Time for the next corner

It’s gotten away from me. I planned to blog once a week when I started Cutting Corners in December 2012 but it just hasn’t worked out in these last few months. Looking back to where my life was back then, a lot has changed. I was living in peaceful Torquay, away from most friends and family, working a job I was comfortable in after more than a year. Free time to dedicate to leisure pursuits was easy to find.

Since then I’ve moved back to Melbourne, changed jobs and embarked on an unbelievably busy university experience. This past semester I have barely found time to vacuum or cook dinner let alone make a skirt or learn a new recipe. We don’t have a yard or balcony in our new place so my vegetable gardening exploits are temporarily on hold. These days when I grab five minutes of spare time, I find myself being social or active outdoors.

Cutting Corners was all about me cutting corners with my various hobbies so as to find time to do all of them at least a bit and really balance my life. I spend enough time on a computer reading and writing with uni and work, so I’ve been feeling recently that the time is right to cut corners with one activity that’s been weighing on my busy mind. I’m ready to cut corners with this blog.

A big thank you needs to go out to all of you who have been reading and commenting on my sometimes odd array of posts for the past nearly two years or so. Special thanks of course to my subscribers who voluntary allow me into your inboxes whenever I post.

Who knows what I will decide to do with my writing in the future? I may or may not be back on here someday, but I can guarantee I’ll be publishing something online in some form.

See you around the next corner!

Hanging and storing without banging and destroying

Drilling holes in walls and attaching difficult-to-remove double-sided tape to things is less than ideal when you’re renting with some kind of fine-print around the topic. But this doesn’t mean you have to miss out on some handy vertical storage opportunities. There are ways and means of sticking and hanging even when you can’t simply build a shelf or screw in a picture hook (two of my favourite ways to feel like I’m cleaning up my room – just move your junk from the floor to your newly built shelf… and tada! More space.) I found everything in this post at bargain havens like $2 shops (except for one extravagant IKEA purchase).

The suction-cup hook: These things are really only reliable on wet tiles but they make a great bathroom hanging arrangement. (I’ve got one in the kitchen too but had to sticky tape it onto the tiles as it kept falling off!)

The suction-cup hook: These things are really only reliable on wet tiles but they make a great bathroom hanging arrangement. (I’ve got one in the kitchen too but had to sticky tape it onto the tiles as it kept falling off!)

The tiny suction-cup hook: So far, so good on this one, sticking to the side of the fridge. It must have better suction technology than the larger one.

The tiny suction-cup hook: So far, so good on this one, sticking to the side of the fridge. It must have better suction technology than the larger one.

The over-the-door coat hanger: Those hooks that stick on with double-sided tape make a nasty mark when removed, so this is a much better arrangement on the back of a door – and there’s space for heaps of coats!

The over-the-door coat hanger: Those hooks that stick on with double-sided tape make a nasty mark when removed, so this is a much better arrangement on the back of a door – and there’s space for heaps of coats!

The over-the-wardrobe-door belt hanger: See what I did there? Same thing, different purpose (well nearly). Handy!

The over-the-wardrobe-door belt hanger: See what I did there? Same thing, different purpose (well nearly). Handy!

The over-the-bathroom-cabinet-door towel hanger: I love this little beauty that I picked up from Daiso for $2.80 (like everything else in the shop – cheap!) I think it’s designed for a kitchen cabinet but works for the bathroom too.

The over-the-bathroom-cabinet-door towel hanger: I love this little beauty that I picked up from Daiso for $2.80 (like everything else in the shop – cheap!) I think it’s designed for a kitchen cabinet but works for the bathroom too.

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The bedside hanging bag: Who needs a bedside table or a shelf when you’ve got everything you need right next to your pillow?

The genius IKEA scarf hanger: When I saw this in the shop I just had to buy it because I’d never seen anything similar anywhere else. It hangs in your wardrobe like a coat hanger but can also be arranged to fit on the inside of a wardrobe door. So clever!

The genius IKEA scarf hanger: When I saw this in the shop I just had to buy it because I’d never seen anything similar anywhere else. It hangs in your wardrobe like a coat hanger but can also be arranged to fit on the inside of a wardrobe door. So clever!

