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A taste of Kiwiland

We went to New Zealand last Easter. It was both our first times – personally, it was one of those places that was just a bit too near for me to prioritise if I had time for a longer trip, but far away for me not to easily get to if I only had a few days (does that make sense?)

I knew I was going to be in for a great time as the flight was landing. The pilot told everyone to look out the window. “This is one of the most beautiful views you can ever get from a plane,” he said, as everyone craned their necks to get a view of snow-capped mountains.

I loved how New Zealand made me feel so small. It was just so majestic and grand and (relatively) untouched. We stopped at most of the lookouts. Unfortunately, none of the photos did the views justice.

We had a little less than two weeks and we decided to spend that entire time driving around the southern part of the South Island. We went to Wanaka, Aoraki/Mt Cook, Moeraki, Dunedin, Te Anau and Queenstown which amounted to over 1,000 kms. Despite being on the same island (granted, it was a large island) it was crazy how different each place looked.

Aoraki/Mt Cook. See how tiny the other tourists are!
Milford Sound from the cruise ship
Our last stop – Queenstown, cute and quaint

It was really inspiring to see how outdoorsy the locals were. We went on walks that were at most half a day long, but in each place, we’d encounter people going on multi-day hikes. And they didn’t seem particularly hardcore either – we ran into families with kids. Not saying what they were doing wasn’t impressive, but it made the trips seem accessible to us.

We ended the trip feeling that New Zealand was one of those places we’d definitely want to go back to. Now that we had a taster, we resolved to stay at certain places longer and savour them a bit more.

It’s nearly the end of 2019. Here’s hoping to more outdoorsy adventures in 2020!

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Sugar free me (kinda)

Last month, some colleagues and I joined Starlight Children’s Foundation’s Sugar Free November challenge. I’ve got a massive sweet tooth and knew I needed to start curbing it somewhat. I figured doing it for charity was as good a reason as any.

The challenge wasn’t actually too strict. I could still have fruit and carbs, just not pastries or processed sugars (though honey and maple syrup were on the “allowed” list, a rule I didn’t choose to exploit). Wine wasn’t on the restricted list either. 😛 I could get (totally legit) cheat day tickets, and I only had 3 (or was it 4)? Not bad, considering both our birthdays are in November.

Ever since the challenge finished, people have been asking me what changes I’ve noticed. These are the main ones:

  • I stopped craving sweets (as much)! I would crave for sweets, especially chocolate. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. Now I find I don’t search for it as often. Or if I have some, I don’t need as much. I can also do without. I’m proud how I had a nice dinner the other night at a fancy-ish restaurant and was fine not having dessert.
  • I stopped snacking during work hours as much. There was a time – not long ago – when I’d be constantly munching on things. Sometimes people would have biscuits or TimTams or jelly snakes out and I’d always be up for it.
  • Fruit satisfies my sweet cravings. I used to complain, “People always say to have fruit for dessert instead, but it never hits the mark!” Now I find it does.

Not gonna lie, it was touch and go for some time. I still remember madly searching online for sugar-free cookie recipes. (I ended up not making any because most of them used sugar substitutes, and I didn’t have fruit on hand for the ones that used fruit.)

I think I’m going to start doing this yearly. Probably not November though, too many things to celebrate, haha! But I’m definitely glad I’m not doing it over the holiday season.

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Comfort books

I’ve been in an Anne Shirley mood lately. For my long bus rides, I usually bring some kind of self-improvement or career-y type book. But because I’ve been easing up on the “go-go-go” mentality of squeezing in self-improvement books (see previous post) I’ve been reverting back to more comforting reads.

Like the Anne Shirley books, which I’ve conveniently got copies of in my Kindle.

I was trying to explain the appeal to S over the weekend. (I don’t think I succeeded.) Besides me adoring the books since I was 10 and the characters being super familiar, everything about the series seems so quaint and wholesome.

I was only around 12 when I started reading these books. Re-reading them decades later feels different. While L. M. Montgomery wrote about sad things – like World War I or personal tragedies, I know that times were much harder then and I’m only getting a romanticised version of things. But still — it fascinates me about the things that people are concerned about. I was reading Rainbow Valley a few days ago and in it, one of the characters talks about how important it was to her that she made her own bread, and what a big deal it was for the community to select a suitable minister. Anne’s children played in Rainbow Valley, a hollow where they would catch and cook fish, share stories (and poetry, occasionally) and chew spruce gums.

Anne was always held up as a particularly wholesome character. While (in the first few books) she might’ve tried bleaching our her freckles or dyeing her hair or wanting puffed sleeves, all in all, she wasn’t particularly vain. The lack of materialism, vanity and pettiness is something I really like (and aspire to). And I’m grateful despite going through the usual everyday stresses of living in this day and age, I know that life is full of these positive, Anne-ish experiences of being simply alive, enjoying the company of loved ones and friends, making things with my own hands, traipsing through nature (though harder to get to compared to the 1800s!) and looking at life with a sense of wonder and curiosity.

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Where I try to pivot away from all the self-improvement stuff

Anyone who’d browse the yearly reading lists I used to post here would’ve noticed I had a penchant for self-improvement books. Books that told me how to stress less, age better, become minimalist, be happier and not be so distracted. After devouring those books, I’ve realised that they more or less say similar things, so I’m making a conscious effort to branch out to different genres.

These are my top three books in the “non-self-improvement category” for 2019 (so far):

Becoming” by Michelle Obama. I’m not the kind of person to have strong opinion about another country’s politics. When I picked up the book, I didn’t really know much about her. Other than her being the former President Obama’s wife, of course. But what an amazing read – inspiring and authentic. It humanised the strong, powerful image of the woman I’d been seeing on my TV and online. Even if you’re not particularly an Obama fan, I totally recommend this as a story of a woman coming into her own.

Early Riser” by Jasper Fforde. I’ve read all theThursday Next books and a few others. However, I stopped paying attention when “Shades of Grey” (not to be confused with the other Shades of Grey) wasn’t followed up with a sequel. I find his books formulaic, but what keeps drawing me in are the fantastical worlds he creates and the detail he puts into it. It’s enough like the normal world to seem familiar, but different enough to be amusing. I always love the footnotes he peppers throughout his books. And the wit.

This one’s about a world where humans hibernate over winter. That’s all I’m going to say.

The Tyrant’s Tomb” by Rick Riordan. Yes, I know this is a Young Adult novel. But I’ve been a fan of the Percy Jackson series and I’m not stopping now, if not to satisfy my “what-happens-next” curiosity. Just one more book left! (Unless he decides to come out with another series…)

I have to be careful about the fiction/non-fiction books I read. I like reading books as an escape, so I usually stay away from books that are set in the real world, if that makes sense. I don’t want to read about women trying to establish their careers or navigating relationships or any of that stuff that hits too close to my own personal experiences. Give me something otherworldly, I say. (Unless you’re Michelle Obama.)