Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I Blame the Flip Flops

My pacifist roots served me well some months ago when I literally ran away from my one-and-only nemesis in life while in a shopping mall in Hong Kong following a minor surgery. I was wearing flip flops and still in my pajamas (because you can do that in Hong Kong) when I encountered her cumbersome (not, in this case, a euphemism for fat), familiar form in a book shop. Up until that point, I thought I had forgiven her for her breaches on humanity, but upon seeing her, a blind panic overtook me and I bolted, as though I was in Pamplona and a bull was hot on my heels. Regrettably, in addition to being in my flip flops, I was also wielding a rolling bag and might still have been mildly sedated. I ran for all I was worth, mowing down some poor shoppers' unsuspecting tootsies and tearing my meniscus in the process. Yes, I blame the flip flops. But I also blame my shocking lack of enlightenment after fifty years of hardcore living. Up until that point, I had been blissfully unaware of any simmering resentment and thought I was quite well along in my evolution of self.

Fast forward several months to today. Again I was wearing flip flops. It is the second-to-last day of school. I am mildly elated, well-fed on Middle Eastern dips and copious amounts of bread from our third grade "meeting," and excited to go home and finish packing for our summer holiday: traversing the continent in our 1991 camper van complete with one hippy husband, one pre-pubescent daughter who is prone to near-constant car sickness, and another daughter who will need stops every 10 minutes to practice her kung fu, kickin' it moves.

I digress. I am in a stuporous state: excited, slightly worried, and distracted. My friend, Sara, and I flag down an illegal Beijing black cab (only this one was white) to get home from our last full day of work. Sara is brimming over with boxes. The illegal driver pulled a "U"ie and picked us up. We didn’t negotiate the price to our housing compound because it is always the same: 40 kwai. He dropped her off first and then brought me to my house. I only had a 50 kwai note and he didn’t give me change, telling me that he dropped two people off so it was 50, not 40. I argued in my poor Chinese, but he already had my money. Almost always, people in China are very honest and kind. I shouldn’t have let one renegade driver and 10 kwai bother me, but he was rude and insistent. My lesser instinct took over.

I got out of the car and slammed the door as hard as I could, which wasn’t hard enough to indicate my anger. Remember (this is important): I was wearing flip flops, and with them, I feebly kicked the car door in retaliation for my not-hard-enough slam. It was a pathetic kick. I know so because I remember thinking, “Damn, I wish I was wearing my boots so I could have really nailed the door.” As referenced earlier, I have pacifist roots from my Mennonite upbringing, so it surprises me when the violent warrior woman shows up, which, fortunately, is seldom.

The driver hauled-ass out of the car when he heard the kick and came after me, right up the steps of my house. He started yelling, saying I had damaged his car. He showed me the smudge on his car where my flip flop had impacted. I brushed away the dirt to reveal nothing. Next, he pointed to some small indentation above it, obviously not caused by a flimsy shoe attached to a weak leg, and started to demand compensation. By this time, my children were outside, our ayi was involved, and he was practically forcing his way into our house.

I realized I had passed the threshold of reason and was now operating on adrenaline and fear. Rage and fear together are not a good combination because there is no room for reason. I just kept shouting, “Go” in English (because there were only primal first-language guttural utterances to be had), and I came dangerously close to shoving him. Finally, I slammed (another slam!) our house door, locked it, and stood tearfully at the window with my daughters wrapped around my legs, while he took an agonizingly long time to leave the premises.

The irrational part of me feels terrified that he will come back and try to murder my family for my flip flop felony. If he feels as vengeful as I did, he is capable of doing something dreadful. The thing is, I know I didn’t respond well. His rage was probably as well placed as mine. I shouldn’t have kicked his car, even if I didn’t kick it well, and obviously, I shouldn’t get in a car with a stranger, though that is what you do in China if you need to get home from work and you missed the bus. Usually, it’s no problem. You live with a bit of faith and hope for the best.

But suddenly I don’t feel so full of faith for humanity and especially for myself. When I reflect on my regrettable reactions, it’s like watching a bad movie that I can’t walk out of because it’s oddly compelling and I paid for the double-butter tub of popcorn and it’s all about me, after all.

I don’t want to be the person in that movie. People can end up in jail for heat-of-the-moment actions; it’s the reason guns shouldn’t be legal anywhere on the planet; and it’s the kind of behavior that has me thinking I should join a Thai monastery for a year or two, only I can’t sit on the floor and meditate because it hurts my sacrum too much, and instead of becoming enlightened, I’d only become grumpy and even more crippled than I already am. I want to breathe deeply from my diaphragm on a regular basis, and smile like I mean it (I most always do), and say, “Keep the change,” which is what I will definitely do next time.

