2021 – Embrace Every Moment

For me, 2021 is going to be about embracing every moment. Having found my happy place last year, I just want 2021 to be about soaking up the still quite novel feeling of happiness when it’s with me. I also want to continue opening myself to new experiences.

I’ve gone for a slightly different format for this year’s 2021 Intentions, making use of the “stop, start, keep” concept. This is something teams at work use for forward planning and it appealed to me because of its simplicity. So, here’s what I want to stop, what I want to start, and what I want to keep in my life in 2021.

STOP

  • Beating myself up about my body.
  • Trying to control my eating (I’m going all in on the intuitive eating path).
  • Avoiding knowing how much I weigh – I’m not going back to weighing myself, I will just do it once with the support of my psychologist to prove to myself that the number on the scales doesn’t say anything about me – my health, my worthiness, my goodness, my happiness. This is an insurance policy so that if I happen to see how much I weigh in a medical setting or something along those lines, it won’t impact how I feel about myself or my body.
  • Doubting people’s love for me – they do love me and there are good reasons why they do.
  • Working in, and being paid for, a graduate role in the Tasmanian State Service (I have a new, non-graduate role which I will commence very shortly – I’m moving up in the world which is exciting after not quite a year of full-time work).

START

  • Looking for a house to buy in earnest, with the aim of buying something by the end of year.
  • Working on climate change policy and projects again, having secured a position at work in which I will be doing just that.
  • Being a ‘human book’ in the Hobart Human Library, telling my story at workshops for school children and workplaces to break down stigma and biases about chronic illness and mental illness.
  • Learning to identify and name Tasmanian flora (I received a field guide book to assist me in this quest for Christmas).
  • Looking for a bridesmaid’s dress (my brother and his fiancé will get married in September, all going to plan in the time of COVID-19).
  • Camping – this is not something I’ve ever done but if I want to do multi-day hikes around Tasmania (which I do), I’ll need to get accustomed to putting up a tent, sleeping in a tent, cooking on a portable stove and so on.
  • Attending a yoga retreat – there are regular retreats on beautiful Maria Island that I’m keen to try.

KEEP

  • Attending a weekly yoga class at my local studio with my wonderful instructor.
  • Practising yoga at home, albeit not to any rigid schedule aside from attempting to practice both days of the weekend and any other evening I feel so inclined.
  • Staying connected with my family through regular messages, phone calls, video-based catch-ups and hopefully face-to-face contact as well (COVID-19 permitting).
  • Developing my Tassie friendships, both one-on-one with people and through groups like book club, Tassie Girls Outside and so on.
  • Maintaining my Melbourne friendships through messages, phone calls, video-based catch-ups and hopefully a trip to Melbourne (again, all going to plan in the time of COVID-19).
  • Exploring Tasmania – my only specific idea (and it’s not especially specific anyway) is to head up to Launceston and surrounds, because I haven’t spent any time up there since moving here and I know a few people in Launceston (thanks Three Capes Track) and in Scottsdale (one of my Dad’s cousins).
  • Reading at least a book a week.
  • Writing my blog – while I can’t promise to be any more prolific than I was last year (and I wasn’t very prolific at all), I am committed to doing a monthly favourites post each month and a few other regular fixtures such as a reflection on the anniversary of my admission to hospital for eating disorder treatment, a mid-year review of these intentions and my progress on them and all the usual year in review type posts at the end of 2021.
  • Volunteering with Beyond Blue and Vinnies.
  • Baking my own sourdough bread and experimenting with ferments and pickles.
  • Procuring as much of my food as I can without packaging (eg taking all my own bags along for purchasing fruit and vegies, buying pantry goods at the bulk foods store in my own containers, making things from scratch).
  • Being a vegetarian.
  • Purchasing as many of my clothes as I can second-hand from the op shop.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

2020 Reflection

What three words best describe your year?

Happy, adventurous, satisfying.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Definitely moving out of home, moving interstate, working full time, managing all of this in the year of COVID-19 and ultimately ending the year by securing a new role at work for 2021.

What are you most thankful for?

My new home of Hobart; Tassie’s amazing landscapes, flora and fauna; my housemates; my wonderful work colleagues and the opportunities I’ve been afforded at work; being reunited with my family at Christmas.

What new thing(s) did you learn?

At work, I learnt a lot – how to write for Government, how to manage up, how to develop positive working relationships, how to manage all my various responsibilities, how to manage being stuck between a rock and a hard place professionally and more.

At home, I learnt how to make sourdough bread as well as how to make fermented foods such as sauerkraut and pickle things like red onions and watermelon rind.

What new thing(s) did you do?

  • Moved out of home and interstate;
  • Lived with housemates;
  • Worked full time;
  • Managed my own finances;
  • Joined a book club;
  • Delivered Beyond Blue presentations virtually;
  • Did a multi-day hike;
  • Embraced intuitive eating; and
  • Interviewed for non-graduate jobs.

What activities made you lose track of time?

  • Being busy at work;
  • Hiking;
  • Spending time with good friends and family or talking to them on phone/video calls;
  • Practising yoga;
  • Reading; and
  • Cooking.

What little things made you happy on a day-to-day basis?

  • Nature, especially Hobart’s abundant pademelons;
  • Positive feedback from managers/colleagues at work;
  • All the wonderful new people in my Hobart life;
  • All the wonderful, longer-term people in my life;
  • Cups of tea;
  • Sunshine;
  • Good books; and
  • Music.

How was your head? What was your most common mental state?

My most common mental state was feeling happy, followed by amazement that I was feeling this way.

Which worries turned out to be completely unnecessary?

  • That I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself living away from home;
  • That my health would prevent me from living well;
  • That I wouldn’t be able to cope with full-time work;
  • That I wouldn’t be good at my job; and
  • That I wouldn’t make friends in Hobart.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

Being separated from my family and friends in Melbourne for almost the entire year after only just moving.

How was your body?

Often tired, sometimes plagued by headaches and migraines, but ultimately better than it’s been for years.


That’s a wrap for my 2020 themed posts. Stay tuned for my 2021 Intentions.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

2020 Favourites

As per usual, pulling this together has been challenging due to the sheer quantity of good books, podcasts, TV shows and so on I had to choose from.

