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A really wow week.

This week at work, we launched our new Australian Aid Tracker website. I was pretty nervous about it– I had built the site myself, it was the most technical/feature-rich site I had cobbled together so far, and I had also done a lot of the content (my awesome colleague Terence collaborated on the site too and did a lot of work as well, particularly on the commitments section, and our Director went over the content with a fine toothed comb and made suggestions too–team effort). I was kind of worried that the site would crash on launch, that the foreign aid nerds out there would tell me everything was wrong, or that people wouldn’t like the design. I thought that the visualisations might make the site load too slowly, and that people would grumble about it. I worried about there being too much extra white space under some of the charts that I couldn’t get rid of. Or how the headlines displayed on mobile phone screens.

In other words, I was my usual perfectionist, anxious self.

But the response has been amazing.  Positive tweets and comments, really nice emails, people popping into my office to say well done, journalists calling it “beautiful” in interviews. Happy emails from donors. Love from the university and sharing and promotion at the highest level. And some good, constructive feedback and ideas from some people about what we could do next to grow the site. And lots of questions about how we did it.

I’ve been completely floored by all of this, and really touched and happy. I may have even got a bit happy-teary about it on the launch day, because it actually meant a huge amount for me to be able to pull this off.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I’ve been sick for 18 months with what is currently diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome (though I’m about to endure another barrage of tests to check for more weird and rare illnesses), and I have had to cut back to part-time work.

For someone who likes being busy and doing well and doing lots of things and never saying no to opportunities, it has been really hard. Around the middle of last year when my boss first said he wanted me to do this, I was quite depressed and having problems with anxiety– all caused from being so overtired and sick all the time, having all this uncertainty about my illness (which was causing other uncertainties too, like financial ones), and missing out on things I had really wanted to do, like travel (… and let’s be real, the Canberra winter also never helps anything).

I was frequently thinking about how much I was letting everyone down, and how I’d probably have to quit my job and move back to my hometown and totally mooch off my parents, and how the only reason I hadn’t been fired was because everyone I work with was too nice to do it, etc. Basically, a lot of beating myself up. It felt like all of my confidence was completely gone.

But here I was being asked to build a new website, funded by our major donors, even though I have no training in doing this. And with very little instruction about what we needed to do beyond a few lines in a grant proposal that had been written by someone else a year earlier. But my colleagues had faith that I could pull this off, while balancing my usual (now reduced to part-time) work and my illness. So I just started doing it.

And, it worked out. Having a big project to chip away at (which could be done from bed if I really needed) actually helped me by distracting me when I was just feeling so overwhelmed, useless and totally stuck from being ill. Their faith in what I could do helped me get back a bit more of my own confidence. Getting the chance to be creative with the design was something that I enjoyed. As I would show new bits of it to my colleagues along they way they were supportive and encouraging. I learned more skills in Excel, how to make visualisations and infographics, and more ways to use WordPress as a CMS. And it (along with getting a bit of help on the other troubles I was facing) helped me to feel like I was still able to make a good contribution, still able to achieve something beyond the usual day-to-day, even though I couldn’t do as much as I could do before. I still have bad days and it is still hard, and unfortunately the ME/CFS itself still hasn’t improved yet, but I am feeling like I am at least coping with things a bit better now.

So I owe a huge thank you to my colleagues who worked with me on this or the others who are just lovely every day (especially my boss who has been a great support through my whole illness saga), and a huge thank you to everyone who has so positively responded to the site.

I am really, really glad that so many of you seem to like it.

I keep finding things I want to fix or improve or do better, but I like it too.

(visit the aid tracker here, do a quiz on Australian aid here, or see an infographic here)

Top tip

Top tip

I just found out the other day that many people don’t know that you can just buy your toilet paper on the internet and have it delivered to your door, and then not have to worry about it when you go to the supermarket.

I order from Who Gives a Crap, which uses recycled paper and donates half of its profits to WaterAid. It is super convenient.

Get on it!

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Trying a Marley Spoon recipe box in Canberra

I’ve been pretty boring with my cooking choices lately. Making one big dish on a weekend to take to work for lunch and then eating it for five days straight, eating boring dinners (and fatigue-friendly foods). As regular readers of my blog will know, I have been sick with ME/CFS for the past 18 months, so my energy levels are not at all high, which has been the main factor behind this. But regular readers would also know I like to cook. So when I was given a chance to try new recipe box service Marley Spoon for free, I thought: this might be what I need to get out of my culinary funk. And it will save me energy at the supermarket and on deciding what to cook, which might make up for the cooking energy I will use instead.

I’ve used recipe box service Hello Fresh in the past for a few months over winter, and found it good for a while, but then I went on a crazy no-carb Paleo-esque diet so stopped (read a bit about my Hello Fresh experience here). And then I got sick and everything went bonkers, so I never got back into it. But long story short, the recipe box concept is not new to me.

For those who aren’t in the know, recipe box services send you recipes and all the stuff you need to make them (minus some pantry staples like olive oil, salt, etc) each week. You decide how many meals a week you want and for how many people (usually for a couple or family). They tend to operate on a subscription model, with the ability to skip weeks if you decide to go on holiday or that you only feel like eating toast for a while.

