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Bacon and Courgette pasta bake in a creamy Parmesan and white wine sauce

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Ingredients:

  • 500g pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 rations of bacon
  • 2 large courgettes
  • 4 large cloves of garlic
  • 3/4 bottle of white wine
  • 2 cups of cream
  • 1 1/2 packets of parmesan
  • Seasoning – salt, pepper, nutmeg, dried basil and parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of butter

Recipe:

  1. Preheat oven to 200 bake
  2. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the bacon, fry until crisp
  3. Add the garlic and chopped courgettes
  4. Add the white wine to the pan, bring to boil and reduce for 10 minutes
  5. At the same time cook the pasta until aldente and place on a cooking tray
  6. Turn the heat to low and add the cream, butter, seasoning and parmesan to sauce
  7. Pour sauce on top of pasta in the tray
  8. Sprinkle extra Parmesan over the top
  9. Place tray in oven and cook for 10 minutes until the tops are golden brown

Social Media – should I disconnect?

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A couple of months ago I decided to completely minimise my social media profiles, which you can read about here https://thebranchingmind.com/2017/04/19/breaking-away-from-social-media/. So far, I have been incredibly happy with this decision because it has allowed me to live in the present – to live for myself and to view the world through my own lens rather than living for the online world and perceiving life through the lens of a camera. However, even though I have minimised my profiles, I still have social media and I still browse through it. What I find interesting is that I never used to be the type of person to compare myself to others because I knew social media was fake; it’s a place where only the altered versions of people’s lives are presented rather than the real versions. Since moving back to New Zealand, I have suddenly started comparing my life to the lives of others. I believe the reason for this is simply because I am bored. When I was living in Hong Kong and Brisbane, I could walk out of my door and I would be met with vibrancy, excitement, architecture, nature and a whole range of different sights and activities. Now, I walk outside of my door and I basically just have two options of things to do; go to Takapuna beach or into the city. There are a few other things I could do/places I could visit, however, these places are quite inconvenient to get to (especially without a car). Therefore, I usually end up spending far more time in my flat, on my computer, pointlessly browsing through social media.

I’m starting to find that with each day that passes, the more disgusted I become with the online world. One reasons for this is because social media is based on materialism and superficiality. Above are some screenshots I took from my Instagram a few days before I deleted it. Let’s just depict some of these images. What do you see? I see several girls looking fulfilled and refreshed on their extravagant and luxurious holidays, numerous Kodak milestone moments, people in expensive designer clothes, and oh look someone’s posted a picture of their new, flashy car. Everyone looks so flawless, so happy and their lives seem so…perfect. Is this real, everyday life? No it’s not. This definitely isn’t my everyday life. Therefore, processing and internalising images like the ones above are obviously going to make my life seem insignificant.

Another reason I am feeling increasingly repulsed by social media is because I am becoming more and more interested in world problems and environmental issues. I’m fascinated with topics regarding climate change, ocean acidification, plastic pollution and overpopulation. When I become aware of all the damage and destruction that humanity has caused and continues to cause the world – and then browse through the narcissistic and self-indulgent world of social media, it genuinely revolts me. It basically signifies why all of these issues have occurred in the first place – because the vast majority of humans are driven by greed.

For these reasons, I decided to delete my Instagram account and I am also considering removing my Facebook profile. The only problem with this, is that I could end up completely isolating myself from the online world and reducing a significant part of my social life. There are several people I only communicate with on Facebook. If I delete my Facebook account then I will be cutting ties with these people and will most likely lose contact with them. This is the sole only reason as to why I may consider keeping this social media platform, along with using it as an educational platform to keep up with world events and scientific/technological advances.

