Goodbye Summer

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It seems like only yesterday that December was starting, and with it, the season of summer stretched ahead, full of possibilities. And yet, somehow, three months have gone by, and the sun has now set on the last day of summer for 2016/17.

I’ve always loved the freedom that summer represents. As a kid and later as a teacher, I always relished the long school holidays, from mid-December to the end of January. Finally, there was time to indulge in my creative pursuits without feeling guilty that I should be doing school work instead. For six weeks, I would feel like ‘me’ again. These days, as a relief teacher, I have more freedom than ever before, so I’m trying to make the most of it. That’s why I’m so pleased with how successful this summer has been from a creative point of view. My two biggest achievements were completing my ‘Himalayan 100’ photo album and starting this blog. More importantly, I’ve maintained this blog for two months now. This is because I dedicated the month of January to changing my mindset about writing. Now that it’s a habit instead of a task, it’s just become a natural part of my routine and I don’t feel as if my day is complete until I’ve done some writing.

No summer is complete without a holiday, of course. My annual visit to Rottnest Island at the start of January may only have been for a day, but, like always, left me feeling refreshed and inspired. The longer trip came in February, when I headed off to Sri Lanka for two weeks. It was my first visit to the island, but I’m sure it won’t be my last. I met some lovely people on my G Adventures tour, was treated to some amazing views and nature experiences, and ate such delicious food that I’m still dreaming about it. Sri Lanka was the perfect way to start off my adventures for 2017.

I aimed to be active regardless of whether I was on holiday or at home, and, happily,  I achieved a goal that I set at the start of summer to walk 10,000 steps each day. That said, I found plenty of time to relax as well, in the form of watching late night trashy horror films; feasting with friends over the festive period; and what has got to be my favourite summer pasttime of all- lazing in the hammock with a good book (and sometimes falling asleep).

What I also really liked about this summer were the milder temperatures, as I don’t enjoy the heat as much as I used to. There were several days where I actually went for my walk wearing a jumper, as the air was nippy outside and it was so windy. The weather resembled a rollercoaster, as we’d have a couple of really hot days, which would be followed by a substantial drop in temperature. Not that I was complaining. It’s much easier to tolerate a 40 degree day when you know you don’t have a two week heatwave following it. (Though the 114mm downpour and 17 degree day that Perth experienced while I was in Sri Lanka was just weird.) I’m not sure whether the weather had anything to do with it, but the skies were pretty tame at sunset time, and my camera only came out twice the entire summer to capture a dramatic evening sky.

Nevertheless, there’s no denying it’s been a wonderful summer. Now to see what autumn has in store.

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This summer, I set myself a goal to walk 10,000 steps each day. Perth is blessed with clear blue skies, sunny weather, and fourteen hours of sunlight during the summer season. Even if it’s too hot during the day, the nights are generally balmy- in fact, this is my favourite time to exercise. All in all, it means there really is no excuse not to be active. And although there were several times when I had to go for an 11.30pm run to make sure I reached my target for the day, I can now officially say that I achieved my goal! In total, I walked 1,035,362 steps this summer. I was so happy to realise I’d broken the million mark.

I also achieved another exercise-related goal this summer, which was to run around my suburb- a distance of about 7km. It doesn’t sound like much, but given that I’m not a runner, it felt like a formidable challenge. After last year’s 1000km hike along the Bibbulmun Track and my trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, a new fitness challenge was just what I needed. I don’t know that those walks made much long-term impact on my overall fitness, but after a couple of months of building up my endurance, I managed to complete the run, in under the hour that I’d been aiming for. (Actually, I shouldn’t lie, it was more of a very slow jog.) This goal was actually more of a resolution for 2017, so to achieve it before the first month of the year was over was a bonus.

