Carnival: The Grinch Edition

I think living in Britain has turned me into a whinging pom. Well, to be fair, I shouldn't blame the lovely United Kingdom for that; I've always had a tendency to be a bit of a whinger.

This weekend has been big - and by big I mean crowded, noisy, dirty and LOUD. The mild version looked like this:

{Photo taken by me}
Throw in random weather changes from sunshine to rain, oh, and about three tonnes of litter at the end of the day, and you have the Notting Hill Carnival. This was our second & final year of experiencing the parade from close quarters, since our apartment is directly on the parade route. And despite sounding like a grinch, I have to say it: I wasn't that impressed this year. In fact, I barely took any pictures at all - things were so similar to last year, the floats were almost identical and I was a lot more irritable with it all this time around.

To give you a run-down on what the carnival is like for a resident, here's how it goes. We're woken up on the Sunday of the long weekend by a steel band procession.. that starts at around 6am. {Last year it scared the life out of us, this year I was prepared with ear plugs.} Tourists and spectators start trickling in as the morning progresses, and the floats then start to make their way down the circuit - starting towards Notting Hill and ending near our street. The floats aren't really 'floats' like you would imagine. Instead, picture huge trucks rigged with massive speaker systems blaring out reggae and calypso music at around 135 decibals, with guys on microphones screaming out random things like 'LADIES, PUT YOUR HANDS UP' or 'NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL TWENTY-TEN REPRESENT!'

Once you've heard it the first three times, it gets old fast. Each truck is followed by some people in costume, some people in drag, and a whole stack of random tourists dancing along behind them, usually carrying some form of liquor with them. And the noise, oh my gosh, the noise. Our walls shake. Our windows vibrate. Our ears ring. Our cat hides under the bed. It is LOUD. And as we wave goodbye to that particular truck as it crawls along the street with its little bundle of dancing groupies behind it, we're greeted with the next one.

Rinse, cycle, repeat.

It goes on until the last float finishes up at around 9pm. It would be nice if that was it, and we all went on with our regular evenings, but no. Unfortunately, you're left with the hundreds and hundreds of inebriated tourists who throw their rubbish all over the ground, blow their whistles and their horns, and smash their bottles well into the wee hours. They don't show you the aftermath on the news images, because it's hideous. People are disgusting. You see, by the end of the evening when the parade winds down, you can't walk on the street without bypassing piles of garbage, discarded chicken bones and all sorts of other lovely human waste products.

And did I mention that it goes on for two days? Again with the rinse, cycle, repeat. Imagine this scene: tenfold.
It's nearing 10:30am and we're at the tail end of it now. There are the usual throngs of people being morons in the street below, and I'll probably go to bed with ear plugs in once more - because what else happens after the carnival ends? We get street cleaners. Brilliant, you say, they'll clean the mess! Stop whinging, Aly! Well, the street cleaners do their thing at 3am. THREE AY EM. Not only do the residents have to put up with the noise for two entire days, we also have to put up with it for two entire nights. So while all the party animals and parade organisers go home tired to sleep in their own comfortable beds, we're all wide awake in ours, dreading the next August. Well, we're not, since we'll be gone by then.. but you get my drift. What with the public transport being all but closed down in our local area to accomodate for the carnival, we've once again spent our bank holiday long weekend holed up indoors for most of the time - there's just no way to escape the craziness.

Oh my, this did turn out to be a complaining blog post, didn't it? Blame it on my pounding headache and blinding irritation with holding a freaking dance party in a narrow residential street. I get it, it's a celebration of the local communities around the area and has a lot of history to it - but I just don't understand why they make it so long, so loud and so obnoxious. I also don't get how people think it's okay to act like complete morons, just because it's carnival: would they smash beer bottles, throw crap on the ground & urinate on homes nearby if it was in their own street? I doubt it. They do it here though, and nobody lifts a finger to monitor or fine people for doing so.

Ah well. We'll see what the damage is like tomorrow morning. And looking on the bright side, at least that's it for us - we've seen our share of carnivals, we've appreciated our lovely view for what it is worth, and we're done now.

And as of tomorrow, my whinging will stop - as I have lots of fun things to look forward to. My baby brother and his beautiful girlfriend will be here in two! weeks! and I am thrilled to bits. Our travel itinerary is done, and we now have to go through the process of printing out dozens of confirmations before we leave. I have a feeling it's going to be a busy but fabulous few weeks. What exciting things are coming up for you lately?

Ask & Ye Shall Receive.. Some More

I actually really enjoyed answering the questions I shared on my previous post. It's quite a nice way for me to reflect on myself and to give an honest answer or two.. it's a good feeling, as if reminding me that I've accomplished a lot - particularly in the last few years since being here in London. We've done good.

Thanks to everyone who left me a message or asked me a question; here's the next round of Q&A's for you!

Dayna asked: What are the top 5 things you want to accomplish during your lifetime?

1. I want to get married and start a family.
2. I want to build or buy a house and then make it into a home with the boy.
3. I want to find myself in a career that makes me happy. I want to make a difference.
4. I want to write a children's book, even if it's never published & for my eyes only.
5. I want to be happy and I want to keep my regrets as minimal as possible.

Janet asked: Do you plan on taking J's last name, and how do you feel about that whole decision?

Such a good question - because it's something I thought about for a while. I've already made my decision, and yes, I will be taking Jason's surname. As much as I love my own and that changing to his will be really strange adjustment to make, it's something I'm really looking forward to. It's just another thing that we'll share, which I like. I did consider hyphenating or having a double barrel surname, but the fiancé has a two-part surname as it is, so having all those names together didn't roll off the tongue well. Honestly, if you whacked on a 'the third' at the end of my full name & our surnames combined, it sounds like I'm a member of some crazy royal lineage or something. So no, I won't be doing that - I'll be a Mrs D instead of a Miss S. I'm sure it'll take some getting used to.

& What will your bouquet look like, if you have picked it out?

I haven't picked one out yet, but I have a lot of ideas and images saved up ready to go. I don't have a specific flower I want used - we're getting married in winter, so I will need to just wait and see what's available. I'd prefer the bouquet to be mostly green and white, I don't even mind if they use lots of greenery rather than typical flowers. And if all else fails, a couple of nice calla lilies wrapped with twine might look nice. We'll see what happens.

