How to Read More Books in 2022

The start of the new year brings with it joy, hope and a new chance to start over or improve on the things that didn’t go quite so well. Everything can always be improved upon and made even better. It’s a matter of if you are willing to or not. One of my goals this year is to read more books. In this digital age, I find myself always reading, but it’s mostly news, online articles, papers, and researching on websites. Reading a book is different, it lets you become totally immersed in the book, the idea, the running theme of the book for several hundred pages. It lets you dwell and spend valuable time with it. 

Last year, I managed to read more books than the previous year, however, I still have a pile of books waiting to be read.  My husband, who likes actionable goals, would ask me how many more books would be considered “more” and when would it be “enough.” What would be my plan for achieving this goal?

Regarding the number of books, I am not going to compare myself to those who read 100 to 250 books or year or roughly 2-4 books in a week.  Although that was me in my young, school days when I didn’t have the responsibilities of an adult, the question then remains how many books should I read? Do I need a numerical goal or should the focus be on how much indeed I get from these books?

On the number of books to read in a year, a study by Kantar Insights in 2019 surveyed British readers and found that although more than half (54%) had read a book in the past year, only 34% or readers managed to read 10 or more books.  In the US, according to the Pew Research Center which surveyed Americans in early 2021, a quarter said they had not read a book in whole or in part in the past year. This is whether in print, electronic, or audio form. Those who did, read an average of 12 books per year. The survey has several interesting insights concerning demographics but I won’t go into that here. 

Researching how best it was to read more books, I’ve selected some insights which I personally have tried and work for me and some which I need to work on

  1. Set an attainable goal for yourself. Start with one book per month or if you are finding that you are finishing it early, read another.  Don’t make it it stressful. Reading books need to be enjoyable and not add to the daily stress of life.
  2. Choose books that keep you wanting to read.  Don’t be afraid to put down a book half way through if you don’t like it or don’t know why you are reading it. We’ve all clicked on that bad movie on Netflix or chosen a book that showed promises but turned out a disappointment.  Don’t waste precious time on it. Put it down and away. You don’t have to be a ‘winner’ when it comes to reading books. 
  3. Read a diverse variety of books simultaneously. Rotate your reading between several books. I like a good fiction novel yet also I like books that are non-fiction and ones that help me grow personally. Read whatever genre comes to you when you feel like reading. You don’t have to read only one book before you move onto the next. You may read four to five books simultaneously. Read that fun book before bed. Read the non-fiction during the day or vice verse.
  4. Take it with you wherever you go.  Don’t rely on our “smart” mobile phones when you have wait time. Bring your book with you wherever you go so that when you find yourself with a bit of extra time, you can just bring it out and enjoy a few pages of the book. Use a kindle or download the app if you don’t want to carry a physical book around. 
  5. Find your reading nook. Do you have a favourite place you can just sit and read without being distracted?  Find your reading nook, make sure it’s well lit and comfortable. Bring your favourite drink. 
  6. Know yourself. By this, I mean to know your own eyes. For a long time I didn’t realise I didn’t finish some books because I was reading books printed in small fonts. Somewhere along in time, my eyes grew old, I became long-sighted and did not want to read the tiny fonts. I changed to buy books printed in big fonts or using a kindle where I can easily increase the font size. Reading became once again pleasurable. Oh, and of course my progressive lens helped. 
  7. Join a book club or set up a book club.  Discuss the books with a group. Reading is fun and not necessarily a lone activity. Hearing other views may open you up to new ideas.

I hope you find these tips useful. Happy reading ! 

Pandemic Life Lessons Year 2022

We’re going into year three of the pandemic or what some like to refer to as the healthcare crisis. The word ‘crisis’ has a negative connotation but looking at the year ahead, lets focus on the positive lessons it has taught us and reflect on how we can make life even better going forward. I’d like to share a few things I’ve learnt:

1. Identify and manage stress

Admittedly, the first year of the pandemic was extremely stressful (and still is) as I found myself reading and consuming as much information about the virus as I possibly could. I wanted to know what it was, where it was, how it spread and what I could do to protect my loved ones and myself from it. It was an obsession, though an unhealthy one. To reduce stress, it was important to identify sources of stress and for me it was fear of contracting the virus and overthinking.

