Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sugar-Free Fudge Brownies

Our lovely Squish has had amazing results on her health kick, having reached her first milestone and now well on her way to her ultimate goal. I couldn't be more proud, she looks amazing. Anyway, she has been supplying me with wonderful sugar-free recipes which make me infinitely happy because then I can indulge without giving up. So now you can too, because here is the first, and I'll give you another one next week.

*May not be a picture of sugar-free brownies
Fudge Brownies
  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 2/3 cup mild honey, such as clover or orange blossom
  • 1/3 cups natural, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Friday, April 29, 2011

Saying Goodbye to my Furbaby

In exactly 6 weeks time we will be on our way. All the months of planning and spending and preparing all wrapped up in a proportionately tiny 250L backpack. At that point, whatever will go wrong is going to go wrong, to be worried about, dealt with, and eventually laughed at. There will be no turning back!

Tomorrow, we move all our belongings into storage. For the last week at our house we will have our bed, suitcase, computer and fridge. Natalie's not-quite 20 inch TV will still be there but there will be no couch to watch it from and it will likely end up back in her room - the best furnished room in the house since nothing of hers is going to storage.

A week later, we move to Monty and NurseB's house as they head off on safari to Africa and to climb Kilimanjaro. The carpet cleaner has been booked, utilities cancelled... oven cleaner pulled from the depths of the cupboard. Ergh.

Soul Buddy and her Mister are also off overseas soon, in 5 weeks time. Since they are the ones looking after Izzy while we're away, we want him settled into their house nice and early before they go. So early in fact, that he's going to their house tomorrow. It means he doesn't have to deal with the stress of our stuff disappearing and us cleaning everything, but it also means my time is up. Excuse the melodramatics that follow, but I love my furbabies more than anything so...

I know I'm going to visit him all the time and that he will move back home post-Europe but it's just not the same as having him constantly with me. I can hear him miaow when no one else can, semi instinctively. I get all excited, literally lighting up when I hear the bell on his collar. He is the cutest damn cat in the entire world and I know his every habit, exactly where he likes to be scratched and where his favourite hiding spots are. To that end, you know how when a loved one (including loved furs) dies, you wish you had just one last chance to say goodbye? I have that chance. It's no easier.

Tomorrow, I will bawl my pansy eyes out and I will feel sorry for myself, and if I'm honest, loyal readers, I'll probably consume quite a lot of sugar-based substances, of which I am already ashamed.

We have already prepared Toby by taking him with us to Soul Buddy's house last weekend so that when we visit it again with Izzy in tow, he will recognise it and understand that Soul Buddy is the common denominator and therefore it is a House We Trust. He will come with us to drop Izzy off so that he understands where Izzy is, and we will visit a few times the following week so that he understands Izzy is still there.

Toby's fursister, Holly, died almost exactly 2 years ago and he got to see her body and understand what had happened. He grieved considerably, we both did, together in bed. He was incredibly in tune with my emotions and he still understands her name and comes for a cuddle if we mention her several times in a short space of time. I don't want him to presume the same has happened to Izzy, especially since a month later it is likely he will presume it has happened to us.

So we will visit and Soul Buddy will get insanely sick of us. We're really doing her a favour, since if she is sick of us, she can't miss us for 4 months. Izzy is going to get so many cuddles tonight he will get sick of us too, and then he won't miss us.

I know cats are resilient, but will he miss us? I hope so.

Do you have any tips for rehoming animals as stress-free as possible?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Career Breakthrough!

We already know I can't leave well enough alone or sit still long enough to get to Europe and back before making more plans. I'd be lying if I said I'd tried, because I haven't, but that's because I can't think of many things worse. So while everyone was watching movies and baking amazing sugar-free cookies over Easter Weekend, I was building a new website for my nails business.

I've been thinking about how I can branch out with nails, from tupperware-style Mani Parties to Corporate Manicures similar to the 15 minute massages we get every couple of months at work. So then I thought, what better way to combine both my current careers than teaching new Nail Technicians how to do nails? I had vaguely thought about doing this when I first started doing nails but I had very little nail experience and just as little training experience. Fast track to now and I have almost 5 years behind me in nails and I'm closing in on 4 years training. It just makes sense.

I thought about pricing and what I would need to make it happen. I don't have a house let alone a studio so it would have to be a mobile me-come-to-you type deal unless I rented space. Trainees would need a start up kit so I factored that in too. The school at which I trained is also the national distributor for the brand of products I work with. Unless you have trained under them you can't use the products so my trainees could end up stuck in that respect.

I had a brainwave and emailed the school - would it be possible to become an accredited trainer for their brand? They emailed back today saying they could definitely make it happen. I didn't realise how much I loved the idea until the email came through and I overflowed with excitement. This could really be a big deal for me! With a lot of hard work and persistance, there is the potential for this to become the bread and butter that allows me to pursue success in freelance writing. I've been reading over at Lives of Wander about the pros and cons of freelancing and it calls to me. No office, no hours, no alarm, and the freedom to keep my house tidy, cook meals for my man and potentially foster sooner than expected as well.

This is the breakthrough I needed. I know we haven't even left for Europe yet (42 Days!) but I am a person of huge ambition who needs constant action and motivation. I had no idea what I wanted to do when we got back. I'm still open to a lot of options but finally, finally I'm excited about the potential this new beginning holds.

When was the last time you made a life-changing decision and how did it work out? I think I can, I think I can...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Singing his Praises

Everyone has something they're especially good at, a specialty of sorts. I'm not too sure what mine is, although I make an exceptionally good Chocolate Mousse. Courtney's is definitely singing. He is amazing, and I'm not saying that because I'm biased.

Well before we were together, we were at a party at Squish's house and he burst into song, most likely about something silly or instead of speaking the answer to a question. Soul Buddy and I looked at each other, behind the back of a rather inebriated Long Haired Boy and raised our eyebrows. "Wow, he can actually sing!" one of us mouthed to the other. It was a big old nothing moment at the time, a moment of surprise and we were definitely impressed, but the moment faded away into the night like so many others. Now, it's the moment I first heard my love sing.