Erin asked: What is your favourite episode of Buffy?

Hands down, Once More With Feeling. It made me fall in love with Spike just a little bit more. I love that all of them sing.. even the ones that aren't that great at it. But a super close second would be Hush. It's such a clever episode, the premise behind it nifty and the gentlemen scare the pants off me. And I have to say, the scene with Giles & the gang communicating via overhead projector and whiteboards is hi-lar-ious. Buffy & the stake, ha, priceless.


& How do you feel about cheese?

I feel quite good about cheese. Cheese and I get along rather well. It pretty much doesn't get better than Brie or Camembert sliced on fresh buttery bread rolls. With a nice glass of sweet white wine to wash it down - heaven.


& When are you coming to Chicago to visit me?

I really do wish that I could have squeezed in Chicago to our travel itinerary later this year - I was gutted that the big trip in 2008 didn't go there, and I'm gutted now. But that just means I'll have to come back at some point!

Emily asked: What are your favourite things about living in England, and what do you miss about Australia?

I love lots of things about living in London - the history, the scenery, the public transport system. It's a very social city, where it's custom to head out to a meal or a drink at a pub after work or on the weekend. People come together a lot and I love that. It's the complete opposite to what I'm used to back home and it's something I'll miss when I go back - because though I'm from Sydney, I don't live or work in the city itself. As for Australia, I miss my family. I miss my good friends. I miss mild frosty winters and I miss warm summer thunderstorms. I miss cheap department stores and I miss lime coola flavoured cordial. I miss having a big old backyard to call my own. I miss space

& Are you all for traditional stag/hen nights before the wedding (including penis paraphernalia and copious amounts of drinking!) or are you planning on doing something different?

I'm not really into the whole 'parade around the city being obnoxiously drunk with a penis on your head' kind of hens-do. If I had it my way, I'd prefer to do something random and awesome like a spa day followed by wine tasting, games, movies and lots of giggles. The way I look at it is that I'm not a big fan of bars or clubbing at the best of times, so why would I want to do that as a celebration before getting married? But, as you noted, it's really not in my control - but hopefully the people in charge of helping me organise the hens will know what I like and work with that! As for Jase, well, that's up to him. Unfortunately his best man and one of his groomsmen both live in the UK and will only be visiting for the wedding - I hope to make sure they book tickets just a little bit in advance if they can get off work, so that Jase can have a shindig of sorts. The fiancé has it in his head that he won't be needing or having a stag do, because of that very reason - and I'd feel sad if he didn't at least have a special celebratory boys night out before the wedding. Lots of time to think about that part though; I hope you can avoid the penises! 

Chantel asked: Where in Sydney did you grow up?

I was born in Auburn in western Sydney but my parents moved out further west when I was a toddler. I grew up there and my parents still live there - I won't name the actual suburb, but it's towards the Blue Mountains and is about 42km from central Sydney. {It takes around an hour to drive in, and another hour on top of that plus your first born child to find a parking space, haha.} I love where I grew up, even if it is considered to be the outskirts of Sydney - it's mainly residential and it's comfortable. I always grew up with a backyard and a frontyard to play in, and on quiet streets that you could roller blade or bike ride on. Our block of land is towards the Hills District.

Megan asked: What has been the hardest part about living with your fiance? What do you love most about living with him?

Finally (!) moving in together was brilliant, I was so looking forward to playing house and feeling like a grown up. Even though we'd been together for over five years at that point, living together is a whole new ball game - and we settled into it quite well. The hardest part was getting used to sharing my space. I was used to things being 'mine', to knowing where things were and knowing that they were mine, whenever I wanted them.  Luckily, we co-habit well together, in my humble opinion anyway. We are good companions - we can easily sit next to each other and geek out on our own independent laptops, but then five minutes later be sharing stories and laughing out loud at random things. We're both pretty clean, so that's never a real issue. He thinks I'm a hoarder {it's true, I am} but he also doesn't like to throw things away. I cook, he cleans. I vaccuum, he grocery shops. And we take turns making the coffee/tea. We're a good little partnership and I love that.


Paula asked: If a movie of your life was made, who would you want to play you?

I think I would have to start by figuring out someone who vaguely resembles me. Since I don't know of anyone who automatically springs to mind, I decided to do that celebrity recognition thing that was popular oh, around five years ago? The names I got as potential face matches are: Katherine Heigl. {Ooh, that's flattering - she is beautiful!} Jojo. {Wait, isn't she like 12?} Amanda Seyfried. Out of those choices, I'd choose Katherine, yay for Izzy!

Nathan asked:
 Best pickup line ever?


The cheese factor is killing me here: Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk past you again?


& In what sort of situation do you feel the most exposed?


I'd have to say anywhere where I wasn't surrounded by my own language. That lack of basic understanding makes me feel really small and uncomfortable sometimes, depending on where I am. At the same time though, I love that reminder that everything and everywhere is different, and sometimes out of your comfort zone is a good place to be.


Jess asked: Have you guys discussed a timeline for having kids? Ideally, how many would you want and when would you like to have them?

We'd like two. And depending on finances and fertility, maybe even three! Because of this, we'd like to start actively trying towards the end of next year - possibly falling pregnant by 2012? That would make me 28 and the boy 30. It might be a struggle conceiving with my PCOS diagnosis, but ideally I'd love to have at least one by the time I'm 30 myself - but I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Terra asked: If money were no object, what would your dream vacation be like?

Oh, I could think of a million different options. The first would be to do an epic round-the-world journey, but to be in top quality hotels the whole way. Oh, and business class too - I've never flown business and I likely never will, unless the plane gods take pity on me and deem me worthy of an upgrade one day. I'd love to go to destinations like the Galapagos Islands or Antarctica, places that regular old me would never be able to afford to visit on a traveller's budget! But I'd also just like to have all the time in the world to see things, so I'd leave each place thinking that I'd seen everything I could have. Wishful thinking, oh yes! {I was itching to stay at the Grand Floridian Disney resort.. but nearly fell over at the prices, so we've gone for the budget Pop Century instead. Ah well!}

& Do you think you'll ever get another pet to keep OscarCat company or is he more of an only child sort of cat?