Marley Spoon is one of the newer players, and they’ve recently started delivering to Canberra. You can get your box delivered on Tuesday or Saturday in Canberra — the Saturday option is good for me, as that is when I actually have some energy to perhaps cook.

Mine arrived at 8am in the morning, and was happily waiting for me outside when I dragged myself out of bed.

I like how the Marley Spoon boxes come with individual bags containing the ingredients for each recipe. The recipe cards are also bright and well-designed.

One of the things that stands out for me with Marley Spoon compared to Hello Fresh is that you actually get to choose which recipes you want to make. It’s good, because sometimes with Hello Fresh I would get something that I didn’t feel like (i.e. a salad in the Canberra winter, avocado-based food when I have an avocado intolerance). There are seven available each week. I chose to do three meals (couples box, so each meal I make does me for two meals).

The first thing I cooked was the lamb and butter bean stew with mint gremolata.

It was quite straightforward and I found it really easy to make. All the ingredients were in the bag… oh wait, no they weren’t. The garlic was missing. Lucky I had some in the fridge, but that was a bit of a bummer.

Eating my first @marleyspoonau dinner on the couch. Yum. Lamb and butter bean stew with mint gremolata. #marleyspoonau

A photo posted by Ashlee Betteridge (@ashbetteridge) on

The taste verdict? Yeah, it was good. Really nice, and quite filling– the portion sizes are generous but not over the top, which is good. For me, being the single lady, it also passed the leftovers test– I put the second portion of the stew in a container to take to work, and used the second piece of lamb to make an awesome sandwich the next day.

The second recipe I cooked was spiced beef kebabs with buckwheat tabbouleh. All the ingredients were in the bag this time. It was also straightforward, but generated a significantly larger amount of dishes than the first recipe. But I really liked it, especially the buckwheat tabbouleh, which had shredded raw zucchini in, something I would not have thought to do.  It also passed the single lady test — I put half of the uncooked but already marinated kebabs in the fridge to use the next night, and the tabbouleh looks like it will do well in the fridge, or it could be a great work lunch too.

My next @marleyspoonau dinner. Spiced beef kebabs with buckwheat tabbouleh. Really nice, especially the tabbouleh. #marleyspoonau

A photo posted by Ashlee Betteridge (@ashbetteridge) on

Both these meals tasted really fresh and healthy. The cards do provide the calorie and nutrient details, they are by no means diet or calorie controlled meals, but they are wholesome and fresh.

My third recipe is a chickpea and brown rice pilaf, that I’m going to make later in the week.

My one piece of advice is that the recipe cards are written for kitchen amateurs who apparently can’t keep an eye on a pot of simmering buckwheat while simultaneously chopping some vegetables. If you have any kind of kitchen intuition or ability to multitask, you will likely be able to come up with a more time-efficient or logical way of undertaking the steps on the recipe card.

So the verdict?

I ended up signing up for another box. It was a bit more tiring for me and my illness than lazier cooking, but it made me feel pleased to produce something that was different, looked and tasted great, and had varied, healthy ingredients. These recipes boxes are also a good way to get new ideas. I like Marley Spoon’s option to choose the recipes you want to do from a range of options, and the food seemed a bit more interesting than some of the recipes on Hello Fresh. And it seems, as a singleton, that I will be able to find recipes that work well as leftovers/to take to work for lunch. For me, I definitely won’t do it every week because of my fatigue (i.e. the dishes it generates can be a bit tricky for me without a dishwasher, I would be too tired on busier weeks), but I’m planning to give it a go for a while.

I also felt like I would make the recipes again on my own, which I guess is a vote of confidence.

More details on the Marley Spoon website.

Disclosure: I was sent a free sample box from Marley Spoon to provide an honest review.

Update: Here’s that third dish, the brown rice and chickpea pilaf (not a great photo sorry). It was really tasty, the leftovers will be great to take for lunch.

My next @marleyspoonau recipe. Brown rice and chickpea pilaf. #marleyspoonau

A photo posted by Ashlee Betteridge (@ashbetteridge) on

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Things I ate in Canberra and didn’t tell you about.

I had a bit of stint of taking myself out to breakfast towards the end of last year, simply because I was trying to make myself feel less blergh and it felt like some small treat I could give to myself. I would often take my laptop and try to do something productive. Editing is slightly less tiresome with coffee and a cooked breakfast, I find.

Anyway, here’s a couple of places I like. And one that I wish would pick up its act.

Eighty Twenty

Eighty Twenty is one of my favourite spots lately. The food is great, it’s usually pretty fast, and if you come early, even on the weekend you can bum around with your laptop for a bit before you start to feel like you are about to unfairly deprive someone else of a table.

There’s lots of good food here. The coffee is good, the smoothies healthfully delish (Nutty Professor and Matcha Immunitea are my favs), and the food tastes ‘clean’ (whatever the hell that even means) but tasty.

