Lately blogging has fallen to the bottom of my to-do list, but I try to at least make time for Head & Heart each month – it’s such a good way to pause, review the past month and look ahead with future plans. So much has happened over the past month that I thought surely it’s been a couple of months since I last blogged, but it looks like I haven’t quite managed to miss this month’s wrap-up yet!

“A monthly capture of my feelings and doings, in the raw.”

What I’ve been grateful for

The huge support I’ve gotten for Side Project. I’ve been blown away by the people’s generosity, the support from my friends and the words of encouragement from people who maybe aren’t the target audience of the zine but appreciate the effort that went into it and the achievement of taking an idea and turning it into a tangible product. With any labour of love project you have to wonder sometimes whether it’s worth it, but the response we’ve gotten really makes me feel like it is.

Work/Life balance. I love that I can take off at a reasonable time and still put in some good time on my hobbies and side projects! That might make me sound like a less than dedicated employee, but I definitely think that the time spent immersing myself in creative or relaxing things outside of work makes me a happy, balanced and overall better worker than if I was putting in crazy overtime hours. I’m definitely in the ‘work smarter, not harder’ camp.

What I’ve been thinking about

What is work anyway? I tend to think of it as the thing that I do to make money, but I think it’s such a limiting definition that can turn work into a negative. If ‘work’ is tasks undertaken to achieve a purpose, then my lettering, Side Project, cooking, photography etc. are work – they just happen to be work that doesn’t generate income. Conversely, a job that feels like it doesn’t have a meaningful purpose is unsatisfying because it’s something you endure to make money, rather than work in this sense. Here’s a quote on the subject attributed to French writer Chateaubriand:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.

Weddings! Three couples of friends got engaged recently and another will be getting married in just a few weeks, so I’m getting caught up in the wedding madness along with them (willingly of course). It’s interesting contrasting the just-engaged happy glow to the is-it-over-yet pre-wedding stress. Weddings are a lot more fun as a helper than as the bride!

What I’m excited for

Issue 2 of Side Project. We have some really cool contributors lined up for the next issue, and this will be the one to really test how the zine will go long term. Our lovely friends were really supportive in buying the first issue, but I’m not so sure the ones who aren’t actually interested in creative living and handicrafts will continue to buy it. It’s both scary and exciting, especially as we connect with new people who have just discovered the zine and are genuinely excited by what we’re trying to do.

South Africa. We fly out for Johannesburg in less than two weeks, then straight off to a safari before flying over to Port Elizabeth and driving along the coast to Cape Town. There’s been so much going on that I’ve hardly had time to get excited, but now that things have calmed down a little it’s starting to hit me. I’ve heard so much about South Africa, especially Cape Town, so I can’t wait to see it.

What I’ve been doing

Side Project launch! At the time of my last blog post, we were waiting for Issue 1 to come back from the printers. Since then we launched the zine with a big party at Beau Est Mien, and have since sold almost all of the 100 copies. I thought the party itself would be easy compared to the stress of making the zine, but it was one very crazy week of preparation and a very full on day getting everything set up. By the end of it I was ready to drop, but I’m so happy and proud of how it all turned out. I think having a team of three makes you all push each other to get things going, whereas on my own I’d be in the planning stages forever.

Art of Inky Letters workshop. I was asked to step in for another artist doing a brush lettering workshop, so for November I was madly practicing and preparing to feel up to the challenge. Running the workshop really made clear to me how much I’ve learned over the past couple of years doing calligraphy, and how even though I’m far from mastering it I still have a lot to share and teach people who are new to the discipline. I’m already starting to think about what I’d do differently if I have another opportunity to teach a workshop again. You can see my calligraphy and lettering work over on Instagram.

