2020 is reminding me to take pleasure in the simple things

It’s summer break for me now and it was a long time in coming. The usual month of summer break was whittled down to two weeks. This was so we could make up time at school, for all the online classes we had at the start of the school year because other schools who were less organised, didn’t have classes for two months. Suffice it to say I was ready.

As the responsible homebody that I am, who is a big fan of self isolating, my plan is to spend many hours stretched out on my couch reading. My little heart is oh so excited. I have no less than 8 books lined up from our library at school and my kindle at the ready, if I needed, to up that number. I just love escaping into the world of a book and learning all kinds of things. The time flies with a page turner I tell you, though the emotional roller coaster some of these books take you on is no joke.

Today a read the book Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It’s a rich text that sheds light on a perspective of slavery that is often not addressed. This is the fact that Africans were sold into slavery after being taken as captives by warring tribes. Her style is flawless and she grips your attention and makes you feel the characters, the setting and takes you from time period to time period through generations. It was really lovely, to delve into this masterful piece for a few hours and pass day one of summer break, self isolating all by myself, in my own space. It was truly therapeutic.

I am also loving being able to make all my meals at home. I enjoy cooking, sometimes twice a day, to get in some nice whole foods. Today I made a lovely veggie stew with boiled potatoes on the side. Adding balsamic vinegar to stews just takes them up a notch. Try it if you haven’t done so yet. It’s quite easy to eat and eat all day at home so, I bought healthy snacks to keep myself in check: watermelon, apples, kiwi and bananas. YUM!

It’s also nice to have time on a weekday to catch up with friends and family in different times zones. I mean everything from texting to having epic calls for hours. I love it. There is no time to feel lonely, though I live alone.

I see my apartment as my safe space that helps me to keep mentally well in these uncertain times. Like I do for weekends, I went shopping to get a range of things I wanted to have, so I wouldn’t be tempted to run to the supermarket nearby at the drop of a hat. This is actually a habit I have mastered over several years now. I like doing one big grocery shop on a Thursday of Friday for the week. I plan out my menu for the week so I know what to buy.

I also enjoy doing some dancing here and there throughout the day to get some exercise. I squat, do lounges, standing abs and random stuff to move throughout the day when I go to the bathroom. I don’t want to just be a couch potato.

So yeah, for a normal summer break I would be off somewhere exploring our beautiful world but this year I have to be still. I am not miserable and I am being intentional about enjoy this time. I am relaxing, resting and keeping my mind fresh and active. This is self-care and I am here for this. Thanks 2020 for forcing me to remember to enjoy the some of the simple things in life.

Are you keeping your hopes and dreams alive?

Hold fast to your dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to your dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow. (Dreams by Langston Hughes)

Are you still dreaming, making plans and keeping hope alive as this pandemic carries on?

It all feels surreal but I am still dreaming about things I want to accomplish internally and externally. In Jamaica is often said that where there is life there is hope.

As for me, I am still budgeting and making plans for different savings goals and such. I am thinking about the travelling I want to do in the future and I am also thinking about a number of other short term and long term goals. Most importantly, I keep reminding myself to keep hope alive and continue to dream new dreams.

That’s it, I was just inspired to remind someone to keep dreaming and keep hope alive in the midst of this pandemic. Stay on budget and save for your goals…

Pivoting Mentally with These Unprecedented Times

This is a very humbling year. In these first six months of 2020 I am learning to step back, go with the flow and take each day as it comes.

I am someone who plans way ahead and thrive on structure in my life. This isn’t something that 2020 is entertaining, so for my peace of mind and mental health, I am learning to pivot, relax and take things as they come.

I was going to Jamaica to see family in two weeks. Well, it ain’t happening because if I leave Japan there is no getting back in as a foreigner. My tickets were booked months ago because I am a planner and it is usually more affordable months in advance. The optimist in me waited months and months in the hope that I would still be ale to pull this off but alas this is not happening. Let’s not talk about how some airlines are still inflexible in these times.

I let go of that which I can’t control. Am I losing some money? Am I missing out on seeing family and loved ones? Yes, but is it for the greater good of staying healthy and not bringing this virus home to them? Absolutely yes! This is me talking to myself and making peace with what my reality is now.

