On death and dying

30 March 2015

A few years ago, just before Easter, a much loved aunt passed away. She had been sick for some time and gravely so, and yet I held out hope because it was all I could do at the time.

In the months beforehand, I'd done a lot of thinking and a bit of research - if you could call it that. I looked to podcasts, films and books to try and help me think about death, and conversely what it meant to be alive.

I've continued to do so and today, I'd like to share some of the stories that I've found particularly insightful, challenging and comforting.

Tender - a documentary

My friend Sean discovered this documentary last year when it screened on the ABC and quickly recommended it. Tender follows a community group in Port Kembla that is trying to set up its own funeral business, giving community members the chance to care for their own in their last days and immediately after death. A way into the project, it becomes clear that one of their own is dying and the film and project take on a whole new depth.

Living with a terminal illness: Keith and Helen Bunker's story

This interview series is astounding because it unfolds over months, as man in his mid-forties shares how he's doing both physically and mentally after his cancer becomes terminal. Keith Bunker recorded regular conversations with radio host James O'Loughlin and together the pair documented the last seven months of his life. There are moments in this series where you forget Keith is sick at all, and then interviews where he is struggling to breathe and speak. It's a remarkable series, with Keith's wife Helen recording the final instalment after her husband passes away.

The cancer updates explores a very similar story of hope and decline for one Australian family, only it's told through the eyes of a wife and carer who takes to email to send regular and frank updates to friends and family about how her husband Russell is doing.

Janelle Chalmer on Conversations with Richard Fidler

Janelle is an embalmer who has spent much of her career working in funeral homes, where she prepares bodies for viewings, burials and cremations. She is incredibly empathetic and reveals how she will sometimes speak to bodies as she is working on them and will even read relevant obituaries if she finds them. In this interview Janelle talks about how many people struggle to reconcile the person they knew with the body that remains.

Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Roz Chast, a memoir

Roz Chast, a long-time comic illustrator for The New Yorker, chronicles the real-life decline of her elderly parents George and Elizabeth in this graphic novel. It's an honest account that explores what it means to die of old age and what it takes to care for your parents. Along with the comic, Chast includes photographs from her childhood and what she finds as she cleans out her parent's apartment.

The Spare Room, Helen Garner

In a book that bridges fiction and non-fiction, Helen Garner writes about a friend who is dying of cancer who comes to stay in her spare room as she pursues alternative treatment in Melbourne. It captures the physical struggles of cancer, from the sweat soaked sheets to the fiery confrontations that occur between Helen and her sick friend. The way death is described in this book is particularly powerful and almost triumphant.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

I am midway through this book, in which Joan Didion describes the night of her husband's death and her first year as a widow. At one point she becomes aware that she remains ever hopeful that her husband John will return. The hospitalisation of her only daughter amplifies her grief as she remembers episodes of family life and marriage at the smallest of prompts. While these reminders are painful for Joan, they also illuminate the moments, rituals and places that have shaped her life, and no longer appear inconsequential or mundane. She also explores how death and illness are explained medically and how bamboozling that can be, as well as how memory becomes both heightened and distorted in mourning.

Weekend links

27 March 2015

Hello! Tomorrow I'm flying to Sydney to cuddle my niece and help two of my closest friends celebrate their 30th birthdays. I can't wait! Hope you have a nice weekend. Here are a few things I enjoyed this week:

Savoury galettes - they're new to me and I've  already made two types, pumpkin and caramelised onion and wild mushroom and Stilton. The mushroom was my favourite. They're very comforting for Autumn, and less fussy than a pie or quiche.

The New York Magazine runs a tongue-in-cheek series focusing on high-profile bloggers called 'I Like This Bitch's Life', I especially enjoyed the Molly Yeh profile. Her blog has its own theme song!

If you follow cartoonist Roz Chast's work, her interview on Here's The Thing is really enjoyable.

RnB Love Songs on Finetooth Radio - a new favourite episode.