Until that point I had no idea that he had been in bands, one of whom we were fans of, but only after he had left it. Courts has a reputation I can only dream of as a singer, one where he gets asked to do guest vocals for existing bands. He doesn't even have to be in a band to get to go on stage and for every person who exclaims "Oh my gosh, I had no idea you could sing!", there's another nodding their head knowingly, in on the secret all along.

He's into metal, and metal only, but that doesn't mean he growls. Courts passion is power metal, he sings clean vocals and reaches ridiculously high notes without resorting to falsetto. I guess the most well known example of similar vocals for anyone scratching their heads and thinking 'Power what?' would be Iron Maiden, most everyone has heard 'Run to the Hills', a god awful song but an example all the same. Courts would hate this comparison, but he screams like Sebastian Bach, who I'm a huge fan of. It all amounts to something very sexy, and I'm the only one that gets to take it home.

I understand if you don't want to listen to 7 minutes of some other chicks boyfriend singing, but skip to 3m20s for a cute bit and around 4m20s for a really good scream. Or search, erm, 'Manowhore' on YouTube for more!
I did just that on Saturday night, after Courts and some friends did a Manowar tribute gig at the Thirsty Dog in Auckland. The silly boy wasn't happy with his vocals but he did an amazing job. Squish and Lobster were there, and a work friend turned up and stood awestruck next to me as Courts lifted the ceiling. Soul Buddy and her Mister turned up half way through, racing to see him after a family 21st, and Mister was rather impressed having not completely understood SB's excitement initially.

As much as I love his singing, I hear it all the time. The best part of the gig for me was seeing everyone else's faces appreciating what I already love. Courtney's singing is one of the main reasons our Europe trip has an end date (along with debt and furbabies) because his reputation doesn't yet follow him internationally. One day it will.

What does your other half do that you are most proud of, that fills you up and has you wanting to tap on everyones shoulder asking 'Did you see that!'?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easing Back Into Sugar

I have now been sugar-free for almost 4 months. It's only 6 weeks until we go to Europe and when we get there I don't want to be chained to my sugar-free convictions because there will be so many amazing new foods to try. Some of these might be once in a lifetime opportunities, for example Sfogliatelle. Sfogliatelle is fairly unique to Naples, Italy. Although you can find it elsewhere it differs region to region, and be damned if I'm not going to try the real thing.

It's a daunting thought, easing back into sugar, because I know how easy it will be to give myself an inch and take a mile. I don't want to end up back where I started, slowly killing myself with the most easily available refined white substance in the world. Easter weekend was an easy place to start. My Mum bought me an Easter Egg but also a box of Jarrah White Hot Chocolate. Jarrah is within my 3% sugar allowance and it is so good when you just need a sugar fix. I gave her back the egg and kept the Jarrah.
I was so proud of myself for passing up the Easter Egg but then over the weekend I ate 3 Cadbury Creme Eggs, 3 Hershey's Kisses, a bottle of V and a small bowl of Chocolate Mousse. On the other hand when I went to the supermarket on Monday I walked straight past the 50% off Easter Eggs. I need to continue consciously making good decisions for myself.

Can I still call myself Sugar-Free? Probably not. I hated when I bought the V (on the way to a gig, at which I drank nothing but a sugar-free Vodka and Diet Coke) and our friend asked "Wait, aren't you sugar-free?". Courtney does it too, if I have a treat on occasion (I have always allowed myself one a week) he will say "Oh, that must be sugar-free dessert", knowing full well it's not. I know he's joking and I shouldn't take it to heart, but I've tried really hard for the last 4 months to really turn my health around and I don't want to feel guilty when I treat myself that once.

I'm still a little hesitant to allow myself this easing of rules. After the creme eggs, I realised I just don't love chocolate the way I used to think I did. Of course I like the taste, but the main reason for eating it is probably more a need for sugar rather than a want for the taste. I hope I can focus on eating things for taste, not sugar as I ease away from the strict rules of the last 4 months.

I do not want to go back to Milos for breakfast and Chocolate for afternoon tea. It's not necessary. It's not about a new experience. It's not about a special occasion. It's about addiction, and I will not be a slave to it anymore.

Have you ever eased back into 'normal' life from a diet or eating plan? How do you keep an inch and leave the mile alone?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Are you Living Your Dream Life? Part One: Penny

I was talking to a friend the other day about her job. More so, whether or not it was right for her or not. She's been doing it for years, she's really good at it, but the company isn't super supportive and she isn't able to grow in her role very well. It's time for my dear friend to move on, but where to? 

"I can't figure out what I want to do. I've made a decision to stop fluffing around! That is my 1/4 life resolution. Stop fluffing around. Just bloody decide and stick to it. Anything!"

This is where the problem lies. She's not sure what she wants to do, but she has some ideas. Each idea though, requires potential further education, a lot of commitment and potentially some financial restructuring. Whichever she chooses will be a big risk, but is it not a bigger risk to not choose one? My lovely friend is very smart, both academically and in the way of life experience. Her life is filled with very successful relationships, lovely belongings and comfortable routines. The thing is though that for all her happiness she could be so much happier.

It got me thinking. We all know I've been thinking lots about what I'll do for work when I get back and about going to Uni next year, but even I don't really know what I want to be doing. Hearing about her dreams and goals and all the possibilities ahead of her, inspired me. If she inspired me, then surely she'd inspire you too right? I asked her to guest post but she's a little post-shy, so I thought I'd start a series on similar stories and see if any of you want to play too. If you want to guest post, answer the questions below and send them to me through the Contact Me tab. When I post your responses I'll link to your blog or website so please link back!

Who are you and what is your life like now?