I also just want to add that I haven’t created this post as a means of ranting my frustrations. More so, I am looking for advice. If any of you have experienced what I am experiencing, what have you done about it? And if you have completely disconnected from the online world, did this help or did it hinder your life? At the end of the day, social media is a strange and sad phenomenon. It’s a place where we are connected to others, most of which we don’t speak to, haven’t seen in years, or in some cases, have never met at all. Yet, we continuously observe their lives and they observe ours. I do not want to look back on my life in future and regret spending so much time in a fake reality on an online world.  It’s bizarre and it is pointless. What do any of us actually gain from this? If you have any advice, please let me know by leaving a comment or posting a message on the ‘contact’ page. I would really appreciate pointers from others on this!

Life update: post-teaching

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Around seven months ago I made a post regarding my reasons for leaving teaching (https://thebranchingmind.com/2016/12/20/the-truth-about-teaching/). After leaving the profession I decided to return to University to pursue a new career (https://thebranchingmind.com/2017/03/15/returning-to-university-at-age-25/). While I don’t necessarily want to use this blog to discuss my personal life, a few of you have asked me how I am getting on. Several people have messaged, confessing that they are miserable within the teaching profession, they feel stuck and do not know what the next step is. For these reasons, I thought it would be useful to provide a quick update on how my life has progressed since leaving the teaching profession.

  • No more depressed ruts. Working as a teacher for three years, at least once every couple of months I would slip into a depressed state because I was so unhappy and so unfulfilled within the job. I felt as though I had failed in my career, failed as a human being and ultimately, failed at life. I remember sitting at tables with the children, doing tedious activities, plastering a false smile on my face while telling them how lovely their paintings and drawings all were. Yet, in the back of my mind I would be thinking “what am I doing with my life? I feel no passion for this job and I don’t feel like I’m achieving anything. Is this really all I am going to do with my life? I could have accomplished so much, I could have had any career, yet I chose this…”. It has now been seven months since I left teaching and I have not experienced a single depressed rut. During my time as a teacher, I remember making calls to my Mum almost every week in tears, ranting about how much I despised the job and how I was not meant for the role. Since then I have cried once – when I got accepted into the dentistry course, and they were happy tears!
  • Feeling positive about the future. While working as a teacher, I felt stuck with no escape. I had made the detrimental decision to take the teaching course at University, these were the cards I had been dealt, therefore I had no other option but to remain in the profession. What else was I going to do, I couldn’t go back to University again? I felt no excitement or enthusiasm about coming into work each day, about life or my future. It was as though I was experiencing life as a robot – waking up solemn and miserable, spending eight exhausting and mentally mundane hours on the job, coming home shattered, getting takeout because I was too tired to cook, bed by eight, not falling asleep until midnight due to anxiety about the day ahead, and repeat. I spent a considerable amount of time each day and night contemplating what the actual purpose of my life was. If I wasn’t enjoying life then what was the point of my existence? However, post teaching, I feel so much more positive and content with my new course in dentistry. I find it comforting to know that I am now working towards a career that will better suit my interests and personality. I am incredibly excited about eventually earning a higher salary, to possibly set up my own practice, to be able to save money and to continue travelling abroad. I also find it encouraging to know that in this new job, the end of the working day will be the end of my working day. With teaching, the work never stopped, the end of your working day, was never really the end.
  • No more sickness. Working as a teacher, I would catch colds and become ill almost every single month. In the past seven months, I have caught a cold once! Not only that, but I no longer have to come home everyday with aching legs, back pain, and feeling utterly physically exhausted. Additionally, I now have the time and mental energy to pursue other interests and areas of my life.

Overall, I feel 100% confident in my decision of leaving teaching and returning to University. The more time that passes, the more I realise just how unfitting teaching was for my character. I am so relieved that I did not stick with the career solely due to fear of the unknown. However, it hasn’t all been entirely positive. While the majority of people have been supportive and understanding of my decision to go back to University. There were a couple of people who were unsupportive and critical of this choice – stating that I was going to be in my late twenties once graduated and that I would be behind in life. I found such criticisms slightly upsetting and I began second guessing myself “am I really making the right decision? Should I have stayed in a career I was miserable in?”. Excuse my unformal language, but in hindsight I should have thought, screw the critics! They have not walked in my shoes or experienced what I have experienced, so there is not point internalising the negative views of others. Not to mention, everyone’s life path is different. People have different life goals and aspirations, so who’s to say I will be behind?

