Friday, October 9, 2015

Reflections on self-improvement

Two years ago, two of the most amazing people I know left their Gold Coast lives behind to work and travel. Radhika and Johnny, the team behind Fulltime Nomad, took a risk and plunged in to something they believed in and were passionate about.

Apart from being gorgeous and generous and positive people, they're also extremely smart. They knew they wanted more out of life, and to expand and grow. They had a plan, and a goal, and they worked hard to prepare themselves. I was on holiday when they finally announced to the world that they were quitting their jobs and going travelling. I still remember that moment standing in Melbourne Zoo and reading the text from her, and the immense excitement and joy I felt knowing that they were embarking on a journey they'd worked so hard to prepare for. You can read their story of the last two years in this blog post: From Desk Jockeys To Fulltime Nomads: Our Digital Nomad Story.

Around the same time, late in 2013 (and probably at least in part inspired by their example) I began to realise that I wanted more out of my life too. While I was enjoying my job, and the company I worked for, I was no longer finding it challenging - or (for want of a better word) satisfying. (Aside: the concept of "job satisfaction" is a very loaded one, I know. But it's the closest I have to what I was feeling at the time.)

While I hugely admired what Radhika and Johnny were doing, I also knew that it wasn't for me. I love travel, but I also love my creature comforts and my fur babies. I'd made a commitment to my fur children and I wasn't going to abandon them (or my electronic baby - my gaming PC ;) ).

How could you not love that face?

Or this sweet set-up?

But it did get me thinking about what I could do to expand my own self. Another friend, Kai, had been pestering me for a while to make a career change in to IT. I'd been resisting, because I didn't think of myself as scientifically or technically minded - my sister was the scientist in the family, not me. (My sister, who has a PhD and travels the world studying volcanoes, is also a huge inspiration to me). I was the Arts student, the English major, the hippy. But I came to realise that these thoughts were self-limiting. Other people saw my technical skills and knowledge, even if I didn't.

So about the same time that Radhika and Johnny took off to Colombia and points beyond, I enrolled in University (again). I already had an Arts degree and half a Management degree, but now I was doing something completely different - IT. Luckily, I could get recognition of prior learning for the classes I'd already done for my Management degree. But I still needed at least 2-3 years of part time study to finish. This was a big commitment - as a Kiwi in Australia, I pay domestic student (i.e. government-subsidised) fees, but I don't have access to student loans or allowances, so I have to pay all my fees up front. I also couldn't get a payment exemption for my existing NZ student loan. So we had to be committing a large chunk of our fortnightly income to pay my higher education costs.

Shortly after I started university in early 2014, another friend told me that she and her husband were building a house. Dave and I had never considered that option - we'd always thought that buying a house was out of our reach, especially while I was studying. But building meant that we could get a grant from the government, and also didn't have any stamp duty to pay. We chatted with a mortgage broker, and then discussed our plans with our parents. After a lot of research and many, many weekends of looking at both established houses and new display homes - and thanks to the generous help of our parents - we made another huge commitment and started building a house.

Our very own patch of Australian dirt.

Now, staring down the barrel of the end of 2015, we've recently moved in to our beautiful home and I've just enrolled for 2016. If I successfully complete all my classes between now and the end of 2016 (what am I talking about? When I complete!), I'll have just one class remaining - the double-weight "capstone" mega-project class. The end is in sight, and I have a gorgeous home to study in.

The best house on the street.

TARDIS-blue door.

Maybe my subconscious remembered the day two years ago that the person I call my soul twin left on her amazing journey, because yesterday I decided that I wanted to do a bit more to expand myself and get outside my comfort zone. As an introvert and someone with anxiety, it's easy for me to get stuck in what is comfortable. I read a blog post from Steve Portigal about doing 100 doodles in 100 days, and thought "I could do that." I used to enjoy drawing, although I'd never say I was good at it, and I love the current craze of "adult colouring books" (colouring books for adults, not, you know, the other thing...). I thought that doing a squiggle every day would help jump start the creative part of my brain, and it was something outside my comfort zone, and it takes hardly any time, so it was perfect. I watched a video by Dave Gray, who I saw speak at a conference recently, about Squiggle Birds, and decided that was a good place to start.