Fiction books

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Indian Horse and Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Both of these novels were lent to me by one of my housemates because Wagamese is one of her favourite authors. They did not disappoint. Wagamese is a member of the First Nations of Canada, so these novels complemented the deep dive I’ve done over the past couple of years into First Nations Australian writing. Both are slim books but with powerful, hearfelt prose ripping simultaneously with the aching sadness and dazzling beauty of life. Indian Horse tracks a substantial chunk of its protagonist’s painful life from growing up with his family to life in a residential school to a troubled adulthood and finally an ending of sorts. Medicine Walk is the story of a young man’s troubled relationship with his father and their journey to understand each other before it’s too late. While the themes are challenging, Wagamese’s writing is a pleasure to read – highly evocative with every word and phrase adding value to the story. Medicine Walk

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Floundering by Romy Ash

This book reminded me of Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe and Tony Birch’s Blood. All three are books about the resilience of children and solidarity of siblings in the face of parental neglect. Floundering is at once beautiful (thanks to the prose), disturbing (thanks to the behaviour of adults) and heart-warming (thanks to the behaviour of children). This is my favourite type of fiction – the gritty, realist novel which shows humans at both their worst and best.

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Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less is a delightfully funny and poignant novel centred around protagonist Arthur Less. Self-doubting and hence very relatable, failed novelist Less embarks on a round-the-world trip in order to avoid having to attend an ex’s wedding as he nears his fiftieth Birthday. This leads to all kinds of silly adventures. I particularly enjoyed Less’s time in Germany due to his imperfect command of the German language. A series of hilarious faux-pas and misunderstandings are the result.

The Dry by Jane Harper

Another totally engaging novel which I read in two days (admittedly one of those was a day off). I loved it so much that almost as soon as I had finished it, I started (and rocketed through) another Harper novel, this one titled The Lost Man. Both The Dry and The Lost Man are murder mysteries set against the vast Australian outback with its cattle stations, droughts and small yet incredibly complex and fraught communities. If you’re looking for something well-written but easy to sink your teeth into, both The Dry and The Lost Man are for you.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I looked forward to reading this novel each night after work. It is written in a format I love where it alternates between the perspectives of the two main characters, giving you insight into two lives and how they intersect. While thoroughly enjoyable, this novel also tackles some difficult themes, particularly race and racism, making it a very pertinent novel for our current circumstances. I particularly loved the way the novel drills down into the intricacies and politics of African women’s hair and how they choose to wear it.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This was the book club book for September and what a wonderful book it was – the sort of book I was excited to get home from work to read. This is the story of twins who run away from their hometown of Mallard, a town of light-skinned African American people who strive to leave their African Americain-ness behind, at age 16. After years of living and working alongside each other, one twin then runs away from the other to pursue a life of passing as white.

Set over the span of many years, the book not only addresses the impact of this split on the twins themselves, but also on the lives of their daughters. Through its masterfully woven narrative, this book addresses important themes, particularly race but also the importance of family.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

The Book Club read for October, this is a uniquely constructed book which sets out detailed portraits of twelve different characters with variously intersecting lives. While you may not like every character, each one is masterfully rendered and you don’t just see them through their eyes, but also through the eyes of other characters. This, we book clubbers agreed, was the book’s genius – it is a rich illustration of the way multiple and seemingly conflicting truths can and do coexist.

Side note: This is one of those books that ignores conventions like capital letters at the start of sentences. For me, this didn’t add anything and was actually a slight annoyance (I admit I am something of a spelling and grammar fiend), but it was also something I got used to as I read. Evaristo does some other, and to me more interesting, innovative things with language such as occasionally using one line per word to emphasise a point – for me, this worked. The lowercase, not so much.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Set over many generations, Lee creates a rich fictional landscape full of masterfully rendered characters through which she, much like Bennett, explores complex themes of discrimination, religion and morality, identity, exile, sexuality and more.

This novel is also a history lesson about the discrimination faced by Koreans living in Japan and the lengths they are forced to go to in order to survive. Sadly, this was history I knew virtually nothing about and I suspect many of my Western and supposedly educated (I say supposedly not to undermine your intelligence but because what we are educated in is so skewed) counterparts are in the same boat.

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

There is a meta narrative built around the narrative of this book. The meta narrative is that author Grenville has found and published the secret memoirs of Elizabeth Macarthur, the narrative is Elizabeth Macarthur’s memoir. To be honest, the meta narrative layer didn’t really add anything to this book for me, but I loved the narrative itself.

In true Grenville style, she weaves history with her imagination to create a rich portrait of a remarkable woman. While Elizabeth Macarthur’s husband is credited with much in tellings of Australian history, this novel explores the role Elizabeth herself may well have played in his success. She is a fierce, intelligent, brave protagonist – you’ll be rooting for her.

No Big Deal and Melt My Heart by Bethany Rutter

Both of these are young adult novels with fat protagonists, something which shouldn’t be revolutionary but kind of is. To be honest, I can’t recall ever reading a young adult novel with a fat protagonist as a teenager. These are novels about loving and accepting yourself no matter how the world tells you you should look, be or behave. As many works of young adult fiction, these are books about friendship and young love with gloriously strong female protagonists. Highly recommended, even if you are not a young adult.

All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton

I can only imagine the pressure Dalton must have felt to get his second novel right after the roaring success of his first novel Boy Swallows Universe. Masterful storyteller that he is, All Our Shimmering Skies is another wonderful novel starring a strong young protagonist, Molly Hook. Set in Darwin and the Northern Territory during World War II, this is a book about survival against the odds and the humanity within us, with Dalton’s signature magical, mysterious touches thrown in.

Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman (reread)

I read this novel just over a year ago and wrote about it in my October/November Favourites (2019). Having reread it, I still think this book is genius because it takes the colonisation of Australia and twists it into a new form, creating a narrative which is simultaneously new and all too familiar. Coleman also has an incredible knack for writing seemingly disconnected strands of narrative and then weaving them all together, something I find supremely satisfying as a reader. You go from wondering “where is this going?” to aha moment, “I see where this is going”.