He definitely thinks he's an only child, and is spoiled enough to prove it. But, unfortunately for him, we have big plans in the pet department when we get home and have a backyard for them! We really want to get two bigger dogs - Jase wants a lab and I'm leaning towards a husky or retriever - and we want to get them fairly close together so that we can do all the training at the same time, and also make sure the pups know that Oscar Cat is in charge! I always wanted a second cat {as well!} but the more I think about it, the more I think we'll probably just leave him as an only cat-child. As much as I love kittens, having four pets seems a trifle crazy - especially if we end up with kidlets of our own as well.

& What's your guilty pleasure?

I like to read books in the bathtub. I like to eat nutella out of the jar with a spoon. I can happily waste hours of my life playing the Sims on my laptop. I make huge online shopping orders, get excited about them, but then close the pages down and walk away. I take pictures of my cat, so many that I fear one day he'll snap and punch me in the face. I nag Jason for back scratches and hair brushes. I wait until my icecream has melted before I mash it up with Milo.

Kirby
 asked: May I please pop streamers at your face when you land in Sydney in December?

Absolutely! Though if you could try to avoid my eyes, that'd be good. And you have to forgive me if I cry. Because it will have been a lot of very long plane flights and the shock of the streamers might just push me over the edge.


& What are your thoughts on the name 'Ian'?

It's a very handsome name, I quite like it. And you can't make any tacky nicknames out of it, so that's positive?

& Just HOW upset will you be if Wally barks at you when you first see him again?

I'm expecting him to bark at me - it will have been three years since he's seen me. But I hope he comes around and learns to love me. That would be lovely, especially until we get our own pups.

& What are your thoughts on the fact that my niece has been turned into a tramp and now does a 'booty dance'?

Well, I need more substantial evidence of her booty shaking before I decide. And as long as she's not being dressed up like one of those toddlers in tiaras while she shakes her stuff, I think it could potentially be quite cute?

Phew! That was epic - I loved all of these questions, especially the random ones. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I definitely want to do something similar in the future, so if you think of any other questions.. send them my way!

What's the biggest question on YOUR mind today?

Pre-Wedding-Moon? Yes Please!

I've only mentioned that Jase and I are taking the long way home about a gazillion times, but I just can't help myself! The reason this trip makes me so happy {aside from visiting lovely places, of course} is because it's one that I get to share with the boy, with just the two of us. Aside from little long weekend trips to places like Paris, Zurich, Bruges, Copenhagen & Prague, the last BIG trip we took together was New Zealand back in 2006.

Did you know that my amazing fiancé has not taken a single day off work in the entire time he's been in the UK? Not a day. Not a sick day, not a half day, not a vacation day, nothing. He's a contracter, so he gets paid a higher daily wage but doesn't reap the rewards of sick pay, holidays or fancy benefits - so it's in his best interests, money-wise, to work as much as possible. There's that. But there's also the fact that he's the most super hard-working person I've ever met, and he's worked his butt off to be able to support us a) here in London, b) while I've been off work myself and c) for us to be able to have saved some income to take home with us.

I've been spoiled since arriving here. I spent six weeks in America in 2008, roadtripping with my best girlfriend. And in just a couple of months, I'll be doing it all over again, this time through Europe - all while the boy continues to finish up his contract and get everything in order here at home & is a single cat-daddy.

Say it with me now: luckiest. woman. alive. I know, I know. I'm super blessed in the travel {and fiancé} department!

So I am thrilled that now it's HIS turn to do some stress-free travelling on our way home. I've jokingly started calling it our Pre-Wedding-Moon, because this sort of trip would be perfect for a honeymoon, you know, if we were actually married yet! But since we're up in the Northern Hemisphere already and flights are so cheap, we're doing it now. And when it comes time for the actual honeymoon, we'll find somewhere with a smaller budget that is closer to home back in Sydney. Not many couples get to have two holidays away together in the space of a year.

Anyway, onto our trip.. this is what you call us taking the long way 'round back home to Sydney.

First stop: Orlando, Florida!

Jase and I will be flying separately for this part of the journey {remember this post?} so the boy actually lands in Florida a day or two before I will. We're spending six days in a Disney World resort and plan on doing nothing but relaxing, enjoying each other's company and nerding it up at the theme parks. I stopped by Florida as part of the whirlwind USA trip, but we only managed to get one day at Magic Kingdom and one day at Universal Studios then, and hardly got to see anything. This time around, there'll be plenty of time to take it all in with just the two of us.

{Photo by ME!}
And... this is the part where I get all wheezy and start making squeeing noises that leaves the boy rolling his eyes... it gets better. We'll also paying a visit to Universal Studio, and you know what that means? I will be releasing my inner geek at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!!!! Yes, that warrants bold text and yes, that warrant a barrage of exclamation points. In fact, I think it needs some more. {!!!!!} I can't even tell you how happy this makes me. So happy that I'm planning on holding a movie marathon of all the Harry films before I leave, just to bring Jason up to speed. He doesn't know about that yet. I'm sure he's going to be thrilled.

Next Stop: Las Vegas!

I spent ages figuring out this part of the trip, because I wanted it to be awesome for Jason. He's only been once, as a kid, and he was keen on the gambling aspect of it all - plus checking out all the hotels. I found a great deal on flights, so we booked it! And, best of all, I found a discount for hotels mid-week, and scored four nights at the Bellagio - talk about fancy! I've never stayed in a hotel that nice before. I can't wait to see what it looks like on the inside.

We'll be doing a day trip out to the Grand Canyon on one of our days here, because it's another amazing place the boy hasn't been to and I can't wait to share it with him. I've already started researching other random things to do in Vegas, but we're open to recommendations. I know I want to do some serious clothes shopping, and it looks like there are quite a few malls near the strip. Any ideas for me?

Next stop: Vancouver!

This is the part of the trip that we're really looking forward to - because neither of us have ever been to Canada before. Initially we weren't going to have enough time to spend in Vancouver, but since Norway was a bust, we quickly locked this in instead. A few people asked why, and to that I respond with this:

Beautiful city, gorgeous harbourside and scenic mountain ranges - why wouldn't we want to visit here? We are boring tourists who like looking at scenic stuff, and it'll be pretty in winter. Looking forward to a lot of walking around downtown Vancouver, spending a day in Victoria, and hopefully hitting up Grouse Mountain and the Capilano Suspension Bridge, if all goes well. It looks like my kind of city.