Pretty good for a first attempt.
You can follow along with my 100 days of squiggles on Instagram with my hashtag, #100daysofjensquiggles. If you feel like creating something daily too, you should take the plunge! It doesn't have to be drawing - you might want to take photos, or vines, or selfies. Whatever you think is worthwhile, then that is something that it is worth you spending time on.

While Radhika and Johnny have chosen a very different path to me, they still inspire me every day to improve myself, to strive for more, to get out of my comfort zone - to be more. They've achieved a lot in two years, and so have I. Two years from now, I'll have finished my degree. Where will you be in two years?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Five in Five: Worth Casing Awards

Mystery Case

The lovely MissRBit, my soul twin, has nominated me for the Mystery Case Worth Casing Awards. While my blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground lately, you don't say no to your soul twin! So here we go...

1. How long have you been blogging and why did you start?

This blog started, according to my archives, in April 2010. I guess that would be my "official" start as a blogger, but I've always written - expressing myself has always been important to me. At the time, I'd recently got married and was starting a new chapter in my life, so I thought it was a good time to start a proper blog. I was studying Communications (which I never finished - I'm currently studying IT though) and so also wanted some extra writing practice and a place to post my poems and other creative writing.

2. If your wardrobe could talk what would it say about you and tell us about your favourite or most worn item?

Right now it would say "tidy me up!" - most of my clothes are in a pile on the couch because I just don't have room for all my stuff here. Plus I've been busy with university. Plus I'm lazy, let's be honest! We're about to start building our very own home though which has a giant walk-in-robe we're getting custom-fitted, so I'll have no excuse after that. Favourite item? Well, one thing I wear every day is my taniwha bone carving necklace...

...But if you want actual clothes? I'm just going to nominate "outfit" rather than "item" and say my usual jeans-and-tee combo. I often try to change it up with leggings or a skirt or something but I always come back to my jeans and tees. I'm most comfortable in them and I have a huge range of quirky/geeky/Kiwiana tees (like the "Sweet As" one I'm wearing in the pic above).

3. What's your idea of the perfect date night?

I know it's really clichéd, but dinner and a movie is always a winner for me. My husband Dave works in hospitality so we don't have that many free days or nights together, so when we do a Date Night it's usually dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, or perhaps trying a new one, followed by whatever superhero movie is showing!

4. What's on your Worth Casing list?

I guess this is like a bucket list type thing? I confess I didn't really get this question so I'm going to use it for a travel destinations list:
  • Japan for the Cherry Blossom Festival: Number 1 for both Dave and I as soon as we can afford a decent overseas holiday!
  • New Zealand Road Trip: I love my home country and I'd love to explore some places I haven't been, like the far South Island, and show Dave some of my favourite spots. We have a short trip coming up in November but I'd love to spend a month doing a full on tour in a camper. We did that recently for the Queensland coast and loved it.
  • Langkawi, Malaysia: we stayed at Rebak Island Resort for a couple of days at the end of our honeymoon and absolutely loved it. We're planning on visiting again at the end as my graduation reward.
  • Europe: I know, I know, that's a very broad destination, but I've spent the vast majority of my life in Australia and New Zealand, with a couple of small trips to South-East Asia/Pacific destinations and one work trip to the USA. So a trip to the other side of the world is definitely on my to-do list.

5. If you had a theme song what would it be and why?

Well. What a tricky question...I don't know! I am really loving the whole Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix soundtrack right now and basically have been listening to it non-stop for weeks, but I guess that doesn't really count? Well I'm going to pick one of those anyway! My favourite song on the soundtrack is "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5 and if you've seen the movie you'd know why...If you haven't, spoiler below:

However, no matter how catchy it is, it's still a song about a guy who wants a girl after she's given up on waiting for him to realise how awesome she is and started dating someone else, so it's not really my theme song...I think probably "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, because I try to be that sort of person that is always there for those people in my life that are important to me.