I’m proud of these efforts as I’ve never really been into fitness, aside from trying to fit in a few walks during the week. Even that started as a way of procrastinating from doing assignments, back in my uni days. As I’ve got older, though, I’ve become more conscious of wanting to look after my body. Given that I love my food, I know that regular exercise is in my best interest. Buying myself a Fitbit for my birthday last year also helped, as it made me more motivated to move. And while I’m not going to worry if I don’t make 10,000 steps each day in March, the first week of autumn is looking to be very summery indeed- perfect for some balmy evening walks.

The Month Ahead: March ’17

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March is almost here, and with no travel plans for the month, I’ll have plenty of time to spend on my ‘at home’ projects. It’s taken me a while to readjust back into ‘the daily routine’ after coming home from Sri Lanka, but I think I’ve finally regained my mojo just in time to make sure live up to the motto which I try to follow each day- be productive, creative and active. Here are some of my goals:

Read: The Toymaker by Liam Pieper, The High Places by Fiona McFarlane, House of Snow by Ranulph Fiennes, Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Write: Since I didn’t have a reliable WiFi connection at some of the places I stayed in Sri Lanka, I only managed to post about the first week of my holiday, where I toured in a group. March will be devoted to writing about my solo adventures and observations.

Exercise: I’m actually going to cut myself a bit of slack with this one! All summer, I’ve endeavoured to walk at least 10,000 steps per day. I will continue to aim for this as often as possible in March, as the weather is still bound to be warm and sunny, but I’m not going to feel pressured into going for an 11.30pm run if it’s looking like I won’t reach the target.

Cook: Ever since I got back from Sri Lanka, my sweet tooth has been out of control, so I’ll be hanging up my baking apron for the month. Instead, I want to focus on savoury meals, which is not my usual forte. I’m most keen to try my hand at a couple of vegetarian curries, as well as a few chicken dishes.

Clean: I want to begin Phase 2 of sorting through my teaching resources. I spent the first two months of summer going through all my files and managed to cull quite a bit. I suppose the bigger issue now is storage. It’s time to shift my things out of the lounge room, where they’ve been residing for the last 14 months. I’m thinking a new bookshelf will help to store some of the books, files, and resources that have made the final cut.

Create (Project 1): Snapshots of Sri Lanka. This will involve sorting through and editing the 2000+ photos I took on my travels. It’s going to be a big task!

Create (Project 2): String Art- The Cool Colours Companion Piece. The follow up to an art project I completed 20 years ago in primary school.

Watch: Homeland (Season 6), The Simpsons (Season 7 DVD), My Sri Lanka with Peter Kuruvita (SBS online)

Work: I’m looking forward to starting four weeks of relief teaching at the end of the month, as I’ll be in a class with some of the students I taught in Pre-Primary two years ago. It will be amazing to see them all grown up. I’m just hoping I haven’t forgotten how to teach, since it feels like an eternity since I was in a classroom. (Actually only three months ago, so I should be fine.) Plus, you know, it will be nice to earn some money, considering my bank account doesn’t seem to want to finance itself.

Eat Out: I’m sticking to a pretty strict budget this month, which means cutting back on dining out, even if the breakfastinperth Instagram page may try to tempt me otherwise. I am willing to make an exception for Slate Cafe, which I have been wanting to check out all summer, as well as Gusto, as they were closed the last time I visited to try their homemade crumpets, which are meant to be delicious.

Hang Out: I feel like I haven’t made much of an effort to explore my home city since getting back from Sri Lanka. However, I’m looking forward to attending The Rosé Event with some friends on the 18th of March. The event will be held along the Swan River, and the four of us are looking forward to sampling many wines- one of our favourite pastimes!

It looks like March is going to be a busy month!

My Furbaby

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Say hello to my little friend! His name is Oscar, and he’s actually not that little. This crazy dog has been part of my family for four years now, and whenever I look at that happy face, my heart brims with contentment. Oscar absolutely lights up my soul. Not surprisingly, he is who I most look forward to seeing again when I return home from my travels. Probably because the excited welcome I receive from him is unparalleled.

