Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Things I did in 2015

As I reflect on the year passed, I can't shake the fact that 2015 was the year that saw me grow more than ever before. It's crazy to think that this time last year I was living it up in Paris. I brought in the New Year in the most exciting way possible by being in a foreign city, dancing until the early hours with fellow wandering hearts and marveling at the city of lights while stumbling back to the hostel at 3am. The trip set in motion the promise of a fantastic year and it made me realise that it's my thoughts and actions that determine a fulfilling year. I learnt that I have so much to gain by pushing myself and working hard. Not just dreaming, but doing and approaching my fears full on.

I am so grateful for this year and the experiences it presented. After reading an article in the recent Frankie titled 'What I Did This Year', I felt inspired to create my own list, which ranges from brilliant to somewhat banal. All are moments I cherish dearly. It seemed a fitting way to wave off 2015 but also serves as a reminder for the coming new year that exciting things are on the long as I am willing to embrace everything that comes my way and seek out experiences that make me feel most alive. 

1. Went solo traveling for the first time 2. Discovered Paris was everything I dreamed it would be and more 3. Lived with a host family in Vichy and attended an intensive language school 4. Dabbled in freelance work for the first time 5. Bid adieu to my teen years 6.  Got a new job 7. Had a non-fiction piece published in an anthology 8. Went to Sydney to attend the launch of said anthology 9. Veered outside of my comfort zone multiple times, including attending a dinner with seven strangers 10. Made a film for one of my communications units 11. Achieved my highest ever grade of 87% for a unit 12. Visited relatives in the Netherlands, some of whom I’ve never met before 13. Read a decent amount of books of a diverse range of genres 14. Saw One Direction and Sam Smith live (the former being one of the most amazing experiences of my life!) 15. Developed quite an obsession for independent magazines, discovering a number of excellent publications such as Oh Comely and Womankind 16. Probably spent an obscene amount of my hard earned money on brunch and coffee 17. Became more confident in myself than ever before 18. Took part in the Oh Comely perfect strangers package swap 19. Saw many peers and friends graduate and began to feel both excited and nervous knowing that I will be in their position in just over 6 months… 20. Enjoyed every moment of the year, the challenges and the triumphs. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

DIY Christmas Wreath Gift Tags

So here's something I don't do often: a DIY! Yes, indeed, it has been months since my last DIY post, but what better month for another one than December? I haven't been as crafty as I would have liked this year. The month crept up on me and I was left feeling really unorganized with no idea where to begin. Thankfully, my family isn't very big on presents anymore, now that the majority of us are 'grown ups', so that at least allows me some slack when it comes to gift shopping. As I've grown older, I've found it harder to think of things that family members would really want anyway. I don't want gift giving to be a thoughtless exchange (buying something for the sake of buying), and so I've become more inclined to make my own gifts, including all the trimmings.

These Christmas wreath gift tags are so easy to make but so effective. You'll notice that the foliage isn't of the traditional kind one would usually associate with Christmas. I've opted for using Australian natives instead. For the majority of my childhood, I wished for a white Christmas. I wanted ivy and mistletoe, snow, wood fires, roasts and warming punch. But I have come to love and embrace the Australian Christmas, albeit the sometimes horrendous heat. The Christmas that I adore involves waking up early on a warm morning, swims in the pool. fruit platters and 'cold' puddings such as trifles and pavlova. These wreaths are just a small representation of what Christmas here really is. It's odd seeing cards and gift wrap in the shops which depict wintry scenes. While I still do one day want to experience that Christmas, I am happy that I've come to appreciate the Australian Christmas.
I have used fake foliage for these, which I found at a craft shop. I initially wanted to use the real deal, but it can get quite expensive. And while I'd love to be able to just gather some native flora from the park across my road, it is illegal to do so, and for good reason. The fake foliage, though, is quite realistic and, added bonus, could potentially be used as tree decorations.

You will need:
An assortment of foliage
Thin steel wire
Wire cutters
Hot glue gun

Essentially, all you have to do is bend the wire into a circle of your desired size, twisting the ends around a couple of times to form a complete circle. I just used my hands, but pliers would probably make the process a lot easier. From there, it's as simple as cutting your flowers and hot gluing them onto the wire to create a gorgeous arrangement. 

