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.

Animals · Anxiety · Berlin · Decluttering · Fashion · Japan · Mental Illness · Minimalism · New Year's Resolutions · Osaka · Overseas · Recovery · Stress · Travelling · Veganism · Visas · Zero Waste

October ’17 Life Update: Lots has been going on!

I’ve let updating my blog slip, which I always hate. I’m one of those people who prefers to do something properly or not at all. I can’t stand the idea of having unfinished projects or loose ends still to be worked on, which means I often start something with a burst of energy and then get rid of it completely when I can’t keep up that level of commitment. I have high expectations of myself and I’m a perfectionist on top of that (“The perfectionist’s perfectionist” is how I described it to someone who asked recently). It’s a double-edged sword, because I am known to be efficient, effective and highly productive, but ultimately I can’t deny that it is driven by my faulty mental wiring that simply will not allow me to be anything other than that.

Sometimes that itch of feeling myself to be not being good enough makes me think that I would rather delete this blog entirely than allow myself a few weeks off before writing a new post. I have definitely deleted multiple blogs and archived posts when I used to be on social media, and even before then I used to rip up diaries a page at a time when I was in school, because I couldn’t bear the idea that I would have to keep something around me where I had made a mistake on one page. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a wasteful condition, not just environmentally but the amount of wasteful energy it forces one to waste on stress and anxiety about literally anything it can. So I’m not going to apologise for this lull, because I think instead I need to give myself a break (“give myself grace”, as one of my favourite YouTubers, Allyson Faber, likes to say), and just do the best that I can in the circumstances.

Here’s what has been going on with me lately:

We have now booked our flights to Germany. We will be leaving Osaka in mid-December, and I have decided to hand in my notice earlier than I had previously intended, so that we will have time in November to visit Kyoto and Nara, and so I can generally have a bit of a rest before I start my new job in Berlin in January. We have done a lot of the administrative work for our move now, and Dillon has received his visa, so all we need to do now is to organise our accommodation in Berlin, which we are planning to do over the coming week.

Dillon and I have been making real progress with our transition to zero waste. We have cut down on the amount of plastic we consume by cutting out plastic bottles as much as is possible, and buying fruit fresh rather than pre-cut. We have set up four recycling stations in our storage closet: plastic bottles, glass and metals; other plastics; paper and cardboard; and textile recycling. The only waste going into our kitchen bin now is food waste, as we are not currently in the position to set up a composting station. We are excited to begin vermicomposting in Berlin.

I am considering setting up a YouTube channel alongisde this blog, where I would focus on topics including minimalism, veganism, zero waste and sustainable living. I have an idea to adapt Courtney Carver’s Project 333 into something like a Project 12-21 as one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018, which I would like to revolve around long-term ethical choices and sustainable changes in my life. I have been learning a great deal about the fast fashion industry, and thinking about changes I want to make in order for my life to reflect my values towards these issues.

Something I did not expect when I read ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo, and then began listening to the weekly Minimalists podcast, was how open and flexible I would become to making significant and sustained change in my life. Minimalism led me to veganism, which got me interested in zero waste, which began forcing me to ask questions about sustainable consumption, and now I am learning more about environmental ethics and thinking about plans for the future that include some kind of project to help learning disabled children learn or traumatised children recover through learning centred around caring for animals.


I am glad to be moving to Germany soon so that we can be closer to our family. If you are inclined to do so, please keep my mum in your thoughts, as she is currently resting and recovering, and I hope I am able to talk to her on Skype soon xx

Anxiety · Japan · Minimalism · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Stress · Travelling · Visas · Zero Waste

Umeda Sky Building, Grand Front Osaka, and Germany Update.

