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My 2019 Reading Challenge: The Highs And Lows

So Back2Basics living has been quiet for the last month.

What have we been up to?

Well, we’ve been back in Ireland introducing Naoise to her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I’m back (George) in Canada now, getting into the swing of things while Theresa gets to spend another month in the old country.

I was also lucky enough to give 2 yoga classes in my home town of Daingean. Thanks to all who attended.

Apart from giving a quick update and explaining the lack of blog posts recently, I thought that a nice topic for the first post of 2020 would be a summary of the books I read in 2019 and any recommendations I have from that list.

I like to set myself a reading challenge for the year using the Goodreads app, and for 2019 it was 25 books.

They ranged from fiction, spiritual, fantasy, classics, non-fiction with my favourite being Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Some of them I read, others I listened to the audiobook. I also cheated a little towards the end of the year by listening to the shortest Audiobooks I could find. This strategy got me listening to some unexpectedly fantastic books like A Christmas Carol and the above mentioned Of Mice And Men.

So, here’s the list:

The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey

This was at the tail end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. Chris has experimented with every Productivity hack you can imagine and presented the best methods in this easy read.

The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This is a great fantasy story about a travelling musician whose family are killed. He then joins a magicians university where most of the first book is set. I really enjoyed this one, if you like fantasy, I recommend it. It is slower than a lot of other fantasy books I read and doesn’t feature any battles or elves but instead follows the main character through his university life and exploits.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

The first book I read by Gaiman was American Gods and I loved it. This one is a retelling of the stories of the Norse Gods. It’s light-hearted and an easy read though the stories and the escapades of the Gods are utter nonsense.

Ethics in The Real World by Brian Singer

I heard of Singer on the Big Think Podcast and he had great things to say. One of his most important projects is Givewell, a website that recommends the most effective charities you can donate to. In this book, he writes several different essays on life and ethical issues. Singer is vegetarian and speaks in-depth about the unethical treatment of animals here also.

I think it is our duty to educate ourselves on these matters and this book is a great place to start.

A Winters Promise by Cristelle Dabos

This is a fantasy book set in a world of floating islands, each one ruled by an ancient matriarch. The book follows a young lady who can travel through mirrors as she leaves her home to meet her future husband.

It’s a far-out concept and for me, it didn’t really work. It’s well written and it held my attention to finish it but I won’t be reading the sequel.

15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management by Kevin E. Kruse

This book is a must for anybody who works in an office or has difficulty managing their time. A lot of the information is common sense but there are so many little bits and pieces that make a real difference.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Another very useful book if you work in an office job. The book focuses on how you can blank out the distractions of modern living to get into a state of high productivity.

The Boys on the Boat by Daniel James Brown

A historical book about the American rowing team who won gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, it’s a book about real grit and is truly inspiring. A great story.

The Year Of The Flood by Margeret Atwood

The first Atwood book I read was The Handmaid’s Tale, and with the sequel, Testaments released now it was a big year for her. The Year of the Flood is the second part of a trilogy set in a post-apocalyptic world. I didn’t realise it was the second part of a trilogy but that did not take away from the enjoyment. It’s a great story.

Bhagavad Gita

This was part of the required reading for the Vinyasa teacher training course I took part in the summer. It’s a must-read if you are a yogi or yoga teacher and offers some interesting insights.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I found this one a little bit of a slog to get through. If it is productivity your interested in I would recommend Productivity and 15 secrets above this one. It has useful information but it’s a heavy read.

The Snow Leopard by Alex Deghan

This non-fiction book focuses on the efforts of a conservational team to set up a national park in Afghanistan. It thought me so much about the country and people of which I knew nothing about as it follows the team through remote parts of the country.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

I really liked A Wild Sheep Chase by the same author. It was off the wall and completely random. This book is also off the wall and completely random but so much so that it didn’t make any sense to me. Maybe I don’t have the mental capacity to see what Murakami’s point is here but none of the stories the book followed seems to tie together with any satisfaction.

It is set through one night in Tokyo and follows a young girl through the city as she mingles with musicians, prostitutes and criminals.

