Friday, October 31, 2014

NaNo 2014 begins

Now that another awesome Halloween is completed, today is now the beginning of NaNoWriMo. Somewhat of a festive season in it's own.



For those of you not in the know, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo as it is affectionately called, is that crazy month of the year when you push to the limits to produce 50,000 words of text over the month of November. It can be whatever you want to write about, but usually fiction or poetry, although I shudder at the thought of 50,000 words of poetry. 

You start on the 1st of November, as early as midnight and you have all the way up until the clock strikes midnight again on the 30th to complete and validate on the website. And whilst you don't technically win per se when you complete, you do get a lovely certificate and all the feels that go with it. It's pretty great actually and I love the pleasure/pain of the whole situation. 

2014 is my 6th year in a row that I will be entering NaNo since my first time in 2009. Of the past 6 years there was only one I did not complete, 2011, and considering it crept in just after my thesis I really just shot my drive. But I still don't like to remember that I failed. 

Last year was my greatest NaNo achievement. I completed 10 days early, the last 9,000 in the space of about 24 hours. And that was on top of about 12 books I'd read that month plus an average 12km walk through the bush every day for work. It was a very hardcore month and I don't know how I did it. But I am very, very proud of it. 

So bring on NaNo 2014. It's Allora and Dominic's turn to be written after 10 years of planning. 

Sam xox

Thursday, October 30, 2014

This is Halloween

Boys and girls of every age, wouldn't you like to see something strange?

If you grew up in the late '80's or the '90's, then you're probably aware of the Tim Burton cult classic film Nightmare Before Christmas. It features the residents of the fabled Halloweentown, led by their nominated honorary resident Jack Skellington the Pumpkin King, in their quest to try something a little different by creating their own kind of Christmas. With all the spooks, thrills and noir of their signature holiday.
Well, this movie has become, like I said, a cult classic over time. Jack Skellington in particular has become an icon for many things like Disney's darker side, gothic clothing ranges, and surprisingly more often than not a symbol for the holiday of Halloween itself right along side his influence the Jack O'Lantern.

Like most people excited by big holidays, I love Halloween. I have a genuine interest in the spiritual, spooky and paranormal side of things and Halloween purely encapsulates all those things that I love whether it be slasher films, haunted histories, mythology and the hidden messages and meanings behind all these things. Halloween is a mask holiday now - it wasn't always, but I'll get to that - and often greatly represents the duality to human nature. The fact of the matter is that the majority of people have a dark side, I don't mean a serial killer or sociopathic side, but just something that they do that is a little bit naughtier than the norm. Things like kinky sex, slasher films, and the desire to watch a train wreck or a house fire. Don't deny it, most people have the urge and hey its totally normal so long as you're not putting people in a hole in your floor and telling people to rub lotion on their skin. Dark sides are often what keeps things interesting, and what the churches usually try to discourage.

But things weren't always this way. People always had this dual nature, yes, but the freedom that we now have to express it (within reason) didn't always exist. Initially Halloween was a festival to celebrate a number of things: Summer's end, the autumn harvest, and the spirits of the dead. Like most other holidays like Christmas, the roots of Halloween lie way earlier than the arrival of Christianity throughout the UK and Europe. Archaeologists and historians suggest that the earliest evidence for Halloween-style festivals and celebrations come from pagan and pre-christian belief systems in the UK and Ireland, more commonly considered to be 'Celtic' in origin. But because 'Celtic' is itself a very fluid concept and not at all an actual secular religion, there is no clear cut designation for exactly where and when the celebrations first began. However, the most important thing to remember is that it is a very old concept, just like Easter and Christmas before Christianity swept in and amalgamated them into its overlord religious system.

I love Halloween, but I happen to have the misfortune of living in Australia.

Time-out just quickly, I love Australia. In terms of healthcare, university, salary, childcare, you name it we've got it pretty good. We don't have to pay ridiculous prices to have fingers replaced individually like some countries, but we are...well, kind of boring.

Not in everything obviously, when we travel people love us because we have a reputation of being very laid back, fun and some of the best drinking buddies you will ever make. Plus we have weird lingo that the Brits and the Americans especially can go nuts over. But we just don't do holidays in the same way as the rest of the world.

