25 Dec 2013

Happy Holidays!

I had meant to post this earlier in the week but I've been busy running last-minute errands (like surely most of you have), and... then got caught in the holiday spirit and ended up all baked out! Come Christmas, Easter, birthdays and other party celebrations, I am pâtissière in residence, delighted and proud to be assigned to bake those gâteaux, cream cakes and other sweet nothings for friends and family who come and ask for more (best compliment!)... and this Christmas has been no exception!

I put together a tropical classic, namely my Cool Coco Yule Log (back by popular demand!), this time served with a fresh zingy litchee, carambola (starfruit) and passion fruit salad, yum! There was also a 'novelty' Kugelhopf that I baked from scratch for afters - 'novelty' cos I had never made one of those before and cos I used candied Corsican citron (citrus medica) in lieu of lemon rind.

Oh, and I won't even get started on those naughty but nice canapés I whisked together by the tray last night for an apéritif with a difference, juggling melba toast, paper thin slices of walnut bread and bite sizes of gingerbread, covered in anything from homemade tapenade to mushroom and mustard pâté, salmon and ginger paste (had to make allowance to the non-veggie amongst us!) topped with sundried tomato shreds, via fig preserve and other spur-of-the-moment spread concoctions of mine!

Got sloshed with mum on cherries soaked in kirsch (cherry brandy) later on last night after dessert and that was fun too! Anyhoo hope you had/ you're having a great Christmas wherever in the world you are right now, and that you will end up the year in style and on a high note! If 2013 ever was a bit 'so-so' for you, then don't linger on the bad bits and tell yourself that the coming year is gonna be a rocker! If you hang around this blog, I promise you loads of more uplifting 'Inspire Aspire' moments, and we'll sail that coming year on the crest of the wave together! Mwaaah for now, peeps!

17 Dec 2013

Inspire Aspire - Practice Gratitude

Gratitude, an awe-inspiring, slightly enchanting word, asks us to reflect upon, embrace and express gratefulness for what we already have in life, to count our blessings and adopt the 'Half-full glass' approach. Sounds pretty easy, yet many of us relegate it to the back of our minds in our never-satisfied quest for the next thrill, the next material purchase, competing with the Joneses and mistaking 'what is' for 'what should be'.

'Moog 2012', by DKNG Studios

Let's start off with our current situation in relation to gratitude:
  1. If you are already practicing gratitude to a 'T', this article will only encourage you to keep going at it (as a daily exercise), and consider gratitude as a positive affirmation that leads you onto the right path to a better self. Gratitude will reverberate and attract good things into your life and bring abundance - if it hasn't already!
  2. If you are a novice in the field like yours truly, I humbly suggest that we join forces for the journey of self-discovery and appreciation, and keep nudging encouragement to one another along the way!
  3. If gratitude hasn't been on your radar lately for one reason or another, it's never too late to remedy this in a few easy steps and for no longer than a couple of minutes a day! Practice makes perfect.
As we're rounding off 2013, now is a good time to unwind, take a quiet and solo moment out of our day, stay kind to ourselves while taking a non-judgemental look at the whole spectrum of our personal achievements over the last 12 months - that means the biggies and the teeny-weeny bits - and then extend our gratitude to those achievements. Then embrace other areas of life in other time sequences for which we are grateful. Open up our heart and express gratitude firstly in our head and then on paper (in a little notepad) in such a way that this will prepare us to hit the New Year in a positive vibrational mindframe.

'Retrospector #4', by Jazzberry Blue, via Society6

A wise humble monk and interfaith scholar, Brother David Steindl-Rast has demonstrated to us lately that only gratitude brings happiness. Not the other way round. This is worth a ponder. Live in the now and be grateful for what you have. "It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It's gratefulness that makes us happy." (DS-R).