No [sham]Poo. Shampoo isn’t really something that I questioned until I started seeing references to the ‘No Poo‘ movement (what an unfortunate name!). But after reading a bit about the subject, the process of using shampoo to vigorously strip hair of oils and then conditioner to put them back on again, along with a cocktail of chemicals, feels like a very inelegant and wasteful process. Switching to baking soda and apple cider vinegar hasn’t entirely been a smooth process, and I feel like I haven’t quite gotten the balance right yet, but chasing that elegant solution keeps me going. I’ll update the blog on my progress once I feel like I’ve gotten it right, but I do encourage you to give it a go!

Alexander Technique lessons. I’ve struggled to explain the Alexander Technique to people, and to be honest it sounded far too wishy washy when I first heard about it from my sister in law. But with my ongoing back issues I felt that it was time to give it a go, especially as there is evidence of its effectiveness in treating chronic pain, particularly back pain. It’s fascinating and I think helpful so far – at the very least I’m far more aware of how I hold my body and move, and how much this has been effected by my experiences and environment. This year has been one of my worst in terms of pain levels, so I have my fingers crossed that this will be a step in the right direction.

What I’ve been reading

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Classics feel punishing when I’m reading them, but it feels worth it for those fantastic thought-provoking nuggets of wisdom and actually understanding references made to them in other texts and media. On the Road has been on my to-read list forever, and it feels appropriate reading material for travels. I’ve only just made it through the lengthy introduction/analysis so far, so we’ll see if it lives up to the hype and makes me want to go backpacking.

Tickle the Imagination. I just came across this Perth-based magazine at a market recently, and am in love! It’s kind of what Side Project wants to be when it grows up – polished, full of amazing photography and content, and distributed all over Australia. I’m in awe of editor & designer Tanya Collier who manages to single-handedly do what it takes the three of us to, whilst also wrangling kids. If you’re into crafting and handmade things, it’s definitely the magazine to see and be seen in.

Generally I’ve been a lot more relaxed about reading articles and things lately – less reading more doing. I think both are good to do, so I’m just rolling with it and gathering interesting links on my to-read-later list for when I feel like it.

What I’ve been spending my money on

 

Travel. In Bali I spent what is really a pittance on what felt like a ridiculous amount of food; I’m now booking accommodation and paying off flights and safari balances for South Africa. There’s not much I’d rather spend money on than travel.


If you’d like to join us or see others’ posts in this monthly series, head on over to helario.us for the master list.

Pictured above: The entrance to Goa Gajah, or Elephant Cave, in Ubud, Bali.

So as predicted October flew by with very little in the way of blogging and a whole ton of work my side project, Side Project. Apologies in advance if this post ends up pretty much just about the zine – it’s ended up a huge part of my life lately.

“A monthly capture of my feelings and doings, in the raw.”

What I’ve been grateful for

Sam and Sabrina, my partners in making Side Project. I think we have a good blend of skills for producing a magazine, and I’m always in awe of their photography and styling. We all sort of push each other and bring each other back on track when we stray off topic (which is often), and it’s been challenging but really fun! I’d thought of trying to make a zine before but always concluded that it would be too much work for one person, so it’s awesome to have a team to build it together.

Other people who have been helping us outBeau Est Mien Design & Print Shop who are hosting our launch party, Bicubic who were nice enough to give us cheap printing, Apropos Provisional who will be stocking Side Project. Oh and of course The Boy, who puts up with us taking over the dining table almost every weekend for meetings.

Longer days, warmer weather. I’m trying to be healthier, doing stretches in the morning and walking home from work. The longer days and nice weather are definitely helping.

What I’ve been thinking about

Marketing, publicity and digital strategy. Previously I would have said it wasn’t really my thing – my marketing of this blog is even more woeful than its meandering content. But through tidbits picked up here and there from work and fellow bloggers, I think I’ve learned a thing or two. Side Project is a much more focused product than ChiGarden, so is much more easy and interesting to promote. I am however terrible at the elevator pitch and general schmoozing offline though – something to really work on.

