Secret Santa Book Dilemma

Secret Santa Books

At the SWWQ Christmas End of Year meeting this year, members are taking second-hand books, written by women writers, as part of a “Secret Santa Books” project. Sounds like a bit of fun!

Second Hand Books

The Wamuran Second Hand Book Stall opens on Wednesday mornings, so last week I was there early to see what I could find. There are hundreds of books to choose from in two rooms. I was looking not only for women writers, but a quality book that could pass as brand new!

I chose 5 because I figured I could take a couple extra books for those folk who “forgot” or didn’t manage to find/bring a book. These are the ones I chose:

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop
Amenable Woman by Mavis Cheek
Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Naked by Jo Hill


As I walked home with my new books, I wondered if I could read some before I gave them away. I started on Naked on Wednesday. I finished it on Saturday. It was a very confronting read. The blurb on the back of the book reads “With a volatile father and an alcoholic mother, ten-year-old Jo was a desperately unhappy child.” It was Jo’s story – which in parts, is quite horrific and confronting.


I am not sure that I can give it as a Christmas gift, and will ponder that in the next few weeks leading up to the event. As confronting as it is, it is a good read. One can’t help but get angry while reading, as these predatory men take advantage of a young girl. Jo talks frankly about the events that scarred her life. I enjoyed the read though. It was well written and each chapter ended with a hook. It made you want to keep reading. I teared up several times, angry with the men, and willing her to not be so passive about it all.

At a time when the Henry Weinstein affairs in tinsel town are lead stories in the media, it does bring home the truth that men see women/girls as their playthings. The Weinstein story has brought more stories. I know from my own experience that only the smallest tip of the iceberg has been revealed!

Now, I am in a quandry. Do I give such a confronting book to another woman as a Secret Santa Book gift? Who could I give it to without causing additional trauma? Especially if the woman has had horrific experiences herself!  So, I have a decision to make before I prepare for Secret Santa Book event.

I have a few weeks to consider this. And I have four more books to read before then.

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The Mysteries of SEO


Search Engine Optimization.  As someone who writes content at times for websites – mainly my own, and a couple of not-for-profits as well as Weekend Notes, I know I should learn more about SEO.

Search Engine Optimization is something that in some ways is a bit of a mystery.  With all the writing workshops and website meetings that I have attended, there has been little reference to it.  Other than, that it is important.  I was at a WordPress Meet-Up the other day, and requested that in one of the future meetings, that SEO be on the agenda.  Perhaps the January meeting will be focused on


Yoast Plugin

I do use Yoast – a plugin, which does an assessment of one’s writing, where there is a list of items to check when you complete your post or page.  But I need to know more.  I have read several articles, but I found this Wikihow one to be of value.  At least I understand it. Perhaps I need to Pro version of Yoast, but at the moment I will use the FREE version.

Guest Blogging

On occasions, I have been asked to provide a guest blogger for a website.  It is easy enough with my contacts to find someone who is willing to do the work, but I have found that I have had to edit it.  Generally, writers are not familiar with SEO.

Understanding SEO is beneficial.   Mostly it is a technique used in website management to gain more traffic and higher ranking in search engines.  It helps gain more readers too, of course.


The use of keywords, is one issue.  Keeping sentences short – or at least not more than 20 words in sentences.  Using subheadings is important. Short paragraphs.  Each article should have appropriate hyperlinks too.  And there’s more.  The Wikihow article is excellent. Read an article on keywords here.

I am currently helping some writers complete some content writing.  Experience has shown me that many writers do not understand the value of SEO.   It is not something that is important to other writing.

Maybe after January, I will be more knowledgeable and perhaps can be more confident chasing content writing work.

I recommend this article on Wikihow.

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City or Country Living?

City?  NO!

I have lived in country areas and in the city.  Where I lived as a child in Adelaide, it was right on the edge of “civilisation”.  Across the road from our house, was a railway line.  The house is still there, and so is the railway line.  Nowadays it is not steam trains playing their way along the tracks.

