Sunday, 11 January 2015

One Word

There is a wise woman in my life. Well, not in my life exactly. She's on my computer screen. She does exist though, I just haven't met her. I'm talking about Bron from Maxabella Loves. Her's is one of those blogs I take the time to read. I admit to quickly reading a lot of blogs; while I'm waiting for an appointment or in my lunch break, but there are a few that I make the time to really absorb.

Back when I was considering starting Champagne and Chips I wrote to Bron asking for advice. I didn't really expect a reply, Maxabella Loves is very popular and has a lot of readers, but I got one. My email was prompted by a discussion on another blog about the benefits of running multiple blogs. She asked the kind of questions that wise-women ask; the ones that you can answer without some soul-searching. She warned me about the work involved in running two blogs and suggested I just make my own idea of a blog out of the one I already had. I didn't listen though; I wanted to write a food and wine blog that was relaxed and fun but still have a separate avenue for the more serious things I wanted to talk about.

I am trying to find my place in this world. I am on about my fifth study-path and still can't really see a career for me. For those that don't know, I work in the wine industry in a cellar door. It is a transition job (and don't worry about my employers reading that, they know I don't want to spend the rest of my life here), albeit a lovely place to work. I have done a lot of study and feel like I want to be intellectually and creatively challenged in my work, which isn't something a job has ever provided - intellectual OR creative challenges but never both. I am studying again because I really love wine. Pharmacy, Acting, Production Management, and other performing arts related dabbles don't feel right any more.

I am six months into a 2 year Diploma on Wine and Spirits. It's a very well recognised qualification and graduates end up running wine programs for major hotel groups and the like. Except I'm not a sommelier and have no desire to become one. I'm also not sure that I want to spend my life driving around selling wine. I want to talk to people, educate people, work in a team, be creative, solve problems, embrace challenges, brainstorm ideas. I've never had a job like that and I want one. Problem is my mish-mash of qualifications and experience do add up to that kind of job but in Australia, where we are very degree focussed, they aren't recognised.

I want something to strive towards. I would like to have a career, not just a job. I am reading about a lot of people stripping back and simplifying their lives but I want the opposite. I'm tired of striped back and simplified. I want a few more material possessions. Dammit I want a couch! I want to see what Europe is like, or London, or even freaking Bali. I want to pay my bills without juggling my bank accounts. I want to be able to make smoothies for breakfast without having to stop and shake my cheap-ass blender half a dozen times to get it to work (however that stint as a cocktail bartender is at least good for something). I am not a particularly materialistic person but I want some ease in my life. 

Champagne and Chips is about building a portfolio of writing and photography to run alongside wine-related work, and hopefully somehow help with making life a little better at the end of my study. I needed a website I could tell industry people about without worrying they might stumble across a post about cancer or eating disorders. I also wanted to write with more ease and a lighter heart.

I tell you all of this because I am going to take a little break from Seeking Victory for a while.

Maintaining two blogs is a lot of work and I know I can do it but it means drawing time and energy away from other areas of my life. I've spent most of my life doing one job while striving for another. It splits your energy and your focus and makes life harder than it needs to be. I think I have subconsciously been doing that with the blogs too. I have been surprised at how easy it is for me to write about wine and food. I still devote a lot of time to it but the words and the inspiration just flow.

I want 2015 to be a bit easier and a little more deliberate. 2014 was a year of major change and challenge: I changed jobs; started studying; celebrated a year of blogging, or more importantly, writing regularly; started a new blog; organised two blogger meetups; made some glorious new friends; did #100happydays and created a new habit to look for the happy moments in the everyday; and made a commitment to improve my photography. It was a really tough year with some very stressful times of ill-health of family members, exams, and September was pretty much spent being investigated for cancer. I am tired. I feel like my energy is dispersed in a gigantic cloud around me and I just grasp little pinches of it from time to time to get through the days.  

I don't really do resolutions. I tend to have some goals in mind as a new year rolls around but I don't force myself to stick to them because life and goals are constantly evolving and changing (case in point 2014). Bron suggests a word for each year; a simple idea that you can focus on and work towards. I have thought a lot about this and the one that sits best with me is:


I was disappointed because it isn't a particularly beautiful word. There's no whimsy or art or any of the things I am attracted to. I think that's the point. It is a grounding word. 

I need to slow down and ground myself a little more. I need to focus on what is important instead of what I think I should be doing or comparing myself to others. Study is ramping up and I need to devote more time to that while still finding time to pursue the things that fill my heart. I am going to stop worrying about the future for a little while and just work, study, write, practise art and spend time with the people that fill my cup. I am going to conserve my energy a little more. I am going to breathe deeply, feel the earth under me and not try to do 'all the things.'

