Silver Linings in a Bento Box

When you are sorely tempted to stay in for lunch on a work day because your supervisor or boss is breathing down your neck and has gotten in the bad habit of calling your personal cell phone number instead of the office phone, remember to take a moment out of your day to:

  1. Get something to eat.  I've had to remind people that I'm not a robot and don't run on just coffee/tea.
  2. Stop grinding your teeth.  You're the one that pays for your dental coverage not the manic master delegator that needs a boot up his or her backside.
  3. Breathe.  You've probably been biting your tongue for the last few hours trying to ignore the latest bit of rubbish to come out of your superior's mouth but failed because, well, someone had to be honest with them, right? 
Get into my belly bento box!

Get into my belly bento box!

I was having a particularly bad day at my day job earlier in the week and decided to visit my local Japanese place just across the road for my lunch break - perfect for people watching and practising my non-existent chopstick skills.   

No cheapy sushi rolls for me that day!  I went for a full bento box and it was stupendous.  Just what I needed to forget the hole that was work.  A lovely mix of tempura veggies, warm fluffy rice topped with some tender stir fried beef, a few pieces of sushi, and some teriyaki chicken.  Heaven.  The Japanese sure know how to do comfort food.

I had managed to find one of the only remaining seats in the restaurant and it was, unfortunately, right up against another table and partially blocked off an easy exit for anyone who happened to be sitting at the window seats.  I felt sorry for the lady that was currently sitting at the table but I made a point to move over as far as I could and apologised once she had indicated she needed to get out of there.

Just as I was tucking into a lovely bite of teriyaki chicken, I heard a tapping at the window in front of me and realised it was the same lady trying to get my attention.  She smiled gently and waved.  Surprised, and somewhat delighted, I waved back.  Not sure why she did that but it brightened up the rest of my day even though work itself didn't improve and my boss decided to lose all sense of reason and courtesy.

As I am somewhat of an introvert, I normally do find it difficult to strike up conversations with strangers and offer random smiles (unless you happen to be a child, a puppy, a kitten, or Hugh Jackman).  But I would like to offer a thank you to the kind lady that smiled at me for no real reason as I can now look back on that rather awful Monday and remember it wasn't so bad after all.

So I suppose the lesson is that a day job is simply what it is, and not your raison d'etre, and to offer a kindly smile to someone that may be needing it (makes me think I must have looked absolutely miserable and like death...hah!).

Fishpond 604x90

The Benefits of Doing Things from Scratch

Stored in my walk-in closet sits my box of assorted analogue cameras.  A mish mash of vintage Canon film cameras, a Ukrainian Fed-3, and a heap of camera accessories carefully stored and wrapped away from the dust, dirt, and moisture.  Without the luxury of my own study, this box gets hauled out every so often and its contents emptied out onto the kitchen table we inherited from my husband's late grandmother. 

The simple pleasure of just dusting off or cleaning accessories or a newly purchased camera is in some ways a meditative process.  I often get into this same zone when I am drawing, painting, or kneading bread.  During these times, I sometimes get asked why bother with using analogue film, making your own artwork, or baking bread when you can simply use a digital alternative or buy it from a store.

I believe we could all do with more of a physical connection to our surroundings.  We're always being told to get outdoors more or find new challenges but it is the act of simply doing or creating something from scratch which provides the greatest satisfaction.

Ever made your own loaf of bread?  My favourite kind is an almost no-knead cob recipe, baked in a Dutch oven, producing a loaf with a thick crust that has the loveliest golden brown sheen and aroma.  Surely nothing beats home-made bread.  Definitely something that fills the senses like the loamy scent of the air after an early morning rain or the aromas released at dusk from native shrubs and trees. 

Nowadays we are so used to getting things right away and, yet, we often may not truly find the satisfaction we crave.  Using analogue film and cameras is one way to delay the gratification so to speak.  It's a bit of gamble at times loading the good ol' rangefinder or SLR camera with film and hoping you get some good shots.  At times, I still find working out exposure values tricky but I think I'm getting the hang of it finally.

I love the anticipation of dropping off a film to be processed and scanned.  It's often feels like placing your hand into a lucky dip bag and hoping one or more of those thumbnail sized images on the contact/proof sheet is a winner.  Of course there's going to be some disappointment on occasion but when it works, oh boy, it's wonderful.

Our memories are tied up with so much more than what we visually encounter but we can sometimes be too busy to notice that it's not just the visual qualities but the sounds, smells, and textures that make a memory.  We are shutting out the many cues that trigger our thought processes when all you have is a digital or virtual image of someone or something.  You can look at or read about something all you like but it's not the same as being present in the moment.

