Anxiety · Berlin · Decluttering · Environmentalism · History · Mental Illness · Minimalism · Nature · New Year's Resolutions · Overseas · Photography · Recovery · Stress · Teaching · Tourism · Travelling · Veganism · Winter · Writing · Zero Waste

February in Review.

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February raced by in a rush of grey sleet, cold days and blue skies. We experienced the Berlin tradition of Sunday brunch for the first time at a café at the end of our street, I achieved one thousand unbroken hula-hoop reps for the first time, and I have taken up a consistent yoga practise again. I am looking forward to when one of my colleagues at work starts up her Yoga for Wellness club for staff again in the coming weeks, to bring more structure to my practise. Keeping a daily gratitude journal is helping me to stay aware of those many moments in my day that make me feel fulfilled and happy, and to learn not to take them for granted.

Early in the month, I was formally observed at work by the Berlin & Brandenburg Senat alongside my other colleagues in our department, and passed without any comments for improvement. Going through this process led to me being awarded the Certificate of Excellence in Teaching at the German standard. This means that I will not need to be formally observed again for as long as I teach in Berlin. I was grateful for the comments passed on by those who observed my lesson, who told me I seemed calm, assured, and that they were impressed by the excellent lesson that I taught. Afterwards, I cut a fringe back into my hair, and began to talk openly about veganism when asked about it by my colleagues, an experience that so far has been very rewarding. I am trying to be honest, helpful, and unapologetic.

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A freezing walk along the Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery and across Oberbaum Bridge.

The mornings and evenings are fast getting lighter, and I am bringing more space into my morning routine by setting my alarm five minutes earlier each day.  On Valentine’s Day, Dillon met me at Bundesplatz station with flowers, and has done so again since, reminding me of how much joy I experience seeing flowers in vases around the home. We are using some of the glasses that were provided with our apartment rather than purchasing new vases. Yellow tulips are among my favourite springtime flowers. We are lucky to live so close to a florist that sells high-quality and reasonably priced cut flowers, and next month I am excited to introduce new potted plants to our home.

We also added a diffuser to our home, and I am appreciating the bright sunlight and clear skies outside our windows while sitting warm inside, while the temperature outside hits below -10°C. I discovered a ten-hour recording of pouring rain and a thunderstorm on YouTube, which we listen to at night while falling asleep. We are listening to the audiobook versio of Soulful Simplicity by Courtney Carver, read by the author, and saving jars to reuse as food containers. I am trying to focus on earth colours and tones: brown, green, glass, wood, to bring a consistent calming atmosphere into our home. Next week the temperature will not rise above freezing, but I hope that Spring will arrive in March, and Winter will melt away with the buds sprouting from the once-frozen ground.

25th February 2018.

Anxiety · Berlin · Decluttering · Mental Illness · Minimalism · Nature · New Year's Resolutions · Photography · Stress · Teaching · Travelling · Veganism · Winter · Writing · Zero Waste

January in Review.

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My priority for January was Energy. I focused on pushing myself to show up with energy and enthusiasm every day of the month, which helped me to power through the cold and dark weeks in Berlin. I have often found this to be the hardest month of the year, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that, but having a value such as Energy to aspire to for the month helped me focus on making the best start to 2018 that I could.

Beginning the year on the right foot was important for me, so I pared down the final few unnecessary belongings I had brought with me from Japan, and then worked hard to keep our new home organised and clutter-free. I cut down the number of sites and blogs I visit online by unsubscribing from mailing lists, removing bookmarks, and using a blocksite add-on. In February, I want to consider how I choose to spend my time online, and whether it can be better spent elsewhere (pretty sure I can guess the answer to that already).

It was essential for me to develop a healthy sleep routine in preparation for starting at my new job, and now I find myself waking up every morning naturally, just before my alarm is due to go off. On top of this, I challenged myself to get some fresh air and exercise every single day this month, as well as to push ahead with my hula-hooping core work indoors, both of which I achieved. Of course, I also kept up my vegan lifestyle through January.

Taken at Charlottenburg Palace Gardens and Grunewald, Berlin.

Finally, I also worked incredibly hard at staying in the moment, rejecting ruminating on the past or worrying about the future as much as I could. Bringing awareness and intention to this habit helped me to go a long way towards breaking it. In the end, I didn’t manage to get to the swimming pool like I planned, because I decided it was not a financial priority for January, but I did at least get round to buying a swimming costume in the right size, which is a start.

4th February 2018.

Anxiety · Berlin · Mental Illness · Nature · New Year's Resolutions · Photography · Winter · Writing

Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin.

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Berlin in winter is cold, grey, still and quiet.

There are sheets of ice across the lake in the gardens of Charlottenburg Palace, sparrows blaze their calls in the thornbushes, empty mussel shells litter the burrow of an otter or water vole, and a pair of white swans break the glassy surface of the water as they glide under a wrought-iron bridge.

January is coming to an end, and the first month of the new year is almost over. We are growing hyacinths in clay pots on the windowsill, and fresh-cut tulips splash colour in a vase. The lamps are on throughout the day in an attempt to replace the sun.

I have started teaching. It has only been two weeks, but it feels as though I have worked here much longer. We wake in darkness, I ride the train in darkness, there is a deep purple light on the horizon as I enter the school building, and it is dark again when I leave. It snows often, raining huge flakes that send a tumult of joy through the corridors, but it does not last.

We are very happy here. We spend our weekends exploring natural spaces, and treading cobbled streets intersecting neighbourhoods that bridge East and West. Our residence status here is secure, and Dillon has another publication imminent. We are concentrating on saving, on strengthening, and on cherishing one another. I worry less, and experience more.