So, a very belated happy new year to you all. If you are into food and wine then pop over and visit me at Champagne and Chips. If not then I'll catch up with you on Facebook or Instagram or hopefully in real life ;)

Nicole x

Monday, 22 December 2014

Happy Monday

What a crazy, sad, funny, heartwarming, heartbreaking week it has been. Last week's Happy Monday post went live right just before I found out that it most certainly was not a happy Monday. I'm not going to talk about the siege, because I need to stop thinking about it. Danielle from Keeping Up With The Holsbys wrote the most beautiful post that really just sums it all up for me.

vines, vineyard, sunlight

I am getting better at not letting horrible things drag me down into the mire. As I was hearing the siege unfold I just felt grateful that my loved ones were safe. I checked in with my dear ones in Sydney and was so relieved that hadn't gone chocolate shopping that morning. I lived the day of the siege and those that followed clinging onto the happy stuff, feeling so privileged to be able to feel happiness when there are people in the world that may never know happiness again. That is how we can get by and not let the bad guys win. There is so much goodness in the world that we just need to give it the same amount of attention as the bad.

Things that made me happy this week:

:: Listening to a friend tell a "7 minute joke" that lasted about 20. She corpsed about 200 times and the joke was just dreadful (sorry darling if you are reading this) but I would happily lose another 20 minutes of my life just to see her tell it again.

vintage, cars, vintage cars, vineyards

:: Being called a free spirit by an old (young) friend. I have never really felt that about myself but always liked the idea of 'those kind of people.' I mentioned this to The Bookworm and he pointed out that I am not scared to follow my heart and do something different and unexpected.  I had never recognised that part of me that is brave enough to leave the path and bush-bash for a while. I've spent that last few years bush-bashing and while I really like paths with their lack of bugs and scratchy bits, life is more interesting and satisfying in the wilderness.

:: A quick chat and a hug from a friend on Tuesday afternoon when I just could not make sense of the world. She is a wise old soul (in a young vibrant body). She grounded me and helped me on my way.

:: Christmas drinks with a new group of friends. I think if I had to name the most cherished thing that 2014 gave me, it would be all the new friends. So many. I spent my first few years in Melbourne clinging tightly to the handful of people I knew here. Then at the beginning of this year I decided to just start saying yes to catch-ups and opportunities to meet people, even if they were a bit scary for this little introvert.

:: Cramming into the bathroom of a wine bar with said group of new friends to take a selfie and potentially win a bottle of Champagne. Marvellous stuff.

:: Hanging out with Miss Carly. and eating lots of dumplings. Dumplings are good for the soul, as is time with the life-force that is Carly.

:: My first paid-for work Christmas party in 10 years and by-geez it was a good one. So much good wine and lovely chats with a great team of people. I have a lot of whinges about my work (which I deliberately never share here) but I can't fault the people; absolute delights.

grapes, chardonnay, vines

:: Surprise Christmas trees. I am not really feeling the love this year. We are having an orphan Christmas- I can't get back to family in Brisbane due to study/work/finance restraints. I am picking up some retail work which means eight days in a row in the lead-up to Christmas. However, I arrived home from work yesterday to a little tree in the corner of the lounge room which we decorated together last night. We did'nt have a star for the top so The Bookworm created an angel out of a champagne cork. It feels like Christmas might be happening after all.

How are you doing? It has been a tough week for so many people. Take care of yourself x

Happy Monday

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Meet... The Spice Adventuress

I want you to meet Dhanya who blogs at The Spice Adventuress, a gorgeous blog with a bit of a focus on Indian food but with exploration of other styles of cooking as well. I am a big fan of Dhanya's blog because she cooks food that is so outside my comfort level. I am in awe of the way she combines all of those spices and ingredients to create magical flavours (check out her recipe for Biryani). Dhanya also writes about trying new wines and is really getting into the local wines now that she has so much choice (since moving to Australia)- a topic close to my heart.

So without further ado, let's get to know Dhanya...

You've been blogging for almost a year and a half and recently rebranded- tell us a bit about your blogging journey so far.

My blog was a random decision that happened on a lonely afternoon in August last year. But I believe destiny was at hand as it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. Though I had initially christened my blog as ‘Skinny chef de cuisine’, I ran into a bit of legal trouble with another company who had already registered a similar name (blame it on my lack of blogosphere knowledge!)

And that’s how ‘The Spice Adventuress’ was born. It has been an exhilarating and joyous journey so far. I have learnt so much about global cuisine, culinary cultures, discovered new ingredients, re-ignited my love for spices and met so many wonderful people along this journey.

Initially I had a bit of scepticism about making this my career, but the past one year my blog has got nominated for so many national and international awards which reinforced my belief that this was all meant to be. Blogging has also opened so many creative doors for me; the opportunity to be a journalist for a leading Indo-Aus community paper and several writing offers for leading websites.

If your afternoon suddenly frees up, all your jobs are done and there is an opportunity for some me-time, how do you spend it?

I love reading and most likely, you will find me with a book and a cup of coffee. 

What is the thing you are most proud of?

It would not be wrong to say that I am most proud of my son. Call it a mother’s vanity, but I am one of the proudest moms around simply because Adi is the most adorable and friendly 5 year old. He is a happy child, a sensitive and caring individual; and I am happy I made the life-altering decision of throwing away my career to raise him (I was a medical scientist in my previous professional life!)