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Dillon and I visited Umeda Sky Building today, where I took this photo from the rooftop observatory. We were over 150m high and could see the whole city as well as the mountains that surround Osaka and out to the sea. We still have not visited Abeno Harukas, the tallest building in Japan at 300m tall, but we will go there in early December to visit an exhibition on Studio Ghibli, so hopefully we will get a chance to take some more photographs of Osaka from above then too. In the gift shop, I managed to find some beautiful handmade Japanese craft items, including some handkerchiefs, hand towels, and body towels, all with lovely traditional designs. I also bought a little pouch in the shape of a rabbit to keep the smaller items in, as well as a kanji keychain for us both. I have been looking for items to bring back from Japan, but I have some criteria that they must fit into first:

1) The item is light, and will not take up much room in our suitcases

2) The item is handmade in Japan, and meaningful to our experience in Japan

3) The item is something I have already been looking for because we need it

We also visited Grand Front Osaka, a huge shopping mall with a whole floor dedicated to gorgeous stationery and specialist stores. I have never seen anything like it, and I don’t think there is anything like it in the UK that I can think of. I often find it is too difficult to buy anything when I visit those places, because there is so much choice, and everything is so special, so I just enjoy walking around and looking at different things instead. It is giving me lots of ideas for nearer the time when we leave Japan and I will be looking for some gifts to get people, though.

Finally, an update on our move to Germany: after going back and forth trying to get the right documentation, I have managed to set up an account to transfer money from Japan to the UK, so we will be able to pay for things like our plane tickets and deposit on a new apartment now. Secondly, I have completed the work documentation necessary for me to begin working in Germany, and we are lucky enough that the relocation agency who are helping us to move have said they will organise all appointments needed and provide translation services whenever required as part of their service. Lastly, we have sent a copy of our marriage certificate to the UK to get an apostille, and once we have received that we will be able to continue with the visa process for Dillon. We are a lot further along now than we were two weeks ago, or even last weekend, so I am feeling more relaxed about the situation now.

Anxiety · Decluttering · Fashion · Japan · Minimalism · New Year's Resolutions · Overseas · Photography · Stress · Zero Waste

And now for something completely different …

Tomorrow is Respect for the Aged Day in Japan, one of a number of National Holidays that fall in the autumn and winter months, so Dillon and I are currently in the middle of enjoying a three-day weekend. I thought I would do something a bit different today, so I’m going to do a personal update about the different things that I’ve been working on and some changes that have been happening in our lives.

The first photo you can see here is my half of the clothes rail in our apartment. While I don’t hold too strictly to it, I like to try and ensure that all the outdoor clothes I own fit on the hangers I already have. We have a build-in storage area with two sectioned areas separated by a shelf, so we store our suitcases on the floor and our towels and other belongings on the shelf. I keep my lingerie and pyjamas in this section, and I have one pair of shoes out in the hallway, but otherwise all my clothes are shown hanging on this rail (my two other pairs of shoes are below the clothes, unpictured).

I came to Japan in March a UK size 10 (US 6), at that point still eating meat. Walking at a decent pace to and from work for about an hour every day, and adapting my diet slightly due to the different products available in Japan, I began to get a bit slimmer, although since I did not measure myself and I do not own scales, I am not sure by how much. I have struggled with chronic illness in the past, and was diagnosed with IBS in 2014 and put on medication to deal with numerous symptoms, the worst of which included persistent vomiting and literally immobilising stomach pain. Because of this, I am highly conscious of the effect the food and drink I take into my body has on my health and well-being. A couple of months ago, I watched a number of documentaries on the effect of eating animal products on individual health, the environment, and the welfare of animals. These included ‘What the Health’, ‘Forks Over Knives’, ‘Cowspiracy’, and I attempted to watch ‘Earthlings’ but couldn’t get past the first ten minutes.

Dillon and I adopted a plant-based diet and went vegan on the 1st August. Since Dillon and I eat our meals together and he had been a vegetarian for a decade, and I had almost cut out meat entirely by accident due to our move, in the end I only had to make a couple of changes: stop eating ice-cream, stop eating snacks that contained animal products, and remove the egg from my rice meals. I have to say that it was a fairly painless switch. I didn’t find myself craving any foods, and at this point roughly six weeks into veganism, I have no desire to eat any animal product. I also found myself eating more healthily by necessity: I had the desire and motivation to research what foods to include in my meals, and the results for me personally are beyond anything that I could have imagined.