Women's website The Hoopla calls it a day. I have a lot of respect for the way Wendy Harmer ran this publication, ensuring she paid every single writer what they were entitled to.

Cadbury's Picnic bar now comes in a family block. The types of blocks you can get these days is insane.

Excellent everyday items

26 March 2015

Everyday things for Autumn

Last week I shared a few new things I'd love for home and today I'm sharing a few shiny things I'd love to have for going out.

Like Rory Gilmore and Amy Heap, I carry a book with me always. My friend John has just published his first novel and I can't wait to get stuck into it.

I am on Instagram all-the-time, whilst listening to podcasts and stopping to take photos of everything so I drain my phone battery really quickly. I love the look of this mini phone charger.

This song (and video clip) makes me so happy, I reckon the EP would be good to.

I'm due for a new pair of specs (mine are 5 years old and getting wonkier by the day) and I noticed that Sass & Bide have a cool wooden pair.

I have been looking at this notebook for weeks! 

And two things from Marcs, a cute knit and an even cuter cross body bag. If only I didn't carry so much stuff with me. 

Wedding: Gifts for our littlest guests

25 March 2015

We had about 10 kids at our wedding, from primary schoolers to a little guy who was just 6 days old, so I borrowed a lovely idea from my friend Angela and made sure everyone had a little surprise waiting at their seat.

Thankfully, most of the kids were under one and I had some idea of what they might like, having spent a lot of time with my nine-month-old niece. The babies received a mini Dr Seuss board book, a rusk stick to munch on and a small soft toy on wheels that had crunchy ears.

The brothers who were closer to 10 found a box of Lego waiting for them that could make three different types of vehicles. Having grown up with an older sister, I totally stewed over whether to get them the same thing or slightly different things, I went with slightly different so they could trade.

For a little girl who was closer to 5, I found a Little Miss wedding themed colouring-in book, bought some crayons and also included a few sheets of neon pink star stickers that I had at home. My budget was $10 per little one and I just made it, mainly by shopping at places like Big W and buying things in packs where possible.

The presents were a hit! Some parents saved them for when their babies were getting wriggly and the bigger kids seemed really entertained and happy for the seated part of the reception.

Some of my favourite memories of the day came from having kids around - things like seeing my brother-in-law dance with his baby girl during the wedding waltz, catching a glimpse of one little guy wearing wrapping paper as a hat and chewing on his board book, and walking into the bridal room to see two girlfriends who'd met at my hen's party chatting whilst breastfeeding their bubs.

We found a couple of other small things made parents (especially new parents) feel really comfortable at the wedding. We made sure they felt welcome to use the bridal room to store their things and for quiet time. The venue was really great with this and even plated up some canapes for the breastfeeding mums to snack on in the room.

There was also a disabled toilet in a different part of the venue, which became the impromptu change area for most of the babies and because there were lots of stairs on the way down to the restaurant, we made sure parents could avoid them, even if it was for a drop-off/pick-up scenario.

My friend Angela also had a babysitter at her wedding, how thoughtful is that? By the time dessert and dancing had rolled around, I remember lots of her nieces and nephews being asleep on the mezzanine level under a watchful eye, while their parents danced.

Photos by Wattle + Lace.

What we did in NYC

23 March 2015

We spent two weeks in New York last September for our honeymoon and loved it. There aren't too many places to go out when you live in Wagga Wagga, so we felt like we were on one long date - eating out, going to galleries and stopping for ice cream whenever we felt like it.

We used a few blogs as guides and were lucky to have friends exploring the city at the same time who shared our love of food and art. Beyond their Instagram tip-offs we found Love Taza's guide particularly comprehensive. While I nearly wrote about every meal I ate in New York, instead I've decided to share the days and places that really stood out, along with a few handy tips:

Nat's New York tips

My cousin Natalie has been based in New York for the last few years and runs NYC List Lovers, which recommends great places to shop and eat, as well as things to do in the city. One of our favourite dinners of the trip came from the site. We love Italian food, and really enjoyed Il Buco Alimentari E Vineria in Noho, where I managed to eat the entire bread basket, followed by a three course meal.