Me (left) and my sister
Well, you already know who I am. My current life is an alarm every morning at 6.25am. I lie  in bed for 10 minutes twittering amongst the little communities I try and push my way into. I shower, get ready, do the dishes, make the lunches. I work 8.30-5pm developing training documents, delivering workplace training, and recruiting more people to train. After 5pm I often work on the phones, doing the job I teach people how to do, for extra money and something to do while I wait for Courtney to finish (he does rostered shifts so doesn't always finish at the same time as me). If I finish work early enough, I do nails many nights, or I write, or I watch a movie in bed with Courts. If we finish late, I eat cheese on toast and go straight to bed. On Saturday mornings we go to the farmers market, my favourite time of the week. I'll go out once on the weekend, and I'll spend most of Sunday writing, packing to move, and planning for Europe. 

What would you do all day, week or year if you were living your dream life?

On a daily basis, heaven for me would be waking up with no alarm clock. I don't mind being woken up by people, just not the alarm, because it means I have somewhere to be and I'd usually rather be somewhere else. Maybe I would be woken up by kids climbing into bed with me. We'd eat fresh fruit and muesli with yoghurt (in my dream life, the children would like this) while sitting outside on the deck in the sun. I'd do the dishes and tidy the house (yes, even in my dream life) and then I'd sit at the computer and do some writing, or I'd do nails for a couple of clients while the children were playing or at play group. 

In my dream life, there would be more than one child, but not all my own. I would be fostering, and making a difference to individual lives one at a time. In the afternoon we would go to the park, or we would help at the SPCA or we would do Mums and Kids Pilates classes - just something out of the house. In my dream life, we wouldn't own a TV. I would have dinner ready when Courtney got home and after dinner, eaten all together at the table, I would tutor in Classical Studies or I'd go to singing lessons or I'd do some more writing. 

As the days turned into months we would set off on adventures. If I was blessed with foster children, we would explore New Zealand. If we were between foster children, we would take a few months to explore a new country, biological children in tow, a la Soul Travellers

What would your job be?

I wouldn't have just one. Courtney would have a job that was Location Independent (this is my dream life, not his!) and could be done on the road, or one where he could take a few months off. I would make money from my writing, and from nails when I was home. I could see myself hosting travellers and doing private tours, or teaching new foster caregivers how to do the best job possible. I could make dining tables for people! Most of all I just want to work with under privileged children and make their lives better, even if for a short time, so that they have a little bit more hope or ambition or comfort when they leave me than when they arrived.

Why would it make you happy?

I've only worked in an office for 6 years, and I've loved a lot of it, but I don't want to die having spent over 11520 hours aka 480 days aka 1.3 YEARS of my life (the current tally) sitting behind a desk breathing in air conditioning and ruining my eye sight further with computers and flourescent lighting. I know that a lot of you will have spent a lot longer than that doing the same thing. But if I keep doing that until I retire at potentially 65, I will have done it for a solid 8.8 years of my life. If I then get hit by a bus leaving the office for the last time, I may as well have died at 57 years of age for all the good the extra 8 years did for me. There's got to be a better way, and I know the things above make me feel the most relaxed and the most happy and the most worth it

So what's stopping you?

Let's see. I have a nasty personal loan I would like to get rid of. After Europe that is my next goal, to be rid of it once and for all. 

I am not ready to have children because I am not a good enough person to be able to teach them everything they need to know by example. I am working on everything I dislike about myself and when I think I have it at least more-sussed-than-I-do-now, I will consider it. 

Fostering I haven't been able to do because I have worked full time. Being forced to quit in order to go to Europe is a blessing in disguise. If I build nails up and find other sources of income, I can get my caregivers certificate and start when we have a good house and are a bit more settled. I've always had flatmates too which doesn't allow for fostering, and I do not want them again. 

To get the nails thing up and running I will get a nice car with classy ads on it. I will work my butt off to get new clients. I will host nail parties and visit shops and get the sales assistants to wear my nails. I will write whenever I am not doing this. I will pitch my books again and again. I will make my blog the best blog out there. 

If you would like to contribute to this series on Dream Lives, I'd love you to! Please use the Contact Me tab to submit your answers to the same questions. I'll post a new one each Sunday now that the Bliss Challenge is over.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Follow This Link

Because it is super relevant to a lot of what we chat about, you and I...

Hope you are having a wonderful Easter weekend!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Finding Home Comforts When You're Away

48 Days. 6 weeks and 6 days. So soon!! We move even sooner, to house sit for Monty and Nurse B while they head off on safari and conquer Mt Kilimanjaro. Our flatmate moved out last weekend  so his room has become storage for two growing piles - things that are still on Trade Me and everything going to Europe.

Everything we couldn't part with,
waiting for moving day.
It seems absurd to be packing for Europe 6 weeks out from departing, but there is a method to our madness (I should say 'my'). Next weekend, our lounge suite, dining table, bedroom furniture, beanbag and TV cabinet head to my sister's house to fill out their somewhat empty spaces. Our bookcase, gas heater, my desk, the blanket box and all our boxes go into Mum's storage locker. All we will have left is our bed, Courtney's computer and desk, a suitcase to take to Monty's, and a bag to take to Europe. So if I don't pack for Europe now, half of what we need will end up in storage and it will be a mad panic to find everything.

We struck an awesome deal with the Tongan family moving into our house after us. They have only just moved to New Zealand and have very little in way of possessions or money, so they are purchasing our beds from us, and we are giving them our spare towels and sheets. Thank goodness for this arrangement or we'd have no beds for the last week in the house either!

As I scour shops and the ever helpful Trade Me for things like money belts, toilet bags and melamine dinner ware, Courtney assists by piping up 'Why don't we just get it when we get there?' every now and then. Not helpful! He said the same thing about the tent, the same thing about sleeping bags, the same thing about headsets for the bike and shampoo and shaving gel and... everything we have ready to pack. 

