Posts in Home Life
Breaking up...
olive tree.jpg

No, not with my husband (I still kinda like him!) Or the blog (though it's tempting!). Or sugar (NEVER gonna happen). Or anyone. But with... things. Physical things. Mental things. Annoying things. Things. A year ago I was sitting at my dining table that was piled high with papers, half-finished kids crafts and an overflowing washing basket. I had approximately 10 minutes before Annika woke up (I knew this because I had just put her down - the child does not sleep!) and basically I just wanted to enjoy the sunshine coming through the back doors and some peace and quiet before it was back to my one-arm life (she also only ever wants to be held...) I looked over to my sideboard for a spot to put the washing basket and my eye just saw things. Too many things. A pile of books with a shell and glass dome on top, a brass stork I bought from a charity shop, about 8 different vases with nothing in them but the shapes or colours were nice so they'd been collected over time. There was a clock that didn't work that was a gift so I felt obliged to keep it there, candlesticks, decorative letters that once adorned a wall somewhere, random picture frames, some white ceramic animals I don't recall buying and a pile of magazines. Oh the magazines. That was just one pile - I knew there were cupboards full in my cabin from my previous life when I worked for them. I realised I couldn't see my sideboard properly - obviously there was a piece of furniture there, but you'd be hard pressed to notice its beauty. The map on the wall - one of the favourite things I own - was barely noticeable for the crap that lay beneath it and the string lights I had draped over it. The two items that I loved in that whole space - my Parker sideboard (roadside find!!!!) and vintage world map (one of the first things my Dad bought when he migrated here from Germany) were hidden by things. Things I didn't even really care for. Or - as was the case for a lot of them - things I didn't even like.

While these "things" had been styled to some degree into vignettes you see in magazines (assorted heights/ layers/odd numbers!), there were too many of them. The sideboard is so large, I thought it was the perfect space to show off some pretty things. But in that moment I realised how stupid it looked. It looked cluttered and pointless and dusty. The only reason stylists do these decorative vignettes in magazines is to promote as many products for advertisers as is physically possible - after all, most of the time it's all about getting you to buy something. I suddenly hated it all. So instead of enjoying the sun, I picked up a box and put pretty much everything on the sideboard in it. Then I walked around the rest of the living areas and boxed anything that just screamed at me "WRONG!" There was quite a lot. I grabbed a few other things I had piled in a box in my bedroom for when our house was big enough to display them again. And I grabbed all my


magazines from storage, chick-flick DVDs I just don't watch and a couple of chairs that were just taking up space outside and piled everything on my dining table. I made up signs and had a spontaneous mini yard sale the next morning. Whatever didn't sell went straight into the boot of my car and to the charity shop. I felt so happy. I felt lighter. My house instantly looked cleaner and tidier and nicer. Better than that, the emptier space made me want to ensure it was always clean and tidy. I started to enjoy cleaning - there were less things I had to move to dust or vacuum. It was addictive to keep it pristine and good for my soul to see clean, empty surfaces. I started making my own cleaning products to enjoy the experience even more - it was creative DIY that didn't clutter my space or look like a shonky DIY project (which, let's face it, so many do). It was a nice feeling but I wasn't finished.

I've never been one for excess. I rarely buy things for the sake of it. I don't own or want a cupboard full of kitchen appliances or five different sets of crockery - I don't care to spend a good chunk of a pay cheque on a Thermomix or even a Kitchenaid. I


to want a Kitchenaid mixer - I thought being the baking-lover I am it would be worked into our kitchen budget and look smashingly good sitting on the kitchen counter. I never bought it. I like my little hand mixer and I like my almost-bare counters even more (There is a toaster for convenience, though, and fruit bowl and knife block). Even when I worked at


magazine, I didn't spend all my money on clothes, shoes or going out - we had a mortgage we were keen to pay off as quickly as possible. We bought things only when we needed them or in terms of the big things like a house/car/boat/renovation, when we could afford them - we have never owned credit cards or gone into debt for anything other than the mortgage on our house. We don't buy the kids things for the sake of it. They get a few things at Christmas and their birthdays. They get new clothes when they need them and at the start of each season. There are no cupboards of make-up or beauty supplies. There are more than enough towels for each member of our family, but only one set of linen for each bed. There is one vacuum cleaner, one broom, one mop. There is not only nowhere else to PUT extra of anything, but there is no need for it either. And to me there is still too much stuff in this tiny house. And with four children and two adults and so much noise and chaos every day (and night!), I need calm and order and quiet in some aspect of my life and I feel I can get those instantly to some degree with less things and a tidier home.