In all honesty, going into teaching was one of the utmost worst decisions I have ever made in my life, while leaving teaching has undoubtedly been one of the best. Interestingly, one of the biggest fears I have developed over this past year, is the fear of ‘what if?’. What if I hadn’t come to the realisation that I needed to leave teaching? What if I really had wasted this one life that I have? If you are unhappy and feel stuck in your career, take a risk and change that. I can’t stress enough just how important it is to be in a career you are content with. What is the point in wasting your life, spending fifty odd years working in a job you despise? And if anyone questions or criticises your decision to take the plunge and start again, screw them! It’s your life and you need to trust your own instincts. Take control of the situation and do what’s best for you – you won’t regret it.

One pot chicken, bacon and mushroom alfredo

Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 2 teaspoons of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 4 rations of eye or streaky bacon
  • 1 brown onion
  • 4 mushrooms
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 ½ cups of cream
  • 400g of egg fettucine (usually found in the fridge section)
  • A handful of parsley
  • A pinch of dried basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 100g parmesan

Recipe:

  1. Add a teaspoon of butter to a frying pan
  2. Add one seasoned chicken breast (chopped into small pieces)
  3. Once chicken is just cooked, remove from the pan and leave to one side
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the same pan
  5. Add bacon and fry until cooked through
  6. Add 1 diced brown onion and fry until browned
  7. Add the mushrooms and garlic and continue to cook all ingredients for several minutes
  8. Turn the heat up to high and add chicken stock, cream, parsley, basil, seasoning and pasta and cook for around 3-5 minutes (or until the pasta is al dente), if the sauce reduces too much, add more chicken stock and cream
  9. Turn the heat to low and add the chicken, parmesan and 1 teaspoon of butter, mix and serve

Returning to University at age 25

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For a variety of different reasons, people end up going back to University later in life. I did my first degree in Psychology which I thoroughly enjoyed, however, this degree is limited in career prospects. Because of this, I then completed a Graduate Diploma in Teaching. While this qualification guaranteed me to work as a teacher, I never enjoyed the University course or the line of work. Throughout my short-lived career as a teacher, I would often ponder over the thought of going back to University and starting again. Yet I would always think of reasons that opposed this, because I ideally, I didn’t want to start again. It wasn’t until my third year as a teacher that I realised I could no longer work in the profession; that I didn’t want to live my life unhappy in my career and finally felt the desire to go back and start again.

Once I had made the decision to go back to University, I decided to research what it would be like returning to University as a mature student (although I’m not sure 25 would qualify as being “mature”). I noticed this topic was a search trend on google. Therefore, I thought this post may be useful to any readers considering going back to University in their mid-twenties, and as with most of my blog posts, what the pros and cons of this may be.

Before I delve into the list of pros and cons, I think it’s firstly quite important to establish whether returning to University would be a viable option for you. I believe there are two main factors you need to consider before making the commitment of returning to University in your mid-twenties.

  • Your financial situation. University is very expensive. Many people are already in substantial debt due to previous studies. I think it’s very important to consider whether returning to University is worth the financial burden. Personally, I believe that if you are truly unhappy in your career, then you should change your situation, despite the financial liabilities. However, if you are seriously in debt, you may need to consider other options. It’s also important to find out whether you qualify for any allowances. In New Zealand, if you are 25 and over, you may qualify for a housing allowance, as well a supplementary allowance. While the allowances aren’t much, it is fantastic in the sense that it almost allows people to take a second shot at getting their careers right without having to reach too far into their pockets. Also, if your future career offers a decent salary, this should also be taken into consideration. As a teacher, the salary was relatively low, however, as a dental hygienist/therapist I will be earning almost double what I was a teacher, so this alleviates any stressors of having a small student debt once completing my new degree.
  • Putting your life on hold. When you decide to go back to University, you not only have to put your life on hold in a financial sense, but also personally. If you have a partner and are wanting to start a family, these plans may need to be delayed. Raising a child and attending University won’t be an easy option. However, if you are single, or have a partner, but no plans to settle down in the near future, then you are in a great position to return to University.

