Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Mail Out: Creative Space.

It may be old. It may have dents, scratches and the odd screw hole where no screw goes.
It may be in a colour that does not match our existing furniture at all, but I don't care.
Because I finally have my own creative space.

No more having to use the dining room table! Which is the wrong height anyway and terrible for posture.
I can have all my usual essentials for letter writing and crafting laid out right in front of me, or stashed neatly away inside the drawers. 

I am giddy with organisational glee!
There's also been a sudden burst of motivation to write and create pretty things, and I am completely up to date with my mail.

Thanks to Ma and Pa for keeping this desk, just for me.

(Mail out today to Rusty, Nicki and Rachel) 

Written correspondence has been a hobby of mine for a long time, & Monday Mail Out is a weekly feature whereby I can share my love for the lost art of letter writing. I hope my experiences will encourage others to send out letters on Monday too, and have them rediscover the joy of sending and receiving mail. If you have a blog, feel free to join in.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bean Central! (aka Nachos, nom nom)

[Vegetarian Nachos]

I came up with this recipe for vegetarian nachos around five years ago, when we were still living in Adelaide. It has remained a firm favourite, but something we only have as a bit of a treat. It was a public holiday here in Australia yesterday, and in true summer fashion it was a right scorcher (38*C in the Ranges), so I decided to whip up some nachos for dinner. They only take around 30 minutes to make, from start to serving, and taste absolutely fantastic. They are surprisingly refreshing on a hot day.

This recipe makes enough to serve 6 adults.

425g tin red kidney beans, drained
400g tin brown lentins, drained
425g tin mexican chilli beans, drained
400g tin diced tomatoes
1 jar nachos sauce (with pinto beans, onion and tomato)
1/2 brown onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt & pepper
Corn chips (original/salted)
Grated cheese
Chopped iceberg lettuce
Diced fresh tomatoes
Sliced red (spanish) onion
Sour cream

Place the corn chips in the bottom of a large baking dish. Grate a little cheese over them, and then pour over drained mexican chilli beans.
In a medium saucepan fry brown onion with garlic in a little olive oil until onion tender. Add tin of diced tomatoes and bring to the boil. Add drained kidney beans and lentils, a dash of paprika, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes and then pour over the corn chips, followed by the jar of nachos topping.
 Generously grate cheese over the top and bake in oven at 180*C until cheese has melted and is starting to brown.
Best served fresh straight out of the oven whilst the corn chips are still crunchy. Top with chopped lettuce, red onion and tomato, a dollop of sour cream and a drop of guacamole.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Mail Out: Little Surprises...

"The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity". ~ Walt Whitman

Back in November I sent StoneZebra a MaxiCard with a little note as part of a giveaway. In return I received this wonderfully long letter.

My first piece of mail from a blog reader, it included a beautiful notecard and was written in orange ink from what I assume to be a fountain pen (must source myself one of those).

I just love mail surprises! No matter how big or small they are always welcome surprises.

Written correspondence has been a hobby of mine for a long time, & Monday Mail Out is a weekly feature whereby I can share my love for the lost art of letter writing. I hope my experiences will encourage others to send out letters on Monday too, and have them rediscover the joy of sending and receiving mail. If you have a blog, feel free to join in.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dead as a Doornail is the fifth instalment in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris. In this novel, Sookie is on the hunt for a serial killers who has a particular dislike of the local population of Weres and Shifters. Of course, the police don't know this, but Sookie pinpoints the connection after her boss gets shot. When her brother, Jason, becomes the main suspect in the killings, Sookie takes it upon herself to find the real killer and clear her brother's name.

The previous four novels in this series are focused on Sookie's lovelife, however, in Dead as a Doornail Sookie is romantically unattached. Despite this, there remains plenty of romantic interest in the Bon Temps barmaid from a number of male Supes, but Sookie is keeping her distance from all men after the giddy romantics of book 4.

In this novel Sookie learns a lot about the Were world, and even though vampires (notably Bill and Eric) are still around and are mentioned somewhat regularly (obviously still occupying Sookie's thoughts), Dead as a Doornail is decidely more about the Weres than the Vamps.

I must admit that I had the killer's identity sorted relatively early on in the piece, but despite this it was still interesting to follow Sookie (and her thoughts) as she sleuths herself into the middle of a seriously dangerous situation.

However, Dead as a Doornail lacks the allure of the earlier novels. It doesn't have the same level of magic, romance and supernatural intrigue, and perhaps left a little more wanting than it would have otherwise because book four (Dead to the World) was just so damn good. In fact, Dead as a Doornail feels a lot like "filler", and the number of inconsistencies in the book makes me think the editor didn't take it all that seriously either.

Can only give this one 3 stars, but it won't deter me from reading the rest: I'm far too hooked on Sookie and her supernatural existence to stop now!



