Wednesday, December 26, 2012

As the sun sets in 2012

I've been in quite a really reflective mood lately, thinking about how 2012 played out and the twists my path has taken. The charming Miranti over at Pen & Peplum recently wrote about the things that she was thankful for over the year, and I thought this a great exercise as the year draws to a close.

This year was a roller coaster, no doubt about it. Sometimes nondescript, sometimes crazily intense, sometimes fun and often frustrating. I started 2012 in complete fog having, for the first time since I can remember, no real goal. It felt very very uncomfortable. Much squirming and sighing slowly gave way to questioning, reevaluating and challenging who I am and where I thought I was going with my life, and how I was living it. I faced some big decisions which had me closing chapters and opening new ones. I was tried and tested. Yet here I am - very thankful for journey.

For my family; my Rock of Gibraltar, and for my friends old and new. But particularly P, who has been patient with my never-ending ambivalence, and who brought me out of the box when my mind was in lockdown mode.

I'm thankful for my home, my very own, which provided me with a place of solitude to rest and rejuvenate.

I'm thankful for the opportunity to travel freely, for the clarity and inspiration that time in Sweden gave for me to create a beginning from an ending.

I am thankful for the situations where I wasn't myself, and for the resulting discomfort that reminded me of the person I am not.

I'm thankful for the professional highs that have uncovered skills I didn't know I had, and the lows that have forced me to contemplate necessary change in the coming year.

I am thankful for all those random events, serendipitous finding of books and courses, and conversations with people that have culminated in clarity in how I can merge my talents in a way that has fills me with real excitement.

I am thankful for the return of my chaotic creativity.

So 2012, thank you for the many challenges, the joys, the connections and the reconnections. Thank you for sending me uncomfortable jolts and timely reminders when I needed them. And above all, thanks for helping me strip back the old canvas and creating space for a new vision which collages old and new.

2013 is all about implementation. Boy, I can't wait!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Live like a French person everyday

This is a little story about why you shouldn't drink takeaway coffee and other daily habits we can abandon, others still we can adopt to live a more mindful and elegant existence.

When I was a child, eating while we were out and about on the move just didn't happen. If you wanted something to eat, or drink for that matter, you sat at a table. Fast forward some years I was pulling into Seattle on an early morning bus on my first trip to America. A first glimpse of Seatillites had me feeling like I'd just landed on a dehydrated Mars. Lining the streets were people walking, waiting for buses, and in cars slurping from enormous bucket-sized cups of coffee. It was totally bizarre and had me wondering what great stress these people were under to not have time to drink their coffee with their breakfast before they left home.

Now fast forward again another few years to my first trip to France. I love this country, I loved it long before I visited it and I still love it 15 years later. But what struck on this initial trip after having lived in North America for a couple of years was the sheer lack of take-away coffee houses. When people wanted a coffee they would go into a cafe and either sit down and savour a creamy cafe au lait or, if in a hurry, they'd stand at the bar and whip down a bitter brew from a tiny ceramic cup. But they would not, I repeat would not, run away down the street with it and let it get cold before drinking it at their desk. Still now in Paris take away coffee is fairly rare.

So where am going with this coffee rant? Well, despite my reluctance to admit this to my French friends, I think that this gaelic nation in many aspects of living has got it just right. Their pace is comfortable, the aesthetic is right on. They live an elegant life without it being overdone.

I've been thinking for a while about how I can inject a bit more French into my own life rather than just while I'm staying in their country. After some pondering I've come up with my ten tips on how to live more like a French person everyday.

one  //  Drink your coffee (or in my case tea) in a cafe or at home at the table. In a real cup. Not walking down the street.

two  //  Put some effort in what you wear. Have high quality basics in your wardrobe that you feel good in. Learn how to accessorise. Know what looks good on you and flaunt your assets, elegantly.

three  //  Never eat at your desk. Its impossible to be mindful of what you're chomping on while infront of a computer screen. It's a bad habit and besides, crumbs and leftover spaghetti sauce are hard to get out of the crevices in your keyboard.

four  //  Get outside and breathe some fresh air every day. Go for a walk in the park, ride your bike. Step away from your screen and get some air through your lungs.

five  //  Eat only fresh, seasonal foods. Don't eat junk. Eat simply when at home, make a proper meal even if its only for you. A tin of tuna does not constitute a meal.

six  //  Indulge yourself sometimes, and savour it. Buy a single exquisite chocolate, the best you can afford and eat it slowly, rather than demolishing a bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk. Get the occasional manicure. Buy an Italian Vogue. Whatever floats your boat do it, not every day, not even every week, but every so often. A little decadence goes a long way.

seven  //  Buy fresh flowers weekly or pick them from your garden, and display them in the rooms you live in the most. Even a simple bunch of inexpensive daffodils or daisies can make a house more bright and homely. Why? Because you're worth it.

eight  //  When at home, dress as if someone might appear at your door at anytime. Comfortably, yet with some elegance. One day a friend and I spontaneously dropped in on the lovely Mme Bénazet of Toulouse. At over 80 she was a picture of simple style in some comfortable wool trousers, a fine knit jumper and her silk and wool 'house scarf' to keep the chill from her neck. Gorgeous.

nine  //  Adopt a five-minute bedtime beauty routine. Clean off your makeup with a cream cleanser, apply a night cream and eye cream, brush your teeth and your hair. Maybe even rub a little lavender oil on your temples. You'll feel pampered and calm, ready for sleep.

ten  //  Enjoy small rituals in your day, month, week and year. Whether it be 4pm goûter, Sunday lunch with family, or a monthly ’knife-and-fork’ lunch with friends. These rituals mark the cycles of time and make it feel less like life is running away from us.