  • I have slimmed down further, to the point where my clothes were at risk of falling off me at work (which was my red flag moment to go and buy the clothes pictured above). I am now a UK size 6 (US 2), and measure 32″ 23″ 32″, certainly the slimmest I have been since I hit puberty. My stomach is flat (though not toned), and I have a thigh gap. I should say that I don’t mention these things to intimate that they are better or worse than any other way of looking, only that they are important for me to recognise, and to feel proud of achieving personally.
  • I have huge amounts of energy. On my commute to and from work I can walk faster and for longer without tiring. I feel lighter and brighter in myself. After about seven hours of sleep I am wide awake and ready for the day, without needing an alarm clock.
  • I am far more confident in myself and with my body. I have lost the sensation that people are looking at me. I have lost the dysmorphic sensation of looking at myself in the mirror and seeing an idea of what is there rather than what is in front of me. I am able to go into clothes store changing rooms and come out feeling happy.
  • I have experienced no menstrual cramps, bloating, or PMS symptoms.
  • I have experienced no IBS symptoms, which has meant I have been able to get rid of my medication.
  • I feel far happier and calmer in a day-to-day sense. This may also be to do with taking up daily yoga and meditation, and listening to meditation and anxiety management podcasts in the evening, as well as using the ‘Sleepy’ body lotion from Lush, but taking up these practises was also connected to my adoption of a plant-based diet, so I’ll include it here too.

Now, I have aspirations to go further. I still need to buy a jumper or sweatshirt for the weekend, and one work dress, as well as bras in my correct size, but I am determined to maintain my minimalist approach to clothes shopping and consumption, and my new project is to transition to a zero waste lifestyle. Dillon and I both bought a stainless steel water bottle from the Natural History Museum in Osaka, so we no longer drink from plastic bottles, and I have cut my consumption of drinks from vending machines down to one a week, with the aspiration to cut them out completely. I have some documentaries to watch including ‘Speciesism’, ‘A Plastic Ocean’, and ‘Fed Up’, and I am gaining so much value and enjoyment from learning about different ways of living that leave a lighter impact on the planet.

PSA: I hope that by exploring this article, my readers are able to accept and appreciate the positive impact that veganism is having on my health and wellbeing. I am conscious that there are a number of topics I have written about today that may make some readers react differently. While everyone is free to think what they like, I would encourage you to consider – after reading through my bullet point list of the benefits I am experiencing and how much happier I am in my life currently – whether it is necessary for you to tell me that you disagree with the choices I am making in my life. Just a thought!

Anxiety · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Osaka Castle · Overseas · Photography · Teaching · Travelling

Nishinomaru Garden, Osaka.

This morning Dillon and I went to visit the Nishinomaru Garden by Osaka Castle. Despite the cloudy skies, it was over 30ºC, but because we went out early and there was a little bit of rain, the garden itself was very quiet. We spotted a cat in the grass, and when we paid our entrance fee the lady at the counter invited us to write out wishes on a piece of paper and tie it to the bamboo tree in the grounds, which is part of the celebrations for the Tanabata Star Festival.

In Japanese legend, on the seventh night of the seventh month, the weaver star and cowherder star travel across the Milky Way to renew their ancient love. Wherever you go during the first week of July, you see countless pieces of coloured paper tied to bamboo trees with wishes written on them, and on the night of Tanabata ceremonies are held at numerous shrines to burn the bamboo and wishes. 

This was my final full week at work before the end of the first term. We took the students on a field trip to the Meiji Chocolate Factory, and I had my first formal observation and appraisal. It was very different from the system I’ve been used to in the UK! Instead of a number of senior members of staff standing at the back of the room observing my teaching and taking notes all lesson, the vice-principal stayed for about thirty minutes and sat doing his own work for much of the time, took a look around my room at the displays and what the students had been working on, then thanked me and left. It was a pleasant surprise not to experience any anxiety before or during my observation; during my PGCE year I would be experiencing panic attacks before every single lesson. Instead, though, I’ve been having reoccurring nightmares about being told I have to do another observation, or the observation happening in the nightmare and going terribly. Very strange!