Christmas is perhaps the only one that turns up, usually too early, and filters into everything. There's carols at the shops, there's gift wrapping stalls in the CBD and there's been different scavenger hunts over the past few years centered around the holiday, but that's were it sort of stops. The sad fact of the matter is that Australians aren't huge holiday people - but why?

Considering our history, at least on the colonial side, why don't we embrace Halloween? The majority of Australians originally came from areas of the UK and Ireland, later from the European mainland and all other corners of the world, so in theory the same practices of out British and Irish heritage should have been maintained at least in the beginning. Christmas, again, was not the way that it is now 300 years ago. The Christmas we are familiar with didn't really start until the Victorian Age and Queen Victoria herself systematically re branded Christmas to follow more steadfastly in the traditions of mainland Europe, particularly Germany and Austria, in order to accommodate her Austrian husband, Albert. Before the 1830's there was no decking the halls in London or much of a Christmas tree culture in the UK at all because that just wasn't the way the British celebrated before that, let alone become the the huge deal it is today. Yule, the pagan origination of the Christmas festival in Europe, didn't include sparkly decorations and presents right from the beginning and different traditions developed regionally over time. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is probably the most well-known example of this newer style of Christmas celebration that evolved very quickly in the UK and Ireland before spreading to America to explode into what it is now.

Halloween developed far more slowly worldwide, and trick or treating and scare festivals started far earlier that the majority of the Christmas traditions we recognize today. Anyone who suggests that Halloween was invented by candy companies, especially in America, are sorely misinformed even if said companies likely scooped up the opportunities to boost sales are the scare-tastic time of year. And not all aspects of Halloween even revolve around the procurement of candy; watching horror films, for one, and visiting scare attractions for another. It even bodes the question as to whether the need for sweets evolved from a desire for comfort after particularly harrowing scare situations or experiences at what was the more paranormally charged time of year for centuries longer than sugar was accessible.

So when you think about the fact that Australia takes almost all of its core holiday traditions from its mother countries, why does the average modern Australian have such a disdain for an otherwise fun, spooky and potentially freeing day of the year? Religion and multi-cultural reasons can't be the be all and end all when you consider that the front-runner of Halloween fun is the United States, Canada and Mexico, the former being globally known for its need for the PC in all things and its foundation on religious definitely would suggest otherwise. Even since the UK and Ireland are still much bigger than Australia for Halloween.

So at the end of the day, why don't Australians care for Halloween? I could continue for hours about all the features, benefits, history and attempt to psycho-analyse the reasons that Halloween has become so big in a lot of other places, but I won't because I don't want to let this one day of the year that I always whole-heartedly look forward to just get away from me. I will, however, leave you with this:

Halloween is scary, full of candy, it allows you to delve into some of your darkside and gives you a free pass to push for that adrenalin-pumping fright factor that keeps you young and healthy, so why not embrace it? It's just supposed to be a bit of fun, and since when does Australia pass up on fun?

P.S Halloween is one big festival closer to Christmas. 

P.P.S NaNo is back on tomorrow. Get ready for it. 

Sam xox


Monday, October 27, 2014

Single

Like everything in life, there's good and bad to being single. Most of the time the good generally outweighs the bad especially when we live in the 21st century and women can do pretty much anything without a partner. Except for the occasional ridiculously tough jar. 

Once upon a time I used to wish I was a princess and I dreamt of meeting a prince. But as I got older people seemed to feel the need to tell me over and over again that fairy tales aren't actually real and that Prince Charming isn't going to be the way that I imagined, that there are no happy ever afters. By now that kind of talk is beyond old and I don't care for it, especially when fairy tales are the kind of lucid thing that changes depending on the situation. I'm not locked up in a tower, no, but writing off that optimistic, fluffy, magical side to romance sort of leaves you with that age old pessimism that I don't agree with.

I don't necessarily believe in Prince Charming, per se, but I do believe in love and when it comes to romance I have some pretty high standards. Which is probably why I have only ever been single. 