Non-fiction books

Pain and Prejudice: A Call to Arms for Women and Their Bodies by Gabrielle Jackson

This book wasn’t necessarily enjoyable to read but it was such an important read. This book is many things – a guide to women’s bodies, a history of medicine’s treatment of women’s illness, the science of chronic pain, and the bias of medical science and research aganst women. As a journalist, Jackson writes extremely clearly and steps you through this array of fascinating issues.

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Van Diemen’s Land: An Aboriginal History by Murray Johnson & Ian McFarlane

A must read if you are a Tasmanian or are going to be spending any significant period of time in Tasmania. This book is the culmination of years of work and teaching by Johnson and McFarlane which charts the history of Tasmania’s Aboriginal people from before the British invasion through to the present day. Significant elements of this history include the Black War, the Black Line, Wybalenna, and the resurgence of Tasmanian Aboriginality led by figures such as Michael Mansell. It’s tough reading at times, this being a book about invasion and violence, but it’s also a vitally important account of a history which has been swept under the carpet for far too long, perhaps due in part to the assertion that Tasmania’s Aboriginal people have died out (newsflash, this is far from true).

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by various (edited by Roxane Gay)

Wow, fierce and frank writing from a plethora of amazing women and men. As the title suggests, this is not en easy read, it’s about sexual harassment and violence, but it is such an important contribution to popular discourse as it highlights just how many different and perfectly acceptable ways there are to express and cope with a trauma which is all too common. There were a lot of gems in this anthology, but a single line which stuck with me was this: “A good therapist knows you have to live in the house while you remodel” (& The Truth Is, I Have No Story by Claire Schwartz).

Hobart by Peter Timms (reread)

I read this book for the first time in November 2019 when I was gearing up for my move to Hobart. It was a great introduction to what was to be my new home which made me start falling in love with it. After three months in my new home, I thought it was worth reading the book about this place again as I became increasingly familiar with its streets and suburbs and moods and people. It didn’t disappoint, just bolstering my sense of love for this place. It was also a particularly timely read given that I was basically stuck here due to COVID-19 and searching for new places I can walk and explore which are close to home.

Beauty by Bri Lee

This slim tome by the author of the incredible Eggshell Skull is quite an intense read in that it is a brutally honest account of Lee’s struggle with her eating and body. But for that very reason, it is also a mightily important read. Its description of the double standard we hold – one expectation for ourselves (having to be perfect and never quite attaining that), another for everyone else (they are perfect just the way they are) – hit home for me as someone who rages against the unfair beauty standards society sets for women but then still looks in the mirror and picks apart the body reflected there. One of my housemates read it after me and found it similarly intense because for her, as for me, it totally hit the nail on the head.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

A few months after this was the assigned book club reading, I finally got to it. Becoming is a rare book in that its appeal spans the generations – my Great Aunt read and loved it, as did my Mum, as did my fourteen-year-old cousin, as did I. I particularly enjoyed learning how Michelle and Barack met, as well as getting a behind the scenes look behind being First Lady of the USA. Michelle’s drive to do something meaningful and useful with her life and skills really resonated with me as someone whose whole aim in work and life more broadly is to live a life filled with meaning and purpose.

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One Story, One Song by Richard Wagamese

I must confess I haven’t actually finished this book yet, but I am more than half way through and absolutely loving it. Having read two of Wagamese’s novels, Indian Horse and Medicine Walk, I knew this would be a well written piece of non-fiction and my goodness it is. Broken up into short (typically three to five page) reflections, I find myself nodding, smiling and wanting to write down quotes with almost every page I read. This book contains so much wisdom, kindness, warmth. So much of all that is good and wonderful in this world. I am reading it slowly to really savour the beauty of Wagamese’s words and the depth of his reflections. Cannot recommend highly enough and cannot thank my housemate enough for introducing me to Wagamese.

Women and Leadership by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaela

Based on the latest academic research and interviews with eight prominent female leaders including Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, and Jacinda Ardern, current Prime Minister of New Zealand, Gillard and Okonjo-Iwaela present eight hypotheses about women leaders. These hypotheses look at many things including the impact of the leaders’ upbringings, their clothes and appearance, tone and much more.

Your Own Kind of Girl by Clare Bowditch

This memoir by Australian singer, songwriter, musician, actress and many other things besides Clare Bowditch is a very raw, brutally honest account of her struggle with mental illness and body acceptance. As a songwriter, Bowditch has a way with words which makes her account of her struggle very vivid. Consequently, it hit very close to home. It’s not all gloom, this is also a book about recovery (a long, effortful, but ultimately worthwhile process), love, motherhood, creativity and much more. Also, how good is the image on the cover? I love it!

Podcasts

  • A Podcast of One’s Own with Julia Gillard – interviews with world-leading women about their paths through life, experiences of misogyny and hopes for the future.
  • Blacademia – a new discovery for me, although the existing podcast episodes were released earlier this year. Hosted by Amy Thunig, each episode is a yarn with a First Nations academic. Guests include Professor Marcia Langton AM (Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies and Associate Provost at the University of Melbourne) and Professor Anita Heiss (author of some amazing fiction and non-fiction books I have written about on my blog). I love the way Thunig goes back to basics with these esteemed academics, asking them about their families and getting them to explain academic concepts like doing an Honours year.
  • Cautionary Tales – the second season of this wonderful podcast focuses on lessons we can learn from history about the current COVID-19 pandemic. The way creator and host Tim Harford links different ideas, research and historical events together into digestible 30-minute episodes is fantastic. A great way to get some perspective on what’s happening in the present, which often seems overwhelmingly bad.
  • Food Psych – hosted by dietitian Christy Harrison, this is a podcast about intuitive eating, Health at Every Size and body liberation. I love that these are not just interviews with experts, these are interviews in which guests share their own experiences.
  • Don’t Salt My Game – hosted by nutritionist Laura Thomas from the London Centre for Intuitive Eating, this podcast covers similar themes to Food Psych and is also more than just interviews with experts.

Music

As a much prolific podcast listener, I don’t have a whole lot to offer in terms of music discoveries from 2020. I find I just return to old favourites over and over again. Nonetheless, here are three albums I discovered (albeit very late given they were released in 2015, 2018 and 2012 respectively).

