1 dress, 31 days: my Frocktober fundraising challenge

October 1 2017

Friends, I’m excited to share that this month I’ll be fundraising for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF) as part of Frocktober!

What’s Frocktober?

Frockers* are encouraged to raise money for the OCRF by frocking up: it could be at a Frocktober fundraising event, it could be every Friday for a month or the challenge many fundraisers take on is wearing a different dress every day for the month of October. I took on the 31 days, 31 dresses challenge last year, it was a bunch of fun and with your support was thrilled to raise over $1,500 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation to continue their much-needed research into an early detection test.

However, while the support I received was amazing, there were a few raised eyebrows along the way. “31 dresses!? You own 31 dresses!?” Yes, I do. My shopaholicism** is fairly well documented on this blog. But I’d hate for anyone to think that I’m advocating for excess, even when fundraising. So this year, I’ll still be embracing the Frocktober challenge of frocking up for a good cause – but I’m dialing the difficulty up a notch!

*not an official term
**also a made up word

This year’s challenge!

Rather than wearing 31 dresses over 31 days, this Frocktober, I am going to wear ONE dress, for 31 days. That’s right minimalism advocates, I have chosen this challenge with you in mind. Every single day of October, I will wear the same dress, styled a different way.

I have religiously rotated my wardrobe since high school and it’s fair to say wearing only one thing is a new concept for me. But I’m up for the challenge!

Why I’m taking on this challenge 

There are 2 reasons I’m taking on this challenge:

  1. I don’t believe that you need to have a giant wardrobe to look fabulous every day. I believe in quality over quantity and making smart choices when stocking your wardrobe. Frocktober is a perfect time to put this into practice and take on the challenge of making fewer pieces work harder!
  2. The frocking up puts the ‘fun’ in fundraiser… but of course, Frocktober is all about raising money for the OCRF. One woman dies every 10 hours from ovarian cancer. Often, women do not experience symptoms until the cancer has spread and with no early detection test, too many women do not receive a diagnosis until too late. I’d love to surpass what we raised for Frocktober last year to help the OCRF toward finding an early detection test. I hope by taking on a more challenging challenge, you’ll be willing to support me in my fundraising and help the OCRF!

The ONE dress

Longtime followers know, my go-to brand for work and events is Leina Broughton. I can’t go past their high-quality, classic, flattering styles which are Femeconomy approved and super easy to care for (machine wash, no iron – critical when on high rotation!). My favourite style is the ballet wrap dress, though with 3/4 sleeves and 35 degree plus days already upon us in Queensland, I have been craving a shorter sleeve!

A few conversations later, team LB developed a little sister to the ballet wrap dress, with a half sleeve (finishes just above the elbow) and a fractionally longer hem, for me to wear this Frocktober. It’s reversible, fit and flare and machine wash, no-iron. Her name is Amelia.

The Leina Broughton Amelia Dress in navy. This baby is going on high rotation for 31 days straight!

Leina Broughton Amelia dress in reverse!

And Leina Broughton fans I’m thrilled to tell you, she’s so gorgeous that team LB has decided to release it from this coming Tuesday! I’ll be wearing her in Navy this month but she’ll also be released in a print!

So you’ll see me in Amelia every day this month, worn differently every day – I’ll be sharing pictures on Facebook, Instagram and my frocktober fundraising page starting today!

A special collaboration

I met Leina, Fleur, Tracey and the Leina Broughton team last Frocktober when I reached out and asked to interview them for the blog. They are wonderful people and I have been thrilled to work with them this year as they have featured their customers and embraced women of all different shapes and sizes. Team LB love their customers and love women and to my delight, were very keen to support me in my Frocktober fundraising this year, so have both generously donated the Amelia frock for me to wear and will donate to my Frocktober fundraising as I feature Amelia this month. I’m super excited to collaborate with team LB to feature a quality-over-quantity approach to style and raises money for an excellent cause.

