Monday, January 31, 2011

I knew it!

One of the ideas underpinning this blog is that it's easier to be happy if are able to enjoy the simple joys of daily life, rather than needing major, life-changing events to buoy you. They don't happen that often, but life's little pleasures are everywhere, every day, if you look.

And guess what? It's true! Science says so!

On the weekend I was reading a very interesting paper by a trio of American academics on the relationship between money and happiness (via The Happiness Project). They argue that money can indeed by happiness, but we just don't spend it right, which explains why wealthy people aren't that much happier than the rest of us.  

One of their principles for spending money to increase happiness is to buy many small pleasures instead of a few larger ones.
If we inevitably adapt to the greatest delights that money can buy, then it may be better to indulge in a variety of frequent, small pleasures—double lattes, uptown pedicures, and high thread-count socks— rather than pouring money into large purchases, such as sports cars, dream vacations, and front-row concert tickets. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with large purchases. But as long as money is limited by its failure to grow on trees, we may be better off devoting our finite financial resources to purchasing frequent doses of lovely things rather than infrequent doses of lovelier things. Indeed, across many different domains, happiness is more strongly associated with the frequency than the intensity of people’s positive affective experiences (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 1991).
And later on... 

The happiness provided by frequent small pleasures helps make sense of the modest correlation between money and happiness. In a study of Belgian adults, individuals who had a strong capacity to savor the mundane joys of daily life were happier than those who did not (Quoidbach, Dunn, Petrides, and Mikolajczak, 2010).
Interestingly, wealthy people suck at appreciating mundane pleasures. (Yay for having an average income, eh? If I were rich, this blog wouldn't exist!)
This capacity to savor, however, was reduced among wealthy individuals. Indeed, the positive impact of wealth on happiness was significantly undercut by the negative impact of wealth on savoring. Quoidbach et al (2010) argue that wealth promises access to peak experiences, which in turn undermine the ability to savor small pleasures (see also Parducci, 1995). Indeed, when participants are exposed to photographs of money (thereby priming the construct of wealth) they spend significantly less time eating a piece of chocolate and exhibit less pleasure while doing it. In short, not only are the small pleasures of daily life an important source of happiness, but unfettered access to peak experiences may actually be counterproductive.
The happiness boffins also urge people to spend their money on experiences, rather than material goods, to improve their happiness, which is another conclusion that I've reached in recent years.

Their other principles are: 

  • Use your money to benefit others rather than yourself  (have I not waxed gleeful lyrical about how good it is giving money to charity?);
  • Eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance; 
  • Delay consumption; 
  • Consider how peripheral features of your purchases may affect your day-to-day life;
  • Beware of comparison shopping; and
  • Pay close attention to the happiness of others.
(Yes, you might recall that I'm not actually that happy lately, but happiness is not necessarily something over which you have complete control. I'm sure I would be even more unhappy if I lost the ability to savour the mundane pleasures of life.)

Speaking of The Happiness Project...

Did you read my post from yesterday? And did you click on the link to The Happiness Project above? Did you see it? The William James quote? What uncanny timing, eh?!  


I really love baby beetroot. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

List nerdery, inner child and cute robots

Swooshy clouds yesterday

I spent all afternoon today hiding from the heat and completing a job that has been on my to-do list for months: reviewing and revising my list of 101 Things to Do Before I'm 40 (which is 525 days away. Eep.)

Yes, I've reached the point of listoholism where my to-do list includes updating my lists. Goodness. I'm so glad I've finished it though, because I hate having tasks on a list that keep getting carried over and over and over. Often that's a sign that the thing probably isn't worth doing and should be struck off the list, but not this task. 

It's been over two years since I started my 101/40 list and although my dedication to it waxes and wanes, I think it has enhanced my life and I enjoy doing it. I only put off the review/revision for so long because I knew it would be time consuming and I am rather lazy (despite perhaps appearing otherwise merely by having such a list). 

I decided to update the list because my priorities and interests have changed since I started it, and my commitment to quite a few of the initial goals on the list had diminished or disappeared altogether.  I'm hoping the overhaul will renew my motivation for it.

Today's review and revision also gave me a clear picture of what I've achieved.  I've crossed 28 things off the list so far, which doesn't seem like much progress in two years, but I have crossed off the number one thing, which was to take my first overseas trip. And, in any case,  (cliche alert) it's about the journey, not the destination. It's about making life more meaningful and fun; not about robotically achieving and crossing off goals (as much as I love the crossing off bit).