  • Sun Leads Me On by Half Moon Run – for some reason, this has been my Saturday morning go-to music this year. It seems to instill me with chill vibes and positive feels. Amazingly, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this album in my favourites posts this year (definite oversight on my part) but given the amount I’ve listened to it, it is worthy of inclusion here.
  • Depth of Field by Sarah Blasko – Blasko is the queen of variety and experimentation. It’s amazing how much variety is contained within the 10 songs on this album. This makes for a satisfying listen over and over again.
  • 151a by Kishi Bashi – I have listed Kishi Bashi in my favourites several times this year. Like Blasko, Kishi Bashi is a master of variety and experimentation, but also fun.

TV

  • Stateless – episode six of this six-part series made me absolutely bawl. Based on true stories (including the story of Cornelia Rau, an Australian permanent resident who was unlawfully detained in an immigration detention centre) and set in an Australian immigration detention centre, this is a heart-wrenching series which highlights the immense cruelty and heartlessness of Australia’s asylum seeker policy. I don’t recommend watching this if you’re feeling emotionally tender, but if you are up to it please do watch it. It is absolutely amazing, it really is. And it features an all-star cast including Cate Blanchett, Asher Keddie and more.
  • The Heights – back for a second season in 2020, season two of this classy soap opera is almost as good as season one. I say almost because while the writing and acting is as good as ever, there has been a change of actor for one of the main characters and the substitution is not particularly convincing. This is not a comment on the new actor, it’s just that the old actor was quite distinctive looking and fit the character he played so well that the change has been quite jarring. After four episodes with the new actor, it’s still bugging me. However, I love this show so much that I’m persevering.
  • You Can’t Ask That – perhaps the most perfect idea for a TV show, You Can’t Ask That is back for season five. So far, there have been episodes with firefighters, nudists and people who’ve killed someone. All have been just as insightful as previous seasons’ episodes. Everyone should be watching this show.
  • Mystery Road – Mystery Road’s second season is as gripping as ever. This is a show packed with Indigenous talent, from lead actor Aaron Pedersen to directors Warwick Thornton and Wayne Blair. In season two, the inscrutable Detective Jay Swan (played by Pedersen), takes on a grisly new case in the coastal community of Gideon, where a headless body is found washed up in the mangroves by a fisherman. Racial tensions and outright racism, drugs, toxic masculinity – the narrative explores all these themes and more.
  • Filthy Rich and Homeless – back for a third season, the premise of this TV show is to take five high profile Australians and give them a taste of homelessness. They spend a few nights sleeping on the streets, alone and then with a buddy experiencing homelessness; experience life in crisis accommodation; and finally spend time in boarding houses. The experience changes all of them, as it always does. I just wish more people could be put through the experience, especially those who judge people experiencing homelessness harshly. The lessons resonate strongly with me as someone who volunteered with people experiencing homelessness over several years.

New skill

The most significant thing I learnt in 2020 (outside of work I hasten to add) was how to make my own sourdough bread. I got on this bandwagon quite late and relatively reluctantly (having to look after sourdough starter and keep it alive made me anxious), but a good friend gave me some of his starter for my Birthday and encouraged me to give it a go. It’s safe to say I’m hooked! Since September, I’ve only bought bread once (on holidays when I couldn’t make my own). Otherwise, I’ve been living off my own creations – yum!

2021 Intentions and a bit of a reflection on 2020 still to come – stay tuned.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

December Favourites

Following this post, I will also be putting together my 2020 Favourites and 2021 Intentions, so stay tuned for those posts.

My reading and other cultural consumption dropped off in December due to much of my time being taken up by social engagements, job interviews and more. As a result, this post will be light on that sort of content.

Events

The festive month of December did not disappoint. It was filled with Christmas get-togethers and, most importantly, my first face-to-face time with my parents, brother and his fiance since late January/very early February 2020. My nearly two weeks with my family was definitely the highlight of the month. It was so lovely being able to show them around Hobart and surrounds now that I have settled in and spent the year getting to know my new home. We went on lots of my favourite walks and hikes, ate lots of delicious food, both home cooked and out, and ventured further afield to explore some areas even I hadn’t visited before.

We had a wonderful Christmas day feast at my place, including a whole roasted stuffed pumpkin as the centrepiece (Christmas lunch was vegetarian given it was on my turf), followed by a lovely walk up the Cascade Track into the bush.

Prior to my family’s arrival, I thoroughly enjoyed hosting my first proper visitor since COVID-19 hit in the form of my cousin from Adelaide. I spent two action-packed days with her, followed by an action packed day with her and her friend who she then went off to explore Tassie with. Other highlights were a casual Christmas get together of baby public servants from my Department, my team’s work Christmas lunch and the Book Club Christmas lunch and book exchange.

Final highlight was the news I received on 23 December that I had been successful in securing an amazing new position at work. I don’t know exactly when I will start in my new position but I am really looking forward to the new responsibilities and opportunities it will afford me. I’m particularly excited because I will be working on climate change policy and projects.

Book

Your Own Kind of Girl by Clare Bowditch

This memoir by Australian singer, songwriter, musician, actress and many other things besides Clare Bowditch is a very raw, brutally honest account of her struggle with mental illness and body acceptance. As a songwriter, Bowditch has a way with words which makes her account of her struggle very vivid. Consequently, it hit very close to home. It’s not all gloom, this is also a book about recovery (a long, effortful, but ultimately worthwhile process), love, motherhood, creativity and much more. Also, how good is the image on the cover? I love it!

Food

The Crescent Hotel‘s garlic bread

This is very specific, and will only be available to those anyone reading this who happens to live in or near Hobart, but it is so good and I was lucky enough to eat it twice in December. The Crescent’s garlic bread comes as two thick slices of house-made bread covered in grated parmesan cheese and chopped parsley and a small (but generous) jug of melted garlic butter alongside. You drown your bread in the melted garlic butter, watch the parmesan cheese melt, and then enjoy. The Crescent is in general a very nice place to eat so I would recommend it even if you don’t like garlic, but the garlic bread is something else entirely.

TV

I’ve been rewatching and thoroughly enjoying “best of” style clips from Would I Lie To You. I would recommend the following for a belly ache inducing laugh:

On the Rhod to Happiness – Rhod Gilbert on Would I Lie to You?