So there you have it, the tips I have learned from the French on how to add a bit je ne sais quoi to your everyday life.

I'd love to hear about your experience of these. Do you have tips of your own?

Girl & geese c/o o-check graphics

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Resolve early

Who makes New Year's resolutions? I do. Every New Years day I make a list of all the things I hope to achieve, and then swiftly go about breaking them when life gets in the way.

Last year was a crazy year with far too much going on. Never one to say no, on top of full-time work and part-time study I took on too many projects and drove myself completely into the ground. It really took its toll on me physically and mentally. By December I was a blubbering unhealthy stressed mess.

I decided enough was enough, but surprising myself, I didn't want to wait until the new year kicked in to make a start making changes to clean up my act. On Christmas Eve I went to see a naturopath that a friend had recommended to get a health makeover. Yes, you read that right - on Christmas eve! The gorgeous Anthia greeted me with a cleansing cup for tea in a pretty china cup and gently discussed where I was going wrong and how I might make improvements. She was delightful. She was kind. She was exactly what I needed.

That hot 24 December I walked out of her store not only armed with a bitter tonic and some cleansing tea to aid my digestion, but something far more important - resolve. Resolve that this year would not be like last year. That I wouldn't wait til 1 January to start being a better me. I decided to act immediately and see Anthia before christmas, an action that saved me from completely blowing out on junk during Christmas and New Year. I went into the season armed with a strong vision of change, and kept it in my mind the entire time. By January 1 I was already eating better, being kinder to myself and walking more. The resolve, I kept it up for most* of the year.

It seems for me that kickstarting changes pre-New Year helps me see them through. So this year, as Christmas Day looms, I have again resolved to resolve early. I've booked in to see Anthia in the week before Christmas to assess my progress in becoming a healthier me. But this year I'm kicking my resolve up a notch and building extensions. Having had twelve months rest from study and started to find my creative mojo again, I'm starting to contemplate what I want next year to look like professionally. Importantly, I have resolved to get this transition going also before new year. I've started mapping and drawing and sketching and talking to people about my business concept and next steps. I have a clear vision about where I want to be by this time next year and I'm doing everything in my power to get as much grunt work done now as possible. I have a feeling, that come New Year's Day, I'm going to have made some steady progress.

This is an important lesson I've stumbled upon. There's no point waiting for the future to come, it never does. Its important to act now. You only need to make small movements, but don't dawdle. Be definite. Be bold. It's amazing what some early resolve can do.

* I have had a few blowouts this year, but hey, I'm only human.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Madame, pomp adore!

You'd think after the origami advent calendar I'd have had enough of Christmas craft. Well think again. This morning I braved the Sydney heatwave loaded with fabric scraps and scissors, and headed to Darlinghurst to attend the City of Sydney "Upcycling: green up your Christmas" workshop.

The delightful Julie Paterson from clothfabric opened her space up to a bunch eager festive-makers. Over the next couple of hours we followed her simple instructions to turn string, scraps and fabric left overs into pom-poms, strings of garlands and bunting.

I must admit, I liked the pom-poms the best. I used mostly the beautiful screen printed clothfabric scraps to make four fluffy balls that will give my place some christmas cheer. They're pretty effective, don't you think?

They were also really simple to put together. If you're keen to make your own, follow the instructions I have found over on the 5 orange potatoes blog.

Thanks Julie and the Green Village for a fun morning!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

DIY origami advent calendar

Right folks, it's time to get crafty. I love Christmas craft. At primary school when the last couple of weeks of term rolled around and we started to wilt in the summer heat, out came the red textas and the cotton wool for the making of toilet roll santas, and the macaroni for decorated jars. This was the kind of schoolwork I liked!

I've grown up just a wee bit since then, but not enough to leave the pipe cleaners behind altogether. I still have boxes of lovely papers and more markers than the average Officeworks store. But in recent years I haven't really roused them very often.

Well this year I'm back with a vengeance. Remembering how much I loved them as a kid, I decided to make an advent calendar for my young niece and nephew. I think it's so cute I thought I'd share the process with you all.


The project can be completed from start to finish in about three hours. You’ll need the following:
  • Preloved children's book(s) or old magazines - 25 pages of at least 16 x 16cm in size
  • Numbers 1-25 printed on paper (printable attached)
  • 2 metres of string
  • Washi tape
  • Double-sided tape
  • Ruler and cutting mat
  • Scissors
  • Upholstery needle 
  • Little goodies for hiding in the cups

How to make the advent calendar

I used old Golden Books for colour but you can use any paper.
  1. Remove the pages from the books and cut each into a 16 x 16cm square
  2. Make 25 cups by following these instructions for making an origami cup
  3. Use double-sided tape to stick the numbers onto the front of each cup
  4. Use washi tape to stick the flap down on the back of each cup
  5. Thread your upholstery needle with string and thread the cups onto the string by piercing a hole in each side. Start with number 25 and work backwards
Now for the fun part. It's time to fill the cups ready for December's treasure hunt. As this calendar was for little kids I filled mine with chocolate coins, puffy stickers, plastic jewellery, and little tree decorations. I made a second 'grown up' calendar for some friends and filled it with handmade chocolates and decorations. Double-sided tape sealed the deal to close up the tops of the cups to avoid peeking.