To limit overthinking, we learnt that it was best to just turn on the news for the morning, midday and evening updates. In between those hours, we could focus on work and on things that mattered to us. To reduce possibility of contracting the virus, stocking up on food and limiting exposure to others reduced stress. As long as we were home, we were safe. Home became our safe-haven, our sanctuary.

2. Make your home comfortable

Prior to the pandemic, Alex and I would often joke that we were boarders at our dogs’s house. They lived at the house all day, but we would just go home to spend the night before rushing off in the wee hours of the morning to work. Weekends were spent doing errands, meeting family and friends and so time at home was limited. Holidays were often spent abroad roaming the streets of a far off country.

The pandemic allowed us to really sit and observe the house. We rearranged furniture, decluttered, and bought new furniture that better suited our needs. Finally after ten years ‘living’ in this house, late last year we both commented how finally the arrangement was where it should be. We finally felt comfortable with the use of all our furniture.

3. Do things that give you happiness

An article in the New York Times talked about how we turned to baking and crafting during the pandemic because it gave us a sense of ‘control’ when everything outside was not in control. This was certainly true for me. I spent weekends finishing off craft projects, learning new skills, getting healthier, sleeping more, and rekindling my love of baking and trying out new recipes. There were foods I wanted to eat, but our house was far and delivery not an option. We cooked more, baked more, had less processed foods and lost a few kilos in weight each. Our epileptic dog became healthier with daily walks, and our plants also started living their best life and were no longer left to the “will of the gods.” We took our first family photo with our dogs after 9 years together.

4. Set up a routine

When you are home 24/7 its important to have a routine that gets you ready for the day and end the day to avoid the blurring of ‘work’ and ‘home’. We set up a routine, woke up at the same time each day, unless we were very tired, exercised, had breakfast, read the news then get ready for work. To end the day, we’d walk out into our garden, water the plants and walk the dogs. The routine gave us a start and end to the working day.

5. Have compassion, be grateful, and share

This may be one of the most important lessons of all. Time is limited and you never know when your time will end. You cannot tell what a person is going through by just looking at them or seeing their actions at a certain time. Everyone also handles stress differently and was experiencing the pandemic through different lens. Some live alone, some with large families and elders, some in small apartments, some in large houses, some with family in other countries. Whatever the circumstances, we must all respect others and be compassionate and grateful for what we have. Be kind and show kindness.

This pandemic, I’m grateful for my life and the opportunities I have. I’m grateful for being able to work from home, have a job and my loving family. I’m also grateful to the quality of Thailand’s internet network allowing us to work from home with ease. I’m grateful for all the little things like hearing birds chirp as I work, feeling the soft fur of my dogs as they lay by my feet, and being able to have lunch and dinner with my husband.

6. Seize the opportunity

Every cloud has a silver lining. There are always opportunities if we look for it and work for it. In less than a year, many companies were able to adopt technology and switch to online work. Businesses converted to online stores and reduced overhead costs. (Many companies are still suffering, but I am not going to discuss that here). Nothing in life is permanent and so we must therefore do the best with what we have. Many, at each their own capacity, were able to show their best versions of themselves, helping others who were not as fortunate. There is always a way to help others if only we looked for it.

We don’t know how long this health crisis will last. Let this year be a good year and one where we achieve our goals, get our health in order and become better versions of ourselves. We don’t know what will happen, but we know that we can start it out on a positive note and try to make each day better than the last. What have you learnt these past two years, what are you grateful for? What do you want to do next?

I have a few goals I want to achieve, and one of them is my return to writing. Miss you all.

Jesse Doesn’t Speak

Little Jesse is our husky dog who isn’t “little” but because he is the baby of the pack, he is Alex’s and I “Little Jesse.” We admittedly have a soft spot in our hearts for him because last year we almost lost him and his epilepsy has gotten worse. Before we got him we didn’t know dogs could get epilepsy nor be allergic to meats. (Our James the labrador is a vegetarian.) I suppose that’s life: there is always something new to learn.

