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.

 

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!

Ed Whitlock, 85 year old marathoner because he can.

Sitting on the plane from Sapporo to Bangkok, I read an interesting article in the Bangkok Post about Ed Whitlock, an 85 year old marathoner who ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 3:56:34. It’s inspirational. He doesn’t do any specific training, doesn’t adhere to any strict diet or use any gadgets to monitor his heart rate and training. All he does is run by the cemetery by his house in 15- year old shoes. He doesn’t run for his health, or gets runner’s high. He runs because “the real feeling of enjoyment is getting across the finish line and finding that you’ve done OK.”

Numerous tests have been conducted and he apparently has a large VO2Max capacity and good muscle retention for his age. I suspect his genes play a big part in his being able to continue running at such an age. What I find more intriguing though is his attitude which I think is what really keeps him going. In the article he is quoted as saying, ” I believe people can do far more than they think they can. You have to be idiot enough to try it.”
This, to me is probably his secret. If you believe you can do something and truly work at it, I believe you can achieve anything you want to. It’s the story we tell ourselves that determine the story of our lives.

If you tell yourself you can’t do something, then you can’t and you won’t. If you tell yourself, and believe in yourself, you can accomplish whatever your goal is. That said, it might take some time before you accomplish your goal, but if you work at it long enough, you’d be closer to your goal than if you had never started. If you focus on the end goal, you might get frustrated at not being able to reach it, but if you focus on taking action towards those goals, then you’d keep moving forward. As Ed Whitlock showed us, age is not a limit and is not a constraint to living your life because at whatever age you start working towards your goal, you are one day closer to your goal than the day before. 

Thank you Ed Whitlock for reminding us that life has no limitations than those we set for ourselves. Now, the burden is on you. What are your goals in life? Let’s get moving!

To Love or Not Love the Rain

It’s been a long time since I last wrote and what better time than to write on a lovely cool morning after the rain has stopped. How I love the rain varies from time to time.

Most times I love the rain when it’s just light rain or drizzles. I love it for the greenery and freshness that comes with it when it stops. Lawns become so green and life beckons. Birds chirps and splash around in the puddles that form along the driveway. Snails and slugs appear along with other types of insects moving about slowly in their slow way of life. Toads hop around in my garden and give me a surprise everytime one unexpectedly moves in a dark corner. My dogs equally like it (I think) as they lie happily on the porch with the cool breeze that passes through.  I practice my guitar, and life is just wonderful.  I feel calm and settled.  I feel home like when I grew up in cloudy, rainy Brussels.

Other times, I feel less tolerent of the rain especially when it’s pouring down hard coupled with thunder and lighting.  The heavens roar and you wonder if Thor was having a fight up there.  On Earth, the grass grows at exponential speeds and if the rain is follwed by the sun, ticks and fleas re-emerge.  Roads get flooded and commute to and from work takes a couple hours.  The light reflecting on the road makes it harder to drive and accidents happen.  You see news of people’s houses with roofs broken and neighbors with water pumps working to drain water from their houses. 

In the end, do I love or not love the rain?   It depends on how much rain there is. I love it when there’s just enough of it to cool the skies and make pitter pattering sounds on the window pane. I don’t particularly love it when it’s accompanying by thunderstorms and lighting and comes in such large quantities that it floods. 

I suppose this is much like human emotions. Sometimes you like something but if you have too much of it, you might not like it so much anymore. For example, I love choux cream but I wouldn’t be able to have it everyday.  Emotions, like the rain, has ups and downs.  It all depends. What do you think?

Wishing everyone a wonderful Sunday ahead.  Have some ‘me’ time. 

The Impermanence of Life

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Life is strange. So many uncertainties yet one definite truth about life is that it all ends at one point in time. How it ends, how it stops, how we spend our last breath is one we do not know. When reading the many articles and literature on happiness (humans seem to be obsessed with finding happiness), one advice that often comes up is to think about life and death.

This week I’ve had many reminders. Many opportunities to think about life and death.

First, having dogs that are innately hunters, I am constantly reminded about the circle of life.
My happy dogs like to bring me gifts from their day’s play. Sometimes it’s a dried up dead lizard or snake. Sometimes its animals which I’d rather not see and have to ask Alex to dispose of. This week, I found a poor bird whose life has left its winged body on my porch. It was such a pretty little bird who had a ‘bad’ day. For dogs, hunting is everyday life and play. They hunt, they kill, then they lick me happily on the face and take a nap. I love them dearly.

My second reminder was on how weak physically humans are. I caught the flu. A vicious flu that showed its full strength just as I had to travel for work. I have had my annual flu vaccination and been exercising regularly. I believed I was in pretty good health, but yet it still took a great many days to overcome this vicious virus. I am still not completely well. I survived meetings through aids of medication and vitamins then spent nights trying to sleep amidst the fever and congestion. Once I got home, the adrenaline that kept me in working state vanished and I was left feeling frail and weakened. Muscle strength vanished and appetites disappeared. Thumping headaches followed. It’s been a long time since I felt so weak and such an invalid. Life is indeed fragile. Although a flu is nothing compared to other illnesses, it’s enough to remind me.