The goal

I may be scaling down the parade of dresses, but I’m dialing up the goal: I so hope that we can raise $2,000 this year for the OCRF!

And I’d be so grateful for your support! You can make a tax-deductible donation to my Frocktober fundraising here and together we’ll support the Ovarian Cancer Reseach Foundation to develop an early-detection and save women’s lives.

Hope you’ll follow along with my styling/fundraising challenge this month on Facebook and/or Instagram. Let the frockfest begin!

Are you participating in Frocktober? How do you feel about minimalism? Got any rad styling ideas for me? Lets talk it out in the comments! 

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A beginners guide to making crack

August 13 2017

I want to be clear up front – I’m good at plenty of things. I’m great at painting my own nails. I have a 6.7 GPA. I’m getting very good at identifying which fashion house couture came from. I taught our dog to sneeze on command! I can do things.

But I’m not a great cook.

In fact, it may not even be appropriate to use the term ‘cook’ to describe the fumbling I do in the kitchen. I stuffed up boiling rice the other week. Despite the signs I probably shouldn’t,  I recently attempted to cook a recipe that’s going viral at the moment (called ‘crack’). I learnt a few valuable lessons along the way… some may call them sublime finds, others may call them fundamental cooking basics. Whether you could do with a few cooking pointers as learnt the hard way by moi OR alternatively you are a smug, capable cook who will take pleasure in my misfortune – this post is for you.

The background to this story

Long time readers would know I’m a raving fan of the podcast Chat 10, Looks 3 by Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb – who are equal parts smart and funny and also besties prone to a good snort-laugh together. While their work-lives are political, the podcast is usually about what they’re reading, watching and cooking. As their podcast audience has grown, the occasional fans (who can cook) have taken to dropping off their kitchen spoils for Leigh and Annabel to sample.

Recently, a listener had dropped off something called ‘crack’ and it was so good that Annabel and her team producing ‘The House’ on ABC devoured it in a single sitting without saving an ounce for Leigh.

Enter the ‘Chatters’

Around the same time, a Facebook group was created for Chat 10, Looks 3 devotees like myself. The group quickly starts referring to members as ‘Chatters’ who declared it to be a cult. Chatters start making crack en masse. In fact, cooking crack becomes an initiation of sorts. I’m a long-time sufferer of FOMO (fear of missing out) and want to attain full ‘cult’ membership, so I read the crack recipe, decide it looks pretty straight forward*, buy the ingredients and settle in for a Monday night of cooking crack.

*a conclusion I will later learn is incorrect.

Hold up, what actually is ‘crack’?

It’s essentially Saladas covered in caramel, then chocolate with some nuts on top. It is salty and sweet and delicious in the way that smores are, but better. It is made from crackers, cracks when it’s baked and is as addictive as it’s illicit namesake.

The famed Chatters' Crack

The famed Chatters’ Crack in all it’s glory.

The recipe the Chat 10, Looks 3 listener used was posted by smitten kitchen and has been since translated into metric measurements with Aussie flavour by Jo Waugh and renamed with a nod to Chatters.

Chatters' Crack Recipe by Jo Waugh

Chatters’ Crack – Jo Waugh’s Aussie version. You can download the PDF of this bad boy here.

Now as I have eluded to (and came to learn the hard way) Chatters’ Crack is not a recipe for the novice cook. Let me enlighten you on a few things not spelt out in Jo’s translation above.