21st January 2018.

Environmentalism · Minimalism · Politics · Veganism · Zero Waste

Why I am a Zero Waste Vegan | It Should Not Be Controversial to say that Your Convenience is not worth a Global Catastrophe.

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With the global stress-induced migraine that was 2017 closing in, and the New Year ahead, full of hope and promise, I have been reflecting on my resolutions for 2018. Oddly enough, this year has been quite successful for me and my personal progress, so, with the aim being to shed some residual resistance before January, I have decided to start as I mean to go on, and turn this photoblog into a functioning website. I should preface this article by stating clearly that I am just beginning my zero waste journey, so (much to my perfectionist regret) I can in no way pretend to be an expert on the subject. I tried to shoehorn a Brexit reference in here, but snappy wit has never been my forte, so I’ll just be direct about it.

I am perhaps what is best described as a zero waste toddler. It was not so long ago that I was happily buying sodas from vending machines, unthinkingly giving my money to corporations that hugely contribute to the environmental destruction of the planet, and undertake human rights abuses towards their workers. Now I have learnt the word ‘No’, and I intend to use it liberally and unashamedly. Furthermore, I am far from the first person to reference the fact that our planet simply cannot sustain the levels of consumption demanded by a small proportion of the world’s population. The conclusion I have come to – and it is far from original or radical, though others may dispute this – is that I believe veganism and zero waste are fundamentally interconnected lifestyles, and that the most important action an individual can take to preserve the planet’s resources – water, land, energy, fossil fuels, clean air, human health and animal welfare, and to protect the environment as a whole – is to stop consuming animal products entirely.

Whether one does it for health, environmental, or animal rights reasons, if one cares enough about any of these issues, one should at least consider how they can begin transitioning to a vegan diet. For reasons that I cannot quite understand beyond aversion to inconvenience (also known as the “but bacon!” excuse), that remains a controversial statement for some. But we must understand that it is not a radical theory or a snowflake’s opinion that our planet is warming, the sea levels are rising, species are dying out, coral is being bleached, plastic is being dumped into the ocean where it strangles seals, chokes turtles, breaks down into microplastics that are consumed by birds and fish (and, of course, fish-eating whales, dolphins, and humans). It is happening right now. Not in the future. Right now.

Human impact is to blame, and we have a responsibility to do something to change the established order of things if we intend to preserve this planet for future generations of all the animals (both human and non-human) that call Earth home. We have enough food to make sure no one in the world need starve to death, but not while a small proportion of the planet’s population maintain their demand for meat. The most common causes of death and disease in richer nations stem from poor diet choices. We have the ability, the opportunity, and the responsibility to make a change.

Clearly, living on Planet Earth means that one must consume some things. The point of zero waste is not to achieve an impossible standard of perfection, but to make as much of a positive impact to minimise waste as is possible. I have found Bea Johnson’s “5 R’s” of zero waste to provide an extremely helpful guide to the essentials of the movement:

  1. Reduce what you need (e.g. meat and animal products; new consumer purchases)
  2. Refuse what you do not need (e.g. single-use plastics including plastic bags, bottles and cups, paper napkins, flyers and tissues; consider shopping in bulk and bringing your own containers, or making your own cleaning products)
  3. Reuse what you already have (e.g. wear what you already own, rather than buying new clothes; worn-out old clothes can be cut up and used as cleaning rags)
  4. Recycle what can be recycled, learn and follow your local area’s recycling rules. Recycling is better than landfilling, but not a perfect solution. The aim is to have accumulated as few materials that need to be recycled as possible, since plastics can only be recycled a limited number of times before they are landfilled, and they will never disappear from the Earth, only break down into smaller microplastics that are consumed by other living things.
  5. Rot the rest (i.e. compost organic waste)

I am far from perfect, and I make mistakes constantly, but I am trying to see my transition to a zero waste lifestyle as a journey. I will be learning as I go, giving myself the grace to accept that I will struggle, and I will not be an expert right away, and recognising that I will never be perfect. Ultimately, though, I want to live lightly on the planet, and to not see the day when the animals I loved as a child die out, or when the beautiful coastlines of the countries I have called home – and the houses, businesses and lives that go with them – disappear under rising sea waters.

One thing I know for sure is that avoiding such a future is worth any amount of inconvenience to me. How about you?

References:

Day Trip · Japan · Kyoto · Nature · New Year's Resolutions · Overseas · Photography · Travelling

Kyoto, Japan.

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We saved the place I had been looking forward to visiting most in Japan until our last week before leaving to travel to Germany. Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, felt very different from Osaka. It was extremely cold, despite the blue skies and sunny weather, so the boulevards decorated with Christmas lights and wreaths felt very appropriate. We visited Gion, the traditional geisha area of the city, which is still full of old wooden houses, and explored temples and shrines lined with shops selling goods with ornate and intricate Japanese designs. I bought a traditional wooden Japanese comb, and a decorative hair tie, as my hair is now long enough to tie back again.

By next weekend, we will be flying into Germany to begin the next chapter of our lives in Berlin. We will not have internet access until early January, so Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from twosuitcaseseach, and, until next time, have a peaceful end to the year, and let’s see what 2018 brings.

Animals · Day Trip · Japan · Nara · Nature · Overseas · Photography · Travelling

Nara, Japan.

Earlier this week, we took the train to Nara to visit the famous bowing deer at Nara Park. We visited the shrines and explored the forest along a quiet and peaceful hiking trail. This was probably the most ‘touristy’ thing we have done since arriving in Japan. You can buy deer cookies to feed the deer, and we were there in time to see the autumn colours in Nara as well.