I'll be using plain brown paper to wrap my presents, as it really helps to draw attention to the wreaths. Tied together with twine, it all makes for a very festive and eye catching gift.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Tiny Tales from Sydney #2: Shelley Beach, Manly

Manly NSW, Australia
A trip to Manly initially wasn't on the cards, but we decided to take the fifteen minute voyage one afternoon. We stayed for a total of about three hours. I wish it could have been more. The beach side suburb is full of life with tourists and Sydneysiders both young and old found lying on the shore or eating ice-cream on the boulevard. But there was one place in particular that cast me under a certain spell. A short walk along the mesmerizing coast leads to Shelly Beach, the closest thing to a tropical oasis that I have been lucky enough to visit. Home to a large variety of marine life, Shelley is  popular with Scuba Divers and Snorkelers, but is just as populated with holiday makers and locals. It is the perfect sheltered spot with stunning blue waters and white as white can be sand. Beneath the shade of palm trees and the faint smell of salty sea in air, it felt like nothing could be more perfect in that moment. This is the place that turned me into an enthusiastic beach person. Never have I fallen so in love with the sea so fiercely as I did that perfect Spring day.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Tiny Tales from Sydney: The Grounds

Alexandria NSW 2015, Australia
The first day in Sydney, we were up and ready at 8am and I couldn't wait to bolt out the door. I had one place and one place only in mind for breakfast that morning: The Grounds of Alexandria. I discovered their cafe via instagram (generally where I find most hip and happening eateries) and despite getting lost on our way there, that extra mile was worth it. Breakfast isn't the sole draw card. True, I had one of the most decadent chai lattes ever which, despite the $6 price, was worth every cent. My avocado toast was far from ordinary, as the heirloom tomatoes, pomegranate, za'tar and garden mint and micro herbs elevated the simple dish. But what is most appealing about the Grounds is the grounds. It's such a beautiful and meticulously kept space. There's a petting farm with resident pig 'Kevin Bacon', pots aplenty and a florist with the most stunning blooms (I was very snap happy in there). At the weekend, there are also food stalls, selling such things as lemonade and fresh berries. I was a little disappointed to miss out on the produce, having visited on Monday, but overall, it didn't deter from the wonderful morning.

The Grounds is a landmark spot in Sydney, and I'm glad I made the trip. My morning there definitely lived up to the hype.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Seasonal Baking: Mulberry Frangipane Tarts

Ever since I was little, the idea of picking my own fruit has appealed to me. It seems like a quintessential Spring/Summer activity. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the season than to soak up the sun, get in tune with nature and carry home a basket full of beautiful sweet and ripe fruit at the end of the day!

However, where I live, there are very few PYO farms. While I know of one strawberry farm that offers the service, I'm not aware of any other farms on the outskirts of the city and even way down the South of Western Australia. Thankfully, mulberry trees, especially in West Perth, are abundant and there is even one on my university campus. I decided to take advantage of the situation and harvest some mulberries during one of my class breaks. While the tree had been thoroughly picked over, I was still able to collect a good amount of ripe berries; enough to make a batch of frangipane tarts specifically!

With so little ingredients and not a lot of hard work involved, these tarts are a delight to make and eat. They aren't too sweet, with the mulberries cutting through the butter and sugar. They are simple yet indulgent and serve as the perfect afternoon treat. Seasonal baking couldn't get any better than this.

Makes 6-8 tarts

110g butter
100g castor sugar
1 egg
250g cake flour

Frangipane filling
60g butter, diced
60g castor sugar
1 egg
50g ground almonds
As many mulberries as you wish (I used 5 in each tart)
Flaked almonds


Combine the butter and sugar in a food processor an, while it is still running, add the egg. Add the flour and blend into a dough. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using. Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Press the pastry into 6-8 loose-bottomed tart tins measuring 10 cm in diameter, and refrigerate for 45 minutes. Bake the tart shells for 10 minutes.

Mix the butter and castor sugar together in a food processor. Add the egg while the motor is still running and then add the ground almonds and blend well. Spoon a dollop (teaspoon) of frangipane into each tart shell and gently place 5 mulberries into each shell. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and bake for 25-30 minutes at 180 °C, turning the tarts around halfway through the baking time. You want the edges of the pastry and the frangipane to turn a little brown. Allow to cool and serve as is or with cream.
*Recipe adapted from Crush Magazing here

Monday, September 28, 2015

Lessons From My Former Self

I've noticed that there are quite a few posts in the form of 'lessons to my former/past self' around the web and I always enjoy reading them. It seems like there are a thousand and one things that I wish I could tell my former self that would have made life just that bit easier and my worries seem just that bit less significant in the grand scheme of things. However today, while flicking through a diary from last year, I was struck by what my former self can teach my present self.