I said to him the other day while spending hours trying to get him to decide on dinnerware, that we needed it sorted so we could pack. "Why don't we just get it when we get there?" came the predictable reply, "We won't need it in Ireland". "No", I said, but we'll need it in London!". "Will we?" came back Courtney. We might be staying with friends in Ireland but when we arrive at the hostel in London around midnight , damned if I'll be out shopping for cereal bowls before breakfast the next day! 

His 'n' Hers sleeping bags, mats, toiletries... OCD much?
I'll admit I am organised to the extreme, but it's my way of coping without creature comforts on the road. I've spoken before of needing a tidy house to be able to function - "A cluttered house is a cluttered mind" - and I'm the same with travel. We don't know what our rooms will look like, where to go to buy a loaf of bread, how much we'll pay or where to get gas. In each new location we will need to learn how to connect to wi-fi, where to charge our phones and laptop, where the communal kitchen is and which shops are a rip-off. We will navigate three separate currencies and 27 stops including 1 home stay, 3 festival campgrounds, 1 cabin, 2 hotels, 4 hostels and 16 campsites. When we do have our own space, it will be a nylon room big enough for the two of us to lie in and little else. Amongst all this madness, all I ask is that I know I have the paperwork for the next stop and that when I need a fork or a hair tie or a toothbrush or a bandaid, I know where it is. 

One of the few things I dislike about camping is the act of getting ready each day. I am not a vain person, far from it, but as with most girls I feel my best when my hair is coloured, cut and straightened, my eyebrows are shaped and tinted, my nails are done, my legs are shaved, my skin is clear, my mascara on and my clothes are clean. All of this doesn't bode well with how lazy and cheap I am. I bite my nails (or I did until 4 weeks ago), I colour my hair myself, I get my eyebrows tinted half as often as I should and my darling Long Haired Boy broke my GHDs. So at the best of times I feel less than my full potential. 

When you go camping you then have to shower in the communal cubicles without getting your fresh clothes wet and without letting anything touch the floor. Your wet feet go through your dry jeans unless you can balance jeans and towel and standing on one foot, or you stand on the bench seat. You unpack and repack your toiletries daily, if you dare to straighten your hair you end up being one of 'those girls' hogging the power points and the mirror. No matter what you do, your clothes will always be strewn around the tent and have grass on them.

Courtney's sister offered to let me use her toilet bag but I was very particular about buying new ones, one each for me and Courts. Each one has everything we could possibly need in the divided boys and girls bathrooms, so that I can go into the bathroom and not worry about where my hairbrush is or whether Courtney has the toothpaste or when my hair tie breaks. It seems pedantic to most people and I completely understand it, but for me it's a coping mechanism necessary to enjoying 4 months camping. 

Any other tips or tricks for starting each day feeling fresh and ready instead of damp and camera-shy?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Starting Young

Even at 18 I was ambitious. Having given up a scholarship to do a degree in Interior Design, I was living in Australia with my boyfriend, working casual hours, living with his parents and dreaming of better days. It was at 18 that I wrote this out (maybe after reading this, Courtney will understand why he can't stop me dreaming about what we will do post-Europe before we've even conquered that) -

 In 2005, I moved home from Australia, with boy in tow. I lived at home with Mum, broke up with boy, and somewhere towards the end I got back together with boy. I saved bugger all, bought a TV, Home Theatre System and a solid wood TV Cabinet, my first grown up purchases. I did buy a car, one which lasted me a good 5 years. I bought a laptop. I got my P's (Provisional license in Australia - the stage before a Full or Open license) and I got contacts. When I moved home I got a job with a utility company and worked my way up the Call Centre ranks. I met Monty there. I rekindled my friendship with Wozz after a couple of years apart. I visited Melbourne, Australia for the first time. 

Even at the time of writing the list, I knew my income goals, which were in addition to the savings, were ridiculous. I also knew if I didn't push myself I'd stay at Pizza Hut forever. I did OK though, in terms of income for my age.

In 2006, when I was 20, I moved out of home with boy, got two beautiful puppies, and my first Personal Loan. I used the loan to pay for beautiful new furniture (which the puppies promptly destroyed) and pay the excess on an insurance bill for a minor car accident. As well as paying my loan installments, I saved $3,500 towards a house before having to spend it cleaning up boy's messes, after which I broke up with boy for the second and final time. I completed the Polytech course I had hoped to complete in 2005, with an overall mark of A+. Despite having skipped out on the scholarship for Interior Design, I at least now had a (lesser) qualification in the subject. I didn't pay a dime on my student loan above what I had to. I did buy a bedroom suite.

In 2007 I saved nothing towards a house however I did travel through the USA, seeing New York, Philadelphia, DC, Memphis, Nashville, Las Vegas and LA. I saved for much of it and topped up my personal loan for the rest. I applied for several Uni papers extramurally, added them to my student loan and then used my student allowance to become far too hungover to pass my exams (if I turned up at all). I paid the minimum off my student loan through my position at the utility company and somehow avoided being fired for turning up hungover and exhausted for long enough to meet a new boy and get my act together. With my new found mental clarity (not to mention that of my liver) I moved on from said utility company and found myself at new utility company, that which I still work for today. Oh, and I already owned a lounge suite.

In 2008 I had just finished my course to become a Nail Technician. I had come to the conclusion that getting a personal loan probably hadn't been the best idea and that if I wanted to get rid of it I needed More Money. Nails was something I could do from home, that had a decent profit margin and that could set me up for a decent part time income one day when I had kids. I saved nothing towards a house. I saved nothing towards an OE. I gave up paying for Uni papers I never finished. I paid nothing but the minimum off on my student loan, which was disappointingly huge despite the meek returns. I got my first tattoo. Soul Buddy and I got back together after being apart for a couple of years. I got single again. Oh and I already owned a dining suite. 