Delicious Japanese salad bowl at @eightytwentyfood #braddon #canberra w @cynical_coffee

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Sweet potato rosti at @eightytwentyfood . Only outside of house adventure this weekend! #treatyoself

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Barrio

Another Braddon hideout, Barrio is a cute little place with bar-stool seating (so it must be good if I deal with their bar stools… much harder on my fatiguey muscles than regular chairs) that does very lovely coffee (though I must protest that for takeaways they are a bit small for my liking, I know it’s for optimum taste etc but I prefer my takeaways to ease me into the day by sipping away at a larger size). I’ve also eaten here a couple of times, and while the tiny kitchen may make you think it is not a food place, it is a food place. A very yummy food place.

Towards the end of last year, they hosted a too-popular ramen night, which was great. The ramen was delicious (Canberra seriously lacks in the good ramen department) and the busy BYO vibe was lots of fun. Many people missed out on a seat though.

Ramen!!! So good. At @barriocc

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The breakfast eats are tasty. I had the brisket and homemade saurkraut with rye one day (hearty, but actually surprisingly suitable for a summertime breakfast) and the brioche toastie with local bacon was very yum. I’m also a sucker for wood and subway tile, and it has both.

Awesome toastie with Pialligo bacon from @barriocc

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Yummy brekkie at @barriocc . Brisket, homemade sauerkraut, rye and an egg.

A photo posted by Ashlee Betteridge (@ashbetteridge) on

The Cupping Room

I’ve had takeaway coffee/afternoon coffee meeting coffee at this place many times, but it has always been so busy for brunch/breakfast that I haven’t had a chance to check out the food. The coffee is obviously great, since the place is owned by a guy who won the title of world’s best barista, but the food also gets raved about so I was keen to check it out. Lo and behold, one of the little known side effects of chronic fatigue syndrome is occasional insomnia (for me, it is an unusual symptom that occurs very rarely, for others it is a frequent symptom). So after a night of tossing and turning, cursing why I couldn’t sleep even though I was exhausted, I went here super early a couple of times because I needed to get out of the house so I didn’t have some kind of breakdown. Both times I had a fabulous breakfast and got adequately and lovingly caffeinated to survive the day. See below.

Long weekend, small indulgences. @thecuppingroom

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Amazing jamon and anchovies breakfast @thecuppingroom . It’s massive!

A photo posted by Ashlee Betteridge (@ashbetteridge) on

Other un-photographed tips

  • For anyone who orders from EatNow, the new Dickson Indian restaurant The Wild Spice is a very delicious option.
  • The veggie dog at Broddogs in the Hamlet at Braddon is very good yes. Cheese, cauliflower, bread. Such a combination.
  • One of my local cafes, Good Brother, still does a mean egg and bacon roll.
  • Miss Van’s at the shipping containers by the lake is very delicious. Their banh mie is great and they often have very delicious non-traditional banh mie as specials. Shame the shipping container village doesn’t seem to be going that well, as the rooftop bar there is also nice on a sunny day and the other food places seem to have yummy things too.
  • The new Vietnamese place in Civic in the Melbourne building (Bistro Nguyen) does very good, affordable pho and other dishes too. The fried sweet potatoes in honey are very delicious.
  • The new Cuban-themed speakeasy, The Highball Express, upstairs in the Melbourne building, is a very nice summer drinks venue.
  • For anyone stuck at ANU, the cafe formerly known as The Ivy that had very poor customer service, very poor coffee and really didn’t do much to utilise its great space in Old Canberra House has now had a very overdue revamp. It is now called The Ivy & the Fox, and is much, much nicer, and they even have picnic rugs to sit on the beautiful grassy space outside.

Canberra’s new Cuban themed bar, the Highball Express.

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Aaaaaand…. a small rant

Lonsdale St Roasters, what is your problem these days? Have you just got too popular for your own good? Standards have drastically dropped, both for coffee and for food. The original LSR (7) is somewhat better than the bigger newer one (the eatery), but every time I have been to the new one the food has been overpriced and bad. The staff are always faffing around with the music and seem disinterested. The coffee is very hit and miss.

On the bad food, I ordered eggs on toast. It was served on something resembling supermarket bread. I ordered mushroom and goats cheese on the side. The mushroom was a grilled portobello that had been seemingly soaked in cheap cooking oil (I wondered whether they had tossed it in a deep fryer), the goats cheese was poor quality and was just this giant splat on the side. And the butter was the cheap-ass little sachets you get with your continental breakfast at some Best Western Hotel in some rural town. I remember a time when you served Pepe Saya butter? On another visit my friend ordered a quinoa salad. It was basically a giant bowl of plain quinoa, no discernable dressing, and a few leaves. It was the kind of thing you would expect at some country cafe that thought they were being gourmet just by cooking quinoa.

They seem to try a bit harder at LSR7, but it is still not what it was. Just before Christmas I ordered vegemite toast to takeaway (was about to leave for a couple of weeks so didn’t want to buy groceries). I got the toast in a bag, with a small container of vegemite. No butter, no knife. And again, hit and miss coffees there too, sometimes with long waits.