On the other side of the tracks were open paddocks, a horse track and a vineyard, and the occasional house.  In the 14 years I lived there, many things changed.  Houses were built everywhere, the road in front of our house which had been a dirt track when we first moved there, became a sealed road. Traffic increased.

I used to walk to school – nearly 2 km through open bush, now it is all built on with houses and roads.

To the Country

When I was 19, I moved to Mt Gambier – was still a country town at that time.  I lived at the Nurses Home in the hospital grounds.  Within a couple of kilometres of the town centre, it was country.  Farms of all sorts, and further out acres of pine forests.

When I married I moved to Warrnambool – a bigger place, but still country living.

Back to City Living

Subsequently, I lived in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane – and while sometimes we lived some distance from the city centre, it was still much busier than my preferred “country life”.

Of course, with all the developments over the years, cities and suburbs have become bustling places.  I do avoid the city – in fact, have lived in a rural beachside village for around 4 years and it is my preference to live in such a place.  However, my families live in major city spaces.  My daughter in Brisbane and my son on the Gold Coast.

I hate the traffic, I hate the multi-storied accommodation blocks.  I am dismayed that the council lets developers continue to build such monstrosities.  Parking is a massive issue around these places.  Parking in the areas around these places is difficult.  Massive shopping centres service the residents in these areas – again parking is challenging – in fact on occasions one has to pay to park a car and go shopping.

Driving in the city and close to city suburbs traffic is challenging too.  It takes ages sometimes, and the drivers clearly don’t understand or follow the road rules.

It makes me want to scream!!!!

Currently, I am house sitting – so am lucky to enjoy staying in more rural areas.  (Though you may not escape traffic issues – am at a home on the D’Aguilar Highway and the traffic is heavy and noisy!).

Where to Next?

Beside a Lake or River is good.

Near the bush with friendly neighbours

Where do I want to live – where do I want to live for the next phase of my life?  Definitely not in a busy city.  Maybe some 50 km from the centre of the city of Brisbane?  However, I am challenged by that – as I will not be close to my family members.  I want to be in a community – surrounded by friendly souls.  Somewhere where I don’t have to travel far to shop (although I know that these days I can order almost anything online. I want to be surrounded by trees and open paddocks or water.  I’m happy to be near animals e.g. goats, cattle, sheep, horses etc.

I just don’t want to have to breathe in the dust and pollution from high traffic or hear the noise of constant vehicles passing.  I want fresh air and peace.

Maybe I will not get what I want. Dream On!





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Gardenia – a Little White Flower

Gardenia Fragrance

A little white flower, which in the evening sends out a beautiful fragrance – the Gardenia.  I do like these flowers, though sadly they don’t last long.  However, if the bush has plenty of flowers – the nightly fragrance will last for quite a few days.  Not only do you sense the fragrance late in the afternoon, but it lasts overnight and can also be around in the morning.

Gardenia at Wamuran


The Chinese do wonderful things with gardens and plants.  Some few feet away from the Gardenia was a garden full of rose bushes.  When we arrived there at the end of winter, it was hard to notice the roses – there were probably 20 rows of plants, but after the long winter, it was a little difficult to even see the leafless rose bushes.


But as the weather warmed up, and the bushes “came to life” and eventually flowered profusely, it was an impressive sight.

Rose Garden

I was always very impressed by the rose garden.  Sadly, when I returned to the university campus after a couple of years absence, I was shocked to see that the rose bushes were no longer there.

What remained was a rather sad looking garden.  However, the Gardenia hedge remained.  Perhaps it was the fragrance or the fact that the hedge required little attention other than a trim every now and then.


I’ve never grown them.  Perhaps when I settle down sometime in the future, I will create a wonderful Gardenia hedge and enjoy the evening fragrances.

Info on Growing.

Gardenia’s are not difficult to grow – in fact while they do well in the garden/hedge, they also do well in pots.  Click here for information about growing

So get a plant from your favourite nursery or plant store, and watch for the flower and fragrance at the beginning of summer.

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Customer Service and Shops

Customer service is so important in retail.