PS. You can check out those IKEA scarf hangers here.

MS Megaswim done!

Well, what can I say. This whole MS Megaswim adventure certainly didn’t turn out as we’d planned.

It all started with one ambitious friend. Myself and another were first to commit. I’ve already told you about my shoulder injury debacle.

By the actual event, I was the only one out of us three who was actually fit to swim…

Luckily we managed to convince a bunch of people to swim for The Sharkies and our team of 15 or so ended up raising nearly $5000 for MS Australia. It was all good in the end.

Except for the illnesses.

My, my… where do I begin?

About a week out from the event, one of our swimmers fell ill and let us know that we’d need to either find someone to cover his spot or all swim a little longer.

“Michelle and I can just start earlier and do a bit extra,” my midnight shift swimming partner typed, dobbing us in.

I thought about my shoulder. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

That was before she was rushed to hospital with appendicitis three days prior to the event.

Suddenly I was facing not only “a bit extra” but three hours in the pool after midnight alone.

We’d already roped in everybody we knew who was remotely into swimming. Friends of friends of friends of friends became Sharkies. Who else could I ask? It would be bad enough for me with my painful arm stroke to even swim the 1.5 hours we’d originally planned… let alone more.

In the end, Mum stepped in. Always keen to help out, and enthusiastic about any kind of crazy adventure, she was way keener that she could have been given the circumstances.

“So, I just realised I think it’s been three years since I was last in a pool and I don’t own bathers or goggles. Can you lend me some?” She asked with a deranged grin.

I knew we were up for a challenge.

“Just take it easy, you don’t want to rupture your shoulder,” Mum warned as I started towards the pool.

“Nah, don’t worry. I’ll probably just do about half a k of freestyle then I’ll switch to breaststroke and see how I go,” I replied.

My strokes were long and slow. I knew I was in for the long haul so the mindset was different to usual. I did my 20 laps. It was barely a warm-up. I kept going. I didn’t end up switching to breaststroke until I’d done 2km of freestyle non-stop. That’s the distance I normally cover in one swim session – I get bored if I try to do any more. But this was only the beginning.

It was somewhere past the 2km mark that I started to get delirious. If I wasn’t face down in water I would’ve laughed at myself.

“92…92…92… counting laps is easy, 92…92… they don’t even need that clipboard for the team beside the pool to keep track…92…92…93…after 93 will be 94…then I’ll be (92..92…) nearly halfway from 90 to 100…when I’m at 94, I mean…not now, I’m still on 92…92…93… then after 94 is 95…96…woops, where was I? No seriously. Was it 94? 90? 92? Total brain melt. Oh, I’m at the wall now. Better make it 93…93…93…”

I likened my change of mindset to something I often get when I’m on a plane.

First comes the incredulity of the situation: “Nine hours is soooo much time to sit on this silly plane. What on Earth can I do to keep occupied until we arrive? This is going to be soooo painful.”

Then comes scrutiny and hope: “Hmm, there are some great movies on this plane. I wonder whether I have enough time to fit all three of these into the nine hours? As well as sleeping and eating and reading my book…”

And finally a new sense of renewed energy is born: “Right, lets get started on this movie so I can finish it before the food arrives.”

Striving for a goal to reach within a time limit can change that time from seeming long and arduous to almost short. And excitingly rushed.

As I arrived at the pool I found out one of the other girls had swum nearly 6km. “That’s insane. I could never do that,” was my first thought. Then, slowly, when I’d covered a bit of distance: “Actually I’m feeling like I can keep swimming, and at this rate, I’ll struggle to match that distance.” Then finally: “Alright, lets see how close we can get to that crazy 6km target then, shall we?”

It worked. Well, nearly. I did 5.9km. I had to adapt my stroke to stop my shoulder from giving in. It was fine. It was a challenge. We felt pretty great afterwards.

Mum covered about a third of the time while I swam for two thirds. The break she was able to give me in the middle of my two sessions was much needed and much appreciated! I have no idea what we would have done if she hadn’t have stepped in.

Unfortunately our spirited leader was also struck down with illness at the last minute and wasn’t able to swim herself – so it was all a bit of a debacle. But we had a bit of fun and raised a stack of money for MS Australia.