That's it! All thats left to do is to hang it as bunting over a mantel or bookcase and countdown til December one.

And remember, no peeking!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Disconnect to reconnect

Lately I've come to the realisation that I have contracted what I thought was a very modern affliction - infobesity. "What?" I hear you ask. Fundamentally, it boils down to the fact that I'm taking in a magnitude of information beyond my ability to assimilate it all. I confess much of my spare moments are spent reading whatever I can lay my eyes on, flicking from email to book to website to blog to twitter in order to take in as much content as I can. This would be ok if I had control over it, but unfortunately I don't think I do anymore. I feel like I'm constantly thirsty despite the sheer volume I'm digesting.

Knowing that I'm just about to advise you to stop reading this and shut down your computer, I better get straight to the point, hadn't I? Well I think I've discovered two main causes.

Firstly, I have FOMOOI. This is a bit like FOMO (fear of missing out), but it's not an experience I'm worried about. Rather it's a fear of missing out on information. Each tasty morsel leads to another and then another, and despite feeling well and truly full I continue to stuff myself with words and images. I'm constantly tempted by a catchy title, the promise of wisdom or a yet more gorgeous graphic. Yet I worry if I stop I might miss out on some important snippet about the particular topic of interest, of which unfortunately I have many, that may lead to some life-changing break though.

The second cause I believe stems from feeling compelled to take in the mass of information by outside forces. How many unread emails do you have in your email inboxes demanding to be fed? How many unread books on your shelves want to be admired? How many unwatched downloaded movies do you have in your media player? Have you read all of today's Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Flipboard streams? How many unread articles in your 'Read it Later' app?

What are you reading?:

By now you probably get where I'm coming from. It's not so modern. Alvin Toffler had it right back in the 1970's in his bestselling book 'Future Shock' where even back then he talked about 'information overload'. He thought that the presence of too much information made it difficult for a person to understand the issue at hand and ultimately to make a decision. I couldn't agree more - the more I read the less clarity I have. I find my attention span is waning and I'm skimming at best. It's a surface life.

It can't go on - I'm mentally exhausted. Worst of all I'm finding this obsession with information is sometimes keeping me from connecting with my real life. My friends and family don't care if I have emptied my inbox or read the latest article about 'How to give your work that edge'. But they do care that I spend time with them in person, alert, fully present, actively listening, observing and interacting with joy. Afterall, isn't real life the best source of knowledge?

If this resonates with you I ask you to join me in taking on these seven missions for a day, a week, then maybe a month in attempt to slow down what you take in making space to assimilate and reconnect.

Here's what I challenge you to do:
  1. Read one book at a time. Choose carefully, like it was the last book that you'll ever get. Savour every word, the writing style, the sound of the pages turning. Don't start another until you finish it.
  2. Don't 'link off'. When reading something on the web, if tempted to 'link off' to another site, don't. Save/write down the name/URL of the site to a list and don't look at the list for another week. If after that time you still really want to read the contents of these links, then do so, but one at a time and mindfully.
  3. Don't save articles to 'read later' apps. I know this conflicts with item two, but seriously, when do you ever go back and read the articles?
  4. Read magazines in one sitting. If you're like me you have a few half-read, must finish mags lying around. Finish them up in one sitting, photograph any bits you love and then give them away to someone who will love them. Or just give them away if you know you'll never read them.
  5. Reassess who you follow on Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest/email and cut out the noise. If there are people/pages you find you always skim over, unfollow them, and create a social media wish list of people/pages you will reconnect with if time permits. Then your time spent reviewing is out of conscious choice and those people you follow know you're truly listening.
  6. Archive unwatched media. Someone gave you a few series and you haven't had time to watch them. They keep asking you have you watched it yet? Don't let it get in the way of life. Archive it off or if you're never going to watch it, delete it. 
  7. Now, put down your book, shut down the computer, turn off the TV and go and play
Disconnect to reconnect:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Surprise nomination

Sometimes life just throws you the loveliest surprises. The gorgeous Miranti over at Pen & Peplum has nominated me for a Liebster Award, which is for bloggers with less than 200 followers. I was quite aglow after discovering her tag because Miranti has an utterly delightful blog. It's all about beautiful workspaces and improving worklife. If you're a stationery addict it's the place to go get your fix.

Now, down to the rules. To qualify I must: Post 11 random things about myself // Answer the 11 questions Miranti asked of me // Nominate 11 more up and coming bloggers, and notify them and link them to my post // Create 11 new questions for these blogger to answer // No tag backs.

So to begin, here are 11 random facts you didn’t need to know about me:
  1. I'm most inspired in the early hours of dawn with the possibilities of what the day may bring lapping at my feet.
  2. I drink about seven cups of tea a day. 
  3. I'm not shy, but an introvert. I take a bit of time to warm up, but when I do I become quite extroverted. A glass of champagne always helps.
  4. Red is my favourite colour.
  5. I was born with the hiccups.
  6. I am always being accused of being a mischief maker.
  7. My cat Sasha made a modelling debut on the blog Desire to Inspire.
  8. In Jane Austen's days I might have been a very accomplished woman, but loving sewing, baroque music, drawing and making your own chicken stock isn't as cool in the 21st century.
  9. Although I'm a designer, I also have degrees in art therapy and psychology. But I'm not analysing you, I promise!
  10. I get the giggles.
  11. Mais oui, I am a Francophile.
ikea dress

Miranti asked these questions of me:

1. What did you want to be when you were growing up? A graphic designer. As a kid I'd sit at the dining table with my cherished Crayola Caddy and later a set of 72 Derwent Artist Pencils and draw logos and make up brochures - even though at the time I didn't even have a label for the job. Geek!