Firstly, let me explain that I have a background in retail – I worked in retail (a fashion outlet) and was the Marketing Manager of two big shopping centres about 30 years ago.  Later, I was a secret shopper, where I was assessing the customer service skills of retail outlets.  I’ve also been involved in teaching retail and a raft of other skills.  I’ve always automatically made judgements about people “behind the counter” in retail/shops.  Mostly I do nothing but shake my head.

Photo from Unsplash

I know how important it is to have a good impression of a retail outlet – whether you are going to shop or just wander around, it is essential that the staff welcome you and endeavour to help you spend your money.  I’m not suggesting they need to be pushy, but in a subtle way help you make a purchase.

I’ve just been into two retail outlets.  One was a post office and the other a liquor shop.  At the post office, I was just collecting mail for the folk for whom I am house sitting.  The person behind the counter had a blank expression on his face and was far from welcoming.  He didn’t make eye contact and didn’t smile. Perhaps I interrupted whatever he was doing in the little office in the shop.  In fact, I don’t recall that he even spoke to me.  I told him I was there to collect mail – there was a blue card suggesting there was more mail.  Oh, well. I probably didn’t look like I was going to spend any money there, so I was unimportant!

Oh, the Bottle Shop

The bottle shop was next door, and because I had never been there, thought I’d check it out.  The bloke behind the counter was doing something on the computer. He raised his head a little and said “hello” in a most disinterested manner.

It was not a particularly interestingly set-out shop, and I walked around seeking out my favourite drink.  He never made contact with me or offered to assist me.  I was in the shop for around 5 minutes and walked out.  Other customers had come in, and I saw him walk to the rear of the shop.

Now, I may have bought some wine.  I found my favourite drink, but as it is Monday and I am trying to keep my drinking to the weekend, I was not in a hurry to spend.  But, I might have.

I walked out thinking that I am unlikely to return. I’ll probably go to a more friendly store.  Same as the post office. I might have to go back there and get more mail, but I am unlikely to bother with it.  I wonder how many other folk feel the same way about unfriendly staff behind the counter.

Customer service is so important.  Some people should not be in retail!

At least smile, acknowledge and welcome your potential shopper.



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Living in a Van

Van Living Challenges

Living in a Van has challenges.  One is the size of the bed!!  In the Toyota Coaster, there are two small beds on either side of the rear of the van.  I’m really too tall for them.  I can make changes to give myself more space so that my head and feet have more room, but it is a challenge!  It takes a few minutes to change and it is quite heavy to do.  It means that I have to set it up at the end of the day preparing for sleep and change it all in the morning.  Otherwise, I have limited access to some of the storage.

Other challenges include the Porta Pottie and having to empty it at Dump Points etc.

I am learning too, that on a hot day, the van can be oven-like.  I am intending to keep it for 12 months or so, so another 6 months to go, but I am quickly learning that as a long-term option, it is not going to be suitable for me.


As one gets older and has more mobility challenges, it certainly is not the best option.  Even climbing into the bus and exiting can be painful for me as one of my legs does not like the steps!!  Manageable at the moment, but long-term, NOT.

Also, I continue to have trouble with the refrigerator.  It works well most of the time, but there has been some food spoiling.

Travelling vs Living

Space is fine for travelling, but living in the van, requires different space management.  For example, I now have my printer in the van as I need to do some printing.  I have to move it around in the limited space.  When I want to use it, I need to have it on the sink/bench, and I store it on the spare bed. It is quite heavy too – though just manageable.

My Recommendation

Weigh up the pro’s and con’s for you.  If you have some physical challenge check how you can manage.  The big issues are emptying the toilet and managing the waste water, and checking the oil and water in the engine, I think.

Try before you buy.  (I confess I didn’t) but spend some time with someone living in a van if you can.  Talk with them about their challenges.

Make sure you have the funds to pay for any work that needs to be done on the van, and make sure you have insurance and road side assist.

Rent a van for a short holiday to test if you can.



