Monday, 30 April 2012

Z is for Zen Habits

I came across Zen Habits a couple of years ago, during a period when I was a bit addicted to productivity blogs. I wanted to change less useful habits like procrastination, but spent too much time reading about productivity, instead of getting on with stuff! I discovered loads of other great sites, such as Lifehacker, Steve Pavlina and 43 Folders. However, there was something about Zen Habits that grabbed me straightaway and I subscribed to his posts pretty soon after.

More information about the creator and writer, Leo Babauta, can be found here. In my opinion, his posts are well written, intelligent and inspiring. Over time, it seems his focus has moved further away from just productivity ideas, and more towards mindfulness and how to enjoy life. I've found I've been naturally moving in this direction anyway, and discovered some important principles for me:

  • It's not possible to be highly productive 24/7 - this took me quite some time to figure out & I understand now that it's natural for me to have downtime after periods of higher productivity
  • If I'm kind to myself I procrastinate less and generally get much more done.
I decided to buy some of Leo's books as I had enjoyed and benefited from his site for free. He uses his writing to support his family and I like the idea of being able to contribute to his chosen career.
I have purchased:

I think my favourite book is still Zen to Done, as it 'takes some of the best aspects of a few popular productivity systems  (GTD, Stephen Covey and others) and combines them with the mandate of simplicity. It makes things as simple as possible, and no more'. Now that I have more space in my A5 filofax, I'd really like to simplify my system and get it working better.

If you're a newcomer to Zen Habits, I'd recommend you start at the beginner's guide to Zen Habits: a guided tour.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Y is for yoghurt

Okay, I admit I couldn't think of anything sensible for this post, so I thought I'd talk about how much I enjoy eating yoghurt :)

I know this advert's for frozen yoghurt, but I still think it's great.

At the risk of sounding a bit crazy, I have a favourite spoon for eating yoghurt! The strange thing is it's not my all-time favourite spoon, just specifically for yoghurt. And I don't let myself use it all the time, because that would be giving into the weirdness, right?! Just to put the record straight, I don't have any other preferred cutlery, just this one... Hmm, swiftly moving on, I think.

My gorgeous husband kindly bought me the EasiYo yoghurt maker starter pack, which I'd really recommend.
It's very easy to use as you just mix the sachet's contents with water, then pop the jar into the yoghurt maker (a type of flask) with some boiling water at the bottom and leave overnight. My favourite base so far is the Greek n' Coconut, which is very creamy with a lovely coconut flavour.

So, how does it all work out price-wise?

  • Yeo Valley yoghurts (what I used to buy most often) are normally around £1.50 for 450g 
  • Julian Graves currently sell most of the EasiYo sachets for £2.99, which makes 1 litre
  • The initial outlay of my starter pack cost just under £20.
However, according to EasiYo, the cultures in yoghurt only last days, so it's most beneficial to have fresh, rather than a product that's been in the chiller for quite some time. 
I personally don't know enough about the subject to comment on how accurate that is, but enjoy making the yoghurts and it was a very thoughtful gift. 

Friday, 27 April 2012

X is for xenodocheionology

Xenodocheionology means a love of hotels and inns, according to the Dictionary of Difficult Words.
I've found out recently that my sister, niece and I all share of a love of staying in hotels and new places. On arriving, I think my husband is a bit more normal as he usually heads for the kettle after putting his bag down or taking off his shoes.
In comparison, I seem to have adopted this little routine:

  • Put my bag down
  • Look in the bathroom to check out the fluffiness of the towels and what the free soap/shower gel are like
  • Look in the wardrobe - not sure why I do this one... 
  • Sit on the bed to test how comfy it might be
  • Look out the window
  • Briefly browse any information leaflets and menus
  • Take off my shoes
  • Curl up on the bed with my husband.  
After some thought about it, I think by doing these things I'm prolonging my initial excitement at staying somewhere different and new. It's like I don't want to spoil the experience by rushing in and taking it for granted? It doesn't feel like a compulsion though, but more like me taking time to appreciate my surroundings which can't be a bad thing. I also enjoy the comparative sparseness of only having minimal possessions, as mentioned previously here