2. What is one simple pleasure you like to incorporate in your life daily? Tea. Brewing a cup is the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night. I can't imagine life without it.

3. Most memorable meal? A best friend's older sister had a Jewish boyfriend who was both a doctor and a chef. I thought he was so exotic. Once when I stayed with her, he made from scratch quail ravioli with a walnut sauce. I'd never tasted anything like it, and no food has ever topped the memory.

4. If you could live in any city in the world, where would it be? Paris...and London. I can have two can't I?

5. How do you handle stress? I lock myself away from the world in my introvert hampster ball where I recentre myself with peace and order... and a cup of tea, bien sur.

6. If money wasn’t an issue, what would you do for work? Helping people find courage to illuminate their true self.

7. If you had to tattoo one word on your body, what would that word be? Courage

8. Favourite drink? Tea. A strong scottish style brew.

9. What one item of clothing best describes your style? The shift dress my mother made me from some IKEA fabric. My sister thinks it's like wearing a lounge, but I love the simple shape and the playful geometric pattern.

10. If you could decorate your workspace however you wanted, what would be your feature colour? Yellow. Sunshine and light feed my creative spirit.

11. What is your favourite season? Easter in Australia marks the beginning of Autumn - cool crisp mornings, clear skies, warm rich colours and home cooking. And chocolate. It's my favourite time of year.

Eleven up and coming blogs I am loving:

These bloggers have so many talents. Some don't advertise how many followers that have, but hey, I think they deserve an award.
  1. Pavinee // Have a Merry Day
  2. Kate // My Dear Angel
  3. Julianne // Jookiku
  4. Mel // Armoire, Pegs and Casserole
  5. Bonnie // The Wheelbarrows
  6. Lena // Mina Moka
  7. Merle // Curve of the world
  8. Becca // The Dabblist
  9. Melanie // Creative Mix
  10. Silkie // Rosehip
  11. Suzanne // Paper Ivy

And my questions of my nominees:
  1. What is your greatest strength?
  2. What was a moment/event that changed the course of your life?
  3. If someone was to give you one gift, money is no object, what would you want to receive?
  4. What dish are you renowned for cooking?
  5. What was your favourite subject at school?
  6. Your ultimate career would be?
  7. Do your personality traits and interests make you feel as though you should have been born in another era, and why?
  8. Your favourite colour?
  9. What is the most courageous thing you have ever done?
  10. Your perfect holiday: relax or explore?
  11. What makes you laugh?
I can't wait to read the responses. Have a lovely weekend all!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Defining moments

I am thirteen years old sitting in front of the first computer that actually made sense to me. My hand gently encloses a beige mouse that's scurrying, with my amateur guidance, leaves a black trail all over the image of a gorgeous geisha brushing her hair. Drawing with a mouse - an everyday action these days, but believe me back then it was a total revelation.

Up until that day when my father bought home an Apple Macintosh's from work the only activity I'd used a computer for was to load games from very wobbly 5'1/2 inch disks and watch my brother write weird languages that made text fly across the screen. Those clunky keyboard-driven machines were totally alien, I instead preferred more lo-fi coloured pencils.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This first Mac experience confirmed what I had long suspected. I wanted to be a designer. I needed to be a designer. And I would doing anything it took to make it happen.

This is what I call one of life's defining moments - a point on our journey that sparks a passion or idea so powerful it has the possibility of taking our life in an amazing new direction. I have heard stories of this happening in many people's lives, from Ludwig Guttman's quest of help injured soldiers overcome limitations leading to the birth of the Paralympics, through to chef Heston Blumenthal's epiphany while reading the book 'On Food and Cooking'.

These defining moments can be a tiny or ground-shaking. But I believe everyone has at least one in their life. The problem can be that we forget them, or fail to realise that they have happened in the first place. Sometimes it's only by looking back on our lives and remembering those moments when we felt most alive, those ah-ha moments, that we can tap into what drives us as as a person. The thing, or things that makes us really hum.

So, you might like to know - did I actually become a designer? I most certainly did. I got my first design job when I was ten and I never looked back. I am so thankful for where design has taken me, I have loved my career with it's twisted and woven threads. 

Loved in the past tense? Why yes, for I'm about to embark on a whole new journey. Another defining moment has led me to a new path which will combine design with another passion of mine; psychology and helping people live fulfilling lives. 

Are you intrigued? All will soon be revealed. 

Meanwhile I'd love to hear - what has been a defining moment of your life? 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Passion à la Française

Pas·sion : any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love.

I can clearly remember when I first understood the meaning of the word passion. I'm not talking the intense love of another person, but of what was to become a love affair with a country that has spanned decades.

As eight year old students we were tasked with a homework project of creating a menu for a restaurant of our choice. While other kids were lovingly calligraphing pieces of card with chicken chow mein and bolognese, I created a pop-up french restaurant complete with waiter and red, white and blue awning. The 'restaurant' when opened revealed a menu in French. I admit my mother helped me with the translations (cheat alert!) but the rest was all mine.

