Keepin It Natural

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I’ve always been the kind of girl who has a fairly large makeup collection. It’s nothing that rivals those girls of the youtube tutorials, who’ve got entire rooms dedicated to cosmetics, but even after culling a huge portion of my collection when I moved to Australia, I’ve still got (and kept collecting more of) a lot of cosmetics. What can I say? I love a good 7am transformation.

Looking at my collection, one could probably assume that I wear a heap of makeup in my everyday life. Truth be told, I actually really dislike wearing any sort of foundation (although I am a huge fan of BB creams, contrary to what I said in this post… the breakouts mentioned back then were due to a birth control switch and not my makeup!). I only started wearing foundation when my skin started going pre-teen in April of last year. I’m still on meds right now to fix it all for good, and when I do, you can bet I’ll be retiring my foundations for use at special occasions only!

My staple makeup items, and the ones I always hoard, have always been a good mascara (note that ‘good’ doesn’t mean expensive. My favourite mascaras are from Cover Girl and Maybelline), eyeliner on the outer upper eye, some brow filling-in (thanks to my 16 year old self plucking to kingdom come), and under eye concealer. That’s it.

Since summer is just around the corner I’m looking forward to simplifying my makeup routine a little bit more, which is also pretty necessary to survive the crazy heat here. It basically turns my face into a beige and black mess pretty quickly, and no amount of blotting papers is ever going to change that. I’m all about the carefree summer look, rocking a (safe) tan and not much else. The photos above are my major inspiration for this spring/summer – the girls just look so beautiful, simply done, and perfectly sun kissed. And I feel like Karlie Kloss never looks overdone. Girl is a b.a.b.e.

This year, in comparison to last, I’m so happy that I’ll be able to head oceanside with a complexion that I can be proud of sans makeup. I mentioned my skin issues many times before here, and it’s been a huge source of stress and self-consciousness in the past year. Finally I can have a carefree summer filled with sun, sunscreen of course, sand, and my newest favourite sport, surfing! I can’t wait for Melbourne to start heating up for good, at which point I’ll relegate my foundations to the back of my drawers and happily bust out the sunscreen instead. What will you be retiring for summertime? Or have you found a way to keep your makeup in place despite the heat?? Tell me your secretsssss.

Beauty Dish: August/September Favourites

It’s been ages since I’ve written one of these posts, and I’m so pumped to be able to share some of my beauty faves from the past few months with you again! In complete contradiction to this post, I’ve actually picked up the use of eyeshadow in my day-to-day makeup again, mostly due to the fact that I finally found the colour (a coppery-red) I’d been searching for in the drug stores for months! And it was on sale: meant to be I’d say. As usual, I’ve also got a few nail polish favourites, which is to be expected from the massive eBay haul I purchased a few months ago. Nail polish in Australia, no matter where you go, is always minimum 20$ a bottle, even for Revlon. So Aussie girls, if you want fair prices for your polish (like $4 a bottle), check eBay. The seller I used is this one; super fast and tons of selection!

++ Estee Lauder Eyeshadow Duo in Raisins – I fell in love with the colour of this eyeshadow duo after watching this favourites video months ago, but kind of relegated it a fantasy item because I couldn’t really justify the price ($50+ here in Oz). But after finding it on sale I pulled the pin, and I’ve been wearing it nearly every day since. The light colour is really nice and shimmery, which I wash over my entire lid, and then I use my pencil brush to put the darker colour in my crease. I love the contrast of the two colours and prefer a bit of a cut crease look, and I find the colour payoff of these two shadows is nothin but a dream. If you can afford it (or find it on sale!) I would definitely say that this eyeshadow duo is worth having, because I’ve never seen such a pretty purple colour in another eyeshadow before. And on a more superficial note, how cute is the packaging!

++ MAC Eyeshadow Duo in On The Hunt – I’ve been searching for a coppery colour like MAC’s Raving Mad (on the right) for ages, thinking it would be really pretty for summertime. It kind of looks like a sunset colour doesn’t it? It feels like the perfect shade for a dressed up night out on a patio bar in the summer, which is exactly the way I intend to spend many a night over the coming season. I bought this Maybelline palette a few months ago thinking back then that I’d found what I was looking for, but it turned out to be a bit greyish and not so copper. The MAC duo has filled the void left by Revlon, and the glittery colour is really nice to darken up my eyelid crease a bit more for nighttime. After finally finding the perfect copper eyeshadow, I can confidently say that my eyeshadow collection is complete. Well, for now.