My shoulder may have taken a backwards step in its recovery but I can’t exactly complain!

And of course, here’s another huge thanks to all of those who donated to this very worthy cause.

I can't believe we didn't even take a great team photo - too busy swimming I guess. The orange blob in the water is me ;)

I can’t believe we didn’t even take a great team photo – we were just too busy swimming I guess. The orange blob in the water is me… The arm in the air is my ‘good’ arm.

One-armed swimming for MS

When my school-time swim training friend Eliza suggested I join her for MS Australia’s 24 Hour Megaswim, and I gave her the somewhat nutty response of, “Sure, great idea! I’ll do the midnight shift!” I didn’t expect the niggling pain in my shoulder to get in my way.

Over the past nearly two months, my team, The Sharkies, has been dutifully training hard to prepare for the megaswim on Feb 22 and 23 and bragging about it on Facebook. Instead of joining them, for the most part I have been visiting a chiropractor, icing and stretching, buying (and sleeping on) an expensive high tech pillow, and trying to swim one-armed invent a new stroke that doesn’t hurt. 

What a great idea this megaswim was. Did I mention I’m sharing the crazy shift between about midnight and 3am?

I’d had a niggling twang near my right bicep for more than six months, but (like too many of us so often do) I’d ignored it and continued along with my life as though nothing was wrong. It’s hard to pinpoint the cause: carrying two stupidly heavy bags back and forth on the train to uni, too many late nights reading in bed on my side, sleeping in bad positions on bad pillows…

I suppose if I really had to put my finger on it I’d say it started hurting about the time I tried Bob Harper’s Body Rev Cardio Conditioning workout DVD for the first time then collapsed during a few too many side-planks in yoga (separate incidents but around the same time). Like I said, I ignored it. By the way, I still highly recommend the DVD.

Suddenly it all hit me just after I’d returned from Queensland after New Year’s – where I’d spent a week carrying heavy bags all day and sleeping on a particularly soft bed. Every morning I woke up to a sorer arm than the day before. Every morning I said, “Wow, my arm really hurts. I should get it checked out. Ah well…” We swam a bit at Wet’n’Wild and Whitewater World and I never felt much of a problem.

The following week I jumped in the pool for our first proper megaswim training session, and the first stroke was agony. I couldn’t do freestyle. At all.

“Wow, I really should get this arm checked out,” I thought.

And I finally did.

The chiropractor banished me from the pool for three weeks and has treated my arm weekly ever since.

“So when is this 24 hour swim then?” he asked.

“Uhh, less than two months away.”

“You’re screwed!” the grin on his face was priceless.

Great.

My first session back in the pool must have been great entertainment for the lifeguards. I turned up looking all professional in my Speedo bathers, fancy training cap and expensive goggles. When I jumped in, I proceeded to invent a very awkward style of stroke that I will now label “1.5 armed freestyle”. But I kept at it for more than 1km and I proved to myself I could at least avoid letting my team down on event day.

I’ve been visiting the pool about twice a week ever since and it is getting better and better every time. It’ll be a slow road to recovery but I realise now it’s probably a good idea to take niggling injuries seriously before they become major hassles in your life. Ha, let’s see whether I actually take that advice next time!

I am determined to continue training hard, resting hard, sleeping properly on my new fancy pillow, and generally being more sensible with myself.

My team, The Sharkies, will be lapping it up on Feb 22 and 23. Someone has to be moving in the pool for the whole time between 10am Saturday and 10am Sunday. I guess it’s like a Relay for Life but for swimmers. Between the 15 of us we’ve allocated shifts, so crazy me and Ashlee will be keeping The Sharkies going through the dark hours of 12.24am and 3.36am (and nerve wrackingly precise, might I add).

MS is a serious and terrible disease who way too many are affected by – and research and support is greatly needed. My immediate family has known some of those affected and realised just how debilitating MS can be.

All we need is a little bit of help. And my dearest, most marvellous, loyal blog follower, I don’t ask for much from you, do I? (Forget about that origami earring junk, we both knew you weren’t going to buy them anyway).

Any donation amount is welcome. It’s super easy to donate so please take a couple of minutes to check out my page.

All you have to do is click this link then click the big red button saying “donate now”. Simples.