Jesse has taught us a lot about life in his little ways. For one, he’s taught us to be more observant and remember that there is more to life than the daily grind of work. He’s a dog that demands attention and has his routines. He knows what he wants and when he wants it. He will stand there making hungry almost complaining kind of noises while I dish up his food. After he eats, he will need to drink his water. If the bucket of water isn’t there or its empty, he’ll stand there looking at you. Then he’ll beeline for the door. He has to relieve himself before coming back for a long nap. If you forget, he’ll give you his paw and turn his face to the door. Nothing wakes him during this after meal nap.

When his brain goes fuzzy (because of his epilepsy) you have to really watch him and see what he wants and what are the triggers that set it off. He’ll feel uncomfortable and restless and need a bit of love. Sometimes a sit on our lap calms him down, sometimes its a dark corner or a little ice cream. When this happens, he reminds you what are the priorities in life. We stop whatever we are doing to give him a hug or to just lay down by his side. It’s moments like these that make life and its moments like these that reminds us that not everything can be controlled and that you will just have to make the best of what you have.

He is a constant reminder that life can be taken away from us at any day. Most days when we get back, he’ll run to you, give a little jump and kiss you on the cheek. But one day we know that he may have a series of seizures while we are out and perhaps it doesn’t stop. We give him medication and love, but that is about all we can do. He has his own battle to fight. Nothing in the world can replace the “little moments” and memories. I know he’s a dog, but dogs too have emotions and love and a part of our family.

Crabby Hives

Four days ago in the wee hours of the morning I felt a terrible itch that permeated throughout my whole body: its the kind of itch that makes you want to crawl out of your skin. Half awake, half asleep I eventually dozed back into sleep while my legs felt increasingly uncomfortable against my bedsheets which overnight seemed to feel as if it were sandpaper. I thought to myself, when did I get a mosquito bite and why is it so £@! itchy! A few hours later, as I got ready for work I was faced with the truth. My whole body from the hands to my feet were covered in red swollen patches. For the first time in life I had gotten hives.

I went to the doctor, got medicine and went about my life. The itchiness subsided for awhile but the following night I felt as if suddenly my body was like the Serengeti being flooded and blossoming with red flowery patches. Some were round, others heart-shaped whilst some looked as if it was an army growing and attempting to take over everything else. I woke up, fainted, and fainted again to the horror of my husband. I could have hit my head and died. Life is so fragile. That little pill was strong, too strong and dangerous yet the red army marched on. It wasn’t till a change in medicine did things get better. I am forever grateful to my doctor specialist friend for recommending me the change to a second generation drug.

Now what caused this terrible reaction? I suspect it was the fried rice I had eaten the evening before the breakout because Alex too had diarrhea after having a spoonful of the rice. Not having brought my own food that evening, I had gone down to the local shop that sells foods in the evenings to hungry office workers. It’s a shop that has been around for as long as I can remember. It was the only food outside of the norm and the fried rice had contained crab. Now I usually eat crab, so we ruled that out as the culprit. We suspect though that the crab must have been preserved with the highly toxic formalin and that is what I must have been exposed to. It’s not uncommon to hear cases of this happening locally. I was the “unlucky” one who had hit the jackpot.

Now my question to you is this. Should we allow this to recur again and again to unsuspecting consumers? Should we be conditioned as consumers to just brush it off to the shop owner who didn’t know better? When I asked the shop if they had had any other cases because I had gotten terribly ill, the guy at the shop said I should perhaps try the food again as if a test. If I could, I would have given the guy a punch to the face. I wonder what would have been his reaction, if someone he loved was inadvertently poisoned. I would not have been angry if his reaction was that he would check where they sourced their foods and try to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

The sweet and polite nature of the Thai people and adversity to confrontation allows this to sort of thing to happen again and again. Because it is difficult to take legal action, most consumers tend to just change their own behaviour and avoid risky encounters. Others are unwilling to be “inconvenienced.” Showing anger is suddenly seen as aggression. That is not something I think we as consumers should have to accept as a way of life. Personally, I believe we must take a stand to ensure this doesn’t happen to others. What do you think? What should I do?

Covid-19’s Message

2020 is a year I am sure most of us will never forget. It’s a year when we realize that even the highest level of technology is no match to to the power of nature. It’s so powerful that the world has been forced to take a step back, turn around and slow down.

