New Caledonia

I had a quiet Saturday so I finally had time to edit my New Caledonia photos. 😛 It’s been over 7 months since my trip, but better late than never!

The trip was totally unplanned, but a lot went on during the first half of 2017 that I figured I needed a break. I wanted to go somewhere close, yet exotic. What better place to choose than New Caledonia, a French territory a mere 3 hour flight from Sydney? (It’s even closer than Perth!)

Things I liked about New Caledonia, or Nouvelle Caledonie, as the locals call it:

1. It’s a very, very beautiful island in the South Pacific.
I’d nearly forgotten how pretty islands looked, having lived the past 8 (!!) years in the humongous landmass that is Australia. And the view of approaching a tiny island smack-dab in the Pacific Ocean was just something else.

The view from my airline seat.

The view from my hotel room. How lucky was I!

2. There is so much greenery everywhere.
There’s a lot more than beaches in the outdoors!

I booked a day tour and one of the stops was a nature reserve in Dumbea, a short drive from Noumea, the capital. Everything was so green and lush and everyone was really chill, saying “Bonjour” to us as we passed. We didn’t spend a lot of time here, but I’d love to go back and do a proper hike through the trails.

The Tjibaou Cultural Center is technically in the city, but I loved how the buildings and greenery blended into each other.

3. French food.
‘Nuff said. As I mentioned, New Caledonia is a French territory. The people there carry French passports, speak French, and… *drumroll please* serve French cuisine.

Photo on the left is from L’Hippocampe. As for the photo on the right… sadly I don’t remember the name of the patissier where I got the chocolate thingamabob anymore.

(Haha, every time I do these trip recaps, one of the items is always food-related.)

It was a super quick trip — 4 days. And yes, while Noumea is small and I probably hit all of the tourist attractions during the day tour, I’d love to go back again for another recharge. I’d probably want to do a bit more hiking/outdoorsy stuff, gorging on French food, and enjoying that gorgeous view from my hotel balcony.

On tracking food

It’s the last day of February and the first two months have just flown by.

So, I decided to use my employee benefits and have been speaking with a nutritionist. Among other things, she’s told me to start tracking every thing I eat. Unfortunately, it’s yielded a few sobering truths: although I say that “I usually eat well, except for when I go out,” I seem to be eating out a lot more than I initially thought. Two, during times I don’t get to go grocery shopping (such as this week), I subsist on paltry, not-that-healthy meals (e.g. peanut butter on toast).

The great news — I’m doing great in the fruit and healthier substitutions department, and I’ve definitely been eating less sugar and more veggies than I used to. But I’ve still got a long way to go.

I know that “cooking” is one of my goals for this year, but one of my sub-goals under that is to learn how to make more salad-y type meals. My usual go-to is salad mix, tomatoes, some kind of cheese, and an olive oil and vinegar dressing. Since late last year, I’ve made a Greek salad, walnut and pear salad, green mango salad, and a lemony olive oil dressing that was a-maz-ing. (Yeah, I know making salads isn’t particularly complicated, but adding more to my salad repertoire is a big deal to me.)

I’ve been browsing through Jamie Oliver’s 15-Minute Meals book, which I got years ago at a local market. The only way these recipes take 15 minutes is if I had my own personal chef prepping the ingredients as well as Jamie Oliver’s array of kitchen gadgets. (No wonder this book was shuffled off to a secondhand goods stall.)

Now, I have to start looking for more ways to incorporate veggies into my diet. I swear I was much better at this before the end of 2017, but with the holidays, I got used to eating fatty, salty, flavourful food again. I can’t help that it’s so damn delicious!

A couple of things to help me focus

Nearly two months since I started my “focus” theme for 2018 and there a few things that have helped me immensely.

The Perfect Notebook
I’m a huge fan of behavioural economist Dan Ariely (I have all his books and even his card game), so when I learned about his Kickstarter campaign to develop the perfect notebook, I signed up right away!

