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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June Month 6: Meditation (Part Two)


Challenge: Meditate
Charity: Be Me Project
Total £ accrued: £20
Reflection: “Sometimes, you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.” – Yvonne Woon


The Sixth Challenge: To Meditate

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What do you wake up for?

It’s been a challenging month, mixing the excitement of travelling with the serenity of meditation. But it really has had me thinking more and more about life and what it’s all about.

Earlier this month, I posted this on social media:

today i woke

The purpose for this was not to make us sad about where they are currently, but to make us think about the reason why we do what we do. A question as much to myself as to everyone else; why do we wake up every morning, what is our purpose and plan for our lives?

I have been so blessed to be able to travel around Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, but one thing that I was made increasingly aware of, was the fact that so few of the people I met and saw in local communities would ever be able to afford to save, let alone travel. For many, the reason they wake up and do life is to feed themselves and their families for that day. If they have enough food that day and a little to spare the next day, they consider it a very good day.


So what are your reasons? There are no right answers, only, let’s make sure we know what we are waking up for each day.

 

Taking in the Beautiful


Nature has gifted us with so much that we take for granted. The earth is a giant gift that keeps giving as we enjoy it’s warmth or coolness, varied fruits and food, drink, fuel, medicines, clothes and so much more. Isn’t it funny to think that everything, absolutely everything that we have comes from this earth?

The other gift that is ours for free is the absolute beauty that is all around us, this in itself is taken for granted most. There is something about pure beauty that just heals the soul, nourishes the mind and swells up the heart. It’s as if you absorb beauty through your eyes and it fills your entie being.


I have been lucky enough to explore some of these places of immense beauty abroad, but if I’m honest, I really didn’t have to come this far for it. Surrey, especially where I live, is full of breathtaking views that just seem to melt away my problems when I stop to take it in.
Next time you see something beautiful, do take time to sit and absorb with your eyes (and not always with your lense). You might find you take more away with you than you expect.

The Conclusion


Success rate: 87% (5 days failed out of 30)
Cost per fail: £5
Money raised for charity: £25


Because you’re worth it!


Meditation has not been as easy as I thought as it is just as important to give quality time to it as it is to actually do it.

Being on tour at the beginning of the month meant early mornings and late nights with not much option for quality meditation time. This is where I lost the most days. But when I did get into meditation, I found the time went so fast and often I would be there for 10, 15 minutes without realising.

I took advantage of the opportunity I had to be in stunning locations, this made meditation easy and it came naturally to me. I have been able to meditate on beaches, at waterfalls, on boats, in temples, in the ocean and even in the deeply tragic killing fields that offered so much beauty yet had seen such horror.

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I have really felt the benefit of this and will continue to do this daily, it is something that grows with time as you get spiritually, mentally and emotionally stronger.

Next: July’s Challenge – Water!

 

 

13 Weeks of Wandering – Sa Pa: My Humble Abode

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


Where To? Vietnam
How long? 3 Weeks
Thoughts: Have you ever taken a shower with a pig grunting right outside your shower door? Neither had I.


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Animals Galore

Glancing up from my second noodle meal of the day, it was difficult not to feel as if I had been taken back a number of centuries as women clad with their native, time-honoured garments sat together conversing. Beyond them lay the unspoilt mountain terrains rich in vegetation and of course, animals.

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Back on route to Mama May’s village, I must have seemed like I’d been locked in a cage all of my life as I marvelled at the ducklings nestling around their mother in one corner, a goat bleating intermittently in another and a pig stalking us. Really, I have seen all of those things many times before but usually in a farm or a zoo, not just sort of on the same road cars (or more likely motorbikes) would drive on.

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But what really had me oohing and ahhing was coming across a family of buffalo just having a pee break across our path. I felt sort of rude interrupting so apologised in a most British way as I squeezed past, but they seemed unfazed by my presence and carried on doing their business.

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There were also horses, chickens and other wild and domestic animals, but what scared me most were the dogs.
It seemed as if we had walked in on a serious Jeremy Kyle moment where one dog had definitely been cheating on her partner with his brother and things kicked off big time! First was the severe baring of teeth and then the growling as two of the dogs circled each other and the [basic] bitch watched on. Then was the barking and the slo-mo leap towards one another as I visualised my doctor warning me not to be bitten by any animals because I hadn’t had my rabies jab. The knockout moment was when one of the dogs got a sizeable bite on the other’s neck and the last I remembered before hastily edging past was the bloodstained teeth of the champion.