Generally I don't like rushing, and enjoy being more mindful by taking the time with whatever I'm doing. 
For example, I think many filofax fans will agree that you can't rush the opening of a new binder! 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

W is for what I can fit in my 13 inch Cambridge satchel

Following on from my previous post here, I've finally made another video to show how much fits into my Cambridge satchel.
I've really been enjoying using it and it's just the right size for me, as it holds quite a bit but isn't heavy.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

U is for Underneath the Stars

I've never really been into folk music, but I remember seeing Kate Rusby for the first time on TV and just stopping what I was doing to listen. 

Underneath the Stars has always been my favourite album, and is her fifth studio album, bearing the song with the same name. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

T is for tornado

I love storms.
My Nan and I used to watch them together, side by side at the window with our heads up underneath the curtains. Not sure why we just didn't open the curtains, but that seemed part of the magic when I was quite small. I love the sound, the drama and the amazing light show that mother nature can display. Whilst holidaying in Turkey, I experienced a storm that lasted on and off for nearly 24 hours as it seemed to be caught between the mountains and the bay in front of the town! I know there is the destructive power and people do get hurt and killed, but I still find them fascinating and mesmerising...

At some point, part of my fascination turned to tornadoes. I find myself looking at videos on YouTube and wonder if one day I'll go on a storm-chasing tour in the US.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

S is for shiatsu

Shiatsu is a physical therapy that supports and strengthens the body's natural ability to heal and balance itself. It works on the whole person - not just a physical body, but also a psychological, emotional and spiritual being. It is some times referred to as 'acupuncture without the needles' and regular treatments can help alleviate stress and illness, and maintain health and well-being. 

I've heard some people refer to therapies such as shiatsu or reiki as alternative, but I've been taught that it complements rather than replaces conventional medicine and treatments. I love the idea of complementary therapy practitioners working alongside GPs to help bring about better health and quality of life.

Due to regulations introduced by the ASA, I can no longer refer to specific conditions which shiatsu may help, but can discuss how it may improve well-being. Initially I felt a bit stumped at what I could write about, but now realise that in itself is a pretty big subject. According to, the definition is 'a good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterised by health, happiness and prosperity'. I think that sounds great and I do a variety of things like meditate, exercise and have shiatsu to help me improve my own state of well-being and happiness.

Shiatsu has some features in common with European-style massage and other forms of bodywork, in that the use of physical pressure and stretches serves to reduce muscular tension and loosen stiff joints. However, unlike massage, the person remains clothed during the treatment and the principal aim of shiatsu is not to work on localised muscles and joints, but on the overall system of the client. In this way, it can be considered holistic as a practitioner is looking to bring about balance for the person as a whole.

So, what do you do to help improve your own well-being?
Now that I have more space in my filofax, I'd like to create a section for my happiness project and make sure I remember to do something, no matter how small, each day towards this.

Friday, 20 April 2012

R is for running

Some years ago, a friend of mine invited me to complete the Race for Life and I thought, "Why not? It's for charity and it's only 5K". I assumed I would run it and probably give up, as I thought it might be boring, despite enjoying cross-country at school. A local personal trainer kindly agreed to give us some of her time and I was immediately hooked after our first outing. I run because I absolutely love it, and the fact that it's good for me is an added bonus.

Why do I love it? I think mainly because it feels childlike, reminding me of running and laughing, chasing dogs and racing about outside. I love the movement forward,  hearing my breath, the birds singing and the steady rhythm of my footfalls. I've never listened to music whilst on a run as I want to soak up the experience, listen to my body and often it becomes a meditative time. Some times my mind feels very still and other times I mull over thoughts and questions I already had before lacing up my shoes. On two occasions, it's felt almost spiritual with the sun shining on my face, as I feel like I'm barely moving or that I could run forever with no effort. On the very rare occasions that I don't feel like going, I say to myself, "Just put on your kit, get out of the door and run to the end of the road". By that point, I never want to turn back, so it always works!