Thanks, and go Sharkies!

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Origami earrings at Abbotsford Convent this Friday

More than half a year ago I made a plan to get started on some more origami earrings. I found some great stands to hang them on. I bought some great new paper to make the paper cranes out of. I made some. I varnished them. Then uni happened.

I had a pile of completed earrings and a pile of paper cranes waiting to be put on earrings – waiting patiently for my attention – when my aunty suggested I join her for a few market stalls. So over the past couple of weeks I’ve scrounged together a kind of display which should showcase my work nicely (I hope) and I have faked my way through the ancient art of Japanese calligraphy by crafting a few simple signs for the stall (haha). I also learnt a thing or two from a certain primary school teacher about the modern art of laminating (the machine doesn’t like me all that much but we got by).

SO, Melbourne people. Let this be your official invitation to The Supper Market at Abbotsford Convent this Friday evening. I should be there from about 6pm until 10pm selling my handmade origami earrings that look a little something like this:

Just a couple of examples of my origami earrings. More at: www.etsy.com/au/shop/mherbie

Just a couple of examples of my origami earrings. More at: www.etsy.com/au/shop/mherbie

…Featuring my incredibly professional calligraphy made with a time-consuming kind of love, straight from the brush of my $2.80 Daiso calligraphy set.

I actually painstakingly hand sketched the middle sign before colouring it in with ink - it was before I got my calligraphy set.

I actually painstakingly hand sketched and coloured in the middle sign – it was before the calligraphy set.

And if, for some unfathomable reason, you happen to find you are unable to join us for the amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience of visiting  Michelle at a market and giving her a lot of money in exchange for beautiful paper things, please do feel free to instead visit my Etsy page which has been updated since you last visited (remember when you last visited? Yes, that’s right. You should visit often. And tell all your friends.)

What's that you say? You want to visit my Etsy shop? Well you're in luck. Just click here.

What’s that you say? You want to visit my Etsy shop? Well you’re in luck. Just click here.

See you on Friday!

Our bread-making opportunity

Michelle and Dan walk down the street and they say, why is bread so expensive now? Why is bread so expensive? It’s making our life so hard. We need a bread-making opportunity. We need a shot at redemption. Don’t want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard. Bread-maker bonedigger…

Ok ok this was not supposed to be a rewrite of a Paul Simon song. It just got in my head. This was supposed to be a quick post to tell you all about our bread-maker that we found on the side of the road shortly after discussing our desire for a bread-maker but lack of funds to afford a bread-maker. We donated $2 for it. And it works!

I don’t need to go into details of what it took to clean it up to get it to working capacity because what matters now is it’s clean and it makes bread! Our first loaf was perfect.

Our lives are basically complete.

Our first loaf of bread, cooked to utter perfection!

Our first loaf of bread, cooked to utter perfection!

Bargain furniture hunting

Towards the end of last year I spent a huge amount of my spare time hunting for bargain furniture and I’ve been telling everyone who visits all about my incredible finds ever since. Anyone who’s visited me recently can probably turn off now because you’re about to be dragged through the story of my bargain couches… again. I’ve written about my approach to op-shopping before – when I’m bargain hunting, I won’t settle for anything less than a ridiculously amazingly cheap unbelievable bargain. Just check out these beauties…

$8 TV cabinet

My $8 TV cabinet: It might be small, but it's big enough to fit everything we need in it. It might be retro, but it's in excellent condition.

My $8 TV cabinet: It might be small, but it’s big enough to fit everything we need in it. It might be retro, but it’s in excellent condition.

I entered the Brotherhood of St Laurence store on the corner of Brunswick Rd and Lygon St with a slight amount of caution… although I’d heard this place was full of great furniture, I knew inner-Melbourne could be a pricey place to op-shop – there’s certainly more competition here for buyers than where I’m used to shopping in Geelong. Wandering up and down the aisles I began to think this store was out of my league. There were lots of TV cabinets, but they were all at least $40. I knew I could find something cheaper so I decided to turn back and try somewhere else… and that’s when I found this little TV cabinet with an $8 sticker on it. Eight dollars! I panicked. I worried it was a mistake. “But it’s in such great condition,” I thought. “There’s actually nothing wrong with it. Maybe it was supposed to be marked $80?!… Quick! Somebody else might buy it. Right now. Go!” And in that instant I scrambled over some desks and grabbed it, pushed it to the other end of the (pretty large) store, its wheels clanking on the ground with the speed. Relief.