15 lessons learnt from my first attempt at making crack

  1. Check the hot plate you turn on corresponds with where you have placed your pan.
  2. Boiling caramel spits!
  3. Spitting caramel burns!
  4. Caramel quickly turns tacky if you don’t spread it promptly!
  5. Tacky caramel goes hard in the pan if you haven’t cleaned it! (I believe this is how toffee is made?)
  6. If you try to grate chocolate, it will melt in your hand.
  7. Do not try to grate chocolate. (Why was I doing this!? Chocolate grating it is not in the recipe!)
  8. If you want to toast flaked almonds, do it in the oven before putting the saladas in.
  9. Despite what google says, ‘toasting’ almonds in the microwave is not really a thing.
  10. Using the microwave while something is in the oven will clear the timer!!
  11. It is very hard to remember how long something has been cooking without a timer.
  12. Caramel will start smoking when it is burning!
  13. Spreading the melting chocolate will make your knife too hot to lick.
  14. If there is a level below beginner when it comes to cooking, I am that level.
  15. THE CRACK TASTES LIKE EVERYTHING THEY PROMISED AND MORE
Chatters Crack Attempt 1

Chatters’ Crack Attempt #1: Not the best looking crack you’ll ever see but delicious!

Crack is best shared with friends

I ditched the particularly dodgy bits and took the excess to work. I took great delight in telling my colleagues I’d made crack and brought it in to share. Received the tick of approval from surprised coworkers.

Buoyed by the success of cooking something other people actually enjoyed eating, I thought I’d have another go. Because it will be so much easier the second time around. Right?

Wrong. I present attempt #2. Turns out ‘burnt caramel’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Pun intended!)

Chatters Crack Attempt #2

Chatters Crack Attempt #2: where it all went wrong. This batch was destined for the bin.

Mastering Crack

It was third time lucky – and this time I took some snaps along the way for the umpteen kindred spirits I’ve since seen trying to figure out if they’re on the right crack track.

Chatters' Crack process

Chatters’ Crack: how it *should* look when you’re doing it right! (…as learnt the hard way.) L to R, top then bottom: 1) Melt the butter first, then add the brown sugar – put on a time for 3 mins! 2) the caramel will change texture and go bubbly and light 3) salad’s laying in the tray – this is half a box of Saladas 4) Pour the caramel over the salads quickly 5) This was after 7 mins in the oven. 15mins is WAY too long for me and my oven 6) dropped some Cadbury melts on top – I opted for more milk chocolate than dark 7) Spread that chocolate around after a few mins *knife too hot to lick* 8) Finished version ready to hit the freezer for 20 mins! ALSO out of shot, toasted those nuts in the pan on the stove! Took 30 seconds after the pan was hot. Did this before commencing any other recipe elements!

Crack glory

Chatters' Crack finished product

Smug successful photo: the finished product, all your crack dreams come true! (Note to self: order stretchy pants.)

That concludes this (highly likely, once-off) edition of Sublime Finds in the Kitchen! Have you been made crack? Are you addicted to crack? How do you rate your cooking skills? I welcome all confessions in the comments!

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11 tips to find a great Airbnb!

July 27 2017

Over the last seven or so years, my wanderlust has gone from non-existant to overflowing. Like most people, the two things that stop me from travelling more are time and cost.

In terms of cost, accommodation is usually our biggest travel expense (after shopping). I’m hardly an outdoorsy kinda gal (except for yacht-outdoorsy, Cannes-beach-club-outdoorsy, or parked-on-the-roof-at-Westfiend-’cause-its-Super-Saturday outdoorsy) so camping is a non-starter for me. From time to time I’ve battled travel anxiety so having some space thats not shared with others to chill is a must. The travel destinations I crave most are typically cities (with excellent shopportunities) rather than spots off the beaten track. All of these factors make for super expensive holiday accommodation…until Airbnb came along.

While staying in hotels is great, Airbnb is nearly always a more economical option – not just for price of accommodation, but also access to a kitchen and therefor the ability to prepare a few meals at home. (This is also awesome if you have food allergies and are finding the local food tricky to navigate!) We have stayed in Airbnb accommodation in Paris, London, New York, Vienna, Zurich, Lyon, Nice, Milan, Venice, New York (a second time) and on the Gold Coast. We have only ever rented the ‘entire place’ (rather than just a room) sometimes its been just JS and I, other times we’ve been staying with friends.

Airbnb tips Nice

The rooftop terrace at our Airbnb in Nice, France! Still missing this place.

