New things

The start of fall always brings me a spirit of new beginnings, along with a strong urge to stay inside and eat butter by the stick. I have been discovering a few new things too in the past few months. They are not big, life-changing shifts (not in the right place to leave the 9-to-5 grind and move to an organic farm just yet) but they have brought enough change to my routine to put a spring in my step.

Gave up coffee

This was the hardest! It was motivated by some stomach problems, so not really an independent choice. God I love coffee. And I still miss it, especially when I sip a glass of warm soymilk with my croissant in a coffee shop, which just does not have that bohemian vibe to it!  I am definitely also less jittery though, and the change had surprisingly little effect on my overall alertness levels.

Yes, that’s orzo in there. Also, I have never been to Buenos Aires.

Learning calligraphy

I have always been fascinated by calligraphy, but never quite realised it was a craft that you could learn. Turns out, it is not just that some people have superswirly elegant handwriting, but there are online tutorials for it! Doing calligraphy also feels like a pure luxury. It is not a useful craft (in the way that knitting gives you nice woolly sweaters), does not improve my health and it is not really creative. But it is fun, in an adult-coloring-book way.

Just what I practice while Netflixing

Biking to work

J got me a bike for my birthday and I love it! *rings bell*

Trying new workouts

Since watching Billy Elliot twice in a row, I have been slightly obsessed with dancing workouts! Also I have started on the long and arduous road towards my first pull-up. For now that means a lot of assisted pull-ups (we have installed a pull-up bar in our kitchen door, deposits be damned) and modified push-ups. I am weak! Finally, I have been trying out speed workouts – well, maybe I should say “speed” workouts given my pace – in my morning runs. I still love my yoga, and having all these different options makes it super easy to do something fun every day.

Working 4-day weeks

I am experimenting with working a 4-day full-time job (slightly longer days, an extra day off). This has a slew of benefits, and if everyone did it, it would be a much happier world! I love my job even more for this possibility! We came up with this schedule to help me with mental balance and resilience, and so far I have managed to get on top of all my tasks in the 4 workdays. I also really treasure the extra day, and try not to spend it running errands, but taking a real day off. Of course, #startuplife will always mean an occasional weekend worksession, but overall I am very excited about this change.

Have you been making any changes with the change of leaves?




Summer capsule update

Belgium is famous for summers that are virtually indistinguishable from early October in the rest of Europe. Then, sometimes you have a perfect warm day and you eat ice cream in a green park and all is forgiven. Due to the weather, I could go quite long with my end-of-winter/spring capsule wardrobe.

But I am really proud I took today off work to have a day to recharge, relax, reflect and eat many biscuits, and finally got round to switching wardrobes!

Jackie O’ is shocked at my inability to fold things properly

Here is what it looks like:

It is not 33 new pieces

About 10 of the previous wardrobe made it into this one as well. A bit surprising given how many clothes I still have in the drawer under our bed. I am not as bored with my clothes as I thought I could be, hooray!

Welcome to #neutralland

I love a good print or pattern, but wearing 1xweek a button-up with a print of overlapping galloping horses taught me where my limits lie. Stripes, dots and leopard are neutrals- other than these I can maybe risk one more garish item. I do have 5 white shirts in this capsule as well. Not exciting, but I have learned in the past 3 months that exciting is a bit overrated when it comes to dressing.

Cheat items are allowed

Having a capsule wardrobe and not shopping are not meant to be strict rules that ruin your life, just a little helping towards more energy for the meaningful stuff. So, if I need an elegant dress for one of the six weddings I am attending this year, I’ll not sweat it and just wear it, no need to swap it out. Same for shorts in the unlikely scenario that we have a day that is a) a weekend b) too hot to wear pants. Same even for clothes needed for holidays in countries in a very different climate.

This section of our wardrobe used to be crammed to the brim with 1/3 of my clothes. Now it comfortably houses my capsule (except pants), the few cheat items, my wedding dress, and J’s shirts and suit. Also, yay for color-coding the clothes!