++ Quo Crease Blender Brush – This brush came in a set that I bought back in Canada, and I never really used it until I started applying more than one eyeshadow shade to my eyes. It’s an essential one for me to put the colour in my crease, and then I use one a bit fluffier to blend everything out. If you’re not really an eyeshadow girl, or if you’re fine with just one colour washed all over your lids, I’d say you probably don’t need this brush. But if you enjoy mixing and matching and playing picasso with your eyes, I think this brush type is definitely worth the investment. I think this one is worth about 15$ from Shoppers Drug Mart back home (here’s a similar one that’s even cheaper), so it doesn’t have to break the bank at all either!

++ MAC Lip Lustre in Sophisto – I never used to be a lipstick girl, sticking instead to balms only. But for some reason I was inspired to pick a few lipsticks up before leaving Canada last year, so I bought this one and Vegas Volt from MAC. I am so obsessed with the subtle darkness that Sophisto brings to my lips – it’s not too dramatic, and it doesn’t scream “I’m wearing lipstick!”, which is exactly what I want. It’s just a bit of colour that makes your whole ensemble look a bit more glamorous, and I think it perfectly takes a daytime/office makeup face to amped-up-for-evening in a few swipes of colour. It was a perfect shade to wear for the lipstick newbie like myself, and I’d highly recommend it to someone else in the same boat. But buy it online if you’re from Aus – prices here are 2-3x what they are in North America!

++ Nivea Repair & Protection Lip Balm – I’m not quite finished my course of accutane, which has really cleared up my skin but done a number on my lips – accutane usually gives users dry skin (which I never experience on it), but can also make your lips dry and super peely (think onion skin, blech). I’ve gone through so many tubes of lip balm lately, but the one I found to be the absolute best is the Nivea Repair & Protection. I like that it has SPF30 in it, because I’m extremely susceptible to cold sores when my lips get exposed to the sun. But that’s only an added bonus. I found that the dryness and peeling caused by the accutane, which is literally impossible to stop when you’re on the meds, is drastically reduced with regular application of the Nivea balm. The fact that I’ve gone through four tubes in the past 3 months can attest not only to how annoying this side effect is (but it’s worth it for clear skin I think), but to the quality and effectiveness of the product. Imagine what it can do for non-medicated lips!

++ Essie Nail Polish in Fear or Desire – Another product that had been on my hit list for months has been the perfect tangerine nail colour. I’ve scoured many a drug store and website looking for it, and finally I found it in Essie’s Fear or Desire. I know I’ve raved about Essie before (I’ve got more than 20 Essie polishes), but they’re one of my favourite brands of nail polish. Their colours are generally quite opaque, have great staying power, and this particular colour really is exactly the tangerine-orange I was hunting for! If you can’t find this one in your local shop, definitely head online or to eBay – this colour is going to be my summer holy grail, I can feel it!

++ Butter London Nail Polish in Cheeky Chops – There’s something about Butter London polish that just feels so classy, and I don’t know why. I bought a bunch of their polishes online recently (for $12 a pop, which isn’t cheap as far as polish goes, but it’s not the 20$ retail I always see in stores), and Cheeky Chops has been another one I’ve been wanting to buy for a while. It’s such a pretty, vibrant yellow that again is perfect for the summer upon those of us down under. It’s been on my toes for the entire month, and has pretty good staying power in that respect. While I can’t say that all BL polishes have excellent stay power (I also have this colour, which did chip after 3-4 days, but is still too pretty not to wear), you can definitely extend it with my favourite top coat (also mentioned here). In combination, they’re unstoppable and – you guessed it – perfect for summer. Now all I need is the sunshine!

I Wish I’d Known: How To Look For a Rental Apartment

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When I first came up with the idea to write the Things I Wish They Would’ve Told Me series, this post was the first one that jumped into my head. It’s taken me a while to finally tackle it, but I hope that it can help you out if by chance you’re about to embark on your first rental experience. I first moved out of university residence when I graduated engineering in 2010, and was supremely intimidated at the thought of looking at apartments. I had never done it before, and was moving out to live on my own, which meant I didn’t have anybody to go home and discuss the apartment viewings with. I ended up dragging my best friend Sam along with me, just for a second opinion, and thankfully he was the voice of reason in my panic to find a new place on a deadline. Looking back, his advice saved me a lot of grief.