Nat also took us to Big Gay Ice Cream for giant soft serve cones that had salted caramel hand piped into the ice cream before they were dipped in chocolate. Woah. While we waited in line she explained how she tips - never for cabs, never for over the counter food service, and for most places by doubling the amount of tax that's listed on the bill.

A Saturday in West Village

One of my favourite days was a rainy Saturday we spent walking around West Village, and close to Greenwich Village. I bought zines at Carmine Street Comics, we stumbled upon a Marc Jacobs precinct of sorts (BookMarc was my most favourite of the stores - specialising in art books, stationary, phone covers and DVDs) and hid from the rain at Murray's Cheese Bar. When it dried up, we ate cupcakes in the park across the road from Magnolia Bakery and then went onto Smalls Jazz Club for a late afternoon set.

The Standard, Highline

We stayed in an apartment in midtown for most of our trip but treated ourselves to two nights at The Standard, Highline before we flew home. It was a lot of fun and felt really special too. We had drinks at Top of the Standard at sunset and you could see right across Manhattan, and even spy the Empire State Building from the bathroom! We also loved the food at The Standard Grill, where we had dinner and breakfast the following day. Tony's pork steak was so good that he was momentarily speechless and I loved that you could order a slice of birthday cake, even if it wasn't your birthday.

An afternoon in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

After spending a whole week in Manhattan, we really loved spending half a day in Greenpoint, Brooklyn where our friend Matt showed us the very best of his block. We managed to pick up a slice of the famous Brooklyn Blackout cake (there's pudding in the frosting and stout in the cake) and salted cookies from Ovenly, choose drinks from the beautiful Dandelion wine store and admire the Manhattan skyline from Transmitter Park, and later from the roof of The Pencil Factory.

Greenpoint was an awesome place to admire the city from a distance and I doubt we would've ventured there without Matt's invitation. We just missed out on trying the pizza at Paulie Gee's (we dawdled over cake and the line was too long) and instead ate dinner at River Styx, where the head chef is Bill Murray's son.

Galleries and museums

We went to all of the major art galleries and my favourites were MoMa (amazing iconic art wherever you turn), the Whitney and the Metropolitan Museum of Art - which is always pay what you want and has an amazing rooftop. A friend recommended the New Museum, where I saw one of my favourite exhibition of the trip, which was new media and social history combined. We also saw a lot of commercial galleries, which Tony sought out with dedication. Of those, the highlights were Greene NaftaliLisson galleryPACE and Anton Kern. Most of these galleries are in Chelsea and can be a bit intimidating because the gallery staff totally ignore you!

Burgers, ramen and soft serve

There were a few places we visited multiple times - Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Milk Bar and Shake Shack at Madison Square Park. If you're waiting in line for Noodle Bar, it helps to have a US phone number so you can leave your name and go for a wander. We found a cute German beer cafe a few blocks away and on the opposite side of the street that we really liked.

There are Shake Shacks right across New York but we loved Madison Square Park for its pretty outdoor setting - we ate our burgers beneath fairy lights and they were everything they were hyped up to be (also - peanut butter shakes!). We tried crack pie and the compost cookie from Milk Bar but it was the soft serve that kept us coming back. I loved the classic cereal milk flavour with cornflakes and we also had an excellent blueberry version with hot fudge.


Strand is an amazing bookshop and had so many art books that I had to leave Tony there and write postcards across the street, just to give him enough time to browse. I bought a stripey Saint James top, jeans and a chambray shirt from Madewell (really loved their jeans, and they're not too expensive either) and the best grey t-shirt from J.Crew. We both bought hats from Goorin Bros. hat shop, which was easily Tony's favourite shop. I would avoid department stores at all costs, they are scary. We ended up buying an extra suitcase (!) to bring our goodies home, and Natalie directed us to Century 21 for reliable luggage that wasn't too expensive.

