Being mindful in the kitchen

Having moved to Vietnam almost 2 months ago, I discovered that my main challenge for a ‘normal’ lifestyle was food. Namely access to food. The nearest properly stocked supermarket is 3 hours drive. Big C Supermarket in Vinh City has shopping trolleys, more than one type of soap and various imported cheeses. My new equivalent of paradise. We are simplifying our life, but we still gotta eat.

My first trip to Big C on my second week of being in Vietnam was a joy. I made a day trip out of it (with packed snacks and water and reading material for the road), made a shopping list (which I completely ignored once I set foot in the store) and browsed every section with tremendous pleasure. I found chocolate chip cookies, blue cheese and even grapes. I shopped with my eyes and stomach more than with rationale. And exactly 6 days later, my supplies finished. That caught me by surprise, as I was convinced that we can live off them for 2 weeks. I tried: cooking by instinct (that is every morning when I woke up I decided what I felt like eating), cooking by diet (that usually stops at having a healthy breakfast followed by numerous snacks in between – not a winner) or cooking by supplies (this is how we had pasta with ready made sauce 3 days/week). It was not working out, so I came up with the only solution for our situation: meal planning.

I decided to make a list for pantry items that I would buy a bit more of. Thanks to Stone Soup and the simplified lists of Jules Clancy I did not have to overbuy or over-think at this stage.

That was just the beginning and I knew that I had to make a weekly menu in order to be efficient, mindful and not hungry.

This takes a bit of research and an honest assessment of your cooking talents. Mine are almost nonexistent and I am also lacking in the patience department. The answer came by itself: easy and quick, minimum chopping and least time in the kitchen.

Assign one morning a week for heavy cooking. In my case, I chose to prepare all my ingredients for the following week Saturday morning. As per my menu, I had 4 chicken dishes. So i prepared 4 portions of chicken and froze them.

I also prepared the stir fry beef with veggies and froze it. I cleaned and chopped all vegetables that I needed and froze it. When Tuesday comes, I know I only have to take the chicken out of the freeze together with the beans, a little bit of water and condiments, and 30 min in the oven and that is my meal.

Use the leftovers I had quite a lot of bread leftover, so I made a bread pudding. Easy, fast and an instant hit with my husband. Whatever you have left in your fridge,  type in the search engine of your favorite cooking website. You might be surprised to find easy recipes that you will do over and over again. Also, if you have leftover fruits, make a fruit salad – a great breakfast, snack or dessert.

Explore and find your style When I was a child, I remember the classic meal that we had over and over again: meat with potatoes. They could come in different styles: baked, fried, boiled, steamed or poached. In the end they were still meat with potatoes. As I started cooking, I found myself repeating the same recipes my mom made for us. It took effort and training for my taste buds to break from the vicious cycle and start making more fun dishes like curries, sushi, stir fries and spicy sauces. I am still exploring…

If you want to get some inspiration from my weekly meal plans, send me an email at squiko.o@gmail.com and I will send them to you every Saturday.

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What makes you happy?

People are generally bad at answering the question of what brings them joy and happiness. Sometimes the answer is just what we are lacking. If you always had to take the bus to work, the answer will be: a car. If you are single, then answer will be: a boyfriend. If you are overwhelmed by household duties, children, schedules and meetings, the answer will be: some time alone.

But those desires will go away as soon as you get what you wished for. The joy of driving a car goes away after a while and when it will be replaced with worrying for extra costs and long queues during rush hour. After meeting someone new and exciting, routine and normality will come over the relationship. And after 3 days at the serene spa retreat, a mother will miss her family and her breakfast chaos.

I am not trying to tell you to embrace your unhappiness and come at peace with your condition. We should always strive to become better. Instead, realize what would make you REALLY happy if your life doesn’t have to undergo a major change. That is small changes in your daily life that would add to your well being, smiling and general feeling of being happy and joyous.

 

Here is my list of small things that make me happy:

1. hugs from loved ones

2. a good hot oolong tea

3. bubble bath

4. warm breeze and the salty smell of sea

5. a foot massage

6. a good hair day

7. words of appreciation

8. de-cluttered space

9. the smell of clean laundry

10. crazy tune that makes me dance by myself in the kitchen

11. finishing a good book

12. a movie that makes me cry

13. the pleasure after a hard workout is done

14. smell of cinnamon during Christmas

15. my husband playing with my toes during movies

16. hot stone massage

17. the feeling of success after something stressful has been completed

18. discovering a new hobby

19. drinking sparkling water

20. browsing pictures of past events

 

My list can get longer, but I trimmed down to the smallest changes with the biggest impact. We are all different and we react differently to our surroundings, so this is not a formula that will make everybody happy. Maybe some… But for the rest,

start your own list by asking yourself what was the last thing that you did for yourself that really brought joy to your heart.

 

Enjoy the process and give yourself the little gifts of happiness!


