#3 One Red Paperclip

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As a child Kyle MacDonald heard about an almost magical game called bigger or better. The idea was you started with some small object, like a toothpick, and traded it for bigger or better things until you had something really good, like a car. Out of work and tired of renting he decided to give bigger and better a go, beginning with one red paperclip attempting to trade up to a house.

Armed with his paperclip and craigslist he set out! After a few trades his website One Red Paperclip received hundreds of thousands of hits, despite his self admitted poor web design skills, and he became a global media sensation.

He realised, a few trades in, that he needed to not only trade for bigger and better things, but things with a high intrinsic value, such as recording contracts, to create a higher appeal and to prevent working up to things that were unshippable.

Did he eventually get a get a house? Well he wrote a book about his success so that probably gives you a clue…

Overall this book was ok. It chronicles the one year it took Kyle to make his trades including his movements to make the trades, a bit of backstory, personal relationships with his family and what it was like being in the centre of a media circus.

Its not the best written book in the world, owing probably to the fact that parts of the book are taken from his original log posts, however there are some interesting/funny emails he received. He also includes his little life lessons/motivational pieces at the end of each chapter which I’m sure some people really like, but I wasn’t really interested.

Overall this was an interesting book about a slightly quirky idea executed well.

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#2 Mao’s Last Dancer

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Li Cunxin grew up as part of a peasant family in communist China. His mother was known locally as ‘the lucky woman with seven sons’; Cunxin was son number six.

Growing up in extreme poverty, his family would play the ‘game’ of pass the once piece of meat in the dish to the other, who deserved it more, he spent time searching for overlooked vegetables in fields and half burned coal and and ate horrible dried yams, but one day all that changed.

Cunxin was selected for the Beijing Dance Academy which radically changed his life. After years of harsh training, he was selected to travel to the United States and perform with the Houston Ballet. He became a smash hit, but most of all was blown away with the sheer opulence and freedom available in the West. This caused him to defect from China, causing an international incident.

Cunxin went on to improve his ballet skills and further his career, becoming an international success before settling down and having a family with Australian ballerina Mary McKendry.

This book blew me away with the descriptions of Cunxin’s upbringing and life in communist China under the rule of Chairman Mao. His descriptions of his and the country’s extreme love for Chairman Mao despite the extreme poverty experience by most of the country. This is explored much more thoroughly than in the film, which I have seen and isn’t as good.

This love is something that is challenged and ultimately destroyed when he visits the US and realises that almost everything he was told about America was a lie. Cunxin’s reasons for wanting to remain in America and the international incident surrounding his defection are again better covered than in the film and create a much better understanding of the situation and emotions involved.

Overall it is a well written and compelling book which offers an insight into a world which was mostly shut off from the rest of the world and is very different from the one found western countries and indeed the Modern China. It is an uplifting story of determination and triumph despite circumstance.

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#1 Call the Midwife

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Jennifer Worth (nee Lee) left her relatively privileged life to work as a midwife in the East End of London during the 1950s. Although she had worked as a nurse, she was unprepared for the challenges she would face, including extreme poverty of patients, long work hours and living with nuns.

Although initially out of her depth, she soon adapted to life in the East End. While there she learned much about the life of the people, both uplifting and depressing; From a woman with 25 children and the survival of a premature baby to people losing their homes and the horrors of prostitution.

Throughout the book Worth comes across many endearing characters, including Sister Monica Joan, a woman whose dementia leads her to say many amusing things, and ‘Chummy’ who, through her upper-class upbringing can ride a horse but not a bike.

Worth’s book is beautifully written. Humorous, intriguing and engaging, it was good to the last page. Her comprehensive knowledge of midwifery practice and history is evident in the book and is integrated in a way that informs the reader without becoming jargony or incomprehensible to the lay person. The book also features a glossary of terms and notes on the cockney dialect to further aid the reader.

Funny, uplifting and occasionally heartbreaking, Call the Midwife is a truly great and unique book and a great start to the hundred.

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Propagating Mint Two Ways

A few weeks ago I pruned my mint plants and at that time I took some pieces for propagating new plants. I used two methods of propagation: runners and cuttings.

Method 1: Runners

While I was pruning I was able to separate some rooted runners from each plant. If grown in a garden bed, mint will send out runners and eventually take over everything, but in a pot they can be an easy way to propagate new plants.

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After separating the runners, I stuck them in a pot and was done.

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A few weeks on they are growing well and will be ready for bigger pots in a couple months.