Just quickly

The High Line is lovely during the week but really crowded on the weekend. If you walk to the end, you'll find Bubby's, which makes great apple pie. Another great find was The Brooklyn Art Library, which is the physical home of The Sketchbook Project. It's conveniently located on the same street as the Mast Brothers brew and chocolate shop. I found the 9/11 outdoor memorial incredibly moving but wouldn't recommend visiting the museum, which I found bizarre and strangely celebratory. Instead, I'd download and take this soundwalk.

Next time... 

I'd love to go to Roberta's in Bushwick for pizza and to stickybeak at the Heritage Radio set up inside the shop and visit Parm for a schnitzel sandwich. I also wish I'd known about Radio Cherry Bombe before my trip, it's filled with restaurant recommendations from industry folk.

A very big thank you to our family and friends, we couldn't have gone to New York without your generosity. Our stay was the ultimate wedding present and we're still raving about it, six months on :)

P.S The NY Subway app is fantastic, even if I still caught the train in the wrong direction, twice.

Happy weekend

20 March 2015

It's been a celebratory week in our house after Tony handed in his PhD thesis on Monday. His exhibition opens in two weeks, and you can book to sit for a portrait! I've booked in for the first and last day :)

I love this cake store on wheels! Who needs food trucks when you can use a humble bicycle.

A new cafe and general store has opened right opposite my favourite park in Wagga Wagga and the food and coffee are delicious.

The new issue of Fete has great interviews with Lucy Feagins from The Design Files and the women behind Kip & Co.

A teeny tiny piece of jewellery arrived in the post - I've only been eyeing off this rice earring for a year.

And finally, two high-achieving siblings talk about their ever-evolving relationship. The Two of Us with Wesley and Leeanne Enoch.

Have a nice weekend! 

A few things for Autumn

18 March 2015

A few things for Autumn

Autumn is my most favourite season in Wagga Wagga. The days are fresh, the bugs disappear and it's the best season for riding my bike around town. Here are a few things I'd love to gather in preparation for an Easter at home:

Some new cotton pyjamas, this book for winter baking, a cute mug, a pair of woollen socks and a tiny block of chocolate. And to drink, a box of spicy tea, my favourite hot chocolate (it's dark and salted!) and a stovetop coffee pot.

Easy homemade rocky road

17 March 2015

My friend Haline makes her own rocky road, she has a really pretty version with edible flowers and my favourite - a version that includes peanut butter and gummy bears!

Here's how to make both types and just a warning - I somehow managed to get chocolate on my shirt, jeans and feet in the process. But don't let that deter you, it's really delicious and decadent too :)

Homemade rocky road

You'll need:

400g dark chocolate (or use a mix or 200g milk and 200g dark chocolate)
Half a packet of marshmallows chopped into chunks, preferably the dome ones you get from Coles
3 handfuls of mixed nuts, try a deluxe mix with pistachios, almonds, cashews and macadamias
1/4 cup of desiccated coconut
A small packet of edible flowers, found at Harris Farm
Extra nuts and coconut for decoration


1/2 cup of peanut butter
Two or so handfuls of gummy bears or jelly snakes

Here's how:

Line a small lamington tray with baking paper and lay out your marshmallows. The recipe is a rough guide, so use as many or as few as you'd like. Same goes with the nuts, which you sprinkle along with the desiccated coconut over your marshmallows. Add your lollies too if you're using them. I tried to cover the whole surface area of the tray with goodies.

Then melt the dark chocolate (you're using a fair bit of chocolate so go with the water bath method and have a tea towel or oven mitt handy for when you're taking it off the stove). Stir in the peanut butter if you're using it and mix until smooth.

Pour the chocolate mixture over your ingredients and then sprinkle with extra nuts, coconut and edible flowers and allow to set in the fridge for 2-3 hours. When it's set, chop into chunky pieces and sample immediately. It makes a nice gift if you're prepared to give it away :)

And a few tips:

Gummy bears once refrigerated are surprisingly hard to chop - so take it easy if you're making the lolly version. This recipe is a great one for the cooler months because the chocolate, not having anything else mixed in (which is how I like it!) can get a bit melty.