The diary entry that prompted this realisation was one in which I wrote about the topic of validation, something I feel I've always struggled with. I suppose it's human nature to seek approval from others, but when it gets obsessive, it can be harmful. This diary entry was the culmination of a few months of feeling like I constantly had to 'please' others, to 'prove' myself; to peers, to family, to friends and, as much as I hate to admit it, to men. I'm going to be honest here and say I have never been in a relationship before, and while this doesn't bother me for the most part, I do feel myself questioning what is 'wrong' with me on occasions. Am I not pretty enough? Interesting enough? Funny enough? What am I doing so horribly wrong? In the end though, these poisonous thoughts make me feel disappointed for ever doubting myself. Former me definitely knew what was up. It may read as being quite self-indulgent, but I admire the fierce belief that validation should not be the precondition for self-worth. I feel this is something of which I should remind myself each and every day

I've slowly learnt to empower myself over the past year, to believe that there are no limits in what I can achieve. I may appear quiet and reserved, but I am also quietly fierce, determined and not about to let anything get in my way or bring me down.
Why then, in recent months, have I found myself seeking validation? Validation of my appearance, talents, aspirations, personality. I almost despise myself for indulging in this 'flaw'. But in fleeting moments of loneliness, it can be hard to like and love myself first, and easier to feel happy when someone validates me. I don't want to be this way. I want to love myself wholly and completely without question. I want to prove to myself that I am a woman who doesn't need permission, validation or the opinion of another man. My quest for greatness will be entirely my own and it will be all the more glorious.

I feel it does no good to write off the past completely. It wasn't all doom and gloom, and it was a period which saw we, as human beings, grow and learn every day, as we continue to do now. Through it, we are able to reflect on things which can help shape our current lives. I feel thankful that my former self wrote down moments of revelation as they continue to guide me today.
What lessons can your former self teach you?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Currently Pinning: Cakes and Desserts

If my 'Cakes and Desserts' board on Pinterest is anything to go by, then it's safe to say that I'm excited to bake up a storm this Spring and Summer! I have been particularly drawn to desserts that are simple, delicate and rely on the gorgeous produce of these seasons; think berries, stone fruits, citrus, herbs and even flowers. Indeed, my board is shaping up to have a very 'garden party' feel. I couldn't think of a lovelier way to spend a sunny afternoon. What do you feel inspired to bake?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Books I Read in July & August

It's been a long time between posts here on Windswept Wishes and it feels odd typing this up now. University has been full on this semester, more so than I expected. First semester was delightful; I still had a lot of work to do, but I also had time to write up weekly posts and do some freelance work on the side. I achieved a nice balance. But this semester it seems that all my hobbies have fallen to the way side and I'm drowning amidst tests, readings, group projects and assignments. As each week passed by, with no posting here, I felt more and more guilty for 'neglecting' my blog. But I think I've realised now that I need to focus on the more pressing matters at hand and just getting through this tough semester. I'll still aim to do a post here and there, although they unfortunately wont be as frequent as before.

Anyway, on to the topic of the books I read in July and August. July was a marvelous month for reading as I went on a mini holiday down south (a yearly tradition in my family). With little to no access to wifi and therefore no unnecessary distraction, I always love these jaunts because they help me to relax and get a lot of reading done in the process. In fact, the first three books listed below were read over the period of three to four days. I got so involved with the stories that returning home and to 'reality' was odd, to say the least. August was a bit light on as I only managed to read one book, but hey, it's something.

So without further ado, here are the books I read in July and August.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock - Matthew Quick
"Not letting the world destroy you. That’s a daily battle.” 
On the day of his birthday, Leonard Peacock hides a P-38 pistol in his school backpack which he intends to kill both his former best friend and then himself with. Before doing so, he must say good-bye to the only people in his life that he feels matter to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate, Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian home schooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Throughout the course of the day, Leonard's troubled character is slowly revealed and readers witness a sensitive soul crying out for help in the only way he knows how. 