Still saying no to things. I haven’t stuck to this completely, but I’m thinking of continuing it as best I can for the rest of the year. I hate turning down exciting new ideas or friends who want favours, but I feel like it’s helped my general stress levels and output quality significantly. I suppose at least it’s better to say no than to say yes, then do a half-assed job or never do it at all.

What I’m excited for

The Side Project launch party which is just over two weeks away now, yikes! If you’re in Perth please consider coming along to say hi :)

I’m headed to Bali at the end of the month with work as our ‘Christmas party’, which sounds like it’s going to be pretty amazing! I’ve only been once, as a kid, and this time we’ll be going to Ubud which sounds nice and peaceful. I don’t want to have to be too precious with a DSLR in tow, so I’m thinking of going film with the Holga and maybe the Instax. Fingers crossed I’ll get some decent shots!

What I’ve been doing

Can you guess? Yup, pretty much just Side Project. It’s now with the printers so the crazy part is over for this issue. Here’s a list of the bits I’ve been doing:

Website design and development, e-commerce setup, copywriting, email templating, handling email newsletters, digital strategy, social media pimping, liaising with suppliers, potential stockists and advertisers, interviewing, calligraphy, tutorial writing, recipe testing, recipe writing, cooking, photography, styling, promoting, editing, proofing, designing, lettering, blogging, tweeting, hosting and making heaps of to-do lists.

In particular I’m just really proud of the website, which I made in a weekend and looks pretty slick in my opinion.

What I’ve been reading

I’m rereading The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, which feels perfect for Head and Heart because of the line repeated through it:

“First with the head, then with the heart.”

Despite having very little knowledge about South Africa, racism or boxing at the time I first read it, I remember it making a big impact on me as a teenager. I think my peaceful form of rebellion was reading literature that suggests challenging conventional wisdom and seeking your own answers.

I’m also working through my backlog of Monocle magazines – getting a subscription seemed like a great idea at the time, but those things are so dense and fascinating that it takes me more than a month to get through each one!

What I’ve been spending my money on

I’ve been eyeing some things in the Photojojo store for ages, but the phone charging wallet is what finally tipped me over the edge. The iPhone 6 battery is a decent leap from the 4S, but with some travels coming up I think the extra juice will come in handy.


 

If you’d like to join us or see others’ posts in this monthly series, head on over to helario.us for the master list.

Pictured above: the cover for Issue 1 of Side Project, a group effort between Sam, Sabrina and myself (okay, mostly I just hand modelled).

Whilst in Brisbane for Eat Drink Blog ’14, my sole touristy goal was to visit GOMA, the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. I find modern art galleries generally miss the mark for me – perhaps I’m just not sophisticated enough – but I spent most of my first day in Brissy wandering the minimalist white and concrete halls admiring the collections.

Later at the conference, when I mentioned I’d visited GOMA, there was always a bit of confusion until I clarified that I’d visited the gallery, not the restaurant (typical foodies!). Usually I avoid cafes and restaurants at places like these as they tend to be mediocre tourist traps, but I was assured that this was one not to miss out on – and the current menu would be ending that weekend. After hearing rumours of a group lunch on the Sunday after hanging out with the bees, I was helped to gatecrash by the lovely Jemima of Feed Your Soul Perth, and sat down to a three course meal especially for the Harvest exhibition.

It was the only super fancy meal that I treated myself to whilst in Brisbane, and it was a good choice. With a focus on native ingredients and an artistic flair, the meal was intriguing and exquisite. The nice thing about dining with a group of food bloggers is there’s almost an unspoken rule to not all order the same thing, take photos of everything before eating, and pass around tastes for everyone to try.

Too much time has passed for me to give more than general impressions, but the absolute standout for me was my dessert, ordered thanks to a handy tip from Anthony of FoodMeUpScotty).  It came to the table looking like a brown, slightly wavy plate with two lines of dots drawn in it.