 

How Airbnb works

As you likely know, Airbnb enables home owners to rent their accommodation to traveler for short term periods. This may be a bed, a room, a granny flat, an entire residence or even an entire island! All properties are advertised through the Airbnb website. Buyers and renters create a profile and have their identification verified. To rent accommodation you either contact the Airbnb ‘host’ or make an instant booking (not all properties are set up for instant book, it’s up to the host). You are then able to liaise directly with the host on details for your stay and exchanging keys etc.

After your stay, you and your host can leave each other private and public reviews to help build your credibility as guest and host respectively!

How the money bit works

Typically your Airbnb costs will be made up of a per night fee, a cleaning fee and occasionally an extra person fee (i.e. if you’ve got three people staying in a place for two). When you make a booking, Airbnb charge you for the full amount of your stay, excluding the bond. Airbnb hold this money until 24 hours after your scheduled check in. This gives you a full day to contact Airbnb if there are any issues with the property not matching the description and enable Airbnb to freeze the payment to the host until an outcome is reached.

My basic understanding is that most Australian travel insurance companies recognise Airbnb as legitimate accommodation and your Airbnb stay is therefore covered. To be certain, check with your travel insurance provider.

In our 10+ stays, we are yet to have a bad experience! I put this down to a bit of luck, but mostly following some very specific guidelines when booking an Airbnb! Here they are!

Got a travel pinboard? Pin this for later!

1. Know where the centre of town is

Nothing worse than getting to your accommodation and discovering it’s not near the action. Do your research ahead of time to find the city centre and make an informed decision about how close or far you want to be from there.

2. Use the advanced search features

Airbnb will initially let you search on location and dates. Use the ‘room type’ and ‘more filters’ drop down menus to select how much privacy/sharing you’re open to and the facilities you’re after (Wifi! Parking! Kitchen! Aircon!).

3. Only consider properties with reviews… and read all the recent ones

Properties with a bunch of reviews are obviously a much surer bet than a property with none. Reviews are made after check out and posted without the ability for the host to alter them, only to respond, so it’s likely they’re genuine. Airbnb also posts an automatic note as a review when the host cancels a stay, listing how many days ahead of the trip they are cancelling.

Reviews are a great spot to discover the extra details a host may not have listed, i.e. that the apartment is at the top of a super steep hill. Or there’s a supermarket on the next block which is extra convenient.  You also get a sense of what the host is like in the comments, I saw one listing where a guest had given a polite but unfavourable review of a property and the host’s response was so horrendous! No way were we going to stay in his property!

4. Check all the costs

When you’re searching via the map (i.e. by moving the map around and seeing what properties show up) Airbnb will show you the per night rate. When you click into the listing you’ll be able to see the additional costs which confirm the overall price of your stay.

4. Check the ratings for any other properties the host rents

On each Airbnb listing, you’ll see four menu items at the top, one of which is ‘The Host’. Clicking this will take you to a brief overview of the hosts then you can click again to access their full profile. This will show you if the hosts have other properties, how long they’ve been hosting, an overview of their reviews. A source of much information!

6. Ensure everything you care about is pictured

On occasion Airbnb hosts have the tendency to fill their listing with photos of the local area, rather than specific photos of the property. Make sure there is a picture of every room/facility that’s important to you to ensure there are no surprises on arrival. For example, when travelling with friends, we were looking for properties with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. We found a bunch of properties where there were pictures of one bathroom only. I’m sure the properties had a second bathroom, but without being able to see what it was like, these went to the reject pile. My general philosophy is to presume that if it’s not pictured, it’s not present.

Airbnb tips - Milanese kettle!

Some delightful discoveries won’t be pictured! This kettle was in our Airbnb in Milan!