I am learning to plan long term but adjust my expectations with the reality of each day. We live in hope that this virus will be under control in a few months or less but we really don’t know. I still have long term plans and goals. I am still budgeting and saving, now more than ever, because I see tough economic times ahead. I am also in the mental zone where I know I will not travel in the way I did before for quite some time. I also know that I will not be as comfortable going out and about for leisure for quite some time.

I am actively keeping paranoia at bay. Do you know when you are out around others and someone gets into a coughing fit? Thankfully, here we all wear masks but, you know how you just instinctively want to escape from this person. I really don’t want to be unkind to others while trying to be safe. I don’t want to be the one with a coughing fit either. The times can keep us on tenterhooks so we have no peace. This is something to be on guard about.

I am prioritising periods of rest and relaxation. I have always been a homebody, so there is no place like my own space. On Fridays I ensure that I get all the items I need to make my meals on the weekend. I have taken to coming home on Fridays and not stepping outside again until Monday when I go to work. This is like a mini staycation for me since I do my chores but make time to chill on my couch and read for hours. I also do some stretches and movements inside to work out some. This is my escape and since I live alone its just perfection. It is hard wearing a mask for hours on end in this humidity, so on Saturdays and Sundays and enjoy this freedom. I focus on slowing down, relaxing and just being. This is an act of self-care and helps me to pivot as needed in these times.

I keep hope alive. I do believe these times will pass and it is important to know this, so I remind myself of this when I start feeling a drag on my spirit. I listen to my gospel playlists, read my Bible, pray, worship, cook stuff I love, talk with my people, take time to be thankful…

In these months, I have seen nature doing all it does without interruption and I am reminded that good things are happening, even in the midst of these trying times. I am experiencing many of these good things and by focusing on these I am walking through the new normal with joy.

Life is truly a gift and it is worth living well even/especially in these unprecedented times.

Wear Mask, Wash Hands, Social Distance…Is this the New Normal?

What can I say, these are uncertain times that all of us are learning to navigate one day at a time. It is sometimes surreal to think how much has changed and continues to change since the dawn of the new year.

We are back at school now, our health and safety demands that we wear masks all day, open all the windows and doors, remind students to wash their hands, sanitise desks, chairs and other things we touch in the classroom, as well as, social distance. It’s a lot and we are trying our best to have classes and educate our charges in the midst of all this.

I wonder how schools with classrooms at capacity will manage all of this when they reopen? It is hard to relax and have conversations with students and other members of staff like before. Social distancing is at the forefront of our minds. This is the new normal and it is exhausting to remember this day after day after day. It is quite easy to become paranoid at this time because it just feels like this invisible parasite is just lurking around at every turn.

We all know that the emphasis is on physical distancing but the term social distancing has taken root to describe this. It amazing how this term has become a part of the daily lingo and shows how a living language grows and stretches to accommodate words and expressions. We are reflecting on this in my classes and analysing how different posters are made using paralanguage and such. I like that we can discuss these kinds of things in my classes as we bring in current issues into our analysis of texts.

Wearing a mask in these hot humid climes is not fun at all. There is a lot of walking to be done to get from point A to B in this city. I often end up breathing hard through my mouth after a few minutes with beads of sweat bursting every which where. It is rough! I, however, try to pace myself literally and figuratively. I drink lots of water before leaving home each morning and throughout the day. It is important to replenish all the liquid that the mask helps me to sweat out. Phew!

Here we are almost halfway through 2020 and it seems like an unending rollercoaster. I am reminded daily to be thankful and treasure each moment of each day. There are many annoyances, tests and trials of course but there is much to be thankful for.

Each one of us need to think well about how to manage ourselves at this time and focus on this too. There are lots of heavy things happening. With this in mind, I carve out time on the weekend to stay in, relax, read a book and enjoy not having to wear a mask. This really helps me to go out and be my best on week days.

I pray we all keep well, in all aspects of our lives. Wear your mask, wash your hands well, social distance and feed your mind what keeps it healthy. For now, this is the new normal…

What am I Learning in these Uncertain Times?

Life teaches us lessons, it is good when we learn these lessons and use them to improve ourselves in some ways.