I started being drawn to Instagrammers with clean, simple spaces. Those magic "people you might like" suggestions that Pinterest and Instagram do are amazing - they always get it right and soon I found myself following a whole bunch of new people who loved their homes, who lived with less and who were happy. One day I saw a comment on someone's Instagram about a book called

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

by Marie Kondo. I'm pretty sure you've heard of it - hasn't everyone by now? Well I hadn't at the time and so Googled it. And read review after review of it - I was a little obsessed. In fact, I probably didn't need to read the book because the reviews and constant articles or blog posts about it told me all I needed to know. But I wanted the whole context so I bought an eBook version and read it during Annika's feed/nap times. Honestly, the last time I completed a whole book that wasn't a children's book was before any of my children were born. I haven't read anything - completely - in almost nine years. That is a whole other issue! I lapped that book up. I read every page. I eye-rolled so hard and questioned her mental health several times throughout it (and also mine - I was reading a book on TIDYING? What was wrong with me?), but sometimes even the most blindingly obvious things in life can be missed and in this case, it took a book to tell me that I should only keep things in my home that bring me joy. How simple and obvious is that? And yet... I realised I wasn't really living that way. I started her method immediately. 

I didn't stop at the contents of my home (to be fair, I'm still going, but with our home all upside down in parts due to our cabin being torn down a few months ago in preparation for our house extension, I have to hit the pause button on some areas). I felt the need to apply the konmari method to other areas of my life. For each of the new people I started following on Instagram, I unfollowed about 10 more who didn't inspire me or who started to bug me. I said no to invites to things I wasn't interested in. I stopped blogging for ages because it was a huge chore. I even turned down all work - even crafts for Kidspot and other offers - because making the kids do forced crafts for photos wasn't bringing them OR me joy. Instead, we started exploring more of our area on the weekends with bush walks, we got obsessed with nature and creating things with it. We realised it was ok to do absolutely nothing some weekends except watch movies or sport and let the kids run crazy outside all day and play computer games or YouTube videos at night till really late. Because sometimes, being ignored by my children and ignoring them for hours on end doing frivolous things brings me joy.

I even got rid of niggling thoughts that were stressing me out unnecessarily; the main one being my lack of career. All my life growing up, all I wanted to be was a news journalist. I became one. When that got too heavy, scary and depressing and I craved the lighter side of journalism, I knew magazines were for me and that's where I ended up. Once babies came along, I watched that life and the determined, ambitious me, drift further and further away. Ideas for various things would pop into my mind and ultimately be brought to life by other people. I watched shops start up, business ideas flourish and careers I'd maybe have considered had the time been right, all be taken up by someone else. My mind became muddled and I didn't know what I wanted to do anymore. I still don't. I have NO IDEA what I want to do with my working life when the time comes to go back to it. It's a horrible feeling and a new one. So I recently decided to not worry about it anymore. Not right now, anyway. There is no need for me to work. We are incredibly lucky in that respect. Steve has a good wage and Annika is still young. I never wanted to work outside the home when my kids were little so why worry about it now? Why not be grateful I can enjoy this time time with them. Why not put that energy into enjoying being AT home? After all, playing house - buying, renovating, decorating, living, being around the home - has been my obsession since forever. So I might as well take this time to revel in it - in those little things like nice-smelling, homemade cleaning products, tidy, organised spaces, edible and pretty gardens, play spaces for the kids, designing and organising our extension... These things are bringing me joy, so I'm sticking with them.

