the teen.
Poet: She clambers into the hammock and relaxes - womb-like.

Friday, October 19, 2012

stepping away

Last week, when the thought of hanging washing on the line seemed like a novelty, I decided it was time to turn off the computer and step away for a few days.

Just like in Autumn I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and perhaps a little sad. One month of intense work coupled with far too many deadlines and I was typing in my sleep. So when the stories were complete and the last email was sent I literally unplugged my computer. I pottered about for a few days without the nagging distraction of work and I grounded myself.

I sat on the floor in the children's rooms and sorted through too-small-clothes and baskets of wooden blocks. I washed new linens and made the beds, hung paintings and pictures and stacked books on the shelf. I swept the balcony, potted seedlings and planned a vegie garden with my dad. I read the printed word and watched a few movies. 

I fell asleep early with Poet still feeding and then rose with the sun to make breakfast and drink tea. The next day I watched my little girl take her first steps, her wonderful mop of wild curls bouncing. I didn't take photos - I just took it all in.

My days have been slow and purposeful and I'm grateful for the space. Right now the fan is whirring, the white sheets are drying and there's ice water in lieu of tea. The hammock beckons....

Monday, October 15, 2012

suburban excursion

Saturday afternoon Bunnings trip with a tired Poet and Vampire Che (who wore a pirate flag but will have his very own cape & mask set come Christmas). 

First stop is always the paint aisle where, on almost every visit, I hear the ubiquitous discussion about white paint. Usually the paint buyer is completely baffled by the fact that white doesn't exist and then proceeds to explore the many options including, but not restricted to: eggshell, old lace, magnolia, ghost, porcelain, vanilla, snow, ricotta, marshmallow, ivory, lightbulb, cloud and my personal favourite 'simply white'. Che always grabs a few colour cards (perfect for the craft cupboard) and then we make our way to the brooms, mops, bins, washing baskets and door mats while Daniel peruses the tool shed in peace. 

We spend so long wandering the aisles that we stop in the outdoor furniture section for a snack break and then Che runs off to the park. From there we wander past the gnomes and odd looking cement figurines to the garden centre where I always get chatting to a sweet elderly couple about their vegetable garden triumphs and failures. I buy a few seedlings and remind Che that yes, he can choose a plant but it must be edible and he has to look after it. 

Conversations on Saturday included a doddery old lady complaining about the fact that she's always buying thyme. "I grow it and dry it out and then I can never remember where I put it." Her husband's response? "You can't buy time, dear."

We came home with a beautiful lemon verbena plant and a few strawberry seedlings. Che is dreaming of an abundant strawberry vine but somehow I don't think he'll grow quite enough fruit to whet his appetite (he's a punnet-in-one-sitting kid).

Saturday, October 13, 2012


"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2012."

Che: "Look mum, the light!" - the night before this glorious sun-drenched morning I lay next to him in bed and he said: "Mum, I have so much love in my heart right now."
Poet: I call her Raggedy Anne. 

I've been spending more time thinking about the book that I'll make with these once-a-week portraits. Whilst these photos are a beautiful documentation of the way Che and Poet have grown through the year there's also so much more to the story. So, on each page of that final bound book there will be other photos from our days - the food we ate, the places we visited, the corners of our home. Feeling completely inspired by Ronnie's project life.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

spring, where are you?

Winter has returned with a sharp, cold wind; there's snow on the mountains and the southerly is icy. 

So, here I am today, with my scarf and slippers and ginger tea, watching the gums violently sway right outside my window, wondering where oh where has spring disappeared to. With low grey skies and cold fingers I'm feeling slightly unmotivated. Poet is sleeping in the big, warm bed and I'm tempted to join her and nap all afternoon. 

I'm planning a big pot of vegetable soup for later on; leeks and corn and broccoli too. Tonight I'll light my beeswax candles and cuddle under a blanket with my new book and a cup of tea (the perfect way to use the last sliver of just-picked-from-the-tree lemons).

Wishing you a warm, nourishing weekend. What tea will you be drinking? 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Glimpses of my morning: the violet view from my coffee spot, cleansing tea of camomila, lavender and calendula, a brown paper package.