Next stop:
Calgary and the Rockies!

This is the only leg of our travels that is slightly organised - because it's winter in Canada when we're there at the end of November, we couldn't find any of the cross country scenic rail journeys in operation. Instead, we're hopping on a short flight over to Calgary and joining a coach tour that will take us around the Rocky Mountains and National Parks. Weather permitting, we'll be stopping at lodges in Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise.

It's going to be coooold, and I really need to invest in a waterproof jacket. It should also make for some stunning scenery. Maybe I'll spot a moose! Or a bear! Or maybe just a whole lot of snow. Well, it'll be beautiful regardless.

Next stop: Waikiki, Hawaii! 

So we're going from an arctic winter to a super mild tropical vacation - I love it! The way I see it, we're gradually increasing our temperature from freezing to mild, ready to be thrown into a stinking hot Australian summer. You guys, we're going to be spending four lovely nights on Waikiki Beach before heading home, which is going to be fabulous. This alone is worthy of a pre-wedding-moon, yes?

I intend on drinking a whole lot of cocktails here, enough that I feel brave enough to don my swimming costume and lie on the beach. {I've spent hours google mapping the hotel location and ogling the blue, blue water.} We're planning on being good tourists and doing a luau while we're there, but also a day trip down to the Big Island to check out the volcanoes and national parks. I wish we had more time to spend in Hawaii so we could see the other islands too, but unfortunately we have to be home to pick up Oscar-cat.

After recuperating in Hawaii, we'll be flying home back to Sydney on a direct flight which I scored free for both of us, thanks to our frequent flyer miles. {Score!} And then, it'll be straight back to reality.. back with our parents for a little while as we find a rental apartment, find cars, find jobs. But we'll be
home.
And home will be just lovely.

You made it to the end; well done! Any suggestions for things to do in any of our travel locations?

Ask & Ye Shall Receive

Thanks to everyone who jumped in and left a question for me over the weekend - it's been great to have some food for thought while I try and arrange the other random bits of information that are spinning around my brain right now. The travel plans are pretty much all officially booked now, so I'll be sharing those details with you soon as well.

So without further ado, here's the Q&A responses; this will be broken into two posts, so it's not too heavy on the eyes.

Valerie asked: Since you're getting married, I'm sure people will be asking you this soon: Do you and your wonderful fiancé plan on having kids?

We definitely plan on it - and hopefully not too far into the future. Obviously we're not going to be actively trying until after the wedding next year, but all things going well medical-wise, I hope to fall pregnant the following year. That will give us some time to enjoy being 'us' and getting settled back in Sydney. Of course, who knows what will happen - depends on how much of a hindrance my PCOS diagnosis will be when it 
comes to fertility.

Britt asked: What made you guys decide to move abroad? Were your families ok with it?

We had talked about it for a while before we made the decision, for a good few years actually. We'd both travelled together to Europe back in 2004 and had fallen in love with it, and Jason's older brother had already moved here with his girlfriend at that stage. I wanted to get a few years of teaching under my belt before we could really consider it, as did the boy with his IT career - and then one day he found a job, interviewed for it, and was offered - it all happened really fast. He ended up moving over mid-year in August 2007 while I finished my teaching year out and joined him in December 2007. The rest is history! His family was very supportive, and knew it would be a good move career & finance wise. My family were supportive as well, but not as pleased when the original twelve months turned into two years, then three.. hee. They're pretty happy we're moving back home soon!

& What is your most favourite aspect of your wedding so far (besides your groom of course!)

Hee, I do rather like my groom. From the little bits I've managed to scrape together so far, I have to say my favourite thing has been how supportive everyone has been so far. My parents have been great, driving to random venues and bridal shops while I've been away, my girlfriends have tried on dresses and got excited over little things like stationery with me, and it's sweet to see the boy starting to look forward to it a little bit more since it's not quite as far away in the distance any more. (I may or may not have a countdown going.)

Britt is getting married in just over a week - squee! You should totally stop by her blog & send her some well wishes.

Mary & Britt asked: Where else do you want to live? Will you move abroad again?

To be honest, once we're based back in Sydney I don't think we will move again. I'm itching to get back home, to get back to the suburbs and to eventually own our own home. At the moment, we have our little plot of land ready to go, but we're not in the right position to build yet - so we'll get there, slowly. Plus, our stint here ended up being 3.5 years for Jason/3 years for me, and I don't see us living abroad again when we have a family. Plus, I think my mum would kill me if I left her to go overseas again!

Amanda asked: Would you like to have coffee with me?

Um, yes! Let's hurry up and organise it soon.. this year is going by way too fast.

& Have you done your US electronic travel notice thingemy? They're going to start charging, so do it while it's free.

Yes, we certainly have. I did it as soon as I found out we were definitely going home via the USA. If you follow me on twitter {@breathegently} you probably already have a brief idea on where we'll be going, because I hollered out for help & advice so many times in the past few weeks. But still.. you'll find out for yourself soon enough!

& What are you planning on doing once you get home? Going back to work? Same field/different field?

I'm not entirely sure. Logically, I feel like I should go back into teaching - maybe just as a relief teacher for a little while to get my foot back in the door again. The problem is that we will be home in December, as most schools are closing for the year - and they won't re-open until late January. I'd prefer to work almost straight away when I get home, as we'll both need income in order to find an apartment or house to rent and to pay off wedding costs & start saving for a home. If I don't teach, I don't know what I'll do; possibly look at something else within the education field, maybe recruitment - but I'm open to anything. If you know anyone with jobs going in Sydney, holler at me.

Becky asked: Have you ever been to the U.S.? Would you ever come to Washington, D.C. (hint, hint!)

Oh my lovely, I have been there before - and to Washington to boot! You can read about my epic USA adventure by clicking here. I did start recapping everything but apparently I got tired at around the Texas mid-way point of our trip. Lazy blogger! I would love to come back to D.C. at some point in the future, we had such a good time checking out the monuments & museums. Would you ever come to London/Sydney?

