Saturday, January 2, 2016

Goodbye, 2015 and Hello, 2016!

I can't believe another year has flown by! I was busy working hard and working lots in 2015... maybe that's why it went by so fast!

Travel highlights:
I started out the New Year in Spain, and stopped over in New York on my way back home.

We had an amazing trip to Battle Abbey in February, and another unforgettable trip to Fairy Meadow in April. We weren't skiing in heaps of powder but the stable conditions made it possible for us to summit lots of different peaks. Mt Butters and Mt Sir William were highlights.

Another amazing day at Fairy Meadow
I went back to Mwanza, Tanzania in July and also got to explore Zanzibar at the end of my trip. And pet a cheetah!

In September, we made another attempt on Mt Assiniboine but were again shut down by weather. Hikes with my parents and delicious meals at the lodge made up for it.

Mt Assiniboine, hidden in the clouds. Hoping for better weather next time!
We spent lots of time in BC. I made a few trips to Vancouver for work and for concerts, I went to Victoria to visit my nephew, I went to a wonderful yoga retreat on Salt Spring Island in June, and we spent 2.5 weeks climbing, biking, and relaxing in Squamish in October.

I made a trip to Toronto for the first time in almost 15 years. I know Toronto is the center of the universe, but I've just never seen much reason to make the trek east. I went to Toronto in 2003 for work-related interviews and to visit a friend from university. That same friend moved back to Toronto from overseas this year and that convinced me to pop by for a visit.

We finished off the year with a trip to southern Ontario to visit Jeff's family. Did you know that the "South Detroit" that Steve Perry from Journey has immortalized in song would actually be Windsor, Canada? Due to the geography around the lakes, Windsor is actually south of Detroit.

Concerts and shows:
There have been three performers that I have always wanted to see live, and I got to tick off two of them in the same year: Madonna, and U2. (The third is Michael Jackson. I am truly a child of the 80s.) We were at the concert in Vancouver where the Edge fell off the stage.

Madonna. Nobody fell off the stage this time...
I also went to a Rachmaninoff performance at Lincoln Center. Other shows I saw this year: Beauty and the Beast, The Book of Mormon, Cirque de Soleil Kurios, The Lion King, and Once. My favourite was definitely Once.

I'm not sure exactly how many books I read this year, but would guess it's around 100. Most of these were young adult dystopian novels which don't merit any special mention.

My husband has been after me to read anything by Alistair Macleod for years. He is best-known for his short stories, but I finally read his only novel, No Great Mischief, and it was wonderful. It was voted Atlantic Canada's best novel ever. It is about two brothers from Cape Breton. That's more than I knew about the book when I started it (I only knew that it was set in Nova Scotia), and I think it's best to read the book knowing only that. So, there you go.

I also read and enjoyed A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. This is the story of a child soldier in Sierra Leone. It is heartbreaking. I followed that up with War Child by Emmanuel Jal, a child soldier and singer from Sudan. He gives a compelling TED talk that is worth checking out. After that, I read Romeo D'Allaire's books They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, which explores ways to end the use of children in war. I also read his book Shake Hands with the Devil. He is Canadian and was the UN commander in Rwanda around the time of the genocide.

I also read The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, who is also Canadian (I just realized I've highlighted 3 Canadian authors). It's about a girl who was captured and sold into slavery. I also enjoyed his book Any Known Blood.

I did not make any major changes in my work, apart from working more than I usually do, and it actually turned out to be way too much. I found that I'd started rewarding myself for working hard by spending more, which is counterproductive. I'm going to dial things back in 2016 and feel lucky that I have that flexibility and control.

Personal Life:
I've made meditation part of my daily routine, and the impact on my life has been subtle but undeniable.

I didn't climb as much as I might have liked to, but I committed to and managed to attend every class in a 6-week movement training course. The main lesson I took away from my instructor is that I have to start trying harder routes and not be afraid of failing. My hardest climb ever was 5.11b, but my instructor would regularly tell me to try a 5.11d or even a 5.12a. And to my surprise, I was even able to do most of the moves.

I'm on my last week of P90X3, and it's been awesome. The routines are only 30 minutes long so it's easy to fit into the day. When I started the program, I could do 15 pushups and 4 pullups. Now, I can do 35 pushups and 8 pullups.

And, 2016?
I'm pretty happy with the status quo. Apart from working less and prioritizing my family, friends and travel, I'm not planning any big changes. I've come up with a budget and will hopefully be able to stick to it.