I am currently hosting a giveaway for The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory.

All you have to do to enter the draw is to leave a comment on my review post. Entries will be taken until midnight (Australian Central Standard Time) on Friday, 10 February 2012. The winner will be announced sometime over that weekend (11 - 12 February).

Giveaway is open to everyone, on the condition that the Book Depository ships free to your country.

The winner will receive this paperback copy of The Lady of the Rivers.

Best of luck!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In the Garden: Clearing the old...

"Garden as though you will live forever". ~ William Kent

A slight reprieve from the heat on the weekend and we put it to good use by picking the last of the corn and tomatoes from the vegie patch. We then pulled the plants out, since they were well and truly finished, and can start preparing the soil for something new.

During the cooler months we hope to grow peas and beans where the tomatoes were, and in the garden beds plant parsnips, beets, pak choy, leeks, pumpkin, onion, cauliflower and carrots. It will be our first attempt at growing veg all year round.

Still need to work on controlling the weeds, though, especially pesky cooch grass and carpet weed, which pop up all over the place with the smallest levels of moisture. How I wish everything grew so well with so little water!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Mail Out: Investigating International Letter Writing Week.

[An International Letter-Writing Week 2009 postage stamp from Japan]

Welcome to the first Monday Mail Out for 2012!

I received a letter last week from my lovely Japanese penpal, Megumi. The postage stamp she used caught my attention: International Letter-Writing Week.

Actually, it was more like, "International Letter-Writing Week??"

It was news to me! How is that an avid letter-writer such as myself had never heard of International Letter-Writing Week? So, I've been investigating.

As it turns out, it is a real thing:

 "International Letter Writing Week was established at the 14th Universal Postal Union (UPU) Congress held in Ottawa in 1957 with the aim of contributing to world peace by encouraging cultural exchanges among the people of the world through letter writing". - UNOstamps

I've discovered that countries such as Japan and Thailand commemorate Letter-Writing Week during the second week of October with a stamp issue every year. I've also learnt that the USA has its own National Letter-Writing Week the second week of January.

Australia, however, does not.

From the information I've been able to source online, we do not have a special day, week or month to commemorate letter-writing at all. Am I the only person who thinks that would be something the post would want to do, encourage people to send letters?

[Today's pile of outgoing mail: Letters to Nicki, Rae, Klementina, Dara, Lauren & Aida]

It's a good thing I don't need an excuse to write mail! I had a lovely letterful weekend, writing to old and new friends, choosing their stationery, decorating and/or making the envelopes.

Whilst I was buying stamps at the post office today I discovered that Australia Post has released their annual Chinese New Year stamp issue: 2012 is the Year of the Dragon! This stamp issue is always particularly pretty and I look forward to it every year.

Still disappointed we don't have a Letter-Writing Week, though...
Perhaps I should start my own?

Written correspondence has been a hobby of mine for a long time, & Monday Mail Out is a weekly feature whereby I can share my love for the lost art of letter writing. I hope my experiences will encourage others to send out letters on Monday too, and have them rediscover the joy of sending and receiving mail. If you have a blog, feel free to join in.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory (+ a giveaway)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lady of the Rivers is the third novel in The Cousins' War series by Philippa Gregory, and is based around the life of Jacquetta, daughter of the Count of Luxembourg and mother to Elizabeth Woodville, future wife and queen to King Edward IV.

The Cousins' War refers to the Wars of the Roses, the battles that took place between the houses of Lancaster and York in their fight for the English throne during the latter half of the 15th century. In The Lady of the Rivers, however, the story begins much earlier, on mainland Europe, where a young Jacquetta befriends the saintly Joan of Arc. As the two girls play at a game of Tarot, Jacquetta has her first glimpse of what can happen to magical women who seek power.

You see, Jacquetta has the power to see into the future, an ability inherited from the goddess Melusina, her ancestor. However, Jacquetta is reluctant to use this power for fear of being branded a witch and the consequences that would follow such an accusation. Her first husband, the Duke of Bedford, marries her so that he can utilise her ability, and introduces a young and innocent Jacquetta to the mysteries of alchemy. For Jacquetta it is a lonely marriage, but in her husband's squire, Richard Woodville, she finds her soulmate. After the Duke's death, Jacquetta refuses to conform to custom and marries Richard in secret, which sees them banished from Court and sent to live a life of solitude in the English countryside.

That is until Margaret of Anjou arrives from France to marry King Henry VI. Jacquetta is Margaret's kinswoman, and the nervous new queen, disliked on account of being French, sends for Jacquetta to return to Court. Jacquetta and her husband, Richard, go on to become Lady and Lord Rivers, and diligently serve the English king and his queen in their Lancastrian rule.