FREE lounge chair

My good ol' trusty lounge chair. It looks a bit battered but I usually cover it with a blanket and a cushion or two, and it's comfort level is mighty fine.

My good ol’ trusty lounge chair. It looks a bit battered but I usually cover it with a blanket and a cushion or two, and its comfort level is mighty fine.

I was nearly at the end of my tether. It’d been two full days, or was it three? I’d lost count. I’d worked my way to at least 20 op shops in that time and I’d sat on Every. Single. Couch. By this point, I knew exactly what I wanted in my ideal couch – low, fat arms, squidgy cushioned seats… You know when you’re searching for the perfect dress and you try so many on that you begin to know what will suit you just by looking at it? This is how I had started to feel about couches. I knew what I wanted and I hadn’t found it. I was ready to venture online armed with my op-shopping research. It was a spur of the moment decision to turn into the Northern Community Church of Christ op shop in Preston. I was borrowing my Dad’s tiny two-seater sports car so I knew any couch shopping I did that day would just be pure research. But when the chair was sitting on the grass in front of the op shop, marked “free to a good home” and even from across the other side of the street I knew it fitted my style and comfort specifications perfectly… well something had to give. It might not have been the most practical of opportunities but we eventually organised the pick-up of the chair and the rest is comfortable, blissful history. (Thanks Mum).

$50 couch 

$50 couch. Bargain bargain bargain!

$50 couch. Bargain bargain bargain!

Even after securing my perfect lounge chair, I also wanted a comfortable three-seater couch. During those early op-shopping days, my sister was constantly in my ear: “You’ll get much better prices on Gumtree. Op shops rip you off and they’re a waste of time and they smell,” etc. etc. etc. I happen to enjoy perusing shops in-person because you never know what you might find, but she had a point. When you know exactly what you’re after, there’s not a lot of point in driving from shop to shop hoping that on the off chance you might find it. So onto Gumtree I went. I picked up this incredible bargain from Sunshine West one evening (thanks Dad). It’s exactly what we wanted, it’s in super great condition and I would totally have paid five times the price for it. Score!

$5 donation shelves

Getting evicted ain't nice, but giving away your stuff for next to nothing to folks in need, well that's nice for sure!

Multi-purpose shelves. Getting evicted ain’t nice, but giving away your stuff for next to nothing to folks in need, well that’s nice for sure!

Dan and I were lazing back on our new three-seater couch when we looked up at the wall opposite us. “We need some kind of shelf or drawers or something to go there,” we thought. Call it fate or call it super-duper-bargain-hunting-power, the next time we left our place about half an hour later, a house up the street was having… some kind of… sale. Lately my neck cranes and my eyes bulge every time I see any junk dumped on someone’s nature strip. It’s really quite a dirty habit that I’m trying to keep under control, but this time we were in luck. There was a sign on the letter box saying they’d been evicted and needed to get rid of everything. Donations appreciated in the letterbox. Take what you like. So the next minute we dropped all plans and carted this monster of a piece of furniture back to our place, grinning at the luck and timeliness of it all.

Have you scored any great bargains lately? 

A retro tea towel plastic bag bag

My family’s hoarding tendencies paid off for me again this week when I found a lovely stash of vintage tea towels sitting in the bottom drawer, long disused and forgotten. They’re of that linen variety popular in the good old days, donning elaborate paintings celebrating particular Australian towns. A kind of useful souvenir, I suppose. They’re certainly far more practical than those funny ornamental teaspoons that were also popular at the time. Luckily, I realised the value of the find stashed in our bottom drawer because I’d been scoping out a pricey vintage shop in Collingwood just days earlier. One of these little beauties was on sale for $12… would you believe it?!

teatowelbagbag

teatowelbagbag-2At first I found it flabbergasting because I’ve always thought linen is such a bad material to make a tea towel out of. The poor stuff has a pretty hard time soaking up water, and when it finally dries your dishes after too much scrubbing, the towel itself becomes so quickly soaked that you end up having to use another one. And whose idea was it to cover one side of the tea towel with paint, making it even harder to use for any practical purpose?