There’s competition now guys, and there will be even more in Braddon when those new developments with new retail are completed. You better pick up your game.

OK, end of rant.

 

New year new hair.

Oh hi 2016.

2016 is here. On New Years Eve I fell asleep at 10.30pm, and only half-woke to the sounds of the family dogs rhythmically barking at fireworks at midnight that were inaudible to me, but clearly not to them.

After a couple of weeks of doing not-very-much at home over the holidays, I’m back at work. I spent the few days between Albury and work trying to organise my wardrobe, which I had been meaning to do since before getting sick. It was really slow going, but it came with a quiet satisfaction that I would be starting the year with tidy organised shelves at least, and there was some sort of cleansing feeling from purging several grocery bags of clothes to charity bins, and several others to the bin (…mostly black leggings with thigh holes!).

I worked a half-week on my first week back, which was a good idea. I still felt human-ish by that weekend, and replanted all my herbs that I had killed through neglect last winter when I was cold, achey and frankly very depressed about my illness dragging on. Hoping I can keep them alive this time, a small goal for the year. But by the next weekend, a full week of (part-time) work, a quick clean of the bathroom and some vacuuming, and it was crash time. Didn’t even make it to February without a big fatigue crash. Three days in bed.

New year, same problems.

It’s kind of hard to start a year when you can’t really pinpoint things to look forward to, or even feel that there is much of a possibility of good things arising. At the beginning of last year, I thought I would only be sick for a little while and still thought that maybe I would get to do the travel I had planned and so on. I had things I was looking forward to, even though I missed out on many of them.

At the beginning of this year, I’m starting to feel like I am going to be sick for a long time. Maybe indefinitely. I don’t know, and nobody can tell me anything. Because I don’t know anything, I can’t plan anything. Or I can only try to plan things for sick-me, which is not the life I want.

In some ways this should be getting easier after nearly 18 months of being chronically ill. I should have it all figured out. But I still don’t feel like I have.

I learn things that I can’t do anymore all the time. Dance around a bit (dizzyness). Go to Ikea (extreme fatigue even during a quick visit–the store is full of chairs and sofas to take breaks on, yet it was still absolutely exhausting). Tolerate noisy places and crowds (makes me exhausted and somewhat nervy even though I used to thrive on noise and crowds). Go to the local swimming pool and move around a bit (fatigue crash, shaking hands and bad arm pain). Sit in the sun for too long (rash and dizziness).

It feels like I am continually learning things that I have to exclude or limit, but am still at a loss about what I can actually do. Hopefully those things will start to make themselves clearer this year. Or hopefully it just goes away.

 

IKEA: nice to have in Canberra now, but a lot of exhaustion for a Raskog trolley and some meatballs.

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Furry friends

One of the nicest things about being home, besides seeing my human family, is seeing the furry members of our family–Winston and Pogo.

My adorable stalkers.

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Winston is young and sprightly and completely insane (Cesar Milan, Dr Harry, any animal psychologist would have a field day trying to figure him out), while Pogo is in his more restful years, rarely getting energetic except for when there are opportunities to go to the park, and at meal times (which he demands with great drama– he is obsessed with food and fears that any minor delay to his meal schedule will result in death… when he was younger he used to steal loaves of bread from the table and hide them in various parts of the house whenever anyone went out and he was left at home by himself just in case we didn’t come back). He no longer bothers to bring a ‘gift shoe’ to the front door any time someone returns home, which was his previous custom. He’s also put his career as a political campaigning dog for dad’s local government stints behind him–he’s basically retired and sleeps even more than me.

Front verandah surveillance operations with Winston and Pogo.

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This is Winston previewing a website I am building.

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They are both lovely to pat and hang out with on the couch, though Winston likes to get very close to one’s face with his dog food breath right after dinner and also growls while wagging his tail and cuddling up to you, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and is confusing for all of us. He also has some kind of dog-ADHD and if there is any noise or movement in the house, he is immediately distracted. Pogo on the other hand is completely chill.

Pogo chillaxing to the max.

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They are lots of fun and bring us all lots of joy–I would love to have a pet of my own someday.

Oh hi Winston. You aren't the best nap buddy with your constant demands for attention.

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A hipster’s guide to Albury (and a smidge of Wodonga)

(Updated to reflect a few places I forgot)

Last summer, when I came home, I was thrilled and surprised to discover The Proprietor. This summer, after a year away, I am thrilled and surprised to see there is suddenly a sprouting of hipster places in Albury. The seeds have been sown for a scene, and it is a happy thought indeed that there are several places that I can go for a good coffee and some city vibes when visiting the family back here.

So here’s my quick hipster guide to Albury (and a splash of Wodonga).

Tried and tested

The Proprietor: I reviewed this place last year, and it is still great, with lovely coffee and a fab menu. My sister and I enjoyed some very yummy mushroom toasties there the other day with a visiting Canberran-Melbournian, who was also impressed.

