Silver Linings in a Bento Box

When you are sorely tempted to stay in for lunch on a work day because your supervisor or boss is breathing down your neck and has gotten in the bad habit of calling your personal cell phone number instead of the office phone, remember to take a moment out of your day to:

  1. Get something to eat.  I've had to remind people that I'm not a robot and don't run on just coffee/tea.
  2. Stop grinding your teeth.  You're the one that pays for your dental coverage not the manic master delegator that needs a boot up his or her backside.
  3. Breathe.  You've probably been biting your tongue for the last few hours trying to ignore the latest bit of rubbish to come out of your superior's mouth but failed because, well, someone had to be honest with them, right? 
Get into my belly bento box!

Get into my belly bento box!

I was having a particularly bad day at my day job earlier in the week and decided to visit my local Japanese place just across the road for my lunch break - perfect for people watching and practising my non-existent chopstick skills.   

No cheapy sushi rolls for me that day!  I went for a full bento box and it was stupendous.  Just what I needed to forget the hole that was work.  A lovely mix of tempura veggies, warm fluffy rice topped with some tender stir fried beef, a few pieces of sushi, and some teriyaki chicken.  Heaven.  The Japanese sure know how to do comfort food.

I had managed to find one of the only remaining seats in the restaurant and it was, unfortunately, right up against another table and partially blocked off an easy exit for anyone who happened to be sitting at the window seats.  I felt sorry for the lady that was currently sitting at the table but I made a point to move over as far as I could and apologised once she had indicated she needed to get out of there.

Just as I was tucking into a lovely bite of teriyaki chicken, I heard a tapping at the window in front of me and realised it was the same lady trying to get my attention.  She smiled gently and waved.  Surprised, and somewhat delighted, I waved back.  Not sure why she did that but it brightened up the rest of my day even though work itself didn't improve and my boss decided to lose all sense of reason and courtesy.

As I am somewhat of an introvert, I normally do find it difficult to strike up conversations with strangers and offer random smiles (unless you happen to be a child, a puppy, a kitten, or Hugh Jackman).  But I would like to offer a thank you to the kind lady that smiled at me for no real reason as I can now look back on that rather awful Monday and remember it wasn't so bad after all.

So I suppose the lesson is that a day job is simply what it is, and not your raison d'etre, and to offer a kindly smile to someone that may be needing it (makes me think I must have looked absolutely miserable and like death...hah!).

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My Running Goal for 2017

2016 - what can I say?  For me, and the rest of the world I daresay,  it was defined by a fortune cookie I opened years ago which said, "May you live in interesting times."  According to the sliver of paper tucked into the sweet treat, it was purported to be an old Chinese curse but actually isn't per my research, but let me know what you think by sending me an email or direct message via Instagram or via Twitter.

Upon reflection, I did not achieve my goal of improving my half marathon time in 2016, but I didn't expect to due to a recurring piriformis injury throughout my training period.  Yes, a real pain in the hiney, let me tell you.  I have since been more diligent about stretching and strength training, which is probably not a bad thing in the greater scheme of things.

For 2017, I have been contemplating signing up for the Great Ocean Road Marathon in May taking place between Lorne and Apollo Bay.  I love this part of Australia and I am glad to be within an easy distance of it.  Yes, it will be hilly, windy, and everything else in between, but it is so very beautiful in this part of the world that I may as well attempt it at least once in my lifetime.  My butt may not thank me for it but you gotta dare a few things now and then, right?  And I can avoid my overly enthusiastic neighbourhood magpie friends come late winter/early spring too, when breeding season comes around again, by signing up for an autumn marathon.  Sounds better and better already.  Honestly, how to prevent and/or avoid magpie attacks/swooping is worthy of a separate blog entry in itself (don't worry, my shredded nerves have recovered and my opinion of their lovely birdsong is unchanged.  They are just super grouchy during breeding season).

Please share your running goals for this year.  Trying a new distance?  Or have a different health goal in mind?  Would love to hear about it!


Ready to Run in Rainy Weather?

All sorts of weather when it's spring time in Melbourne

The last few weeks in Melbourne have been wet, windy, and everything in between with the occasional lovely, sunny day thrown in for good measure.  Naturally, this has made it just a little tricky, for those us with upcoming running events, to get in enough mileage for that spring half-marathon and/or marathon.  I've also had some run-ins with the local magpies in my area (if you've seen someone running with an open umbrella under gum trees in rain/shine during the months of August to October - that's me) but that is a blog subject for another day!