We’ve all slowed down somewhat, at least on the weekends. I used to jokingly say that our house belonged to our dogs which enjoyed it 24/7 while Alex and I would visit to spend the nights here. That was the weekday work life. Weekends, were sometimes spent running around doing errands. There was always things that needed to get done, family to meet and friends to keep in touch with, events to attend and trips to plan. It was a busy life in cosmopolitan Bangkok. The shut down and subsequent no-travel restrictions have forced us to change our way of life.

With all the ills that Covid-19 brings, it is also perhaps Earth’s way of reminding us to not take for grant the simple pleasures in life. Being able to have a leisurely morning at the coffee shop, visiting family and friends, giving hugs and kisses, or even the simple act of taking a walk. Covid-19 has shown us how easily and how fast this way of life can be stripped away from us. It’s nature’s way of telling us how fragile we are and how small we are in this world. It is a message we should all take to heart.

COVID-19 Thoughts

“It’s been an emotional six months.” I think we can all relate to that sentence.

When we started out the year in January, I never thought the world would be in a state that it is. I remember being saddened by all the koalas being burnt by the Australian bushfires and donating to the koala hospital. Life, otherwise was still good.  Who would think that within the span of a few months, countries would close their borders, global supply chains disrupted, millions asked to stay home, millions more in the movement  for Black Lives Matter and standing up against racism, and the five day workday, which has its roots in the industrial revolution, finally disrupted. I certainly didn’t expect this and I suppose neither did millions of people around the world.

I have always believed that every cloud has a silver lining and in every crisis there are opportunities. Of course, the first month or so when the virus first hit, I must admit I was feeling down and stressed. The uncertainty of it all, the fear that I, that we, that my family and loved ones would catch it was undoubtedly hanging like a cloud overhead.  Life priorities came quickly into perspective as we were quickly reminded of how fragile life can be.

I remember watching CNN and seeing truck after truck carrying the dead out of cities in Italy to be cremated at a neighboring city because the local crematorium was at full capacity.  I saw makeshift hospitals being built at Central Park where I used to roam around and I remember the sadness of families unable to say good bye and images of ICUs filled with patients on ventilators. It’s these kind of images that remind us how real the crisis is.  I am not sure if the images are now being censored worldwide, or if it is too dangerous for journalists, but we are seeing less of the reality on the front-lines and as a result, many still believe that the virus is a “hoax.”  Others, in a desire to go on with life, have simply started to forget how deadly and severe this Pandemic is.

I too am starting to feel “lighter” and as Thailand has not seen any domestic cases in over forty days, we are starting to loosen and forget to “socially distance” ourselves.  This is only possible as we aren’t yet allowing incoming travel without quarantine. Once, we reopen our skies, let us remember that the risk is real.  Before there are any vaccines, there is a high probability that we will catch the virus that is now even more contagious than before.  If not us, then someone close to us.

In the meantime, remember to spend time with those who matter most to you. Do what it is you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t gotten around to doing.  Make decisions you have been putting off and remember that there is no time like now.

One day our time will come. We just don’t know when or where.

 

Paying it forward with Pann Imm

The past few months has toppled the world upside down and inside out. Lives for many will have been changed forever. It’s been around a hundred years since the last pandemic of the Spanish flu and we are the generation that have been born at a timely manner to experience this special time. It’s a devastating pandemic but there is some good to it.

The pandemic is bringing out the best in people and encouraging each other to help those less fortunate, to reach out to our friends, and to be more caring and attentive to those we may have lost touch with due to “life” as we used to know it. These are just some examples but one such project that I want to share with you is a local crowdfunding program called “Pann Imm.” The name means to share the feeling of “being full” as in after a good meal.

The program was initiated to help the vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic. They are usually the service providers we rely on and who are paid for a day’s work and cannot afford to lose their jobs. These “temporary workers” are usually the first to go when companies make cost reduction decisions. As a result, millions have lost their jobs in Thailand without adequate savings to see them through the month. Imagine the situation now that this has lingered on for over a month. We all have families and mouths to feed and with everything in shut down, life isn’t easy.

