Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Remembering to be grateful and inspired

Monday marked the start of #fallfreedom - a fitness and mindset challenged hosted by the spectacularly amazing Neghar Fonooni. Apart from challenges that are meant to help fill your life with gratitude and happiness, what I've found most inspiring is the community she's created, filled with women that mutually supportive and incredibly motivating. What else could you ask for? Well, I can only think of one thing - a challenge that for women and men, but which is just as welcoming and supportive.

In any case, here's what I've been up to these last few days.

Monday wasn't exactly 'fun' but it was definitely productive. My first dentist visit in over a year resulted in 2 fillings and a higher than expected bill, but on the plus side, I managed to schedule a vision test, close a bank account, and buy a few things from Walgreens on the same visit. I love being able to chain errands together. Work, Portuguese lessons, a workout with M and a warming home-cooked dinner made it a pretty perfect day.

The scheduled challenge today was to start a gratitude journal. I've already got one, so I guess I succeeded by default but my intention was to make the items more meaningful rather than just being "I'm grateful for food", because well, I am, but there are so many other things to be grateful for.

Having decided to head into the city office fairly last minute, the morning was rather more rushed that I would have liked. I forgot my travel mug, but the train journey in was made more bearable by a few corporate finance lectures (because yes, I study sometimes for fun).

I've just discovered Roti which is like a Chipotle clone but with middle-eastern cuisine. I still prefer Chipotle's but at least there are options open. Now to find some more clones with different cuisines available. I'd probably end up cooking even less than I do now if I did though.

The challenge today was to walk 3 miles which I ended up breaking up into 3 sessions: a 1.8 mile walk during a lull at work, a 0.7 mile walk from the train station to nowhere in particular while waiting for M to pick me up, then a stint on the elliptical while on a late night phone call. Still counts.

Hump day. Failed the challenge of waking up without hitting snooze this morning, but at least made the most of my day, starting off with a few stretches like I do every day. Lack of coffee marred my morning routine, but surprisingly I felt OK even with the caffeine withdrawals.

The rest of the day has been dedicated to work and with a workout slotted in just before lunch. Two small loaves of rye sourdough have just come out of the oven, and I have an interactive Portuguese session scheduled for later tonight.

A few days until the weekend but plenty of work and an important presentation to get through before I get there.

Sophie Life Explorer

Live. Love. Learn. Laugh. All with plenty of hugs.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Full bellies and fall freedom

It's the end of another weekend, which is always sad but at least the last 48 hours were well spent. I'll get to that in a moment. First I wanted to reflect on an interactive Portuguese session with Rosetta Stone. It was humbling to say the least: you can learn vocab and phrases when it's multiple choice questions but come a real conversation, it's like your brain stops and there's suddenly a block on all the things you've supposedly learnt. Guess it's all experience and practice.

The weekend itself started off with a well-deserved sleep in, then some time in front of the TV watching the EPL (what a scrappy game Arsenal, but I'm glad we won). I also managed to squeeze in a 12 minute body-weight circuit of burpees, rocking planks, seal jacks and superman holds during the half-time. It felt good to get some morning movement in.

After a small snack and an hour long training session in the early afternoon followed by lunch courtesy of the perfect salad bar at Mariano's (plenty of berries, even though they're not really in season), some game time and a 30 minute yoga session to help my body recover equaled a wonderfully productive, relaxing and rejuvenating Saturday. Fueled with plenty of coffee of course. Where would I be without coffee.

We woke up Sunday morning with an invite for yum cha in Chinatown, Chicago. Of course we accepted! It's been so long since I've been to yum cha that there have been midnight cravings for it. We didn't have high expectation for MingHin, just given the quality of asian food in the USA we've had, but the restaurant certainly delivered.

Most of the classic dishes (har gao, turnip cakes, chicken feet) were true to flavour and downright delicious and even though it wasn't 'health' food, I feel great. There's something homely and satisfying that soothes the soul. Everything in balance.