Method 2: Cuttings

The second method I used was propagating from cuttings. This method is more versatile than runners and also allows you to propagate more plants more quickly.

I started by selecting good strong cuttings from my pruning and trimming them on a diagonal a little below one of the leaf nodes.

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I then put the cuttings in a glass of water and sat them on a sunny windowsill.

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I could have added some rooting hormone to water to speed up the process, but after about a week and a half roots were shooting off everywhere, well of one of the varieties. The other has shown not a lot of action yet but still looks healthy, so I’ll leave it longer.

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Once a decent amount of root growth developed, I stuck the cuttings in pots with good quality potting mix and hopefully they will flourish.

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100 books about 100 people

After reading Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, her memoir about working as a midwife in London’s east end in the 1950s, I am inspired to read more books about interesting people. So begins a journey of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs of 100 interesting people, some famous, some unknown. I hope to gain wider perspective and deeper understanding of different times, people and places.

If you have any suggestions of great books that fit the bill, feel free to comment.

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Two New Additions

On the weekend I purchased two new fruit trees from Perry’s Nursery a lemonade tree and a loquat.

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I love the look of the loquat tree and the subtropical vibe it brings. Hopefully in a few years, ok like 5 years, it will fruit and then I will have delicious loquats to eat.

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A lemonade tree is something I have wanted for a few years. It is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin tree and produces delicious round fruit that tastes like lemonade. It already has flowers on it, however I’m not sure it will produce fruit due to the shock of being repotted, but we’ll see.

They make a great addition to my trees I already have on my patio.

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From left to right dwarf lemon, china doll (recovering from The trauma of being neglected at work), strawberry guava, loquat, lemonade.

I’m reading Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth.

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Growth below the Graft

About 6 weeks ago I planted 2 passionfruit vines, “Nellie Kellys” in golden and black varieties. So far they seem to be going well and with the combination of the warmer and the root system having had some time to get established I am hoping to see some major growth soon.

I was, however, displeased to notice some growth below the graft on both vines when I was tending them the other day.

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For those of you who don’t know grafting is a horticultural process which takes a part of a tree or plant and attaches it to another. It is used for a variety of reasons, but some of the most common reasons plants you buy will have been grafted are:

1. Because that is the way the plant is propagated

Some plants and trees, like apple trees, do not reproduce true to type from seed. If, for example, you plant seeds form a Granny Smith apple, they will most likely not grow into a tree which produces Granny Smith apples, but some other ‘type’ of apples, which usually are nowhere near as good as the seed apple.

Therefore, to get new apple trees, budding wood from existing trees is grafted onto a rootstock apple. This creates a new tree which is genetically identical to the original tree the budwood is taken from.

2. To create a stronger plant

Passionfruit vines are a classic example of fruits that are commonly grafted to produce a hardier plant. Passionfruit can be a bit sensitive, being prone to disease and i tolerant of frost. By grafting a passionfruit vine which produces good fruit onto a hardy, rootstock passionfruit ,which normally don’t make that nice of fruit,a vine can can be created that is frost tolerant and more resistant to disease.

3.To create a tree with specific characteristics

Ever bought a dwarf fruit tree? While some dwarf trees are genuine small varieties, most are trees which have been grafted onto dwarfing stocks, such as flying dragon commonly used for citrus, which prevent them from growing to full size.

4. For fun!

Some trees are grafted using bud wood from different trees to create trees not present in nature, such as a tree which grows half nectarines and half apricots. These so called ‘fruit salad trees’ are great for small gardens.

Similarly some garden enthusiasts graft different plants together just to see what will happen and what the resulting tree will be like.

Now that the basic reasons for grafting are covered, back to the title topic of this post, growth below the graft. This is a bad thing and something you want to get rid of immediately. The main reason is that growth below the graft is stealing effort and energy from the part of the plant you paid for and want to grow. If let go too long, the graft can actually take over, killing your plant and leaving you with a rootstock with bad or no fruit. Also, rootstock passionfruit vines can become an environmental pest and take over large amounts of your garden.

To remove growth, just cut off with a sharp knife or pruning shears. This ‘blinds’ the off shoot and prevents growth from that point again. It is not recommended to pull off the growth as this can cause more shoots.

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Close up on the graft and growth.

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Removed growth.

I’m reading Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth.

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Freezing Herbs

After my mint pruning exercise I was left with an excess supply of mint even after I had set aside quite a few pieces for propagation.