Mortimerian Tales – Bob Mortimer on Would I Lie to You? – Part 1

Mortimeriados – Bob Mortimer on Would I Lie to You? Part 2

Self-care action

With my family visiting, I was initially quite overwhelmed by having to think about the needs of five people not just one and became somewhat irritable with them as a result. Important to my ability to manage my feelings better, which I think I did as I got used to their presence, was actually asking for what I wanted/needed, instead of expecting them to guess/know, and giving myself some space of my own to practise yoga, write or do whatever else I needed to do. I found that I didn’t need long on my own, just enough to let my brain process and get itself in order so that I could better manage the dynamics with my family. My family are wonderful, I love them to bits and they are not hard to get along with, it was just a big change to go from being just one person to being a group of five.


That’s it for a pretty brief December Favourites, a much longer 2020 Favourites (longer because I’m struggling to narrow down my lists of favourite books in particular) will be on its way very soon.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Intuitive Eating & Body Trust

In October, I wrote about my self-identified fatphobia and the work I was starting to do to address it. Since then, through conversations with my psychologist and absolutely devouring episodes of the podcasts Food Psych and Don’t Salt My Game (see my November Favourites for more), I have actually made immense progress. Not long after the fatphobia post, my psychologist raised the concepts of intuitive eating and body trust in our session. These concepts felt scary and uncomfortable – surely I couldn’t just eat what I wanted when I wanted and be healthy? Surely that would mean I just would eat cake, pizza and other supposedly “unhealthy” food all the time.

For many years, I had been holding on to just a little bit of control over what I ate, making rules (albeit nowhere near as extreme as the rules my eating disorder set for me in my youth) about when it was “normal” and “healthy” to eat, how much it was “normal” and “healthy” to eat and so on. I was eating well, I no longer had an eating disorder, but I wasn’t free.

But then, spurred on by my psychologist and the podcasts and some other things besides, I let that part of me that was holding on go. And it has been so good. I feel so much freer, more flexible, more me.

Newsflash: I don’t suddenly eat cake, pizza and other supposedly “unhealthy” food all the time. I eat and enjoy these things, but I also eat all kinds of other stuff, including fruit and vegies, lentils, brown rice and all the other foods we label “healthy”. Why? Because bodies are smart – they know what they need and they will ask for it.

Sure, I’m eating a bit more than I would have six months ago, but maybe that’s actually the amount my body needs. Or maybe after years of restraining myself and holding back, it’s natural that my body and brain are calling out for more, because for quite some time, my body hasn’t quite been able to rely on the next meal being enough. Or maybe it’s because it’s the Christmas season and I keep finding myself standing in front of gorgeous spreads of delicious foods all of which I want to eat lots of.

Whatever the reason, there is nothing wrong with eating more. There is also nothing wrong with my body changing in this process. Instead of approaching my eating and my body with judgment, I am increasingly able to approach with curiosity, with the objectivity of a scientist.

For example, after a Christmas lunch and afternoon of eating, I walked home feeling very full. In a purely physical sense, I was uncomfortably full. But instead of freaking out about this and berating myself for eating too much, I just noticed what being really full felt like. I put my hands on my belly and felt its roundness. I noticed a desire to move my body in a gentle way to get my digestion going, so I went for a wander. When I got home, I still felt full. I made a pot of herbal tea and did a jigsaw. I realised the last thing I felt like was dinner – I was still full. I didn’t celebrate not feeling hungry as I would have in the past, I just noted it. I also didn’t force myself to eat dinner as I may have done in the past due to some strange sense of fidelity to the standard meal structure of a day.

Over the past couple of months as I have enjoyed the freedom of intuitive eating and trusting my body, I have wondered whether I should have / could have / would have embraced these concepts earlier in my life if given the chance. I have wondered why I wasn’t exposed to them. Then I have wondered whether perhaps I was but just wasn’t ready to hear them. What if? What if? What if? What ifs aside, discovering these concepts now has worked wonders for me.

I am particularly thankful to have discovered these concepts as we come into the festive season. Often a time laden with its fair share of guilt and rigidity and fear, as well as custard and potatoes, so far this year it has been a time of fun and socialising, pure and simple. The layers of guilt and rigidity and fear are almost entirely gone. And when they are there, I am getting better at approaching them with curiosity.

If these concepts sound appealing, scary, both or something else entirely, I encourage you to seek out someone who knows about this stuff – a psychologist, a counsellor, a dietitian. Seek them out and see where the journey takes you.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

November Favourites

It’s been a big month of discoveries and adventures. Here we go!

Event

A lot happened in November. It was a busy month at work capped off by six days away on pydarerme country (the Tasman Peninsula). I spent the first four days on the Three Capes Track, then had two extra days to explore the area further. I had the best time. Every day on the Three Capes Track, I saw new wildlife and wildflowers, was struck by the beauty of the scenery and enjoyed deep conversations with the people I met along the tracks / in the cabins. Every day was the best day yet!

In 6 days, I probably hiked about 90km. It felt so good to be moving my body like this and I could sense my fitness increasing as I hiked. If I get a chance, I will write some more about my time away and share it with you in a separate post.

Here are some photo highlights:

Fiction books

All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton

I can only imagine the pressure Dalton must have felt to get his second novel right after the roaring success of his first novel Boy Swallows Universe. Masterful storyteller that he is, All Our Shimmering Skies is another wonderful novel starring a strong young protagonist, Molly Hook. Set in Darwin and the Northern Territory during World War II, this is a book about survival against the odds and the humanity within us, with Dalton’s signature magical, mysterious touches thrown in.

No Big Deal and Melt My Heart by Bethany Rutter

Both of these are young adult novels with fat protagonists, something which shouldn’t be revolutionary but kind of is. To be honest, I can’t recall ever reading a young adult novel with a fat protagonist as a teenager. These are novels about loving and accepting yourself no matter how the world tells you you should look, be or behave. As many works of young adult fiction, these are books about friendship and young love with gloriously strong female protagonists. Highly recommended, even if you are not a young adult.

Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson

This novel covers a lot of territory within its 400 pages. Spanning multiple generations of the Billymil family, Song of the Crocodile is a story of racism and violence (from outside the family), but also love and resilience (from within the family). Woven through the narrative are the Yuwaalaraay language, and the observations and machinations of spirits ancestral and recently deceased, giving this novel a shimmering, magical quality. For me, as someone who’s studied and read quite a lot about Indigenous Australians, the narrative was at once familiar and yet utterly unique and compelling.

Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman (reread)

I read this novel just over a year ago and wrote about it in my October/November Favourites (2019). Having reread it, I still think this book is genius because it takes the colonisation of Australia and twists it into a new form, creating a narrative which is simultaneously new and all too familiar. Coleman also has an incredible knack for writing seemingly disconnected strands of narrative and then weaving them all together, something I find supremely satisfying as a reader. You go from wondering “where is this going?” to aha moment, “I see where this is going”.

Podcasts

My wonderful new psychologist here in Hobart recommended both of these podcasts to me following our discussion at our last session about intuitive eating. I love both of them – they are making such a big difference to my thinking about food, weight and my body. In tandem with my conversations with my new psychologist, they are helping me to cross a new frontier in my eating disorder recovery journey.

Food Psych

Hosted by dietitian Christy Harrison, this is a podcast about intuitive eating, Health at Every Size and body liberation. I love that these are not just interviews with experts, these are interviews in which guests share their own experiences.

Don’t Salt My Game

Hosted by nutritionist Laura Thomas from the London Centre for Intuitive Eating, this podcast covers similar themes to Food Psych and is also more than just interviews with experts.

TV

Blasko

On a post-work evening with a desire to watch something, I stumbled upon this documentary about Australian singer-songwriter Sarah Blasko on ABC iview. Narrated by Blasko herself and including interviews with long-term musical collaborators and her dad, this was a fascinating look at the novel approach Blasko took to writing her 2018 album Depth of Field. Craving the feeling of being on stage and performing, the songs on the album were conceived at the Campbelltown Arts Centre through a two week artist residency.

Music

Watching the aforementioned documentary got me onto Sarah Blasko’s 2018 album Depth of Field. The whole album is fantastic, making it very hard to pick a favourite song or songs. Here are two to get you started:

Savour It

I love the way this song is put together – the synths, the drums, the vocals, the way it ebbs and flows. It is also an important reminder to live in the moment and enjoy what life offers us now, a reminder we all need.

Read My Mind

I recommend listening closely to the lyrics of this one because it is a beautiful song about the singer’s child and experience of being mother.

Self-care action

Stopping and taking it all in, breathing, savouring. Whether this be while walking, hiking or doing yoga, I’ve been giving myself permission to stop and finding so much value in the pauses. As a person who is typically very goal oriented and somewhat averse to slowing down, this is a good challenge and one which has been really good for me.


That’s it for November. It’s hard to believe next month I’ll be writing up my 2020 Favourites.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

October Favourites

Wow – I can’t believe it is already November! The months are passing by so quickly. October was a month of wonderful fiction books, delicious food, fascinating podcasts and some fun adventures. Here are the highlights.

Fiction books

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

There is a meta narrative built around the narrative of this book. The meta narrative is that author Grenville has found and published the secret memoirs of Elizabeth Macarthur, the narrative is Elizabeth Macarthur’s memoir. To be honest, the meta narrative layer didn’t really add anything to this book for me, but I loved the narrative itself.

In true Grenville style, she weaves history with her imagination to create a rich portrait of a remarkable woman. While Elizabeth Macarthur’s husband is credited with much in tellings of Australian history, this novel explores the role Elizabeth herself may well have played in his success. She is a fierce, intelligent, brave protagonist – you’ll be rooting for her.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

The Book Club read for October, this is a uniquely constructed book which sets out detailed portraits of twelve different characters with variously intersecting lives. While you may not like every character, each one is masterfully rendered and you don’t just see them through their eyes, but also through the eyes of other characters. This, we book clubbers agreed, was the book’s genius – it is a rich illustration of the way multiple and seemingly conflicting truths can and do coexist.

Side note: This is one of those books that ignores conventions like capital letters at the start of sentences. For me, this didn’t add anything and was actually a slight annoyance (I admit I am something of a spelling and grammar fiend), but it was also something I got used to as I read. Evaristo does some other, and to me more interesting, innovative things with language such as occasionally using one line per word to emphasise a point – for me, this worked. The lowercase, not so much.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Bennett’s more recent novel The Vanishing Half for September’s Book Club, I was keen to crack into this one and it didn’t disappoint. Basically, I love Brit Bennett – she is a wonderful 2020 discovery.

Like The Vanishing Half, part of this novels power is that it is set over many years. You get to know the three main characters as teenagers and their relationships with each other at that stage of their lives, then you follow their lives and relationships as they develop and, inevitably, become increasingly complex. Again, like The Vanishing Half, this novel weaves in some pretty important themes – love, friendship, religion, hypocrisy, ambition – but through well written, entrancing characters and plot, making this novel a pleasure to read.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Last but certainly not least of this month’s fiction favourites (I warned you there were a lot) is another novel set over many years, in this case many generations. Lee creates a rich fictional landscape full of masterfully rendered characters through which she, much like Bennett, explores complex themes of discrimination, religion and morality, identity, exile, sexuality and more.

This novel is also a history lesson about the discrimination faced by Koreans living in Japan and the lengths they are forced to go to in order to survive. Sadly, this was history I knew virtually nothing about and I suspect many of my Western and supposedly educated (I say supposedly not to undermine your intelligence but because what we are educated in is so skewed) counterparts are in the same boat. I’ve got Lee’s other novel (Free Food for Millionaires) on order from the library already because Pachinko was so good – highly recommended.

Podcasts

  • David Astle’s brain on puzzles from ABC RN’s Conversations – in my 2018 October Favourites, I mentioned listening to an an interview with “crossword compiler extraordinaire David Astle” and the inspiration this gave me to start attempting cryptic crosswords (something I still do and thoroughly enjoy). ABC RN’s Conversations recently ran a repeat of this episode and I thought it was worth listening to again now that I am an avid cryptic crossword solver. Given I’m mentioning it here, it should come as no surprise to you that it was well worth listening to again.
  • A restaurant named Parwana – Afghan treasure in Adelaide from ABC RN’s Conversations – among many other things (eg educating me about Afghan food and history), this interview made me want to get back to Adelaide to try out what sounds like a pretty wonderful restaurant.