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On-line Challenges

It’s been many weeks since I had “easy use” of internet facilities.  When I left Brisbane on August 8th, I did not know I would have such “online challenges”.  When I drove around Australia in 2012/13 I had only a little trouble getting on line, but this time it was different.

My Dongle created challenges.  It rarely worked.  I did get it “seen to” and a new card was provided, but it didn’t work.  As well, my computer found it difficult to access available Wifi.  Again annoying.

Back “home” in Brisbane, I continue to have trouble.  The area in which the van and I are parked is not good for any reception.  Which means I have to find a spot (daughter’s home, the library) etc to get some work done.  It’s frustrating.  But that is all about to end.


I will be attending this in the city and staying at a hotel there.  Free Wifi.  Oh, I so hope it works!!  Then, I set off on another adventure.


On Wednesday I move into a house at Wamuran.  I will be house sitting there for 6 weeks.  YeeHaa!!  Internet!!!

Wamuran? or Wam as the locals call it, is a little town on the D’Aguilar Highway.  It is a fruit growing area – in the past more for its pineapple plantations, of which there are still some.  There is a big mango farm behind the house I will be staying at, and nearby there’s strawberries and other berries.


There is a dog, with escapologist tendencies, and an indoor cat (not allowed outside), and 10 pigeons in a nice cage not far from the house.  There’s also lot of garden to look after.  I will be there for six weeks.  Oh, how I am looking forward to that.  Hoping to get a lot of writing done.  There’s also NANOWRIMO during that time, November the big writing month.  So perhaps I can participate.

Oh, I do hope I don’t continue to have online challenges.

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Catching Up

I have been overwhelmed. I seem to have been in a “fog” since my return from the journey to the centre.  No doubt driving 7500 kms in 6 weeks can throw you into a fog when it is all over.  I have had so much to do on my return, and slowing wading through the list has been difficult.  At last, though I have caught up, to some degree.

A number of folk have asked me to write articles and I am behind in my commitment to Weekend Notes, 

I have written an article today, so am hoping it will be published soon.  I’ve submitted other articles too, but have quite a challenging list to get done too.

Looking at a Tiny House

Yesterday, I drove to the Gold Coast (south of Brisbane) to see a tiny house that a friend of a friend is building.  The Tiny House movement is worldwide now, with a large number of developments in Australia.  (The photo below is not indicative of what is going on in Australia.)

There are several definitions of a tiny house – but essentially these are small houses that are often seen as an option for young couples who want to save up to buy their own home, or for seniors.

Sadly I don’t have any photos of the excellent house I saw at Labrador.  I did not have my camera, but I will get some photos one day.  I was so impressed by the workmanship and the interior decor.  IF I was looking at such a house for myself, I would definitely go and take a closer look and/or negotiate to have one made.

Issues to Work On

There were things that I have issues with.  To qualify to have such a building on a plot of land, it must be completely mobile.  That is, it must have wheels and some form of toilet that does not require to be connected to the sewerage system.  The building yesterday had a “porta-potti”.  I have one in my van.  They are not always easy to empty – they can be heavy and awkward and one should empty them in a toilet or dump point.  I’d question whether it was doable for an older person or someone with health/disability issues.

One of my biggest issues though is where the tiny house is going to be based.  If one puts it on a family plot, will the person living in the van be lonely?  These days many families are so busy with work, sport, children’s activities and such that there is little time for the family to keep up the regular communication.

Also, the family need to determine a procedure for checking on the senior person, especially if he/she is living in the tiny house alone.

The photo above shows steps up to the house – again, something that has to be considered for older folk.

There are issues to work out to ensure the safety of the person in the tiny house.

I’m not feeling so overwhelmed at the moment.




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My experience “caravanning” is very limited.  In fact, when I set off on August 8th, ’17, I had only spent nights in cabins in caravan parks.


My first night was at Dalby.  I drove Murtle into the park, where I had booked, and backed into the small area near the power pole/water tap.  I arrived late in the afternoon and left early the next morning without any interaction with the other caravanners.  Over the next few weeks I had a range of experiences in caravan parks and free camps.