 

My Humble Abode

A grand total of 6 hours later, just a few hours after I’d given up on breathing like a normal human being (I have asthma – don’t judge), we arrived at her actual house. I mean, I genuinely don’t know what I was expecting… like a mountain lodge with a hot tub or something?! No, this was the real deal and it was her home.

I met her children first, only two of them were able to communicate in minimal English whilst the others shyly smiled at me. Then I met her mother in law, a beautiful old lady with a bright smile and warm personality who you can’t help but love despite the language barrier. She would still try to speak to me in her own language making big gestures so that I would understand. And her husband who I’d met earlier was also home now (with my bag) and also did not speak any English.

Her home was a humble room which had been divided into sections. A small section was the “kitchen”, this was a drain in the ground in one corner and a small fire pit in the other corner with stools surrounding it. This was the area the whole family communed around as they cooked. An area was boarded off for Mama May and her husband, another section for her mother in law and the kids would climb up a ladder to an “attic” area above the kitchen to sleep. My bed was by the window hidden by a mosquito net.

Her husband had built their home, Mama May proudly told me, from scratch by himself! She also told me that she was the sole bread-winner of the family since nobody else is able to work due to a lack of local jobs other than farming. Because she had learned to speak English, she was able to capitalise on tourism and invite people to her humble home. This made me feel proud to be able to be a part of helping her make a living, but also proud of her as an example of a “strong independent woman who don’t need no man”!

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And she carried on proving herself strong as she set about making us all dinner despite having walked however many million miles whilst I died in the corner swearing never to walk again.

 

When Pigs Fly

Mama May’s place may have been small, but that didn’t stop her from keeping animals. She had chickens which fought each other for the last grains of corn. One cheeky little hen, who would puff up her chest and try to be ‘ard, tried to bully another scared chicken and baby chick by running up to the cage and poking her head through pretending she was going to peck them. Then there were the cats, that would stretch out on the veranda and chill because, well what else do cats do?
But more importantly, were the pigs. Two large and over-confident pigs.

Have you ever taken a shower with a pig grunting right outside your shower door? Neither had I. But when you’ve just been hiking for 6 hours and you smell as if you belong with them, showering with pigs seems less unconventional. When it came to it, I was more worried about the giant mosquitoes than stepping out of the shower and into a pig’s sty. Seemingly, not only did the vegetation grow bigger and more bountiful but so did the insects.

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It was to my great surprise that Mama May had hot running water for her shower and even a sit-down toilet which is rare in your regular populated cities of Vietnam, let alone in the mountains of Sa Pa! The warm water was welcome seeing as the temperatures in the mountains were akin to the temperatures of England in the autumn and the unceasing rain more so. This was my chance to thaw and ease my aching muscles whilst ignoring the pig nose pressed up against the frosted glass door. *Grunt, Grunt*

Needless to say, the whole shower experience was surreal. I can’t say I’ve ever showered with a pig outside my door. Well, I suppose now I can!

 

The Mystery of the Scream in the Night

Settling in to bed after a huge home-made dinner of spring rolls, rice and soup, washed down with “happy water” (a.k.a the Vietnamese equivalent of home brewed Sake), I couldn’t get myself comfortable.

Shining my torch on the mattress carefully, my biggest concern was whether or not there could be bed bugs but I couldn’t tell and I had to take that risk. I pulled out the supposedly 100% silk sleeping bag that I bought cheap from a Ho Chi Minh market and prayed it would protect me from all bugs. Spotting a number of holes in the mosquito net, I knew better than to hope in the net to protect me from the blood thirsty insects so covered myself entirely within the sleeping bag liner.

“You are getting the real Sa Pa experience” I reminded myself whilst trying to get comfortable on the rock-solid mattress. As the temperature dropped, sleep evaded me more and I drifted in and out of consciousness frequently jumping awake fearing some insect had made its way through the net.

I’d finally battled myself into a light sleep when I shot up hearing a loud high pitched and long enduring scream. I couldn’t tell where the bloodcurdling wail was coming from but it sounded as if it was in the house. When it would not stop I heard stirs and movement and I don’t know what they did, but the noise stopped as abruptly as it started. I was scared shitless, but my bladder was giving me all the signals that a toilet break would certainly be necessary soon.