The program helps by “Paying it Forward.” A friend of mine, together with local businesses, has worked together to put in place a system where meals are paid for in advance by donations. A sign in front of the restaurant indicates the number of meals available for those in need. Those who need a meal can then come to the restaurant for a meal or even ask to bag some back to their family.

Although less than a week old this program is already making a difference. If you want to make a difference, you can contact the administrator via her facebook page “@pannimm” – https://www.facebook.com/pannimm/ – and you can discuss with her regarding developments. I’ve known the founder of this wonderful program for twenty years and she has always had a heart of gold, helping others. Make a difference and help Pann Imm pay it forward.

LIVING MORE WITH LESS

Originally published on Urban Affairs Magazine on December 7, 2017

Winter has arrived in Bangkok with cool mornings and breezy evenings. It’s that time of year when you reunite with good friends and things at the office hopefully start to run at a slightly slower pace. It is also a time for reflection and for setting goals. One of my goals is to live more with less. The other day, my husband picked up something of mine, and asked me, “When are you going to use this?” Although I’ve been decluttering regularly for the past few years, I realize I’ve fallen off the decluttering bandwagon and need to get back on.

I first started decluttering a few years ago after I read an article in The New York Times about the Kon Mari craze grappling the US. I was curious and went out to buy Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I immediately saw why it was a hit. The book was both humorous and eye-opening. After reading it, I looked around the house and started seeing things I hadn’t used in years. Ever since, I have been working on minimizing the amount of “things” in my life.

Marie outlines her Kon Mari Method which is a guide to acquiring the right mindset for creating order and becoming a tidy person. Purging and throwing away things takes a lot of mental power as it is all about making decisions. I find myself asking a myriad of questions: Should I keep this or that? What if I would later need to refer to these old lecture notes? This was a gift or this was once my favorite bag/shoe/dress. Should I save this for when I lose weight?…And it goes on and on. The reasons as to why I should keep something are endless and mentally exhausting. Looking back, some of them are quite funny. My husband solves this by suggesting I take photos of things I’d miss.

Marie Kondo’s method is simple. You keep the things that “spark joy” when you touch it. That is her sole criteria for whether you keep or throw something out. If you decide to throw something out, she says you should also thank it for the joy it gave you when you bought it, and for letting it teach you that it doesn’t suit you and to let go. This part reminds me a bit of Buddhism.

Following the Kon Mari method does not mean you tidy by room or area as we often do, but by following a systematic Kon Mari approach. We start with clothes, then books, papers and miscellaneous items. This is to prepare our minds for decluttering more difficult categories. Each category is subdivided. For example, under clothes you start with tops (shirts, sweaters, jackets, etc.). You take all the tops you have, wherever they may be in the house, and pile them altogether. The size of the pile gives you a sense of how much you have. The first time I did this I was shocked. I was never much of a shopper, but I certainly had more than I needed and there were certainly a few I hadn’t touched or thought of in years. It was a bit overwhelming. I had to take a deep breath and go for it and I’m glad I did. The outcome is cathartic. A house clear of unwanted and unloved goods feels amazingly good.

A wonderful side effect of decluttering is that you save money on buying storage and you save time because it becomes much easier to find anything you need. Money and time for you to live your life and accumulate more experiences. Isn’t that wonderful? Marie Kondo sums this up well in her book: “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too… You become surrounded by only the things you love… pour your time and passion into what brings you most joy, your mission in life.” Life begins when your house is in order. Now let’s get on the decluttering bandwagon!

Japanese Perfectionism

In the several times that I’ve been to Japan, I’ve always been at awe at the Japanese strive for perfectionism and dedication to work. This Japanese concept of “kaizen” of continual improvement in the pursuit of perfection or “kodawari” is noticeable the moment you step off the plane and onto Japanese soil.

I remember my first few times landing in Narita and noticing a unique phenomenon while waiting for baggage.  Typically for me, waiting for baggage is something I feel happens  in a daze. In most cases, I get off a long flight, and walk the walk through immigration and to the baggage claim. I find a spot and watch the bags roll off onto one another and onto the belt. Everyone stands and waits patiently for their bag to come and if you’re a small lady, you might struggle if your bag happens to have fallen on top of someone else’s bag.   In Japan, however, efficiency is key.  As airports most likely want to move people in and out of the airport as fast as possible, design and process are important. To help the travelers, as bags roll onto the conveyor belt, a man helps stack them in order. The bags are placed vertically, with the handle facing up and lined next to each other. They stay on the conveyor belt perfectly lined up waiting to be picked up.