Maybe it’s just time for summer vacation. As luck would have it, that would be tomorrow. I’ll be wearing flip flops and meditating. In the camper van. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Five Minute Dividends

I am convinced that doing anything for five minutes a day will garner great results. I’ve managed a thesis, a novel, a series of short stories and countless blogs using this very manageable commitment.

That being said, I’ve been off my game for the better part of a year, pretty much ever since the job hunt began in earnest and then the move got underway and the settling in began. No, we haven’t entirely settled yet, but I’ve decided that I’ve delayed long enough. After all, who can’t commit to five minutes a day? Heck, I can do that in my sleep!

So, here I sit, my children beside me, sipping Swiss Miss watered-down hot chocolate instead of the yummy concoction my own Mommy used to make from scratch because I am, after all, a working mother. No, I am not fully engrossed in my writing because an eight and a ten-year-old girl, both on the chatty side who love to stir and stir and then spill their hot chocolate, does not lend itself to inspired writing. That being said, I am writing, and that’s all I am trying to do write now. I’m not churning diamonds out of my ass, just getting something down on the screen.

The question is, in five minutes a day how am I going to write my educational blog, my lifestyle blog and carry on with my puberty memoir? Oh, and there’s that damn novel I started during my surgery recovery nearly two years ago. As I recall, it’s pretty damn good, but I can barely remember what it’s about anymore.

For now, I’m just going to say five minutes of writing. Any writing. Anything could happen, though.  If it turned into 20 minutes, I might become a prolific publisher. What really matters is that writing makes me feel connected with myself; publishing helps me connect with others. I yearn for both of those things in my life.

I’ve not been timing myself, but I know I’m well past my five minute deadline. That’s the great news.  I almost always end up going overtime, and that pays off big dividends. Just getting started and saying you’ll do five minutes of anything will get you a lot of results. The fact is, whatever you have started, you’ll usually end up doing a whole lot more than five minutes. It’s a little bit like stock dividends: you don’t realize how much you’re gaining with those extra chunks of time. 

Set a small goal. Stay committed. See what happens.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Being Moderately Consistent

As a rule, I have incredibly high expectations for myself, higher than I have for anyone else I know.  This means that I have been failing my health and diet report card miserably (for most of my life).  Fortunately, rules are meant to be broken, and my "sauntering toward health" mentality is allowing me to dispense with the "everything-is-a-test-that-you-will-be-graded-on" mentality.

To demonstrate what progress I have been making (because I am, after all very motivated by positive feedback), here is an excerpt from a blog I did not publish last week:

Today I went to a "happy adoption" party and managed to un-do all of my food resolutions in one fell swoop, without an ounce of guilt.

Oh, and yesterday was Valentines.  How did that go in the food department?  Well, it was romantic, but not in a romaine sort of way.  More of a masala and garlic naan sort of way.

My self-bought Valentines gift?  A fitbit, an Apple new-age pedometer that I can clip onto my bra and forget about. (I'm dreading the day it counts the washing machines gyrations instead of my steps!)   So far, my fitbit has been fun to pull out of my cleavage and look at, but I've been so loaded up on food that I've only been able to lumber.

It's our wedding anniversary today and I've got some Bloody Mary's, olives, camembert and French bread on tap for an evening of House of Cards and more celebration.

How am I feeling about it all?  Pretty much okay.  Why?  Because I no longer have a diet mentality that makes sure that if I "fail" once, I might as well go awol in candy land.

After my few planned days of moderately falling off the wagon (which is a ridiculous thing to say because you either fall off or you don't: I guess I was dragged along while hanging on by my stubby fingers), I am back to healthy eating and daily, gentle workouts.

The idea of "sauntering toward health" through consistency and moderation falls into a category that is probably native to Type B people, but is a learned behavior to us Type As.  It feels foreign to me, and I keep waiting for someone to shove a report card in my face with lots of "needs improvement" and "inconsistent"scores on it.  So far that hasn't happened.  In fact, four pounds off the scale HAS happened, and I don't feel like I've done a whole lot of suffering to get there.