I should also add that many of the goals are ongoing - for example buying myself flowers or getting a massage once a month - so I'm going have a crossing off frenzy on 9 July 2012!

Indulging my inner child. Yet again

I bought myself some coloured pens. Pink, purple and blue ones. Yes, the back-to-school display at the supermarket got to me again. I didn't need them;  I just wanted them.

I also bought some wee robots from Is this not the cutest robot ever? Completely frivolous, but adorable (perfectly summed up in the shop's slogan: Things U never knew you needed until today). I can't wait for them to arrive. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The one about Castlemaine

I think I fell a little bit in love with Castlemaine during my day trip there last Wednesday. It really is a charming town. So much history, lovely old buildings, quaint cottages and quite a lot to see and do for such a small place.  I feel like I only scratched the surface.

I arrived an hour later than planned because I realised on the way to the station to catch the 9.15 train that I should have been on the 8.15 train! Oopsie. The ticket man let me catch the later train at no extra cost (not that I would have minded paying another $12, especially as it was my own stupid fault I missed it).

I took a book to read but I spent the whole 1.5 hour trip looking out the window and wishing I could stop the train to take photos. I saw a young foal gallivanting joyfully around his paddock, old bath tub stock troughs, sloping green fields dotted with rolls of hay, and a little girl in a pink hoodie waving as the train went by. There was a lake (I forget where) with steam rising eerily from it and a tree full of those black and white ibis.

I especially wanted to take photos of some of the old country train stations we passed through (but didn't want to risk being left behind). Most have been renovated to retain their old world charm, but others - Malmsbury and Kyneton spring to mind - are getting rather ramshackle, and those are the ones I like the most. 

It was overcast when I left Melbourne but as I neared Castlemaine, the clouds broke up and the sun shone. It was a perfect day when I arrived - warm but with a light breeze.

I wandered down the main street to the Tourist Information Centre and picked up the Eureka Reef Heritage Walk podtour (after being assured that if I was used to walking a lot, the walk to Eureka Reef from town wouldn't be too demanding...).

I grabbed a quick bite to eat from a bakery and ate it in the gardens where the town's Australia Day celebrations were in full swing. After a burst of pipes and drums from the Castlemaine Highland Band, I set off for Eureka Reef (as in gold, not coral).

I poked my head into the Theatre Royal on the way, but the foyer is small and there's not much to see. One day I'll go back to see a movie.  I do like the way they've repurposed the old theatre seats as cafe seating though.

I passed a lot of of old buildings and cute little old cottages on the highway. I turned right at Eureka Street, crossed the rail bridge and kept going as the bitumen gave way to unsealed gravel...and walked...and walked...and walked and wondered if I was on the right track. There wasn't another soul around, just a swarm of dragonflies and the buzzing of cicadas.

I saw this sign in the bush on my right which gave me a moment's pause, given I was in the bush all on my own with no phone reception, but then I remembered it's a low security prison (clearly). What would they do? Defraud me?

I pushed on, admiring the colours and textures of the stone on the side of the road. Eventually I saw a sign pointing to the car park for the Eureka Reef. Eureka indeed. The car park was empty. I didn't mind the solitude.

Eureka Reef is part of the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, which, I learnt from the podtour, is World Heritage listed because of its cultural significance. Men - some with wives and children - came from all over the world in the 1850s to try their luck on the gold diggings.  Nearby Forest Creek, according to a sign on the highway, was the site of the "world's richest shallow alluvial goldfield ever".

Ruins of the mine manager's cottage

There are still remnants of the gold diggings in the bush, among them ruins of miners' cottages, the mine shaft and tunnel and remains of a puddling machine (which my brain keeps reading as 'pudding machine' and getting a bit excited about). The mine shaft and tunnel are one of only two places in the state where the actually rather uncommon Common Bentwing Bat gives birth to and rears its young. Only these two places have the perfect temperature and humidity for the bats to bring their offspring into the world.

The entrance to the mine

The bush was also booby trapped with spider webs. Before I even got to the first stop on the podtour I had to duck under a web across the path with its occupant sitting smack bang in the middle of it. I didn't account for the bulk of my backpack, however, so I quickly dropped it to the ground and did that panicked oh-my-god-there's-a-spider-on-me! dance (I'm not even that scared of spiders; I just don't want them on me). I had to keep my wits about me and my eyes ahead after that.

Waiting patiently...