This novel is quite touching but also extremely disturbing. Leonard is a very lonely, confused and 'weird' boy. He has a traumatic past, and too many people let him down in life. I both wanted to comfort him but also despised him, loathed him for his disturbing intentions that I don't feel could ever be excusable. Nevertheless, I feel it reveals a lot of problems that need to be more openly discussed in society; about sexual abuse, mental health, suicide and, specific to America, gun control. I wouldn't recommend reading this if you're after something lighthearted, but it is certainly a worthwhile read.
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwoord
“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don't let the bastards grind you down.” 
Taking place in the dystopian Republic of Gilead, Offred serves one purpose and one purpose only: to be a Handmaid. She is one of the few fertile women left in an age of declining births and is kept in the home of the 'Commander' and his wife in order to bear 'their' children. Restricted from leaving the house aside from one day a week, Gilead lives a monotonous routine. She remembers the 'years before' spent with her husband and daughter, when she had a job, money of her own, freedom and access to knowledge. Everything that was cruelly stripped away from her...

I want to begin by voicing my disbelief that I had never read any of Atwood's works before this one. I always intended on doing so, but after reading The Handmaid's Tale I wish I made it more of a priority. Atwood's prose is stunning. While the subject matter of this novel is quite frightening, Atwood's writing style had my eyes glued to the page. It's overall a fascinating read with prominent themes, such as religious fundamentalism and women's rights, made easily applicable to problems and scenarios taking place in the world today.
Left Bank - Kate Muir
Set in modern day Paris, Olivier and Madison Malin are high profile Parisians who live on the Left Bank and have a seemingly dream life in the exclusive neighbourhood. This is until a new English nanny appears on the scene and threatens to endanger the lives of the Malin family.

I picked up this book in a second hand bookshop while on holiday. Having just finished the two very bleak titles above, I was craving some chick lit and this promised to fit the bill. It was an easy read...but honestly, it was a whole lot of nonsense and every single character, par Sabine, the daughter of Oliver and Madison, is unlikable, incredibly self centered and self righteous (or just absolutely insane). The vast majority of reviews on goodreads tend to agree, unfortunately. The only saving grace that I can think of were Muir's descriptions of French gastronomy, but they weren't enough to fully satisfy.
The Sound of One Hand Clapping - Richard Flanagan
"So Maria Buloh continued walking down the empty street, a young woman clad in an old coat carrying a small cardboard suitcase, the tracks left by her shoes momentarily bisecting that grim, sour, snow-swept camp, her image already losing its earthly outlines in the falling snow"
Fleeing the terrors of war and seeking a new life in the promising land of Tasmania in 1954, this novel tells the story of migrant Bojan Buloh and his family. Working in a construction camp for a hydroelectric dam in the remote highlands, life is far from easy. One night, Bojan's wife, Maria, walks out into a blizzard and is never to be seen again, leaving Bojan to care for their three year old daughter, Sonja, on his own. Traumatized by Maria's disappearance and the ghosts of war, Bojan turns to drink and his actions towards Sonja lead to a strained and painful relationship. Thirty-five years later, Sonja returns to Tasmania where she eventually learns to love again and create a promising new 'lifetime'.

This book is beautiful. I found it was an excellent experience reading Tasmanian literature, as I'm not all that familiar with the Tasmanian oeuvre. Flanagan's prose is haunting, and I felt so strongly that it serves as an accurate depiction of the unique region. I visited over five years ago and was struck by the distinctive landscape, 'an island of high latitudes, of mountains, lakes, mists, clouds and rain; of wastes of awesome scenery' which evoke a certain sense of isolation (Jim Davidson, Tasmanian Gothic). Indeed, the feeling of isolation lingers throughout this novel, not just in the landscape, but in Tasmania's migrant history. An outsider to the 'Australians' yet living in a melting pot of cultures, Bojan struggles to communicate and struggles to fit in where ever he goes. A constant source of pain for him is his inability to express what he feels and to come to terms with the horrors he witnessed during the war. Unfortunately, it's Sonja who suffers at the hands of his torment, and she also struggles to come to terms with the mystery of her mother's disappearance, a family she never knew and a home that never felt like home. The Sound of One Hand Clapping is full of moving moments and is flawlessly put together. It has been one of my favourite reads so far this year.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Thoughts: My Mad Fat Diary

I'm not all that into television shows. There are few programs that I love or get emotionally invested into. My Mad Fat Diary is one of those few shows that I hold a very, very special place in my heart and which I strongly believe has made an impact on my life for the better. 