Since that move I’ve house-hunted a few more times, and have managed to get a few rules down in order to properly evaluate potential new homes. I’ve categorised the items below into major and minor details, with the major ones having a very large effect on your life when you move. More thought should be given to these items when you’re deciding to compromise them, because even a dream apartment can turn into a nightmare if you hastily decide that you don’t need a given vital amenity (which I learned the hard way!). If I’ve missed any items, please do add them in the comments and I’ll edit the post to suit (edited to add: check the comments, there are tons more useful tips from other experienced renters in there! Thanks for your input everyone.) – even I’ll be referring back to this when the next round of apartment hunting starts early next year!

Major Items of Great Impact:

++Utilities – This is probably one of the bigger things you’ll have to think about, especially if you live in a place that gets cold in the winter and/or really hot in the summer. If utilities aren’t included, prepare to spend at least $50-100 extra per month, depending on power/water/gas costs in your country. If the apartment is a basement, it’ll probably be a lot more temperature-stable than a top floor unit. So if you’re comparing two similarly priced apartments, one including utilities and one not, realise that the price differences can actually vary greatly.

++Fire Alarms/Exits/Sprinklers – this may not seem intuitive to most people, however it’s vitally important. Make sure wherever you move, there is a smoke detector in each area of the house, and that they work! I once lived in a very old building without any, and my mother freaked when she came to visit. Safety is numero uno, friends.

++Laundry – don’t underestimate the availability of laundry amenities. If you like to wash your clothes frequently, you don’t want to be dragging them down the street, on the bus, whatever to the closest laundromat. My preference is for in-unit laundry (no need to worry about clothing thieves either!), but generally having coin laundry in your building is survivable. Likewise, if you don’t have access to a dryer, make sure you have space to buy a clothes horse to hang out your clothes!

++Transit Routes – Unless you’re planning to live out of the city and use a car all the time, accessibility to transit routes is vital. Not just for you, but for friends you might want to have over for parties, etc.

++Parking – If you’ve got a car, obviously you’ll be thinking about the availability of parking, but even if you don’t, remember that you might have other people with cars come visit from time to time. I lived in a place with only 2hr parking, and it was a pain to have to keep moving visitors’ cars to avoid tickets!

++Soundproofing – The one stellar thing about my living in a basement apartment in Vancouver was that nobody could hear my loud music, and I couldn’t hear them. But when checking new units out, listen for the sounds of other building inhabitants, and especially consider how thick the roof/floor might be. Last thing you want is to live under a family of clompers, or girls who love to wear heels 24/7. Especially if they’re early risers!

++Lighting/Windows – again, not the most intuitive, but from someone who thought a basement apartment with only one small skylight would be fine, I can tell you it wasn’t. Adequate natural lighting should not be compromised, and its value shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s depressing and misleading (I left my house so many times thinking it was sunny out, only to step out into a chilly wind, or vice versa), and for most people, having a little bit of a connection with the outside world is a great thing.

 

A Weekend in Sydney

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If you follow me on Instagram or you’ve visited here at any point during the last 4 days and saw my insta photos in the sidebar, you’ll know that I spent this past weekend in Sydney, Australia! In my opinion Sydney is the quintessential Australian city that sums up the country to a T, as far as complete stereotypes from a non-Aussie go – it’s got sunshine, it’s got beautiful beaches, and it’s got the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. That right there is Australia to a foreigner.

The trip was a birthday gift from Luke, since my birthday was last week, and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since he booked the tickets at the beginning of the month. I’ve been absolutely dying to be able to get to Sydney since I moved here in August, but my financial situation wasn’t stable enough for me to warrant even a super well-budgeted trip. But since I became part of the permanent workforce a few weeks ago, everything lined up (including the Sydney weather!) perfectly for this weekend getaway, and now I’m just dying to go back and do it all again.

We decided to fly into Sydney on Saturday morning so as to avoid the Friday night airport chaos but still get in a good day of sightseeing and friend catch-ups on Saturday. We headed straight from the airport to Bondi Beach, which is arguably Australia’s most popular and well-known beach. It’s absolutely stunning and I felt privileged to see it without the thousands of people who flock there during the warmer months, and when we found a beach-side pub to eat lunch at I was shocked to see the Sens game on TV. Eh, Canada! After enjoying the weather in Bondi, we headed to our friends’ apartment in Manly, which is phenomenal as far as places to live go. There is actually not a single fault I could find with that place, it’s unbelievable. We stayed in their top-floor apartment overlooking Queenscliff beach and the surfers below, and walked down to the cliffs nearby to enjoy a breathtaking moonrise. First day in Sydney: massive success.