*SPOILER ALERT*

But as explained by the waitress, underneath was wattle custard which was then sprayed completely with Daintree chocolate paint and dotted with vanilla curd, giving a textural appearance reminiscent of the Australian desert and referencing Indigenous art. It was beautiful, surprising and most importantly a joy to eat. I’m not ashamed to say that I scraped every scrap of chocolate paint off of that bowl.

Parts of this menu, including the wattle custard dessert, appear to still be on the menu at the GOMA restaurant – worth the splurge! Don’t forget to check out the gallery, even if you’re not usually a modern art fan, as there’s plenty to see.

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GOMA Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Food is a huge part of my life – I spend a lot of my time cooking, eating, or thinking about what I’m going to cook or eat! But I think that with being a lover of food comes more knowledge about the ethical and environmental issues around it, and it’s something I’ve tried to take on as much as possible in my shopping and eating habits.

Give a Fork is Sustainable Table‘s annual campaign about making positive change through the food we eat. Hosts sign up to create a meal according to the year’s theme, and money raised from the tickets sold go to Sustainable Table’s efforts to educate the public about creating sustainable food systems. This year’s theme is waste free, focusing on taking action to reduce the amount of food scraps, uneaten groceries and packaging wasted by people every day.

Australians discard up to 20% of the food they purchase. That’s 1 out of every 5 bags of groceries they buy

I first heard about it through fellow blogger kellyyyllek, and thought it was such a great idea – and a challenge! And boy was it a challenge. Last weekend I spent the entire day shopping, prepping, cleaning and cooking before hosting 11 of our friends in our little home, all the while being mindful of creating as little waste as possible. I’m not perfect, and despite my efforts this dinner was still far from waste free, but it still was the closest to that ideal I’ve ever managed to get whilst hosting a party.

The (deceptively simple but overly ambitious) menu, not entirely in the correct order:

Wish I'd had time to do a proper chalkboard!

My plan was to avoid packaging waste as much as possible by sticking mainly to fresh fruit and vegetables from the farmer’s market and staples from a bulk bin shop, keeping the meats pretty simple and everything as homemade as possible. Things didn’t go entirely to plan, but here’s a few things that I learned:

‘Waste free’ is a difficult topic. I think part of this is that there is wastage at various levels – in producing the food itself, in packaging and transporting, in unused items or uneaten leftovers, in scraps. Keeping all of these things in mind at once is difficult and daunting! I felt like I had failed at one point because I couldn’t think of a way to buy meat without it being packaged in some form, but I still feel like I deserve props for trying.

Green bags are awesome. Although we don’t normally shop at a farmer’s market, our usual fruit and veg shop are happy enough for us to keep our veggies loose or in a green bag, to avoid using plastic. I didn’t realise what a habit it was to put things that don’t need to go into those tear-off plastic bags – like a couple of carrots for example – until I stopped to think about it.

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Fruit and veggies are easy to go waste free! We have a small worm farm, just a simple one buried in our yard, and they take care of our scraps for us. I have to admit to being too lazy to throw my peelings in there in the past, but now I’ve learned that rotting food in landfill gives off methane gas I’m a bit more mindful.

You can make chips from pumpkin or potato peel. I roughly cut the skin from my pumpkin into chip sized chunks, tossed in a goodly amount of olive oil, then baked in the oven until crisp. It was an experiment I didn’t plan to serve to my guests, but it was pretty awesome for something I’d usually discard.

Meat is not so easy. I couldn’t find free-range chicken that wasn’t wrapped in plastic, and even if I could I simply don’t have anything to transport it in. And though I usually keep chicken bones to make a broth from, I didn’t feel comfortable keeping my guests’ scraps so these unfortunately ended up in the bin. I’ve read that composting meat scraps is possible, but didn’t have time to research it beforehand.