Thanks for the recipe Haline!

Real Girl Wardrobes - Adele Packer

15 March 2015

Today, I'm excited to share Real Girl Wardrobes with you, a new series that's all about women with great everyday style. Adele Packer is a graphic designer, photographer and maker who lives in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. I love her effortless style and asked if she could share how she shops, packs and pulls outfits together.

Weekend links

13 March 2015

I've been rushing home from work this week to make tiny props for an upcoming chocolate photo shoot! Now the props have been posted, I'm looking forward to having a restful weekend.

Just in case you missed it - Annabel Crabb hosted an all-female Q&A this week. I especially enjoyed the discussion around being a contradictory feminist.

Ira Glass interviewed by Alec Baldwin on Here's The Thing, in which Alec doesn't hesitate to ask big questions like - Do you believe in God? And, what's life like without kids? 

Some very cute wedding cake toppers from a bride who made most of her wedding desserts. I love Molly Yeh.

I finally watched Boyhood last weekend and have been thinking about it all week. Such a great film. I'm tempted to do a Before Sunrise/Before Sunset marathon this weekend.

Wishing you a happy weekend! I'm off to make a lemon drizzle cake :) 

What will you read next?

10 March 2015

I can't decide what is more exciting - finishing a book or choosing a new one. I'm hoping to finish my third book for the year (!) this week and have already picked out what I'll read next.

I'll be reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. It's on loan from the library and ready to go. I first heard it mentioned by Annabel Crabb on her podcast and have also become curious about Joan Didion who pops up as a frequent reference on this style blog.

This year, aside from trying to finish a book per month, I'm also trying really hard to read more broadly and sample authors and titles I might not ordinarily. Currently I'm reading Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which appeared on my desk at work last month just as I was finishing up a novel. My friend Larry loved it and passed it on.

P.S Here's what I was reading in January and here's how to find more time to read.

Food I make for friends

08 March 2015

Last year when my nephew was born and I was living in Sydney, I started making up care packages to drop off on weekends. Since then, making food for new parents has become one of my most favourite things to do.

I love to cook and cooking for new parents brings me a special kind of joy. It's celebratory and nourishing too and I love fussing over little things like packaging and meal combinations. I also love making the drop offs, it's the nicest excuse to check-in and is hopefully without the pressure of a proper visit.

When I'm planning a care package I try to make three things - a main meal, something sweet and a healthy snack or easy breakfast. If I'm pressed for time, I'll skip the main meal and if I have the day off, I'll ask if there are any special requests.

Lately, I've been making these salted chocolate chip cookies, which I hear are good for visitors and almond and date bars from Smitten Kitchen's cookbook, which I hear make a delicious midnight snack.

In the past I've also made cranberry and coconut granola, these blueberry, oat and yoghurt muffins - after my sister-in-law told me that oats were great for breastfeeding - and granola parfaits. Now that it's getting cooler, I'd love to make an apple pie, it's the ultimate comfort food.

It's fun to add little gifts too, like a cute nightie, a packet of Thank You cards, a bottle of wine or even a baby book, a tub of fancy ice cream or a funny DVD

I'm excited to make another drop off tomorrow and something nice - some of my friends call me the food fairy :)

My week - Sticky date pudding season

06 March 2015

Hello! I hope you have a fun weekend planned, I'll be working a bit and am very excited to be part of the Jugiong Writers' Festival.

This week I met a new person - he is wonderfully warm to hold and very special.

I pre-ordered this book after hearing it was 10 years in the making.

Two new friends recommended this podcast about William Burroughs. It happens to be one of the best podcasts Ira Glass heard in 2014 and is voiced brilliantly by Iggy Pop.