There's lots of helpful information out there, and I'd thoroughly recommend Runner's World with articles like:

I love the simplicity of it as all you really need to get started is some decent running shoes.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

P is for positivity

I'd like to share the following, written by my dear husband, about the positivity principle of aikido practice. 

'Aikido is about both positive physical movement and positive thought. Even when reacting to an attack by physically moving backwards, our physical posture is upright and directed forwards, while mentally our attention is forward with our attacker at all times, rather than focused to where we are moving.
Through regular practice then, our habit is to become more positive – given a challenge on or off the mat, our thought will be 'how can I do that' rather than 'that can't be done by me', when action is required, our habit will be to act, in an appropriate way, immediately, rather than to form a mental committee to debate the pros and cons of taking action and, once a decision is made and action taken, find that the situation is even worse.
Think of those people who most easily move through life, of all the attributes that they all have, how many of those people can be said to be positive? Surely this make this a desirable habit to have?'

I also think this can apply without training in a martial art, as by practising something we can then make it habit. When I used to feel shy in social situations, I used to use the 'fake it till you make it' approach and one day I realised I wasn't pretending any more. If I'm not feeling quite so positive, I'll ask myself, "How would I be talking, standing and acting if I was feeling positive?" and then the idea is to emulate those behaviours to help me change my mood and actions.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

O is on wanting less

My husband and I went away for Christmas to the wonderful Ilfracombe.
Here's what I took  for seven days:
  • Two pairs of boots (one for walking and a smarter pair)
  • Just enough clothes, with nothing left unworn 
  • Wash stuff 
  • A couple of pieces of favourite jewellery
  • Filofax
  • Three books (two non-fiction and one fiction)  
  • iPod touch 
  • and other small essentials like my phone and wallet. 
And I loved how this felt. Unencumbered by the weight and volume of my possessions, of the junk I've accumulated over the years. I'm a wannabe minimalist, but I've still some way to go on this journey.

Why do I want less?
  • To simplify and appreciate what I do have
  • To enjoy space and not feel the need to fill it up
  • To be content and decide what 'enough' is  
  • To become a more mindful consumer.   

I've donated quite a bit to charity shops and started selling on eBay more recently, and I can't think of anything I've really regretted getting rid of. Occasionally, I've given away items which I might enjoy now but it's all just stuff. Happy memories for me are of experiences and times with people, not of me buying  things.

I've made a conscious decision to want less, but I'm not quite there yet. It's strange as I can have the initial desire for a filofax (for example), but once I open it up at home I realise that I actually don't want it at all. This is exactly what happened here and luckily I found a loving home for the binder, but it helped me understand that I only wanted the one. Yes, I've spent more money to have less (sounds a bit weird), but I think that may be required sometimes to own useful and beautiful possessions I love and use.   

Monday, 16 April 2012

N is the Natural History Museum

I adore the Natural History Museum, as mentioned in my previous post about dinosaurs.

The only problem is that the museum is too big, and despite numerous visits over the years I'm sure there are areas I still haven't explored! Hmm, a little plan is hatching in my mind to print out the floor plans, put them in my filofax and then cross them off to ensure I've visited each section...

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Guest post at Philofaxy

Steve at Philofaxy has kindly published my guest post on the site called All change on the filofax front.

M is for meditation

I've been meditating on and off for many years now.
Thinking back, I don't recall when I started or why exactly. I remember sitting in the spare bedroom in the dark, trying to meditate and becoming increasingly frustrated as the sound of a passing car distracted me every single time. With the gift of hindsight, I think I was just trying too hard. I eventually gave up, but found my way back after an extended break.

