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.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Books I Read in June

This post is a long time coming. I truly did not intend to get behind on my blogging, but I suppose life just gets in the way sometimes. It has been busy recently, but I was able to have a relaxing week away on holiday, so now I feel revived and ready to get back into my blogging routine.

June was a fabulous reading month for me. To treat myself after finishing university for the semester, I ordered 'big' on the Book Depository. This practice has become somewhat of a tradition over the years. Knowing that I'll have books arrive at my door is one of the best forms of anticipation!

The majority of the titles I ordered seemed ideal for light reading (poems, short and lighthearted novels and a quick contemporary read). For the most part, I quite enjoyed the books I read this month.

The Lover's Dictionary- David Levithan
“Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.” 
This novel is a modern love story narrated through series of dictionary-style entries, with each word describing, or rather, serving to define intimate moments that take place over the course of a relationship. Levithan has a real way with words and perfectly matches them with their individual scenarios. It's kind of hard to explain, but it's like I could really feel the effect of the word deeply, taste it on my tongue. Take this passage, for example:
“livid, adj.

Fuck You for cheating on me. Fuck you for reducing it to the word cheating. As if this were a card game, and you sneaked a look at my hand. Who came up with the term cheating, anyway? A cheater, I imagine. Someone who thought liar was too harsh. Someone who thought devastator was too emotional. The same person who thought, oops, he’d gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Fuck you. This isn’t about slipping yourself an extra twenty dollars of Monopoly money. These are our lives. You went and broke our lives. You are so much worse than a cheater. You killed something. And you killed it when its back was turned.” 

His words are so brutal and honest that they really pack a punch (even for me, despite never having been in love or suffered a broken heart).
However, while I enjoyed reading each respective 'entry' on their own, I felt that the book as a whole was too disjointed, and this impacted upon my overall enjoyment. While I understand that Levithan was trying to create a 'collection' of scenarios that can, in some way, stand for all relationships, I craved to know more in way of context regarding the couple and their relationship. Nonetheless, The Lover's Dictionary is an interesting and touching read.
3/5 stars

I Wrote This for You- please find this
Love, at every opportunity you are given. Be less afraid. Embrace each day (none are promised). Cry when you need to, it'll make you feel better. You were put on this planet to feel every feeling you could, do that. Everything works out in the end, I promise.” 
I Wrote this for You is a gorgeous collection of poems and photos that was written, you guessed it, for you. I think that the intended aim for this book is that each passage will inevitably mean something different to another person and no one will ever read it the same way as you. 

The unnamed author of this book writes with such clarity about highly complex topics such as ways of human nature, pain and emotion. Indeed, it was as if a large majority of my own feelings, that I often struggle to put into words, have been recorded effortlessly, with the effects being heartwarming, heartbreaking, inspiring and comforting. At its heart, this book is resounding in its attempts to understand what it means to be human. It is the perfect read for when you're feeling down; it certainly helped me.

The Girl on the Train- Paula Hawkins

“There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.” 
Being on the bestseller's list for quite some time now, I was eager to get a copy of The Girl on the Train. Many reviews promised its similarity to Gone Girl and, having relatively enjoyed the page turning 'thriller', I was interested to see if The Girl on the Train lived up to this proclamation. 

The novel switches back and forth between the main characters, but mostly focuses on Rachel, a regular commuter on the morning train. During her journey, Rachel enjoys observing people who live along a stretch of suburban roads and fabricating stories behind them. She is particularly interested in what she deems to be the perfect couple 'Jess and Jason'. But nothing is as it seems, and after one shocking event, Rachel discovers that their lives are not so perfect after all.

For me, this book served its primary purpose: I wanted a quick read and I got it, but beyond that, I didn't really understand the hype. I did feel that at some points it was a gripping read, but for the most part, all the characters annoyed me. To no end. Yes, all human beings are flawed, but the main protagonists in this text just seemed ridiculous beyond reason. The whole scenario is kind of bizarre, everyone is mad, but at the same time, I felt that the story maintained a painful predictability. It's not a terrible read, but it is by no means a fantastic one either in my opinion. If you've read The Girl on the Train, I'd love to know what you think!

L'etranger- Albert Camus
“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.” 
L'etranger is about an outsider condemned to die after committing a senseless act of murder.
In an attempt to keep up my French over the break, I got my hands on a copy, and I was mostly able to keep up, if not maintain a general idea, of what was going on. Seeing as I didn't intend to closely analyse the text (rather, just reading words in French helps to keep it fresh in my mind), I cant give a critical reading, but do understand why this is a popular reading list text for those learning the language. The writing is simple and generally uses just the past and present tense, making it easy to follow along. However, despite its simplistic language, the philosophical issues it presents throughout pose a lot to think about in regards freedom, the expectations of society and individualism.

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