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teatowelbagbag-4The good news here is that these tea towels make fantastic material for repurposing. When I wrote about upcycling a few months ago, I’d just started noticing a real trend around markets of people creating beautiful and useful things out of old junk. It’s one of my favourite concepts and totally justifies, even celebrates, my household’s messy, hoarding ways.

This week I put one of the tea towels to good use by transforming it into a simple plastic bag carrier. You know the one – the long tube with elastic at both ends that you hang on the side of your fridge. We always had one or two in our house growing up and it was a great way to effectively store annoying run-away plastic bags.

teatowelbagbag-8Because I used a linen tea towel instead of a raw piece of material, I didn’t have to worry about any fiddly stuff like folding extra hems. I just made a big hem at either end of the tea towel by folding it over and sewing it, leaving enough room to run some elastic through.

I then simply folded the tea towel in half long-ways (and inside-out) and sewed it together to make it into a tube (but not sewing the ends where the elastic was going to go).

After cutting my elastic to size, I stitched it with cotton to a fat wool needle, which was easy to thread through the little tunnel I’d made for the elastic at either end of the tea towel (trying to thread elastic on its own without anything solid to lead it through it pretty much impossible).

teatowelbagbag-6When the elastic was through at each end, I gave it a quick sew to fasten.

teatowelbagbag-5Then I simply grabbed a piece of plastic-y chord I had lying around from somewhere, looped it through the top piece of elastic and melted the ends with a lighter to seal it in a ring.

teatowelbagbag-7And voila! Seriously, this is one of the easiest projects that can be attempted, so if you’re looking for somewhere to store your plastic bags, I’d definitely recommend giving it a try making one. Otherwise, if anyone wants me to wiz one up for them out of any of the four tea towels in the photos at the top of this post, drop me a line!

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LARRY’S LEARN TO KNIT – CASTING OFF

Welcome to the final instalment of Larry’s Learn to Knit tutorial, in which my clever knitting teacher, Larry the lamb, shows you how to cast off from your knitting project with his simple and clear diagram instructions. You now have everything you need to know how to knit your very own scarf using plain and purl stitches! Make sure you check out my previous posts on casting on, plain stitch and purl stitch to master the skills and put them to use.
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Kladdkaka (sticky cake)

It’s about time I shared the recipe for this amazing Swedish cake, which is incredibly easy to make and unbelievably delicious.

Kladdkaka translates to “sticky cake” which is a pretty apt description.

My Swedish friends tell me this cake is a household favourite in their country because it is quick and simple to make and requires only ingredients that most people tend to have in the cupboard anyway.

What I LOVE about kladdkaka is it has the texture of brownies – chewy in the middle with a dry, flaky layer on top. I love love love brownies but it’s quite hard to find a recipe which makes the perfect batch, and they’re usually a little more time-consuming than this little Swedish gem.

One particular friend has made it a couple of times to bring to “pot luck” dinners at the ski resort where we work, and it’s quite funny to watch everyone digging into it, cutting a second piece, then a third piece… until not a crumb is left. 

I’ve used this recipe from the Arla website, which is some kind of butter company, but I’m sure any version would do as the cake is so simple.

Here’s my translated version:

Ingredients: 

– 100g butter

– 2 1/2 cups sugar

– 2 eggs

– 1 1/2 cups plain flour

– 3 tbsp cocoa

– 1 tsp vanilla essence

Method: 

– Preheat oven to 175 degrees celcius.

– Melt butter.

– Stir in sugar and eggs.

– Stir in all other ingredients and mix well.

– Pour into a large greased cake tin (unlike many fluffy cakes, the mixture will spread thinly across the bottom of the pan, but that’s what you want).

– Bake for about 20 minutes.

– Serve with cream, ice cream or just enjoy on its own. (Tip: many people say its even better the next day if you refrigerate it… if you can bring yourself to save some until then!)

Swedish kladdkaka: the easiest, tastiest chocolate treat I've made in a long time.

Swedish kladdkaka: the easiest, tastiest chocolate treat I’ve made in a long time.