As the Sunday weather forecast for the 2016 Medibank Melbourne Marathon looks equal parts wet and windy, it's worth considering what type of gear might be best for the day.  I don't have a specific runner's rain jacket but I often head out with the following essentials when it is particularly wet and crappy outside:

  • My general purpose Columbia rain jacket with elastic cuffs, hood with adjustable elastic cord drawstring, zip pockets, and is both breathable and waterproof.  It even packs into its own storage pocket when it's not being used.
  • A visor to wear under my rain jacket hood.
  • Moisture wicking top.
  • Running tights (3/4 or full length).

Of course, you are not going to really stay dry at all - your aim is just to be reasonably comfortable and get through your run.  I probably get more wet from sweating up a storm during a run and from kicking up puddles than from the rain.  Personally, I don't mind my upper torso or even my legs getting wet on a run - it's the squelchy, wet shoes and socks that get me.  Oh well, the hot shower and cup of tea or coffee afterwards is always something to look forward to at least.  And maybe a smear or two of Body Glide anti-chafe balm might help you along too.

Good luck and happy running to everyone running in this Sunday's Melbourne Marathon Festival!

Sunny one minute, pouring buckets 5 minutes later...yay, it's spring time in Melbourne!

Sunny one minute, pouring buckets 5 minutes later...yay, it's spring time in Melbourne!


A Winter Warmer - Delicious Lemon Slice

Now that it's citrus season, there are piles of lovely lemons, mandarins, and oranges available in stores and markets.  In my enthusiasm, I often fill my kitchen with the bright yellows and oranges of this winter bounty and end up wondering what to do with it all.

What's your favourite recipe using citrus fruit? 

I love to use lemons in baking, be it a lemon glazed pound cake flavoured with the juice and rind, a lemon meringue pie, or my favourite winter warmer - a simple and delicious lemon slice.


I have researched and tried different lemon slice recipes over the years but the following is my modified version using a portion of brown sugar which adds a lovely caramelised flavour from the molasses.

It's best cooled and eaten at room temperature, with a cup of tea or coffee, while the biscuit base is soft, light, and crumbly and the lemon topping is still wonderfully gooey.  If you prefer a crunchier base, add the optional dessicated coconut, otherwise it's perfectly fine without it.

I also prefer a lemon slice that does not have an overwhelming zing of lemon juice flavour upon first bite.  Of course you're welcome to ramp up the lemon flavour in the recipe below by doubling the lemon juice but I prefer a more nuanced balance between the lemon, caramelised sugars, and vanilla essence and I am sure some of you will feel the same.


Lemon Slice


  • 1 1/3 sticks or 150 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup caster/granulated sugar
  • 1 1/3 cup plain or all purpose flour plus 1 tbsp corn or cake flour
  • 1/3 cup dessicated coconut (optional)
  • Rind of one lemon
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Lemon topping

  • 4 eggs
  • Rind of one lemon
  • 1/3 cup plain or all purpose flour
  • 1 cup caster/granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (about 2 medium-sized lemons)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius/350 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celcius/320 degrees Fahrenheit if fan forced).

Lightly grease a deep square baking pan and line with baking paper.

Mix all of the base ingredients in a large bowl until well combined.  The dough will be soft and pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Press and spread the dough evenly into the baking pan and bake for about 15-20 minutes until the edges are golden.

While the base is baking, use the same bowl as before and whisk all the topping ingredients, except the lemon juice, until combined.  Then stir in the lemon juice.

Pour topping mixture over the base and bake for about 15-20 minutes until set (there will be little or no wobble if you give the pan a gentle shake).

Serve at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.


The Dos and Don'ts of Minimalist Running for Beginners

If you're anything like the other would-be minimalist or barefoot runners out there who have just finished reading Christopher McDougall's Born to Run and are just raring to get out there and be one with nature, you need to stop, calm down, and read the following tips before you proceed any further.  You and your body parts will thank me and there's also a good chance your wallet will too.

My first, ill-thought out plans to begin minimalist or barefoot running began with purchasing a pair of name brand minimalist shoes from one of my favourite specialist shoe stores in Melbourne (hey, they were on sale) and thinking I would be okay if I took things slowly enough.  Oh boy, was I wrong.  My mind and body have since readjusted but looking back I wish someone had taken me aside and told me to take things a lot slower before taking the big plunge.

My trusty Inov-8 shoes!

My trusty Inov-8 shoes!

(1) Do your research first and lots of it.

After totally butchering both of my feet and achilles tendons after one training session in my enthusiasm, I was out for about a couple of weeks and decided to go back to square one to give my body and bruised ego a break.