Take a risk

My first purchase after the 3-months shopping ban was a thrifted pair of hot pink office-appropriate crop trousers. Would I normally ever wear something so bright on my beautifully pear-shaped lower half? Nope. But I thought “F*** it, these pants are awesome, they are 7€, they are coming with me”.  And I love them and apparently the world does not collapse if I wear something not “conventionally flattering”.

Do you have a capsule wardrobe? How do you construct each capsule?



Meditation hacks

My two challenges for the month of May were the following:

  1. Not complaining.
  2. Meditating every day.

Nr 1, I probably failed somewhere around the 4 minute mark, but I managed to start (very slowly) to incorporate mediation into my daily activities. I don’t think it was a resounding success though, so I will try to tackle the same two challenges for the month of June.

I am by no means a meditation blackbelt, despite having made it through a Vipassana session last year. Therefore, I am very keen on approaches that make it that little bit easier. Here are some of them that I have found work quite well (as life is about shortcuts and taking the easy way yeah)

  1. Ten deep breaths

As I said, meditating is haaaaard (there goes my not complaining challenge). Many of us struggle with sitting still for half an hour in the morning dark. However, I found that taking ten breaths concentrating on making the exhale longer than the inhale is a great two-minute activity to reset your batteries. I use this during the day when I get overwhelmed, and before going to bed.

How to do it: Sit or stand still, close your eyes and slowly breathe in, then breathe out, trying to make the exhalation equal or longer in length than the inhalation. It is not necessary to take a super deep breath (you’ll end up hyperventilating), but it is necessary to slow it down.

2. Walking meditation

Mindfulness meditation centers around making yourself focus on sensations, noticing them and noticing their temporary nature. I find that doing this while walking to work is helpful in starting the day more grounded and calm.

How to do it: When walking, scan your body from head to toe and notice sensations. The noise of the tram passing you by, the wind in your face, the fabric of your clothes, the waistband of the too small pants you got on the internet digging into your midriff. Notice that all these feelings are temporary, they come and go- come and go.

3. Empathy/gratefulness meditation

I discovered this approach in the  book Empathy by Roman Krnazich. It is a great way of connecting to the world, practising gratitude for all we have and do, and all the people who make it possible for us to have/do these things.

Today, I am grateful for coffee.

How to do it: Start with your morning routine. During each activity within your routine, imagine all the people who stand behind what you do. The corner shop man who sold you the toothpaste, the person in the factory who made that toothpaste, the people taking away your trash after you are done with it. You can also do it with other parts of your day, little by little.

So, do you meditate? Or do you not complain? Any tips for those starting out?



Changing ourselves, changing the world?

Can we really believe that eating organic, shopping ethical and separating our trash makes the world a better place? This video made me think no, not really.

It made me reflect on the purpose and meaning of why I  (and all the lovely people at my local bio market) do what we do.

We choose to put an extra effort into the way we live because our consumer (or non-consumer) choices are an expression of our identity, aspirations and values. Sadly, it does not mean that they have the power to change the way in which industry, companies and societies act. Given the strong, emotionally appealing and empowering messages around individual actions, it is not an easy truth to accept. After all, we have been told that choosing biodegradable sneakers is making a world a better place! The truth is probably more like wearing those sneakers allows us to live our values, feel more empathetic to the environment and therefore live a tiny bit happier and more fulfilling life.

However, climate change, social injustice and environmental destruction is unlikely to be stopped by upper- middle-class Westerners separating their waste and shopping ethically. We need strongly defined and effectively enforced national and international norms. We can and should lobby our decision-makers for action, and make our voices heard. This may require us to go and form communities, work with movements and make some noise, as opposed to defining our actions in terms of consumption and non-consumption. I was quite encouraged by the EU finally looking at ways to encourage/enforce sustainable, sweatshop-free clothing supply chains. This will make a much bigger approach than my wow to not shop or wear second-hand items, which at the same time make me happier than the knowledge that an exploited person made my clothes. But it remains often so easy to confuse the difference between working to live our values/become better people and acting for systemic change.

I’d love to hear your opinions!