So, what's helped me move forward with my meditation?
  • Attending a 6 week introductory course with the lovely Sandy Humby - I wish I'd got some outside help sooner as this was a turning point for me
  • Attending the Sit in Peace event in Trafalgar Square - very inspiring and an amazing experience to share with so many people
  • Using guided meditations to help quiet my monkey mind
  • Working on finding the right ones for me - currently a daily Gassho meditation, with occasional guided  or breathing ones for variety  
  • Persistence! My advice is to keep at it, as even 5 minutes a day will help. 
Some interesting links:

Friday, 13 April 2012

L is for letting go

By the time I started sixth form college, I'd become fairly introverted, shy and generally a bit unhappy with who I was. Thinking back to that time is a bit strange as I feel like a completely different person now. I used to be such a worrier and wasted energy by getting stressed about all sorts of things.

I knew I wanted to change and started reading books like Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be and the Tao of Pooh. I wasn't ready to start putting much of it into practise yet, but I had commenced the process of understanding that I could be different. When I visualise myself doing some thing, it takes it a step closer to becoming reality. For example, when my husband first asked me to teach an aikido class, I was downright scared of the idea! But once I could see myself doing it, I then realised I actually could.

Letting go of how I'd been for so many years was hard and some times it felt like one step forward and then three back. I found my way into things that helped me become stronger, like practising martial arts, riding a motorbike and working for the Department of Social Security for 5 years (maybe a strange one to include, but it was rarely an easy job).

My Mum is a very strong and capable person, and I feel that strength has been passed onto me. I don't remember when my husband and I started using the metaphor of 'letting my tiger out', but I definitely needed to work on that in preparation for my black belt. To be honest, I've been a bit scared in the past of the growing power I have on the mat. It's a bit silly really, as I only practise like that with people of a similar or higher grade.
It can be useful to use memories to remind myself of how far I've come, but I more often feel I'm letting go of all the rubbish that gets in my way of how I want to be or where I want to go.

Love this song and the title conveniently begins with an L.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

K is for Kirk Franklin

I used to sing in a local gospel choir (now called Vocal Skills) and some of my favourite songs were by Kirk Franklin. I don't really believe in God, but find gospel so energetic, positive and uplifting, so I thought I'd share some with you.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

J is for just for today

The founder of reiki, Dr Mikao Usui, gave his students a series of precepts to follow:
Just for today...
  • Do not anger
  • Do not worry
  • Count your many blessings
  • Do your work honestly
  • Be kind to all living things. 
I love the idea of just focusing on today, as I've in the past tried to make some thing a habit and struggled to make it stick. It makes real sense to me to say 'just for today' as by being mindful and in the present it means all I need to focus on is right now. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

I is for I Can Has Cheezburger?

I think in the past, I've gone through stages thinking I should be like other people. And that maybe I should be blogging about serious and intellectual subjects like socioeconomic status ramifications in the 21st century...
However, I've come to the conclusion that I'm going to blog about stuff that I find interesting, inspiring and some times just downright silly (to some people, I can definitely imagine).

Which brings me to I Can Has Cheezburger?
I don't know what it is about pictures of cats with poorly spelt captions, but it makes me laugh every single time! (my husband can tell when I'm on the site as I start cackling to myself quietly)
Some time ago, I stopped visiting and only later realised it was because I thought I should be doing more serious things with my time as an adult. I quickly got over this though and figure if it makes me laugh, then it can only be good :)

Monday, 9 April 2012

H is for happiness

I spent ages thinking about how to define what makes me happy, and came to the conclusion that it's maybe too big a subject where I'm doing so many posts for the A-Z Challenge.

Therefore, I thought I'd share some random bits and pieces instead about it:
And some pictures of our cat, Floopy, and us :)

Next to the radiator on the shoe rack in the winter
One happy feline, not long after picking her up from the cattery

Getting married in 2010
On honeymoon in Morocco
Aikido and running combined, yay!
Gotta finish off with some Michael Franti and Spearhead.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

G is for Getting Things Done

I'm a bit of a perfectionist by nature, which I've previously mentioned here.
I can struggle some times with knowing where to start, and put things off when they seem too complex or I get stuck on the details. It seems to be that I go through periods of pretty good productivity, and then start to feel a little overwhelmed and then it snowballs, and BAM I'm just stuck!