This is a post I have really been wanting to write, recently more so than ever, but a post that I have been struggling to put together coherently in order to express how I truly feel and in a way that doesn't seem trivial. A couple of weeks ago, the season finale (and last episode ever) of My Mad Fat Diary aired. It was both a devastating and uplifting moment for me. 

Essentially, the show is based upon the real diary entries of Rae Earl, written during her teenage years. In her diary, she chronicles her life, writing about common teenage things such as sexuality, relationships, family and friendships. But most of all, after being advised to do so by her counselor, Rae writes about her struggle with mental illness and her low self-esteem.

My Mad Fat Diary has to be the realest representation of the issues that young adults face and suffer that I have seen, and I admire how it doesn't shy away from 'taboo' topics such as mental health; it certainly opened my eyes to how debilitating and complex they are. Despite not suffering a mental illness myself, I find the protagonist, Rae Earl, one which I relate to profoundly. I started watching the show when I was just shy of 18 and, to be honest, I was quite miserable for quite some time back then: alongside having many insecurities, my moodiness also came down to hormones, the fear of adulthood and all worries concerning 'the future'. What I do know is that over the course of the three years that this show ran, I felt myself slowing becoming 'better' just as Rae did. It is as if we both underwent a journey of self acceptance together, and made it out the other end.

There is a lot that I could write about how much I love this show, how much I learnt from it: far more than what I was ever taught in school. I feel lucky to have had this show to refer to on the cusp of adulthood, and I will probably continue to look back on it throughout my life. 

Love Yourself
The biggest thing I took away from this show is the need to accept yourself. In My Mad Fat Diary, Rae's biggest insecurity is her weight. Her hatred of her size dictated how she lived her life and often scared her away from other people, believing no one could ever love someone like her. It was heartbreaking to watch this fantastic, funny girl feel like she was worthless, especially because I used to feel the same. After my kidney transplant when I was eight, I had to take medications that led to considerable weight gain, and this really affected my self esteem. Food become somewhat of an enemy, I was advised to 'diet' and I remember being congratulated if I lost any weight.  Such comments at such a young age obviously had a long lasting impact into my teenage years, and I feel infuriated that I was led to think negative thoughts about my body, never mind that the weight gain was totally out of my control. I was otherwise perfectly healthy and I was actually enjoying eating food for the first time in my life because I was previously too sick and frail.

I remember relentlessly comparing myself to others, and visualizing how much better my life would be with a slimmer body, how I may become more popular, how if only there were a way to slip out of my skin. I related immensely to this scene. Alongside my physical insecurities, I was always (and continue to be) an introvert, and at times I found myself despising this personality trait. Why oh why couldn't I just be 'normal'? I feared that I was missing out on so much in life by being shy.

I just wish my younger self could have been able to watch a show like My Mad Fat Diary to affirm that I was not my weight, nor my appearance and that I shouldn't be ashamed of who I am. I learnt so much in the way of how to accept myself, and a part of this is to soothe any self-doubts and poisonous thoughts. How I wish I could have had someone like Kester, Rae's counselor, when I was younger to tell me how it is, but even so, I'm so glad I was able to learn so much from him as an 18-20 year old.

"You can't spend the rest of your life being afraid of people rejecting you. You have to start by not rejecting yourself. You don’t deserve it."

— Kester, My Mad Fat Diary

Whenever I'm feeling down, I always, without fail, watch this scene. And it always makes me feel better.

Nobody's Life is Perfect
Going hand in hand with learning how to accept myself, I learnt that everyone else has it just as tough. No one's life is perfect, and it does no good to compare oneself to others. In My Mad Fat Diary, Rae is jealous of her best friend Chloe. She is seemingly 'perfect' because she's skinny, pretty and confident. However, Rae learn's that appearances aren't all they're cracked up to be: viewers first get a small hint of this when Chloe has an abortion, and later on in season two when she realizes that Chloe is just as insecure as Rae; in fact, Chloe wishes she were more like Rae. This really hit home for me, because I feel like girls, from childhood through to womanhood, are 'taught' to pit themselves against other women, to secretly loathe their female peers for being 'prettier, skinnier, more talented'. I loved how Rae and Chloe's friendship really solidified after Rae realized that Chloe had problems of her own, and as a result, they formed a beautiful bond which helped them to take on the world together.