Luckily, my local library had Runner's World Complete Guide to Minimalist and Barefoot Running which I finished reading in record time as I was feeling sorry for myself.  The book is nice and short, offering the right amount of technical and practical advice as well as testimonials from other runners who have made the transition.

Go read it or, better yet, buy yourself a copy!

(2) Find the right minimalist or barefoot style running shoes for you.

Minimalist and barefoot style running shoes range from the bare bones running sandals, to ones with little or no padding or support, to those with a bit more heft but nothing close to what you would find in a traditional running shoe.

Of course, there's always the option of one going completely barefoot but I am unable to comment on that course of action as I've never personally tried it.

I started with some Vibram FiveFingers but found I needed more padding and support so I tried some New Balance Minimus shoes with some insoles for added support but I was still not completely happy.  Don't get me wrong, the Minimus is a good in-between type of minimalist shoe and served me well in a half-marathon I did last year but I wanted a shoe with a bit more of everything without sacrificing too much of the lightness for protection and some shock absorption. 

I finally found my perfect match in my Inov-8s this year.  Light weight, versatile, and great for road running, there are several models available offering different stack heights and drops.  This is the shoe I will be taking to my upcoming half-marathon come July this year.

Fishpond 604x90

(3) Walk before you even think of running.

Get your feet and the rest of your body used to not having several layers of material between yourself and the ground by walking around your house, or anywhere for that matter, with your new shoes and insoles if you have them.

You will be sorely tempted to go off for a run because your feet will feel so light and free but, on pain of butchered heels and tendons, you will regret it if you do.

(4) Build running distances and times gradually.

Due to my misadventures the first time around with minimalist running, I made a point of returning to a walk/run routine during my return to running after my feet and legs had recovered.

In the initial stages, I started with 1 km walks followed by short 500 m runs which I gradually built up over the following few weeks, months, and past year.  It was difficult at first as I felt I wasn't doing enough but patience really pays off once your body adjusts to the different mechanics involved and gear used.

(5) Do strengthening exercises for your feet, achilles, calves, and shins.

You know that niggly voice in the back of your mind or the annoying friend forever reminding you about your strengthening exercises?  Well, they're right.  Do not skimp on strengthening exercises for your legs and feet. 

Try the ones in the Runner's World book mentioned above along with your regular squats, lunges, and calf raises and you will be good to go!

It has been almost two years now since I transitioned to a minimalist style of running and footwear and I will probably never go back to using more traditional running shoes again.  Some runners find their running pains and discomforts diminish with this style of running and/or they are able to run faster with the change in gear but remember to just do what is right and comfortable for you and take your time.


Irresistible Dark Chocolate Fudgey Brownie Recipe

The month of May is especially busy in my family as there are several birthdays, anniversaries, and other events during this time of year.  Of course these celebrations often involve the baking, making, and partaking of sweets and desserts. 

One of my family favourites is the following fudgey brownie recipe I use time and again.  It's a one-bowl, super quick recipe and is wonderful just out of the oven with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice-cream.  I can usually have it ready to bake in less than 10 minutes and it's done baking in about 20-25 minutes.

Enjoy and let me know how it goes!

Dark Chocolate Fudgey Brownies

  • 1 stick (125 g) butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup plain/all purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius/350 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celcius/320 degrees Fahrenheit if fan forced).

Lightly grease a square metal baking pan.

Mix the butter, dark chocolate, cocoa, and sugars until well combined.  Add both eggs and mix thoroughly.  Stir in the vanilla extract and salt.  Fold in the flour until just combined.  The mixture will be quite thick.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes.  It is ready when an inserted skewer shows a few crumbs.  Don't bake it any longer so it retains its fudgey consistency.

Serve with vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

Why the Autumn/Fall Season Is My Favourite Time of Year to Run

The cooler days of autumn have arrived and this is the time of year I get the most out of my running.  Sure, the colder weather has begun to set in and the mornings are increasingly dark before the 7:00 a.m. wake-up call for most of us nine-to-fivers but I find I achieve more during the colder weather than during the warmer days of spring and summer.

The tell-tale dark early mornings as the summer wanes generally elicits groans from most of us, as we usually just want to sleep in, but, trust me, watching that morning sunrise as you are finishing up your morning run in the brisk, cool air is so much better than finishing in the sticky warmth of spring or summer.

I also find the mornings are a little quieter muffled by the fall of rain or fog and by the general reluctance of most folks having to get up early during this time of year to attend to their day.  It's peaceful even on the days when the wind is a little fierce and you just want your run to end.