Boom Boom: laneway cafe/bars and hipsters= like moths to the flame. Albury now has one! Boom Boom is in AMP Lane, near the newly revamped MAMA gallery and some cute boutiques, and it is very cute and pleasant inside, with lovely outdoor seating in the laneway. We had a friendly lunch there– the coffee (Proud Mary) was very good, and the lunch was nice. My potato/proscuitto salad was good but could have done with bit more dressing, but my sister’s lamb salad with spiced chickpeas was very tasty. My sister also went there for drinks in the evening and gave it a big thumbs up.

 

Boom boom! Another hip #albury cafe.

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Lunch at Boom Boom. A photo posted by Ashlee Betteridge (@ashbetteridge) on

Lamb salad at @boomboomalbury -sister catch ups! #lamb #salad #albury

A photo posted by Brittany (@cynical_coffee) on

 

BeanStation: Wodonga usually lags Albury in all things cultural. But thanks to a Victorian government funded revamp of the town’s old railway station (now called Junction Place), it’s finally getting a small hipster precinct (apparently there will be a boutique beer cafe there as well next year–it’s early days but if they keep getting quality tenants in there this precinct could really take off… and Wodonga really needs something like it). BeanStation is one of the early tenants, and it’s a great space both indoors and out (with outdoor dining on the old railway platform). The coffee was lovely (pictured in the post header), and my breakfast (thyme roast mushrooms, homemade corn bread, gruyere and truffle marscapone) was decadent and absolutely delish! The staff were all super friendly too. Great place.    

 

  A photo posted by Ashlee Betteridge (@ashbetteridge) on

This was soooo yum. Thyme mushrooms on cornbread w marscapone and Gruyere.

A photo posted by Ashlee Betteridge (@ashbetteridge) on

 

Hipster pubs: Hipsters like to drink, particularly craft beers… Albury doesn’t really have hipster pubs by any stretch of the imagination, but if you need to get your booze on, I’d suggest Bended Elbow (which has a nice rooftop courtyard and new laneway section), The Star (away from the main street, pretty old school with a good outdoor area), Sodens, or Paddy’s (which is now called Beer DeLuxe and has had a hipster-style renovation– big beer garden) and Zed Bar. Of course, if you are out late, you should hit up Sweethearts Pizza for all your late night food requirements.

Cafe Musette: a new cafe right near Albury’s beautiful historic railway station. My sister and I visited for lunch–the decor is great, nice shady and sunny outdoor seats, including a couple of outdoor lounges and a good spot for the kids. We really enjoyed our coffee, and the food was great, full of veggies. It took us a while to decide, but we shared an okonomiyaki and the roasted vegetable salad with goats cheese and pistachio.  Both were great. We also got a takeaway wrap for our uncle. The place was bustling, and it’s easy to get a park nearby (depending on the bus/train arrivals/departures).

 

Another great #albury cafe! Near the beautiful railway station.

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Lovely brunch at cafe musette.

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Brunch with a view of the train station.

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Monumental Icecreamery: locally made icecream and sorbet–I love the coconut one!

 

The word about town 

(Places I’ve been told about but haven’t yet tried)

Broadgauge: a hatted restaurant, also in the Junction Place precinct in Wodonga. Really want to check this place out sometime, menu looks great. Unfortunately a bit broke for fine dining this holidays, so another time.

SoCal Cantina: a Mexican restaurant and bar that is increasingly popular. Menu and decor looks good and hip. Might try to try it this week (currently knocked around by a cold).

Nord: in my South Albury stomping ground, which has never had any hints of hipsterdom whatsoever, a new Scandinavian-style bakery. Unfortunately it is closed over the holidays so I haven’t been able to try, but my dad highly rates their blueberry danishes and said that they are so popular they often sell out.

Nutrition Station: some hipsters are into paleo and crossfit and want to ‘fuel their bodies’ with healthy foods and smoothies that include ingredients that look like they have come from a green waste bin. My mum likes this place in Wodonga for healthy takeaway food and healthy smoothies in various hues of kale-green.

Soho: the nightclub formerly known as Liquid (showing my age here)/ROI/Groove Saint has had a hipster revamp and is now called Soho.The sticky floors of its nightclub years have been vanquished (don’t even want to know how much industrial chemicals were involved in that feat lol)! It is now more of a restaurant/bar, with a tapas-style menu. Looks like it is well worth checking out.

Union Lane: a nice-looking new restaurant that is getting positive reviews–according to Facebook it has something called Paella Sundays, so that alone sounds worth a visit.

Geoffrey Michael Patissier: I haven’t been to this place yet, but I have certainly seen hip Albury folks instagramming their pastry and cakey delights. They look very good.

MAMA (Murray Art Museum Albury): Art is for everyone, not just hipsters. But hipsters also like art, so it’s fitting that Albury now has a wonderful renovated gallery in the heart of town. My sister Britt checked this out and said it is a great space–it’s also really brightened up the whole QEII Square precinct, connecting to the new bright area in AMP Lane/Volt Lane too (which has a few cute hipster boutiques). I want to go and check it out before the holidays are over. I’m also super proud of this one, as my dad has been a big supporter of the art gallery renovation and has his name on a brass plaque on the building ;). Guess all the flute/violin concerts, dance recitals and plays he had to sit through over the years rubbed an appreciation of the arts off on him lol. There’s also a cafe/restaurant at the back of MAMA with lovely outdoor seating and grassy space for kidlets to run around that I have heard really good things about (it is called Canvas), and a museum shop with gifty-type things.