Hip, hip hurray for moderate consistency!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sauntering Toward Health

I'm now about 16 months away from fifty, and after nearly 49 years of living, I am finally figuring out the value of doing things slowly, including reaching my goals.  Presently, I have a pile of clothes I'd love to wear again, I have a fitbit that is nestled into my bra that buzzes every few hours reminding  me to get off my a**, and I have a hankering for popcorn that I will eat in a reasonable portion, minus the oil.  (Your definition of reasonable my differ from my carbohydrate-addled version.)

Yes, I want to get fit by fifty, but, no, I don't need to do it all today.  I just need to do some of it.  So I'll watch the latest installment of House of Cards on Netflix while doing some exercise, I'll confront the scale the same way I'd confront a spirited horse - whoa, Nellie, it's going to be okay; we're just going to go slow here - and I'll let myself have that bowl of popcorn because I ate healthfully today, and also because I consider popcorn a health food!  (Go look in the archives for my blog that proves this!)

I also don't need to get my novel finished this month or run a marathon ever.  I can just take slow steps toward improving me in the way that I want to be improved.  The lose-it-in-a-week detox method or the boot-camp-beat-yourself-to-a-pulp to get fit have never proven effective for me.  They've just made me waddle in the opposite direction.

So I am going to slowly saunter toward health, stopping for plenty of indulgent breaks along the way.  That's just the way I roll.

I'll keep you posted...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to Fool Yourself into Writing More

I'm certainly not publishing a blog every day, but I AM managing to do some writing every single day, even if it's just for five minutes.  Five minutes times seven days equals 35 minutes a week.  Let's face it, though: once you get started, it usually ends up being at least 10 minutes.  And that's with a minimum of stress.  So let's round up and say seven days times ten minutes equals seventy minutes a week of writing.  That comes to 280 minutes a month worth of words on the page.  With my bad math, that comes in somewhere around five hours a month of writing.  If you multiply five hours times 12 months, you have the equivalent of 60 hours.  (I think.)

The whole idea is that I'm not trying to be accurate here; I'm trying to fool myself.  "Just five minutes a day, Leah, and you can stop," I tell myself.  What do I have to show for my so-called five minutes?  Actually, an awful lot.  Much of it, I haven't published yet.

Why?  Because I need to commit to another five minutes a day of revising, editing and then perhaps yet another five minutes to publishing.  Honestly, that seems pretty do-able to me: so much so that I'm going to slap a picture on this, do a quick edit, and send it out to the world.

I'm not going for perfection here.  I want to write.  I want to share my writing.

I want to inspire you to do what you love.  If you love to write, write for five minutes a day.  Simple as that.  If there is something else you love to do, set your sights at five minutes and see where it takes you.

Let's surprise and delight ourselves with how easy things possibly might be!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Resolutions: Why Not Now?

Thank goodness for Chinese New Year!  I didn't get a chance to really reflect on what I wanted for the new year back in January, but since then, things have slowed down a bit, and I actually got a week off work since I live in Hong Kong and Chinese New Year is celebrated with a break from school.   Yippee!

As I write this, I am sitting on my balance ball because one of my firmest resolutions is to firm up my core.  A year ago I had a major back surgery (an SI joint fusion and a spinal fusion), and while I am much better, I have put on some weight, and I am not as well as I should be after such a surgery because I have neglected to strengthen and exercise enough.

The fact is, fifty is around the corner for me - if seventeen months counts as around the corner - but I've decided to revolve my resolutions around where I want to be when I reach fifty.  I don't aspire to a perfectly toned abdomen by next month or to be wearing size two jeans in six months (or maybe ever); on the other hand, it sure feels realistic to gradually and consistently change some habits that will help me greet my half decade with grace, beauty and strength.

So what am I going to do?  I'm going to start anew each day - as the blog name suggests - with some rules in place that are flexible in their timing, but firm in their commitment.  They are nothing earth shattering, but they fit into what I aspire to health-wise and what I think I can attain and maintain.

Here they are:

1. Some cardio every single day.  I'm not setting a time yet, just that I am going to get my heart moving for a sustained amount of time each day.  For now, I'll be walking.  I may amp that up to something else later on.  In fact, I want to do a lot of different kinds of cardio.  At the moment, my body can't do much beyond walk so that's what I will be doing.  (And I won't be judging myself for not being an ultra-fit marathoner.  Right now, I walk a bit like a seventy-something lady with a limp.)

2. Pilates and/or strengthening at least five days a week.  How long? Negotiable.  I have some well-loved videos that work well: some that take 25 minutes and some that are an hour.  I have dumbbells and stretch bands.  They all count.  When I wake up in the morning, I am also going to do my back and knee stretches and I'm going to do them again in the evening.  I'm also going to keep sitting on this balance ball, though I think I may need to re-inflate it.  I don't think I should be this close to the ground!