Strolling around Chinatown felt great - I really do need to explore more of this city that's my new home. I'm a little regretful that I didn't push myself to go outside and walk by the river in this beautiful autumn weather but will make a point to get outside tomorrow, regardless of how busy things may seem.

I'll finish the evening with a 30 minute Forrest flow then it's time to tackle the week ahead. I've committed myself to taking part in a fall freedom challenge to prepare and reset my mindset for winter. Tomorrow is all about gratitude. Seeing as I keep a gratitude journal already, instead of writing, my focus will be on making more meaningful journal entries.

Wish me luck!
Sophie Life Explorer

Live. Love. Learn. Laugh. All with plenty of hugs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chilly weather

The weather is cooling down, there's no arguing that. Thankfully, there's still plenty of warm sunshine to chase the blues away.

I've been spending most of my work time taking baby steps into programming and learning to code using D3. While at a high level programming makes sense to me, with all the steps and intricacies in the logic it's not long before I'm confused.

With the help of an online course, I have managed to generate a chart that updates with randomly generated data - not particularly useful but you've got to celebrate the small victories.

It's the stuff outside of work that makes me happy though:

 a warming bowl of ramen from downtown restaurant, Umai

and the view from the John Hancock building

I've been snacking more than I usually would and have been craving sweet foods recently which is never a great situation to have going on. Then again, I'm craving fruit more than anything so I guess it isn't all bad.

I never did make it to Bikram yoga in the end (work got in the way), but I'm keeping track with my other workouts, even managing a few sprints outdoors by the river today. Motivating comes and goes. but my habits are sticking strong so far.

Now off to dinner with a few Australians - can't wait to be back home for a visit in a few months.
Sophie Life Explorer

Live. Love. Learn. Laugh. All with plenty of hugs.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekends are for relaxing

And that's exactly what I'll do, for the most part. Plenty of time this weekend was spent in-front of the TV catching up on Band of Brothers and grudgingly admitting that M was right and I should have watched it a long time ago.

A decent amount of time was spent enjoying filling, warming food. An equal amount of time was spent moving my body to keep it, and my mind, healthy and strong. Because isn't that what weekends are about? Forgetting work and looking after yourself.

Forgetting work is pretty easy when you have these sights to look forward to during a morning walk.

Sure, the weather is definitely cooling down but nature is beautiful these days.

I'm expecting the week ahead to be filled with learning (JavaScript! D3!) and a few nice dinners out planned.

On the workout front, I'm planning on starting the third and final phase of a program I'm on, may go for a short run if the weather stays nice, will certainly train on Saturday, and have booked in for my first Bikram yoga class and hoping it goes well.

An active week planned so I'll take it easier with my daily yoga, I'm happy just thinking about it all.
Sophie Life Explorer

Live. Love. Learn. Laugh. All with plenty of hugs.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Learning new things

Relaxing on the couch with M, watching Band of Brothers (for the first time) with a glass of wine marvelling at how green and young these actors were before they become famous: James McAvoy, Andrew Scott, Michael Fassbender, Simon Pegg and a bunch of others.

A very good end to a challenging week. Somehow I've ended up learning JavaScript: guess I might as well some new skills in the 'downtime' that I have. The basics seem easy, but it definitely gets difficult, fast.

I took the time out to walk and learn, enjoying the briefly beautiful autumn weather while doing some Rosetta Stone Portuguese lessons. I'm still not sure how much I'm learning from them, but hopefully they'll help me get less lost next time I'm actually in Brazil or Portugal.

On the nutrition front things have been decent. I've had plenty of produce for most meals, and breakfast and lunch have been about 95% vegan (which is a decent success rate in my eyes). There's been movement each day (boxing rounds on the bag, a strength circuit and definitely yoga).

I can't say I haven't been frustrated with how things are, especially regarding work, but that's all part of life I guess. I'm not sure about anyone else, but I've found that I develop most when I'm challenged.

That doesn't mean I don't take the time to make some things easier for myself. New yoga mats are a start (motivation is always higher when there's new stuff to try out).

Oh and taking a decent picture with a light, swish-y hair courtesy of a new haircut doesn't hurt.