I started 2009 by changing jobs within the same company, moving into Training where I remain to this day. I saved nothing towards a house. I saved nothing towards an OE (Overseas Experience, for those not familiar with the term). I paid the minimum off my student loan. I cemented some seriously amazing friendships (Lealea and Squish, I'm looking at you). I got more tattoos. I suffered my first non-boy heartbreak when one of my two puppies was hit by a car while we were away for the weekend (she was at home with a pet sitter). I visited Brisbane again for Soundwave 2009 in a trip combined with my first trips to Perth and Sydney in Australia. I met Courtney for the first time. A boy moved in with me.

In 2010 I did not buy a house. I did buy a kitten. I did not travel to London, Spain, France, Greece or Italy, although it's nice to know I'm doing it only one year after I wanted to. I had already been to LA and New York. I went to Soundwave 2010 in Brisbane. I got engaged. Boy paid my student loan off so that we could save for a house. I went to Rarotonga for the first time. I realised boy was not the right one. I got un-engaged. I visited the South Island for the first time. I met Slash. 

I paid back boy for the student loan and got my total debts down to their lowest point since their inception. They had climbed and climbed over the years but now I had no student loan, owed no individuals (ie. Mum or boy) and had zero hire purchases. For the first time in a long time I had all my debt in one place and I kicked it's ass. By the end of 2010 I had paid off $20,000 in 2 years. I moved out of my house - the same one I moved into when I moved out of home 4 years earlier. 

On moving day my flatmate said 'What's going on with you and Court's? You keep looking at each other'. As far as I was concerned, nothing was. 

In 2010 I got my first restraining order, a police-requested one against a different flatmate, who had drunkenly trashed the house we were moving out of the first night we slept away from it. Hopefully it will be my last. I also had my laptop stolen from our housewarming and sold to a gang down south. By process of elimination the culprits (friends of the first flatmate) were determined and then traced, returning the laptop after buying it back off the gang. Who on earth does stuff like this happen to other than me? No one I've met, that's for sure.

In 2010, a month after moving, Courts and I realised what flatmate had seen all along, and the rest is history. 

In 2011 I still don't have a house. I already have a puppy, although he's about to turn 5. I meet my income goal. In 2011 I will visit 11 countries - I've done Soundwave 2011 in Australia and will see Ireland, England, France, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Italy and Greece. 

I don't have a student loan but I do have a personal loan. In 2011, I will pay it off, even if the bank doesn't think I can. 

In 2011 I will buy a new car, once which I am proud to drive. Courtney and I will buy a new bike and upgrade his computer. 

In 2011 I will attempt to write a book. 

I will grow my nails business. 

Iwill go to Soundwave 2012. 

I will enquire about getting my Caregiver qualifications so that until I can be a foster parent, I can at least be involved in the organisations that help them. 

I might look after a Guide Dog puppy to give Toby company. I might not. 

I might try and get into a band again. 

I might train to do eyelash extensions as well as nails. 

I will go back to Pilates. Maybe I'll learn to teach it. 

A 9-5 office will not be the thing that sums up my life, unless it has the benefits to quantify it.

In 2012 I will buy a house, which I will sell for profit. In 2012 I will start my degree. Courtney will complete his degree. I will not get a student loan. Courtney and I will go on a cruise. We will decide on our next overseas adventure. 

You can't see the last line of 2011 but it says 'In 2021 I will be 35 and I will be a millionaire'. You can laugh. I didn't think it was going to land in my lap, but even at 18 I knew if I didn't add it to my goals, it wouldn't happen. In 2021 I will be in a stable relationship. I will have worked with charities I care about. I will foster. I will have a child. I will have seen South America, India and Africa. I will own a home and an investment property. I will have my degree. Other than my mortgage I will be debt free. 

In 2021 I will have redetermined these goals a thousand times, but I will have achieved most of them. 

Forget the 'I'd like to's and the 'I wish's... In 2021, what will you have done?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Always Unique, Totally Intelligent, Sometimes Mysterious

Thinking to yourself, do you know what Autism is? Would you recognise an Autistic person if you met one? Most people wouldn't, because Autism is not a black and white condition, it's a spectrum, with an infinite number of variations. It affects social and communication skills, sometimes to the point that an Autistic person may have never spoken a single word and can't express themselves. Often it is more that they just find these seemingly instinctive skills to be difficult to master.

Autistic people look no different to anyone else you meet, and because of the nature of the spectrum, it's likely you know someone who is Autistic and don't realise it. 40,000 people in New Zealand have either Autism or Asperger syndrome, which is closely related. According to the Autism NZ website it's seventeen times as common as Downs Syndrome, and I bet you've met a lot of people with Downs Syndrome, right?

The thing is, I'm the worst person in the world to be talking about Autism, because I know nothing about it first hand. I have no idea why I feel so connected to it, but I always have. When I was a child I read Babysitters Club books all the time, and one of the children the characters occasionally babysat for was Autistic. The passages about a child who had never spoken a word but could play any song on the piano minutes after hearing it for the first time, fascinated me. Many Autistic people have extraordinary talents such as artistic or musical ability or incredible memories and the very idea was intriguing even to an 8 year old.

The company that I work for also supports Autism NZ by donating a percentage of profit to the organisation when a customer nominates this action on their account. Since I work in Training it's my job to bring awareness to new staff so that they can share it with customers. I don't know how accurate the portrayal of Autism is in the video below, but it has been useful in Training to give new employees an idea of the magnitude of the disorder. Our ex-CEO had an Autistic child and so our company was always very active when Awareness campaigns came around.

So despite knowing very little about Autism and not being involved first hand with any people that have it, I do feel a connection to it for some reason. I've been drawn to blogs about families who deal with it everyday, and they're some of the best and most uplifting blogs I follow. So since I know so little, if you want to know more you should check out Leechbabe's Stuff With Thing blog and Autismfather on Twitter. These guys are awesome, and so are their children.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Who Was Your Favourite Teacher at School?