If you have made your decision to return to University, fantastic! I have been back at University about a month now, and below are what I have found to be the main pros and cons of returning to University at age 25.

Pros:

  • Increased work ethic. When you’re older, you tend to have less of a desire to socialise and “party”, compared to when you were in your early twenties. All of that is probably out of your system, and as a result you are able to become a lot more focused on your work and motivated to achieve high grades. I have found that I have a much greater work ethic than ever before. The course I am doing is highly competitive, only 33 people get into the course out of 700 applicants each year. Because it is such a competitive and intensive course, a lot of the other pupils on the course are also very studious. This motivates me further to work hard, and I feel quite eager to get better grades than my fellow classmates!
  • Increased confidence. The majority of people at University are around age 18-21. I find that with age, you become more confident in yourself and less concerned as to what people think of you. At age 25, I feel a lot more confident speaking up and do not feel intimated by people that I may have been when I was younger.
  • Feeling better suited to the career path and with your classmates. People tend to know themselves better as they get older and become more self aware. Once you have figured out a career path that is best suited to you, you may find that you fit in better with the ‘crowd’. As a student studying education, I felt no drive and no passion towards the profession and I did not fit in with the crowd. While I should not generalise, I will admit that the majority of people on my teaching course were very loud, extroverted and arty. I remember everyone being so enthusiastic when singing nursery rhymes and demonstrating lesson plans, while I felt completely awkward and uncomfortable.  I have always been introverted and quite a logical/structured person. I find that a lot of people on my current course also possess these personality traits and I see this as being a huge indicator that I am on a career path much better suited to my personality.

Cons:

  • As mentioned before, there are financial consequences of returning to University, as well as having to delay certain life plans.
  • Comparing yourself to others. All of my friends are now working full time, earning an annual salary, being able to save and travel abroad. I sometimes find it frustrating knowing that I will need to wait several years before doing these things again and sometimes feel as though I am slightly behind compared to my friends. Yet, when I hear someone speaking about being unhappy in their job, that tends to reassure me that while I may be behind, it is still worth starting again and getting my career right.

Overall, I definitely find that the pros of returning to University at age 25 outweigh the cons. If you are thinking of returning to University, just make sure you do your research in regards to the financial aspects and find out whether you qualify for any allowances. While returning to University and putting your life on hold may not sound ideal, it’s important to look at your life in the long run. Getting your career right while you are still young is easier than starting again much later in life.

Changing mentalities: a child-free life

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It’s quite remarkable just how much your life can change within the space of a year, but equally as remarkable how much your viewpoints can change. There’s one perspective of mine that’s done a complete 180 this year, one which I never could have anticipated.

A few years ago, there was nothing more that I wanted than to have my own family and children, it was essentially one of the primary reasons I went into early childhood teaching (which I left quite recently). However, my teaching experience ended up being far more eye opening than I ever could have imagined, particularly in regards to parenthood.