I’m the kind of person who survives by writing lists. While this worked, to a certain extent, it was sometimes hard to keep track of the bigger picture.

Enter this notebook. At first, I was overwhelmed because it had a system, but once I got the hang of it, it’s been super helpful!

Every couple of weeks, I think about my goals for those week and set up my dashboard. Three work goals, and some personal goals that don’t really change (spending time with people who matter most to me, exercise, meditation, and my two main skill goals — baking/cooking and sewing). For each day in that period, I fill out a daily schedule where I lay out my tasks. At the end of each day, I assess if I’ve done things to bring me closer to my goal and mark it on my dashboard. It’s a great visual reminder for me to see which aspects of my life I’m not taking care of.

So far, I’ve been pretty lax at meditation and baking/cooking and sewing. 🙁 Need to spend more time on those things… But anyway, I’ve only been using it for a month so far and I feel so much more focused and productive at work. And while my life is still a bit lopsided, it doesn’t feel as unbalanced as it used to. Highly recommend this notebook, or using a similar daily/dashboard system to keep track of everyday!

Deep Work – Cal Newport
This book pretty much encapsulates what I’m trying to do with my entire year.

It talks about how pretty much everyone is on “distracted” mode. Always checking their phones, always doing quick Internet checks, unable to sit still and really work. It talks about setting aside time to really focus on the experience at hand, whether it’s work or enjoying the company of people around me. (But mostly around work. It is called Deep Work, after all.)

My work has become more challenging (in a good way), and because I do not want to work overtime I know I have to work smarter and be more disciplined in how I spend my time.

I know I’ve been posting about this before, and I seem to have read a lot of books on the subject already — but the thing is, continuously reading books like these is a great reminder when I’ve fallen off the wayside. I’m honestly proud of myself because I’ve been able to read more books the past couple of years, plus I know that I’ve been less addicted to the Internet — but at the same time, there’s a long way for me to go!

I was thinking about what I wanted this blog to be, and I realised I don’t really want it to be a “self development journey” chronicle, so here’s something personal:

I wasn’t supposed to pick up “Deep Work” just yet, because I’m still working my way through Robert Sapolsky’s “Behave.”

It’s a great introduction to human behaviour, picking apart the interplay between environment, brain chemistry, and genes. It’s full of really interesting tidbits (such as why teenagers act the way they do, or the mating habits of spotted hyenas) but just a tad heavy — I had to stop reading one of the chapters to complete Appendix 1: Neuroscience 101.

It’s a great book, just… massive. It’s so massive I’ve reached my limit at renewing the book, so I better finish it by March 10th.

My thing for 2018

2016: Simplifying
2017: Lifestyle Design
2018: Focus

In 2016, I learned to make space in my life. 2017 was about trying new things. 2018 is about identifying the things that I’d like to keep in my life and doing more of them. Funnily enough things have worked out that way. 😛

Things I want to focus on this year

Learning how to cook (properly). Fine, I already know how to cook. But my cooking style is best described as “cooking for survival”. I really want to become more comfortable around the kitchen, and to be able to make things that I’m proud to serve to other people.

Sewing more. I’ve actually bought a heap of fabric and have several sewing projects lined up. I’ve even bought a number of Craftsy classes to help me upskill. I just need to block off my time so I can focus on them.

Other things

A few things I want to keep doing: eating healthy, exercising, fixing my sleep hygiene, meditating, wasting less time, and applying Stoic philosophy to my life. (I get the feeling that these are the kind of things I’ll always be trying to improve on.) I also think I’d like to keep doing something new a month, even if it’s things on a relatively smaller scale.

Hobbies I might bring back into my life: working on my Spanish, juggling, photography, piano.

Some things about myself I’d like to change: becoming less judgemental, complaining less about customer service (sorry), becoming more patient and understanding, connecting with people on a deeper level*.

* I feel like I have a lot of superficial friends. Or even if they’re not superficial exactly, they’re not as deep or meaningful as they could be. I’d like to fix this and strengthen my relationships. 🙂