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Although I really brought this upon myself, having an excess of herbs can be a common situation. Prepackaged or prebundled herbs sold at supermarkets, greengrocers or markets are very often sold in quantities larger than that which the average user can consume before they spoil. So how can you preserve unused herbs? The answer is, by freezing them!

Begin by washing and chopping or leafing your herbs. Because when using mint in things like drinks, whole leaves are often an attractive feature, I decided to just leaf my mint rather than chopping it. If I want chopped mint, I can always chop it later.

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Once you have washed and prepared your herbs, place them in clean ice cube trays (I used cute silicon flower ones from ikea) and then fill with water or broth for herbs likely to be used in savoury dishes.

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Then freeze. Once your herb cubes are frozen, you can pop them out and store them in
a ziploc bag until needed. Remember to always label bags in e freezer with the contents, month and year so that when you find them six months later, you remember what the contents is.

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Once you have your frozen herbs, how do you use them? There are many ways. Of course you can melt the cubes and use the herbs as normal, but you don’t always need to. When cooking, you can just toss the herb cubes straight in. The cubes will melt and the water will evaporate leaving you with your delicious herbs in the dish. However, my main plan for the mint cubes is to toss them whole into drinks, for chilled, minty refreshment.

I’m reading My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

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Pruning Mint

I probably should have done this a few weeks ago, when the spring weather, but I finally got around to pruning my two mint plants.

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I have two mint plants growing in pots, a heirloom mint and one that is more of a spearmint, and since I got them in May, they have exploded with growth.

Why is it necessary to prune mint plants you ask? Well there are a few reasons. For one, pruning mint encourages bushy growth, rather than a lot of stems. It also stops the mint from going to seed and prolongs the leaf growing season. Another reason to prune mint is to remove the dead woody stems which develop over time as some parts of the plant die off and others form shoots.

When growing mint in a pot pruning can also serve another purpose. Mint is quite a prolific and invasive plant, spreading by putting out runners to start new plants and shooting from the main plant. To accomplish this feat, mint plants have a pretty epic root system, which means that they can become pot bound and unhappy quite quickly. By pruning the mint, you can divert its energy into regrowing the main plant rather than root development. This can increase the amount of time you can leave your mint in a pot, but it will still need repotting eventually.

I had one more reason for pruning my mint which you can see in the photo below.

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In this pot, there is something that doesn’t belong. An invader. With a really strong root system! Pruning the mint back allowed me to remove the weed roots and all.

When it comes to actually pruning the mint, my technique can be described in three words: hack it off. I pruned both plants right back to ground level.

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This may seem a bit extreme, but I can almost guarantee, with just a tiny bit of hope that the plant will regrow better than new! Pruning in this fashion also gives me a really good selection of cuttings to propagate new mint plants with, but I’ll post about that later.

Once you’ve cut back your mint, you are will probably have way more than you can use before it spoils in the fridge, even if you do use some fir propagation. What to do with all of this left ofer mint? Freeze it of course!

I’m reading My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

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Review: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

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I’ve just finished reading The Slap and, despite the numerous glowing reviews, it didn’t really grab me. I read another review which stated ‘you’ll either love it or hate it’ but in truth I didn’t really feel either. It was an ok book, I didn’t hate it, but I did have to make a concerted effort to pus through it too the end. It wasn’t a gripping page turner.

Tsiolkas’ attempt at writing a novel which Progresses the plot through the lenses of different characters, while a good attempt, was not as well executed as by some other authors, for example Jodi Picoult.

I also found some of the characters either 2 dimensional or stereotypical, for example the racist, Aussie, bogan, drunk or the hot headed Greek, and some of the less run of the mill characters, such as Bilal/Terry the Aboriginal who has found the Muslim faith, don’t really get much of a look in. They seem to have been created and sprinkled in in an attempt to add some diversity, however it is clear Tsiolkas is most comfortable writing about characters which come from his sphere of experience, namely those which are Greek.

Having not watched the TV adaptation, I don’t really know, but I feel as though it would be better on TV than as a book. I know some others have said this, but I agree, it was a bit like sitting down and watching an Aussie soap opera, such as Home and Away. The characters and their radical reactions/behaviours seemed more suited to the small screen.

With its constant use of course language and gratuitous sex and drug taking scenes, I can see how it would appeal to a segment of the population, but it wasn’t really for me.

Overall conclusion: Ok, but wouldn’t read again. Wouldn’t recommend widely, just to specific people.

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