It was my experience in Hong Kong that initially triggered my views on a child-free lifestyle. Prior to that I had been living in New Zealand where there is generally quite a mainstream way of life; you get engaged, married, have kids and settle down within your 20s and 30s. In Hong Kong however, this was not the case. I met many women who bluntly proclaimed their desire to live a child-free life for a number of valid reasons. This was the first time I realised, I had been blinded by a social norm and ideal that I hadn’t truly reflected upon in depth. Nor had I ever thought to consider any alternative lifestyles. In fact, not only do we have social ideals influencing our mentalities, we also have biological influences subconsciously affecting our thought processes. Humans have a biological predisposition to reproduce in order to ensure the survival of the human race. However in the present day, this predisposition could in fact hinder our chances of survival. There is already widespread concern regarding over population of the earth. Having more children at our current rate, not only contributes to this concern, but it also means more resources are being consumed and more carbon footprints are being produced. My teaching experience only accentuated this changing viewpoint further.

Through teaching, I began to see children and parenthood in a rather unromanticized way. I got see what a profound investment children are; emotionally, financially (on average $250,000 USD up until the age of 18, yes that’s a quarter of a million dollars, excluding University costs), and in terms of time and freedom. I met many parents with additional stressors; divorced parents raising a child on their own, parents struggling financially to support their family and parents raising a child with special needs. I experienced firsthand just how physically and mentally exhausting looking after children can be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure looking after twenty children in a classroom setting is completely different from looking after two or three of your own. But nevertheless, raising children requires an extensive expenditure of time and energy.

Of course there are an enormity of pros to having children. That unconditional love a parent feels for their child is irreplaceable, not to mention the adoring memories you will create. However, humans are hard wired into wanting to reproduce, which I believe can be slyly blinding.

Raising a child in today’s world can be really, really tough, especially when both parents are having to work full time (which is nowadays the norm). I can imagine there are undoubtedly, a large proportion of people that don’t stop to consider – “how will having children change my life?” and “is this something I really want?”.

I’ve met a few teachers who are parents and have openly articulated their struggles. One teacher described to me, her daily routine; waking up, making breakfast, getting the children out of bed and ready for school, dropping the children off at school, driving to work, having a full day of work taking care of other people’s children, returning home to make dinner and complete other household errands, helping the children with homework, putting the children to bed, preparing the children’s lunch for the next day, working on planning/marking/making resources for work. Then bed… and repeat. And another woman I met at a school, raising her children as a single parent. She would constantly complain about how difficult her life was, declaring that the only way she gets through every day is because she’s in survival mode. She very candidly admitted that she craved the days her ex took the kids and she could have her freedom. I’m dumbfounded as to how some people do it… you have to really respect people that have a tremendous amount on their plate yet manage to trooper through. But it also goes to show that having a romanticized view of children, family life and parenthood… doesn’t always play out accordingly.

I will admit, I had always had a ridiculously romanticised view of being a stay at home Mum. In a perfect world, I would love to have had a family where only my husband’s income would be needed and I could stay at home and look after the kids all day. However, when you do your research and come a across a multitude of videos like this – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKDnzgmpNTQ), that quite abruptly puts any romanticised view you may have had on being a stay at home Mum into question. When you are making a major life decision, I think its always important to look at both sides of the coin. While it might feel all positive and dandy to have an optimistic and romanticised outlook when it comes to making these decisions, its a lot more rational to be aware of the pros and the cons, and make a decision from there.

There are more people today than ever before choosing not to have children and live a child-free life. And it’s only very recently that this topic is starting to break out of its taboo realm. You can read one thread here (https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/4wfl4k/serious_parents_who_regret_having_kids_why/).  Having children is possibly the most life changing decision anyone could ever make, so why wouldn’t it be discussed more openly? I read quite an influential quote from a parent on one of these forums who said…”it’s better to regret not having children, than to have children and regret them”.

I’m only twenty five and know my views on this could do a complete 180 again, however I’m glad teaching has exposed me to the difficulties of parenthood, otherwise it’s something I would never have taken into consideration. Having one child means dedicated somewhere between 18-25 years of your life, living for someone else. Do I want that? Not right now. Imagine what you could do and see during that time, all the places you could explore. At this point in time, I’m very content being on my own and would much rather spend my time, money and freedom focusing on my career, travelling the world and keeping my stress levels at a minimum.