 

Other hipster things

For your hipster children… for little hipsters under 5, there is a wonderful new Children’s Garden in the beautiful Albury Botanic Gardens, tried and tested by a happy mini-Canberran last week. There’s also a mini railway on the Lincoln Causeway for little hipsters–it’s a good way to introduce them to public transport, odd hats and beards. The Oddies Creek Adventure Playground is great for medium-sized-hipsterchildren and there’s also a BBQ area there for cooking your vegan/local sausages.

Hipsters always need WiFi–the Albury LibraryMuseum is a good place to hook up to do some mobile working or to hang out (hipster children are also welcome).

I got some great local produce at the pre-Christmas twilight farmers’ market at Hovell Tree Park, an offshoot of the regular Albury-Wodonga Farmers’ Market, which is well worth checking out. The pic below is a salad I made with ingredients from the market — also got some beautifully festive red and yellow tomatoes.

 

 

On the deli front, for making your own fabulous picnics to enjoy in one of the lovely outdoor spots around town, Jones the Grocer has lots of fancy treats. For local smoked goods, I also love Butt’s Smokehouse–their smoked trout and their smoked trout pate are fab. Green Zebra is the place to go for great take-home pasta, antipasto and other deli treats (also a great place to eat-in).

There’s also the classic attractions, like the Murray River and the Hume Weir. And other places to get back to nature, like Wonga Wetlands. And since hipsters tend to really like bikes, they should also check out some of the wonderful cycle trails in the local area, like the Waigirra trail.

Have I missed anything hipster in Albury/Wodonga? Let me know in the comments and add your views!

Big crash

I’ve just getting over a four day fatigue crash–where I had basically no energy to get out of bed for four whole days, the longest stretch ever. Maybe it was from the Melbourne trip, which would be super annoying since I tried carefully to keep it short and well-planned, but it sort of felt more like I was perhaps fighting off some kind of bug or virus. I was kind of feverish and really achey, and of course, just beyond tired. Fatigue doesn’t even really cut it as a descriptor.

Who really knows what caused it. No matter what it was, it was super frustrating. When I have a big crash that is somewhat extended (usually it is two days tops before I can be back at work at least for a short day), I start to get worried that it’s going to drag on and on and that I’ve somehow tipped the scales into a more severe version of the illness.

It also always seems to come after I’ve done something that I feel some sense of satisfaction from or have enjoyed, like talking on the panel in Melbourne last week, writing a good blog with my boss and doing two radio interviews (here and here). And then, the punishment.

Anyway, I’m slowly getting back to baseline after this one.

But I’m starting to get worried that this is never going to go away–it’s not getting any better. And I don’t know how I will be able to have the life I want if it doesn’t.

Borders by M.I.A

Great new song by M.I.A. with a powerful video. Can’t wait for the new album.

Empathy vs sympathy

This year and a bit has been super hard. It’s also been really hard to sometimes ask for help, or to articulate how much being ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has impacted on me emotionally. But this video is such a wonderful explanation of the difference between empathy and sympathy. Those who have treated me with empathy have had the biggest impact this year–I’m in a situation where there aren’t many solutions, so what I’ve needed most is support. I hope ‘at least’ that going through this experience will make me better at being empathetic to others. I’ve definitely been guilty of being sympathetic at best, or diving into problem solving mode, when presented with a friend’s problem that seems too big for me to help them with. We all want to try to fix things and alleviate the pain of those we care about. But sometimes empathy and support is the best thing to offer up.

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Mini Melbourne trip

I went on a mini Melbourne trip this week–less than 24 hours. The big reason was to appear on a panel on international volunteering, which I enjoyed participating in. I think it went well. It was kind of a big deal for me to do something like that after being so sick this year, and also having grappled a lot with my confidence and fright-or-flight response and so on since getting ill. I did get a dizzy spell during the panel but managed to act normal and ignore it, and when I looked at my heart rate monitor afterwards it was pretty high… I also got a little bit tongue tied from being tired right at the end, but only very minor things, only noticeable to me. So that was really positive. In the whirlwind trip, I also managed to see two of my friends, eat a great breakfast, and grab some clothes from H&M and Myer (which had a 40% off sale). I now have fatigue-shopping-visits to the Melbourne CBD down to an art– get off tram, go to H&M and the plus size section of Myer, then down to the food court of Emporium to recover (there’s a place there that sells good banh mie). Then back to the tram. My one cafe pit stop was Auction Rooms in North Melbourne, which was close to where I stayed. It was great–a beautiful high-ceilinged rustic space, great coffee and an innovative and delicious food menu.



I had the roast cauliflower, crispy buckwheat & sautéed kale with sago rösti, salsa verde and goats’ cheese & pea frittata. I really enjoyed it. The sago rosti was particularly surprising–really delicious. The dish had this great zingy freshness about it, from mint and salsa verde.

