12 Months of Simple Living: End of Year Thoughts

It’s been a year of this transformation journey and as January 2018 arrived, I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on each month and what impact, if any, it has had on the way I live my life now.

1. | January – Vegetarian |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Vegetarian Recipes

If there was ever going to be a controversial challenge it was this one. With opinions and beliefs splitting people world wide on the subject, it was always going to be harder for a previously strict carnivore to “try out” being Vegetarian for a month and then blog about the short lived and not hugely successful experience. But this journey is my own and now I can see this short lived month really did have an effect on my view, and now my lifestyle choices. However insignificant they might seem, they are still small steps toward a healthier life and a better world.

Since January, I’ve found myself increasingly choosing the vegetarian options whether it is in my work canteen, at home or out to eat with friends. I put this down to a change in my attitude towards meat as a result of understanding the vast amounts of waste, the damage to the environment and the inhumane treatment of animals all for the sake of corporate greed.

From a health point of view, I am so much more aware of the fats and greasiness of meat and how much heavier it sits in my stomach, I do tend to feel a little odd when I eat some types of meat now. It does make me wonder what sort of diseases we are potentially exposed to by eating meat.  That’s not to say I don’t crave the odd steak now and then but I am so much more aware of  trying to choose organic, free range, grass fed meat.

Having said that, I do want to aim to be even more veggie and I have concluded that being a full time vegetarian would be the ideal lifestyle choice and probably is how we were once meant to be. Not that any of my life choices are ideal- we’ll see!

Note: Spiralizers interest me now more than ever before!

 

2. | February – Forgiving |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This one has to be the hardest of all as it’s a continuous battle and a continuous cycle. Choosing to let people off the hook when they have wronged you seems unnatural to our human instincts and makes us feel like a doormat sometimes. But this doesn’t have to be so. I am continually reminding myself that forgiveness does not mean reconciliation; if you are continually wronged, don’t let them wrong you again. But love them and show them kindness anyway.

I can definitely see improvements with the way I handle disagreements, knowing that just because we have differences of opinion doesn’t make us bad people, just unique individuals who handle things in different ways. I try to respect another’s perspective even if I disagree.

I still struggle with letting things go quickly, but I can usually get over it after taking a breather. And with my long term grievances, it will always be a battle to maintain forgiveness but I will keep trying.

 

3. | March – Positivity & Thankfulness |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
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This challenge is one that went beyond my natural disposition. I’ve grown up in an environment of complaining, from my family to the culture of the UK, so trying not to was a real difficulty. Being thankful for everything, including the bad times, just opens your eyes to how blessed you really are. Blessed you have arms and legs, and eyes and ears, blessed you are able to use them, blessed you have food, shelter and a job. There’s actually a lot to be thankful for!

I really struggle, still, to see the glass half full rather than half empty but I am working on it. A good way to start thinking a bit more positively is by writing a diary of your week noting, at various points of the day, how you felt – happy, sad, angry – and to what degree out of 100% you felt those emotions. When you look back, you will likely realise you have a much happier life than you initially thought. This is because our minds get conditioned just to remember the negative and not the positive.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

 

4. | April – Stick at It |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This challenge  actually made me realise that my problem wasn’t so much giving up on things, as feeling like giving up every time something gets tough. Also it was about believing in my ability to achieve what I set out to do.

Through going travelling, something I needed to do for myself but was afraid to, it helped me build confidence in myself. I’m trying to maintain this confidence now that I am back; it’s actually the mundane things in life that knock the confidence out of you.

I have found myself being a little braver and taking those risks even if I might fail, but there’s still work to be done!

 

5. | May – Exercise |

Navigate: Part One| Part Two | Part Three

This one’s gone out the window! Seriously, I don’t like doing any of it – classes annoy me, I don’t even know where to start in the gym, I HATE running, going for walks in the cold British weather is not up there on my fun list… so what can I do?!

I know I have to exercise, I know it’s very important for mental and physical health, but I just need to find something I actually enjoy doing.

I am working on it!!! The only classes I do quite enjoy are yoga classes, so I will try to keep those up at least. Any suggestions? Let me know!

 

6. | June – Meditation |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

A very interesting challenge, in that, I thought this would be the easiest, but it turned out to be much harder than I thought.

I enjoyed it when I did it, but I found that I had to make time for it, rather than try to fit it in my day.

I haven’t kept it up on a daily basis but have naturally found myself meditating on life, faith and positive thoughts when on my own and spending time enjoying the beauty of Nature.

“Beauty is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when soul is satisfied.”
― Amit Ray

 

7. | July – Water |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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A challenge that you either understood completely or didn’t get at all. Fellow water haters, I confess, I was doing so well and then I reverted… But I have a plan to get me back on track!