In my journey of self-discovery and personal development, I have come across the importance of gratitude from varied converging sources. Celebrated life coaches, high-profile mentors and self-help consultants will either bring it to our attention at some point or repeatedly drum it into us as part of the process that will kick-start us into gear to achieve what we most dearly want out of life! Louise Hay, Bob Proctor, Jack Canfield, Marianne Williamson, Marie Forleo, Mastin Kipp, Gabrielle Bernstein, Karen Salmansohn and countless others praise the power of gratitude. Jack Canfield even packages it up nicely into a Daily Gratitude Journal, where you are invited to list five things you are grateful for daily, with the addition of inspirational quotes to keep you going.

'Thoughts of Future' by Lindsey Carr, via Artboom

I got myself a little pad and I invite you to do the same. In that pad, I collect nice positive uplifting things: thoughts, quotes, quips, creative endeavours (poems, doodles), wishlist, dreams - and my gratitude list. I have what I call 'my core gratitude list' which features 10 things I am most grateful of in my whole life. And then at the end of each day I consciously set aside a moment of 're-alignment' with myself, where I mentally list things that happened during the day and for which I am grateful and proud. You may write down your daily gratitude items if you so prefer.

Yesterday I expressed gratitude for that cute little Jack Russell Terrier pup and his mum whom I came across on my country walk with my own pup: that bouncy little guy made my day! I also expressed gratitude for the fact that my insurance company had refunded me for a policy misquote (a nice surprise through the post!). I was also grateful for the lovely sunny weather (something you do appreciate after 16 years spent in the rainiest city in the U.K., namely Manchester!).

As you can see, gratitude doesn't need to come all trumps in big flashy letters like being thankful for that great friendship or living the dream (whatever this might be). Gratitude also incorporates the more mundane and subtle aspects of life, like a beautiful sunny day or crossing the path of a rare wildflower... or that of a puppy!

“Gratitude is the law of increase, and complaint is the law of decrease.” - Florence Scovel Shinn

9 Dec 2013

Nobody's Girl (Part 2)

I befriended total strangers from the Facebook groups and communities I had joined, and around a common passion we built a rapport. I wouldn't call it friendship, just exchanging a polite comment or two, clicking a 'like' on their page or promoting their business to the rest of the crew. No high expectations, no disappointment to be had, no shared history and other luggage. It actually made it easy for me to make friends with those. One was a talented Africa-based wildlife photographer, another was a shark advocate biologist from South Africa, another an interiors designer from NYC, there was also a motivational business coach from Australia. All in all, these people weren't gonna be the cause for my exasperation and FB PBs (Problems)! I was gonna be the cause - my own best/ worst ennemy.

Crystal Renn for Vogue Mexico, April 2011, photo by David Roemer (Pict source)

As weird as it may seem, my problems were going to stem off my snooping on my 'real friends' and in pure drama queen stylee, escalate till they made me ill. Real friends: we share common history, we are invested in the relationship on one level or another, we may have vested interest in that relationship, and besides it is hard not to have (high) expectations off them. High expectations invariably lead to disappointment and resentment. You get it.

FB brings to light areas of our friends' personalities we might have chosen to ignore, given the choice, things that had actually been staring you in the face all along until they got splashed out for all to see, like, share, comment upon or ridicule.

I know me. I know what I'm like. Especially whenever feeling bored and lonely. Start clicking on those friends' profiles and examine them carefully, look at them photos and read them captions, and hop off a tangent to their own circle of friends, and repeat the process. Before I care to realise, I am playing detective, piecing together bits of info, clues, codenames and links to achieve 'the bigger picture', a distorted Grail of truths and untruths - and misunderstandings galore! These findings - no matter how true - won't make me a happy bunny.

Lost and found again... Britney Spears (Pict source)

Then I go back to my FB page to find out that my witty quip only got one 'like', and this wasn't even from one of my fave friends! Then I notice that a friend posted a naff acronym as brief as 'WTF!' and straight away gets 15 'likes' and half a dozen comments! Yeah, FB hardly rewards the Shakesperian-inclined. The closer to trash TV you stand, the better you stand a chance to be noticed.

Then my obsession turned to resentment. I thought, I believed, that so-and-so would love that music tune from back in the party days but nope! Besides it looked like everyone else on FB was having the time of their lives, whizzing a quick update between parties, accessorised with the best arm candy in town, while I - poor I - was stuck on my laptop still trying to figure out who had got lucky with whom... Nat, it was time to get a grip, for goodness sake! I am no teenage wallflower, I'm actually old enough to be her mum and know better!