The perks of being single could write their own book, the least of which denoting how free it can make you. You get to do your own thing, you're independent, you're free to meet whoever and in whatever context you like, and you don't have to always take them to functions. Plus you get way more time with your friends, and when you're working full time this can pretty much be invaluable.

But since I don't actually have a past relationship to compare single life with, I'll shy away from what I think are the myriad of perks and get to the root of my problem with being single: it's full of double standards. 

For one thing people can pity you, not always and they don't always mean it in a bad way, but it happens. I guarantee you at some point every single person has been or will be pitied in some way. People can be mean, and sometimes they love to show off what they have that you don't. Be it "my boyfriend does this" or "my girlfriend has that" or even the classic "oh, you don't have a boyfriend?". Depending on the mood you're in, a comment like that can be brushed right off or is going to swirl around in your mind like Iago whispering in your ear. Everyone has their own self confidence and esteem issues, and  a lot of people have days when they don't want to be on their own.

And sometimes it bothers other people that you are, too. Single people, especially happy single people, can be threatening to couples. Particularly the ones that are unhappy or insecure. Generally I am happy to be on my own, but sometimes I desperately wish I wasn't purely because it would stop some of the problems I have had with other women surrounding their men. I've had more than one occasion in the past 5 or so years when dramas have arisen because I've been perceived as a threat. I have a flirty personality, apparently, that was once described as "will flirt with anything that moves". Far from flattering, really, and since it's predominantly unintentional it can be pretty upsetting when it gets me in trouble. Like the time a close male friend sat me down and informed me that we couldn't hang out too often because his girlfriend flat out hated me. Or the time a friend yelled at me because her boyfriend and I had a joke together...in a room full of others. 

I am far from beauty queen material, and my self esteem has it's wobbly moments, but I am definately not a maneater or boyfriend stealer. Believe me when I say I wouldn't know how to go about it if I tried, and it really hurts when people treat me like I am because I can't control my personality. Those moments are the worst. 

Not as bad as being set up, perhaps, or accused of putting people in the 'friendzone' (talk about a unfair and stupid concept) but no more flattering to you either. As someone who makes friends relatively easy, with both sexes, it's kind of craptastic when you're accused of popping people in the friendzone if you'd genuinely just rather be their friend. We've got to stop treating the friendzone like it's the hell mouth. 

I will be the first to say that I have very high standards. It's a fact I've no choice but to accept by now, and I'm not necessarily always glad of it. Having high standards in life are great because they mean I don't settle and I'll get myself the best (in most aspects, not just this one) and I respect myself, but the downside is that because my expectations are so high I am easily disappointed. High jump, higher fall and all that. 

I have high standards on the kind of man I'd like, the sort of things I'd do, and the way i try to treat people and expect to be treated in return. It's all a part of that fairy tale, rose-coloured view of the world that people always tell me not to have. So being a single girl I have views on the way single people should be treated, and my absolute pet hate is to be bailed on for a guy. If we have plans and you bail on me for your significant other, 9 times out of 10 I'm probably not ok with it. For one thing I think it's just not cool, you don't ditch friends for a date even if there is a possibility of sex, and secondly it's insinuating that because I'm single I would do the same if I 'understood'. Nope. I don't have to have a boyfriend to see that you want to spend time with him, but don't bail on me if we've got plans. If all my friends were to continue to bail for a date, male or female, then I'm going to end up on my own so much more than I already do because I'll feel my friends don't respect me or my time, and they're unreliable. It's do unto others, but that is one thing I'm telling you I could never do. 

So there is good and bad to being single. I like my independence and I love the way my life is without some guy, plus I'm not settling and still keep my fairy tale image that an unfortunate amount of people seem to bury in realism. But I don't have anything to compare it to, so my opinion comes from only one side of the coin and consists of both the good and actually pretty negative experiences I've had over time. I'm not trying to say it's better to be single, and I'm sure as he'll not bemoaning the fact that I am, this post is just meant to re-establish that single people aren't lepers. We aren't miserable, we aren't trying to steal your partners, we don't deserve to be bailed on and telling us to 'just give him/her' a go even if we're not that keen isn't the best way to go about making us meet the right person. Spark is a real thing, and the 'friendzone' is not a bad place to be unless you're willing to settle or be settled for. 