The Oregan Trail by Rinker Buck

This one I listened to on Audio. It’s narrated by the author as he tells us about his trip with his brother to retrace the Oregan Trail in a covered wagon. It seemed like a nice enjoyable little trip when I started reading but as I read, I realized how difficult it was to cross the country with a wagon and team of horses.

It’s a great read if you’re into American History.

As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

This was my first Cheat book as I had researched the shortest Audiobooks in my reading list so I could meet my goal. There are some useful snippets and it is something I would probably listen to again. It’s not a big commitment at less than 2 hours.

Siddartha by Herman Hesse

This fictional piece follows the journey of a young man in the time of the Buddha as he practises the life of a holy man, falls from grace and then returns to the life of a holy man. There are some good real-life lessons to take away and it’s a great read if you are interested in eastern spirituality.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This is a real classic which I had never read before and I got stuck into it just before Christmas. It’s such an easy read and I would recommend it for anybody of any age.

Seven Brief Lessons in Physics by Carlo Rovelli

Another short read but it is heavy at times. The main take away for me was the author’s pessimism about the future of the human race. He feels that it is too late for us to change our ways and that we have doomed ourselves as a race. The earth itself will recover he believes but we the people will not.

Buddhism without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor

I found this book to be a drag, though I did finish it. The narrator was not engaging and some of the points were long-winded and uninteresting. Not for me.

Of Mice and Men

This is one of the greatest stories I have ever read and I can’t wait to read more from John Steinbeck. Though it’s not set in a prison, it had a strong feel of The Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile. I can’t quite put my finger on why. It follows two companions as they travel through the southern states looking for work.

A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen

This is more of an essay than a book but it made the list anyway. I didn’t take much from it and feel there are much better books out there on getting to a happy state of mind if that’s what you’re after.

The Great Gatsby by Scott F. Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is another classic which I had never read. I watched the Leonardo DiCaprio movie a few years ago but don’t remember anything from it. It follows the lives of extravagantly rich and self-indulgent people in New York. I didn’t like it and wouldn’t be interested in reading more from Fitzgerald based in this.

The Ocean at the End Of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My second book by Gaiman this year, this is a fantasy book set in modern England telling the story of a boy’s fight against a demon who tries to take over his home. For me this book was only ok. The other books I read by Gaiman (Norse Mythology and American Gods) are much better.

Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

I love this book. The whole premise is that in Japanese culture one cannot master the arts like archery, swordsmanship, flower arranging, painting etc unless they come to a zen state first. The bow could not be mastered through constant practise or physical training but only through intense meditation. It is an idea that I love and think that it applies much more than we realize.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

I have read 1984 by Orwell in the past and though it is a great book, it is truly depressing. Animal Farm is equally dismal and reminds me a little of The Lord of The Flies.

Most of you probably know that it is not a cute story about animals on a farm, yes it is about farm animals but no, it is not cute, as it reflects Stalin’s rise to power and the growth in strength of communism.

Those were my books for the year, to wrap up if I was to pick my five favourites they would be as follows:

  1. Of Mice and Men
  2. The Year of The Flood
  3. A Christmas Carol
  4. The Name of The Wind
  5. The Snow Leopard Project

If you want to set your own reading challenge go search for Goodreads in the app store and set up an account.

Thanks for reading and I hope that you find some use in the above list. We will be back regularly from here on as the holiday is over.

Peace,

George

 

How important is the space you live in to your health & happiness?

We absolutely love our apartment. It’s our little haven from the outside world. To many it would not seem like much, it’s small, old, the floorboards creak, the bathroom is 1970’s pink, the kitchen is the size of a wardrobe & we can hear our neighbours’ conversations through the paper-thin walls. Lol!!

So how could we possibly love a place where there seem to be so many faults? Easy, we have made it our own, keep it tidy & have worked darn hard to get it. When we arrived in Vancouver 9 years ago, we had nothing, only the bags we brought on our backs. A true immigrant story. All the clothing we had was inappropriate for a Vancouver winter which was unusually cold that year, it took us between 8 weeks & 3 months to find work in our fields. We had very little money left by the time we got work. We lived on a shoestring budget for years. We quickly learned the value of our money & how hard we had to work to get the money we needed for rent, food, transport & life.

