RIP, My Lovely Scarf

By Gem

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I didn’t write a post yesterday, because I had a HORRIBLE afternoon. I’m tired and lurgy, so I was in no mood to go to my Tea Ceremony lesson, but I decided to be stern with myself (it’s a few hours out of my afternoon, it’s not that demanding an activity, the serene atmosphere would make me feel better, etc). So, when work ended, I wrapped myself in my scarf and coat, trudged to the station and plonked onto the Kinomoto train, where I sat in an unhappy daze with my scarf beside me… until I stood up and left it on the train!

And it was THAT scarf! My soft blue, lamb’s wool scarf that Kin chose the yarn for. My second-ever knitting project! I only finished it a few weeks ago, on the way back from Tokyo and it’s already gone.

I actually DID remember my scarf before the train got away, so I raced back along the platform with a JR employee and scoured the carriages for it, but some rotten sod had whipped it in the time it took us to get back there! I hoped so much that they’d simply picked it up to hand in to lost property, but it was not to be.

Tea Ceremony was a sad experience that day. Not only had it cost me my lovely scarf, lugging my bag around had given me a headache and I was far too wooly-headed and unhappy to actually learn anything. By seven, I decided that the day was a write-off, so I bid my sensei farewell and left early to catch the seven thirty train.

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…and missed it. So I had an hour to sit scarfless in the cold, reflecting on how much nicer everything would be right then if I’d been less strong willed and had just gone home when I wanted to. Now I wasn’t going to be home until nine AND I still had to make dinner and wash my hair. As far as first-world problems go, I was suffering badly last night.

Kin, thankfully, knows how to put me back together, so I didn’t have time to take off my coat before he bundled me off for steak and cheap wine at the imitation Italian joint down the road (bless him). A decanter of dodgy white is generally all it takes to improve my outlook (not to mention my headache) so I felt much better about the world before very long at all.

So what was the take-away from my unhappy evening (since “wine makes everything better!” is probably not a good moral)?

While I was still shivering in the dark, I thought that the moral to this story was that if you really, really don’t want to do something, you’re a lot better off not doing it. Revived by steak and sauvignon blanc, I still broadly agreed with that point of view, but could remember what that tired, chilly Gem could not; that the whole reason I’d dragged myself out was because I’ve been not-doing far too much lately! So maybe the lesson is really that it’s important to determine and maintain acceptable levels of activity, so that you don’t have to force yourself to do things when it genuinely is a bad time for you.

I actually like the second moral, even if it’s not very catchy, but I thought of an even better one today. I was really very, very sad about my scarf; I treasure my clothes and homewares, because I don’t have a lot of money to spend on that sort of thing. When that’s the case, and something happens to one of your possessions, it’s something of a tragedy. This time is different. I loved my scarf; it was lovely, soft and expensive, but…

I can make another one.

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A good scarf is bloody hard to find. Actual wool scarves cost a fortune and even finding a decently pretty acrylic is a matter of waiting until a shop finally has what you want and snapping it up the second it goes on sale (if it does). And if you lose it or stain it, it’s gone. You can’t have that scarf again. You have to resume waiting for the next pretty thing to turn up and hope that you have the money for it.

But my scarf wasn’t irreplaceable. Hours went into making it, but I was learning the entire time and now I know I can make it again; much, MUCH faster. I no longer have to wait for someone to design and produce a scarf for me at a price I can afford. It might not seem like much, but it shows how important it can be to an individual to develop a bit of independence in the production process.

(I’m trying to avoid the “teach a man to fish” parable here, but it just keeps seeming more appropriate with every word.)

This has made me more determined than ever to beg Beans for sewing lessons, stock up on crochet hooks and practice my knitting. Back when everyone could make things, I suppose store-bought items were a luxurious option. Now, though, we’re uncomfortably reliant on them; and the quality is dropping. Otherwise, why can no woman in the world find a blouse that is the right size for her knockers AND her waist? Not to mention opaque enough not to show her bra?