How to start exercising – guide for the lazy in you

My entire childhood’s PE classes were spent making excuses. I hated every moment of the activities that were compulsory: handball, throwing the ball far, jumping in the sand box, running. Maybe because I was not good at them. Maybe because I was so freakishly tall that I always came first in line, even before all boys in my class. Please, I would have done anything but be there. The fact that I also had my first cigarette when i was 13 did not help my lung capacity and sports skills either.

As I  grew older and wiser  advanced in age however, I experimented with sports. Some I tried because it was the latest trend and everybody was talking about it, like spinning, zumba and power plates. Some because I was interested, like yoga, rock climbing, skiing and roller blading. And the last category, the sports that I have tried because I felt I had to, like straights training because I watched Dr. Oz telling me that my muscular mass is decreasing 1% every year after 30, or running because I talked to my friend who was training for a marathon and was loving every minute of it, or one of my least favorite sports, tae bo, because Gisselle was giving credit to that for her VS perfect body.

And there is nothing wrong in trying. By experimenting as much variety as you can, you may stumble upon great activities that might one day become the activities you do all the time. But what is the way to get here?

Find activities you love I love the no sweat/stretch/relaxation feeling that I get from yoga. And because I love it I was able to stick with the practice for more than 5 years. I sometimes go to classes and I also do it at home. Finding the activities that suit your body and your preferences is the singular and most important component in doing exercise consistently. If you dread going to the gym and using the treadmill, stop it right now and find something that you do with a smile. Even if that is ping pong. Your body, your time, your way.

Exercise first thing in the morning I found that for a lazy person like I am, the best approach is to schedule my exercise time first thing as I wake up. I prepare my workout clothes the night before, lay my yoga mat in the living room or set a post-it next to my toothbrush. The more you delay the activity, the more you decrease the chances of actually doing it. On the bright side, starting my day with exercise makes me feel energized for the rest of the day and make me feel good about the fact that I did it. Put reminders, schedule your wake up time 30 min earlier, and simply have that time just for you.

Mix and match I get bored quite easily, so I needed couple of activities to alternate during the week. Monday is yoga, wednesday is rollerblading and friday is walk/run sessions. Or mixing. Or one week only yoga. In winter I go skiing whenever I have a chance and try more aerobics DVDs in the house. Try to keep it varied and you are less likely to abandon the project. If you are somebody who has a hard time following a routine, then simply give yourself the freedom to do whichever activity you feel like from your top 3 favorites. Or just toss a coin every morning.

Have a catchy tune This one is particularly important for running and walking. I have my clubbing days tunes that still give me goose bumps and make me sing along and push for those last 300m. It can be anything from Abba to Moby, nobody has to know what’s that sound in your ears.

Buddy-up We tend to perform better in a herd. When seeing somebody else faster or more flexible, we tend to push more to reach our abilities further. When seeing somebody slower, we tend to praise ourselves and congratulate our accomplishments. Either way, competition is good. Seek it, and make it a fun day out in the nature with your friends or like minded people.

When it comes to sports and activities, we tend to be extremist: if I didn’t exercise today, there is no point at doing it tomorrow. Or if I didn’t do the complicated, burning 800kcal/hour workout, I better don’t do anything at all. This will only bring the feeling of yo-yo ing through life. And that is not you. You are the master of your own life and your own fate. And pretty much the master of your own pants size. So give yourself that amazing healthy body that you deserve.

Any minute counts. Any workout counts. Have a blast!


How much stuff we really need

When we started relocating, we packed all of our belongings for sea-shipping. And by all I mean everything from furniture to books, winter clothes, stilettos and the bulk mouthwash I bought couple of months before. I knew it would take two months for our stuff to arrive in Vietnam, so I had to make a selection of stuff that I will need meanwhile. This is no easy task, and even though I knew that it was just a temporary measure, I panicked while I was making lists and thinking what I really need. But while I only had the limited amounts of clothing, shoes and cosmetics, an amazing thing happened: I found the liberating feeling of not having so much to chose from. I only had 10 shirts. And I wore them all. Same with pants and dresses. The only area where I over-did it was in the shoe department, but I tend to feel more secured when my shoes are where I can see them.

Group and count your items. When you realize that you actually own 30 shirts and even more shoes, it becomes a wake up call. How much money did you spend on them? How often do you wear them? Honesty is the only way to go at this stage. When I was packing I found that I have 15 dresses. I maybe use one dress every month. That is a supply of more than one year without repeating the same item. Establish which ones you wear the most, add a favorite one and that will be the “yes” pile.

Limit access to your stuff. Whatever is not in the “yes” pile gets into boxes. Put it away for a while if you feel you will miss them or one day might need that purple velvet running pants. If you are brave, decide to give them away: charity, Salvation Army, your sisters, eBay. Possibilities are endless.