& Since you and J are taking such big holidays at the end of this year, are you going to take a big honeymoon or scale it back a little?

We'll definitely be scaling it back. I keep calling this trip our pre-wedding-moon, because we'll be visiting some pretty scenic and amazing places together. It just makes more sense for us to see the northern hemisphere now while we can, rather than adding on a crazy long and expensive flight back here again in the future after the wedding. We haven't decided on honeymoon locations yet, but we're thinking of somewhere closer to Australia: maybe New Zealand or the Pacific Islands. {Bora Bora, I'm looking at you. Lush!}

Kathy asked: What have been the 5 highlights of your time OS?

1. Finally moving in with Jason - our first five years together were spent living with our parents.
2. Getting to revisit some of my favourite countries on several occasions, especially France & Switzerland.

3. Oscar. He's one of the best things that could have happened to us, and we love him so.
4. Being self sufficient, saving our money {thanks to my hard-working fiancé} & getting ready to take the next step.
5. Realising how amazing Australia is. Being away from where you grew up makes you appreciate it so much more.

Nathan went crazy on Formspring & asked several questions: What is your biggest failure?

There are two things that come to mind when I think of failure. The first: health, body image and weight loss. I've always struggled to get it under control and even now, years later, my sole focus still remains on getting healthy. I hate that it's always been such a struggle and I hate that I didn't manage to have this sorted out years and years ago. The second: not being as social as I would like. But I've grown to love this - not everyone is meant to be a social butterfly, and living abroad and away from friends & family gives you a good indication of who really is a good friend. I've always said I'd be happier with just one or two really close friends than a room full of acquaintances, and I stand by that.

& What is your adult beverage of choice and which one is guaranteed to be your poison (bad experience)?

I'm not a big drinker, I never have been. If I am drinking, I'll tend to go for vodka and lemonade or vodka and diet coke - mainly because they're light in calories. The drink I've had the most, er, tipsy experiences with would have to be cider. I never drank it before I came to the UK, but since I don't like beer, I had to find something I liked that was on tap. Queue the cider. It's great, but wow, it hits me really hard.

& Body hair: Like? Dislike? On You? On Others?

This question made me laugh. I've never really had a big stance on body hair.. to each their own and all that. I'm blessed in the fair hair/pale skin department, so I've never really worried much about body hair. My mum taught me two things: don't pluck/wax your eyebrows & don't shave above your knees if you don't have to. I haven't done either of those things in my twenty-six years. Again, all praise goes to the pale genes for that. What I do dislike on me would be the chin hairs that sprouted when my PCOS problems went nuts. Those I could live without, they make me really self conscious. On others, I don't mind. Jase is really cute with a five o'clock shadow, I like guys who are fairly natural in the body hair department. I have to say, I'm not a big fan of a full blown 'stache. Unless it's like this:

There will be a few more answers coming soon - and if you haven't already left a question, feel free to add one below!

Ask me Anything

This weekend, I get to spend some quality time with me, myself and Oscar-kitty, since Jase is out at a stag-do and a work-do with some friends. I'm actually looking forward to some quiet time, as I still have loads of travel planning to do that will keep me busy - and I'm nothing if not a perfectionist when it comes to organising holidays.

But I thought I would put the call out to you guys for a little blogging inspiration. This is your chance to ask me anything you like, anything at all, and I will share my random ramblings with you. Old friends, new friends, random lurkers - please share a question & help keep me occupied this weekend?

There are a few ways to get involved:

Simply leave a comment on this entry if you've got a question & don't mind your name attached to it.
or
Leave an anonymous {oooh, mysterious!} question via my somewhat abandoned formspring account.

Easy peasy. You get to be nosey and I get to have some things to think about next week. A good trade, I think.

Also, I won a giveaway a few weeks ago that Angela {of Tomorrow is Another Day fame} was throwing - and last week my little parcel of goodness arrived. I won a pearl collar necklace {courtesy of Aloha Kitchen on Etsy} and it is so, so very me. Apologies for the blurry camera phone picture, but as you can probably tell, I am in love with it.

I wore it to a wedding today, and it matched really well with a simple dress and cardigan combination.
And also, the wedding? Was so simple and sweet and beautiful and I can't wait for my own now. Sitting in the church holding the boy's hand while listening to the ceremony gave me shivers. Bring on June!

Happy weekend everyone.. and I can't wait to see your questions. I'll check back in next week & get busy answering!

Crumbly Goodness

I'm one of those girls who would love to be able to cook but who doesn't really have the know-how. Because it's just been the two of us living in our partially-furnished rental apartment here in London, we don't really own any fancy kitchen equipment. We don't even have a mixer or food processor. In fact, the most technological of our appliances are a toasted sandwich machine & a blender; which we inherited from friends when they left the country.

There's never been much point in investing a lot of money into buying new and fancy products because it's not like we can just throw them into our moving van and take them to our next flat when we move: because we'll be moving abroad. Again. So yes, we've been living off limited kitchen resources for the past three years, and this is how it will stay until we move home and stock up our own kitchen! {I'm SO excited to do this, you have no idea.}

Oh KitchenAid mixer, one day you will be mine. Won't you?
We also tend to have fairly basic ingredients in our pantry too; being that there is just the two of us, we buy things that we cook and eat as we go. The past few months have seen me stockpiling basic baking ingredients, but I certainly can't just fling my cupboard or fridge doors open and find certain spices/flavourings/cooking products.

What that means is that I'm constantly on the lookout for simple recipes, using simple ingredients, using single equipment. That's not a lot to ask right? Oh wait, yes, it also needs to be low calorie. Easy, no?

Today I was feeling really uninspired. I was mooching around the apartment and craving something sweet - I tend to get the munchies either in the middle of the afternoon or just after dinner. As you know, I've been following a healthy eating plan for the past few weeks but I don't like to limit myself as to what I can or can't eat.. so it's nice to be able to plan meals in advance when you know what your likely downfalls are going to be. I have a lot of low calories snacks in the house - cheddar oat bakes, low GI chocolate chip oat biscuits, random bits of fruit and even the occasional Cadbury big bar of chocolate. (3 squares of deliciousness = just under 100cals, yes please!)