When I look around, I see that everyone’s the protagonist of their own story. And the thing about stories is that not all of them have a happy ending. But some do.” 

— Rae, My Mad Fat Diary

You Deserve to be Treated Well
Another thing I learnt is the importance of surrounding yourself with people who truly care about you. Rae found a wonderful group of friends who always had her back, but she was always left wondering why they, especially Finn (her love interest), would want to hang out with her. She deemed herself 'unworthy' of the relationships she formed, so in season two, she drifted from Finn and her friendship group and formed quite a toxic relationship with another boy. Obviously, this had an even more disastrous affect on her. Her already low self esteem plummeted as the person in question validated all the self-doubts she had about herself. Now, while Rae in question isn't without her faults (just like anyone), she deserved more than that, and I learnt that I do too.

Believe in Yourself
I could keep pumping out all the life lessons that I have learnt by watching My Mad Fat Diary but I'll end with just one more. The end of season 3 divided viewers, as it saw Rae leave for University and break off her relationship with Finn (after it had been on the rocks). Some viewers thought that the show could have made more of a positive point by showing that more voluptuous girls can maintain a relationship while also chasing their dreams (I agree that it could be deemed a positive message for girls in general: that you can be independent and kick-ass and also be in a loving relationship at the same time. I think the two are often deemed to be dichotomous, which is not true at all). So yes, I was sad to see #Rinn end, but overjoyed that Rae did what she thought was best for her. She finally reached a point where she realized that she had to do things for herself and be her own hero, and I thought that to be a beautiful, beautiful thing considering how far she had come. From believing  '“I’m not strong enough to deal with it all on my own” to

I’m going to stop waiting for someone to come and save me.

I’ve just gotta learn how to handle things on my own."
— Rae, My Mad Fat Diary

So, I congratulate you if you've made it to the end! If so, I hope this post has encouraged you to watch My Mad Fat Diary if you have not already done so. And if it falls on deaf hears, I really don't mind. More than anything, I wanted this post to serve as a personal 'thank you' to My Mad Fat Diary. Thank you for making me realize how much potential I have, that anyone has, if they're willing to believe in themselves. I still have down days, but these are now few and far between. I am slowly learning to love everything about myself; be it through Kester's wise words, by surrounding myself with people I love or not letting anything stop me from pursuing my dreams. Thank you for being one of the most authentic television shows that is far beyond being 'just a television show'. Now whenever I hear 'Champagne Supernova' or 'Wonderwall' I think of My Mad Fat Diary and all the things it has taught me about life, the things that make it worth living and most important of all, that I am good enough.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Oh Comely Perfect Strangers Package Swap

Image: Oh Comely
This month I took part in a very exciting project which is run by Oh Comely magazine. Every so often, Oh Comely sets up a 'Perfect Strangers Package Swap' where applicants are able to sign up to send and receive a package to and from a stranger allocated by the Oh Comely Team. 

Being my first time taking part, I was a bit wary initially about signing up (especially because there is a small sign up fee), but I think this is totally necessary because, in the past, there were instances in which some people didn't receive any packages at all despite creating and sending a thoughtful assortment of gifts. So the fee is there to ensure that the people who do sign up are certain they want to take part, and that really reassured me.

Once you sign up on the Perfect Strangers portal, you can add your details, a short bio about yourself, whether you want to write a letter to your perfect stranger and whether you want to send your parcel overseas or in your own country. From there, you are given a date of when you can send your package. You are also able to let your allocated partner know when you have sent their parcel as well as inform your partner when you receive theirs.

I sent mine off quite early as I was keen to be as organised as I could; so organised, in fact, that I completely forgot to take a picture of the unwrapped contents, so I can't share visually what was in the package I put together. I included a letter, Womankind magazine, some baby socks (my swap partner just had a baby!), a sweet smelling candle, a handmade necklace, a recipe card, a zine and a few stickers.