Bulk bin staples are not as easy as you might think. I read an account from another blogger (in the US) who brings her glass jars to the bulk bin store and gets the checkout person to just deduct the weight of the jar when adding up their amount. Easy! Or not – the place I tried this at was very nice about my request, but their system doesn’t allow for deducting the weight of weird extra items, so I had to buy my dried chickpeas in a plastic bag. I did however buy enough to make hommus, salad and have heaps leftover for my work salads – the equivalent of a few tins. Next time I’ll bring a canvas bag for dried chickpeas, although for things like flour or sugar I’m not sure I see a way around the plastic.

Waste free alcohol? I’d be game to try brewing my own beer or moonshine, but in this case I didn’t have the time to experiment. A dinner party without wine is too foreign for me so I ended up requesting that my guests contribute something to drink, and those bottles unfortunately had to go into the recycling bin.

Choose your dishes wisely. I thought I’d kept things pretty simple, but because I chose to do it all in one day and made some bad choices it was close to 9pm before everything was ready to eat (thankfully I had some helpers and kept the flatbread and dips going in the meantime). I spent a lot of time with things I should really have done the previous day, like the sorbet and the chickpeas. I also regret the flatbread – it was pretty well received, but had to be served freshly toasted on a skillet, as opposed to my usual loaf which I could have baked in the morning. Also my stick mixer proved to be inadequate for making hommus, which then had to be mashed by hand by my helpers – but ended up being the favourite bit of the night for a lot of people!

Nothing wrong with ‘rustic’ decor. I pulled together a mismatched assortment of tables, chairs, plates, glasses and cutlery, lined up placemats as a table runner, laid out reusable linen napkins and adorned the table with cuttings from the olive tree outside placed in old beer bottles.

A tired hostess is not a great conversationalist. I was ready to go to sleep before my guests even arrived, so I wasn’t really in any condition to lead a conversation about trying to reduce wastage. I’m not sure if I managed to impart any knowledge through this dinner to be honest, but if it gets people to be aware of it at least then that’s something right?

I need to invite a photographer friend next time. I have pretty much no photos from the night, because I was too busy!

Our friends are awesome. It was an odd bunch of travellers, dancers, animal lovers and food enthusiasts. Most of them hadn’t met each other before, but made friends with each other and afterwards complimented me on my choice of friends. I’m so grateful that they came along to support me and share a meal.


 

If you think this is a good cause (or an interesting challenge), you can host your own Give a Fork waste free dinner until the end of October – just sign up on their website.

Yep, another month has gone by already! September was a blur for me, if you can’t tell from the less frequent blog posts, and October looks like it’s going to be at least as busy. I do always have a project or two going on, but this time there’s one big crazy one that I’m both incredibly excited about and a bit daunted by. Here’s my month.

“A monthly capture of my feelings and doings, in the raw.”

What I’ve been grateful for

The food blogging community. Although I’m not exactly a food blogger per se, I felt so welcomed at Eat Drink Blog and really enjoyed meeting new people. The energy and passion is so contagious, it’s hard not to get excited about all things food and blogging. A major shoutout must also go to this year’s committee, volunteers who put on amazing (and free) conference, the only one of its kind that I know of.

The local arts and crafts community. I’m not sure if Perth has gotten a whole lot more interesting lately or if I just wasn’t paying attention before, but I feel like there’s more cool workshops, markets, exhibition openings and new groups than I can fit into my calendar. Every thing I go to leads me to meet more artists and people doing interesting things, which lead to more avenues to explore. Everyone I’ve met, including people who I greatly admire, have taken the time to talk to me and be encouraging. It’s more valuable than they realise, and it’s exciting to see the arts become more visible in my hometown.

What I’ve been thinking about

The purpose of my blog. Talking to other bloggers has made me consider again why I started blogging, what its purpose is, and how it’s benefited me. From the beginning, ChiGarden has been my space for experimenting in the digital world – with website design, writing, showcasing my art, improving my photography, exploring food, journaling my travels and sharing my projects. It’s gone through various phases, but at its heart this blog has always been a personal one. Whilst this is not a recipe for a particularly successful blog in the usual sense, it has benefited my own purposes – I think my writing and photography have improved (albeit slowly), and my love for web design which began with this blog has grown into a successful career. I feel like these are the things I need to keep in mind, rather than pageviews and monetisation opportunities – my blog is serving my purposes well enough.