Drinking water has always been at the bottom of my to do list, and something happened when I realised, in my sugar free month, that (some) wines only had naturally occurring sugars; I started drinking more wine… And more… Not like an alcoholic, but just like with my dinner and in replacement for water…

Okay jokes aside (sort of), I just struggle in this already damp and wet, cold English weather to feel thirsty. I feel somehow I’m absorbing so much water just through breathing damp air. And even when thirsty, I’m so cold I opt for a dehydrating cup of tea (that’s right, tea is a diuretic so you ultimately lose more water than you take in).

But the plan? I bought this from Kikki.K and I intend to use it.
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New Year, new pee… I mean me.

8. | August – Say Yes |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
Climb every mountain

This challenge was certainly the most adventurous and the most rewarding, delivering me to exciting new places, giving me more out of life and connecting me with the best people the world has to offer!

It’s an attitude that takes courage and takes self-belief. You need to be a risk taker, taking chances when there may be disappointment. Worst, you need to be prepared to be disappointed.

I have definitely carried on with this type of attitude, but I have to remind myself. I am naturally cautious and if left to my instincts, I would let opportunities pass me by. I struggle with disappointment and so when I am let down it hurts, a lot! But life is not going to get more interesting, fun or exciting if you don’t take risks.

I hope 2018 will be a year that I don’t hold myself back with my own self-doubt, but a year which I open my eyes to opportunities and take them with both hands!

 

9. | September – Slow Down |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

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Image Credit: ryangoggin.com

This one is harder to keep up when life just gives you busy schedules week on week. Certainly, my technology diet assisted with this and I naturally slowed down in most aspects of my life.

I have since had to remind myself to enjoy beautiful moments, the first full moon of 2018 for example, and a stunning sunrise the following morning.

Slowing down ties in with meditation, with reducing social media and other time fillers and many other parts of my yearly challenges.

I hope to carry on a slightly slower, more purposeful pace into 2018.

 

10. | October – Sugar Free |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner | Dessert
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This is the challenge I am most proud of. It was complex and required a lot of effort; cooking, reading ALL labels, turning down tasty office junk food etc. But I smashed it!

I honestly saw the health benefits (especially when I returned to sugar), I realised the effect that sugar had on my asthma!

Sadly, the return to sugar has been a full submersion due to the time of year, but I would like that to change in the new year and I’d like to greatly reduce my intake. If not for my overall health, for my asthma (which has suffered greatly due to the return to sugar and all the other factors that trigger it).

I will proudly say though, that I have not returned to putting sugar in my tea!

 

11. | November – Technology Diet |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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Being cut off from the world of social media came with mixed feelings… It was strangely freeing but at the same time isolating.

Yes, I missed out on social events, life updates from all my 900+ facebook “friends” (ha! I have more than you! JK) and ultra-hilarious memes, BUT I gained an independence, learned a new language (slash carried on learning Spanish from all my years of dabbling) and met people in more organic ways.

Being back on social media, I actually am not as bothered anymore… It’s sort of an effort to post so I’m doing it less. And I’m only really scrolling through facebook for the “12 times you failed at life” style posts, because … they make me giggle.

So, although I won’t keep off social media, I think I have struck a balance along the way.

 

12. | December – Volunteer |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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What a feel-good way to end the year; by volunteering! I honestly got such a sense of achievement by helping these charities in the skills that I had to offer. I really cannot urge you enough, if you have any spare time, to give some of it to a charity of your choice. You will form new friendships, new connections and it can even help you gain more skills.

One thing that is overlooked when people are looking for jobs but lack the experience, is volunteering. The way I gained my administrative experience was by volunteering for the Lifetrain Trust. So if this is where you find yourself, just go for it – if not to help, then to look better on your CV. But you will feel good when you see the contribution you have made to these charities.

Charities do amazing work, and I will be more than happy to give more of my time to volunteer during 2018!

 

So that’s it, my end of year update! Let me know how you have found my challenges and if you have a resolution for 2018!

Thanks for reading!

Ciao!

X


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September Month 9: Slow Down (Part Two)


Challenge: To Slow Down

Supporting Naomi’s DTS this month.

Thoughts: Stop. Breathe. And let it be.


The Ninth Challenge: To Slow Down

The Easy Times

My month began in Squamish, Canada. It was easy then to slow down and take the time to enjoy the moment. I had no responsibilities and no set plans, so I took my time and went with the flow. It lead me to some great moments, like one day that I went on a very long walk to the Chief with the idea of climbing it. The walk to get there alone took the majority of my day as I stopped to enjoy breathtaking views along the way. When it got to lunch time, a pot noodle did the trick and I stopped to enjoy this hidden spot beneath the highway.