I am pausing to think about what I am learning and jotting them down, so I can come back and dwell on these at a later time.

Rest, Cultivate Peace and Live in the Now

I am as busy as ever working online from home. It is a pretty hectic time and my days fly by. I am finding that keeping to a schedule each day is helping me to get enough sleep and order my days. In addition, I dress for work in comfortable clothes, don different earrings each day and put myself together. After all, I do interface with my students and other members of staff throughout the days.

I have also taken to being offline for much of the time on Saturdays and Sundays. It is quite nice to curl up on my couch with a good book, getting lost in something I enjoy. I also reserve certain chores for the weekend, that I would do in the same way when I went out for work.

I am enjoying living in the now and being ok with this. I am not planning crazily for a few weeks or months down the line because things aren’t clear. Notwithstanding this, I still have my dreams and I am keeping hope alive.

Stay on a Budget and Build the Emergency Fund

It is quite tempting to be shopping online and using this to pass the time. For me, it is just so easy to shop on Amazon or iherb and get the stuff I like and others that draw me in. Nope, I am not doing that. I am still living on my budget for each month and focusing on saving what I can to go into my emergency fund. We live in uncertain times and I fully expect some hard times ahead. Even us with jobs may face a pay cut at some point in the near future. It is best to save what we can now to prepare.

I chuckle at the fact that over the last 8 weeks I have worn the same two pairs of shoes: my sneakers to go out and exercise and my chucks to go to the grocery store (the latter because there are no laces to tie). Do I really need a bunch of shoes? Mmmm…

Embrace Change and take more Chances

I don’t like change, though I know it’s necessary for growth and provides many benefits. I do give into changes but not as enthusiastically as I would like. This is something I am working on improving in order to be a better me. The ability to embrace change actually helps with having a healthy mental state. I have to roll with the changes happening, adjust and thrive. I can’t control everything, so as a lifelong learner, it is in my best interest to change my mindset in this regard. I am working on this.

Enjoy ‘the Great Outdoors’

Thankfully, here in Japan we never had a tight lockdown, so I could go out each day for walks to enjoy the beautiful spring weather. Of course, I was doing this while observing physical distance. There is just something about seeing the trees transition from blossoms to delicate green leaves, that remind you that you are alive. There is hope. Nature is doing its natural cycle even in the midst of the world grounding to a halt. I am always humbled and amazed.

I now go for long walks after dinner, all over the neighbourhood, to exercise, enjoy being out and about and take advantage of the freedom to move around in a way I had taken for granted. Also, sometimes I just stand on my balcony in the mornings and let the sun beam on my face. This is a simple pleasure.

Make Thankfulness a Daily Habit

I am thankful for all the precious people in my life, the moments we share, especially the everyday moments that shine brightest now. It’s nice to stop and write down things that I am thankful for each day. This gives me joy. This also helps me not to complain too much.

I am learning much more than the above but I am tired of typing, so I am going to run off to the supermarket to get my shopping for the week done. I am thankful to be able to do this oh so mundane task at this time. I am really thankful for all the people who work in the supply chains and the supermarket staff who show up to serve us in oh so many ways…

Will Travelling After this Pandemic Come with More Hassles?

As these surreal days roll by I ponder what travelling post this pandemic will be like. It is already painful to get off a long 14 hr red eye flight to stand in lines for a few hours in transit.

Will we be pricked and prodded and at the mercy of rapid tests?

Will we have to pay even more to be packed into the not so comfortable economy seats to fly home to see family and friends?

Will travel blogging still be a thing especially for budget travellers?

Yea, I know all this is somewhat inconsequential in a world where people are losing jobs and facing increasing hardships. These are some things on my mind with everything else now.

reminiscing on my trip to Kuala Lumpur…

People will continue to travel I am sure. People are still travelling in the midst of this pandemic. Some travel for a living and others need to go from point A to B for important reasons. There are also still others who enjoying travelling for leisure and other such reasons.

I imagine wearing a mask onboard flights will be mandatory. Interestingly, this was en vogue for many East Asians since it helps to combat the dryness in the aircraft. Can I even handle wearing a mask for 14 hours on the flight from Japan to America then on to Jamaica?