During your day I hope you take the time, even for a brief period, to enjoy the people and world around you.  We're all guilty of being too busy or distracted but it won't hurt to feel a real connection every now and then.

Tips for Achieving your New Year's Resolutions

It's that time of year again where you think over what you have accomplished, or not, during the past few months.  For most of us, you probably set yourself some New Year's resolutions late 2014 or early 2015 with the aim of ticking something off the list and, perhaps, rewarding yourself.

Of course, most of the time, the list is abandoned or simply forgotten come the start of the new year.  Why bother, right?  Well, you should, for yourself most of all.  It helps you avoid getting or at least wasting time being in the doldrums and more time doing things other than being in a total funk or a permanently bad mood!

Where To Begin? 

Start off with two lists - yes, two, one for short term and the other for long term goals.

Now, take your list for long term goals for the new year and write down only three goals.  Why only three?  No real reason but, think about it, one goal doesn't seem like enough and five sounds like torture so three sounds about right.  Ask yourself where you would like to be or what you would like to be doing this time next year.  What's your overall focus for the new year?  Improving your health and wellbeing?  Changing jobs or upskilling?  Starting or returning to a creative pursuit?  For myself, I focused on health and wellbeing and my hobbies.  I had been neglecting both for a while as evidenced by my increasing inability to fit into any of my works clothes and the dust collecting on my drawing supplies and half finished writing pieces.

My long term goals for 2015 were:

(1) Run a half-marathon

(2) Become confident enough to display my drawings or show family and friends

(3) Get some of my writing published

Don't worry if your goals don't seem lofty enough or, on the flip, overly ambitious.  This list of resolutions is for you and you shouldn't feel the need to justify your goals to anybody.  You have the whole new year to plan the next steps out.  That's where your list of short term goals will come in handy.

Next Steps

Set your list of long term goals aside and go to your list of short term goals.  Think of what you can do in the next one to three months that can get you on the way to achieving goals (1) through (3).

Here is what my short term list of goals looked like:

(1) Register for a half-marathon at least six months out

(2) Sign up for drawing classes, in person or online

(3) Contact publications, websites, etc I would like to write for

With goal (1), I signed up for the Run Melbourne half-marathon held yearly in July.  That's rights folks - I registered for a running event for the middle of the Australian winter.  Luckily winters are relatively mild in the southern hemisphere so, really, there was no excuse not to. 

The next step was to create or find a training schedule for a half-marathon.  You can find training schedules for all sorts of running distances online or in running magazines or books for free.  I actually used the training schedule provided in a special lift out in The Age newspaper for a promotion on Run Melbourne and it worked out great, well, maybe except for the parts where the schedule asks you to do hill repeats...

For goal (2), I signed up for drawing courses on Craftsy (see, as I didn't have time during the work day or after work to attend actual classes.  Craftsy courses are very affordable and your access to the courses you've purchased never expires.  Definitely something worth checking out if you want something more structured, with regular classes or sessions you can return to time and again.  You are also encouraged to post your art projects on the Craftsy website to share with your classmates.

With the third short term goal, I looked around for websites, rather than publications, that were looking for reviews and general content or filler.  Some websites will pay you per piece, while others will pay you a portion of their advertising revenue, and then there are some which provide you no compensation at all but will give you exposure via a contributor or writer profile or bio.  I tried the third option to begin with to get a feel for what sort of work was out there but I soon transitioned to publishing on websites that give you a portion of their advertising revenue.  Working for free is okay for a little while but, personally, I believe you should be compensated something for your time and effort.

Now I hope you go out there and set yourself some goals for 2016.  Remember your lists of short and long term goals are for you.  You will learn you are more than what you think.  Be it being able to get past that pain barrier when you are running or getting past your reluctance with showing your artwork to a friend or family member.  You can do it!

Best Book I Have Read in 2015

If you want a book that is inspiring and about beating the odds, read Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.  Anyone that has grown up without privilege or social advantage will recognise and appreciate how adversity can shape a person's character, the development of coping skills, and their drive to succeed and overcome commonly perceived disadvantages.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants

Recalling my family's immigrant past, after reading this book, I have learned to appreciate my parents even more and how far my family has come since making a new life in a different country and culture.

I look back now and wish this book had been around when I was 16 years old and questioning my place in the world and where I fit in.

Hats off to Malcolm Gladwell for this great and very profound book.  I hope my children will read it one day also and will learn to appreciate that the best stories may sometimes be sad at the beginning but can end well if we believe enough and put in the work to achieve success.