The next day I headed into the city to do some mandatory shopping (the boys were gearing up to watch UFC which is so not my cup of tea) with another friend of ours who lives in the city. We shopped in Sydney Westfield which is a ridiculously flashy mall, and then headed out for the best chinese food I’ve ever had at Lees Fortuna Court. Post-dinner we headed out for nighttime views of the Harbour Bridge and Luna Park (a teeny tiny theme park at the base of the bridge). The Vivid Sydney festival was on, so all of the major architecture of the city is illuminated in light shows that are pretty amazing to watch. And with my new tripod I was able to capture some of that to remember forevaaah!

Monday we woke up again bright and early to get started on our third and equally amazing day. We headed back to Bondi because I just hadn’t gotten my fix the first time, and had a delicious beach-side breakfast. We then headed out to do a bit of the Bondi to Bronte coastwalk, which is a spectacular walk along the cliffs. Gorgeous views (hella wind though), and sunshine for all. When we had had enough of that (just kidding, I could never have enough of that, but we had to move on) we drove down to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney city centre to walk around and get some amazing photos of the Opera House and the Bridge (I am in love with that bridge. I can’t tell if it’s an engineer thing or a tourist thing. Okay both). We took the requisite couples photos to send home to my parents, and had drinks at the Opera Bar right at the base of the Opera House. When it was finally time to go home and pack up, we were completely exhausted but still not wanting to go home. And then, on our way to the airport, the rain that had been promised to destroy our entire weekend came down all at once and flooded the streets. Talk about perfect timing!

Sydney is a completely amazing city and anybody who’s planning a trip to Australia should absolutely put that on your itinerary (that means you Dad!). The best part for me was that the whole weekend we were hosted by and catching up with good friends that we’ve known and met from Luke’s time living in Whistler. It’s funny, I had a conversation this weekend about how some of my best friends are ones I don’t see too often, but make a point to visit whenever I can, and that’s not even remotely weird to me. It’s just like, if you meet people that you just have so much in common with, it doesn’t matter that I don’t know what their plans are for this weekend, or that their car broke down last night. It matters that when we get together, we can talk for hours on end, never getting bored, and we can do the most monotonous things (or have no money to do a thing at all, as was the case in Whistler), and we still have the best time. Does anybody else have friendships like that? Over the years, this is what about 99% of my friendships have become, and I love it. I think it’s phenomenal to have friends all over the world, and it’s just that much better and more special when I get to see them in real life. So not only did I have an unbelievably great time in Sydney this weekend, the three days was made so memorable for me because I spent it with some of my favourite people in the world just being silly, having a good laugh, and enjoying the opportunity to be in the same place as they are. I couldn’t have asked for anything better, really.

To my unbelievably thoughtful boyfriend, thank you for the perfect birthday gift. I love you Lukey!

Creamy Potato Peanut Stew (Guatita)

Given that this weekend was generally uneventful, Luke and I decided that it would be an excellent opportunity to cook something completely out of our comfort zone for dinner, in order to keep things interesting. Does anybody else find this to be a perfectly reasonable way to spend a night in? Kitchen experimentation is far better than spending big bucks on a dinner out as far as I’m concerned, and far more rewarding when you’re making delicious dishes whose names you can’t even pronounce. What’d we make this weekend? Gua-ti-ta my friends. Guatita. Luckily my vegan latin cookbook, which was one of the bunch I bought and showed you here, also translated it into non-latino-foodie speak, which is ‘creamy potato peanut stew’. Phew.

It may have a foreign name, but guatita is not that hard to make. Well, the vegetarian version isn’t. I googled it, the meat version traditionally includes cow stomach so… you’re on your own with that one. But the potato, chickpea and peanut version is made of pretty easily obtainable vegetables and spices, and like any stew, just requires a liberal amount of cooking time. Also, it’s apparently an excellent cure for a hangover – but who’d be prepared enough to make this prior to a big night out? And hats off to you if you make this in your actual hung over state.

I don’t know whether it was because I scooped our rice into a measuring cup to plate it nicely next to the guatita, or because this potato peanut stew is straight up scrumptious, but eating it I felt like we were in a restaurant, it was that shockingly tasty. Who doesn’t love peanut-based sauces? (no seriously, I’d like to know. Is there actually anyone besides anaphylactics that don’t eat peanuts?) Another thing I love about this dinner is that it makes a lot of food, and you know how I feel about having enough leftovers for workday lunches.