What is the thing you would most like to do or learn?

I would love to travel more, especially to the lesser known places of the world. I would love to use my love and knowledge of food to transcend cultural barriers in some form or the other. But speaking of short term, I would love to take my photography knowledge forward.

You're originally from India, how is your life different in Australia and what would you like people to know about India?

My personal life really hasn’t changed much between both countries. But from a culinary perspective, the biggest difference has been the availability of all kinds of ingredients and produce in Australia. It is quite difficult or expensive to source many ingredients when it comes to International cuisines in India but here in Australia, I could find all kinds of ingredients so easily.

A myth that has existed about India for the longest time is that it is the land of curries. The cuisine of India goes much more beyond curries and I wish that people would experience the real Indian food.

What is your most memorable food and/or wine experience?

Oh! This would be hard. My most beautiful and memorable experience around food and wine was on my 13th birthday for which I asked my parents for a terrace party and a bottle of wine to welcome my teen years. I was living in Dubai at the time; we had a pent house and my parents threw a grand party for me inviting all my friends. I did not drink wine then but I wanted a bottle of sparkling to shake open as I had watched innumerable times on television.

When I was little I always wanted a treehouse where I could escape from the world and fill with my favourite things. Name five things you would have in your treehouse?

Hmmm...I would have my pen and diary, maybe a blanket to snuggle in, books, coffee and of course food!

For more from Dhanya, make sure you check out her blog and keep up with her adventures on her Facebook page.

This post is part of my new Spotlight advertising package. For just $20 you will get your advertisement in my sidebar for a month, a shoutout on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and feature in a spotlight post just like this one.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

I want to tell you a story...

I want to tell you a story of a refugee I met years ago when working in a hospital. She had given birth under emergency circumstances and remained gravely ill so was transferred to a medical ward while her baby was cared for in the Special Care Nursery.

As her medical condition improved she became a problem patient; trying to leave the ward, ignoring requests to return (she didn't speak English) and fighting like a wildcat when physically restrained. She was labelled as 'psychotic' and heavily medicated. Finally a translator was called in. She seemed almost unresponsive when he tried to speak with her and the outbursts continued.

I watched this unfold. I heard her screams as she was hauled back to her room. She was terrified. I took the time to read back through her medical notes. Her relative, with whom she was staying, had provided a detailed social history including torture, sexual assault and how she witnessed the murder of her family members. She had been granted residency quickly due to her pregnancy and was hoping her husband could join her in Australia soon.

If that had happened to me, as an Australian citizen I would have been provided with significant counselling, treatment for PTSD and an outpouring of support. She received time in a detention centre before being allowed to settle here without her husband. No counselling, no support, no psychological rehabilitation.

Is it any wonder she fought for her life when restrained by male security guards.

I organised a Pharmacist friend who spoke her language to come to the ward. With the relative safety of another female she opened up and explained she just wanted to see her baby. She thought we were taking her baby away from her. She was scared and confused. 

Within days we changed her treatment, organised frequent nursery visits and her condition improved. A few weeks later she went home with her baby.

I tell you this as I watch the aftermath of the Sydney siege tragedy. I do not want to speak or speculate about the accused other than to note his political asylum status.

Our refugee policies are murky. In some cases we don't screen appropriately, allowing dangerous and politically charged individuals to stay here. In other cases we lock desperate victims of horror in detention centres and do more damage. Rarely do we spend the time to rehabilitate them from their experiences. Rarely do they receive adequate care and treatment for all that has gone before reaching our shores.

I often wonder what would have happened to that woman if she had not had access to an educated female translator who was able to give her back her voice.

I cannot stop thinking about the man who changed the way we view our country. This doesn't happen in Australia, until it does. All those affected by yesterdays events will receive endless support and care, as they should. But this happens in other countries everyday. Every. Single. Day. And the victims have to just get on with their lives.

We have shown our goodness to those receiving unwarranted discrimination. #iwillridewithyou has drawn our people together amongst darkness and fear. We must remember this and speak up next time we see discrimination, let's make #iwillridewithyou our way of life from this point on. I am worried that we are the minority and that one of the outcomes of this tragedy will be further restrictions on immigration of refugees.

This post is not about answers. This is about not letting the actions of one person affect the fate of others. This is about changing the way we deal with asylum seekers to aid them in becoming valuable members of our society. This is about understanding the need for compassion and rehabilitation and providing it.

I have no sympathy for the actions of Man Haron Monis and I question the effectiveness of our justice system that he was out on bail when he shook our world. However as we learn more of his history it may provide answers on how he got to that place and how we can help avoid it happening again.

Please let's not tar others with the same brush.

I can see it, hear it, feel it, taste it - but I can never be on the inside of it with you. I cannot even be sure whether I really know what it is like. Is it 'like' my own? Or incomparable? Just as I can never know if what you see at any given moment is exactly the same as what I see. We look at a colour. We both call it red. But it is only because we have been taught to call it by that name. There is no guarantee - not ever - that we see it in the same way, that your red is my red.
André Brink, Before I forget