'It's possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control' is how the first chapter starts of the book Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity. As soon as I saw 'relaxed control', I was hooked as it reminds me of aikido! In the past, I always figured I had to work harder and this seemed to come with its own stress and anxiety, which wasn't much fun. The book is split into three sections and I found it was well laid out and an easy read. Section one introduces the concepts, two is all about the doing (e.g. getting started, collection etc.) and the last section explains certain principles in more depth.

I admit I haven't implemented every thing in the book, but what I have done definitely helps me feel more in control and more focused. Things such as:
  • If it's going to take less than 2 minutes, do it now
  • Get it all out of your head - I regularly get a piece of paper and write down every thing that's on my mind and process it 
  • Begin with the end in mind - what would success look, sound and feel like? 
  • What's the successful outcome, and what would be the very next step to move it forward? 
There are lots of great articles over at GTD Times, and also free articles and podcasts available from the company itself.
My main tool for GTD is my filofax (a recently acquired vintage pink A5 Malden) & I use the paper planner setup in my filofax found here.

Friday, 6 April 2012

F is for filofax

It's no surprise to anyone that reads my blog that I love filofaxes.
More information about the company can be found on their website here. In the 1980s, they became a desirable accessory for any aspiring yuppie and Del Boy can be seen picking his up at the end of this classic clip! (A Winchester, I guess?)

Why do I like them?
  • They're stationery (nuff said really)
  • Kinda like the ultimate notebook where you can move stuff around and personalise it
  • The leather ones smell gooood
  • They help me keep organised. (Yes, I could do that with a 99p notebook, but I do enjoy using some thing a bit nicer)
  • A way to keep every thing in one place
  • I've met so many lovely people on the Philofaxy site and some in person, which was great fun!
  • In this day and age of technology, it's nice to disconnect and plan using pen and paper. When ever I need to figure some thing out, I always reach for paper and feel more committed to what I write
  • No charging required, they don't crash and a bit of redbush/green tea doesn't tend to do them much harm
  • You don't need to buy a new one each year like a diary (in theory). Well, actually I've done my own share of buying filofaxes and then selling them as I then decided they weren't quite right for me. Luckily the brand has a strong customer base, which means there is a thriving second-hand market and I recently sent one of my purchases to the US! 
  • You can read a bit more about me and filofaxes in the Philofaxy Reader under the spotlight series.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

E is for exercise

I love exercise.
I've found over the years that it's about finding what I actually enjoy, rather than doing it because it's good for me. I've heard a number of people say something like, "I hate running, but it's such a good way to get fit".
I personally can't imagine doing that, as I doubt I'd stick at some thing that didn't float my boat. For example, I don't really fancy going to the gym. I've worked out in several on holiday, but generally felt I'd prefer to be outside running or on my bicycle. Maybe signing up properly and having guidance from an instructor would be different, but I've never seriously considered it.

At school, I was always enthusiastic at sports, but not particularly gifted at any thing. For a couple of years in a row, I did the shot put at sports day but purely because no one else wanted to and I needed to get involved. Running round the sports track seemed a bit pointless to me, but I did enjoy cross country running.

I got into martial arts for some thing a bit different to try, and liked the idea of training in some thing a bit more in-depth. Talking to some friends the other day made me realise just how much I've done now! It all started with tai chi for a couple of years, then a dabble in taekwondo, a couple of years of Goju Ryu karate, some months of Wing Chun kung fu, found aikido in 2004, a period of kickboxing and full circle back to tai chi.
I couldn't imagine not doing a martial art now, but very occasionally I think it might be easier to take up some thing else! It's never a serious thought though.

My other love is running, but I won't go into detail here as this will be my R post in the challenge.
I find that exercise is not only good for me physically, but definitely mentally as well. I always feel better after aikido or after a run. Changing your breathing is a way to improve your mood and this can be achieved by exercise or some thing like yoga or meditation.
And on that note, I'm off to meditate before bed :)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

D is for dinosaur

For as long as I can remember, I've been a bit mad about dinosaurs. As a little girl, I thought they were the best thing ever (and still do really) and my favourite is the stegosaurus!
I remember being on holiday in the New Forest as a child, and meeting a boy my own age and boring him about dinosaurs until he complained that he just wanted to play football. "What do you mean you don't have a favourite dinosaur??"