Good teachers can change lives. They have the potential to touch so many lives and at such an important time too. Bad teachers can do so much damage and yet good ones... heaven sent.

We already know how much I adore David Tillinghast, my darling singing teacher. He is amazing, and he gave me the confidence to sing and sing well. David isn't the only teacher that has changed my life though...
When I was 7, I had a teacher named Mrs Grant. When we were 6, everyone crossed their fingers that they would get Mrs Grant because her room was the most colourful and she was so pretty. During the week that the 7 year olds got to visit Kelly Tarlton's aquarium each year, fairies would visit overnight and the room would be transformed into an underwater fairy tale. Fishing nets made from thickly tied roped hung from the ceiling. Fish dangled underneath, suspended amongst seaweed of cellophane and crepe paper. Starfish and Octopus lounged on the walls and the windows were covered in blue and green cellophane too, turning the whole room into the depths of the ocean as the sun shone through.

I remember during the summer holidays before the year I was 7, walking through the school grounds with Mum and some friends to play on the playground equipment. We peaked through the windows of Mrs Grants Room 3 and sure enough, name tags already stood proudly on each desk. When we spotted my name, that was it. Even at 7, the whole year felt full of potential, because I had the best teacher in the whole school.

That year, I got in the most trouble of my entire school career, fell in with my first 'wrong crowd', made my first best friend, saw my parents separate and my Dad move out of home. But every time something I did made Mrs Grant happy, I knew I was heading in the right direction, and to strive harder.
I didn't have another teacher that compared until I was 15. I had always been good at English and Art classes, but Maths and Science were my downfall. I thought I was terrible at science even though I tried so hard at the experiments and put so much effort into every failed Science Fair exhibit. Mr Ward changed that. I have never known a teacher with so much energy and enthusiasm. His explanations just clicked with me and his passion was inspiring. That year, I got 79% in School Certificate Science, the first year of formal high school qualifications. 1% off an A grade, and far from the 50% averages of previous years.

Even when Mr Ward was having a bad day, he didn't let that affect us. Sick of standard curriculum, he once declared it National Dry Ice Day and bought in a chilly bin full of it. Every class that day, no matter what year they were in, got to spend the whole hour playing with dry ice and watching Mr Ward make it squeal by pushing coins into it amongst other tricks and experiments. I recall him telling us how a particular chemical reaction had led to great Flying Machines when he was younger before saying "bugger it, come on guys!". He led us out the back door of the classroom, put a couple of the boys on look out lest he get in trouble, and then proceeded to climb onto the roof of his classroom and launch said flying machines, made on the spot with the materials in the classroom.
The following year, I was inspired enough to want to do Science again. Mr Ward specialised in Chemistry and I seriously considered taking Chemistry purely to have him as a teacher again. In the end I chose Biology, just in case I decided to study something related to animals after school. Biggest mistake ever, I should have done Chemistry. The Biology teacher was one of the worst I ever had. I failed that subject an gave up on science.

In my final year at high school, I was lucky enough to have two of these heaven sent teachers. Mr Thomson taught us English and all blame can be attributed to him for my love of 1950's movie stars. He introduced us to Grace Kelly, Jimmy Stewart and of course their work with Alfred Hitchcock. This led me to seek out Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and films like Casablanca. When I get to Monte Carlo and stand on Avenue Princesse Grace, it will be because of Mr Thompson.

In the very same classroom, I had the honour of being taught by Miss Waugh. Miss Waugh was my Classical Studies teacher, and she ignited a flame that will never die out when she introduced me to the world of Classics. I had taken the subject because I thought it sounded interesting. Mrs Waugh though, had a passion for her subject like no teacher I've ever come across, and she passed it on to me.
Even after I left school and moved to Australia, I nerdily sent her a Christmas card to say thank you for being such an inspiration. Even worse, I could not have been more excited when she replied. Similar to my experience with David and singing, knowing Miss Waugh believed in me meant anything was possible. When I returned to New Zealand a few years later I did a few papers in Classics through extramural studies at Massey Uni. Miss Waugh (now Mrs Spence) is the entire reason we are going to see the Pont du Gard in France, explore Rome and visit Greece. She is the reason I spent half a day pouring over vases and busts at the Met in New York City and carefully packed away my ridiculous collection of text books and philosophers prose to store while we're away instead of selling them.

Miss Waugh is the reason that I've decided to go to Uni next year and get my degree in Classical Studies. I won't graduate until I'm 30 and that thought alone is terrifying, but if I don't run away to lead tours in Greece, maybe I'll do a teaching diploma and grow up to be just like her. I can only hope.

Who was your best teacher at school and what did they inspire you to achieve?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

THIS is Bliss

Excuse the shoddy photo quality. We are Sunday-Roasting and I am the happiest I've been in a long time. Even the dishes are cute.

Forget A-Ha Moments, I'm About to Bliss-Out

Once again I failed miserably at following the Bliss challenge. But we already knew that right? Or at least made an educated guess to that effect. All was not lost however!

Monday: Nail Art Just Plain Nails

I absolutely love nail art. When I was 14 I owned yellow nail polish purely for painting the centres of daisies. I never considered myself a 'beautician-type' but when I needed some spare cash and decided nails would be a good side-income, those decorative inclinations came flooding back. A lot of my clients come especially for nail art and the chance of being one of a kind, so I do a fair bit of it on a regular basis, but what I really love are the big challenges, like a tropical island with real sand or a 3D Hello Kitty created directly onto the nail.

I didn't do anything spectacular on Monday but one thing that is really making me happy right now - I have real nails! Not the best thing to vouch for when I make my income from acrylics, but I am a nail biter from way back, so this is a big deal. I had acrylics on for awhile, so my nails had grown underneath. When we were in Napier 3 weeks back, I got bored and ripped them off (a BIG no-no, don't do it!). I borrowed a file from Courtney's sister and tidied them up, never expecting them to last. Although they aren't in the best condition due to how rough I am with them, I've kept them long for 3 whole weeks just by keeping chips and sharp edges filed. With nothing to pick at or play with, I ave no reason to bite them. You may scoff at the idea, but I'm super proud.