My last reminders were news of a dear friend’s family loss. The next day it was followed by the lost of a dear colleague’s family loss. Just a day apart, they have had family members who suddenly parted. One morning, you wake up to what will be another day, like every other day, but by evening it is not so. So quick and fleeting is life. So final.

So impermanent is life like everything else. Let’s remember to enjoy and be grateful for our lives. Let’s live in the present. Let’s not worry so much about the future, we forget to live in present.

Let’s do something to help our world. As Benjamin Franklin once said we should constantly remind ourselves and ask ourselves is “What good may I do in the world?”

I’m searching for a cause I would like to devote my energy to helping make a difference in this world. There are so many I can’t quite decide. What are some causes that drive your passion? Please share. 🙂

Be Kind to Yourself

This morning I had the opportunity to Skype with one of Having ‘Me’ Time’s readers and we had a good discussion about our journey to better health and weight loss.  A lot about the path to better health means avoiding processed, unhealthy foods, sweets or what seems to be almost all of our favourite foods.  It often feels like we are starving ourselves of what we love, especially if that’s how we’ve been eating our whole lives.

What happens when we mess up our diet and fall for that piece of decadently delicious chocolate fudge cake, or that juicy cheese hamburger?   Nothing. Nada.

Many times we are so strict with ourselves that when we fall for that piece of cupcake or donut, we feel like we’ve failed the diet and end up eating for the world.  We throw all our hard work away and lose hope. We go back to our old ways and eat and eat.

My advice to you is this:  Be kind to yourself.  Don’t lose hope and enjoy the experience.

Remember that it’s okay to treat yourself every now and then.  If you crave a hamburger really badly, go out and eat it.  If you want that cake, eat it.  Sometimes having a bite is enough to satisfy the craving. Enjoy it, savour it and then just make a mental note to yourself to work out extra at the gym the next day.  Add an extra session to the week’s workout.

No big deal right?  Have fun being healthy.  Enjoy the experience!

I’ve lost 5kgs or 12 lbs since the beginning of the year and every night I treat myself to some dark chocolate.  I have ice cream and egg tart.  I do, however, make sure that it’s super delicious and worth my extra workout time.

There’s no failing, no wrong in becoming healthy.  It’s a journey that goes up hill, down hill, turns corners and brings you to wonderful new places.  Just keep working at it! Keep on walking down the path. Don’t stop and turn back.

Five years on and I am still working on it 🙂  Step by step, little by little, we’ll get there. Be kind to yourself and be patient.

The Up (Weight) and Down (Weight) Cycle

If you’ve been through weightless and moved towards a healthier life, one of the questions is how do you sustain it? I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that question, and you have to find a model that fits you. For me, it’s been five years since I lost half of me and I am still working on it. I am still exercising and watching what I eat, but there are cycles that results in weight gain. The Up (Weight) and Down (Weight) Cycle.

The Up Cycle starts when there’s a lot of work, you’re tired, and you find reasons to work out less. When I was at my most healthy, I’d work out four to five days a week. After awhile, I grew comfortable with my health, and the workouts gradually decreased to three times then two times per week. No matter how much I ate, the weight barely moved on the scale. I was in a cycle of happiness. Sustained health (or so I thought.) I was good, I told myself. I could still run well. No problem.

Then age started playing a role coupled with my love of eating. Age, because I think my metabolism slowed down. It seems to slow down every five years and now that I’m nearing my forties, it seems to have moved a notch lower. I have to work out more to get the same gains.

My love of eating, over two months from Thanksgiving dinners, celebrations with friends, to New Years, trying out bread recipes, having pastries and eating it all, my weight went up. Of course, if you eat that much and still just work out two days a week it’s going to go up. Finally, my body caved and my weight went up 6 kgs (13 pounds) in a matter of one week. It’s like a technical barrier had been broken and you weren’t quite sure where it was going to stop. ‘Stop, stop’ I’d tell the weigh scale, but it didn’t listen.

The only way to stop it was to ‘reboot’ myself.

The Down (Weight) Cycle starts when I got back to running four times a week, getting to the gym earlier, working out a little bit longer, and even going on weekends. I started cooking, not just for dinners, but also for lunches. I brought my own lunches to work which consisted of various recipes with vegetables as the main dish coupled with some pork or chicken. It just required a bit more advanced planning, but you are assured a healthy meal. I cut out on my favourite baked goodies and processed foods. I have now lost 5kg (11 pounds) now and feel reenergised. I’ve still got a few more to lose but as the technical barrier broke on the way up, it breaks on the way down too.

So how do I sustain a healthy lifestyle? I realise now that for me I have to constantly remind myself, that no matter how much you have going on in your life, there’s never a reason to reduce the amount of exercise you do.  Do not cave into the ‘Lazy Me’ which comes in many forms.  She’s a tricky gal with a million reasons.