7. Know the local Airbnb local regulations

A quick google of <the city you’re visiting> + Airbnb + legal will give you an indication as to whether there’s any restrictions on Airbnb in the city your visiting. The laws/regulations around Airbnb are likely to impact a host and not guest, but it’s best not to be caught by surprise. For example, there are restrictions on short term rentals in New York City which put Airbnb firmly in the grey zone. We’ve been asked by hosts to say we’re friends of the guest if any neighbours spark up a conversation. This hasn’t happened to us and we didn’t really mind, but I could see that bothering some people.

8. Check out your surrounds

You won’t receive the exact address of the Airbnb property until you book, but the map on the listing will give you a general sense of where you’re located. I usually tap those streets into google and go straight to street view to get a sense of what the area is like. Are there lots of restaurants near by? Are you in the thick of a residential neighbourhood? Is the area run down or super luxe? Street view reveals all!

9. Check in with your host a few days before you arrive

Often your host will be contacting you a couple of days out to make exact arrangements to meet or to confirm your trip, and if not, suggest you contact them. This will put your mind at ease that everything is awaiting you and also earn you good kudos for guest communication!

10. If you’re still nervous, have a back up

The first time we Airbnb’d we were nervous about how it was going to work out. So we researched a few alternate hotels/apartments nearby that would be suitable if it all when south with our Airbnb. This has never happened! But it put my mind at ease ahead of our trip.

11. Leave a review

What surprised you about the property? Be sure to leave a review to give others the heads up on what to expect. I think it’s always helpful to share not just how the property was, but how the entry process worked and what you found and liked nearby.

 

This is not a sponsored  post – just sharing lessons learnt. I know travel planning can be a bit tricky, we’ve found Airbnb a great way to get the price of holidays down, find some extra space in holiday accommodation and live like locals. I’ve got myself so in the mood for travel writing this post I’m off to make myself a little travel wishlist now!

You can have $50 off your first trip of $100 or more by signing up via this link!

Are you and Airbnb fan? Have any extra tips? Tell us about your experiences in the comment below!

Dance like no one’s watching: a No Lights No Lycra review

July 4 2017

It’s no secret that like Carrie Bradshaw, I’m a shopping-is-my-cardio kinda gal. However I suspect quite unlike Carrie, I’m also in the carbs-are-lyfe camp and that’s the sorta thing that has a way of catching up with a person. So tonight I journeyed way outside of my regular cardio comfort zone and tried No Lights No Lycra.

What is No Lights No Lycra?

No Lights No Lycra was started in Melbourne by “two unruly dance students” who were looking for a place “completely let go” without the rigour and rules of dance class. How do you create a space for people to dance completely free of inhibition? You let them wear what they want, turn the music on and the lights off. And with this very simple premise, No Lights No Lycra was born.

Fast forward 8 years, No Lights No Lycra (or NLNL as they cool kids call it) is run in cities all around Australia and the across the world. My local NLNL (see how I’m cool now?) is in a hall at West End on a Tuesday night from 7-8pm. It’s $6 to go in, the lighting is dim before 7, at 7pm the lights go out, the music cranks up – a very fun and diverse mix of tracks – and it stays that way for an hour.

The ‘no lycra’ thing is not for real – you can wear whatever you want, and people totally did. I wore leggings and a shirt, but I saw people come in wearing their work attire, jeans, jumpsuits, crop tops and shorty shorts, whatever.

The no light rule, however, is pretty strict (the one or two occasions where someone picked up their phone was really obvious and lit up the whole room) and as you’d hope/expect, there’s a strict no touching rule. As a woman whose had a lifetime of being told to fear being in dark public places with strangers, I wondered if I’d feel self conscious. I did a little at the start, but it’s a very non-threatening vibe in the room, or that’s what I felt. It’s also mostly women. The Brisbane No Lights No Lycra has 150-200 people come weekly, so even though you can’t see people, you do really feel a sense of togetherness. And you really can’t see people – there’s a few cracks of light sneaking in under doors and behind curtains, but it’s black. After a few moments your eyes adjust to the light and you can get a sense of the space around you so you don’t bump into anyone… but you can’t see people. Just shapes.