You know what doesn't bring me joy sometimes? Instagram. This week I just stopped using it. Not for ever; maybe not even for another day, but I just couldn't stand being on there anymore seeing the same images, the same selling of souls for free gifts and money, the same waffling tones that make you think you're doing motherhood wrong if you don't write in poetry the fact your kids ate breakfast or tied their shoes. The same sameness. Social media is a funny thing. For something that inspires so much and brings me in contact with great people and ideas, it completely, utterly does my head in at times. From watching small businesses get ripped off by bigger companies (I'm looking at you, Kmart), to seeing a product I love become a trend and done to death in a matter of months or even weeks hurts my brain. I'm now even seeing this "less is more" lifestyle, the KonMari book, the simplicity and beauty of little things become "trendy" on Instagram and it makes me question every thought I have now when I decide I like something: am I liking it because I like it or because I have seen it so much, I assume I'm meant to like it? Am I doing this because others are? Or because I want to? What is harder to deal with is when you do it BEFORE it hits the "trend" bandwagon and then you feel like everyone will assume you jumped on it too. That is the most annoying one... Oh no wait! The most annoying aspect of it all is seeing people spend a lot of money buying a lot of new things in order to live with less. Seriously, if you're doing that, you're doing it very wrong and for the wrong reasons! The truth is, I don't want my home, my kids clothes, my activities or my lifestyle to look like everyone else's. But sometimes they do. I am guilty of having similar kids clothes, plants or home accessories and adventures or activities to many, many other Instagrammers. Because when you find like-minded people with similar tastes/ideals/style as your own in a handy app on your phone, whether you're the copier or the copied, if you keep peeking into the tiny square windows of their lives, sooner or later, it's all going to look the same. Your real life is filled with different types of people with different interests and styles and values. On social media you can pick and choose and seek out people just like you. The downside is it becomes a very concentrated dose of "you" in so many forms and there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! Maybe I just need to get over that. And maybe my love/hate relationship with Instagram is a post for another day.. Right now, I have to sleep! I do wish my sleep pattern was not of the "living with less" variety, but alas, it is right now. A shame, really, because sleep most definitely does bring me joy and is not something I could ever break up with...

{All pictures are scenes around my home. Images by Belinda Graham for The Happy Home}

DIY cleaning products (that work better than anything I've bought)
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Sit down. I have to tell you something. All of a sudden, I enjoy cleaning. I also am starting to despise any kind of mess and am obsessed with decluttering. Living more simply seems to be where we're heading, but that's a whole other post. This one is still about that first bomb I dropped. I enjoy cleaning. WHO AM I? I am now clearly related to my clean-freak sister Kristie and equally neat Aunty Norma. Ok, I'm not that clean and tidy yet, but baby steps... Anyway, it started innocently enough - the dishes I'd leave in the sink overnight unwashed (YES. I did that. Eww) were nowhere to be seen. In fact, if the kitchen didn't sparkle before I went to bed, the next morning would just start bad and the whole day would go downhill from there. The three baskets of laundry that would overflow for a week and be tipped out onto the floor numerous times a day to find Zak's sock's pair or Immy's undies reduced to one basket that is almost always empty because I had this novel idea to put the washing away as soon as I grabbed it off the line. The shower is scrubbed every few days; the toilet daily, I vacuum several times a week and enjoy smacking the shizz out of my rug outside with Zak's plastic baseball bat (I hang it over the swing set and get so much enjoyment out of that - take out all frustration. I even let the kids at it. Layla is particularly good at whacking it). I've even ordered some old-fashioned wooden cleaning brushes to really get into the zone. In short. I enjoy cleaning. So much so, I'd look up DIY cleaning products on Pinterest while nursing Annika. I am SUCH a social butterfly...

Everyone knows the genius of baking soda, vinegar and lemon. I've tried the usual combinations before but always felt they lacked something (and not just a decent scent!) and for a while I even did the incredible great pairing of bleach and baking soda. Hardly good for anyone - and even then, the bath stains remained and the soap scum on the shower glass refused to budge. But now, I'm happy to have found some great recipes that are pretty easy to make and actually work. Not just work, but work better than anything I've bought at the store. Not even exaggerating. And because I made them myself, I could make the packing pretty too. So I dug out some old jars and repurposed an empty Murchison-Hume into the new mint all-purpose spray, which by the way, is genius.

So far I've made the all-purpose cleaner, a tub scrub, a laundry powder and a not-so-successful (but only because it wouldn't fit through the spray nozzle) stain remover. (If I master that one, I'll let you know.) My house and laundry are smelling so scrumptious lately, I had to share with you too. 



Since moving out of home, the only washing powder Steve (and the kids) didn't have a reaction to was Omo Sensitive and the Eco Store powder. Everything else? Eczema breakouts and if I ever added any kind of softener? Rashes and allergic reactions. So to be perfectly honest, I was not expecting this to go anywhere, but they haven't had any reactions at all, which is brilliant because it smells so yummy, cleans so well and makes everything it washes feel good, clean and fresh. The original recipe I copied called for unscented soap, but I figured rather than adding essential oils, I could use the scented soap instead - that way, I can mix it up and try different "flavours" next time without having to spring for more essentials oils (I want to try peppermint next!)