Going through the above experience was very difficult at times & extremely frustrating as we moved to Canada for a better standard of living than at home and we didn’t see it. Now 9 years later we are finally getting there. My Aunt Kathleen, who lives in California once told me that it takes 10 years at least to set established in a new country. At the time I thought she was mad but now I agree.

We went through career changes, we got married, we had a baby, we lost family members, we went back to school, we took on new courses…. all of these events affected us financially which meant we had to sacrifice in other areas. Where we saved money was rent on our home. We live in a one-bedroom apartment in Kitsilano, a seaside area in Vancouver, which has the feeling of a small town.

Location was an important factor when it came to deciding where we were going to live. We are 2 blocks from the most beautiful seaside with mountain views. We can walk to the beach every day for fresh air, this is what we wanted, nature & beauty on our doorstep.

We absolutely love the location of our home & truly believe it has a massive positive effect on our health. Last night was a restless night with the baby, a nice cold fresh walk down by the beach for an hour really helps with lack of sleep & puts everything in perspective very quickly.

Besides the location of our apartment, I believe the interior of the home can have a huge impact on your health & wellbeing. For us, a clean & tidy home is essential for clarity and relaxation. Recently we have sold furniture we simply didn’t need so we could create more space. We love our less cluttered apartment now. We also have cleared out everything we don’t need or want; we are surrounded by the things we love & need. There are no “junk” drawers or cupboards. Honestly having organised cupboards, wardrobes, closets, drawers & files is so rewarding. In addition, everything remains tidy because we have a place for everything & at the end of the day things are placed where they should be, nothing can get lost this way which avoids time spent looking for things!

We find our home to have a calming effect when we walk in the front door. We have decorated it to our taste & style which works for us. Knowing how hard we had to work to get our apartment & have the luxury to live where we do, its easy to focus on all the positives of our place and ignore the items listed in the first paragraph.

Nowhere will ever be perfect but by keeping your home clean & tidy and surrounding yourself with what you love will definitely have a positive effect on your mental health.

Take a look around each room and see what you love and don’t love. Take your time to remove/replace the unloved items to create space, we need space for creativity & a focused, calm mind.

Create your own little oasis which doesn’t have to cost much, maybe a good clean & purge is all you need to do……it worked for us;-) Oh and brilliant white walls did wonders for our small space. So bright & uplifting.

In Summary, the space where you live doesn’t have to be a mansion or penthouse suite, it can be a 1970’s one-bedroom apartment which you adore by having only what you need & love. Surrounding yourself with love, space & the essentials creates clarity, calmness and relaxation. Therefore, I truly believe your space has a massive effect on your mental health & happiness.

Wishing you all the best.

Chat soon,

Theresa xxx

Reactivity – Don’t Let Your Automatic Actions Control You

In this world of over-stimulation, my nature is reactive. It always has been, even before we had so much visual input and interruptions in our lives my first instinct was always to lash out before I stopped to consider. It begins inside, like a spark which triggers an instant movement, thought or feeling which is usually, immediately followed by an action with no thought. There is no space between the trigger and the reaction.

This space is important. There is great power in this space. Imagine the great tragedies which could have been prevented if people stopped to think instead of reacting immediately?

Quick action does indeed have a place in the world but so does thought and deliberateness.

How do we go from trigger-feeling-reaction to trigger-feeling-pause / think-reaction? We need to create and cultivate space to allow it to expand, grow and develop.

It’s just like decluttering your desk or tidying your home. It can be achieved in different ways but the end goal is to give your mind space to sit down and think about what to do next.

And just like decluttering your home or your desk, take the time to notice the work that needs to be done. Where is the clutter?

Let everything settle and listen to yourself. You will soon see where the issues are, where the cleanup work needs to start. It is like taking all the obsolete information off your computer’s hard drive. What burdens do you need to carry and what can you put to one side or drop completely?

I sometimes find it useful to just sit with my thoughts, almost like the opposite of meditation, I set a timer and sit. I do not allow myself to move or interact with anything but let my mind wander. I let it go where it goes and interact with the thoughts as much as I wish. It helps me see where my worries are and where the internal housekeeping is needed. This can show up in the form of unfinished tasks, worries which have been weighing on my mind or someone I need to contact. The best way to clear them away is to act on them, immediately. If that’s not possible, then schedule a time. This will help create the space.