I don’t think we should all stop buying things; humans have always produced and traded goods, even when we were just doing it within our own villages. Our village is a lot larger now, but I love our interconnected world and I have no wish at all to shut myself away from it. I just think that it’s important for individuals (and communities) to keep their options open. In this case, if we had a little more independence when it came to making our own basic clothing, the products on the market would probably reflect the change.

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Now think: If a certain amount of independence is important for luxuries like pretty clothing, how much more important must it be for things like housing and food? And how capable are you of separating yourself from the marketplace for both?

I’m not, very. When we’re in Australia, I produce a lot of the vegetables we eat, but when it comes to grains, meat and fruit, we’re totally reliant on outside providers. And I’m a fairly accomplished cook, so foodwise, we’re more independent than most.

I don’t actually mind buying most of my food; I’m pretty sure the dude who made the best flint tools traded for a lot of his as well. But I’m very glad that I don’t need to depend on anyone else to turn those raw materials into meals for me. And it worries me how much other people my age DO seem to need it.

But when it comes to housing, I am hopeless. Both of my parents are competent with their hands, but I’m utterly useless. Carpentry is something I’ve desperately wanted to learn for years, just not desperately enough to do more about than search for local courses a few times a year and give up when I don’t find any. I should have bought a book, gone to open days at Bunnings or hired a carpenter to teach me some of the basics. When I get home, I will do those things, or whatever else needs to be done, and when I hire a specialist, it will be for a specialist job.

I plan on being a lot more independent in future. I will still work within my profession and  make money. And with that money, I will still participate in the world’s trading. But I’ll have the ability to be a lot more particular about what I’m buying.

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THAT is what my carelessness on the train has taught me. I feel stronger when I think of what I’ve already learned and I feel very, very good about the new things that I will learn and the new independence that will grow from it.

(….but… Oh! My lovely scarf!)

Are you growing, making or otherwise trying to keep a bit of distance between yourself and the markets of the world? How are you working on it?

 

Gem

XX

On the Boil: The Awesomeness of Soup

 

By Gem
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Now Australia is beginning to settle into autumn, and the spring days here in Japan maintain their chill… Now, it is time to sing the song of soup.

O Soup, the nourishing
Soup, the tasty
O, Soup, ye friend of the poor and saviour of the lazy…

… not to mention, Soup, the best way I know of getting rid of whatever’s going leggy in the garden, or leaky in the fridge. Or, Soup, how you can get five serves of vegetables into one meal, let alone one day. Or even Soup, a really good way of impressing lunch guests without really doing anything. 

But none of those really rhyme so well, do they?

Soup and Scheduling

I’ve spoken before about the importance of planning when you’re trying to keep your diet properly balanced. If you’re generally lazy (I am!), busy (I am!), or just someone who can’t always be trusted to make decisions like a grownup (I am!), but you still want to keep everyone properly fed during the week, then you need to organise your kitchen ahead of time.

Soup is central to my day-to-day organisation. If you always keep a jug of soup and a bottle of salad dressing in the fridge, you will always have a lovely, vege-ful meal half organised before you even get home from work.

This is great for those days when you just plain don’t feel like cooking or discover you have unexpected guests on a night you were planning to make scrambled eggs on toast. With about three minutes extra work, your scrambled eggs become an omelette, and you have soup, salad and toast ready to go with it! Salads and soups travel quite happily to work with you and will turn your lunchtime sandwich into a real meal. It also helps you feel better about those days when you haven’t prepared, but you’re already exhausted and just buy a barbequed chicken and some bread rolls on your way home from work. You’re still giving everyone a decent, balanced meal, you’re just not killing yourself to do it at a time when you just don’t have the energy.

Soup is also another arrow in my quiver against the Healthy-Food-Costs-More brigade.

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Getting Organised

Soup and salad dressing are both very simple to make. I shake up my salad dressing in an old squeezy-top mustard bottle that Kin washes out each time we empty it (about every month or so) and store it in the fridge. Just find an old jar, dump in a couple of tablespoons of a nice vinegar (we like a very acidic red wine vinegar), about double that of oil, salt, pepper and any additives that take your fancy (I often add about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, crushed garlic or some parmesan shavings), shake it up and boom; vinaigrette dressing ready whenever you want it. Just give it another shake when it’s time to squoodge some out.