Last thing, if you’re a vegetarian and you haven’t bought any cookbooks written by Terry Hope Romero and Isa Moskovitz, you’re crazy. Every single dish I’ve made from their books so far (including my vegan cupcakes, which are usually a direct version of or variation on their recipes) has been nothing short of amazing. Even if you’re not a veg and you’re looking to diversify your meals, I highly recommend their books. Alright already, let’s get to the good stuff, yea?

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs yellow-skinned potatoes (waxy skinned are best)
  • 1 can cooked chickpeas
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 large onion (about .5 lb), diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 white wine
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1.5 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground paprika
  • 2.5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup creamy natural peanut butter
  • 3 fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy milk
  • 2 tbsp lime juice (we used 1 lime)
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground pepper
  • slices of avocado (optional garnish)
  • hot sauce (optional garnish)
  • 1/2 bunch of steamed kale (optional garnish)
  • cooked basmati rice (optional)

Directions:

  1. Scrub the potatoes, and without removing the skin, slice into 1/2-inch pieces and place in a bowl of cold water (this prevents browning — just drain the water before using the potatoes).
  2. In a large pot, heat the 2 tbsp olive oil and garlic over medium heat. Fry until the garlic just starts to sizzle, about 30 seconds. Add the onions and pepper, and fry until soft, around 12 minutes. Deglaze the pan with wine and add the oregano, ground cumin, paprika, and 1 tsp olive oil. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the drained potatoes, chickpeas and vegetable broth. INcrease the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are tender.
  3. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the hot broth into a small bowl. Add the peanut butter to the bowl and stir to emulsify the peanut butter to a creamy, smooth mixture, adding more broth if necessary. Spoon the mixture back into the pot. Add the crushed tomatoes, nondairy milk, lime juice, and salt to the stew and stir. Taste and adjust the flavour with more lime juice or salt, if necessary. Turn off the heat, season the guatita with freshly ground pepper, cover the pot, and allow the stew to sit 15 minutes before serving.
  4. To serve, mound the rice on the plate, and ladle the stew around it. Serve with the kale and hot sauce, if desired.

For some reason, this was the first time I have ever had plain steamed kale. I usually put it in fruit smoothies, but have stopped lately because it can be quite bitter. Steaming kale takes all of the bitterness away (as long as you remove the stems), and what you’re left with is the most naturally tasty veggie I’ve ever eaten. Holy cow, who’s been keeping this a secret?! If you’re not eating this on the regular, do yourself a favour and try it as soon as you can, preferably as a garnish to your guatita! It is delicious. And for once, something this yummy is actually good for you!

Recipe: Three Bean + Quinoa Chilli

Because it’s finally getting a bit cooler here in Melbourne (and by that I mean it’s still low- to mid-twenties), and because I’m a sucker for a good one pot meal, last week I decided to bust out my trusty bean and quinoa chilli recipe for dinner. I love this recipe because it contains quinoa, which is one of my favourite foods (excellent health claims aside, I just love its texture), and because it makes enough chilli to pack for lunches for the next few days at work. It’s a perfect, easy weeknight meal, and it’s definitely best made earlier in the week to reap the benefits of having pre-made lunch for the week. But what’s obviously more important than that is it tastes so good. It’s a really flavourful chilli with lots of herbs and spices in it, and a little bit of heat if you decide to include the jalapeno.

Aside from taking the time to chop all of the vegetables, this chilli takes almost no time to prepare: 10 minutes sautéing the veggies prior to simmering, and then leave it over low heat for 30-40 minutes. Imagine that, cooking dinner and you’ve got time to do other things. It’s like that commercial where the mom buys a new mop and cleans the house in record time, and finally has time to read her book. This chilli, this is the Swiffer Sweeper of dinner recipes. I know right, mops for dinner, you’re clearly sold.

Obviously this recipe is really filling, as it’s got an insane amount of protein in it, what with the three cans of beans and the quinoa. I used to use black beans back when I was living in Canada, but since for some reason they are completely non-existent here in Australia (like seriously, how do they make any sort of Spanish/Mexican cuisine!? I can’t figure this out), I replaced them with lentils. So whichever your preference is for beans, just buy three cans of something, and toss it in. Hey, there’s no precision in cooking chilli. But from a cooking perspective, make sure you add a generous helping of herbs and spices, and I promise you this is going to be your new favourite dinner (well, after the macaroni + cheese, seriously that can’t be beat in my opinion). All that’s left to add is a crusty roll to sop up the remnants and you’re good to go!