I'd wanted out for a long time already, realised I had been unable to pace and trust myself with it, unable not to get my imagination into overdrive, caught in paranoia and a drama I'd created for myself. FB made me ill.

Vintage Rotary Phone, via Anthropologie

Then a seemingly insignificant caption finally nailed it for me, after I had unsuccessfully tried to distance myself from FB. Randomly snooping, I found out that a male friend had posted a photo of some girl he fancied and captioned it 'She's my girl'. And this had an effect on me. I came to the realisation that everyone in that circle had (or seemed to have) someone special, that mattered to them, no matter what.

In the stark light of my computer screen, I came to the realisation that - on the contrary - I was nobody's girl and this had been staring me in the face for a long time - as clear as you can get. And sadly my self-love and self-esteem had brittled away with it. I came to realise that I'd been hoping to be noticed, cared about, loved, made to feel special. To matter. Suddenly it felt like no-one gave a f**k, so I might as well deactivate that account and no-one will even notice.

October had been a stressful month for me for other reasons, and one night I decided to stop FB from taking over my life and erode my self-worth any further. I unfriended a pack of so-called friends and then I deactivated the goddamn thing. I felt better instantly. Relieved. Off the delete tsunami, I reconnected with someone who showed their concern.

Twinkle, Little Star! (Pict source)

Meanwhile I am not ruling out that I won't reactivate my FB account in the near future - but this will only happen when I feel ready and in control - rather than controlled by it! Until then, I will happily stay away. Social networking has brought to the fore the fragility and ambiguity of friendship. It has also brought to the fore the fact that true friendship should not rely upon the likes of FB or Twitter & Co. in order to thrive, nor should social media dictate the value and depth of a friendship.

As for being Nobody's Girl, I'll take that back. A girl, whatever her status - single, married, divorced or widowed - is not nobody's girl. In fact, she cannot be nobody's girl. She is somebody's girl. She is hers, herself, her own. She comes into her own by being her own girl. You'll never walk alone again once you've realised that you have yourself by your side. Stand proud and walk the line!

Nobody's Girl (Part 1)

Something had to be done. I was down that rocky self-love pilgrimage like I've been for the best part of 2013, when I came to the realisation that Facebook wasn't/ couldn't be a part of my journey anymore and I had to let it go. For the second time - and yes I should have known better that first time around.

Heidi Klum tells it as it is!

Oh, Facebook and I had been in a complicated on-off relationship since 2008. I signed up to it originally under false pretences, namely due to my job in marketing, where the team were encouraged to 'promote' certain causes and raise awareness in our 'me' time and connect with PR/ design execs and marketing affiliates. Work colleagues and personal friends and acquaintances got intermingled on my friends list, sitting side by side on my screen and leaving me slightly unnerved at the 'friend' tag that suppliers, clients, co-workers and bosses suddenly fell under. This 'one size fits all' tag devalued the very notion of friendship - whose value I hold with high regard.

Before long, one of our PR agents was happily streaming her bar-mitzvah photos by the truck-load, while - in a case of unvoluntary voyeurism - I would also witness co-workers' holiday snapshots and their family time intrusion onto my timeline activity stream blurred boundaries further. I think that back in those early FB days, the concept of filtering hadn't reached any of us just yet.

The Blogcademy Melbourne, via galadarling via Flickr, photo by Lakshal Perera

I tried to play it cool and started to pretend to be myself on FB, unveiled the real I beyond the marketing girl, and then exposed my community to my 'likes' and 'shares' and (carefully-written) notes. Problem is, I liked the unlikeable: Courtney Love, Queens of the Stone Age, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, A Perfect Circle, Slipknot, etc. My music tastes weren't obviously gonna cut the mustard as they weren't in line with the company's brand image, core values and product offering - and NO I didn't happen to work for Interscope or Roxy or Converse!