Today, none of those snacks would do; I wanted something different. I wanted to bake something. So what does any hungry girl on a diet do? Why, she googles, of course. She googles naughty, naughty things and ends up craving all sorts of Sugar! Carbs! Sugar! Starch! Sugar! Did I say Sugar!? Mmm. Baked things. Cakes. Pies. Macaroons. Muffins.

I didn't cave, you guys, because we didn't have the right ingredients to make any of them I am a strong willed healthy machine. But I did still find myself really, really snackish, so kept on looking.

I settled on stewing some apples, thinking that I'd have some of them with custard or yoghurt to satisfy the sweet cravings. Then I got to searching for apple crumble recipes.. and I found one which I adapted to suit my current ingredients & equipment {or lack thereof.} And wouldn't you know, it was pretty darned good. It was super easy to make, it tasted great considering how little was involved, and I made do with my own estimates at amounts.. because er, we don't have kitchen scales and I like/need to be creative with my measurements.

I wish I'd thought to take a picture while it was in the pan and fresh out of the oven, but instead you'll have to check out one of the small portion servings I made up, minus the low fat yoghurt I dolloped on top.
Unfortunately this picture doesn't do it justice either because a) it was the dodgy, fallen-apart piece that I decided to eat {so that Jase could have the nice, NORMAL looking slice, such a good fiancé I am!} and b) it is kind of a blurry iPhone pictures. Bygones.. I'll take a better one next time I make it, promise.

Seeing that I don't use exact measurements, replicating the crumble might be a little bit tricky, but it's worth playing around with if you're so inclined. Here's my take on a simple & easy apple crumble recipe that could serve 2-3 or 4, depending on how much of it you want to shovel into your pie-hole. Mmmm. Pie.

Ingredients:
2 apples, peeled & sliced
sweetener or sugar {whichever floats your boat}
1tsp cinnamon {ground preferably, grating cinnamon sticks resulted in FAIL}
80-100g rolled oats {or any oats, really; I used 2x portion control servings from my diet plan}
1/4-1/2cup plain flour {add it gradually, you may not use it all}
3-4tsp margarine or butter {again, add it as you go along}
You'll also need a shallow baking dish - or a loaf cake tin
Preparation:
Pre heat oven to around 180 degree {celsius!}
Peel your apples and place them into your greased dish/pan.
Realise you forgot a step; take them out again, throw them into a mixing bowl {or, if you're me, a protein powder mix shaker} with about 2tbs sweetener & cinnamon.
Shake it all together so your apples are coated, then place them back into your greased dish/pan.
Mix together oats, flour and sweetener and begin rubbing in margarine until mix starts sticking together.
Coat apple with crumble mixture & bake for 30-35 minutes.
Do you have any simple to make and low calorie meals you'd like to share? Share the cooking love!

Things I Don't Understand

How do people meet, get engaged and plan a wedding in less than a year - how can they possibly know enough about each other to commit for the rest of their lives? I'm a romantic by all means, but it just blows my mind.

What is the point in airlines making one-way tickets just as, if not more, expensive as return fares? I get they want the business coming back with them, but we aren't returning in that same direction!  Now I'm buying return flights just for the sake of it, which seems incredibly pointless. I'm already feeling guilty that one day flights will be held up waiting for us to board the plane for the return journey, which we never wanted to purchase in the first place.

After two years of ignoring the clothes line, why has Oscar become fascinated with it all of a sudden?

Why does putting weight on take no effort at all, but getting it off takes every little bit of strength and then some?

Is it normal for wedding traditions to be completely unfamiliar to the grooms-to-be? Jase isn't really aware of, or interested in, pre-wedding events like an engagement celebration, a bridal shower, a rehearsal dinner. Is it bad that the thought of not enjoying these events before we get married is making me miserable?

How can Disney claim to be the happiest place on earth, when it's ridiculous prices are making me unhappy?

When the tube is packed to the brim of people coming home from work AND summer tourists, why don't people move down into the middle of the carriages instead of creating hot and sweaty crowds by the doors?

Why is it that the one thing I want more than anything right now {remember this camera?} is the one thing I can't have, as we have too many other expenses right now? And why is it that everywhere I look, people are purchasing said camera, taking awesome pictures and making me more than a little bit green with envy?

Why haven't I finished this holiday planning yet when it really needs to be booked already? Get on with it, woman!

Grey Sky Morning

London in the midst of grey and dreary weather is perfect - moody, full of history & like it's meant to be that way.

I'm not entirely sure where the warm weather has gone, but I'm not complaining about it. I prefer it when it's cool - it's much nicer to walk around and sightsee when you're not having your pale scalp burned off with every step.

Playing tour guide with the in-laws has been fun but I'm enjoying have a break from it until they're back from Scotland. It's really only hitting me now that this year is going by at an incredible pace. My brother and his girlfriend will be here in just over three weeks. A month after that, Kirby & Julie will arrive and then I'll be gone - off to Europe, and off out of this apartment. And just another short  month after that, Jase and I will be off visiting a few countries of our own choice - though those are still undecided at that point. 

I still have so much to do.

Trip planning is back on as the number one priority. Just when I thought I had it all worked out and we were starting to book things bit by bit, we had a big change of plans - which leaves me with 7-14 days in November to find somewhere for us to visit. Travelling in winter has its perks {less tourists, generally cheaper pricing} but it also has its downfalls {less tour opportunities} and we have to match it up to the dates we have already got things booked for. It's becoming a lot trickier than it looks and I'm starting to stress out.

Honestly, if you could see the amount of paper I'm surrounded by.. you'd laugh at me. You'd probably also make fun of my somewhat sad and humble attempt at formulating a travel spreadsheet, and then go ahead and agree that I should just stick to the paper itinerary. It's ok - I'm on board with that one. I'm nothing if not traditional.

If you had a week or two spare, where would you visit on a fairly limited budget? Help!

It's Official..

Since our flights have now been booked and our e-tickets are waiting patiently in our inbox, I can break the news:

We're going home!
December 7th, 2010
I'm equally nervous and excited... but can't wait to share some more of the details with you soon. Happy weekend!

Life in 140 Characters Or Less

Newly arrived in laws + super early starts + keeping people entertained + too many cups of coffee = brain dead Aly.