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded (if you like extra spice, leave some of the seeds in)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2.5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked kidney beans)
  • 1 can lentils, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked lentils)
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas)
  • 1 can corn kernels
  • 4-5 small potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup tomato sauce or 1/4 cup tomato paste and 3/4 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat the oil on medium heat, then add garlic and onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onions start to become translucent.
  2. Add the peppers and the jalapeño, and cook for 5 minutes on medium-high. Add the herbs and spices (not the salt), and stir for 2 more minutes.
  3. While the veggies are cooking, add the rest of the ingredients, except the soy sauce and molasses, to a large pot.
  4. Once the veggies are cooked, add them to the large pot, and stir. Bring the pot to a boil, and then reduce to simmer for approximately 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked to your liking.

This recipe can also be made in a crockpot, which I used to use all the time back in Canada. I have yet to buy one here in Oz, but if you want to come home to a nice big meal of chilli, prepare the veggies ahead of time, as per steps 1 and 2, and then add everything to the crockpot. Cook on low for 5-6 hours. The quinoa cooks perfectly in the juices of the chilli, so you’ll come home to a delicious, ready-made meal. Enjoy!

I Wish I’d Known: The Value of Travel

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Today I wanted to change things up a bit, so I invited my little sister Alycia to write about something she wished she’d known (or listened to!) when she was younger. I hate to be the know-it-all older sister, but I tried for years to get her to see the value in experiencing life abroad, far away from home. It wasn’t until I brought her along with me on one of my trips that she really truly figured it out, and as a 23 year old who’s mere months away from graduating university, I’d say she figured it out just in time. Ain’t nothing like a trip to Iceland to change your perspective! Thanks for sharing your story sistie 🙂

How many times have you heard “I told you so” (or known that someone was secretly thinking it) when you were wrong and they were right? I hate to admit it, but in the past I was on the receiving end of that expression verrrry frequently. For example, when I was younger I thought “I need to experience acne, it’s part of being a teenager”. But when my ‘teenage experience’ popped up on my face and quite literally scarred me, Erica chimed in with: “I told you you should wash your face.” Okay, maybe I was just being dirty (hey I was like, 12!) but I guess I thought I could be one of those girls with flawless skin with little effort…. Wrong. Damn. Ah well, it wouldn’t be the last time, because later in life it turns out I would be waaaay wrong about something else: the importance and experience of travelling abroad.

When I went off to university in 2008 my parents told me that I was about to live the best four years of my life. They told me I would make friends, that I would make great memories and that I would definitely face some tough challenges. What we never really discussed was the idea of me travelling outside of my little hometown bubble. For my first two years of university, I attended school in Hawaii, and I thought that that was all the travelling I needed… luaus and mai tais are cultured, right? Wrong. Again. What about Europe? Going on exchange? Just plain ol’ adventuring through an unknown city? I never really gave it much consideration until Erica moved to Austria in the summer of 2009 (and spent the next four months travelling to different countries every weekend!? How cool is that!). All I would hear about when we Skyped was how amazing her time was, and all of the new places she’d been. Suddenly, I had this urge to travel, and it only intensified when I moved back to Canada in 2010, started at the University of Ottawa, and met friends from all over the world, all of whom loved to travel.

Then it was upon me…to travel, or not to travel? That was the question.

Well, no-brainer, of course I wanted to go. I was just so nervous. And my finances had always been a problem – I blame my social life… or so I told myself to make me feel better. The one thing that our parents always tried to stress to Erica and me was the importance of having savings, and how having money in the bank gives you the opportunity to jump on it when it arises. An opportunity like the one that arose when Erica decided to move to Australia in August 2012, stopping in Europe along the way. Would I like to come along to Iceland and London? Um, hell yes.

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“Woohooo!!! Sign me up!” I thought. But, what was I going to do about… money? I had some savings, right? Well… yes I did. But the key word here is some.

We went. We did it. I had an amazing time, but all the while, I was so concerned about my finances I found myself short-changing myself because I couldn’t fully throw myself into the enjoyment of the trip. I had money in the back of my mind 24/7. Prime example: at the Blue Lagoon, one of the most famous natural baths in the world, I wanted more than anything to buy a face mask. It was $50. You know what I didn’t buy at the Blue Lagoon, because I’d been blowing my finances on useless bracelets at H&M a few months prior? Yep.

Eventually, I realized the value in what I was doing, and the reason my parents and sister encouraged me to come on the trip with such low finances. “I have to experience being broke while travelling in order to truly appreciate what it would be like to travel with money”. Okay, that’s not exactly what I thought, but I can imagine me saying it like that if I wasn’t so desperate to have more money for the trip!