Food

You’re probably sick of me talking about my sourdough creations, but I crafted some winners in October:

  1. Sourdough flatbreads – cooked in a frying pan, these are delicious spread with tahini and topped with caramelised onions, roasted carrots, brown lentils and olives.
  2. Olive, sundried tomato and herb loaves – thankfully this recipe-less experiment made two loaves (one for Book Club and one for me), because this combination is divine.

On the eating out front, a friend and I went to a new shop that has just opened up in Hobart – Lady Hester. Previously only a cart at the Sunday market selling exclusively sourdough (sorry, sourdough overload) donuts, Lady Hester’s little shop sells their famous donuts as well as other baked delights. Their baklava scroll (full of (nuts, honey and cardamom) was scrumptious, as was the dark chocolate donut.

Event

This time last week I was up on kunanyi/Mount Wellington with a friend hiking. It was the perfect hike to do together, with some undulation but not too much, allowing us to chat as we went. The views were great, as was the company – I came home with very muddy boots and a feeling of peace.

As usual, October Book Club was also a good time – good company, great conversation and an amazing spread of food to keep us going.


That’s it for October.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Fatphobia

I like to think of myself as an enlightened individual aware of, and working to mitigate, my prejudices.

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly aware of a prejudice that has been simmering away within me for years – fatphobia.

Like any prejudice, fatphobia is not innate or natural, it’s learned. Learned from people in my life, from the media, even from the government.

I already had it as a child. In an incident I’ve never previously disclosed to anyone, not even my parents, as an eight year old, I called a girl I went to school with fat. At a table of fellow eight and nine year olds, calling this girl fat was the rudest thing I could think to say.

I don’t think I really meant it to be insulting, it certainly wasn’t factually accurate, but this incident highlights that even as an eight year old, I had learned and truly believed that being fat was bad.

Thankfully, as a goody two shoes, this is probably the worst thing I ever did at school. For this reason, and increasingly as I come to recognise, acknowledge and work on my fatphobia, I remain intensely ashamed of this incident even today.

As a sixteen/seventeen year old, my fatphobia became bound up with an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa served more than one purpose for me, perhaps the most notable of which was providing me with a sense of control in a life which felt almost entirely out of control. But it also served to address the intense hatred I felt towards my own body, a body I had deemed fat (it wasn’t).

Just as a person who knows deep down they are gay may suppress this truth about themselves and come across as intensely homophobic, I worked to suppress my body’s true form and came across as intensely fatphobic in my speech, writing and, most overwhelmingly, thoughts.

While I have been almost completely recovered from my eating disorder for several years now, I have made slower progress in remedying the fatphobia it was bound up with.

I still have so many negative, judging thoughts about fat people, thoughts I know are unkind, uncalled for and untrue. Things like, and I feel bad even writing these and sharing them, but I also want to be honest about where I’m at, “that person is so unhealthy,” “that person has no self-control,” “that person must eat so much bad food” and, in my worst moments, “that person is a bad person”. 

I’m particularly conscious of these thoughts when I see someone fat eating, especially if they are eating “unhealthy” food and seated, mirroring the visuals you see on media reports about the “obesity epidemic”.

All this, despite the fact that I know that body shape and/or weight are far from a reliable indicators of a person’s health and certainly not reliable indicators of a person’s worth or morality.

All this, despite the fact that, in my opinion, the way a person looks, particularly their body shape, is one of the least interesting and least important things about them. I’m much more interested in their beliefs and values, their life story, their passions and what they’ve been reading.

And yet, we are bombarded constantly with messaging that reinforces the unkind, uncalled for and untrue thoughts I listed above, such that these thoughts continue to come to me apace.

As a result, I have to continuously catch myself, challenge my fatphobic thoughts and remind myself of what is true, namely that:

  1. body shape and/or weight are far from a reliable indicators of a person’s health and certainly not reliable indicators of a person’s worth or morality; and
  2. the way a person looks, particularly their body shape, is one of the least interesting and least important things about them.

I’m keen to explore and probe my fatphobia in greater detail when I next see my new Hobart-based psychologist. I’m also a bit scared – talking about this makes me uncomfortable, revealing a less enlightened, prejudiced part of me. But, as they say, the only way out is through.

The other tactic I have at my disposal is to continue to expose myself to the counter-messaging to what comes through the mainstream media, to reinforce the positive thoughts and counter the fatphobic ones. For example, the amazing Instagram of my colleague, friend and fat fashion advocate Katie Parrott.

Hopefully another post updating you on my progress, including my conversation with my psychologist, will be coming soon.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Money

I have written before of my fraught relationship with money. In particular, the difficulty I have spending the stuff. I know this is the opposite problem to most people, but allow me to explain.

I grew up in a family of savers – money was something we spent on the necessary items but it wasn’t something we threw at anything unnecessary. For example, meals out were rare, special occasion events.

There is a lot of merit in the saver’s approach to money. I’d hazard a guess that savers are more satisfied with their financial situation than spenders – they’re not constantly after the next new thing, instead they’re more likely to be happy with what they’ve got and there’s likely to be money in the bank to boot.

Having said this, it’s not as clear cut as there being two distinct categories. Instead, there is a spectrum. My family are certainly at the savers end, but they have no issues spending money where it was appropriate. Any further to the savers end than them, you turn the corner from saver to miser or Scrooge. That’s where I sit, at least when it comes to my attitude to spending money on myself – I don’t typically have issues spending money on others.

For me, discretionary spending is always accompanied by guilt and rumination as the miser or Scrooge voice kicks in. While I don’t want to turn into someone who spends recklessly, obsessing over discretionary spending on myself is exhausting and detracts enormously from the pleasure of catching up with a friend over coffee or finding and buying a beautiful vintage dress at the op-shop. Furthermore, it sometimes makes me appear stingy, something I do not like or aspire to. Finally, the guilt and rumination accomplishes nothing, aside from making me feel bad. In fact, the guilt and rumination are exhausting.

There are three key contributors to my saver come miser or Scrooge attitude to money:

  1. I want to buy a house

It goes without saying that the best way to achieve this goal is to save as much of what I earn as possible.

