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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tanzania, again: Part 2

I only had 2.5 weeks in Tanzania this time, compared to 1 month last year. Also, the work week is 5.5 days which makes weekend trips difficult. 

However, I did manage to cram in a 1-night trip to the Serengeti. We went with Mosses from Sange Safaris. The company is locally owned and run, and I was very happy with the experience. We got picked up from Mwanza around 2 PM, drove to the Serengeti and came across a group of lions napping.
They're like giant housecats!
We spent the night at a gorgeous lodge on a hilltop. They were doing a controlled burn of the grass in order to control the tse tse flies (they can transmit sleeping sickness) and all of the smoke in the air created a gorgeous sunset. 

Almost every book about Africa seems to have a picture of a sunset and an acacia tree on the cover. Here's my version, and a few other examples
In the morning, one of my friends had a terrible migraine. While we waited for his meds to kick in, my other friend and I had amazing Swedish massages in an open-air room overlooking the Serengeti. We could see and hear zebras on the grasslands below. Because of our late start, Mosses told us we would not be able to make it to the central or northern parts of the Serengeti. Luckily, we spotted this guy when we were leaving the lodge, right by the side of the road.
My first cheetah!
We spent the rest of the day looking at lots of other animals like zebras, giraffes, elephants, hippos, wildebeast, and crocodiles before making our way back to Mwanza. 

After I finished working in Mwanza, I spent 5 days in Zanzibar. Zanzibar is well-known for its beautiful beach resorts and diving, but I chose to stay in Stonetown. Stonetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's easy to spend hours exploring the twisting streets and wandering past colourful markets, carved wooden doors and coral stone buildings. 

Zanzibar used to be a major hub for the slave trade, and there is a church and a memorial built at the site of the old slave market. Underneath the church, you can see the tiny cells where dozens of slaves would have been crammed together while waiting for transport. It was very sobering to think about how many people suffered and died there.
Monument to the slaves
There are many spice and fruit plantations on Zanzibar. I toured a spice plantation one day, and it was interesting to learn what actually goes into all those little glass jars on my spice rack.  

Fresh nutmeg
I also did a day trip to Prison Island, which is visible just off the shore from Stonetown. Prison Island is home to a colony of Alhambra tortoises. You can feed them and pet them.

Finally, I went to Cheetah's Rock. The website says that it's not a zoo or a wildlife sanctuary, and I would agree that it's something that's hard to define. Many of the animals have been rescued or donated, and the owner teaches about the animals while allowing guests to interact with them. For some of the more dangerous animals, like the hyena, that meant feeding her chicken through the bars of her enclosure. We were allowed to hold and pet some of the other animals, like bush babies, lemurs, monkeys, and a cheetah. It was fun and I was sad to leave at the end of the tour.

I could hear the cheetah purring as I was petting her.

Feeding the bush babies. They liked cooked spaghetti.
I think this will probably be my last visit to Tanzania for a few years, but I'm looking forward to going back again someday.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tanzania, again, and an outfit

I was lucky enough to go back to Tanzania this summer for work. Most of the time, I was in Mwanza. It's not a particularly touristy town, but it's on the shores of Lake Victoria which is very lovely and picturesque (although teeming with schistosomiasis, a nasty parasite that enters through the skin and makes swimming a bad idea).

Mwanza means "Rock City", and true to its name, there are boulders and rocks everywhere. Some of the rocks have names. Dancing Rock overlooks the city and the lake, and it is named that because they have filmed music videos there.

There were no music videos when we visited, but it's an awesome spot to watch the sun setting over the lake.

The skirt I'm wearing in these photos is an African wax print. There are tailors in certain areas of town, and they can make clothing from photos. I found a photo of a skirt I liked on Etsy and picked the fabric at the tailor's shop. She took my measurements, and then the skirt was ready 2 days later.

Outfit details:
Shirt: very old, Smart Set
Skirt: handmade, from Tanzania (wax print but maxi length)
Shoes: Naturalizer
Purse: very old, Banana Republic
Closeup of the fabric

Saturday, August 29, 2015

An Oldie, but a Goodie

As I've mentioned several times on this blog, it's been a long time since I bought anything at Anthropologie. Rising prices, declining quality and uninspiring designs are the main reasons why my Anthro obsession has faded.

I bought this dress in 2012. I fell in love with the pretty, romantic red colour, the feminine details like the ruffles and the tie-neck. Plus it's silk! On sale, I'm pretty sure it was $119 or something similar. If it pops back, the price listed is $9.99 which would be amazing. This is the type of dress that I would love to see Anthropologie offer again...

Yesterday, I pulled it out of the closet for a date with my husband at the Trough. With the ruffles and the tie-neck, I felt like it didn't need any accessorizing. I paired it with simple grey suede pumps.

The Trough is our favourite restaurant in Canmore. The food is amazing and the service is always without fault. There are other restaurants in Canmore which also have good food but the service is often slow and lackluster.

The best part of the meal: dessert. I love sticky toffee pudding!
Outfit details: Anthropologie, Ruffled Oska Dress
Shoes: Nine West, old (similar)