As for the package I received in return, I could not be more grateful about how wonderful and thoughtful it is! My package also happened to arrive on a day when I wasn't feeling my best, and it brightened my day. My swap partner lives in New Zealand, and she took great care with choosing items that reflected her country. Here is a breakdown of my package:

1. Special edition New Zealand chocolate (just released) in Marlborough Sea Salt and Caramel Brittle and Nelson Pear and Manuka honey. 
2. Vintage storybook illustration necklace- handmade by my Perfect Stranger (I added a close up shot, how gorgeous is it!?)
3. A novel by a New Zealand writer, Kirsty Gunn. I'm excited to read it as I haven't read any NZ literature
4. Recipe for Vegan Chocolate Tart. I'm just going to make a note to self right now that I need to make this asap. It sounds delicious!
5. Artisan almond and NZ Manuka honey soap
6. A gorgeous notebook, featuring Lancewood leaves. My swap partner wrote that she loves this tree and added that 'it is an awesome metaphoric image. The tree starts off flimsy and jagged and grows into something completely different - unrecognizable - strong and robust'. 
7. Pencil engraved with an Andy Warhol quote: 'Isn't life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?'
8. A wonderful card featuring photography taken by my swap partner with lovely words inscribed inside
9. A post card showing part of the map of NZ (and arrow pointing to my swap partner's hometown. A nice personal addition)

After such a great first experience, I would definitely take part in the Perfect Strangers swap again. There's just something heartwarming about putting together a package for a person you've never met, and knowing it will make them smile. And of course, being at the receiving end is just as exciting! It's a great way to ignite a friendship: I'm hoping to get into touch with my swap partner, as we have such similar interests.

All in all, if you're curious about this project, I'd 100% recommend taking part in upcoming swaps. It was certainly the highlight of my month.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Tiny Tales from Paris #7: Chancing upon Hidden Gems

Sometimes I wonder whether I should keep up these Tiny Tales posts, as they are all so far apart, and my trip feels like it was so long ago now. But they are one of my favourite kinds of posts to write, and each time I reminisce about certain moments, I'm taken straight back to the streets of Paris. I feel that I have gained sustained enjoyment and appreciation of my trip by breaking up my experiences and reflections into small posts. It's an added bonus if readers happen to stumble upon my posts and discover something new about such an incredible city!

As I have probably mentioned in previous Tiny Tales posts, one of the greatest joys I found while in Paris was simply wandering the streets and seeing what I chanced upon. Being a big city, one is bound to discover more than just a few hidden gems if one is willing to do a little bit of exploration. I'd even say getting lost is one of the best things that can happen! You never know what will be around the next corner...

These were a few special spots that stand out in my mind: 
1. The tiny hole in the wall cafe named 'Boot Cafe'. It was a very cold afternoon when mum and I decided to pop in. With limited seating room, we arrived just in time, as a couple upped and left, allowing us to settle down in the warm cafe. I ordered a giant chocolate and walnut cookie along with a steaming cup of apple and cinnamon tea. We spent well over an hour inside, cradling our drinks and chatting with the delightful barista. And then the most magical thing happened: it began to snow! It was my second snow of the trip, but what made the moment so beautiful was that the cold from outside frosted up the windows of the cafe, creating the most intimate, cosy and 'safe' atmosphere. 

2. One of the most unassuming finds of the trips was a toy shop in the 11th found through an easy to miss cobblestone passageway on Rue de Charonne. The exterior alone is gorgeous, but inside a whole range of goodies lay waiting to be discovered. The best bit is that this isn't just any old toy shop: rather than the plastic and mass produced toys that line the shelves of, say, K-mart and Target, it is filled with whimsical children's books (think: Tin Tin and Angelina Ballerina) and carefully crafted trinkets. Thinking back in retrospect, I'd say this toy shop is the closest thing to what I imagine a nostalgia shop (aka the one proposed by Gil in Midnight in Paris) to be.

3. On one particular afternoon alone, I set outside with no plans on where I intended to go and ended up chancing upon Rue Chanoinesse, home to restaurant Au Vieux Paris d'Arcole and Bertie's Cupcakery. While it isn't evident in the picture below (I returned later to take the shot), the restaurant was decorated with festive trimmings that afternoon, which was a gorgeous sight to see. I also remember the smell of freshly baked cake and sweet buttercream icing filling the air, coming from the cupcake bakery next door. It was a nice little moment, one in which I remember being struck by the fact that I was in Paris, after so many years of dreaming. 
Despite not eating in the bakery nor the restaurant, I have really fond memories of this Rue. I'm sure you'll agree that it's quite a cute spot, probably even more so now that it's Summer.

P.S If you'd like to read another Paris post from me, check out my '24 hours in Paris' article I wrote for Pepper Passport recently.

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