P.S. Monday was my darling Soul Buddy's 25th birthday and my nephew's first birthday, so big Happy Birthday's all round!

Tuesday Animal Rights 

Animal Rights are on the Bliss List because I love my furbabies and I'm a big supporter of the SPCA. Every year at Christmas I take a stash of towels and canned food down for them, so I thought I'd do the same. I'm a terrible person because I just didn't have time. That's a shoddy excuse, because out of everything I don't have time for, I should have made time for this. I guess I can start by telling you all to go here if you want to support the SPCA. A lot of family pets became strays after the Christchurch earthquake and SPCA branches all over the country are working to rehome them, because there aren't enough people in Christchurch that are in a position to adopt right now.

On the bright side, on Tuesday I did get to spend time with Squish, because we ended up doing her nails. We also did them in our winter pyjamas, which made me very happy. Winter pyjamas are as blissful as flannelette sheets, which is a lot.


...was a big old nothing day for me. I didn't do anything spectacular as a was mid-meltdown. Unless you call meltdowns spectacular.

Thursday Musicals

Oh how I love thee. I was thinking just today about London, one of our first stops when we get to Europe, and how we get to see Wicked at the West End. We're also seeing Lion King at the West End the night before we leave Europe to come home. I've already seen it in Melbourne and on Broadway. I hated the movie (Don't hate me, I just can't stand sad animal movies, which let's face it, all animal movies are) but I'm a little obsessed with the incredible spectacle that is the Lion King stage production.
On Thursday I planned to watch the Sound of Music which I love almost as much as I love Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It didn't happen though, I was busy working with Miss Nails, but at least I had a good gossip. Thank goodness for day dreams, Wicked here I come.

Friday needed no reason to be Blissful other than that it was the end of a very stressful week. We went to a beautiful friend's 25th birthday drinks and made it home in one piece. Saturday was not much better. Pouring rain was lovely to wake up to but didn't help my chances of getting a hungover Courtney out to a Farmer's Market. I woke up feeling like I was hungover despite being 100% sober (and not eating the Cheesecake Factory mudcake that called to me at the party) and the day took a long time to pick up. I've been a ball of stress this week and topped with the headache I carried around all day, I decided to skip Courtney's brothers Welcome Home (from two months working in Noumea) party in favour of some much needed me-time. Courts was a bit disappointed but went off with his sister to the party without me. I'm glad I stuck to my guns. I got some more packing done, a bit of writing, and a lot of relaxing. Not the kind where you sit and watch TV or read a book, but the kind where you are left to your own devices, no distractions and you get stuff done. Bliss.

Sunday Roast

After talking about missing out on Sunday Roast's the other week, I bit the bullet and made it happen. I have a big-ass chicken to go with potatos, kumara, pumpkin and mushrooms. I'm making my world famous Chocolate Mousse and Blondie is bringing Feijoa Crumble, or so I've been told. Everyone who loved roast night when we did it every week will be there, along with a few new faces. Everything I love about life will be in one room this very evening and that is enough Bliss to cover my week in it's entirety. I can't wait.

What did you Bliss-Out on this week?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

This Song Reminds Me of You...

Happy Saturday night my lovelies :) Welcome to another Mumra Playlist...

Mumra Playlist

Long Haired Boy, this song reminds me of you...

Little Sister, this song reminds me of you...

Soul Buddy, this song reminds me of you (cause of your MB20 phase circa year 2000!)...

Squish, this song reminds me of you...

Wozz, this song reminds me of you (erm, cause I was obsessed with it back in the marathon phone calls days, it's a compliment, promise)...

Monty, this song reminds me of you :D...

Mumma, this song reminds me of you...

Bunny Girl, one week from your anniversary, this still reminds me of you xxx...

(Skip 10 seconds in, to avoid the beep)

Poems in Your Pocket

Poems in Your Pocket is a guerilla movement to print out poems and leave them somewhere for one day in April. It was April 14th and I didn't have a chance to join in but I thought I would share this, my favourite piece ever, and one that I have kept with me for years.

"I give her my dreams.
She dyes them red.
I give her my breath.
She turns it into rustling leaves.

She calls me from the throne of the rising sun.
Her chirp like a match flickering
On a dark and windy threshold."

from 'The Bird,' by Charles Simic in Selected Poems 1963-1983

So many possible meanings, such beautiful imagery and so easy to envision something beautiful from it.  

Friday, April 15, 2011

Stress Bunny

Don't you wish you had a PA that could handle all of the stress in your life? The last few days have been a huge test. Nothing spectacularly horrible has happened, but a lot of little things have added up and ended in tears more than once. I think it's a natural part of some sort of life cycle - that every now and then, no matter how big or small, everything will get to be a bit too much.
First of all, packing is a nightmare. I have a very full house and no room to put the piles of 'Packed', 'To Pack', 'To Sell' and 'To Throw Out'. The piles are well and truly merged and the disaster zone I now live in is well and truly impacting on my nerves. I need to live in an uncluttered environment to be able to think straight and function. I'm not over the top about it - I'll happily accept organised chaos. Days worth of dishes, spilt dinner left by anonymous beings on the stove for me to clean up when I get fed up enough and washing piles everywhere are not organised chaos. The sleeping bags we bought for Europe that won't go back in their damn bags and are unlikely to ever leave the country as a result are not organised chaos. I don't have money for anymore damn sleeping bags.

If I had a spare hour where I didn't have to do the groceries or the dishes or make lunch or do nails, and if that spare hour was prior to 10pm (when I may be awake but I am certainly not functioning) I'd be able to get on top of it so easily. I crave that spare hour. All of you parents, don't you dare say 'Wait until you have children'. I get it.