There you have it, a bit more info about me that you might not have known before! I nominate:

1. Diane (Blauerpunto) - she was also nominated by MissRBit but she hasn't posted hers, so perhaps another nomination will remind her? :)
2. Kath from Fat Heffalump - my favourite blogger, candy-haired twin, and all-round awesome person!
3. Lisa from Lisa Likes Stuff - because she loves cupcakes.
4. Lilli from Frocks & Frou Frou - because she is so gorgeous and has such fantastic, classic style.
5. Nat from XL as life! - because she is always so enthusiastic about everything and its infectious!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

We're building a house!

I know it's been a while since I've posted here, but let's get straight to the AWESOME news: we're building a house! Thanks to the generous support of both our families (and the Queensland government's First Home Owners Grant), we're not just buying our first home, but building it exactly to our specifications. After months of display villages and research, we've found our block and our design and are going through the early stages of the process now.

The block

We looked at a few different land developments and independent blocks but we were always pretty keen on the Ormeau Ridge development by Stockland. It's handy to the motorway and transport a really nice little quiet community with gentle hills and lots of parks and bushland. Our block is opposite natural bushland which runs down to the Pimpama River ("river" being a very generous term), which means that we do have a bushfire rating of 12.5 on the block - this is the minimum level of bushfire rating so it's still very low risk. It does mean that we have to meet certain requirements like extra insulation, upgraded window screens, and specific front doors, but a lot of it was things we'd want to upgrade anyway so it's not a huge extra cost.

Our "dirt"
It doesn't look like much yet, but it's ours! You can't really see our boundaries yet because there's still works going on in the land release. As soon as we have a properly defined block with a nice lot plate on it I'll do a proper photo.

The outlook from the front across the road to the bushland
Our beautiful view will be more beautiful by the time we move in - there's going to be a nice wide walking path with shrubberies and stuff. It's very peaceful here and there's plenty of bird sounds. Today when we visited there were kookaburras.

Obligatory "SOLD" sign pic! Our very own slice of Australia.

The house

We shopped around a lot of builders and I must have looked at hundreds of house plans before finally narrowing it down to Plantation Homes. They're part of the Henley Group and one of the biggest builders in Australia. It was really hard to decide but in the end Plantation won mainly because of their beautiful kitchens, friendly helpful staff, and competitive price. We went through a few different designs with Plantation before settling on the Bronte 4.

Bronte 4 Floorplan
To best suit our block, which runs from south-east at the street to north-west at the back, we've flipped the front of the standard Bronte floorplan and then flipped the whole house, which is why it's backwards in the photo. This puts the garage in the south corner and our alfresco and yard space in the north corner. We also added an extra sliding door to the alfresco from the living area. Bedroom 2 is our guest bedroom with the main bathroom as a semi-ensuite, and the "Kids Retreat" is our library. We get a giant walk-in pantry and a double vanity in the ensuite as standard, both of which were requirements.

Colour Selection

The bit I was most looking forward to with building was the colour selection, but it's actually really overwhelming! There's so many decisions to be made, right down to not only the handles on the kitchen cabinetry but whether you want them horizontal or vertical. Today we went to an information session with Plantation then spent 3 hours wandering around the colour showroom making notes. We've got a pretty good idea of most of the colours we want, but of course when we get to actually go through it with an interior designer we'll probably have to change things. Even down to the colour of the walls - they had a book of over 100 different shades of white, it's crazy!

Ensuite colour scheme
This is our current planned ensuite floor and wall tile and feature mosaic strip. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of the tile we had chosen for the main living area, or the carpet for the bedrooms - I'll make sure I do when we actually do the colour selection. You can see a corner of the main floor tile on the left.

Our current choice of render for the front of the house is "Raku" and brick for the rest of the house is "Perisher":

Because the facade is therefore going to be fairly dark, we think we're going to go with the Colorbond "Monument" colour for the roof, and "Windspray" for the garage door, guttering, and fascia.  Having the lighter colour on the garage and trims will help break up the facade. We are of course also having a TARDIS-blue front door:

You can see the Colorbond colours below on the right. For the cabinets and kitchen, we're still not settled. Because the floor and walls are fairly light, we're currently thinking dark cabinetry and then in the kitchen, a lighter benchtop:

Colour swatches
Dave prefers the benchtop on the left, while I prefer the one in the middle. An alternative is the one on the right, but then we'd have to change the cabinetry colour. Dave ultimately gets the casting vote in the kitchen so at this stage we'll be going with the one on the left. For our own ensuite, we're going with darker shades for nearly everything, while for the guest bathroom we're keeping it a bit lighter.