I put it off as long as I could manage, but the fort wouldn’t hold for much longer; I had to be brave! I untangled myself from the safety bundle I had created with the sleeping bag liner and slid out from  under the mosquito net grateful to feel my flip flops under my feet. Then, using only the torch of my phone as a light, I found the back door which would lead me to the pig sty and ultimately, the toilet!

Again, not sure what I was expecting would happen when I braced myself and opened the door, but it certainly wasn’t the giant moth that flew in my face! Stifling a scream, I jumped back nearly wetting myself there and then. When I had pulled myself together, I forced myself outside to the pitch black. The bathroom was only about five steps away, but it felt like another 6 hour hike as I darted my eyes about jumping at every rustle of leaves or snap of a twig. What felt like years later, I made it to the bathroom. Thankfully, it was on the way out of the bathroom that I spotted the giant cricket/spider/stick insect/moth mutation killer bug literally the size of a nokia 3310 and I never looked back making a swift retreat back into the house and the shelter of my sleeping bag liner.

I never did find out what that scream was…

Find out what I do when I see a woman bleeding by the cliff side in my upcoming third and final Sa Pa post!

 

13 Weeks of Wandering – In Cambodia

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


Where To? Cambodia
How long? 7 days
Status: Temples, Tarantulas and Treks


13WoW – In Cambodia

Getting to Know the Cambodian People

To summarise Cambodia in 3 words, it would be temples, tarantulas and treks.

Cambodians are beautiful people, kind, warm and friendly. And all this is despite the horrific genocide that took place by the Khmer rouge nearly halving their population not even 40 years ago. This genocide affected everybody and most will have at least one family member who was killed by the regime. I highly recommend you educating yourself on this if you choose to visit Vietnam by visiting the interrogation camps and the killing fields in Phnom Peng.

The killing fields
People have left bracelets around the “burial grounds” as a sign of respect. I added mine also.

And make sure to book a tour guide to get the not-so-official full story that you will not get by listening to the government approved audio guides (I recommend a tour guide called Nay – just ask if you want his details).

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I was also lucky enough to have been able to have met 2 of the 5 survivors of the interrogation camps. I bought one of their books for $10, the proceeds go to a charity to help those affected by this genocide.

 

Tasty Little Creatures

Actually, the one of the first things I came across when entering Cambodia was Tarantulas.

tarantula!!
Yes, that’s me, holding a tarantula, trying not to cry!

Believe it or not, deep fried tarantula is a delicacy in this part of the world, as well as many other insects.

A couple of my tour group were brave enough to try some insects. I was not!

There was a fiasco where a member of  the group was holding a bigger tarantula than the one above and then it started to quickly crawl up their arm. In that moment we all screamed like little girls and dropped the poor thing in a puddle. The seller was not amused as taranulas can die in water.

I was glad when we stopped at this restaurant to get a real lunch. Needless to say, Beef with Fire Ants was just one of the wonderful options on the menu.

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The view at lunch

And later that day visiting the New Hope restaurant (see my previous post) deep fried crickets were brought to the table alongside other (more delicious) Cambodian dishes; coconut curry with pumpkin, beef lok lok, crispy vegetable parcels and more!

 

Temples

Ankor Wat

With Asia being predominantly Buddhist, you don’t have to look far to find a beautifully designed temple. But some of the oldest and best temples are located in Cambodia.

Here are some of the temples I visited:

‘Wat’ Else?!

Aside from the many temples that you could lose yourself in for days on end, Cambodia has lots to offer.

We visited the circus which is produced and performed by the locals and tells a story about the Cambodian people. You will be pleased to know there were no animals involved.

If you were feeling like interacting with some animals, you can pay a visit to Wat Leu temple where monkeys freely roam and like to hang out with man (especially with a food incentive).

Cambodia also has a number of trekking spots, some great beaches and even waterfalls!


And if you’re thirsty, they are not short of good bars!

 


Overall, Cambodia has a bit of everything! You have a lot of choice and a lot of variety – just watch out for the street food as it’s slightly less reliable than some other parts of Asia and be prepared to pay more if you stick to dollars rather than convert to Riel.

Next stop, Vietnam! X