The bush was also teeming with those browny-orange butterflies. With nearly every step I took, one or two would take flight, which was quite pretty, but seeing something moving out of the corner of my eye was also mildly startling since the spider encounter had me a little on edge. I didn't see any other wildlife, but I did spot some scat with large seeds in it though! (I'm sparing you a photo of, I didn't take one!)

When I got back to the car park I was also startled by the sight of another human being. There was a guy with a metal detector going over the old tailings pile. It was whoop-whooping away as I passed by on my way back to the road. 

Not for drinking...

They used cyanide and arsenic to mine the gold. This tank dates from the
 1950s when the ground was worked over again.

I headed back to town (it turned out to be a 2.5 hour round trip!), dropped off the podtour at the Information Centre and got myself a cold drink. I then headed for a quick wander around the Botanical Gardens, then back to the station for the train home, foot sore and worn out, but happy (and a little bit sunburnt).

While it was a lovely day out, I don't recommend going on a public holiday if you want to poke your nose around the shops and galleries. Most of them were closed. I think I'll head back another time to see the stuff I missed out on. There's an art gallery and museum, a historic mansion, some other podtours, an old cemetery and I'd also like to ride the old Goldfields Steam Railway to nearby Maldon. 

Mostyn Street shops

Old telegraph building on the right, main street

Castlemaine Station

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Novelty, surprise Thursday, comfy

Today's pretend-it's-the-weekend novelty was taking myself for dinner and a movie. I had a quick bite at one of those cheap but tasty Japanese places on Swanston Street (which I frequent often) and then saw Catfish at the Kino.

The meal was satisfying; the movie less so, but it was novel, and that's the important bit.

Oh, wait

I seriously kept thinking today was Monday, so I was pleased every time I managed to get my addled brain around it being Thursday and, more importantly, tomorrow being Friday.


I nearly always wear high heels to work, but today I wore ballet flats because my feet are sore from so much walking yesterday* and they were so comfy. SO comfy. I'm not sure I can go back to heels...which means I'll need to have all my work pants taken up and lose a few kilos because heels really do elongate you.

* Jayne goes to Castlemaine post still to come. It's too late for me to start it now.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tetris, cupcakes and Bye Bye Love

I downloaded Tetris to my phone over Christmas and I'm hooked on it. I play it every night before bed. Every time I say, "Just one game before bed"....pffft.

I don't know what it is, but I've always found plugging those little coloured  blocks in to make uninterrupted rows very satisfying. I particularly like it when the blocks appear in exactly the right place to fill the gap and I don't need to manipulate them in any way...which is sort of not the point of the game, but there you go. 

I also love the sound effects. Normally I hate game sound effects so I turn them off (not that I'm a big gamer, which is probably obviious since I'm addicted to a simple old-school game like Tetris!), But the sound effects in this game tickle my fancy - there's clickety-clicks like an old typewriter (not unlike the noise of an iPod clickwheel, which I've professed my love for here before) and tiny wooshing noises. I don't know why, I just like them.

Today was Tuesday Treats day at work. Someone brings in something for the department to eat in exchange for a small donation to charity (usually Berry Street). Normally the treats are full of gluten so I avoid them, but today I thought, "To hell with it, I want a chocolate cupcake". Then later I found out they were gluten free! Hurrah! There are two celiacs in my department - it's so nice not to be the only one with dietary restrictions.

I'm still listening to Simon and Garfunkel. It's probably one of the least profound songs they perform, but I love Bye Bye Love. It's the acoustic guitar at the start, the crowd clapping and the bass guitar that get me. Here tis: (Incidentally, my parents had that album when I was a kid so there's a nostalgia factor at work here as well.)

Off to Castlemaine tomorrow! Wheeeeeeeeeee!

Monday, January 24, 2011


Reading in the Treasury Gardens

I'm excited to be taking a little jaunt into regional Victoria on the Australia Day public holiday this Wednesday. I decided it would be nice to do something with the day off rather than sleeping until 11.00am, so I'm catching the train to Castlemaine, which I'm is (I'm told) a lovely little town with cafes, galleries, shops, an old theatre, botanic gardens, walks and a lot of gold mining history.

Visiting three towns in regional Victoria that I've never been to before is one of the things on my list of 101 Things To Do before I'm 40. I've been through Castlemaine many times, but never to it, so I am counting it as the first of  the three towns.  Yay. I'm looking forward to fresh photographic pastures too.