Observing the little snippets around me is essential to both my sanity and creativity. Right now, as I write this, my keyboard is squashed in between my diary, numerous pens, a pile of travel magazines (work, not pleasure), a measuring tape, a glass of water, two notebooks and the foil wrapping from mint dark chocolate squares (it was a late one last night). Daniel has placed a big piece of yellow tape down the middle of our shared trestle table/desk - my ephemera is not allowed to wander into his territory. In a comic I would be depicted as a lonesome writer with glasses, hovering over the keyboard, tapping as I type, looking very much like a collector to some, a hoarder to most. What's most comical about this picture is that I can't stand mess or clutter. But right now, as I tread my way through the endless tasks I ignore the mess and just write. 

It's quite liberating to accept that full-time work and a perfect household don't coexist. Balance, in this regard, is not possible. But next week, when the deadlines have been met and there's space to be, I'll spend a few days doing things around the home. The words will be waiting but the beds will be made.

"little tienda - a little shop from mexico", is offering Che & Fidel readers 10% off with the code OCTLOVE...valid till October 31st. Happy mexican bohemian shopping...x 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

conversations at dusk

Tonight the sun will set an hour later which can only mean one thing - summer beckons. I do love summertime dusk; lazying on the verandah before the mozzies come to visit, lingering for an extra five minutes before I get dinner started. I've been unintentionally surrounding myself with hues of buttery yellow; roses now wilted, Moroccan vases, wooden beads - an attempt at distraction from the ever-increasing amount of work that needs to be done. 

Stepping away from the desk is easy, forgetting about all those stories is not. Sometimes if I'm struggling to write I'll go for a walk or have a shower or immerse myself in mundane housework and most of the time, the words come. They creep in one at a time and join together effortlessly, sentences become finished pieces and I tick another story off the list. 

It's only in the past few weeks that I've recognised a distinct rhythm to the way that I work. A few months ago I wrote best at night, in the quiet dark that settled after the children were tucked up in bed. Now, as the days grow longer I find that mornings and early afternoons are best; short breaks between long stints a necessity. Sometimes it will take me days to find the essence of the story and in those times I'm like the struggling artist, without the stereotypical cigarettes and wine.  

I take comfort in knowing that the story always gets finished but I'm unashamedly attached to my words. Sending each story on to the editor requires a deep inhalation and a few lingering concerns. I can choose my words and dictate the flow but I can never control the editing process nor can I predict how the reader will approach the story. With that in mind I try to write like I talk; conversational and friendly; simple words that express ideas succinctly. 

Years ago a friend of mine gave me the sweetest compliment about my work. "When I was reading it was like you were talking to me, like I was listening to you chat about this and that. Weird but lovely."

I suppose that's what I hope for you when you visit this space. That you're listening to me talk about work and home and family while you sip your tea or coffee or wine. Perhaps this is the best time to thank you for all your beautiful comments; essential for a good conversation and always received with much gratitude. 

I hope your Sunday dusk is filled with warm words...x


"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2012."

Che: He dreams of travelling to New York City, Mt Vesuvius and then London. 
Poet: On the table. Always on the table.

Isn't Che's pillow fabulous! The perfect 5th Birthday gift, purchased from the wonderful Cath

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

wool, paper, string

...and strawberries. Party celebrations left me a little weary so I've been pottering these past few days; drinking tea and catching up. Strangely I've also decided to switch the children's rooms around. There's a bigger floor space in Poet's room - and Che needs it for lego construction and grand imaginary cities. We moved the beds yesterday but there's still the books, artwork and clothes to go. Hence I'm relishing in the quiet and calm of these photos because my house is anything but.

Che was spoilt with thoughtful gifts this week and I'm wondering where they will all live. Later today we're going to sort through his books and take some down to the op-shop. I've already passed on his too-small clothes to a few sweet little boys who wear those tees and shorts oh so well. But the growing collection of toys, lego and miscellany is challenging my desire for simple and uncluttered...what to do?

Thankfully, Poet's scenario is a little different (although she's had significantly fewer birthdays). Gifts arrived in the post this week...the sweetest rabbbit tee from tabitha & hugo and the most glorious handknit from happy circus - in a moody charcoal with wooden buttons, it's going to be perfect for next winter.  

My Heart Wanders arrived too and was wrapped so beautifully by the gorgeous Pia that I admired it for a few hours before untying the string. Yesterday, once the kettle was boiled and I had a cup of tea in hand, I snuck into Poet's room, closed the door, and indulged in stories of cities far away. And then I napped - for the first time in months - and I remembered the beauty of sleep.