Oscar has always been full of energy (at least, when’s he not sleeping on the couch for half the day), and never do you feel that more than when you take him for a walk. In the past, it’s often felt like he’s the one taking me for a walk. During the last couple of weeks though, my mum has been doing some training with him, and when I took him for a walk tonight, it felt like I was walking a completely different dog. There was no pulling, and he trotted steadily next to me. Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! I was so proud of my pup.

As we walked silently under the stars, I reflected on how much I love exploring the world, and how lucky I am to be able to travel and go on adventures. And yet, at that moment in time, despite all the amazing places I’ve wandered around the world, there was no place I would rather be than my quiet neighbourhood, with my beautiful dog by my side.

In a Mandala Mood

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When colouring books for adults became a thing a couple of years back, I was overjoyed. I love colouring in. I love the fact that I can still participate in a form of visual art without having to draw anything- since I absolutely suck at drawing. All I have to do is fill in a black and white page with texta marks. Such a simple process, and yet completely transformative, as a bright and vivid scene gradually emerges from nothingness. Colour is the light of imagination, and from it, ideas come alive.

The first adult colouring books I bought, back in 2015, contained beautifully detailed ink illustrations by Johanna Basford. The scenes in ‘Secret Garden’ and ‘Lost Ocean’ are incredibly intricate, and I would spend quite a bit of time thinking about the colour schemes I should use. Completing one of the pages required a lot of focus, patience, and dedication, but it was always an enjoyable activity, and the perfect way to relax after a long week of teaching.

There were certainly enough illustrations in these books to last me a few years at the rate I was going, but after my trip to Nepal in October 2016, I wanted a change. I’d seen hundreds of stunning mandala images in Kathmandu and Namche Bazaar, and when I arrived home, I went searching for a mandala colouring book. It took me a while, but when I came across Jim Gogarty’s book, I knew I’d found exactly what I was looking for.

I’ve finished about eleven of the 100 mandalas so far, and I love the creative freedom involved with bringing the abstract shapes and patterns to life. In my other colouring books, the colours I choose to zhuzh up a picture are influenced by the real life colours of the illustrated objects. With the mandalas, there’s no preconceptions. It’s more about ‘feeling’ the colours. This line feels like a blue, this circle feels like a red. And then, on the next page, a line might feel like an orange, and a circle might feel like a green. There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s creativity in its purest form.

Fat Thursday

One of the things I love about my Polish heritage is all the traditions associated with it. My Polish background has always been a huge part of my identity, even though I can’t speak the language fluently- as a result, I often feel that I can’t celebrate my love for Poland with Polish family or friends to the extent that I would like.

Traditions are an important part of any culture, and I think they become extra special when you don’t actually live in the country where they are celebrated. They serve as a link, a connection, a way of remembering your roots, and where you come from- if such matters are important to you. For example, I doubt my brothers would be able to describe many Polish traditions- it’s just not an aspect of life that is of much interest to them. Even my dad, who was born in Poland, doesn’t go out of his way to celebrate them.

Thankfully, my mum is a great source of knowledge about Polish traditions, and I have always loved listening to her recount stories and memories of celebrating these traditions with her family in rural Poland. To me, these stories are absolute magic. I often feel nostalgic for events that I didn’t actually experience myself, as well as sorrow for the fact that we’ll never be able to replicate them here the way Mum describes in her past.

Funnily enough, the tradition of Tłusty Czwartek is one that Mum never really waxed lyrical about, so I was largely unfamiliar with it until a couple of years ago. This is both a good and bad thing- good, because it’s fun to still discover ‘new’ traditions in your late 20s, but also bad, because it means I’ve missed out on two decades worth of this tradition. And let’s just say, Tłusty Czwartek is not a tradition you want to miss out on.

What exactly is Tłusty Czwartek, I hear you ask? Well, it basically translates to ‘Fat Thursday’, and this is because it’s a Thursday pretty much designated for eating doughnuts. Yes, you read that correctly. Reason 102 why being Polish is awesome! The tradition stems from the upcoming season of Lent, which always begins six days after Tłusty Czwartek. Essentially, we pig out on pastries, particularly pączki (the Polish name for the jam doughnuts that are consumed on the day) before, theoretically, observing a fast period over the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Considering I’ve been having a Fat Week since I got back from Sri Lanka, I think it will be a good thing for me to give up sweets for the next seven weeks.