As long as you have the right gear on, you are usually set in terms of handling most kinds of weather this time of year.  Even on a budget, you can invest in a few key pieces that will last you for a few seasons and which you can rotate .  Having lived in the northern hemisphere for some years, I have a couple of pairs of cold weather leggings, long sleeve tops, rain and snow jackets, running gloves, beanies galore, and a running light (which is soon to be replaced by the awesome looking NITERunner XT running belt with alarm rear LED once it arrives!  I will post a separate review once it gets dark enough for me to use). 

From personal experience, I don't like the magnetic clip on lights very much as they don't give out enough light during the darkest winter mornings for you to see with and they have a bad habit of falling off mid-stride.  I contemplated using a head light but I wasn't sure how they would fit under or over my beanie but I may give them a go at some point.

The cooler, darker weather also means the absence of flies and other insects.  I never really thought about the summer flies very much until I had friends and family from northern hemisphere countries complain about how persistent Aussie flies are!  I think I'm probably just used to them buzzing around my face - it's the mosquitoes I have more of an issue with.

Autumn and winter in Australia are also the pleasant running months before the onset of magpie breeding season in early spring.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this native Australian bird, you are now forewarned if you ever happen to come into the territory of a breeding pair at the wrong time of year.  Although magpies are lovely birds and are protected native species don't think about crossing one or avoid them altogether if you can.  They are quite intelligent, are long-lived, and are reputed to remember which interlopers they have encountered before.  I have been dive-bombed by two different male birds on separate occasions and gave up entirely on a couple of my favourite running routes until the breeding season was over last year.  Of course I could have used a treadmill during breeding season but treadmills are just not my choice of running surface at any time.

Invest in cold weather gear, get a running light, and enjoy the cooler weather - happy running to all of you!

The Benefits of Doing Things from Scratch

Stored in my walk-in closet sits my box of assorted analogue cameras.  A mish mash of vintage Canon film cameras, a Ukrainian Fed-3, and a heap of camera accessories carefully stored and wrapped away from the dust, dirt, and moisture.  Without the luxury of my own study, this box gets hauled out every so often and its contents emptied out onto the kitchen table we inherited from my husband's late grandmother. 

The simple pleasure of just dusting off or cleaning accessories or a newly purchased camera is in some ways a meditative process.  I often get into this same zone when I am drawing, painting, or kneading bread.  During these times, I sometimes get asked why bother with using analogue film, making your own artwork, or baking bread when you can simply use a digital alternative or buy it from a store.

I believe we could all do with more of a physical connection to our surroundings.  We're always being told to get outdoors more or find new challenges but it is the act of simply doing or creating something from scratch which provides the greatest satisfaction.

Ever made your own loaf of bread?  My favourite kind is an almost no-knead cob recipe, baked in a Dutch oven, producing a loaf with a thick crust that has the loveliest golden brown sheen and aroma.  Surely nothing beats home-made bread.  Definitely something that fills the senses like the loamy scent of the air after an early morning rain or the aromas released at dusk from native shrubs and trees. 

Nowadays we are so used to getting things right away and, yet, we often may not truly find the satisfaction we crave.  Using analogue film and cameras is one way to delay the gratification so to speak.  It's a bit of gamble at times loading the good ol' rangefinder or SLR camera with film and hoping you get some good shots.  At times, I still find working out exposure values tricky but I think I'm getting the hang of it finally.

I love the anticipation of dropping off a film to be processed and scanned.  It's often feels like placing your hand into a lucky dip bag and hoping one or more of those thumbnail sized images on the contact/proof sheet is a winner.  Of course there's going to be some disappointment on occasion but when it works, oh boy, it's wonderful.

Our memories are tied up with so much more than what we visually encounter but we can sometimes be too busy to notice that it's not just the visual qualities but the sounds, smells, and textures that make a memory.  We are shutting out the many cues that trigger our thought processes when all you have is a digital or virtual image of someone or something.  You can look at or read about something all you like but it's not the same as being present in the moment.

During your day I hope you take the time, even for a brief period, to enjoy the people and world around you.  We're all guilty of being too busy or distracted but it won't hurt to feel a real connection every now and then.

The Adventure of the Unknown - Research and the Writer

Currently, I am about a quarter of the way through drafting my first short story and it has been a frustrating process as I have tried and discarded different story ideas or, quite honestly, been totally stumped as to how to start and grow a cohesive narrative.