Something to think about. 

Sam xox

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Healthy

About two weeks ago, around the time of my last post enthusing my awesome new job, I figured it might be a choice time to get right back on that horse and ride to the land of fitness.

I've tried a lot of different diets and healthy eating plans in my time, and the past two years I worked out very regularly at my gym in the Pilbara. I may not be some size 6 (and seriously, I wouldn't want to be), but despite that I do actually live a pretty active life style. I may not be a member of any gym right now because I'm a little poor due to my 6 months or more of travelling (this year only), but we really don't live in a world where fitness is tied to being a member of a gym. It's easy enough, and significantly cheaper, to make use of the bevy of work out applications available for smartphones as well as go for walks, run, skip, jump and swim the way we used to before the treadmill was invented.


Like I said, I'm actually a pretty active person most of the time and I tend to eat relatively well when I'm not trying to save money by skipping meals (I don't recommend it). But since I indulged too much as a child and I've always struggled to drop weight, I carry enough extra curve to make myself want to get a bit more fit for my own piece of mind. Hear me world and women alike, I'll be getting fit and sexy for me. I'm all about that bass, but being a 'skinny bitch' is just as acceptable if you do it for you. So I'm back on the bendy road to losing a little bit of fat. Plus I want to reduce my risk of diabetes when I'm older, that my family history seems to suggest could be a problem.

Since I have tried this before, and actually succeeded to a point, I figured just getting back into it would be simple enough. I refuse to say 'easy' because there is nothing easy about losing weight, especially if you're thinking 20kg like myself (45lbs more or less). In theory it's all very simple: you eat healthy, plenty of fibre and protein, less sugar and fats, and you exercise regularly enough to burn off what you eat. But being simple in theory does not mean that it is actually simple in reality, and for the sake of a little extra help I decided to try something new: dietary supplements.

Now, before I get into this let me just say that these literally what they say they are: supplements to a healthy diet and exercise regime. They don't replace meals, they don't replace the need to work out and they certainly don't work like miracle fat disappearance pills. And I'm not expecting them to.

So, the supplements I decided to try are something that I read about recently and figured it wouldn't hurt to try out and record my progress. After all if they do help then my experience may work as a positive influence for someone else to do the same. The supplements I decided to try are Green Coffee Bean and Garcinia Cambogia, the two natural extracts that seem to be relatively popular right now, kind of the way chia, quinoa and kale seem to be as well.


Green Coffee Bean is basically the raw product before they roast and whatever the beans in order to use them to make coffee. It supposedly slows down the rate of glucose release and forces the body to burn fat more quickly, thus making it more difficult for fat to settle. Plus, it is a natural energy booster even if it contains a little of the recommended daily intake of caffeine. Garcinia Cambogia, on the other hand, is more commonly known as Tamarind, and contains a HCA (Hydrocitric acid). It claims to slow down fat storage from carbohydrates, suppress the appetite, reduce stress (by raising cortical levels), and raise seratonin. The best recommended results are to take both Garcinia and Green Coffee Bean twice a day roughly 60-30 minutes before a major meal.


Everyone responds to different foods and whatnot differently. so after two weeks of plenty of exercise, very little fatty or sugary foods, and taking both the Garcinia and Green Coffee Bean, here's how it's going:

I definitely feel good, for starters. I have more energy, I'm sleeping better, my system seems to be moving better (let's not get into that part too much), and I certainly feel pretty happy most of the time. I haven't done too much to be stressed about so I don't know if I feel less stressed, but I feel fuller quicker, feel less hungry and don't seem to crave much sugar - a plus since I'm not eating much of it (one treat a day that I enjoy so much more). So far there seem to be so many upsides to the whole thing, the least of which being that I actually feel really good about my body right now.