I couldn't resist.

Sophie Life Explorer

Live. Love. Learn. Laugh. All with plenty of hugs.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Slowing down

After being all ready to go on Monday, things have taken a bit of a downturn. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but workload has suddenly decreased for the next few weeks and I'm trying to figure out what to do with my time.

For the last few days, the miserable weather has meant I've been mostly confined indoors and so, perhaps understandably, I've been a restless and slightly disoriented.

This is when I'm grateful I've been working on building good habits: I'm still moving to some degree each day (weights circuit Monday & Wednesday, a short jog on the treadmill Tuesday, and stretching/yoga each day), eating plenty of produce, and learning what I can with Portuguese and Corporate Finance courses.

Speaking of produce, I had my first run at cooking with okra.

It's furry, slimy and a touch gloopy. Cooked down though, I must say it's pretty delicious, adding an extra element of flavour and texture to the West African beef curry I was creating. Maybe it's time to try a few more dishes with this interesting and new-to-me ingredient.

The last two days of the week ahead. They've just installed a new boxing bag in the gym downstairs so I'll probably play with that for my workout today. I'll find a yoga flow to ground myself and finally get my hair cut again tonight (it's been well over 3 months since I last tended to it). 

Sophie Life Explorer

Live. Love. Learn. Laugh. All with plenty of hugs.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Motivation for the week

What a difference an productive/enjoyable/relaxing weekend makes. I feel so much more motivated to kick of the week on a good note rather than fall into the Monday blues, both at work and from a personal perspective.

The crisp Saturday morning shined bright and was the perfect send-off for the local farmers' market. We put in our winter meat CSA order, bought some farm-fresh eggs and vegetables, and marvelled at the beautiful, colourful ears of corn.

Last year in California, the weather pretty much sustained farmers' markets all year round. It's a very different story in Illinois, and while it makes the winter sadder for me, at least I have next summer to look forward to. 

A few more errands in the morning was followed up an hour of training at the local Wushu school. I'm finally feeling like my body is getting back into the groove and the tiny, little muscles all along the shoulders, hips, legs and ankles are finally co-operating with me again. 

As a reward for training so hard, I baked Tim Tams! Not really. Well, I did back Tim Tams but not as a reward, but for a bake sale at M's work. They turned out to be a lot of effort, and are nowhere near as attractive as the commercially available ones, but I like to think they're even better because they're made with love (and certainly not because you can't buy them here in the USA without spending a fortune).

Sunday kicked off with a circuit morning workout which is always more fun when M decides to join me in the apartment gym, followed by the chore that is house-cleaning. Lunch and shopping with new friends at the outlet stores to stock up on clothes for the 'cooler ' months (puffy jackets seem de rigour for winter) followed by more baking capped the weekend. 

All that, plus fitting in some yoga and Rosetta Stone Portuguese lessons means I feel accomplished, but rested. Not a bad mindset heading into the work week. 

Time for a few work calls, then a sweaty workout, and more work calls. Monday, you're going to be awesome. 

Sophie Life Explorer

Live. Love. Learn. Laugh. All with plenty of hugs.

Friday, October 10, 2014


What another long week 3 days in Atlanta with plenty of meetings to keep me occupied. Both mornings I woke up in Atlanta though, I woke up almost stupidly early and so managed to get in and out of the gym (circuit workouts in both instances) by 630 am. Productive, yes, but it meant that I was incredibly sleepy by 3pm. Many a coffee was had.

For the most part, I ate well enough, choosing to order oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, salads for lunch and grilled fish for dinner. In practice, being vegan before dinner is incredibly hard. I manage well enough for breakfast, but come a catered lunch spread and options become limited.

If my experiment has taught me anything though, it's how much I appreciated being able to afford to have meat and fish in my diet.

After yet another busy week, I'm glad it's Friday, and I'm glad I'm at home snuggled on the couch, watching M playing a video game. 