I was in absolute awe the first ever time I saw the 26 metre long diplodocus replica skeleton in the Natural History Museum's central hall. I'm pretty sure I had to be dragged away.
'Dippy' is made up of 292 bone casts including 70 vertebrae in the tail. The cast is a replica of a near-complete diplodocus carnegii skeleton uncovered in the western USA in 1898. It took 18 months to make the cast and after its completion in 1904, it was shipped to England in 36 crates.
You can even follow him on Twitter @NHM_Dippy!

The internet is an amazing place and it seems it's not just me that loves them :)
Here's some random dino stuff for any other fans out there:

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

C is for connection

I've recently started listening to Introduction to psychology, which is available free on iTunes U and the lecturer starts by talking about love. He says that love, in the form of romantic relationships, is good for civilisation as it brings people together. I suppose that this got me to thinking that so much is about connecting with other people, whether it's in everyday life or in shiatsu, pushing hands or aikido.

Last Saturday, I attended the Sit in Peace event with Thich Nhat Hanh at Trafalgar Square. The Facebook event showed 3,366 people as going and as you can see from here, it was well attended! I went with two beautiful ladies that I'd met going to see Michael Franti and Spearhead. We had very little time at the concert to talk, but I immediately felt a connection with them and knew I wanted to see them again. Within a very short space of time, it felt like I'd known them for years and we had a wonderful day of talking, laughter, scrummy food and meditation. 

During the meditation, I initially was amazed that all I could hear was traffic and that I could have been sat by myself in the square. Then I started to tune in and was aware of things like my friend's knee slightly touching mine and then the steady breathing of the man on the other side of me. I worked on extending my awareness further out and immediately felt on the brink of tears. I can't say exactly what moved me in this way, but on several occasions during the event, I felt quite emotional. Towards the end of the monks' chanting, people were quietly starting to join in with the melody and it struck me as such a simple form of connection.  
I suppose all of this was in stark contrast to travelling back on the tube, where eye contact is generally avoided.

I find nowadays in day to day life, it's much easier for me to connect with people around me. I think it's a mixture of my aikido and shiatsu training, and that I'm much more confident now. It can be as basic as a smile or a 'hello', or the other day I complimented a lady on her fantastic shoes! It made her smile and I felt glad for this little interaction before I went on my way.

Monday, 2 April 2012

B is for Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I have another confession... I am a Buffy the Vampire Slayer nerd!
I always loved Hammer Horror films and martial arts films, like Drunken Master, so Buffy was an immediate hit with me.
  1. Strong female lead - check
  2. Lots of bad puns and silly jokes - check
  3. Lots of fighting - check
  4. Lots of monsters - check. 
If I'm ill, there's nothing I like better than snuggling up in bed with a cuppa to watch episodes like Once More, with FeelingHush or Superstar
I'm generally a bit of a Joss Whedon fan as I also own Firefly and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.  

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A is for aikido (my 1st A-Z challenge post)

I've been practising a martial art called aikido since 2004.
I started off writing a 'what is aikido' paragraph, but came to the conclusion that there are already some great explanations out there, so will focus on what keeps me coming back for more.

Here are a couple of videos made for our club:

What I love about aikido:
  • The more I relax, the more powerful I am in my practise
  • Positivity in language and movement - our techniques can be soft and flowing, but they're always positive. Teachers focus on what a student is doing well and build on that, rather than saying, "That's rubbish, start again"
  • It becomes a meditation in movement as I'm focused on the present moment
  • It challenges me every single time I step on the mat, regardless of if I'm practising with a black belt or some one attending their first ever class
  • When I throw a fellow student more powerfully, it makes them laugh and smile and come back for more
  • The movements just feel good and flying through the air into a forward roll is fun
  • What I learn on the mat helps me in my daily life (link to our club's association).