The main thing we still need to decide on is the kitchen splashback. We know we want something a bit brighter and funkier but otherwise we're not sure yet. We get a small selection of tiles as standard, and can upgrade to other tiles or a glass splashback if we want.

Of course, it's entirely possible that when we do the actual colour selection appointment we just throw out the whole thing and start again from scratch. Except for the TARDIS blue door. We're keeping that.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What's Happening in 2014?

It's been a bit quiet around here, sorry. I lost my blogging mojo for a while there. I'm not going to try to guarantee 2014 will be any different either - this is a very big year for us!

2014 brings me to 10 years in Australia, which means that Dave and I have now been together for 10 years. He's about to turn 40, which means we've been together a quarter of his life. And more than a quarter of mine, because I'm younger! Our 4th wedding anniversary also happens this year.

I'm also going back to university (again). I'm starting an Associate Degree in IT through Southern Cross University, studying online. This is a big move for me, but I have plenty of support from friends in the field, so I feel confident I'll be able to see this through. It's taken me a while to figure out what I want to do and what I'm good at, but I finally have a clear and realistic vision to work towards.

On the game front, there's three that are occupying my time right now. The biggest of those is World of Warcraft - I reopened my account after several years of being away. I'm actually really enjoying playing again, without the pressure of raiding. It's fun to play how I want to play instead of how I'm told by someone else. Apart from WoW, I've also been playing the Beta of Hearthstone, Blizzard's new online CCG. It's pretty fun and I think I'll continue with it once it's out of Beta. Finally, I've been spending some time on XCOM: Enemy Within, the expansion to XCOM: Enemy Unknown. XCOM is good stress relief when I just need to mindlessly slaughter some aliens.

As for my reading, well, I didn't *quite* reach my 2013 Goodreads challenge goal of 45 books - I topped out at 41. I didn't read half of my Off The Shelf books either. They're still occupying my "To Read" shelf in my room though, and I plan on working my way through them all eventually. I set a Goodreads goal for 2014 of 50 books, but as I started reading The Wheel of Time again I'm not sure how I'll go. This year I'm also going to try a Reading Bingo challenge. It's a bit easier than some of the others I've done before. Here is my progress so far:

You can see I've already crossed off some of the squares! The very first book I finished in 2014 met 4 of these criteria already. The Eye of the World, the first book of The Wheel of Time, is more than 500 pages long, has non-human characters, is more than 10 years old, and my copy has a blue cover. I'll try to complete all of these squares and keep my blog updated with my progress.

What are your plans for 2014?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Jen Does PC Repair II

In the last edition of Jen Does PC Repair I talked about Dave's aura that interferes with electronics. I've since read The Dresden Files series and I'm convinced he's a wizard of some kind (one of the traits of wizards is just such an aura).

Last weekend we went to the inaugural PAXAUS (more on this in a later post) and while there we bought Dave a new graphics card (a Gainward GeForce GTX 760) to replace his old crossfired Radeon 4770s. They wouldn't run DirectX 11 and we could get a really nice deal at PAX (with lots of free swag) so we went for it. We got home yesterday and I installed it straight away and everything seemed fine...until his PC randomly switched off after a few hours. I figured we'd kicked a cable or something and didn't think much of it until it did it again today, and I realised it was ridiculously hot - his CPU got up to 87C. The power supply wasn't overloaded at all - it's rated for 620W and he's only running about 130W - but it seemed like the extra heat from the new card was too much for his case cooling to handle. So we carted it down to Umart to discuss it with them.

They said a first quick fix would be to just get some new thermal paste for the  CPU cooler, but since it's the middle of winter and we were already having cooling issues we decided to upgrade the CPU cooler to a water cooling system. The Umart guys suggested the entry-level Corsair Hydro Series H60. Unfortunately, they weren't available to do an install until early next week. Having just returned from 10 days of no PC (in the middle of the Steam Summer Sale) and with 4 more days before he has to go back to work, being PC-less wasn't a very favorable option. So I decided to take the plunge and install it myself.