 

A photo posted by Ashlee Betteridge (@ashbetteridge) on

Today I am really sick though–a fatigue crash. But it isn’t a surprise one and I had factored it in. Feel pretty horrendous and am quite a bit of pain, but at least it is for a decent reason.

 

Sleep walking. By Anne Marthe Widvey, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

What it’s like to wake up one day with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

It’s been one year since my so-called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome really started messing with me.

It’s kind of upsetting to think about. A whole year, and no improvement.

So instead of dwelling on it, I decided to try to do something a little more useful with that energy instead.

I’ve written this story on Medium, called ‘What it’s like to wake up one day with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome‘. Hopefully it helps more people understand what it is like to have the condition, even a more ‘mild’ case like mine. Do take a read.

Banner image credit: Sleep walking. By Anne Marthe Widvey, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Self-care… the retail way

I’ve quite honestly had such a hard year and a bit. The hardest ever for me. And sometimes I’ve made it even harder, by being extremely hard on myself. I’m trying to be kinder, trying to lower the expectations I have for my own productivity and performance and trying to look after my resilience for this whole unfortunate situation, but it’s hard work to shift lifelong traits and sometimes the energy to do it just isn’t there.

And it is hard to look after yourself or make yourself feel good when doing the dishes or laundry wipes you out, and when you are (beyond) broke. And when you feel that with the limited energy you have, you should be using it to catch up on things you are behind on and do work.

But self-care is important. All of the chick-blogs and sick-blogs out there tell me so.

So I’m trying to not feel guilty about spending a little money here and there on things that make me feel slightly happier or looked after, even though overall I’m really worried about my finances. Realistically I want to be spending my money on travelling the world or doing something exciting or life-establishing. So some small indulgence is barely even compensation for that… right?

Continue reading…

Chronically fatigued guide to easy food

One of the many many crappy things about being sick a lot is that sometimes I just don’t have the energy to cook. It’s especially been the case in winter, where it’s been too cold for easy things like salads (my summer staple) and just staying warm seems to use up extra energy. I usually have enough energy on the weekends to cook a big pot of curry or soup or something to last through the week, but some weeks it just doesn’t happen (last weekend for example– I used that energy to give the bathroom a clean, and today I used it to do heaps and heaps of laundry while the sun is out). During the week, I don’t have a lot of spare energy in the evenings to cook anything fussy, and if I’m really tired, chopping and cutting foods can make me more achey. So I have definitely been relying on convenience foods far, far more than I used to (though thankfully not all the time! Still been able to cook some good things every now and then). I also was lucky enough to get a microwave given to me earlier this year (I haven’t owned one for years and years and years), which has opened up doors to more fatigue-friendly options.

So I present to you a list of convenience foods I have found at Coles and Woolworths that are not too terrible. I can’t say this is the most cost-effective way to eat, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. It’s the chronically fatigued guide to eating with minimal sadness about eating sad food and minimal energy depletion.

Frozen foods

Steamfresh veggies

Veggies without any effort. And they are always there in the freezer, for whenever you have been too tired to either go to the supermarket or organise online shopping in time. Unless you have already eaten them all, then you are screwed and you better hope you have some of these other things kicking around.

Steamfresh Plus: Pearl Couscous with Chickpeas or Quinoa with Brown Rice

Once again, veggies that are always there, but with carbs included. These are a good little meal or side. I like the Pearl Couscous one best, and I add cheese or extra veg (like baby spinach) to make it more of a meal.

Woolworths Frozen Tropical Fruit or Mango

This is a really good snack for when you can’t be arsed to chop up a pineapple.

McCain Healthy Choice Wholegrain (Woolworths)

Microwave meals are always a bit sad, but at least these ones appear to have a low GI and are made with wholegrains. The ones I like best are the Beef & Chia Meatballs with Wholemeal Spaghetti or the Malaysian Beef Curry with Brown and Wild Rice.

SuperNature frozen meals (Coles)

Again, frozen meals are pretty high on the sad scale, and they only get a play when I’m super tired, but these ones are the best ones I’ve had–they taste good and seem reasonably healthy. They aren’t cheap though ($6+) and never seem to be on sale. My favourites are the Steam Malay Yellow Chicken Curry with Brown Rice; Chicken, Asparagus and Pearl Barley Risotto; and the Beef, Kale and Red Quinoa Lasagne. Oh, and the salmon miso noodle one. Oh, and the Mediterranean Polenta one. Actually they are all pretty good.

Frozen salmon/fish that can be microwaved

There’s a couple of brands of frozen salmon fillets that come in steam/microwave bags, some with marinades. Easy protein, to go with some easy veggies.

Other microwavable or non-cooking options

Coles Gluten Free Quinoa and Brown Rice Cups – Moroccan and Mexican flavours

These are an easy snack, lunch or side and are fairly tasty, and low GI. Add some steamed vegetables, or a bit of grated cheese, or a bit of sour cream, and you’ve got a reasonably balanced meal, I think. That’s what I tell myself anyway. There’s also plain pre-cooked quinoa cups, which are a good alternative to rice with curries etc.

