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The month of cooking healthily

In line with my “new thing a month” schtick, February has been about trying to cook healthily.

We started meal planning last year. When the pandemic lockdowns started, we (like everyone else) could no longer go out to eat so had to prep everything at home. We also wanted to limit supermarket trips. So every weekend, we’d plan our meals, do a big shop, and hopefully not have to drop in during the week for items we’d forgotten.

Every year, we resolve to eat better, so this time we decided to marry our newly acquired skill of proper meal planning (haha) with cooking healthier meals. I think we were semi-successful, thanks to these two:

CSIRO recipes

S’s brother and sis-in-law recommended the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet. Although it’s got the word “diet” in its name, it’s more of a way to learn how to eat healthy with regards to portion sizes and the right ratio of protein/carbs/fats/etc. (In fact, when I took their screener, they didn’t recommend a weight loss plan for me, but a “4 week boost” where I could re-learn what health eating meant. I still think there’s a couple of kilos I could do without, though!)

The plan costs $199. You can get your money back if you follow the program to a tee, but we thought it was a bit too much commitment for the time being. Fortunately, the local library stocks their cookbooks so we borrowed those and tried the recipes on our own.

Although cookbooks don’t have the convenience of automatically selecting recipes for all our meals and creating shopping lists (as with the program), they were still pretty easy to go through, especially since we decided to only do the recipes for dinner.

The recipes were tasty and easy (read: easy enough for me to do) and there’s a couple of cookbooks we particularly liked so will buy those in the future.

HelloFresh

I’d been looking at HelloFresh and other meal box delivery services previously but never pushed through. However when a friend offered me a free box, who was I to say no to free food? 😛

To be honest, meals come out a little bit more expensive than if we did our own meal planning and grocery shop, but sometimes it’s nice to have the convenience, especially if we’ve had a busy weekend and have no energy to meal plan!

Not all meals are technically healthy but we try to go with the healthier options when available.

So far the meals (yes, even the healthier ones) have been super tasty and relatively quick to prepare, say 20-40 minutes. (Takes me a bit longer though!) The portions are generous and on a few occasions there’s been enough left over for my lunch the next day.

In summary…

I’m proud that we started cooking healthier and that I actually had more of a hand in cooking this month. I learned some new cooking tricks (e.g. I never cooked with beetroot before!) and I’d like to think I’m a bit more comfortable chopping and trying recipes I normally wouldn’t. While S is still the cook between the two of us, at least I can now contribute!

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Sewing goals

I caved and started a new Instagram account focused on sewing. It was really hard to get inspiration otherwise. I could only go so far browsing tags until Instagram blocked me from seeing more. Anyway, I’ve been using the account to post my makes and shout-out to the fabric shops, patternmakers, etc.

Last year was great, sewing-wise. I tried patterns that required new skills and approached different ways of construction. I’m hoping to continue that this year; while I’ve always been happy wearing things I’d made, there’s an additional sense of pride that comes from wearing something where I’ve done that little bit extra to go beyond my comfort zone.

It’s sewing tradition to post a “make nine”, where you outline nine makes neatly in a 3×3 grid. But I realised I couldn’t decide on nine! So here’s my… make (n).

Make (n)

Fairfield Button-up Shirt

Finally, something for S! I’ve made a button-up dress and garments with interfacing, so figured I could try something a bit harder.

Photo from Thread Theory

Elodie wrap dress

This is pretty much my ideal wrap dress style. And it’s made from woven fabric!

Photo from Closet Core Patterns

Chi Town Chinos

Chi-Town Chinos

This style is my staple. I’ve got three similar shorts and since I’ve had them for years they’re falling apart. So it’s my goal to make a few before next summer!

Photo from Alina Design Co

Knit fabric garments

I’ve been sewing with mostly woven fabrics, so I’d like to get more into knit fabrics this year. I’ve had Meg McElwee‘s “Sewing with knits” class for years now but kept putting it off. Well, my goal is to complete it this year and complete the knit garments included in the class: a hoodie, shirts, shorts, and dress.

(I’ve already got the materials for the first item – the fleece hoodie – and all the sewing notions. Just need to get myself to do it!)

Already made

I’ve completed two things so far: the Peppermint Bardon dress and the Peppermint spring shorts. I’ve smashed a fair number of their patterns, they’re so good and beginner-friendly. Plus, they’re free! 😀

PS So I counted and apparently I’ve listed nine garments here. So I actually had enough to make a proper make nine, haha!

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My experience with a Vipassana course

As I mentioned in my last post, I joined an online Vipassana course last month. It was an illuminating experience and while I didn’t get to spend as much time as it as I wanted to, I’m glad I went through it.

I’d been wanting to join a meditation retreat for years. I searched for retreats near me, but never pushed through. They were too far, or too expensive, or I was in the middle of work projects and couldn’t get away.

So when I heard about a free, online course that could be taken within my normal schedule, I was in!