  1. Other people need this money more than I do

I am an extremely privileged person as a member of the world’s WEIRD (white, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic) minority. For me, money is a means to various non-essential ends. For others, money may literally be the difference between life and death. So, when I spend money, I am acutely aware of all the people out there who need that money more than me and am inclined not to spend the money with a view to then being able to donate more generously to charities which help people for whom money is literally the difference between life and death.

  1. Not feeling worthy of spending money on myself

I don’t find it particularly challenging to buy a loved one a present or shout them a coffee, probably because this spending makes someone else feel good. But buying myself a present or shouting myself lunch, something which should and does, to a certain extent, make me feel good, also makes me feel guilty, the guilt often outweighing the good vibes. Deep within me lurks the belief that “I am not worthy”. Years ago, the “I am not worthy” related to food, especially treat foods like cake or hot chips. I have largely conquered the “I am not worthy” related to food but I haven’t conquered the belief itself. Instead, it has simply transferred to another aspect of my life – money.


Of these three, the third point, not feeling worthy of spending money on myself, most concerns me. Where this belief comes from I don’t know. As for how to conquer it, I have two suggestions:

  1. Keep challenging this belief by spending money on myself and, when the guilt kicks in, affirming over and over again something along the lines of the L’Oréal Paris slogan, “you’re worth it”; and
  2. Surround myself, as much as possible, with positive role models who do spend money on themselves as an act of self-care.

The same dual strategy really helped me to conquer the “I am not worthy” related to food, so I’m hoping it will translate across and help me to conquer the “I am not worthy” related to money. In tandem, both challenging myself and surrounding myself with positive role models should help to challenge the deeply rooted belief that “I am not worthy”.

Why is this important? Because I am worthy, I just need to prove this to myself.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

September Favourites

Fiction books

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This was the book club book for September and what a wonderful book it was – the sort of book I was excited to get home from work to read. This is the story of twins who run away from their hometown of Mallard, a town of light-skinned African American people who strive to leave their African Americain-ness behind, at age 16. After years of living and working alongside each other, one twin then runs away from the other to pursue a life of passing as white.

Set over the span of many years, the book not only addresses the impact of this split on the twins themselves, but also on the lives of their daughters. Through its masterfully woven narrative, this book addresses important themes, particularly race but also the importance of family.

I’m looking forward to reading Bennett’s previous novel The Mothers now!

Non-fiction books

Women and Leadership by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaela

So I haven’t actually finished this book yet, but it’s so good I wanted to share it straight away. Based on the latest academic research and interviews with eight prominent female leaders including Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, and Jacinda Ardern, current Prime Minister of New Zealand, Gillard and Okonjo-Iwaela present eight hypotheses about women leaders. These hypotheses look at many things including the impact of the leaders’ upbringings, their clothes and appearance, tone and much more.

Podcasts

  • A Herdwick shepherd’s epiphany from ABC RN’s Conversations – a fascinating interview with a farmer who modernised his family’s farm, adopting synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and so on, saw the devastating effects of this modernisation on the health of his land, and consequently transitioned his family’s farm back to the old methods with fantastic results for biodiversity, soil health, even productivity.
  • Georgie Harman on women and mental health from A Podcast of One’s Own with Julia Gillard – I love Julia Gillard’s podcast and listen to every episode, but this interview, with Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman, was particularly good and right up my alley topic-wise.

TV show

The Bureau

This series was recommended to me several times before I finally started watching it this month. Set within the French secret service and with many moving parts, the series keeps you on your toes. One agent is the show’s principal focus, but a whole constellation of interesting characters exist around him. For me, the show has the added bonus of being in French, meaning I get the thrill of understanding a lot of the dialogue without needing the subtitles and a much needed refresher of my French skills. Having studied some of France’s fraught history as a colonial power, it’s also fascinating to see how France operates and relates to (albeit fictionally) former colonies and interests such as Algeria and Syria.

Self-care action

My self-care action for September has been picking and bringing fresh flowers into my room from my garden. Whether it be a sprig of peach blossom, a daffodil, a posy of daphne or some jasmine from our vine, it’s so lovely being able to bring the Spring vibes into my space.

Event

I am so fortunate to live in Tasmania at the moment, a place where it’s possible to get out and about.

In September, I was lucky enough to be invited to spend a weekend on Tasmania’s Bruny Island by a friend from university who actually grew up on Bruny. I enjoyed so much about that weekend, in particular doing the Fluted Cape hike while having a pretty deep dive chat with my friend; eating lots of delicious fresh produce from her family’s fruit and vegie garden; and getting to hang out with a family, something I hadn’t realised I’d missed until we were all sitting around the table for dinner.

Other highlights include going to Hobart’s Veg Bar for the first time where I got to share delicious vegan food and rich conversation with one of my lovely new Hobart friends; a hike at South Arm with the girls hiking group I’m part of; another hike on the Cascades Track up into the foothills of kunanyi/Mt Wellington with the same group followed by a delicious lunch at one of my local cafes with some of the group; and Book Club (The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, see above), which was just an absolute pleasure as always.

View on the Blessington Track
Myrtle Gully Falls (in the foothills of kunanyi/Mt Wellington)

New skill

September has also been the month of learning how to make sourdough bread (and other sourdough goodies). My Birthday present from yet another lovely Hobart friend was a jar of his sourdough starter, so baking sourdough bread (or another sourdough goodie) is now a weekly event. It is one of the most satisfying things I’ve done in a long time. Every sourdough creation has led me to feel very smug, particularly with the high praise I’ve received from my non-gluten free housemate, the friend’s family I stayed with on Bruny, my Book Club pals, and many others who haven’t tasted the goods but have seen photos thereof.

So far, I’ve made a white high top loaf, a white/wholemeal blend high top loaf, an olive and rosemary loaf, a spiced fruit loaf, sourdough ciabatta and a loaf of sourdough banana bread. I’m thoroughly looking forward to continuing my adventures in sourdough and being able to share my creations with loved ones in Melbourne in the not too distant future when they are finally able to visit me here in Hobart.

That’s it for September. It’s been a pretty action packed and enjoyable month.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.