First Free Camp

The next night I was in Bungeworgorai.  It was my first night at a “free camp”.  Free camps are everywhere these days and suit those campers who are “self-sufficient”.  That is, have their own power, toilets and water.  For in most free camps there are no facilities.

Free Camp near the Bungeworgorai Creek

When I drove in, rather cautiously, I parked near other campers.  There was a couple to one side who were very friendly and later I joined them for a drink.  On the other side was a guy who also had a Toyota Coaster (more modern than mine) and towed a small car.  He also had two funny cats, who were so used to camping that they were happy roaming and always returned to the Coaster.  I happily stayed overnight, feeling very safe and comfortable and left early in the morning to continue my journey.

Population Decline in Kynuna

In the Camp Kitchen – cleaner and plumber wanted?

It was right on the Warrego Highway, and in the evening there was quite a lot of traffic with road trains, that were somewhat noisy, but I was so tired it didn’t bother me.  I happily stayed overnight, feeling very safe and comfortable and left early in the morning to continue my journey.

Six Weeks on the Road

Over the next six weeks I had “adventures” in both paid caravan parks and free camps.  I have learned what to look for and how to manage.

The Caravan Parks are interesting.  Some are quite expensive, and some are terrible with appalling facilities and often rude/disinterested staff.  It makes you wonder why these people are in such businesses.

I know country folk do not have the benefits of choices with tradesmen, and often have to make do with what they have.  For example, in Kynuna, and I stayed in one park behind the Blue Heeler Hotel where the facilities were “under repair” – the toilet block was not usable and one had to walk over to the hotel and use their facilities.  On my return journey I stayed at the other Caravan Park where the facilities were somewhat better, but clearly, (as you can see from above photos) there was a great need for work to be done on the park.

One gets the impression that the caravan parks are profitable businesses, but in almost everyone there was a need for maintenance.

As well as the condition of caravan parks, there are issues with other campers.  Some are so rude, and the number of disputes between families is rather surprising.  I guess I have learned that it is good to camp with friends – and even travel with them if possible.

My “adventures” of the six weeks that I was “on the road” has been an education for me.  I have more learning to do.

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Murtle’s Refurb…

On the Road Again

Should I get Murtle refurbished? I bought Murtle the Turtle several months before I set off for the journey to the Red Centre of Australia.   I had little time in her – and still am learning about some of the knobs and features.  I did drive it for 7500 kms and returned home safe and sound.

Before I departed I went to a Motor Mechanic and had things checked.  I felt somewhat confident – but knew all along that something could go wrong.  And of course, it did.  I made it to Alice Springs without any problems, but then things changed.

Today I went back to the Motor Mechanic that did the check before I left – and I am going to get him to check on a few things and maybe fix a few.  I have quite a list.

Initially, I am wanting to make sure Murtle is mechanically sound – that is the priority.  Over the next few weeks, I will decide what I want to do with Murtle.  There are some things about her that really are an issue for me.

Manual Transmission.

I learned on a manual car and can manage the gears, but Murtle can be a challenge especially going up hills.  I nearly freaked out going up the Toowoomba Range!!!!  In fact Murtle stalled – briefly.  I got her going again very quickly.  My preference is for automatic transmission – but it will not be happening under my watch.  Murtle will remain manual – but does that mean I will need to look at another vehicle?

Driver Comfort

Actually, while I am driving I am comfortable.  I love being high up and having a wonderful vision of my surroundings.  But getting in and out of the driver’s seat is a problem for me. My legs are too long, and I do have some pain in them and my feet.

Checking Oil and Water

The engine is between the driver and passenger seats.  I have to move the driver’s seat forward – almost cutting my legs in half!  Then there is some contortion for me – as it is not easy removing the “lid”  and accessing the engine.  I’m too old for it.  It is not easy for me.

I’ll get the Engine checked and a few other things, and ponder what I will do.  Will I endeavour to rectify the issues?  Are they impossible and/or too expensive?

So I have a few decisions to make over the next few weeks.

Wait and see.



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