(Here are some rather more precise recipes if you’re nervous about that sort of thing. Or you can simply buy a nice, low kilojoule salad dressing to keep on hand).

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On the whole, though, it’s even easier to construct a soup than it is to make a salad dressing, and it’s a lot more impressive to visitors.

Basic Soup No 1: Green Velvet

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This soup is Kin’s favourite; it’s also the easiest soup I know! A basic soup like this just needs vegetables and stock. I usually use a liquid chicken stock for my soups, but there are no real rules when it comes to soup. If you are vegetarian, use vegetable stock. If you can’t make liquid stock (I’m not very good at it, either) or afford to buy it, use cubes from the supermarket. Don’t fret too much about getting things right; it’s soup. Soup will forgive you for just about anything.

Ingredients:

1 head of broccoli, divided into small florets, stem chopped
1 bunch of spinach, washed
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
2 largeish potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
1.2 litres of stock (or whatever. If you like a thicker soup, use less. If thinner, use more)
Splash of olive oil
Herbs or seasonings (see variation). Today’s herbs for us are oregano, thyme and rosemary.

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Method:

Heat the oil in a saucepan and brown the onion and garlic over a low-medium heat until softened (probably more than five minutes, probably less than ten. Again, it’s soup; don’t worry so much). Add the potato and stir fry for 2-3 minutes (if adding dried herbs, this is a good time. This is also when I add hard herbs like rosemary), then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for about fifteen minutes, or until the potato is tender. Add the broccoli (and any other fresh herbs), simmer for about four minutes or until broccoli is tender, then add spinach. Stir through and turn off heat.

Liquify soup using a stick blender, food processor, or whatever you have on hand. If you don’t have any of those things, go to an op shop or a pawn shop and buy one. I don’t care how broke you are. Being able to make soup is going to save you more money than a second-hand stick blender could possibly cost you.

Pour soup into bowls and serve, or into containers to store in the fridge. I sometimes pop a swirl of cream in each bowl, but it isn’t necessary. This soup reheats quite happily in the microwave and keeps for over a week in the fridge.

Variation: Leave out the herbs and instead add half a teaspoon of cumin at the end of cooking. Serve each bowl with a blob of natural yoghurtIMG_8409

This soup can also be made with any sort of vegies you have lying around, like carrot, beans, zucchini and any sort of leafy greens. Just simmer hard veg for longer and add leafy veg toward the end of cooking time. If you like a thick soup, add more potato. If you like a thin soup, add more stock. However you make it, it will always be delicious. It will also be cheap and give you a hefty serve of vitamins and fibre with every verdant bowlful.

What other sort of soup recipes would you like to see? Or does anyone have a good recipe of their own? I’ll be back in my garden soon and I’ll be on the lookout for nice ones.

Happy souping!

Gem

XX

The Best Things in Life…

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Today we’re off on holiday! The plan for this post was just a couple of quick, merry little paragraphs (mostly as an excuse to show you photos!) detailing our early start, breakfast in Gion, then our cheery voyage aboard a JR highway bus, getting us to Tokyo station at about five thirty in the afternoon. A relaxed check-in, a little stroll, a pleasant dinner and then a gentle evening spent chatting, writing, sorting out the day’s photos and drinking our wine underneath the cherry blossoms in Ueno Park before hitting the frantic scramble of the city the next day. It was a good plan.

Instead, it’s rained all day, breakfast was McDonalds, our bus was late, there were landslides in the mountains, Kin was poisoned by a highly suspicious roadside Pluto Pup and, typing this at eight thirty at night, I am STILL on this goddamn bus, stuck in a traffic jam outside a city I’m HOPING is Tokyo, cramped, cold and getting crankier by the second.

Well, I was. I’m still stuck, that’s true, but I’m feeling a little more cheerful about it thanks to an even crankier email I’ve just read from a friend in Oz, detailing woes renovating, with a newly mobile baby in the house…

…And I started laughing at both of us. Honestly, there I was, grumpy about being en route to one of the most exciting cities in the world and there she was, cranky about her healthy child’s typical development and her house becoming lovely. People as lucky as we are shouldn’t feel so cranky!