Next there was the Bike vs. Scooter incident. Like a fight in the playground, workers rallied around us in the lunchroom asking if it was really true and what happened. Letter openers and keys were offered by several staff members but of course not accepted, however tempting. I find it easier to be calm when Courtney isn't, because I know one of us has to be. I do love a challenge, and there's no way I'll succeed at keeping his head straight if I'm fueling the fury. This was a hard one though.

The most stressful part though, was after the Building Manager had emailed all of the businesses in our building and left a note on the scooter to contact him to no avail. We had started parking elsewhere - and so had the scooter. Guilty much? I just wanted to replace the mirrors and move on. My darling Long Haired Boy though had other ideas, hoping that a quiet word with the faceless scooter owner would produce a wad of cash. Outside the heat of the moment he apparently only wanted to use the promise of not-calling-the-police to coerce this payment but I can't help thinking that if they're nuts enough to snap a mirror off for no reason, they won't think twice about revenge if they don't like being confronted. I just want to buy some new mirrors and count our losses.
Besides all this drama, I was still dealing with work. We all know I love my job - generally speaking - but under all of the pressure of packing and bikes, taking a class on half way through their course was a test and a half. Every class has favourite students and challenging students. Every class has a new set of questions and learning styles. I just think the questions were amplified when so many were about things that should have already been covered. By many accounts they had been, but without the luxury of 'remember when I said...' it was harder than normal to answer them. I had to give full explanations instead, because I had no idea if they knew what I was talking about.

I ended up stopping class altogether. The room had been left a mess with chip packets and cups left from the previous week. I couldn't handle the mess at home and work so first things first, we cleaned. We then went through the entire course to date in the fastest way possible and identified knowledge gaps and a few parts that had been left till later but forgotten when the trainer changed. I felt better, we moved on, but it wasn't a highlight of my week.

When I'm in training, I don't really have time for breaks. I don't mind, the days go faster and I eat on the run. On Wednesday though, a break was unavoidable. The 'To Sell' pile at home decreased as a number of auctions closed. I have a notebook dedicated just to trying to keep track of purchases, delivery addresses and received payments in a poor attempt to stop them getting on top of me. On Wednesday a trip to the Post Office couldn't be put off any longer but it meant a super fast walk there to wait in the super long queue and then a super fast walk back to get into training before the trainees. I didn't have time to stop and the second I got back everyone had questions including non-trainees coming to see me all afternoon about another part of my job. Despite the aforementioned lack of children in my life I felt like I had several metaphorical offspring all tugging on my shirt saying 'Mum? Mum? Mum! Mum!'.

(As an aside, a big HELLO! to the man who bought my park bench and said to Courtney's sister 'Are you into blogging as well?'. It's nice to know that putting the web address in my email signature is paying off, thank you for joining us!)

I stay behind and work on the phones until Courtney finishes his shift and that same night I had a trainee sat at the desk next to me doing the same. He was the only one that elected to stay behind so I let him take calls solo and I helped him when I could. His last call turned sour when a customer wouldn't accept that another department was closed for the day and that she wouldn't have the service she wanted until the next day. I offered to take it from him after he made a wholehearted and commendable attempt to handle it himself but it didn't go down well.

I didn't handle it the absolute best could have but I certainly didn't do a bad job. I could have been more empathetic but I was tired and the customer was especially keen on venting her frustration. I gave her all the information I could. Had I said it more apologetically she may have been fine but she wouldn't listen. Eventually I told her she was talking to the wrong person and that I couldn't help her. Fullstop. She then proceeded to tell me I should be ashamed of myself, mortified with my 'behaviour', not dare to call myself 'customer service' and that I should get a clue and get a life! That was the last thing she said before hanging up in my ear. I didn't deserve it, I know I didn't deserve it. I am good at my job and good at dealing with angry customers. I just couldn't tell her what she wanted to hear. I'm sorry lady, and I promise I will remember you next time I'm tired and can't be bothered with undeserved empathy.

When I got home, there was a letter from our rental agency. It was a stock standard form letter telling me the grand list of things I need to do when we move if I ever want my bond payment to see the light of day. In theory this is all alright because we have looked after the house and it's in identical condition to when we moved in - actually it's cleaner. See the thing is, the people before us were evicted and the rental agency refused to clean it or pre-inspect it. This was two days before we were moving in and they were saying if we didn't like their rules we didn't have to move in. I didn't have a choice, where were me, my two flatmates and two pets supposed to go? There are pens drawings on the walls at toddler height, stickers on the walls of one bedroom, and a hole in the door of it too. There are stains on the carpet and rubbish in the garage. I just know I'm going to be held responsible and it's only now that I regret not sucking it up and telling them where to stick their shoddy contract.

The list included the stipulation 'Pay all outstanding Water Bills' and what do you know, there in the same delivery was the first water bill I've seen in six months. For $500. Erm, what? Yup, $500. I don't have $500. Where on earth did that water go? I'm going to have to ask everyone to chip in, because their set-rent doesn't cover the water, but holy-ball-of-stress, batman.

As this all went down, Courtney's Man-of-the-House instincts kicked in for the second time in as many days and 'If they don't give us our bond back I'll take them to court!' came bounding out. Fair call, because damned if the damage is our responsibility, but I was not in a mental state capable of dealing with the idea of court. I just wanted the whole thing to Go. Away. There's really nothing I can do other than a good cleaning job and a crossing of fingers.

I figured I'd go to sleep, have a cuddle, and when I woke up in the morning I would be in a better state of mind and ready to take on the world again. I woke up and the sleeping bags of doom were still on the floor, the dishes from last nights dinner were still on the bench and the Trade Me purchases hadn't sorted themselves overnight. The tears flowed. I'm about to make a list. When I sort everything out in my head, I'll be better able to tackle it all.

When was the last time you ended up curled up in a ball of quivering stress? What are your coping mechanisms?