You'll need:

1 bar Castile soap

(I used Dr Bronner's Pure Castile soap in Lavender)

1 cup Borax

(from the laundry aisle of the supermarket - Coles had it; Woollies didn't)

1 cup Washing Soda

(also from laundry aisle - not to be confused with baking soda. In my searches I've discovered you can make washing soda by baking the baking soda in a try in your oven. Baking it removes one of the carbonates, meaning it's no longer bi-carbonate soda, but carbonate soda, which is washing soda. Sheesh, I am such an expert on these things now).

How to:


Grate your bar of soap into a bowl. The kids can - and will want to - help you with this. It is unavoidable if they are around. Just let them, a little grated skin is not going to harm your clothes! Ha!


Add the Borax and Washing soda.


The original recipe just required you to mix it together (you could add a few drops of essential oils if you used unscented soap, or if you wanted to pair to scents - I'd imagine vanilla and lavender would be a nice combination). After stirring it looked a bit too chunky for my liking. I only use cold water in my machine and wasn't sure the soap would dissolve so well. So i put a few batches of it through the Baby Bullet (a coffee grinder or good blender should also do the trick) and used the milling blade. It totally dissolved the grated soap and turned it into total powder. It looks like store bought stuff. 


Place in a container of your choice. At first I put it back into an Omo container I had - it filled it about three quarters of the way. But then to pretty it up, I made good use of this jar I had in the back of my cupboard.


Use one tablespoon of powder per load. I use two scoops of this wooden spoon.



I'm really shocked at how well this worked. Normally, trying to get rid of marks on the bath involved spraying with whatever bleach-ish spray I had and watching it streak the bath and not actually come away when I scrubbed it. This sprays on, scrubs off beautifully and leaves it looking brand new again (my bath is not even a year old yet so kinda new anyway but it has been grubby and this clears it right up). I use it on the counter, the loo, the tiles, the shower screen... It hasn't come out of the bathroom yet, but I might make a different scent for the kitchen...

You'll need:

A spray bottle

Liquid castile soap (I used Dr. Bronner's Liquid Castile Soap in Peppermint)


Tea Tree Oil

How to:

Add two tablespoons of castile soap to each cup of water. Add a few drops of tea tree oil to the mix. Then shake and spray!



Ever wondered if ever there was a way to recycle your egg shells? Well stop! There is! Apparently, egg shells all ground up is basically calcium powder, which you can take as a supplement (I'd read up more on this before doing so though) or use to scrub your bathtub super-clean! Think of it as the cleaning regime's equivalent of an exfoliator. The finely ground shells are still gritty enough to scrub away at the surface, removing stains and grime. Plus it smells heavenly.

You'll need:

Egg shells - I used about a dozen and a half.

Baking soda (bi-carbonate soda). I used the same volume as whatever the eggshells made up.

20 drops of orange essential oil

How to:


Collect your shells over a couple of weeks. I rinsed as I used them, then left in a container. When you're ready, place in a pot of boiling water on the stovetop and boil for around 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and lie on a tray and leave to fully dry - I left them in the sun, overnight and again in the sun for a few hours before crushing.


In smallish batches, I gently broke them up a little more and placed in the baby bullet (a food processor or coffee grinder would also work). Using the milling blade, I blended until the shells were basically obliterated. It turned to powder. 


Once all the shells were now calcium powder, I placed in a jar and added an equal part of baking soda (bi-carbonate soda). 


Shake the jar until blended. Add your essential oil around five drops at a time, mix with the handle of a small spoon until all mixed up and no lumps!


Use a small spoon or your fingers to sprinkle onto the surface you want to scrub. I sprinkle onto a wet sink or bath and scrub away, adding more water as I need to. 

And there you have it! Three easy to make cleaners that make your home smell sooooo good. And not a vinegar bottle in sight. (Though my next experiment is a vinegar-based floor wash with essential oils...) I'd love to hear your own stories of using homemade products - I was pretty skeptical a while back when the vinegar/bi-carb thing didn't work. But these versions - and the castile soap - seem to be the right mix. I'm keen to try more - disinfectant, dishwashing tablets.... What worked for you?! 