It’s a simple action but is one that makes your travel so much more enjoyable.  There’s more space on the conveyor belt for other luggage and it’s easier for everyone to take their luggage. Travelers are efficiently and politely moved out of the airport. You enjoy a seamless customer experience.

Earlier this year on our snowboarding trip I saw more examples of this Japanese dedication to perfection.  When getting on the ski chair lift, the chair lift operator would without fail know perfectly where to brush off the snow before you fall on the chair.  For example, when I took a four seater chair lift by myself, I noticed that in the split second that the operator had time to brush off snow from the seats, he would accurately brush off the snow precisely where I would sit and lean back. The other three seats had snow, but where I sat, it was nice and dry.

Another example Alex and I noticed was when we were resting at the restaurant looking out onto the slopes. By the restaurant was a little slope area that had been cordoned off by ropes. Over time the rope had slacked a little but it wasn’t noticeable unless you really observed. In many other countries, I’m sure this would have been overlooked. The observant and dedicated Japanese slope patrols however noticed, and we watched them stop to pull the rope just that little bit tighter.

I believe it’s this Japanese dedication to perfectionism or “kodawari” that also makes their products so desirable. Japanese products are well known worldwide for their craftsmanship and unique designs. Everything is made with care and whether the customer sees it or not, as much care is given to the outside as to the inside. Every detail is thought of.  This is also reflected in their excellent customer service.

I wonder though, if future Japanese generations would continue on to carry on this culture of perfectionism.  If future generations lose this sense of perfectionism, then one of the  unique charms of the land of the rising sun would have been lost and their products less desired.  For now, let’s hope that we can all adopt a bit of this Japanese perfection into our work ethic. Let’s all continue to improve and strive for perfection. Let’s remember “Kaizen” and “Kodawari.” Good night!

The Elder Gentleman

I’m tired and sleepy, but this story has been whirling around my head all day and it’s one I’d like to share .  Like many mornings the past eight years, I woke up and got myself to the gym for a run before work.  Over the years I’ve come to know a few ladies through locker room chit chat, and to recognize the regulars by face. After eight years you start to know who comes on what days, what time, and who likes what kinds of exercise. I’ve also grown accustomed to being greeted by a gentleman who must be in his late seventies or early eighties. He’s a regular and spends around an hour each day on the treadmill followed by the bicycle before lifting a few weights. In between he’d greet people with a big smile.

I always thought to myself how active and pleasant this man was.  He’d smile and go around asking people how they were.  If I had gone missing for a week or longer than a two days, he’d ask me where I’ve been and remind me that I should keep coming regularly. He’d encourage you to keep up the good work when he sees you working out well. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the familiar face at the gym even though I don’t know his name or anything else about him.

Then he disappeared for a few weeks.

I wondered where’d he gone. If it was for a holiday, it usually wasn’t more than a week but this time the absence was noticeable. Thoughts crossed my mind. I wondered if he’d fallen ill or passed away. After all he wasn’t young anymore. I pushed such thoughts out of my mind.

This morning I found out what happened.  Walking to the fitness room, I saw him sitting on a bench just in front of the fitness room. In that moment, I felt a big rock slide down my throat.  I felt like my heart dropped.  He was surrounded by two helpers with a walking aid in front of him. He wasn’t his old self and most probably had suffered a stroke. I dared not ask. When greeted, his speech was blurry but he still recognized and remembered everyone. After awhile, he slowly started his rounds at the various weight machines.

I write a lot about death, but it’s events like this that remind us how fragile life can be. One day you are living your life, following your daily routines, and the next, you find yourself having difficulty just moving a few steps. The trick is to keep on going. The gentleman continues his recovery but no one knows what will happen tomorrow.  Live life and enjoy it before it’s too late. In the end there’s one truth we can’t escape and that death is always on our doorstep.  Time stops for no one. Do what you want to do before it’s too late.

Good night!