I took a little sojourn on my way home today too. I'm hoping injecting a little novelty into work days might help them seem less dreary and a teeny tiny bit more like a weekend, so today I walked home through the Treasury and Fitzroy Gardens, and the back streets of Richmond. I bought mixed lollies at the Rowena Parade Corner Store and wandered little streets I've never ventured into before. (Due to enthusiastic sub-dividing in the olden days, Richmond has a lot of little streets.) The walk home took twice as long as usual, but it was a sunny afternoon, I like the exercise and love exploring my neighbourhood.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nothing to do today but smile

My view

I had another happy-sigh-making day today, but closer to home than yesterday. I spent the afternoon in one of my favourites places - under a tree with a book in the Royal Botanic Gardens. The weather was a carbon copy of Saturday - hot in the sun but just perfect in the shade.

My first stop was the edge of the Ornamental Lake which was almost teeming with eels and turtles. It's unusual to see so many turtles so close to the water's edge there.

I also saw the cygnets. They're still cute, grey and fluffy but getting big.

I found myself a nice spot near a stand of bamboo and got out the bubble mix that I bought this morning when I did my grocery shopping. I blew bubbles into the sky and watched them carried away on the breeze, all rainbow-shiny in the sun. A lady laughed at me, but I didn't care. After a while I attracted the attention of a small boy, so I blew the bubbles and he chased them gleefully.

I nearly finished reading the book I bought yesterday and as expected, I'm enjoying it - the photographs (taken by the author on her travels around the world) are beautiful and I feel like she's talking directly to me. I found myself nodding in agreement quite often.  Isn't it wonderful when you find a book that connects with you and where you are right at the time you read it? It's given me some motivation and ideas for dragging myself out of my continuing glum phase...
We should be mucking about all the time, because mucking about is enjoying life for its own sake, now, and not in preparation for an imaginary future. It's obvious that the mirth-filled man, the cheerful soul, the childish adult [that's me!] is the one who has less to fear from life - Tom Hodgkinson, The Freedom Machine (quoted in One)

One of the little pockets with a removable quote on it

While reading I listened to Simon & Garfunkel, inspired by a snippet of Only Living Boy in New York that was featured in one of the stories on New York, I Love You, which I watched last night. Their poetic whimsy and beautiful harmonies suited my mood perfectly. I noted the irony of listening to Simon and Garfunkel sing 'I am a rock, I am an island' while reading a book about being on your own, which includes John Donne's famous quote, 'No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent'.

I got asked to move by the Moonlight Cinema people who were setting up for tonight's movie, so I went for my usual wander around the gardens, camera in hand. It was late afternoon by this stage, and the green grass and foliage were aglow in the golden light. The Ornamental Lake sparkled in the sun as dragonflies buzzed across the surface. I strolled through the Southern Chinese garden.

Ah, the gardens...a feast of shapes:

I think this is a New Zealand kauri tree

...and colours:

I'm so lucky to live so close.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Exploring, book love, pencil sniffing

Puffy heart-shaped chip!

I've had a good day today. After a nice sleep-in (during which I dreamt about a Barrel of Monkeys*) I went to Sydney Road, Brunswick for a wander. I haven't really explored that precinct much before and I decided it was time to change that today. It was a perfect day for adventuring -  sunny and warm, but with a refreshing cool breeze.

I love the old shops along the street and the residences above them, especially the ones with  the balconies overlooking the street.

I went into the Brunswick Bound bookshop and fell instantly in love with a book called One: Living as one and loving it, by Sydneysider Victoria Alexander.  I had to have it; the design is just gorgeous - thick matt paper with uneven scalloped edges, fabulous photos on every page, little pockets with removable quotes in them and a large pocket at the back for keepsakes - and I feel like it's the book I need right now. (All the other books on my to-be-read pile will just have to wait.) I even love the way it smells.

I had a Lebanese sausage pizza for a late lunch (yum) and people watched as I ate it at a table on the footpath. The little white dog of the men next to me turned its gaze on me when it got no tidbits from their table.

I poked around in clothing, discount and second hand shops. I had a delicious smoothie.

Coming home on the tram,  the driver made me smile when he said, 'Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is Daniel and I will be your driver today.'

I stopped at the supermarket on the way home for supplies. I sniffed the coloured pencils in the back to school display (I love that smell). I nearly bought a bottle of bubbles (not the alcoholic kind) after picturing myself lying on my back in the gardens blowing bubbles into the blue sky. I might make my own....