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Not being in a rush to get anywhere, I detoured from my route several times which lead to me some exciting adventures. I stumbled across a popular bouldering spot where I watched people practising climbing up and around these huge boulders, their safety mats beneath them. I decided to explore further into the woods, climbing up some rocks of my own. The route continued deeper and deeper into the unknown with more and more boulders cutting across my route. But I continued, curiosity leading the way, until my route ended abruptly at one of the sheer faces of the Chief. To my amazement, when I stared up the sky-high rock face, there was a person half way up, climbing.

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So when I later followed another unknown path which ended in a very large boulder, perhaps this person inspired me to attempt to climb the boulder. This lead me to the most stunning view where I took some time to sit, breathe and munch on some oreos.

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It wasn’t long into September before I had to make the long and sloooow journey back home. But in the spirit of slowing down and not rushing, I didn’t queue early to get on the plane and I wasn’t the first up when the plane landed. I have never been so chilled or relaxed about flying before – and normally the journey home for me is awful because without the excitement of a holiday to look forward to, the stress of flying is amplified. But this was by far one of my most chilled journeys. In my layover I read, sipped on pumpkin spice chai latte, blogged and browsed the airport shops. And before I knew it, everyone had boarded the plane, so I joined them at my leisurely pace.

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This really taught me that we really don’t need to be in a rush to get anywhere, taking my time and slowing down meant a much more pleasant experience for me and as a result people around me enjoyed more pleasant interaction.

 

The Harder Times

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Getting back to England, I had given myself a week before I needed to be back at work.  Having a wedding to attend in Glasgow, I opted for a 9 hour mode of transportation to save a significant sum of money, rather than paying more than double for a quicker trip there and back. Where I may have had some regrets on the overnight journey back (mainly due to not being able to sleep at all on the uncomfortable chairs), I actually enjoyed the journey there. I had time to write, to catch up with some old friends on social media and even read. But 9 hours on a bus sitting next to strangers means after a while, you do start talking to one another. By the end of the journey, the community spirits were soaring. The man opposite shared around his food, his little girl chattered away to us and the woman next to me offered around her napkins. I had made two new friends!

The more difficult times came when I was finally settled in at home and things started to get a little lonely particularly as the family I live with went on holiday for a week. I purposefully did not keep myself busy, curious as to how I would enjoy a bit of my own company. I wanted to scrapbook, watch movies, do my nails, write my book, bake and so much more. But strangely, the loneliness seemed crippling and I struggled to bring myself to do any of it. I would say that was my hardest point of this month’s challenge as I was also on a come down from travelling. But I did have some beautiful moments.

 

The Conclusion

 

All in all it’s been good to slow down this month and I hope this attitude will carry forward with me into the rest of the year because it really did make a positive difference. It can be hard sometimes but it’s worth persevering and really taking every opportunity to stop and enjoy the moments in front of you.

Next Challenge: Sugar Free!

 

 

13 Weeks of Wandering – Vang Vieng

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver


Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: Accidentally climbing mountains again…


13 WoW – Laos: Vang Vieng

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The journey was stunning, just looking out of the window gave you anomalous mountain sights in their peculiarly jagged silhouettes. There was something alien about the way the forested mountains seemed to have been placed randomly onto the otherwise flat terrain.

The Hostel

The bus dropped me off outside one of the largest and busiest party hostels in Vang Vieng.

Staying true to my “wing it” attitude, I walked the main street comparing the prices and atmospheres of each hostel, homestay and guest house. Finally, I settled in at the Rock Backpacker Hostel.

Sharing a bare, under-decorated girl’s room of 6 beds, I was surprised at the level of dirt that the last girl had accumulated beneath my new bed. I worried about ants, and even worse, cockroaches! It didn’t help also having a leak in my backpack due to a broken bottle of sweet-smelling rice wine bought from the Whiskey Village in Luang Prabang; everything needed to be hand-washed and hung up to dry.

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I can’t say I came out of the showers feeling that much cleaner but it was certainly refreshing and by the time I was out, I could hear the party goers getting rowdy.

The good thing about this hostel was that you could book tours from the front desk and sign up to group activities such as tubing (more on that later), although I’m sure I was ripped off massively price-wise. The bad thing was, well, it was one of the more rowdy hostels I’d stayed in, and why wouldn’t it be? Vang Vieng is known for being a party destination!

 

The Adventures

Tubing

How can I describe this? Imagine throwing yourself onto a choppy, brown river and hoping for the best. Now imagine doing that whilst drinking, a LOT! Okay, so you have tubing – a tradition that nearly had to be banned due to the number of deaths that were occurring. Did I do it? Of course!

Going Tubing  - Vang Vieng

Now tubing started as a method of transportation for the locals of this area, and other parts of Laos, but as with all sacred and non-sacred traditions in SE Asia, it’s been taken over by monetisation and has become a tourist attraction. And what do tourists like to do? Drink!