My father had months before been touring Europe on a wine research tour. Sounds so glamourous eh? Actually, he's an accountant, but happened to work for a university that was setting up a winery science course, and knew someone who knew someone.... Anyway, he was the first in our family to travel overseas and I was totally fascinated by the whole ordeal. Yet for some reason, his snippets of France were the ones that grabbed me and I floated away with the stories. I started reading my mum's school old French dictionary, decorated my room with craft paper Eiffel towers and dreamed obsessively about visiting Paris.

When I did finally visit the City of Light for the very first time it did not disappoint. I was absolutely smitten wandering the back streets of this magical city. I loved every moment of that three day stay. The smell of hot buttery pastry in the early morning, the sound of the language, the look of the people, the taste of the strawberries, the feeling of being immersed in a place I had been dreaming of for so long.

That visit was over fifteen years ago now. Through my love of France I've had some amazing experiences; designing for a French company, doing avalanche training in the Pyrenees, crawling cellars while lost in Champagne, and crashing papal parties in Avignon. I now scrimp and save, and organise my life so I can spend at least a couple of weeks France every year in France if I can.

So thank you dad and mum for sparking a defining moment in my life where true passion was ignited. Je t'aime.

What about you? Do you have an ongoing love affair with another country?

Morning delight

I have a strange condition - I'm allergic to afternoons. It's that time between midday and four o'clock when the sun is at it's brightest and everything and everybody seems washed out. I've had this adverse reaction since I was a kid. It was always the boring part of the day at school when you just wish it was home time. As an adult, its the hours of the afternoon slump.

In stark contrast I delight in early mornings. The moment when the sun streams through a kitchen window and starts to warm a chilly dawn is pretty special. There is so much promise at that time of the day; it feels like anything is possible.

I friend of mine recently put me onto the method of visioning, developed by an art therapist Dr. Lucia Capacchione. She talks about the power of creating a 'vision map' as a way of dealing with fear, self-doubt and inner obstacles associated with our aspirations.

I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of her book. Meanwhile, I thought I'd create a 'vision board' of my ideal morning using snaps form the internet. I love my little flat but it's not soaked in morning sun. One day I'd love to wake up and make tea in a sun-filled kitchen. It reminds me of being at my grandmothers - very nurturing.

Monday, October 8, 2012

From fog to blog

I used to write alot, daily in fact. For about six years, at least thirty minutes a day were spent crafting little essays that I'd ping off to a friend on the other side of the world, rising the next morning to a lovely lively response. It was a delightful ritual that really pushed me to be creative and helped develop my writing.

However, in the last couple of years some big stuff got in the way of those daily missels and as the habit went out the window I lost my knack. Arbitrary days I did manage to find some time to write I started to feel insecure about my opinion, pained over word choices and found that the dreaded spirit of perfectionism planted itself firmly in my brain. It was like I was in a fog - creatively I just couldn't see.

Some much needed space at the start of this year has allowed me to dip my hand into the alphabet infested waters and give writing another try. Scary as it was publish personal ramblings, a blog seemed like a fun way to go. Amazingly, the fog ever so slowly lifted.

Nine months later I am loving playing with the medium. So much so I'm planning to use a blog as the basis for a new program I'm developing. Clueless about how to get the best out of the platform, when I saw that the delighful Holly Becker from Decor8 was running a Blogging your way bootcamp I had to do it. 

So here I am - day one of the course. Over the next four weeks this space will become my exercise book. I'll be trying out all sorts of new things. If you have time I'd love your feedback!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Building gates and fences in three easy steps

(SYLC 40)

I'm very lucky when it comes to the people with whom I share my time and my life. On the whole they are an extremely motivating and talented bunch with hearts of gold. After each interaction I walk away feeling understood and inspired, like someone has just showered me with a burst of sunshine.

It wasn't always this way however. Much of my life I have unconsciously spent alot of time investing in people who would zap me of every ounce of positive energy, self-esteem and vigour leaving me ruffled for days at a time. I thought by listening to them and being with them I was helping them out. Unfortunately it was affecting me greatly in a bad way. So when December 2011 hit and I decided it was time to have a good hard look at myself and my life, this is one of the areas that needed an overhaul.

Who we spend time with has a big influence on our feelings, the way we think and ultimately our outlook. I have written previously about how people can also influence the way we view ourselves. If, like me, you are person who is highly empathic, you'll be even more effected as it's in our nature to pick up on the energy and feelings of those around us. If that energy happens to be negative, spending too much time with these people will likely result in us feeling zapped as well.

Realising that some of these relationships were not so good for me, what did I do to turn this around? Upot came down to just three things:

1. First up, I did an assessment and asked myself of the people in question, on the whole 'how do I feel when I'm with them?' I tried to be conscious of how I felt before, during, and after an interaction. As a result of of this I actually did wind up a couple of friendships. Was it hard? Yes, but it really did feel like the right thing to do and my decision has so far stood the test of time.

2. Next, I gave myself a crash course on boundaries, something that I've been particularly bad at to date. I still have some people in my life who aren't always the best for me, but I have reasons for keeping the interactions going. What I needed to do in these situations was take back power and get more balance to these interactions. One example, a friend who always wants to meet only when and where convenient for him. He can disappear for months and then call when he's in need of a bit of company. He usually wants me to make the trek to see him. If I'm honest I started to feel a bit used. But I enjoy hanging out with him so now, if he's unable to meet at a time/place convient for us both I don't take up the offer. Harsh but fair, which brings me to...