And then you dance like no one is watching. Because they’re not.

Actual picture from No Lights No Lycra. (Lies, it’s not an actual picture. It’s dark in there. You can’t take photos. If you did take a photo, this is probably what it would look like.)

Why I wanted (needed?) to give this a go

I have always loved to dance. My childhood was filled with dance, dancing makes me happy and unlike running or riding or lifting heavy things, I don’t totally suck at it. I have tried dance classes for adults and never quite had the feeling I had as a kid. For starters, the adult dance scene is very svelte. Now I’ve banked some serious hours getting very comfortable with who I am and how I look, but standing in front of a mirror for an hour next to a swathe of women who look fresh off the cast of the Australian Ballet doesn’t really help the cause.

And as for the gym… I’ve just never really found my happy place there, it has always felt like the a struggle. And the longer I’ve been away from it or structured classes, the harder it has been to go back. Not just ’cause my fitness ain’t the best, but because I like to do what I’m great at. And while I fully acknowledge that everyone has to start somewhere, getting the ‘I’m great at this’ feeling can be really tough when you’re just not great at it! And I just don’t really want to come face to face with the limits of my fitness with an audience at this point in time. I don’t want to bag classes cause they really can be so great as so many people experience. But it’s just not where I’m at currently.

So I’ve been on the hunt for somewhere I could be a part of something and do the one type of conventional  ‘exercise’ that I have always enjoyed, but go at my own pace and without any shred of judgement.

I freaking loved it.

NLNL seriously delivered! I went to there to dance, or at least move… and move I did. But some unexpected things happened too. The most interesting: I realised how extraordinarily visible we are these days, or at least I feel I am. Surrounded by people, or photos, or reflections, or social media or thingsss all the time, it is SO rare to be invisible. I choose that, absolutely. But I hadn’t really considered that it may take a toll. It is so rare to be invisible and revel in the joy of it.

Reasons you may love the uninhibited vibes of No Lights No Lycra too*:

  • you want to discover your natural dance style
  • you have been seriously wanting to outwork outwerk your twerk
  • you like to let your hair out and dance with it flying around
  • you want to put your hair in a super high pony tail and flick it
  • you kinda like the feeling of yo’ jiggle when yo’ wiggle
  • your face gets really red when you exercise and no one being able to see it might be liberating
  • you have glorious DD+ breasts and sometimes you want to jump around but kinda just want to hold them still when you do so because skin elasticity but it’s not that socially acceptable to be grabbing your boobs… but is in the dark
  • you want to be totally unfindable for an hour… just one hour
  • you want to feel like you’re part of something in a room full of people you don’t know
  • you’ve become a bit addicted to buying feminist-themed t-shirts but have since discovered you kind of have nowhere to wear them
  • you want to be totally free of what anyone else thinks
  • you want to be totally free of what you think
  • you think that it’s fun to make a variety of not-conventionally-attractive facial expressions while you dance and prefer to be unseen while you do it
  • you just need to start somewhere
  • you think you may be secretly great at crumping but think that perhaps it’s best that noone ever discovers this secret about you *averts eyes*
  • you want to sweat ’til you smell your sweat but would prefer no one else to witness it
  • you’re just ready for something different
  • you’re just ready for something

*these may or may not be further examples of my personal experience. *more eye averting*

I was thinking about how to end this post and whether I’d say it’s for everyone. It’s probably not. But it has the very rare characteristics of not requiring you to leave your inhibitions at the door…. it’s a safe space for inhibitions cause it simply makes them invisible. I’ll be going back, and I highly recommend giving it a crack! Find a No Lights No Lycra near you here.

Have you tried No Lights No Lycra? Do you want to? Tell me of your thoughts and experiences! 

p.s. forgive me for starting so many sentences in this post with ‘but’. And ‘and’. Excessive stream-of-consciousness-never-quite-done vibes tonight. I blame the uninhibited dance!