An expats guide to Hong Kong: the pros and cons of life there

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I grew up in Hong Kong from the age of 4-14. I had the most amazing childhood there and it really is an amazing city. I went back last year to work, which was a thoroughly exciting experience, however, life there didn’t completely pan out as I had expected. Hong Kong has changed a lot since the handover and I began to see the place differently than I had before. For any expats thinking of moving to Hong Kong – here are what I believed to be the pros and cons of life there.

Pros:

  •  Feeling a sense of acceptance and belonging. Hong Kong is a place where differences are the norm. There isn’t really a “mainstream” way of life there, as there is in say New Zealand or Australia. It’s an international city and therefore one major melting pot. Everyone you meet is completely different; different backgrounds, different upbringings, different life experiences, different cultures, different accents, different beliefs, you name it! For that reason, Hong Kong is a place where anyone is accepted. You can completely be yourself there without feeling judged. Personally, my experience last year in Hong Kong was the first time I had ever really accepted myself as a person, flaws and all and realised that I was happy with the person I had become. So its a great place to really find yourself.
  • Hong Kong is a very happening place. You will never get bored. There is always something to do or something to see. There’s a surprise around every corner. You can explore the city, the outer islands, go down to Stanely which is a bit more westernised, go to Ocean Park, Disneyland, hikes and trails, the street markets, the food. I could go on and on with a list of things to do in Hong Kong. It is a really exciting place. Many people say they find that life in Hong Kong is like being on a permanent vacation.
  • Travel. One major advantage of living in Hong Kong is that exploring other parts of Asia is very easy and accessible. Many people use their holidays to explore places like Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore or the Philippines as they are so close. One thing I wish I had done whilst I was there, was explore more parts of Asia. I fell in love with Singapore and ended up spending two of my holidays over there. But in hindsight I now wish I had tried out a few other places.

Cons:

  • Housing. As a child I was quite lucky, we lived in a house with a garden and two pools within a gated community. However, going back as an adult was different. I had a job at an International school where I earned a decent income, but it was still not enough to afford decent accommodation. Housing there is incredibly expensive. I began flatting near Central in a place called Fortress Hill. The flat was in a very old and run down building. My room looked like a prison cell and there was just no space. Two weeks there and I’d had enough. I decided to move an hour away from Central to a place called Lohas Park. The commute to and from Central was a pain but the housing was much better. New buildings, with clean flats and a bit more space. However, one problem living in the New Territories is that there aren’t many expats there. So expect to be stared at a lot. It also means it can be quite a difficult place to make friends as there aren’t many other English speakers around. I enjoyed living there, but found it quite isolating. Basically, I think you can live somewhere central where everything is happening, however, you will probably be living somewhere not particularly nice and quite claustrophobic, or you can live further out and somewhere a bit nicer. It all depends on what sort of lifestyle you want and what your priorities are.
  • The dating life. As a single western man, you will have the time of your life. You will be spoilt for choice in terms of dating. I would definitely describe Hong Kong as being a bachelor city. However, as a single western female, our options are, well….. limited. I will be honest in saying that the majority of expat men there seem to prefer the local women. So it doesn’t really leave much option for expat women. Also, Hong Kong is definitely a place for partying. So if you’re looking to settle down, I’m not sure it’s a place I would recommend.
  • The pollution. Someday’s the pollution can get so bad, its best just to stay home. I wouldn’t recommend taking a dip in the ocean either. Hong Kong definitely isn’t the healthiest place to live and you can really start to feel that after a few months of living there.

Overall, I would 100% recommend doing a short stint in Hong Kong just for the experience. It is an amazingly exciting city and can really open up your eyes in so many different ways. Hong Kong will always be home and I will always love the place, however, returning as an adult, I found the place to be a little too crazy and intense, so decided to leave after a year of being there. Despite that, it is a city, definitely worth visiting.