And in the interest of keeping things real, here is how my bathroom looked while shooting the pics. The sink kept casting a shadow on the bottles, so I raised them with a marble board! Books to the rescue again!

Turkish towel and wooden spoon, Honey I'm Home (local store); Marble tray from Aldi; diamond jar from Hot Dollar (I think); tiny brown vase is a baby panadol bottle; brown spray bottle, Muchison Hume.

* My adaptation of

this recipe


Step Into My Green World

** My adaptations of the recipes from

Little Green Notebook

Surprise Thursdays

Just before the last school holidays, we spontaneously started a new weekly tradition: Surprise Thursdays. Basically, it is exactly what it says - a surprise that occurs on a Thursday afternoon after school (during term; any time of day in the holidays). It can be anything from a milkshake in a cafe or being let loose in a lolly shop with $5 each to exploring a place we've never been before or paying a visit to family or friends

. It's become something I wasn't sure would last, but the kids LOVE it and have not forgotten at all - they don't even allow their friends over or invite themselves to their friend's house on Thursdays because they know they'll miss out! The downside is now being tied to coming up with something different every week! Luckily, there is the fall back of a great park or McDonald's McFlurry if I get really desperate!

It all started one Thursday when I was driving past a train station. Immy noticed the stairs on the overpass and wondered what was at the top and what could you see. I told her maybe one day we could find out, so when we picked the bigger kids up from school that afternoon, I just drove straight there without telling them anything. They were pretty chuffed (to walk up and down stairs at a train station - my kids are obviously easily amused!) about the surprise and we looked out over the water, counted the steps up and down, found some recognisable landmarks and then headed over to the park we spotted from the top. Around the corner from the park was a little reserve and the kids just had so much fun climbing in the trees, helping Zak out of the mud, messing up a very neat pile of autumn leaves someone had obviously raked up and just running around in the cool afternoon air having fun and being children. So, together with my desire to see more of my own area, I figured we'd continue it every week.

Some of the other things we've done is ...

- Explored the local mangroves and found a tyre swing

- A 

treasure hunt and gather 

at Pearl Beach

- Due to everyone being sick and then the death of my Nana, the kids missed out on their cousin catch-up during the holidays so one Thursday I drove past the school and took them down to Sydney to my sister's house where they got to meet their new baby cousin Harry for the first time and hang out with their Oma (my mum), aunties and cousins. I don't usually let them take days off for no reason, but this was thoroughly enjoyed by all - especially my mum who needed the cheering up and cuddles.

- A party afternoon tea at home complete with balloons, party poppers and cake. I'd planned for all their friends to also come, but I wasn't feeling very well so postponed them for another day. The good thing about cancelling a playdate that the kids didn't know about is NO WHINING! Hopefully we'll get to do that complete with party games in the next few weeks.

And today, we visited a really old cemetery at Point Frederick (below). Called Pioneer Park, it's the resting place of 497 people buried between 1840 and 1953 - and what a resting place! Surrounded by the beautiful Brisbane Water. We didn't stay long because of the rain, but we admired the beautiful craftsmanship of the tombstones, looked for the oldest stone (1843 was the earliest we saw) and felt sad at the grave of a little girl Zak's age. We looked for flowers to pick and place on the stones, but the rain forced us back to the car before we could really explore or check out the paths that led

Time Team


down to the water. I imagine it'd be an eerily beautiful place in Spring and apparently is a popular picnic spot (?). But I guess that's nothing compared to what Layla suggested we do when she found out we were checking out a place filled with passed people: "Can we dig them up?" My kids watch too much 

I love the council's commitment to preserving this site. Many of the tombstones are no longer readable, so little plaques have been placed in front of them with the details for when the stones' inscriptions are no more...

So that is our new tradition! At the risk of running out of ideas, I'm going to get the kids to come up with a bunch of suggestions themselves and I'll put them into a hat and draw one out whenever I get stuck. That way, it's still a surprise of sorts. Or maybe I'll surprise them with NO surprise! But then I'd never hear the end of it! As tricky as it may turn out to be, I'm going to keep at it - they really look forward to their Surprise Thursdays - Layla even spoke about it at her public speaking competition. So if you ever want a bribe for your kids, try it yourself! Or if you have any great suggestions for a surprise, please let me know. x