Now that I’ve finally been bitten by the travel bug, and been afforded the opportunity to travel to many places, including Iceland, London (twice now!), Ireland, the Netherlands, France, the Caribbean, Hawaii and several other states, I realize, and I’ve known this for a while, the immense value that a savings account has, and not just literally. I’m not necessarily saving for a home, a car or something large and life-changing like that. I’m saving so that I can jump on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when it comes along, like traveling overseas with my only sister who’s moving across the world. That’s not the type of thing “I can’t afford it” should have to be used on.

Sometimes it’s really hard to put your money aside, to tell your friends that you can’t go out on a Friday or Saturday night because you’re BBC (Broke By Choice — my new go-to phrase) and are saving for an adventure you don’t even know exists. Trust me, I know. But one day you’ll find out that a friend now lives somewhere exotic and wants you to visit and you’ll feel like Donald Trump saying “yeah, I can afford that!” You’ll buy your ticket, you’ll experience new cities and cultures (and food!), and have an amazing time. No pair of shoes or Friday night at the bar can give you that, right?

For me, money is always in the back of my mind. Now, even when I have some savings I constantly think, “But if I spend my money on this trip, I’ll have nothing left for the next!”. But that’s the beauty of savings. You can use them on an adventure or experience, and the memories are what you’ll have left. That is the polar opposite of nothing, if you ask me. All it takes is a little self-restraint and some imagination.

Huuuuge thank you to Alycia for putting this post together for me. I’m so happy I could share the amazing experience of travelling overseas with you little sister, and will never forget all of the fun we had in the process!

Out of curiosity, how do you feel about travelling while you’re young and carefree? Do you see the value in it? Or is it something you’d rather save for later in life? I know some people are quite content to stay at home and that’s that, but that’s just not me (or Alycia anymore). I love to travel, I love to see new things, and I love feeling totally lost in a completely foreign land. It’s unparalleled!

I Wish I’d Known: What To Do When You’ve Got Nothing To Do At Work

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Although I’d held a few jobs throughout and prior to my university studies, I had this illusion of what the working world would be like once I entered it permanently. I imagined myself an uber stylish business woman (well-fitting blazers and pencil skirts a necessity, obviously) running from meeting to meeting, working long hours, and finally getting to use all that knowledge I (partially) retained from university. I imagined it would be the ultimate payoff after years of memorisation and homework. But the reality of the working world was a little bit less than what I was expecting.

Unlike schoolwork, which is assigned in mass quantities and gets done if you have time, tasks in the working world must get done, and on time. The consulting industry (which is where I’ve been for the past two years) especially relies on this concept, because you’ve got to win your projects in a competitive market, and slip-ups can cost the company dearly. Because of this, consulting companies can sometimes be inundated with work, and at other times be slow, especially at certain times of the year (Christmastime, for example). Personally, I love coming to work with an excessively full plate because it motivates me to work hard. But when the tables eventually turned and I found myself with a very light workload for the first time, I struggled and didn’t know how to cope. How was I going to excel at work when I didn’t have anything to excel at? What should I be doing? Is this going to endanger my job, will my company decide they no longer need me?

When this first happened to me at my job back in Canada, I struggled to find my place at work without a heavy task load. I spent hours a day reading newspaper articles, blogs, or listening to YouTube clips. I’m embarrassed to admit that in a way, I wasted company time. But to be honest, I was under the impression that it was my manager’s role to keep me occupied, and if he wasn’t, I shouldn’t bother him. He was probably busy, but would get to me when he had work to pass along. But thinking this way was a huge mistake.

The lesson I wish I’d learned back then was that just because there’s no work from your manager, does not mean there’s no work. And if you want to get ahead in your career, which I assume you do, than the easiest way to stand out from your peers and fellow junior-level colleagues is to get out there and track the work down yourself. And this all begins with something I brought up weeks ago: getting to know as many colleagues as possible, both in and outside of your department, as soon as you start a new job.

When I first began my job here in Melbourne, I made a decided effort to talk to and be friendly towards as many new faces as I could. I didn’t always remember what their job title was, or where in the building they worked, but I chatted nonetheless. One of the things to remember is to mention your skills, what you’re good at, or even your hobbies. Developing relationships with people who are not your managers is the first step to keeping busy when the workload is light.