Instead, here are some snippets from my life, summed up in 
140 characters or less. Twitter, I was late on the bandwagon, but I'm beginning to love you so. {Not enough to start using the hash tags though. Sorry.}

  • Bought the cutest scarf today; I can't wait to wear it! Wait, how do I wear scarves again? 
  • Got home to a little package from one of my Aussie girls. Mix CD of obnoxious 90's music!
  • I hate when word verification programs are impossible read. Do they purposely want you to fail? I don't understand it.
  • Walking along south bank and going to meet @emilyjv - if I don't tweet again in an hour, she was an axe murderer, send help!
  • Help!!!! No, I'm kidding. Had a great brunch with @emilyjv and now headed for London Bridge. :)
  • I'm not going to tell you how many Jersey Shore episodes I watched this weekend.
  • So 90% of my Twitter friends are at Blogher. And I'm in my pj's geeking out on the laptop at 8pm on a Friday night. Are you jealous?
  • Why does Twitter want me to follow Taylor Swift?
  • You know what makes me unhappy? TECHNOLOGY THAT DOESN'T WORK. I hate this scanner/printer/devil machine.
  • I just looked up and Oscar was quite literally sitting IN an open kitchen cupboard.
  • Right folks; if all goes well, my updated domain should be live now. Test it for me, let me know if it works! http://www.breathegently.com
  • I think Jason is trying to kill me. Every time he shops, he buys 'strong flavour' onions that leave me crying and puffy eyed when I cook.
  • Just ate pineapple and now my mouth feels all kinds of strange.
  • I AM SO EXCITED THAT WE HAVE JUST BOOKED HAWAII FOR THE END OF THE YEAR, WOO. /end caps
So how are things going in your life right now? You have 140 characters or less to tell me.. go!

A Secret Drawer & Why Brunch Is Always A Good Thing

I was out of the house most of this weekend, spending quite a lot of time with a few visitors that have been in London recently. I was really excited to meet Emily {aka Emily Jane, awesome wedding-winner extraordinaire} during her whirlwind trip back to the UK with her fiancé, and we quickly coordinated a time and place to catch up.

I have to say, I'm rubbish at making decisions and picking venues to visit. I do have one favourite place that I love to stop by every once in a blue moon; it's not in my neighbourhood at all and requires a bit of a journey, but it makes for an awesome brunch spot. It's located near Tower Bridge and it's on a little cobblestone street full of shops and apartments that are completely precious. How can you not love it; it's oh so London. {And check out that sky!}

This is the reason I would travel clear across town for brunch. I mean, really. I'm hungry again just looking at it.
Emily was just as sweet in person as she is online and we happily spent the morning chatting away; about life, about travelling, about the UK and of course, about wedding planning! It was a Saturday and quite busy when we first arrived, but we stayed for a few hours and soon only a few diners were left as the kitchen prepared to close.

The restaurant is filled with random mismatched furniture, which I was admiring while I finished my banana oat smoothie. It was about that time that I noticed that the table we were sitting at was actually an old desk, complete with drawer. Being the nosey person that I am, of course I opened the drawer. I was not expecting what was inside!

The drawer was filled with dozens, possibly even hundreds of scraps of paper. There were messages on notepaper, messages on the back of receipts, messages on napkins, all sorts of messages. I felt a little shifty going through the drawer in front of the staff, but couldn't help but get excited - so we started pulling them out one by one and reading them together. There were messages about love, relationships, marriage, hopes, and random dreams.

It was such an unexpected surprise, and it was incredible to think that so many people had gone through the exact same motions as I had - randomly opening a drawer in a restaurant and discovering a secret stash of notes.

I'm not going to go right out there and name the restaurant, though if you look carefully enough at the images, you might get a bit of an idea. Or, you know, you could just ask ~ it's definitely worth a visit if you're in town.

Maybe when you visit, you could add your very own messages to the drawer. And perhaps you will find the messages that Emily & I added to the stash. This has to be one of my favourite places in London town.

Have you ever encountered a random surprise or note somewhere unexpected?

Somewhere In The Middle

One year ago today, I was in Prague.

It was a week after my birthday and Jason had planned the entire weekend away as a surprise - and it was amazing. The sun was shining, the crowds were slightly insane, but the entire trip away was just amazing.

Prague is one of those cities where it is impossible to take a bad photograph, even for point & shooters like myself.

It's also a city that is close to my heart and I will never forget; because it is marks the location where my best friend dropped down to one knee and asked me to marry him, with the city lights reflected on the water behind him.

This time last year I became a fiancé.

This time next year, I'll be a wife.

And this time, right now? I am the luckiest girl on the planet. Happy engageaversary, Jason!

Edit: If you're reading this, please update your readers to my newly registered domain: www.breathegently.com

Breathe Gently: A Re-Introduction

My last few posts have been a little deep; I'm in a crazy place right now where I go from chipper! bubbly! excited! to stressed. anxious. freaking out. I'm so all over the place, even I can't keep up with myself. I think it's about time to write about something a little different - what better way than to get out there in the big, bad blogosphere?

I've never been a BlogHer conference, despite being active in the blogging world for the last five years. I remember a few years ago, when I was writing under my old domain (Aly---bear.com) a lot of my American friends were heading off to it and it was bittersweet seeing the pictures and reading the recaps. But, until BlogHer decides to break tradition and go global (ooh!) you'll  just have to get to know me through my blog instead!

Keep reading below the image to learn more about me - maybe it'll be something new and exciting? I'll try my best.
So.
Here goes.

I'm a twenty-six year old native Australian girl who is a primary school teacher. I moved from my home in Sydney to London, England in December 2007 - and we are now preparing for our move back later this year. I live in our little London flat with my fiance & our horrifically spoiled cat, Oscar. You might think I'm exaggerating. I'm not.

I love to read. I'm a huge fan of wearing flats and can't walk in heels. I could eat cereal for every meal and no, I'm not kidding about that. I love letters and packages that come in the post and I get incredibly excited by postcards.

Instead of sharing the details on how the boy & I first met, here's a simplified version for you.