But obviously there are downsides to something like this: over-eating is a bitch when it happens, and so is pushing too hard with exercise. Since my appetite is suppressed I have to be so careful to not eat more than my body needs, something that green tea and increase water intake help with also (I'm also highly addicted to coconut water now). If that happens, and it has, it almost makes me want to embrace bulimia - just to get the excess food out of me so that my stomach will stop hurting. But its not a pain kind of hurt, so much as it just feels like having eaten too much Indian food: like your stomach is too tight it may just explode. So its a downside that is controllable, just like pushing too hard with exercise which is a problem combined with the Green Coffee Bean. Because exercise seems to only make it work harder to push all the toxins out of your system the only way it knows how: the digestive way. If anyone has ever eaten an entire bag of sugar-free gummy bears in one sitting you'll know how that feels.

The last thing that isn't quite what I was expecting is the fact that despite everything I haven't actually lost any weight at all. It is more or less exactly the same right now as it was two weeks ago. Its my saving grace that I keep telling myself that muscle weighs more than fat does and I would hope I've at least toned a bit.

At the two week point my results are better in a less tangible way, and even if I haven't dropped any kilos just yet it hasn't made me want to give up. I feel too good to quit and I don't want to; its a game, a challenge, and at the end of it Rome wasn't built in a day. No one drops 20kg by trying to be healthy for two weeks and giving up. So I'm going to keep at it and continue to record what I'm finding.


I'll keep you posted!

Sam xox

Thursday, October 2, 2014

From traveller to travel agent

Well its been about three weeks now since I made it back to Australia by boat (does that make me a boat person?) and I've achieved more or less nothing. Unless re-watching all of Friends can be considered massively productive.

But after so much time spent in the pursuit of adventure and experience, I figured it was ok for me to have a little down time to recover. Despite what you may think travelling, and especially for so long, is inherently super exhausting. And going from spending every day for 5 months on the go and flittering from one super amazing place to the next, I was more than happy to spend a decent couple of days enjoying life in my pyjamas.

And I really did go to so many amazing places - I could spend hours telling you all about where I went that I haven't already mentioned. Since my last travel blog post I went to Istanbul in Turkey, back to London for a completely amazing time at the British Museum Summer School program, a few weeks spent wandering through the UK and Ireland, a week in Singapore, and finally two weeks with my family on a cruise. Full-on sort of falls sort as an explanation of what that last month and a half was like. It was mental.

Plus I got a tattoo. Teehee!

Now that I am finally back, and ready to plunge back into the world of...something, the question sort of came back as to what next? Now that I've gone on my extended trip and seen a great chunk of the world (in addition to many other years of travelling), what was I going to do next? A job was obviously on the cards but what? Where?

The unfortunate thing is that jobs in Archaeology in Australia are sort of few and far between these days, a lot of the paid work and subsequent research grants got so tied to the mining industry that when that went into a sort of remission - so did opportunity for me and my colleagues. It's not ideal for any of us, and morale is particularly low, but at least I was luck enough to leave before things started to get really bad (sorry to everyone who didn't!). I used my sudden enriched freedom to go travelling, as you know, and now that I'm back and things aren't improved in archaeology I needed to come up with a new plan.

I spent a lot of time this year thinking about it before and after my trip - ever since I was in the US in January to be precise. But it was a real tough one - did I go back and study again? Did I move overstate, overseas? Did I change careers?

I considered a new degree, I considered a masters or phD, I considered moving away and I even applied for jobs away - but the issue came from logistics, of course. I probably will go back and study someday, because I love to learn, but I decided against it for right now since I had barely been out of the classroom for long anyway. Moving away - and most likely overseas because opportunity in archaeology in Australia is just that bad right now - was my next option and one I'd have preferred, but the logistics were so hard. The most feasible plan appears to already be somewhere before applying for a job, especially in the UK (where being an EU citizen allows me to work). It's not as easy as I thought to move over seas for a new job from the other side of the world. Still want to do it sometime, but whilst my bank accounts are still smarting from their recent overtime it doesn't seem to be the best option going.

And so I turned to one of the things I know I am definitely good at (besides writing, cue arrogant writer syndrome): travel.

Heck knows that I love to travel. I love to plan it, talk about it, rearrange it, dream about it and otherwise fit any form of travel into my life where possible. I even love to travel write - there hasn't been one trip I've been on since I was about 13 that I haven't kept a journal. So why not try something different and join the lucrative world of travel?

So, I did. I start in 2 weeks, and I am so excited about it.

Sam xox