Select your clothing according to the climate. If you live in an area where summer is very hot and winter is very cold, you need to create separate wardrobes for each season. The secret here is to keep your winter clothes away in summer months and vice-versa. Keep them in a separate closet or in nice colored boxes at the bottom of the closet. If your wardrobe is year-long, then you are one of the lucky ones. In Vietnam is pretty much warm all year round. I knew that before we moved, so I kept only one sweater, one rain coat and a pair of multi-purpose shoes. All our winter clothes were sent to Belgium in case we visit Europe during our winter break. Thanking my mother in law for giving us the storage space…

Get rid of junk. My grandparents were the “squirrelers” type. Maybe I invented this word, but I am sure everybody has somebody they know that never throws anything. They keep old receipts, buttons, baby clothes, wedding souvenirs, musical instruments, toys, weird cooking utensils, and the list can continue for pages. My main area of focus just before I left our old home was paperwork. I kept all of our original documents (marriage and birth certificates, university diplomas, and other important papers) in one neat folder, and all the rest was either scanned or disposed. Stuff like bank statements can be viewed and kept online. Assess the situation one area at a time: paperwork – one saturday afternoon, pantry – couple of hours, cosmetics cabinets – couple of hours. Keep what you use and get rid of the rest.

Get your partner on-board. Having your husband or wife on-board during this process is a very important aspect. You might have to ease them into it, explain why do you want to do it and how will it benefit them and the family, but all is easier and more fun when done together. An added bonus is that it will strengthen your bond.

 

Having less stuff means less to worry about, less cleaning and less time spent making decisions of what to wear and what matches your orange pumps. Having lived like this for this time, I am planning that when our stuff finally arrives, I will make a selection of what is really necessary and downsize our possessions. Will keep posting about it!

I also discovered Project 333. While I can not imagine making such a huge commitment right now, it does have some fantastic ideas. Check it out!


5 life lessons a 1 year old taught me

I can be moody and my moods affect my happiness levels.

I can have bad days when all I want is to stay in bed and sleep.

I can also get very upset and say hurtful things to people I love. And that affects not only my happiness, but theirs as well.

 

I don’t believe that I can control all of that, but I believe that by making small changes into my daily life, I can become more mindful, more grateful and a better person.

 

So I will start with lessons I learnt from my 1 year old friend.

 

1. Mastering a skill takes repetition and a cheerleader . A baby keep repeating the same gesture over and over again until he gets it right. Fitting the circle through the triangle hole doesn’t work. He tries and tries until he discovers that it can only fit thought the round hole. The baby does that over and over again, fascinated every time with his discovery. The mother is always there, encouraging and praising his abilities.

I tend to do something once or twice and expect to master the skill immediately. I look around the yoga class with envy at the flexible woman who can reach her toes and I get frustrated when I cant run more than 10m. How many times have you tried something new and gave it up soon after just because it was taking too long to get good at it? Or how many times you beat yourself up for not performing perfectly? Keep on repeating over and over again will eventually improve that down-facing dog, running on the beach or pronouncing properly the ‘Hij spreekt Nederlands’

Most important however is to surround yourself with people who will cheer you and your progress with love, patience and support.

 

2. Laugh. A baby laughs every time he sees something funny or new. Babies squeak with pleasure as they take a bath, laugh until they drop as their mother is trying to make funny sounds. They laugh when they are excited and they translate every pleasure into laughter. As we grow in age, we laugh less and less at ourselves, our discoveries, and we find less and less stuff funny.

 

3. Curiosity brings the greatest discoveries. A baby will go around the house or the playground bravely searching for adventure. They will find a piece of paper and inspect it on all sides. They will try to fold it, taste it and find its use. What amazing things would we find if we had the same approach? I find this particularly useful when traveling. Don’t stick to the beaten path. Explore, be curious. If you get lost, you can always give the card of your hotel to a taxi driver or a local and you will get back. We found the most amazing sunset scenery at a little temple on top of a hill in Sri Lanka. And it was romantic as no other tourists were there to spoil our moment. Or the best burger of our life in NY in a small restaurant that we entered just because we got lost looking for the ‘guide recommended’ one.

 

4. Cry. A baby cries when he is uncomfortable, too hot or cold, hungry, upset, or just in need of some love or attention. Letting it all our once in a while works wonders. It is like an under pressure boiling water. Eventually the cover will blow and the entire content will be spilled. A good cry once in a while calms down. I was never cryer so I eased into it by watching sad movies. Or maybe I found them sad so I can cry. Even Shrek 3 made me start the waterworks. Find what works for you. If you need a friend or your spouse there for comfort, just do it. Crying helps. And when the tears are dry, you can deal with the rest.

 

5. Sleep early and eat at regular times. A baby will get grumpy and irritated if he doesn’t get his nap time or his bottle of milk when he is hungry. Why would it be different for adults? We get used to sleep less and less and accept that our food is not always there when we are hungry. Or food is there all the time and we eat even when we are not hungry.

I made a commitment to go to sleep every night at 10. It was hard at first, but after a week, I found that the quality of my sleep was improving and the mood of the day was more energetic and positive.

I also found that having a daily eating ritual makes me eat less. It is a pavlovian reaction: it is noon time and by the time i meet my husband for his lunch break, I start feeling hungry. This will keep me going until dinner without much snaking in between.

 

So rediscover the child within and look at life with new eyes. You might find something surprising…