I'm making this delicious looking sticky-date cake with toffee sauce tomorrow for visiting friends. It is autumn after all :)

And I loved this Japanese notion of being mindful and keeping time.

Catch you next week.

Very cute Airbnb studio in Sydney

05 March 2015

I've had two consecutive long weekends so naturally I'm dreaming about going away again this weekend. Instead, I'm going back in time and sharing this cosy Airbnb studio in Sydney. I have a soft spot for tiny houses and this one even had a freshly baked birthday cake on arrival!

We've stayed in a few mini-houses through Airbnb, usually ones that've been built in backyards and I love seeing all the things you'd have in your own home whittled down to the essentials.

This one in Sydney's Marrickville was especially cute. It had a loft bedroom, a kitchen nook and a comfy mini lounge room. We stayed last year after our bucks and hens parties so that we could spend a few extra days in Sydney and get a headstart celebrating my 30th birthday.

As it turned out, our host was a food photographer and along with the white chocolate mud cake, there was also freshly baked sourdough and some raspberry meringues leftover from a shoot.

Here are two other tiny houses that people live in, they're both in Melbourne. Here's a garage that has been converted into a cosy home and a simple and functional apartment in the heart of the city.

If I was spending this weekend in Sydney, I would make a booking at this amazing pizza joint in Balmain (we went last weekend and loved it!) and make a stop at Cremeria de Luca in Five Dock immediately afterwards for really great gelato. Thanks to Amanda for the gelato tip-off!

Wedding: A first dance in the rain

02 March 2015

We made a 72-hour trip to Sydney on the weekend to see two friends get married. It was the first wedding we'd been to since we were married and it was the nicest way to spend the last day of summer. We sat on picnic rugs on a lawn overlooking the harbour as the sun went down and then danced late into the night. There was also a very delicious chocolate cake with a hint of rose. 

One of my favourite parts of planning our wedding was having a neighbour teach us how to dance. Anne’s a ballet teacher who lives around the corner and one winter’s night we traded some homemade waffles and a bunch of sweet peas for an hour in her home studio.

I was there to learn really basic things like - where do I put my hands? But Anne had other ideas. Having listened to our song, she choreographed a handful of simple steps that would get us to the chorus when everyone would join in. 

I was pretty hesitant about having a routine but went with it that night. It was really fun to be in our wedding shoes, with the music up loud and someone to reassure us that dancing was just like walking. 

With some convincing (on my part!) and a bit of practice, we did Anne’s dance at our wedding. Having steps gave me something to concentrate on when I was nervous and really happy too. 

It started sprinkling during our first dance, which was one of my happiest memories from the day. We danced under fairy lights and our friends and family joined us as the rain became heavier. It was a simple and yet really magical gesture. 

Also - two of my friends did a super fast version of chicken dance (the best!) and I spied one of my oldest friends dancing with her partner, while they kept an eye of their newborn son who was not yet a week old and asleep in his pram.

P.S It just so happened that I chose the walking-down-the-aisle song (Only You, Yazoo) and Tony picked the waltz song (Look At Where We Are, Hot Chip). 

Photos by Wattle + Lace.

Do you celebrate anniversaries?

01 March 2015

Today is Tony and my seven year anniversary and for the first time we've decided not to do anything to celebrate because this year we're switching to wedding anniversaries!

I'm so curious about what other couples do to mark relationship milestones. For our very first anniversary, we went to the aquarium at night to see the dugongs and ate dumplings afterwards. It was really fun - did you know that dugongs eat whole heads of lettuce and can smile?

Since then, we've made fancy meals at home (one year Tony made poached chicken and blue cheese Arancini balls!), exchanged silly cards (I've been buying these ones for years), shared cupcakes and used it as an excuse to go to Momofuku Seiobo.

I'd love to know what you do, if you do celebrate. My brother-in-law and his wife have been back to the place where they had their wedding reception for lunch and friends have stayed in a fun new hotel for a wedding anniversary. We're tempted to stay in the exact same place come September.