Through all this, I have finally settled on one idea and stuck with it.  Not something new but an idea I had scribbled down some time ago during my morning commute to work.  I remember at the time angling my writer's notebook away from the person sitting next to me, so as to avoid them thinking I was odd, and wondering afterwards how in the world I was ever going to build anything out of it.

So here we are, about 2 years later, at the beginning of something I am excited and hopeful about.  And the most fun I have had is doing the research.  As a writer, the journey to getting your story down and finishing is all part of the process. 

Right now, I am enjoying Tristan Gooley's The Natural Explorer and hope to read his other works: The Natural Navigator and The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs: Use Outdoor Clues to Find Your Way, Predict the Weather, Locate Water, Track Animals and Other Forgotten Skills.  I also have Samantha Martin's Bush Tukka Guide handy and I've been contemplating trying out one of those overnight or weekend adventure activities just to see what they're all about.  All research for my writing of course!

The Natural Explorer: Understanding Your Landscape
The Natural Navigator: The Rediscovered Art of Letting Nature Be Your Guide
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The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs: Use Outdoor Clues to Find Your Way, Predict the Weather, Locate Water, Track Animals and Other Forgotten Skills
Bush Tukka Guide: Identify Australian Plants and Animals, and Learn How to Cook

As a writer, you really do end up building a cache of weird and wonderful knowledge to give your characters life and naturalness to their circumstances.  Great for trivia nights or for surprising your family, maybe not so much for the poor person sitting next to you at a dinner party or work function left wondering why you have such an in depth knowledge of witchcraft, medieval weaponry, or the criminal justice system.

I am not sure where I will end up at the conclusion of writing my short story but I will have gotten something worthwhile out of it even if it is only to increase my appreciation and love of the great outdoors even more. 

Happy travels on your writing adventures for 2016 and, hopefully, we will all reach our destinations with a great story to tell.

How to Avoid Getting into a New Year's Rut

At the beginning of a new year you are usually full of enthusiasm for the possibilities of the next 12 months and it's likely you've also made a list of your goals or resolutions and even worked out a plan or next steps to achieving those goals.

The first days or weeks go along just fine and then you start coming up against some challenges or obstacles you thought you had figured out.  For most people, I believe the three main killers to achieving your goals or resolutions are the following:

(1) Lack of motivation

(2) Lack of inspiration

(3) Distraction

A lack of motivation usually creeps in rather than stopping you in your tracks.  For me, it starts off as being too tired or busy to attend to my goals which concern my writing, running, or creative pursuits.  A deficit of inspiration soon follows and starts feeding off the lack of motivation and, finally, to top it off I then start distracting myself with everything and anything to avoid taking the steps to achieving my goals.  Sound familiar?

Over the last couple of years, I have taken stock of what hasn't worked for me in the past and I have found the next 3 tips the best way to get past any ruts:

(1) Spend time on your goals no matter how short

You might not think spending 5 or 10 minutes working on your goals or resolutions would be worth it but, those few minutes usually end up becoming 15, 20, or even 30 minutes without you noticing.  A short walk or run turns into something longer in fine weather or even on cold, rainy days, just being outside in nature provides ample motivation.

(2) Don't aim for perfection the first time around

This year I hope to get one or two short stories published.  I have written several articles and reviews in the recent past but fiction is something I haven't touched in a while.  I have plenty of ideas, with some that I like more than others, filling up a number of scraps of paper and notebooks, but it has been some time since I have crafted a true work of fiction.

Last weekend, I decided to start writing my first short story for this year and it was messy, terrible stuff.  But you know what?  It was cathartic to get that first attempt out of the way.  I found out how not to begin my short story and what I liked and didn't like about where the story would go.  I have started my second attempt, kept some ideas I liked from the first try, with a clearer understanding of how the story will develop.  The main objective is to get a feel for what you are trying to achieve by trying out different things and realise you're on a journey of discovery.

(3) Be consistent - slow and steady wins the race

One of my other goals this year is to improve my half-marathon time by 10-15 minutes compared to last year.  It's going to require a lot of hard work but the simplest thing I can do is to be consistent in doing the additional speed work, hills, and strength training needed to achieve this.  I've already changed some of my usual routine of simply going out for a run in the early morning and I have started to notice improvements in my times and comfort levels during runs.  Spread out your next steps towards achieving your goals, follow through on them on a regular basis and you will soon begin to see minor changes and improvements building up.

Remember, we're just starting out a new year and there's plenty of time to figure out what you want to achieve and your plan or next steps.  Good luck and happy 2016!