One of the majestic castles in Japan from my jaunts around the country. How carefree were those times?

I am seeing news here and there about airlines planning to implement social distance practices on board. This suggests fewer passengers and with many airlines losing money hand over fist, I can imagine airfares will shoot up. While I can forego travelling for leisure to budget and save, I need to visit Jamaica to see family and friends, ideally once a year. I am a bit anxious about how much more this will cost, since flights are already going above $2,000 for a round trip in summer, in economy. Oh yeah and this means not getting any meals on the leg from America to Jamaica. Also, getting on the plane and having all the overhead compartments stuffed by those who got flight deals. Sigh!

So yea, I am waiting with bated breath to see how travelling cross-continentally tests my budget for one thing.

Looking out from the Peak in Hong Kong

Can you imagine being on a plane and having a coughing fit post this pandemic? Even when wearing a mask I know this will make the journey all that more uncomfortable? Will I just not eat anything for 14 hours? Drink no water? Gasp! That just won’t do.

I am already a nervous flyer, so I am already steeling myself for all the above.

There are lots of questions rolling around inside my head about how flying will change. I fly cross-continentally at least once a year, so this has been on my mind. I also think about how quickly tourists will want to or even afford to take vacations post the pandemic.

This may seem frivolous to some but there are many people who work in this industry and others connected to the industry.

As with many things, time will reveal how travelling will change post this pandemic. We have to learn to expect the unexpected, be flexible and learn to thrive in unchartered waters.

When the Supermarket Becomes the go-to Spot

I was never excited about shopping at the supermarket and nothing has changed now. Why not just have your groceries delivered you ask. Well…

A supermarket is literally two minutes from my place.

Delivery options are not as widely available here as in other places.

I like picking out my own fruits and veggies.

This social distancing thing isn’t fully understood and practiced in supermarkets here I find. In the last week, markers have appeared on the floor showing how far apart to line up for the cashier. Two weeks ago, I ran out of one to get away from the swarms of people milling around and congregating in different sections. They were taking it ‘easy like Sunday morning.’ Supermarkets in Japan are often small with very narrow aisles. My paranoia was in activation mode.

I went to that supermarket, about 1km from my house at around 11:00a.m. It’s the one with a good variety of local and international products but I am on hiatus from there. They have some good avocados and mangoes there though 😦

In these times, I have developed vampire like tendencies. I exercise at nights when less people are out and stay home during the day. Oh what joy it was to discover that the supermarket nearby still opens until 10 p.m. I even went in to confirm it the night I walked by. Since, mostly families and older people live around this area, everything is quiet by around 9 p.m.

Do you know the luxury of going into a supermarket in these times and having it all to yourself? This was me the other night. At a round 9:30 p.m. I strolled into the supermarket decked out in my mask of course. There were like two other people in there. Oh the joy of taking my time to pick out things I went for; others that just called out to me (you know how that goes).

Though there is this upside, the downside is that quite a bit of the fresh veggies were all gone. I went to the baking aisle and they were all out of flour, vanilla and other stuff. Apparently, some influencer has been giving tips on baking goodies in these times, so it’s now trendy. I give it two weeks before this runs it course. In the same way the panic toilet paper buying ran its course a month or so again, this will happen too.

I like the lengths that supermarkets are going to in order to protect their workers. They are all wearing face shields with masks and at the cashier a nice firm piece of plastic separates them from the customers. Cash is still king here, so we do exchange money which of course can transfer the virus. Now scrubbing hands like crazy, washing my glasses and face are a part of the routine after returning home. It is often easier to just jump into the shower.

I am learning to content myself with the basics at the supermarket nearby. To be truthful, they have more than that but if you are a fan of certain things, in certain places, you may understand. I mean things like good cheese, mangoes, avocados, teas…

The problems of the privileged I tell you. I am able to buy food and I am grateful. I am learning to be content with my smaller supermarket with less people where I can shop at nights when less folks are there.

These are the times where I count my blessings even more and cultivate contentment.

What does this Single Woman living Alone do During Isolation?