3. New friends! Creating space has meant more time and energy to invest in making new connections, and to reinvigorate some that I'd let lapse. I have met some amazing people just by being open to more positive relationships. I'm also more aware that if I'm talking to someone new and the vibes are not good, perhaps it's time to move on.

I'm now a much happier and more vibrant person because I implemented these three steps. How about you, do you have people in your life that zap you? How might you go abou changing this situation?

Photo credit:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rituals in time

This Sunday past was the perfect Spring equinox. The weather had noticeably warmed, the light seemed brighter and there was a fresh blossominess to the air. Compared to Moscow Sydney's winter is far from serious, yet the one just passed was long and wet. If SAD really is a disorder I know I would have fit somewhere on the spectrum by September's close.

The wonderful thing about feeling a bit low at the end of winter is that the emergence of spring is totally delicious. The year I lived in Vancouver was the coldest winter for 50 years. While the novelty of living in the snow had not yet worn off, the day I saw a yellow blossom poke out from beneath the white blanket I did a jig on the spot, so ecstatic I was to see some colour after all the grey.

Noticing my reaction to this latest change in season had me thinking about how we consider time. So often we only observe it as linear - minute after minute, week after week, year after year going by towards some mysterious end like an accelerating trajectory. What we sometimes fail to notice are cycles that also mark time in a much softer way, bringing us back to ground and gently but consistently reminding us of the beauty and joy of life.

During my annual stay in France I always admire the way French life is lived by cycles of rituals and rhythms. No matter what time of the day, week, or year there seems always a moment to stop and mark a particular point in time with an appropriate ritual, whether it be le 4pm goûter, post church Sunday lunch or celebration of the Epiphany with King cake. Sure, many of these rituals have been born of religious observance, but all the same I find them comforting and delightful. They are the punctuation marks of time. Leaving my friend's apartment on a Sunday morning there is always a distinct smell of something yummy slow cooking close by. I'm usually on my way to a lunch gathering of my own.

Back in Australia, outside celebrating my birthday and having regular breakfast out on Saturdays with friends, I don't have many cyclical time-related rituals. Actually, to tell you the truth I'm even a bit hit and miss when it comes to my birthday. When I consider why this is the case, personally I'm not a routines sort of girl, preferring spontaneity rather than being locked into 'what we always do'. But on a broader scale it's just not an Australian thing to do. As a culture we seem to be hurtling down the American freeway at an ever increasing speed. With so called conveniences like 24/7 shopping and eating we are never forced to stand still. In contrast, I totally love that stores in France are not open on a Sunday except the boulangerie (one can't eat day old bread) and the boucherie for the obligatory rotisserie chicken.

So perhaps we could all do well to take some lessons from the Europeans and inject some time-marking rituals into our everyday, everyweek, and everyyear life. A regular monthly Sunday lunch or a quarterly party to celebrate the new season couldn't hurt now, could they!

Do you have time related rituals? Do you have any ideas?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tire puncture

(SYLC 37)

Tyre punctures - the bane of a bike rider’s existence. You’re happily cruising along dodging car doors and bam, it’s a flat. Something sharp put an abrupt stop to a joyful glide.

Yet just lately I’ve discovered a form of puncture that I would welcome at any time of the day. One that leads to total relaxation and relieves tension like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

The last few months have been pretty stressful. Hang on, make that the last eight years. I’ve been constantly on the go, burning the candle at each end and along both sides at the same time. Totally unsustainable, I kept thinking there would be a time when I can wind down soon. But that just hasn’t happened.  

My good friend P pointed out the obvious need to start taking time out for myself or I’ll crash and burn and be of no use to anyone. He was right of course, but it’s difficult to change the habit of a lifetime. Still, I had to start to break that habit and P suggested acupuncture for a bit of forced relaxation.

A couple of hours spent lying around with needles sticking in my body is relaxing? As it happens it is, very! I was dubious at first as I’m pretty allergic to needles. I’d make a hopeless nurse and could never be a junkie. But James from the UTS acupuncture clinic assured me that it was nothing like getting an injection. As it isn’t – there’s a tiny prick followed by an incredible sense of peace. James giggles when I call it magic.

Since that introduction I’ve been going for a session on a weekly basis, the treatment time ranging from one to two and a half hours. I love it. Lying in the dimly lit room, some soft music playing and me without the ability to move an inch. I can’t reach for my phone and check my emails. Well I could, but it would be a really painful experience. So I just lie there and let me thoughts drift past like soft clouds and relax into the moment. It punctures my stress and tiredness.

This is my first step to carving out some time in my week for self care. I know how important it is, but have had years of putting everyone and everything else first. But I rejoice in my new analogy:

If I don’t attend to my oxygen mask first, it wont be long until I cant help those around me fit theirs. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

External aesthetic

(SYLC 36)

Having been a designer for over 20 years I know the power of advertising and packaging. Good design sells, it makes us feel good and makes our lives easier. The psychology behind it is fairly straight forward. Even babies have been shown to be attracted to symmetry and beauty.

Despite knowing this, when it comes to designing myself I've been much more focused on my inner development, afterall,
It's what's on the inside that counts.

Yet I know my focus has been on the inside as I've never felt overjoyed with my exterior. For me packaging myself is a much less fun exercise than improving the contents of the box. We all have things we don't like about our appearance. I've had my weight fluctuate over the years, let exercise fall off the radar, slopped around the house in my trackies and often made the minimal effort when I go out. My wardrobe looks like twenty random people went shopping each with different briefs. There are a few pieces I love, a lot that's ho hum and a greater amount I'm holding onto that fall into the 'I paid too much to throw it out/one day I'll fit back into this' category.