Thanks for reading my blog, and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Outfit: Christmas Party

My husband had his work Christmas party this past weekend. Luckily, our winter this year has been fairly mild (I mean it was -10 degrees celsius instead of -20!), so I felt like I could wear what I wanted instead of trying to keep warm.

I only had two Christmas parties to go to this year, my work party and my husband's. I actually enjoy going to Christmas parties. It's fun to see my work colleagues in a different context and get to know them better. And of course, I like getting dressed up.

I found this dress on The Real Real. The neckline is more plunging than I'm comfortable with so I put a bandeau top underneath. I love the embroidered flowers and the tulle skirt. 

I've had this Sophie Hulme purse for at least 2 years and it shows almost no signs of wear. It's on the smaller side but easily fits my phone, a lipstick and a cardholder. It's well-made and I love the distinctive details like the keyhole closure and the chain strap.

Outfit details:
Dress: Oscar de la Renta (similarsimilar)
Purse: Sophie Hulme (similar)
How many Christmas parties do you have to go to this year? Do you love them or hate them?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Post: Flowers and Ruffles

An outfit post! Surprise!

I went to the mall for the first time in months to do some Christmas shopping. I also made a stop at Lululemon, and snapped this outfit photo in the dressing room. I find it really hard to take outfit photos in the wintertime. It's too dark and cold outside!

You might remember the skirt from this post. It's still going strong. This is pretty much the same outfit, except with a button-down shirt and booties that fit snug at the ankles.

Anthropologie had a similar skirt earlier in the fall. I'm pretty sure it was featured in one of the catalogs. Unfortunately, it looks like it has sold out. I've linked to the Primrose Midi Skirt, which is similar and very pretty.

Outfit details:
Shirt: H&M, old, (similar)
Skirt: Petaluma Skirt, Anthropologie (similar)
Boots: Frye, old (similar)

 Incidentally, the Zone In Tights and Crops at Lululemon are on sale, marked down from $128.00 to $39.00. These are relatively new to the site and very heavily marked down, which makes me wonder if something is wrong with them. The sales associate told me she thinks it's because they tend to create a "uni-butt", which you can totally see in the model shots. On the plus side, they're very compressive and supportive, and I really like the higher waist. The reviews on the website are pretty polarized, with some people saying they run small and others saying they run true to size. I took my usual size 4 without any issues. 

How has your winter been treating you?

Monday, November 23, 2015

On Meditation and Mindfulness

Yup, you've come to the right place. I realize the title of this post is pretty different from anything I've ever written about on here before.

I started meditating 2 years ago after reading Dan Harris' book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge and Found Self-Help That Actually Works. Yes, Dan Harris, the ABC anchor and correspondent.

The book showed up on my Kindle recommendations. I have no idea why, since I'd never been remotely interested in reading about anything spiritual. The title was intriguing though, so I ended up  reading about Harris' drug-fueled panic attack on national television and how meditation was helpful for him.

Like Dan Harris, I think there are a lot of misconceptions about meditation. I don't think I've ever told my family or my friends that I meditate daily because I'm pretty sure they will think it's weird. People assume that meditation is about trying to stop the thoughts or clear the mind. From my limited experience, I've found it's more about awareness and focusing attention. There are many different types of meditation out there, but I usually just sit for 15-20 minutes each day and focus on my breathing.

Meditation has not been a magic cure-all for me but I find that I notice and enjoy the beautiful things in life more. My husband has told me that he has noticed that I have fewer meltdowns and rant less. Honestly, I view it as a form of mental exercise rather than a spiritual or religious practice.

If you're interested in meditation, Dan Harris' book is entertaining and non-threatening. You might read his book and come away convinced that meditation is not for you. At least you'll have read a good story.

Here are a few other resources which I've found useful:
This is a free online self-guided mindfulness based stress reduction course with readings, videos and guided meditations. After reading Dan Harris' book, I really wanted to attend a MBSR course, which is an 8-week course that was developed by a doctor at the University of Massachusetts many years ago. Unfortunately, for the longest time, I couldn't find a live course that fit my schedule. The Palouse course has been a great alternative.

Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg
There are lots of books out there about meditation and mindfulness. I like this book because it's very simple and straightforward. Other authors who have been highly recommended to me include Jon Kabat-Zinn, Pema Chodron, Mark Epstein and Tara Brach. I have downloaded their books onto my Kindle but to be honest, I have never managed to get more than a few chapters into their books. I actually finished Real Happiness though, and found it very useful.