In the meantime, it was time to dine on some delicious doughnuts. Given my recent forays into cooking traditional Polish food, I decided Tłusty Czwartek provided the perfect reason to have a go at making my first ever pączki. After all, I’d experienced success with my attempts at making pierogi (Polish dumplings) and makowiec (poppy-seed cake) in the past couple of months. In fact, my Polish grandmother had been highly complimentary of both, and when Babcia says your food is good, then you wear that praise like a badge of honour. I envisioned rocking up to her house and proudly presenting her with a plate of palatable pączki.

Let’s just say, I was not third time lucky with my Polish cooking. It’s not that they were inedible, but, much like the failed Sri Lankan feast for my dad’s birthday, I just didn’t want to look at the final product. Here’s how pączki are meant to look:

Paczki | Donuts

And here’s how my pączki turned out:

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I think John, my brother, described them best when he said they looked like mutations. Mum (who had warned me that the dough did not seem quite right) was very kind in her assessment that they resembled little monsters. I just settled for the obvious- they were deformed doughnuts. Granted, the tendril-like claws which formed where the dry dough started opening up in the frying process were satisfyingly crispy, but they also made these purported Polish pastries look more like Chinese moneybags.

In times like these, Polish tradition suggests there’s not much else you can do but join everyone else in having a good laugh at yourself. And perhaps have a shot of vodka to drown the pain associated with such a spectacular failure. Safe to say, there was no special food delivery for Babcia this time. It’s quite possible she would’ve disowned me.

Forward Planning

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It’s been exactly a week since I returned home from my travels around Sri Lanka. A country of friendly people, delicious food, beautiful landscapes, and amazing experiences. Funnily enough, I just came across a blog post I wrote at the start of January when I finally booked my flights after weeks of indecision about what I actually wanted to do and see in Sri Lanka. What was then a blank book is now a finished story.

On my tour, I shared a room with a girl from the UK who has been to some pretty amazing destinations. Her favourite country that she’s visited is Jordan, and I was keen to hear about her experiences, as it’s a country high on the list of places I want to visit myself. In fact, Jordan is the first country I ever put on my ‘places to visit one day’ list.

And so, with my first adventure for the year over, I got home and thought I’d just have a look to see what tours are available for Jordan. Yep, instead of going to bed after a 40 hour day travelling between continents, I sat at my computer doing research for another holiday instead.

At the start of the year, I pencilled in mid-October as my preferred time to visit, and considering that’s still eight months away, my main aim was just to browse through the itineraries offered by different tour companies. I enjoyed travelling with G Adventures in Sri Lanka, but for Jordan, I was feeling more inclined to choose Intrepid, as they seem to offer a bit more time in Petra, which is the main reason I want to visit Jordan.

You can imagine my surprise when I scrolled down to the dates and availability section and saw that there was only one spot left for the mid-October tour. And I’m sure you can guess who got that last spot! Yep, I don’t waste any time. Although I did not have the slightest intention of booking anything when I first started browsing, there was no way I was missing out on this tour because if all goes well, Jordan will be the first stop of a wider adventure I have planned for the end of the year. And if things don’t quite work out, then I’m still going to Jordan and doing the ‘Explore Jordan’ tour, starting the 14th of October. I’m so glad I was inspired to look at the tour when I did, as I doubt that one available spot would’ve lasted for much longer.

Before I go, I would dearly love to find the book that first piqued my interest in Petra as a seven-year-old. It’s an old book, simply called ‘Petra’, and is written by Iain Browning. I have searched for it at home for the last 18 months, to no avail. I just really want to flip through the pages of this book before I go and realise a lifelong dream. I have eight months left to find it- fingers crossed!