I have the flat to myself tonight. I watched New York, I Love You on DVD (*wistful sigh*) and fixed myself a couple of vodka tonics with fresh lime. How fantastic do fresh limes smell? Divine.

I'm about to have a nice hot shower and climb wearily into bed with a cool breeze blowing in my bedroom window. *happy sigh*

*pointless aside: I still have my Barrel of Monkeys from when I was a kid.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

Quiet and loud

One of my latest online purchases was delivered to my work today. Yay. It's a glossy coffee table book callled the Most Beautiful Libraries of the World. I've only had a quick flick through so far but...omigod. They are stunning. And I've been to one! The New York Public Library is one of three US libraries featured. Almost all of the others are in Europe.

I'm still waiting on a CD to arrive so that's another little surprise to look forward to. Speaking of CDs, I've recently discovered the Jim Jones Revue (from quiet libraries to raucous rock n roll...). They're playing in Melbourne in two weeks, but it's a Monday night and I just don't know if I have the stamina... I reeeeally want to.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Seagull seagull seagull goose

A goose has taken up residence near the boatsheds in the city (that is a goose, right?). I've seen it several times now. This was at the start of my walk home tonight.

It was a beautiful night for a walk. The rain has cleared and the humidity has eased, but it was still pleasantly warm. I've mentioned it before, but I love walking along the river in the dark -  flying foxes on the wing, insects buzzing in the grass, city lights reflecting on the black, glassy river, AAMI Park's multi-coloured fairy lights twinkling across the water, and hardly anyone else around.

Finally - it's Friday! Hurrah!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Raindrops on...everything

I walked home in the light rain tonight via the Botanic Gardens. There's something quite lovely about a garden in the rain, all shiny leaves, glistening droplets...and stairway waterfalls.

And look at these massive leaves!

Here's one pictured with my work security pass to give perspective.  HUGE!

I was quite soggy by the time I got home, but I didn't mind.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Flutter by, Wagons, Safety Dance

Today when I was standing in my boss's office on the 47th floor, I looked up just in time to catch a glimpse of a butterfly flitting past.

I have tickets to the launch of the first single from Wagons' upcoming album. Yay. It seems like ages since I saw them live. Cannot wait.

Remember this song? It came on my iPod today  and made me smile.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Play time

It's been rather hot in Melbourne. Last night was uncomfortable and airless. When I was walking through Gosch's Paddock on my way home after a movie, I noticed the sprinklers were going on the ovals and got an idea....yes, I played under the sprinklers. Very refreshing. I'm thinking of making a habit of it on hot nights.

There was a cool change this afternoon and it rained. Aaaaaah.  I always like it when it gets cool enough to put jeans on again. I love wearing jeans.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Look at this funny little narrow house! It's on Swanston Street in Carlton. It's like a terrace house without the terrace, but it doesn't look as if buildings on either side were demolished. Strange, but cute.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Water creatures

I walked through the Botanic Gardens on the way to and from visiting friends this afternoon. I saw the creepy eels, a turtle and two big goldfish that I've never seen before in the Ornamental Lake. The turtle was too shy for a photo.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Home, sweet home

It's great to go away, but it's always wonderful to get home. Hello, Melbourne! Hello, flat! Hello, bed! I missed you. I had a restful time away, but now it's time for the productive bit of my break - I have an extensive list of stuff to do before I go back to work next Monday. I started today by clearing out six bags of clothes and clutter from my bedroom (and disturbing a huntsman spider, which I safely deposited onto the fire escape with the aid of a mop).

I arrived home to find the photos I'd had printed onto canvas had been delivered. Yay!  Believe it or not, these are the only photos of mine that I've ever had printed for display at home. They look great hanging in my lounge room. I feel inspired to get more photos done now, but it's so hard to choose which ones. (Oh, if you're wondering, the photos are close-ups of reflections of the Skywheel on the Yarra River at night). 

I bought some fresh basil today and now my kitchen smells like basil. I just love the aroma and there's no substitute for fresh basil when it comes to taste either. I'm making a pizza - well, I'm topping a pre-prepared gluten-free base with ham, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and pine nuts. I'm currently roasting pumpkin and garlic for the pizza sauce. 

While at the supermarket I was a party to someone else's little moment of glee and it was just about as good as having one of my own. I asked for 250 grams of ham at the deli and when the staffer placed the meat on the scales, it was EXACTLY 250 grams. All right! She was pretty pleased with herself and rightly so.