Girl hears song on radio. Girl falls in love with song and stalks band online. Girl finds official forums and befriends other Australian fans. Girl meets sweet Boy on forum. Girl develops gigantic crush on Boy through emails and messages. Girl eventually swaps mobile numbers with Boy. Girl sends Boy a text message one day during a particularly boring university lecture and invites him to hang out "sometime". Boy calls girl that night and arranges a movie date. Girl meets boy at theatre, bringing her Mum along for back up. Girl sees Boy is cute and sends Mum away, with promises of a code word if he is an axe murderer. Girl and Boy watch a bad movie and have a good first time. Girl and Boy exchange awkward hug goodnight. Girl gets confused over first date and assumes Boy is not interested. Girl waits a week and gets impatient so asks Boy out. Again. Girl and Boy have second movie date which ends with a kiss under the stars in the Girl's drive-way. The rest is history.

Jase is lovely. I love him. We got engaged last year and we're getting married next June which makes me giddy.

Random, obscure trivia? You want it, you got it. Carry on reading:
  • I've never done a thing to my eyebrows in my life. No plucking. No waxing. Nothing. Sure, they're kind of fluffy - but I know that once I shape them, I'll have to maintain them. Let's face it; I'd be awful at it.
  • I'm embarrassingly fussy with food, mainly due to textures and scents. I don't eat seafood, because of the fishy-ness. I don't eat strawberries or kiwi fruit or any other fruit with seeds. Tomatoes make me gag. Feed me a piece of salmon and I may throw up on you. As such, I tend to enjoy foods when they're simple. Eating out with me is like eating out with a toddler. I apologise for this in advance.
  • I have (blonde!) hairs on my chin, which make me incredibly paranoid and self conscious, but there you have it. When I'm a grandma, I'll probably have the makings of a fully fledged beard. I've been told that this is a side effect of having PCOS so there's not much I can do about it, but if you're meeting me in real life? Please try not to stare at my chinny chin chin.
  • I'm a righty, but I can also write with my left hand - just not as comfortably.
  • I'm directionally challenged and can get lost without even trying. I still have moments where I fet my left and right confused, and I'm not opposed to turning a map upside down to try and make sense of it.
In the spirit of sharing and commenting, what's one slightly random fact about you that others may not know?

Operation Healthy: One Month In

Since July is long gone (well, four days gone..) that means that I've officially been on my healthy living plan now for four weeks; more than enough time to write in and share how things are going with it so far.

Let's start with the positives: in four weeks, I'm down  fourteen pounds. I'm pleased with that; despite only losing a measly 1-pound in the last week itself. It's a pretty consistent loss when you work out the average of around 3-pounds per week. I've become a lot more aware of my portion sizes; particularly with innocent meals like cereals and dinners - I was going completely overboard and not even realising, since that was "normal" for me. Now, I'm starting to find myself fuller for longer & I'm never really going without, which is important to me.

Another positive is that I'm being a lot more conscious of eating enough food. While I was busy spending May and June working out rigorously, I wasn't losing any weight. Looking back, I think it was because I was eating my meals all wrong, with big portions at set times each day and not many snacks in between. I'm now eating more - but smaller sizes and at random times throughout the day. I'm eating a lot more fruit, and finding good things to snack on that will keep me within my calorie "goal" (I hate the word "limit") each day. I downloaded an iPhone app called Lose It, and while it took a bit of time initially plugging in most of my regular meals, it's super easy to use now.

But of course, there are always downsides to a weight loss journey - if it was a quick and easy fix, I'd already be at my ideal weight and size. The most common gripe I have is about ME and how I carry my weight: because that fourteen pounds lost has not made the slightest bit of difference to my figure. Please don't think I'm complaining about how much I've lost because I know that fourteen pounds is great and I'm mighty pleased with myself, but honestly - where has it gone from? It's so hard not to be disheartened when you look in the mirror and see no progress, despite the numbers finally starting to budge on the scale. Progress is everything to me. I like to see results. I like to know that the effort I'm putting in is noticeable to others, but more importantly, to myself.

I'm a pretty critical judge.

Part of this intense need to really see results stems from my impatience; yet another thing I struggle with. I have a long way to go on this journey; let's face it, with the amount of weight I need to lose, fourteen pounds is a very small percentage of the whole picture. Mentally, I need to make sure I'm 100% focused on this as a long-term thing - I've learned from failed past attempts that it's all too easy for me to go from being a little wobbly with my commitment, to eventually toppling off the bandwagon in a spectacular fashion.

I had a moment this morning where I felt utterly dejected after reading that 1-pound loss; where I felt like this was ridiculous and that I was once again wasting my time and energy into something that just isn't going to happen for me. I just felt awful, like a big, fat lump. I sat down on the floor in my underwear and thought about raiding the cupboards to make the worst possible food I could come up with. I thought about the fact that I had eaten out twice this week for my birthday - naughty Thai food, apple pie with ice cream and wood fire pizza, and figured hey, that explains it you silly girl, get off the floor and start over.

But then I got angry. Really, really angry. So angry that I would have punched something, except that there was nothing here to punch. Why? Because I'm bitter. I'm jealous and I'm bitter. I ate two small meals this week that were what I would consider a splurge, and my weight loss stalled because of it: yet why are there people out there who can eat terribly every day, drink cans of coke every day, not work out at all - and can not gain a pound.

Why is this such a hard journey for me? What did I do to deserve always being large? WHY? It's not fair.

I'm over that now. I got up and I moved on, and I indulged in a small portion of cocoa & granola with milk for breakfast. But you know, deep down, I am still all of those things. I am sad. I am angry. I am bitter. I am jealous. And to be perfectly honest, I don't think that anyone can empathise unless they have been fat themselves. And I'm not talking a few pounds over their 'skinny' weight. I'm talking about people who are well over a healthy weight range, who have a lot of weight to lose, and who have probably (like me) been heavy their entire life. I don't know if these feelings will change as this journey progresses; I hope they do.

But to end on a positive and to summarise: four weeks down, fourteen pounds lost.


I have this horrible fear that being vocal about my weight loss journey and having support from Jase is fantastic - but that I'm going to let everyone down if things stop working, or if my size doesn't change after all this. If there's one thing I can't bear the thought of, it's disappointing people.

So here's to the next four weeks, I hope you'll stick through this with me - no matter what the final outcome is.





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