I will not go into meditation on this blog as we have both written on it before but I cannot recommend it enough. It has changed my life and helped create the space I need for calm, consideration and right action. Have a look at the bottom of the post for some blogs we have written on meditation.

Just like the unfinished tasks I mentioned, unhealthy habits will fill space also. Too much screen time, too much artificial stimulation, bad diet. When I talk about filling the space, I do not mean taking up your time, your time is important but what I mean is bad habits taking up space in your mind. Filling your quiet space with additional unimportant information or data which cannot be cleared out without deliberate action.

It is when we reach a point of no capacity that we no longer have the objectivity to stop and analyze.

We all have bad thoughts (at least I hope I’m not the only one) whether it be anger towards a stranger, judgement towards someone we know nothing about based on their appearance, impatience, selfishness or whatever arises at the time.

These thoughts do not define who we are. It is what we do with these thoughts that defines us. It is how we react and act on our thoughts and impulses that shows who we are as people. We can only be judged by our actions. Someone cuts me off in traffic and I have an urge to honk and pull up alongside them to extend the all useful middle finger and wave it in their direction.

The impulse is there, but so is the choice. I have the choice of whether to act on that impulse or not. If I do not have that space or use that space, I will not make that choice, I will simply keep going and do what automatically happens. I will become a slave to my automatic self.

I am still a victim of my own reactivity, I recently tore one of my favourite hoodies apart just because I did not pause and consider. Incidents like this happen much, much less now but what this shows me is that I still have to work on creating, maintaining, seeing and using that space. You can read my blog on my anger issues if you are interested.

Working on creating this space allows me to take the time and pause before I react. The reaction can be intentional rather than automatic. The feeling, impulse or thought will pass quickly, within a couple of minutes then it will be forgotten but if I act on it I will carry it with me.

Here are a few simple tips to cultivate, maintain and use that space. I hope it helps.

  • Spend time with your thoughts. Search for what needs to be cleared out.
  • Meditate daily to cultivate and maintain the space.
  • Use the space: Stop and examine the feeling or impulse. Think.

Let me know if you have any feedback or if you find yourself in a similar situation to me.

Peace,

George

 

Links:

How can we put down the burdens we carry?

meditation-challenge-40-day-sadhana-your-habits-define-you

a-daily-meditation-practice-make-it-work-for-you

meditation-it-takes-two-minutes

how-i-overcame-my-anger-issues

 

 

 

 

Cover photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Photo by Keegan Houser on Unsplash

Our First Mini Break as a Trio: What We Brought & How it Went

For our family, October is a great month of celebrations, Its George’s birthday month & our wedding anniversary too. We hit the 3-month milestone with our baby in October so we decided to celebrate all of these great events by going on a mini holiday. We wanted our first trip to be easy and as stress-free as possible. That meant no aeroplanes or long car journeys.

One of our favourite places to visit is Vancouver Island, we love it! We would usually go camping & hiking on the island but with the time of year and with a 3-month-old we decided to stay in a nice hotel instead. Victoria is such a great city. We visited during Easter this year for an extended long weekend. We also have friends in Victoria which is another reason why we love to visit there.

The journey from our home in Kitsilano to our hotel in Victoria took about 5 hours total travel time. This includes waiting for ferry. The drive to the ferry in Tsawwassen was about 40 min, the ferry ride is under 2 hours and the drive from the ferry to the hotel was about 35 minutes. This was enough driving for us as our baby was never keen on car journeys from day one.

The week before we left for our trip, we tried giving her a soother for the car…it worked, she didn’t cry for the whole journey. Previous to that she would last all of 5 minutes until she got bored and screamed the house down until I took her out of the car seat. This was the first time we used the soother and it has been a great tool since.