Getting started

I chose the “Workplace Warrior” stream because I wasn’t taking time off. I continued working and doing my share of the housework the entire time. This stream has the least amount of meditation, but it still has several hours worth each day.

There were guidelines to follow, too. For example, there was a prescribed diet and I couldn’t drink alcohol. I also wasn’t supposed to interact with the outside world or consume other media. Obviously, this was impossible given the job I do, but I cut it down when I could. I stopped watching the news, I didn’t listen to my podcasts, I didn’t read anything for fun.

I followed it for two days, and then…

I was going along swimmingly until I hit the two day mark. I started getting insomnia. Again. This was something I’d started struggling with late last year. I’d just gotten a good sleep rhythm going, so it was frustrating when I couldn’t fall sleep again. Apparently, this isn’t uncommon. Meditation had made me hyper aware of my surroundings. I’d lie awake at night being super conscious of my breathing and unable to sleep.

I think, if I were in a proper retreat, I probably would’ve pushed through the insomnia. But my challenge was I still needed to be functional at work. So while I still watched to all the lectures and did some meditation, I decreased my meditation time.

Any breakthroughs?

Despite not doing as much meditation as I could have, I had a few key learnings.

One, the importance of what I feed into my mind. I’d always done 5 or 10 minute meditations sessions but couldn’t go for longer than that. Because of that, I was stuck in the phase where I was fidgety and impatient and never pushed through to the next phase where I could calmly observe my thoughts and focus on my breath.

It made me realise about how much crap I was letting into my consciousness. As I was sitting there, all these useless things where flitting in and out of my mind – celebrity gossip, news that had zero effect on me, old conversations. It made me realise that they were there because I had let them in.

Second, it made me more comfortable with uncomfortable thoughts and sensations. I had a taste of looking at them more objectively, and trying to get closer to the root of them.

Three, it was amazing what I could get done when I was focused. Obviously, I had to carve off a substantial chunk of my time for meditation, which meant I had limited time to do things. That, coupled with not being able to browse the Internet randomly, meant that I was super efficient. I was able to squeeze in all my chores and things in the allotted time!

Finally, it was great to get an explanation about certain meditation practices. The session wasn’t all meditation, there would be two talks twice a day. For example, I’d always wondered why a lot of meditations were focusing on the breath and I’d always impatiently wait til it was over. But as David Hans-Barker explained: “If you can focus on something as boring as the breath, you can focus on anything!” Good point. So now when I start a meditation about focusing on the breath, I know what it’s for.

Moving forwards

I’ve been in the real world for a few weeks now. While I’ve gone back to reading things outside of the course content (obviously) I’m now more intentional about what I consume.

I’ve also resolved that I want to strengthen my meditation skills. Instead of just doing 5-10 minutes as a cursory exercise, I’d like to take it further. I realised that I really like the “loving kindness” type meditations so I’d like to focus in that area.

Anyway, if there’s anyone reading this who’s keen to take the course, I’d highly recommend it.

First, it’s free.

Second, it’s flexible. The guidelines are more of recommendations – there was a prescribed diet, but I didn’t follow it, and that was OK. Besides, it’s an online course – nobody’s keeping tabs. But at the end of the day, people get out what they put in – there’s no accountability but to oneself.

Finally, there are benefits even if someone doesn’t complete the entire course. As I mentioned, I didn’t complete all the meditations, and that was OK. I still got a lot out of it.

Part of me wonders if I should take this course (or a version of it) every year, as a reminder. I’ll see.

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2021 goals

I usually have a succinct theme for the start of each year. But for 2021, I couldn’t phrase it in a way that didn’t sound pretentious. (Haha.) So, the gist of what I want to happen, is to strengthen my self. To make sure I have a solid foundation of my thoughts, habits, etc.

I was inspired after reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography (which took me 3 months to complete – it’s not long at all, I’d just get distracted about other things). In particular, reading about his personal project to improve himself using 13 virtues. Each week, he would focus on a single virtue, trying his best to live it. He cycled through the 13 virtues continuously from when he was 20 years old.

I don’t think I’m ready to cycle through virtues weekly and hold myself to the same standard. But I like the idea of focusing on a single aspect of self-improvement. So for each month, I’m going to deep-dive on one thing of improving my self. While I feel like doing the “little bits every day” is helpful for some things, I think there are other things that I could devote a bigger chunk of my time and energy to.

For January, I’m joining an online Vipassana course for 10 days, starting two days from now. There’s an option for people who can’t get away from work or family commitments and that’s what I’ve signed up for. Even then, I’m a little overwhelmed looking at the schedule. Even with the “lite” version, there’s around 5 hours of meditation each day, plus rules to follow for when I’m not working/needing to do the “essentials”: not exposing myself to content with the outside world, refraining from interacting with others, etc. Still, it is only 10 days, and I’m excited to see what I’ll learn.

(Obviously, writing blogs is out of the question for that time, so see you all in two weeks or so!)