However, England is thrown into turmoil when Henry's mental health fails and the Wars of the Roses ensues. Margaret is forced to fight to keep her husband on the throne and her (illegitimate?) son's claim to it alive. Jacquetta and Richard are loyal to their Lancastrian king and queen until fate sends the clear message that through their daughter, Elizabeth, the House of York is destined to be their future.

One of my favourite reads for 2011, The Lady of the Rivers is a wonderfully gripping tale of magic, romance, mystery, murder and war, and demonstrates how quickly those in power can fall. This novel compliments The White Queen perfectly, where Jacquetta hands the power to her daughter, Elizabeth, whose story also goes on to make history.



Since I held giveaways for books one and two, I have decided to do the same for The Lady of the Rivers.

All you have to do to enter the draw is to leave a comment on this post. Entries will be taken until midnight (Australian Central Standard Time) on Friday, 10 February 2012. The winner will be announced sometime over that weekend (11 - 12 February).

Giveaway is open to everyone, on the condition that the Book Depository ships free to your country.

The winner will receive this paperback copy of The Lady of the Rivers.

Best of luck!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rain over the Ranges...

[Resident ducks in the Willochra]

[Rain at Partacoona]

[Dry creek beds and a kangaroo joey enjoying the rain - mama is under the large gum tree to the left: Look closely and you can just see her (she was well-camouflaged)]

[Parched ruins]

[Rain over the Flinders Ranges, north of Quorn]

Yesterday morning the rain started to fall, so SJ and I took Bailey-dog and went for a drive (4WD) through the Ranges to the north, away from the fire.

It took us two hours to slowly make our way through the riverbeds and over the mountains. We saw oodles of wildlife, out enjoying the cooler weather and water: Kangaroos, emus, birdlife galore, and even reptiles.

In the evening the rain became heavier and more steady, filling our water tanks nicely, refreshing the garden, and dousing that fire.

We are looking forward to a much cooler, less stressful week ahead.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Summer's True Nature.

[Smoke from the Woolundunga bushfire, between Quorn and Wilmington in the Flinders Ranges]

[Smoke from the Woolundunga bushfire over Quorn in the Flinders Ranges]

A busy couple days, some restless nights, and an even worse day expected tomorrow.

It probably comes as no surprise that we are keeping an eager eye on the weather.

The closest fire front is approximately 20km to the south at the moment, burning uncontrolled in harsh, inaccessible scrub of the Flinders. We have been lucky so far that it is keeping its distance.

The tiny town of Wilmington (40km south) is under the biggest threat from the fire.

(Photos taken by Shane Clifton Pest Control)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris.

Dead to the World (Sookie Stackhouse, #4)Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It seemed kind of strange that I was on the side of vampires and werewolves, and that was the good side. That made me laugh a little, all to myself. Oh, yes, we good guys would save the day.

The fourth novel in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris sees us return to Bon Temps, Louisiana, where telepathic waitress Sookie is now single after her nasty breakup with Bill Compton, resident vampire. Determined to move on with her life she makes the resolution not to get beaten up in the new year, which entails keeping out of trouble and staying away from vampires.

That is until she finds Eric Northman, vampire sheriff of Area 5, wandering scarred and scared on the road to her house in the middle of the night. Eric has had his memory taken from him by a group of powerful witches who wish to see him dead (the true death. Obviously) and steal his fortune. Sookie offers her house to Eric as a safe haven, whilst she, Weres and vampires work towards ridding Shreveport of the nasty memory-thieving witches.

At the same time, her brother disappears and she has a crazy were intent on causing her harm.

So much for avoiding vampires and staying out of trouble!

Dead to the World sees monumental changes take place to Sookie and the people/supes around her. Eric is not the Eric she has come to love-hate. He is a far more serious, gentle character when unaware of the importance of himself and what he can do. Rather than the sure and cocky vampire sheriff we have come to know and love (or hate, depending on which side of the fence you're on), the Eric in this novel is far more sincere, finding genuine comfort in Sookie's companionship. It significantly builds on the other side of Eric Northman's nature, the side that we've only seen brief glimpses of in the previous novels.

Most importantly, however, are the changes taking place within Sookie. The confines of her mind have always been an enjoyable place to spend time, yet in Dead to the World those confines are becoming increasingly dark. Sookie is no longer the bright and innocent Bon Temps barmaid of the earlier novels; instead, Sookie proves that you don't need to be a vampire to do drastic and dangerous things. The other side to Sookie's nature is seriously gloomy.

Dead to the World is my favourite of the Sookie Stackhouse novels to date. I love that in this novel the stakes are higher than they've ever been before and the characters more serious. The novel still retains that funny, light edge that makes these books so enjoyable, but getting more of an insight into the character's personalities and true natures is genuinely intriguing.

One questions remains, though: Why was it that when Eric lost his memory, of all the places in the world he could have gone, he chose Bon Temps and the road leading to Sookie's house? I guess I'll have to wait and see if that little ponderment is revealed in the books to follow. Just an excuse to keep reading them, I suppose.