OMG I can meditate
This is an iPhone app and also a website. The first week and some of the basic meditations are free. You can pay a monthly fee to continue with the rest of the 12-week program and access all of the meditations. I initially found the woman who narrates the meditations and videos very annoying but she doesn't bother me as much anymore. The full access version is on sale through to Cyber Monday.

Have you ever tried meditating? Have you noticed that mindfulness seems to be trending lately?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Outfit: Assiniboine

I bought this dress on The Real Real a few months ago. It came new with tags, and was 60% less than retail. My husband definitely made fun of me when I insisted on taking oufit photos in the snow, but I think it was worth it!

Outfit details:
Dress: Oscar de la Renta, similar at The Outnet in pink floral, blue floralblack and white; similar at The Real Real in blue and green floralpink and white but sleevelessblue, white and red print)
Shoes: Puma, very old
Do you have a favourite vacation spot? Do you like going back to the same places over and over again or would you rather go somewhere different every time?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

And... back to Assiniboine

You might remember that last year, our plans to climb Mt Assiniboine got shut down by the weather. Not to be deterred, we decided to make another attempt at the end of August.

My mom turned 70 this year and my dad will be turning 75, so to celebrate, we brought my parents along. This time, instead of camping, we stayed at the beautiful and historic lodge. I honestly believe this is one of the most unique and picturesque places to stay in the Canadian Rockies. It can be accessed by a 5-hour hike or a 15-minute helicopter ride. Once you arrive, the staff spoil you with gourmet meals and snacks. The days are spent hiking along ridgetops, watching grizzly bear cubs playing in the meadow and relaxing in the sauna. At night, the private cabins and lodge rooms are snug and cozy with real mattresses, fluffy pillows and down duvets. 

Our plan was to climb up to the Hind Hut after my parents left and climb Assiniboine the following day. Unfortunately, the day we landed, we were hit by a blizzard... and it then proceeded to snow and/or rain every day for the next week. Fortunately, the lodge had a free room that we were able to snag as camping in the snow would have been pretty unpleasant. We still enjoyed ourselves, and it's a good excuse for another trip next year.

The cozy Strom cabin. Home away from home.

Delicious butternut squash ravioli. This was just the appetizer!

Lovely views from the Nub (or was it the Nublet? The Nib? The Niblet? Who names these places...)

Grizzly bear cubs with mama not too far behind. Needless to say, this was taken with a telephoto lens!

The mighty Mt Assiniboine, looking very wintry and unclimbable. We'll try again next year!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Outfit: Willow Lane Barn wedding

I love Oscar de la Renta dresses, but I'm not as fond of the designer prices. And while I've noticed that stores like Anthropologie and Banana Republic often carry very similar prints and styles, I was very pleased when I discovered The Outnet and The Real Real

The two sites are very different. The Outnet is the discount version of Net-a-Porter. I've noticed that styles tend to show up on there about 1-2 years after they were current. They stock handbags, shoes and accessories as well as clothing. There are usually a range of sizes available. The items are new with tags, and as such, the discounts are not usually as steep. They occasionally will have additional promotions, like 30% off selected items. You have to pay for shipping and duties, but returns are free and very convenient and easy. 

The Real Real is primarily a consignment site, although I've found new with tags items and sample items on the site which have never been worn. Each item has measurements listed as well as a description of the condition of the item. I've generally found these to be accurate. The prices are quite a bit cheaper than retail, and there is a mix of older items (ie up to 10 years) and current season items. They seem to constantly have an extra 20% off promotion running, and at the end of the month, items are often marked down 30%. Shipping and duties are again extra, and returns are not included. I have only returned one item so far, and I found it to be a hassle. Whereas with The Outnet, you just slap on the DHL label and call for pickup, with The Real Real, you have to make all the arrangements on your own.

I thought this dress would be perfect for my cousin's fall wedding in rural Alberta. It was held in a beautiful wooden barn in the middle of the prairies, only an hour's drive from Calgary. I love how from Calgary you can be in the mountains, the prairies or the badlands in just an hour by driving in completely different directions.

As you can see, the sun was shining and it was a gorgeous autumn day. Some of my family came all the way from Korea for the wedding and it was great to see them again and celebrate with my cousin.

Outfit details:
Dress: Oscar de la Renta from the Real Real,(similar in pink at the Outnet, also reminds me of the Baikal dress from Anthropologie last winter)
Shoes: Nine West, (similar)
Scarf: from Cambodia
Purse: Sophie Hulme, (similar in green at the Outnetsimilar in black at the Real Real