Let’s talk about Saturdays and Sundays when I don’t have to work online which helps time to fly…

I like schedules and keep to a loose one on both these days. I often stay up pretty late Friday nights and sleep in until 9:30 or so on Saturdays. I make some tea because I need this every morning to start moving. Then, I call home and talk to my dad and other family members religiously on Saturday mornings. We can catch up and talk about our stuff leisurely given our time difference.

We chat for a good while which means I am good and ready to eat after that, so I will make something like a smoothie followed up by a full on meal: sautéed veggies, brown rice with beans and avocado on the side. This is my ideal meal since I am mostly into eating plant based or pescatarian on occasion. Yum!

Next, I do my laundry while I delve into the scriptures and meditate on what I read. I have me some worship time at my own pace.

I will text friends throughout the day and may even have a live call with one of them, if we are both feeling this. For some reason texting is so much easier than talking on the phone. I have no idea why this is.

Sooner than later I go on my computer to spend hours on Twitter. It provides laughter, knowledge, drama and everything it has to draw me in and keep me scrolling. It is my number one app and I only use it on my computer, so that I can sit and enjoy it on a bigger screen. As a Jamaican living abroad, I like to see things trending at home and by following the right people I am more than able to do this. The Jamaican GIFs are undefeated. I follow people for financial info, current affairs, the news, teaching/topics in education, Christian inspiration and other things I can’t remember now. My feed is diverse and I follow and have followers from every continent. I like to know what is going on on the African continent, so I follow people from a range of countries. I learn so much and have many opportunities to LOL, tear up, shake my head in wonder/disbelief and so on.

After I have scrolled Twitter enough or it refuses to load anymore (keeping it real), I head on over to YouTube to see if there is anything I feel like watching. I am into people who post plant based meals these days, so I watch a few of those and get some ideas. I enjoy watching some people in the debt free community, family bloggers, worship channels and house hunting/renovation type videos. In the midst of all this watching and scrolling, I would have unloaded the washing machine and put my clothes to dry.

I may or may not cook again or make a salad, pop some corn and do a bit of prep for my classes. I wind down around 11 and head to bed by 12ish.

Come Sunday I am up at around 8 (I make my body do a practice run for Monday morning). I may lounge in bed on my phone before getting up to make my tea, read scriptures, meditate and pray.

Since I often do intermittent fasting, I don’t eat until around 11 or 12. What do I do until then you ask? Well, I run the vacuum, wipe my floors, pick out my clothes for the week (yes, I have a casual work from home uniform), text family and/or friends, do some exercises (I forgot to mention this above in my Saturday routine) and think about what I will make for lunch/dinner.

Throughout the days when I am home I try to do a number of reps where I stretch, do squats, leg lifts, run on the spot, do the butterfly, make up dances and do stuff to move my body. Yes, I balance being a couch potato with moving often throughout the day.

Ok, back to Sunday, at around 11:30, I start cooking, maybe its pasta, or brown rice, or sweet potatoes or quinoa (these are my bases) with a combination of veggies seasoned very well and a hint of cayenne thrown in. Yum! I eat and watch something on YouTube which may end up being an hour of video after video. I then talk to myself about getting offline and stretch out on my couch with a book. If it is a page turner, I will read until I finish it, even it is in the wee hours of the morning. Well, if I think it’s a page turner I will start it early enough to finish by 10pm. I still need to be alert to teach online the following day.

I forgot to say that I often go for walks in the nights at around 9 or 10 pm when most people are inside. I walk for about an hour to stretch my legs and get some more exercise. I have times when I stay in for days without going outside though. Like today is Monday and I have not gone outside since last Thursday. No, I am not bored or lonely. Growing up in an environment where we stayed at home mostly, makes this just right for me. When we were free to go and come without this poison in the air, I would still stay home some weekends. I would come home Friday evening and not go out again until Monday morning. I find this very refreshing actually.

I am on the cusp of getting an oven to spice up my culinary creations. Haha stoves don’t come with built in ovens in this country. They have fancy microwave ovens that work like other ovens. I want to get into baking veggies and my own desserts like carrot cake, banana cake, biscuits and so on. I feel like I don’t have enough space for it though, so it’s sitting in my Amazon basket until I make a decision. You would think I am tired of cooking for just me. Nope, I actually enjoy having a hot meal for lunch. Since I don’t microwave meals I don’t do this at work. I meal prep, cook and eat the same dish or dishes for three days then make something else. This means I don’t feel like I am cooking all the time. I also like overnight oatmeal jazzed up with nuts and coconut chips. This is often lunch with a smoothie.