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So as you are being pulled down the dirty river waters in this tube, bars along the river side will throw you ropes in the hopes that you will grab on, pull yourself in, have a drink and carry on. This will happen all the way down the river until you reach the large “TUBING STOPS HERE” sign where you then (hopefully) catch the last line thrown your way and pull yourself in. How smooth your journey is, is determined by how drunk you get and whether or not you are me and despite not drinking, still get stuck in a bush

Tubing - Would you do it?

Would you do it? Tell me in the comments below!

 

Pha Negun

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How many times in a week do you recommend accidentally climbing mountains with nothing but flip flops on your feet? If it’s less than 3 times a week, stop reading. If it’s less than 2 times in 1 day, give up on my blog completely (not really, subscribe below, it’s about to get funny).

SO… I think you get the idea. How? You may ask, does a person accidentally climb a mountain, in flip flops, twice, in one day? Well, my dear readers, it is a lot easier than you think and I am here to warn you of the dangers of not researching your tours before you embark on them!

I booked a 3 stop tour with my hostel, was totally ripped off on price but being short on time I wanted to make the most of my trip. Soon, I was picked up by a private taxi and taken on a solo tour to these 3 spots; Pha Negun, Tham Phu Kham Cave & The Blue Lagoon. “I don’t really want to hike” I had told my hostel receptionist, “I only have flip flops on”. He’d waved off my concerns and assured me that flip flops were fineee!!


Well, they were not.

I was dropped at the bottom of this (yes fairly small) mountain and the taxi driver pointed up and ushered me forward. What was I to do? I started climbing.

There were many points I questioned my existence, I felt like giving up, lost the will to live etc. But for some reason, even after my flip flops threatened to fly off my feet, and after flies swarmed me, after ants bit my ankles and after nearly falling off one or two rocks I was climbing up, I still persisted.

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And. it. was. worth. it!

 

Tham Phu Kham cave

So I mentioned the mountain climbing thing happened not once, but twice in one day… And here’s the second time.

It took me a while to recover in the well-received air conditioned vehicle as we drove to the next destination, but I was ready for less hike and more cave-exploration. I didn’t expect to be presented with both at the same time!

Arriving at the second destination, also the location of the Blue Lagoon, I followed the signs that directed me to the cave. It began with a few steps. It carried on and the steps sort of just became a vague pathway. Then it got really steep. Then a snake showed up out of nowhere and I had no idea whether or not to be scared so I wasn’t.

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To cut a long walk short, it was another mountain to climb part-way to reach the cave and I was not too pleased at the unexpected exercise.

After reaching the mouth of the cave, I read a crude sign that stated the cave would be best explored with a guide and not alone, and a powerful torch was required. Well I had my phone and google maps so I hopped in.

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The cave was very dark with water running across some pathways. The darkness nearly echoed as an eerie feel submerged me, but it was exciting. Immediately inside the cave you could see a “resting Buddha” shrine set up in the only light part of the cave, but beyond that it was dark. Arrows had been painted on some rocks to give you a vague idea of what direction to head in but I was soon lost.

My phone torch wasn’t much use and the arrows weren’t around anymore, the cave was very vast and so much to explore. I heard voices echoed in the distance and I called out, shining my torch in their direction. Thankfully it was a guide, with a gentleman from New Zealand, who had retired at the age of 35 to come and live in Asia.

Needless to say, I followed them out, my lesson learned; do the same thing again, it was fun.

 

Blue Lagoon 

The Blue Lagoon

After all of that hiking and climbing and cave exploring, I was ready for the cool refreshing waters of the Blue Lagoon.

It didn’t take much convincing for me to join the queue of tourists climbing the overhanging tree and jumping down into the crystal waters. One girl was at the top trying to convince herself to jump but nearly crying with fear. It was actually a lot higher than I realised and I would have been more scared had I given myself enough time to think about it.

I recorded myself, my phone in a waterproof case, and just… jumped!

There was something to get my heart pumping and my body refreshed, I don’t know what shocked me more, the jump or the cold water!

 

Moving On

I booked my travel on to Vientiane through the first party hostel that I was dropped at to save some kip. And because it was leaving at the time I wanted to set off.

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But before I left that day, I was up early to enjoy a delicious Matcha Latte and Almond Pastry whilst I watched the world go by at this delightful cafe.

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Vang Vieng had so many places to enjoy a Laotian nibble, but the tastiest Pho I had come across was served to me in a humble outside “restaurant” next door to the Chillao party hostel where I would soon be catching my bus.

The best tasting Pho in all of Laos.

It was just gorgeous, perfectly balanced flavours with a zesty twist to it. I still remember those satisfying first mouthfuls as I placed my chopsticks in my bowl for more. Mmm…

But saying good-bye to that, I was soon on my way to Vientiane!