The problem is I don't have a clue as to what my aesthetic is. I have four french style striped long sleeve t-shirts (yes, I wear them all), too many pairs of black pants, some 60's style shift dresses, wrap dresses, 40's style dresses, the list goes on. But no signature looks. Do I need some? Does it bother me? Yes, as these days I'm struggling to pull together enough decent outfits for a week at work.

When I do put the effort in and wear something that I love it feels great. So it's time I built a wardrobe full of pieces I love to wear, and where at least one item goes with one other. It might take some time, but now is the time to start.

To build up some ideas I've started to use Pinterest to collect looks I love. I also regularly checkout my friend M's Sleekit blog for ideas (love her cheeky style) and Stockholm Street Style.

What's my plan of action?
  1. Get everything out of my wardrobe and be ruthless. If it doesn't scream 'me', is well beyond it's use by date or if I'm seriously unlikely to fit into it ever again, it's time to go. 
  2. Get some clear ideas as to what I need to buy. I need to think about occasions, be realistic about my shape and what looks good on me. 
  3. When I go shopping I'll keep these visuals in my head so I can focus on what suits me and where the gaps lie.
  4. I'll put the extra effort in to get ready when I go out. I know it makes me feel better, so its definitely worth the time. 
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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Life lessons

(SYLC 35)

Anyone who's been reading my posts lately knows I'm a bit obsessed with Sarah Wilson and her blog. Ever since I spotted her I Quit Sugar program and the fact that she's a bike nut I've been following her reflections.

A few months ago she took off for some time out in Europe and it read like a journey of discovery. I know the power of solo travel, it's a raw experience that can give you the space to reflect on life without the usual distractions. My trip to Europe in March was the first time in many years I'd been away without having to study or work during the trip. Liberating, to put it mildly.

Stockholm archipelago, Sweden

The amazing thing was while away I totally relaxed which is something I'm not at all good at. There were days at a time where I had no distractions other than a book, no internet to suck my time so I just got on with soaking in my surroundings and moving with the rhythm of wherever I happened to be. I'd sit in a cafe for hours at breakfast, drinking tea and watching the locals go about their lives. In Sweden I fell into their relaxed pace of life. There was no plan, no agenda, I went with the flow and listened to my body. Wonderful.

Ax-les-Thermes, France

Vow as I may that when I get back from these trips I'll keep the feeling of being relaxed and alive, it never happens. I just fall back into the same pattern of running running running.

But I'm tired of running. I yearn for an inner calm and that feeling I had when the sun warmed my back on those chilly mornings in Stockholm. Lately more than ever I feel like I've been taking on the weight of the world - especially at work.

Three weeks ago I cracked and decided enough was enough. A friend suggested acupuncture which has been pretty amazing. I hate needles so was skeptical but I've found that two hours lying in a dim, quiet room with needles all over me is unbelievably calming. 

Yet what I really need to address are the feelings that I am responsible for the work of other people who are not performing, and that I need to carry the load where no-one else will. When I look back I've been doing it all my life. Talking to my friend P the other day he said some wise words.

"Sometimes in life things keep coming back to us 
until we learn the lesson they are trying to teach us"

I was stopped dead in my tracks. I knew what it was. I don't like to fail. As simple as that. Letting work from my area go undone even though it's not mine would be like a failure. Leaving work to go to the gym when things are needing to be addressed would letting others down - a kind of failure. But the reality is the only person I'm failing while I continue on this path is myself. Big time.

So I need to fail. Openly. I need to admit I can't do it all and just let it not get done. I need to hold others accountable as while I continue to cover for them they will continue to under perform. I need to let them fail. I need to let work not get done and make it evident that the staff shortage needs to be addressed.

Scary thought for someone like me but also strangely freeing. Its really time I spent less time trying to make things right for everyone else, to slow down and make them right for me instead.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Letting go

(SYLC 33 & 34)

What is it about we humans that makes us so hard on ourselves? Like most other people I have battled with the internal negative self-talk so familiar to the I'm-not-doing-this-well-enough perfectionist. In the past I've tended to have a kind of all-or-nothing attitude to many aspects of my life - and that includes diet and exercise.

I've not done any 'formal planned' exercise this week. 
Thought = failure. Result =  I stop exercising

I've been 'good' for three days and then scoffed a bunch of Freddo Frogs. 
Thought = failure. Result = I stop eating well.

It doesn't take a psychologist (and I am one) to tell me that this way of thinking is both unhelpful and unnecessary. Beating ourselves up about not being perfect makes us miserable and actually prevents us from moving forward. And as there is no such thing as being perfect it's ultimately empty striving.

At the end of last year when my circumstances changed I decided it was time to let go and be kinder to myself. My approach to life had been neither physically nor emotionally healthy nor sustainable. I can tell you this letting go business after years of self-bashing is not easy. But it does get easier with persistance and it just feels so good.

Those two words 'feels good' have been the key. These days I take alot more notice of my what my body is telling me than ever before. This includes my gut, might right shoulder that gets sore when I get stressed, my head, how I feel when I wake up in the morning and my general energy levels. I observe and I tweak.