Little bags of broccoli/beans/cauliflower they sell in the veggie part of Coles 

These little bags of fresh veggies steam in the microwave in 90 seconds. You can then just eat them with whatever you want on them. Super easy, the only guilty thing I feel about them is the plastic waste, but that applies to basically everything on this list.

Baby brussel sprouts

At Woolies, they sell trays of baby brussel sprouts. The baby ones are great for microwaving (I used a microwave steamer like this one), and you don’t even have to cut them in half like with the bigger brussel sprouts, which when you are having an achey or dizzy day is a big bonus. I like to eat them tossed in some Nuttelex, with a splash of Kewpie Roasted Sesame Dressing (the dressing is totally unhealthy, but it tastes really good, and you can totally justify it by eating a big bowl of brussel sprouts though, right?).

Asparagus

Another extremely low-effort vegetable that can be quickly steamed in the microwave and doesn’t need chopping.

Baked beans

I hate standard tinned baked beans–I have made my own beautiful baked beans at home before, and so it saddens me to return to the supermarket offerings. Plus they are often wayyyyy too salty and don’t even taste like they’ve ever encountered an actual tomato. But, Heinz Spanish Style Beanz are pretty good for supermarket ones. With some sautéed baby spinach and toast, they don’t make me too food-sad.

Tuna

The staple of students everywhere, it goes on anything and with anything. But I go through tuna phases, and then forget about it as an option for ages, and then am like… that’s right, tuna would go with this! And then I eat tuna on everything for two weeks and then get over it again. Tuna with sriracha sauce on Woolworths Select Brown Rice Crackers may not be the most balanced of meals, but it is there for you if things get really tough. There’s also the packets that are tuna mixed with beans, they are kind of OK too if you put some veggies with them.

Chobani yoghurt with steel cut oats

For the days when putting some muesli in a bowl and then putting yoghurt on top of it seems too hard, Chobani has put the yoghurt and some steel cut oats in a little squeezy bag all together that you don’t even need a spoon to eat (lets be real… if I have been sick for a week, sometimes all the cutlery in the house is dirty). Coconut flavour is my favourite, but all of them taste OK and are easy for days when even toast seems hard, or are good for on-the-go breakfast.

Pitango or Momo’s Meals soups

They have a good variety of these upmarket ready-soups at my local IGA (Ainslie). They taste pretty nice and are easy and are not too unhealthy.

Other foods that can be made with minimal effort

Pre-sliced mushrooms, baby spinach

Saute, eat on toast. Add an egg perhaps.

Toast

Seriously a lifesaver. Among supermarket breads, I like either Burgen Rye, or Bill’s Organic Bakery Ancient Grains Sourdough (Woolworths). For things to go on the bread, beyond Vegemite, I really like the Mayver’s range of spreads, especially the peanut and coconut butter.

Smoked salmon

Put it on toast with cream cheese, baby spinach or sliced cucumbers. Or with some steamed asparagus and an egg.

Turning Coles veggies that are already chopped into things

At Coles, they have bags of shredded kale, and diced pumpkin. Add a can of chickpeas, chop up an onion, and add curry spices, and you’ve got yourself a curry with minimal exertion. (Microwavable brown rice bags are your friend if you can’t even deal with a rice cooker–at Coles they have a nice one that has Ancient Grains). There’s also stir fry veggies at Coles and Woolies that just need to be stir fried with some sort of flavour.

Already chopped soup

At Coles, they have pre-diced vegetables for making vegetable soups, some with a soup base included. It’s very easy to make and tastes significantly better than soup from a can. Add a can of four bean mix to the chopped veggies for more protein, or add a bit of harissa or other spice to the soup to give it some kick.

Jamie Oliver meats at Woolworths that already have flavours on them

Good if you have the energy to cook some chicken or meat, yet not enough energy to do anything interesting to it.

Delivery

Sometimes you haven’t stocked up the larder before a fatigue smash. And sometimes you are just sad and annoyed about being sick and want takeaway that is naughty or yummy. For delivery in Canberra, EatNow is very convenient. My favourite places to order from are the Lao/Thai Two Sisters restaurant, or 7 Village Indian. I really wish my favourite Vietnamese place, favourite dumpling place and favourite Laksa place would get on board with this site though!

Also, I’ve ordered delivery from Coles and Woolworths when I’ve been too tired to do a big shop, and it is quite convenient. It saves a lot of energy, especially as they bring the bags right into your kitchen. Though I have to say, they have each stuffed up my order once– Coles forgetting all my frozen things, Woolworths trying to deliver me 20 bottles of flavoured Pump water (eww, did not want) in addition to my groceries. But generally pretty good. Other options include services like Hello Fresh, or health food grocers like Doorstep Organics.

 

Anyway, that’s my list. Obviously I’m not doing paleo/super low carb right now… my next point of call since I have had no improvement in my condition might be more alternative therapies (though I am hugely skeptical), but if they tell me to do some crazy restrictive diet then most of these things won’t work. But at the moment, these are my not-too-terrible lazy options.