The journey overall was stress-free and the baby was so well behaved. It helped we could get out of the car and walk around on the ferry. There were great family changing rooms and quiet areas on the ferry too. Baby slept on me for part of the ferry ride both ways. We had a muslin blanket and some of her favourite toys for the ferry ride. She laid down on a seat and she played with her toys. This also helped to tire her out;-)

We tried to bring as little as possible with us and it worked. We believe we brought the essential items and we used everything we packed. We had a carry-on suitcase for baby’s essentials, diaper bag & a stroller. In the suitcase we packed:

  1. Diapers (we usually use reusable diapers but for the trip, we brought decomposable diapers instead)
  2. Wipes (We usually use reusable but for the trip we brought disposables)
  3. 6 tops
  4. 4 pants
  5. 2 sweaters
  6. 2 pairs of socks
  7. 1 pair of soft shoes
  8. 10 spit clots
  9. 2 soothers
  10. 2 warm blankets for walks & naps
  11. Her favourite toys (to have for the ferry ride and playtime in hotel)

We asked the hotel to have a crib in the room for us, we were a bit nervous she might want her own crib but she slept fine. It may have helped that we brought her blankets. Usually, in the morning, our baby likes to sit in her chair, instead of bringing her chair we propped her up on pillows at the same angle or sat her in her stroller upright. These were great alternatives than having to bring her chair.

Regarding food, our baby is breastfed, so we didn’t need additional items for that, just Mum;-)

Overall the trip was great, we ordered room service for food as it was easier to entertain baby in the room than trying to do it in the restaurant, we went for strolls around her nap times and went to the pool for the first time as a trio. Easy, stress-free & fun.

The one thing we would do differently next time is that we would get a hotel room with two rooms as when the baby napped we had to be super quiet…..she also likes white noise which really gets to me after 10 minutes;-) I think air b&b would be cool the next time in a 2 bedroom apartment and we would bring food & a travel crib.

We enjoyed our first holiday so much and were delighted that babe adjusted no problem to the different space & the car journeys went well.

Now that we have the first trip down and it was a success, we are excited about our big trip in December when we go back to Ireland for 6 weeks. So, looking forward to it & we feel much more confident about the journey now. I’m travelling solo with babe on the way back so fingers crossed it all goes well.

That’s it for another week.

Have a lovely week & we will chat soon.

 

Theresa xx

 

Using Things Up: Declutter Your Life

Over the past 3 years our purchasing of consumable goods has decreased dramatically. In the past I loved buying skincare, make-up & haircare products. I was attracted to the next shiny “must have” cream, spray, lotion….. The old items would be pushed to the back of the cupboard, out of sight & would sit there for months/years. Resulting in a bathroom cabinet full of stuff, 90% of which were not being used.

Since we started reducing our waste & simplifying our lifestyle we ensure we use up every last bit of product we buy. We don’t want items sitting in our cupboards for months or even years. As you know we live in a small 1-bedroom apartment so space is limited. In addition, we don’t want all the space filled with things, empty space is so calming.

We are finally getting to a stage that we have used up most items in our bathroom cupboard & are left with the items we use regularly. We have given some of the lotions to neighbours & have used up the other products ourselves. It feels so satisfying to completely use up a lotion. We cut the bottle in half to scrape out every last bit. No wasters in our home;-)

The idea of buying something to use for a special occasion no longer is an option. I would buy an expensive lipstick or candle and only use for a special night! Life is too short for that! No more red lipsticks though….1 is enough;-)

My make-up and skincare routine have been simplified. I know the products I love & I use every last bit before I repurchase. Simplifying these areas of my life has been great, I have less decisions to make every morning as nothing changes, I’m ok with that. Too many options for me is a bad thing. Keep it simple. Id rather save my brain cells for other more important areas in my life.

Decluttering our life has made a huge impact on how much space we have in our home & has saved us lots of money. We purchase what we need. Often we purchase items which are multipurpose like castile soap & bread soda, the only cleaning agents you need. I should also mention coconut oil as we use it for cooking & for skincare.

One area that I need to address next is the box of travel size lotions & potions I have collected over the years from hotels & travelling. These need a new home & we need to start using them up. That is one of my new habits is not to take the travel size toiletries from the hotel! I never use them and they are super wasteful.

Have a look in your cupboards & see if there are items which have the same function, try using the old one up first & promise not to impulse buy again. It takes time but the money & space you will save will be worth it. Put the money towards a holiday or dinner with friends instead. The best of luck with the decluttering.

Chat soon,

 

Theresa xxx