I got tired of being pigeonholed cos of likes I was supposed to dislike and dislikes I was supposed to like. I wasn't gonna play games anymore. I had the outcome all mapped out in my head. One night, I unfriended each one of my 'friends', painstakingly unliked my likes, deleted every post I'd written, every comment I'd added, until I got my FB page to its bare bones. Then I deactivated it.

'Pangolin!', photo by BTphotographic (Benjamin Tupper), 24/03/2013, via Flickr

Roll forward four years. Surprisingly in the interim FB had still managed to seep into my inbox, advising me from time to time about a friend who wanted to 'friend' me. My account was deactivated - not closed. In late Summer 2012 I gave FB another chance, mainly in order to keep easy contact with a couple of friends from overseas - without the costly phone bills or hassle of email.

Then my circle widened up to co-workers, exes, former friends and about everyone and anyone. In my quest for popularity and to bridge that void within, I threw caution to the wind and went for quantity over quality! Besides I seized the FB opportunity as a channel to broadcast wildlife and animal welfare causes close to my heart - and this really resonated with my value system: charities and NFP organisations, environmental foundations, business networking groups... Shark-friendly advocacy communities... Cool fashion and lifestyle brands like Roxy and Billabong... Amazingly I made 'friends' with some cool dudes whom I had never met in real life. So then, what was gonna bring me to end it with FB? (to be continued)

Further Reading on the Adverse Effects of FB: 

A Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela passed away peacefully a few days ago, aged 95. Peace had been his disarming strength and an inspiration to all of us. Starting off a young promising lawyer with the wrong skin colour, he - like Martin Luther King - had had a dream of a better world.

Nelson Mandela (pict source: Getty)

Mandela disapproved of the apartheid instored in his home country of South Africa and, as a result of his 'subversive' ideas on peace and freedom, was sent off to a penitentiary where he would serve 27 years for 'the crime' of defending race equality between white and black and the educational and work rights they deserved. Mandela would be made to break rocks as punishment, yet his spirit would remain unbroken. Eventually international pressure got the better off the government in place and the president bowed under pressure to free Madiba (as he was affectionately known as) - and the rest is a piece of history immortalised.

'365 Days of Hand Lettering : Day 167' by Lisa Congdon

Mandela could have harboured resentment and angst and revenge as he came out a free man in a country that had taken away his civil rights and a big chunk of his life, but he arose a hero, humble, reflective, wise, sporting a contagious smile and grand ideas for his country. His life took a turn for the better, as the new president of his home country, winner of the Peace Nobel Prize, and a living model of unity and equality, transcending racial origins, religious views, political afflilations, as he would rub shoulders with heads of state from British royalty to Bill Clinton via Fidel Castro. He would meet up with The Dalai Lama, The Pope, and 'A' List celebrities would come visit him.

Nelson Mandela became a symbol of redemption and reconciliation and the example par excellence that if you believe in and defend your ideas strongly enough, no hurdle will stop you.

2 Dec 2013

The Fast & The Gone Fast

Oh my, just found out about Paul Walker's fatal car crash in Valencia, California, aged 40! Gone so soon and too young to die - like James Dean, back in the day.

I'd always had a thing for the star of the Fast & Furious franchise, more than I did for Vin Diesel, I must confess. Paul was my secret crush, the regular guy next door, supa easy on the eye, with bleached surfer looks, a gaze you could dive into and lose yourself, a contagious smile, love for speed and daredevil action, and with more than a spark in the eye! Aside his filming career and Davidoff modelling stint, he was also an educated and big-hearted chap, involved in humanitarian projects - and - an animal lover. All in all, he would wipe out my disaster catalogue of exes and elses with his charm, style and substance as fantasy boyfriend material! He was that kinda guy who had that kinda effect on a kinda girl like I. I would have brought him home to meet the parents, no problem! Rest in Peace, dude. You will be sorely missed by zillions of us. Condolences to your loved ones. And stick to the slow lane, up there in Heaven!

Paul Walker in 'Vehicle 19', Ilze Kitshoff - Ketchup Entertainment - via Los Angeles Times