3. Eat a largely plant-based diet.  I'm a pescatarian who largely eschews dairy, but I aspire to pretty much eliminate dairy from my diet, and I'm not doing the environment any favours by continuing to consume fish.  Then there are all those pesky moral issues as well.  When push comes to shove, a plant-based diet is going to keep me alive longer, alleviate guilt, and help make the world a kinder, gentler place.  Without getting on a pulpit, especially since I never said I was giving it all up, it's become quite obvious that living without any form of animal product is going to keep me/us alive longer.  I like that idea.

My personal plan is to allow for two meals a week (if I choose), that can include dairy or seafood.  Otherwise, I'm going vegan.  I'm also going to allow for two desserts (of a reasonable serving size, not an entire cake or galloon of ice cream) per week.  I like a little decadence in my life, but if I don't set limits, it turns into a full-time occupation for me.

4. I'm going to do my own version of the 5/2 diet fad that is sweeping the world.  I haven't read the book - I don't even know what it's called - but basically I plan to eat only fruit and vegetables (that can include any fruit or veg, including potatoes and popcorn!) on Mondays and Thursdays, and eat my regular diet the rest of the week.  Basically, I am not going to eat any processed food or non-plant based food two days a week, and I'm going to not add any fat or sugar to my foods.  So, soups, salads, lovely steamed veggies, green shakes, popcorn, and baked potatoes will be the order of the day on those days.  I've already done it a few times and have quite enjoyed my "clean eating" days and not felt deprived.  I don't want to do any crazy detoxes nor do I want to count calories.  That's not my style.  This feels do-able, however.  I may add in some legumes and nuts, but since I'd like to drop a few sizes, I'll keep to fruit and veggies for the time being.

As I write this down, I feel like this is all quite attainable.  It doesn't matter if a soul doesn't read this blog because the act of writing it makes me accountable to myself.  Self-accountability: that's the new start each day.  I'm happy to hear your resolutions, too.  Remember, you can start ANY time.  Chinese New Year was my excuse to get going, but who needs an excuse to feel better about yourself?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Home is Where the Family Is

Being an expat adult, people often ask me where I am from, and I easily answer, "Canada" since it is my birthplace and childhood home.  The thing is, I no longer align myself with Canada in the rabidly patriotic way that many Canadians do.  Of course every time someone mentions a Canadian movie star (William Shatner, for example), I interrupt immediately (before they have a chance to even say anything beyond the movie star's name) to state, "He's Canadian, you know."

And if you're Canadian, you'll answer, "I know."  If you're not, you might just roll your eyes. We do take our celebrities seriously, no question about it.  Michael J Fox?  Canadian.  Jim Carrey?  Canadian. Shania Twain?  Canadian.  Celine Dion?  Canadian.  But now, I'm going too far.  I'm also showing my age since there are many much more famous Canadians who are young and hip, not the celebrities of my youth.

That being said, I've been out of the country for more than 20 years now and aside from knowing that Stephen Harper is still the prime minister, that Quebec still wants to secede from the nation, forestry is still a contentious issue 40 years after I first begin watching the news, and our socialised healthcare system appears to be reviled by many south of the border, I am really not up to date on anything Canadiana.

Part of me feels guilty and like a bit of a traitor: after all, I married an American, adopted Chinese children and have lived in Asia for going on two decades.  The other part of me knows that while my citizenship buys me freedom, privilege and some unrivalled human rights, it is no longer my home other than on my passport.

So where is my home?  Technically speaking, it is in Hong Kong.  Speaking from my heart, however, it is where ever my family is at any given time.  If we are in a guest house in Bangkok, our bags are unpacked, and we finish our Pad Thai at the local diner, I'll always ask, "Shall we go back home?" and I'm not referring to our village house on the outskirts of Hong Kong.  (And the family will always reply, "No, let's go for a foot massage!" if we are in Thailand.  Who wants to go "home" if you can go out and be pampered extravagantly for just a few Baht?)

Pad Thai, then...
Off to our foot massage

My love of Thailand aside, family is my home, pure and simple.  Frankly, this makes my life simple and happy.  I can go anywhere, live anywhere, and I am happy.  If my family is with me, I am home. I think it's a pretty good way to live (and love) my life.

This summer, our home was our camper van, traversing
the North American continent!