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Once you find yourself with a less than packed schedule of work, this is where you can take action. Estimate how long you’ll take to finish what’s currently on your plate. If you’ve got anything less than a day or two, it’s time to mobilise. Take a walk around the office, visit a few friends and employees outside of your department (if your workplace permits interdepartmental work – most do), and ask people if they’ve got anything that you could help with. The important thing here is to ask in advance of your potentially empty work schedule, because unless the task is urgent, it’ll take anywhere from half a day to a couple days to get even small and simple  tasks from others. Familiarise yourself with the fact that corporate time is a severely exaggerated version of real-world time: what should take someone 20 minutes will often take them a day. It sucks, especially when you’re desperate for work, but it’s the truth.

Something else I’ve learned is that volunteering for the most straight-forward, menial tasks is a great way to get an in with another department or project. Currently I’m working on a few projects at work that are quite interesting, and my involvement began by simply offering to photocopy some files for someone, or to organise their excel spreadsheet. Pay attention to the content of these documents, and ask a few questions about the project once you’re finished. By showing that you’re paying attention to the project, and being interested in learning more, you’re making impressions on the people around you. And when they decide that they need help in the future with something a bit more in depth, they’ll likely come to you because you’re the most knowledgeable (and interested) helper they can think of.

I didn’t figure this methodology out until about a year into my working life. But once I did, it’s like I magically keep busier than many of the other junior engineers in my department. I have Marketing asking me for help, I have other technical sections asking if I have a free moment, and I gladly help out whenever I can, in whatever capacity. Sometimes I’ll stay late to get it all done. Not only have I now established myself as a happy-to-work, dedicated junior employee, but I’m building relationships with people I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with. In a job market like the one we face right now, the more people that can vouch for your, the better. Working life is built upon a foundation of references, referrals, and recommendations, and the broader you throw your net, the more positively your result will be.

A year ago, when I found myself without work, I kept quiet, kept to myself, and read completely non-work-related content on the internet, assuming it was someone else’s responsibility to keep me occupied. I’m ashamed that I thought that now, because I placed my ability to succeed on someone else’s shoulders, someone else who was managing a number of other employees just like me. But when I learned to take the responsibility back, to chase up my own work and keep my timesheet full, that’s when I realised what a benefit that can be, both professionally and personally. I’ve made new friends at work, I’ve developed a reputation as an adaptable and willing employee, and I can walk around the entire building and recognise more faces and have more conversations than I ever could before. If you want to be an employee that coasts, that meets the status quo, and most importantly, is disposable, I can tell you that my old approach will work for you. But if you want to be the best you can be, to stand out amongst the sea of junior employees, and start making a name for yourself the day you step foot in the office, you now know what to do. And I can tell you from experience, it’s far more fulfilling to be the latter. Taking control of your career starts from day one, and as long as you realise that, you’ll do just fine.

Have you ever experienced the work-free work day? How did you deal with it? I think sometimes it can be nice to relax and take it easy, but other times it’s just tough. Do you have any other ideas for getting more assignments? I’d love to hear them 🙂

Stylish Bookshelves

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Decorating a new house is fun, but it doesn’t really become a home until you personalize your living space. One of the things I love about having my own apartment is that it’s just so easy to make it ‘me’, with some pieces telling you more about who lives here than others. One of those pieces, in my opinion, is a bookshelf. There are just so many things you can tell about someone from their bookshelf!

I know there’s a lot of internet hype about bookshelf ‘styling’, which I actually kind of dislike. Not that I don’t think it’s totally gorgeous when people do style their shelves (or bedrooms, or coffee tables for that matter), but I prefer to think that it all just came together unintentionally. Call me ignorant but I like to live in a world where everything just is pretty, no effort needed.

After browsing ebay and the like for weeks looking for a good secondhand bookshelf in Melbourne (why are all the furniture stores that aren’t Ikea so expensive. Can I get a Pier 1 in Australia please?), I finally found something I’m happy with. And now that it’s here, I’m trying to find things (you know, other than books) to display that will make our place feel like a home. Apparently you don’t just throw a bunch of junk on the shelf to make it pretty. I won’t tell if you don’t.

The shelves in these photos are some of my favourites from the many floating around the web. They’re not too overpacked, and I love the mix of colours and neutrals, and books with other quirky elements. I’m a big reader but I only buy my favourite books in hard copy (the others live on my iPad), and displaying those alongside fun little statues or candles is the best way to add some style to the functionality of a bookshelf. In fact, I think I’ll be ordered these owl bookends sometime in the next week, because I am obsessed. I also love the idea of framing a few photos and placing them next to my books, for one because I don’t have enough books to nearly fill my little shelf, but also because it’s just one more way to make it feel like home again.

What do you think, are you down with stylish bookshelves? Or do you prefer function over fashion, and just cram your shelves with whatever suits the mood?

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