For me, I have to keep it up exercising three times per week and as I age, I find that I probably have to up the intensity as well. Also, make sure that your fridge is stocked full of veggies and good wholesome foods. Don’t fall into the trap of commercial food industry!  I make my own hummus now. 🙂

What works for you? How do you sustain it?

Our Journey Together:  Join our “Having Me Time” Community 

It’s a lovely cool day in Bangkok today after a blistering hot few weeks.  It’s 25 degrees celsius  outside, lovely breezy winds and just heavenly.   Perfect for reflecting and today thinking about my life journey these few years. Its been a little over five years since I lost my unhealthy me and 15kgs worth of weight.  That 15 kg was a big part of my life and I’m still adapting to my healthier body.  Being healthy and fit comes with a completely new lifestyle. It requires an altogether different frame of mind that often wants to get bumped off track tempted by all the junk food advertisements.

It’s amazing how many advertisements for burgers, ice creams and deliciously devilish desserts are around.   It’s amazing how much sugar is in everything and how much Thais love sweets.

The healthier lifestyle means having more balanced diets with vegetables and fruits.  Good food and quality now prevail over quantity.  Of course, the old fatty me would say, “Hey have both! Have both good food and in high quantities!”   Now, before I indulge, I wonder if it’s worth the calories and the exercise that follows.

Five years on, I still get my lazy days and weeks when I don’t feel like going to the gym. Sometimes I feel like just having lots of processed foods and ice-cream.  What keeps me going and motivated though is when I hear from readers of “Having Me Time” who are now pursuing healthier lives and on their new journey to a new and healthier person.  A few days ago, I heard from a reader who completed her first triathlon and is now signing up for an olympic length triathlon! Congratulations!  You did it!

You definitely are an inspiration. (You know who you are)

To my readers, my proposal is this:  Let’s all continue to inspire and motivate each other so that we don’t get bumped off track to the unhealthy life.  Together, we’ll embark on the second part of our journey that works best when we have a community of people helping each other and sharing our stories, and our journeys.  If we could each support one another, we would all be on the healthier and happier track.

Please feel free to share your stories on our wall or if you would like to share your personal story on Having Me Time, please email me your story  🙂

I’m excited, are you? 🙂 Let’s do it!.

Grandma: 7 January 1923 -24 November 2015

They say that when you look back on life, it is the little things that you’ll remember and cherish. I agree for it is indeed the little things about Grandma that put a smile on my face and gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. To me, Grandma embodied warmth, kindness, and happiness.  

I remember sitting on her lap when I was around 5 years old and playing with grandma like granddaughters do: rubbing her skin, measuring her arms against mine and overall just curiously playing with her whilst listening to childhood stories. Grandma always had time for her grandchildren and stories to tell.

I remember spending Sundays at Grandma’s for it was when family would gather at her house for lunch. The house would be buzzing with activity and food more than one could possibly eat. She would sit there beaming and smiling drinking her coconut juice and having a comment for each and everyone. I always loved hearing her comments. She was a lady truly unlike anyone I know. She was our pillar and our centre.

Strong, sharp and loving; Grandma I love you. We all love you. Although you are no longer physically here with us, you will remain forever in our hearts and nothing can take away our love. Thank you for being such a wonderful Grandma. Thank you for being our inspiration. You were the best.

Learning to leave technology (now and then)

Browsing on social media with the convenience of an iPad with unlimited internet is addictive. I have to keep reminding myself to get up and be a little active. Now we even have programs to remind us. Earlier this year when I had a bacterial infection of the eye, I couldn’t use much of modern day technology for reading. iPhones, iPads or the computer were used mainly for music or listening to radios. I had to make sure I rested my eyes to allow them to heal. The experience allowed me to understand how much for granted we often take our eyes. It also liberated me from the devices.

At the end of the day, before I’d go to bed, I’d often find myself zoning out in front of the screen traveling the world from my couch. I guess it was not only me that had become zombie-like that and so the new Health app (along with so many other apps) in the new ios will supposedly help and inspire us to be a little more active. The Apple Watch is extremely tempting for an apple fan like me.

Yet at the end of the day, what does it take to become a little more active? For me, I think it’s about just putting the phone or the ipad down for awhile and allowing yourself to just not worry about what is happening in the social media world or if anyone is trying to message you. Really, if it is really that urgent, you’d get a call.

I find that the more often I’m leaving my gadgets alone, the easier and easier it is becoming, and the more and more time I am finding time to enjoy my hobbies. Hobbies that really rejuvenate the soul like reading books, cooking, painting, playing with the dogs or just walking in the garden.  It really refreshes the brain.

Try it. Pick up a ‘real’ book or rekindle your hobby, whatever it may be.  Hey, apparently even Steve Jobs  and other technology experts limited the amount of time their children used technology.  Apparently they read lots of ‘real’ books and discussed them.

So this weekend, let’s resist the temptation of social media for awhile and lets look up into the sky and enjoy nature.  Me included.