I have changed the way I'm eating. I try to steer clear of too many carbohydrates as they make me feel feel sluggish then hungry for more, and grains make me get sinusy. I cut out sugar as an experiment for three months and liked the result so kept it up. I eat whole foods and cook almost everything from scratch. I've cut out almost all processed foods from my diet.

But importantly I'm not nuts about it. If I go out for dinner and there's a beautiful freshly prepared dessert that appeals, I'll order it. If I'm at someone else's place for a meal I eat what I'm given, grateful that someone has cooked for me. If I have a few days where convenience takes over, I be mindful of the situation and recognise that sometimes things have to give. It's just life, not about getting to the end of a marathon ahead of everyone else.

The same goes with exercise. My schedule can be all over the place preventing me from riding to work, and sometimes I just don't feel like going to pilates at the end of the day. I know the importance of exercise and how good it feels to be strong and in this area I push myself a little more as I have a tendency to make excuses. But I don't beat myself up if I don't go. Mindfully I observe why I've not done my ride or gone to a class while realising there will be other opportunities, like the long bike ride I took a couple of Sunday's ago with my friend E.

As Sarah Wilson said in a recent post: Sigs Siga. Slowly, slowly. That's my new way.

Life for me is about living, not being unforgiving.

My zippy folder. [photo by The Dirt Bum]

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Balancing two wheels

(SYLC 32)

A number of years ago I was reintroduced to the joys of cycling by a friend of mine whilst holidaying in Europe. It was liberating - I could whiz around so much faster than walking allowed, but get through spaces cars couldn't take me. When I returned home I bought a bike and tried to incorporate cycling into my daily life but just couldn't make it happen. There seemed so many obstacles - 'it's too dangerous, I'm not fit enough, the distances are too long'. Three years later the bike was rusting in my garage.

This year has been all about trying to get some more balance in my life and one of the areas of focus is my 'all-or-nothing' attitude, that very unhelpful perfectionism thought tendency. When it came to cycling I felt I had to ride everywhere everyday or I wasn't doing it 'properly'. The reality is it's much harder for me to do this in Sydney than it is in a European city. The distances are far greater and our city is not always conducive to a bike. And where I got this notion of 'cycling properly' who knows.

After my annual European sojourn earler this year I decided to give cycling in Sydney another go - albeit with a much more gentle balanced approach. I would simply ride when situation was suited to biking, or when I felt like it. I bought a folding bike so I could store my two wheels inside my flat more easily, put it in the boot of a car or take it on a train. Suddenly, with a new attitude and more convenient wheels I was riding a few times a week. I rode to friends places or part of the way to work. The gentle balanced approach seemed to be working.

This week's challenge is all about checking in with how we are going balancing the various areas of our lives that are important to us. Back in February my wheel of life looked pretty wobbly. Have I managed to smooth it out?

With both self-care and personal growth I've been shooting fowards, and a trip to Scandinavia earlier in the year gave me the much needed inspiration to tackle my nerves about decorating at home. I've made a breakthrough this past week on my next career step that has me very excited. But I put less time than I wanted to into working on my relationships, starting some creative pursuits and getting out and enjoying the world. These areas now need my focus.

So yes, I think my life has more balance that it did in January but I have a way to go before it's a nice round pumped up tyre that will ensure a comfy ride. And my approach to this? It will in itself be gentle, balanced and realistic. A little Sukshma.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Squashing the scales

Have you ever heard of the term 'butt buddy'? Maybe, but not in the way I'm about to describe it. A number of years ago my good friend P and I, on an endorphin fueled breakfast during a health kick, came up with a hypothesis about people's weight. It goes like this.

The world's population carries a determined amount of weight. As one person loses weight, that weight rather than disappear shifts somewhere else, specifically to another person (usually to their butt). Hence that person is their butt buddy. We hypothesised everybody has one.

We also joke that he and I can't be feeling 'up' at the same time. If all in life is going well for me, he says 'uh oh, I'm going down' and vice versa.

You probably are wondering where this is all going? Both these ideas carry with them the concept of finiteness. If I lose the weight, someone else gets it. If I'm up, my friend has to be down. What it does not suppose that the excess weight just disappears or that we can both be feeling happy at the same time.

I had a lightbulb moment the other day when realised the how much I actually think like this. I have been doing a lot of research into and experimenting with my diet and exercise regimen lately. I've lost quite a bit of weight fairly easily by making adjustments. Someone who I feel is always in competition with me noticed the change and asked what I'd been doing. Rather than share the information I was deliberately vague about how I'd managed to do it.

Thinking about it later I realised that I felt that if I gave away my methods to this person, they would have the information and therefore I would no longer have it myself. In my head it was a simple equation. Either I had the information or she had it.

I realise you're probably reading this thinking it's totally crazy, that it's irrational. You'd be right. Of course we can both have the information - me giving it to her doesn't mean I can't continue to do what's been working for me. If she loses weight following my plan, it doesn't mean I put weight back on. Its possible we can both lose weight at the same time. The weight is not bounded. It was quite a revelation.

Reflection is a wonderful thing. I have been thinking now about how many other areas of my life I attached this crazy rule to, and have decided it's high time I let go of it and stop concerning myself with others and holding on to this belief system. Knowledge isn't the power, it's what you do with it that's important. And the process of gaining the knowledge about what works for my health through trial and error has been a really important part of the process. It's up to me to keep it up, and even encourage others to join me rather than try and prevent them from doing the same.

And next time I see my friend P and he's feeling chirpy about life, I'll remember what's going well for me and celebrate just how very lucky we both are.
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