Sophie Life Explorer

Live. Love. Learn. Laugh. All with plenty of hugs.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Doing what makes me happy

I must admit that the last few days have been challenging for me. More mentally than physically. Most people don't like not knowing what they're supposed to do and I'm certainly not an exception. It's not so much that work is too hard, or I'm struggling with where am I in life, it's just more generally I feel like I'm not going anywhere.

Sound familiar?

Then I sit down and realise that I'm always going somewhere. I'm always learning and even though most of the time I have no idea where the path goes, as long as I put one foot in front of the other, then I'll get somewhere. I've tried setting large goals and have found that it's only ever been somewhat helpful.

Maybe it's time to figure out what makes me happy.

Sweaty exercise makes me happy. Stretching makes me happy too and right now I'm enjoying/needing to free up my hips (this and this have been wonderful). Being restricted to vegan food (even if it's only for a few meals) doesn't make me happy, but eating lots of produce does. Tea makes me happy, so does coffee. Learning new things and breaking down problems also makes me happy. As does vegging out in-front of the TV and playing games.

So conclusion: plenty of things make me happy and for now, living a happy, healthy, loving life is enough. I'll find a big goal to chase one day, but not today, and that's perfectly alright. 
Sophie Life Explorer

Live. Love. Learn. Laugh. All with plenty of hugs.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Weekend Musings

Weekends always feel too short, I think we all need 4 day work weeks, and 3 day weekends. I'm still trying to figure out what to do when the weather gets even colder given how freezing it is, and quickly it got so. 

Thankfully there's always warm curry mee to sooth the soul. So, maybe my vegan plan got derailed this weekend. Between beautiful Malaysian food, and large home-cooked breakfast, there really was no argument. 

My goal is to eat less meat in general, so I guess that affords me some flexibility. Speaking of flexibility, a little wine is always appreciated at the end of a long week. I'm still learning to appreciate Californian reds given I'm used to the robust Australian reds. 

Everything in balance though - I did make time to go to training (which I've been missing), walked for 2.5 miles on the treadmill while watching TV, and stretched our my poor muscles with some relaxing yoga flows. Just enough to keep active and my body mobile. 

I still haven't planned out my meals and workouts for next week, and really should given I'll be on the road again for a bunch of the time. I know that I'll have to otherwise keeping on track will be more challenging than it needs to be. But sometimes motivation is just lacking. 

Thinking about my goals for the month though might get me back on track. How about: 
  • 20 minutes of yoga each day to treat my muscles 
  • As much produce as possible before the winter hits for my health and to nourish my body
  • Setting enough aside enough time with myself to figure out what I need
Sophie Life Explorer

Live. Love. Learn. Laugh. All with plenty of hugs.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Cincinnati, OH

Back from a quick work trip across to Cincinnati. After a smooth, and short, plane ride from O'Hare, a taxi to the hotel and checking into the hotel, I was ravenous.

At least the view from the room was somewhat decent.

Looks at those pretty red leaves on the trees. 

My grumbling belly reminded me that I really should eat. Being on a university campus surrounded by hospitals (because it was the only reasonably priced hotel in a reasonable location), my options were pretty limited.

Keeping to my experiment though, I ended up at a soup joint and ordered from the very minimal vegan selection a vegetable wrap and 7-bean soup. Enough to keep my belly happy, but not really enough to satisfy my meat cravings.

Those I satisfied with a massive dinner steak. Not pictured, mainly because I forgot before I dove into it.

Back at the hotel, I marveled at the ancient technology:

Although secretly, I'd love to have one of these in my home, regardless of the fact it'd get zero use. Having not done much movement all day, I made use of the free weights in the hotel gym and got a fun 25-minute dumbbell workout in, then stretched out with a 20 minute yoga floor before well and truly collapsing into bed.

Between meetings and calls, lunch with clients, and travel, today hasn't been quite on point. There are small wins though; I managed a 30 minute yoga flow, and had a decent oatmeal breakfast (with a smidgen of brown sugar) and snacked on a salad at the airport (because really there weren't other options). 

Some Gracepoint, stretching and I'm off to bed nice and early. 

Sophie Life Explorer

Live. Love. Learn. Laugh. All with plenty of hugs.