Monday, January 2, 2012

My 2011 Reading Wrap & Challenge for 2012...

I had a wonderful bookish year in 2011, reading 34 books in total, most of them really good, a few of them not so much. It has been wonderfully rewarding to have the time for so many books over the past twelve months, and I hope that 2012 will hold just as much book-filled fun.

My top 3 favourite reads of 2011, which I share with you now because I highly recommend you read them yourself, are as follows:

1. My ultimate favourite reads this year was the Trystan and Isolde series by Anna Elliott. Although three books (Twilight of Avalon, Dark Moon of Avalon and Sunrise of Avalon), they're the continuation of a single story; you can't just read one without the others, and they must be read in the correct order. Each novel is beautifully written with wonderfully inspiring and endearing characters, so if you've not read these yet then I suggest you add them to Mount TBR for 2012: You will not be disappointed.

2. The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory was my second favourite read of 2012, and my favourite of her Cousin's Wars series. It tells the story of Jacquetta Woodville, mother of Elizabeth Woodville from The White Queen, in an enticing, gripping and wonderfully magical way. I will be posting a review of this book sometime this month with a giveaway, so if you want it on your 2012 reading list then keep an eye out.

3. My third favourite read of 2011 was Smuggled by Christina Shea. An inspiring and heart-warming novel set in post-WWII Hungary and Romania, I was extremely privileged to read and review this as an ARC from Netgalley. It's one of those novels that stays with you long after you've turned the last page.

In 2011 I also took part in two online reading challenges: A Seconds Challenge hosted by A Few More Pages, and an Ireland Reading Challenge hosted by Books & Movies.

I only managed to successfully finish all reads for the Seconds Challenge, but unfortunately ran out of time to get through all the books for the Ireland Challenge because I got distracted by other books (notably the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris).

For the Seconds Challenge I successfully read all 3 books on my list: Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery, Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier, and The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory.

For the Ireland Reading Challenge I'd planned to read 4 books, but only completed 3: Meeting the Other Crowd by Eddie Lenihan, Dracula in Love by Karen Essex, and Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney.

In 2012 I have decided to participate in just the single online reading challenge, although it will entail having to read 12 books to successfully complete it.

The Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2012 is hosted by My Reader's Block and participants have the option of 6 levels, the lowest being 12 books and the highest being Mt Everest, where the aim is to read more than 100 books.

The catch for this challenge is that all books must be on your TBR (to be read) pile as of the 1 January 2012. I am aiming for the lowest level of 12 books (Pike's Peak) as that is all the unread books I currently have sitting on my shelf. They are (in no particular order):

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
To Die For by Sandra Byrd
Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
March by Geraldine Brooks
The Lute Player by Norah Lofts
Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris
Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris
Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris
Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

I think this challenge will be just the inspiration I need to start reading those books I already have, rather than keep ordering new ones. Wish me luck!

Will you be taking part in any reading challenges this year?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

In the Garden in the New Year...

Well, it's 2012 already. I hope that everyone had a wonderful end to 2011, no matter how it was spent. For me, New Years' Eve isn't a big deal, so I spent mine watching a bit of television with the air con on. I didn't crawl into bed until 1am, but that wasn't due to ringing in the new year: I actually had to wait until the bedroom was cool enough to be able to sleep. It was a right scorcher here yesterday (low 40s - degrees Celsius) and today is turning out to be another. It has only just gone midday yet outside it feels as though it is in the 40s already: I tanned picking the tomatoes this morning. Seriously.

The warm weather is germinating seeds at an exceptional rate. I sowed leeks, beets, pak choy, cauliflower, eggplant and basil just a few days ago, and now seedlings are already poking through the soil. I'm hoping these will be ready for planting later this month, or early February, if all goes to plan.

We picked the first cobs of corn this morning, along with some more roma tomatoes. On the really hot days the tomatoes are cooking on the vine, so we've taken to covering them with shade cloth during the warmest part of the day. It's helping. A little. We're having to pick the ripening tomatoes earlier than normal so they don't end up ruined. They're a lot smaller this year than what they have been in the past, and whilst we have plenty of romas, the big reds don't seem to be fruiting much at all.

I had hoped to have enough tomatoes this summer to make sauce, but it doesn't look as though that will happen. C'est la vie!

Our little vegie patch has capsicums ready to pick now too, and later this month I expect the carrots to be ready.

I need to thin the nasturtiums, though. Even with the heat they still grow like weeds, taking up more space in the vegie beds than I think is necessary. They are good at keeping away the bugs, though. I was just saying to SJ last night that we've had no thrip or aphids or grasshoppers attack our vegies this year. Only cabbage moth, but we've been able to control them. Makes gardening a lot easier, that's for sure!

What's growing in your garden these days?