Anyway I have gone off on a tangent. Let me end this here and I hope I have given you some ideas to enjoy the time you have at home. I sure am making the best of it.

Taking a Break from Being Online to Unwind (Self-care)

I am grateful to be able to work online conducting my classes from Monday to Friday. This, however means that I am online looking at the computer screen far more than when I was teaching face-to-face. I go from scheduling classes on Webex/Zoom, to working on Google Classroom to doing live video lessons and meetings. Let’s not talk about the emails that flow like a river and inundate my gmail each day. It doesn’t help that I like to respond to them in a timely manner. This often produces a string of email threads…good times.

Two weeks in and I now know that it is absolutely essential for me to have a day of rest. One where I rest my eyes from this computer screen and one where I let the messages marinate for a while.

As a teacher working from home, who likes to go, go, go, I end up spending far too long each day, prepping, marking and doing all kind of stuff to make these lessons more engaging. Yep, it’s 10 pm and I just finished work for the day. Being single and living alone in this time of isolation is causing this. I have to be talking to myself to get offline. That’s why I am winding down by writing this post.

Yesterday, Sunday, I just kept the lid of my computer closed but I had to peek at my phone every now and then. It wasn’t work related though. I enjoyed a soothing day yesterday. It was rainy all day and not too hot or cold. I laid on my couch with a good book – ‘Pachinko’ and devoured it throughout the day. I also had music playing in the background ad enjoyed being in this shroud for the entire day. It was quite relaxing.

It was also perfect because I had leftovers, enough for two different meals plus fruits to snack on. I dived into the book, savoured my meals, basked in music and it was 10 pm and time for bed by the time I knew it.

Even though I am at home everyday now, I am still working on schedule as if I were in the classroom. The days fuse into one other and even weekends have become de facto working days, with all the work to be done before and after actual classes. I feel like teaching online requires more work before and after lessons. This is a topic for another post.

I will also give myself one or two nights to be offline to read and enjoy books in my stack. I had the foresight to borrow books from the library at school, so they are good old paperbacks. I have been making a dent in my stack and have just two books left of the 6 I started off with 3 weeks ago. I will move on to those on my Kindle after this. No, Kindle doesn’t technically have a screen because of how it is designed.

Let me go offline now because I have been on for far too long today.

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) are Still on Show in Japan

It is amazing how spring has come with the cherry blossoms in full bloom, on schedule and they are doing what they do every year. In Japan, sakura trees are everywhere and can be enjoyed when they bloom in spring, by just strolling down a street or looking out our windows in many cases.

The wonder of sakura trees in full blossom never ceases year after year. Your nose could be running and your eyes itching with crazy spring allergies, however, you can still enjoy the perfection that are these blossoms.

circa spring 2019, pretty as a picture ain’t it

I am sharing these pictures that I took one idyllic spring day last year as we strolled around Chidorigafuchi, one of the most scenic spots in Tokyo. It’s nice to think back on that day: people boating, some having hanami (picnic under the cherry blossoms) and pushing against too many people to get around. It seems like another world but these pictures bear testament to this other reality.

The cherry blossoms are here this year like always. This year I am enjoying them on my way to the the supermarket or on my daily walk to stretch my legs. They are just as beautiful and especially soothing this year.

One day, I stopped in awe of the beauty of creation, when I saw the beautiful and oh so delicate and fluffy pink blossoms, with the clear blue sky in the background. I can enjoy these little things now when everything feels heavy and uncertain. We don’t need to look very far to enjoy and appreciate some of the simple beauties in life.

I am grateful I can go outside and enjoy what is on display, even while wearing a mask and not knowing when true freedom of movement will return.

So, I hope you can look at these snapshots and be drawn into the beauty they represent, to have even a small period of respite from what is going on around us.

Stay well. Stay safe. Stay home if you don’t need to be out and about.