Reducing waste and the cost of convenience. In September I signed up to host a Give A Fork dinner, which is a yearly campaign run by Sustainable Table. This year’s theme was #wastefree, and although I think we’re generally pretty good about keeping our wasteage down, preparing for this dinner has opened my eyes to the many more things we could be doing. What it usually comes down to is convenience – a pack of pre-washed lettuce leaves is just easier than buying a whole head of lettuce sometimes. I’m still putting my thoughts together on this one, but will write about the dinner and what I’ve learned soon.

Slowing down and saying no. As much as I hate to admit it, I have way too much on my plate at the moment and am starting to slip in a few areas. I’m having to bow out of Baketober, Inktober and CoderDojo, and starting to say no to things I can’t give my full attention to at the moment. I’m hoping to have things under control a bit better after October is over.

What I’m excited for

Give a Fork dinner. Okay well I was excited for it, but now it’s over and I’m excited to write about it and put the things I learned into practice! Mostly though it was a big challenge to cook for, seat and feed 11 of our friends in our home, a record for us. It was a big challenge for me (and The Boy who I drag into things), and I think it mostly went really well.

Side Project – a zine for creatives. Our zine (as in short for ‘magazine’) is trucking along and shaping up to be a really high quality production. I’m wrapping up the articles I’m writing for it at the moment and looking forward to finishing up the website and working hard to promote it.

What I’ve been doing

Side Project (again). This zine project has really taken over my time, with meetings, writing and all day photo shoots, but it’s such an interesting process and we have a great little team putting it all together. I’ve been working on popsicles recipes, a calligraphy tutorial and an interview as well as working on the website and attempting to handle our social media promotion. The marketing stuff is quite the learning curve for me, but I think we’ve managed to generate a bit of buzz so far. You can sign up for our mailing list, and check us out on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Screen printing. I recently participated in a screen printing workshop at Beau Est Mien, and printed a couple of my own designs onto fabric to sew into shopping/produce bags (coming back around to that waste free thing again). Just like with letterpress, I like that it’s such a dynamic and physical process compared to producing work digitally. I have a few more ideas of things I’d like to print, maybe to try and sell someday?

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What I’ve been reading

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. An English former nurse travelling in Scotland gets thrown back in time to 1742, where she has to figure out how to get back to her time whilst navigating the feuding Scottish and English. It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything that focuses so much on a romance (although being a historical/sort-of-scifi novel there’s a lot more to it than that), and I have to admit I find those bits less interesting. I’m about three quarters of the way through and still undecided about whether I want to read the rest of the series at this point.

This article and this response about sexism and women in tech. I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t experienced much in the way of overt sexism, but the systemic inequality affects all of us (yes, men too) and is much more difficult to deal with, because it is so internalised. It’s great that the larger tech companies are releasing their (mainly dismal) diversity stats and making an effort to help solve the problems, but there’s clearly still a long way to go.

What I’ve been spending my money on

iPhone 6. It does frustrate me that my three year old 4S is considered obsolete, but the leap forward in the camera sold it for me. Admittedly there’s things I don’t like about the iPhone 6 and Apple in general, but I’m just very excited to not always have to take my DSLR around with me!

Organic fruit and veg delivery. I’m trying out The Organic Collective‘s delivered seasonal produce boxes at the moment, and whilst it’s more expensive than my usual grocery shop it is nice to know that the suppliers are local, organic, and not having to lose out in deals with big super markets. It also cuts my weekly grocery shopping down to a trip to the butcher and some staples, which should free up a bit more time on the weekend.


 

If you’d like to join us or see others’ posts in this monthly series, head on over to helario.us for the master list.

Pictured at the top: the homemade pizza I served to the Side Project team during our photo shoot. Taken with my phone!