 Gratitude

Feeling a lot more relaxed, I settled back into my (still kind of uncomfortable) seat and started giving some thought to gratitude. Why does it make such a difference to happiness? Not to mention, why is gratitude so essential for being awesome?

Mostly, I suppose, because being grateful for good things helps you to accept how much they cost. Right now, I am fatigued, uncomfortable and getting chillier by the second… but I get an amazing trip out of it, so I’m happy. The best things in life may be free when it comes to money, but there will always be some sort of sacrifice needed, of comfort, time or other resources. Without being grateful for the rewards these sacrifices earn you, though, you’re more likely to find the costs unacceptable… and so good things will come to you less and less frequently.

Accepting the costs

Being grateful for the fun you have at a party is great; it means that you accepted the awkwardness and boredom of the first half hour. Being thankful for the daffodils is a result of your choice to go for a walk instead of being sedentary. Appreciating a good dinner helps you accept the time spent preparing it. And once you get used to these sacrifices, they become part of the joy.

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See, that’s the part where I think a lot of people get the wrong idea about gratitude. They think it’s a passive thing, where you simply choose to accept with joy what the world has given you… and leave it at that. Now that’s fine, as far as it goes, (and it’s certainly better than being a miserable wanker about everything) but it’s really only a very basic first step. Gratitude isn’t passive. It’s a choice and a force. What do you do when you’re grateful to a person? You thank them and you and try to return the favour. You DO things! Gratitude is very, very active. In fact, just hanging around waiting for nice things to happen seems pretty UNgrateful to me. Simply by virtue of being when and where we are, we have been given immense opportunities for joy and growth.

 Active Gratitude

Life has many gifts for us, but the gifts won’t just happen, even if you have been lucky so far. To keep on getting, you have to keep on doing. Even if it’s just making the decision to stay on top of your bad mood; you can’t be grateful for the violets near your feet if you’re scowling at rainclouds.

If you’re happy now, there are probably still things you can do to ensure your future has gifts to be appreciated (I’m thinking bone-density and financial security, ladies. Get that load-bearing exercise on and review your expenditures; it’s never too late!) If you’re not happy now, do something to be grateful for. Stand up right now, stretch as high as you can and then try to bring your chin to your knees. Hold that for twenty seconds, then straighten up (bend your knees as you straighten if you have issues with your back). Do that three more times. Feel good? Not yet? Okay, do it again tomorrow. Keep doing it for a week and I guarantee you’ll have something to be grateful for, as you recognise your increased gluteal strength and flexibility. Every time you do that simple thing, you are doing something awesome.

 When Activity is Hard

If you’re depressed, never learned, or are just plain out of the habit of looking after yourself, it can be difficult to experience these everyday rewards (I’m talking mild-moderate depression here; if you’re in the middle of a serious episode, some chick talking to you on the internet probably won’t be helpful; you need to see your healthcare professionals and keep working on your plan). So, instead of telling you to look around for reasons to be grateful, I want you to look around for reasons why you’re awesome. But you can’t tell me things you are (I’m smart, I’m friendly, etc) you can only tell me things you’ve done. Five of them. Five awesome things you’ve done since you got up this morning.

And don’t tell me “Nothing”. I don’t believe you. I’ve been on this bloody bus all day, but I reckon I can still scrape out five. Yours will be much better. What have you done?

“Um… I watered the pot plants” YES! You’ve done something to ensure the continued existence of another being AND maintain your own environment’s liveliness and joy. What else? “I…. um… I let someone in ahead of me on the roundabout.” BRILLIANT! You demonstrated kindness and consideration at a particularly stressful time of day. What else have you done? Did you make breakfast? Shave? Wash the dishes? Pick best five and chuck them on your list.

“But I do that stuff every day!” So COUNT it every day! If you don’t think it’s good enough for your list, count it anyway and keep counting it until you have something else that bumps it out of the top five. THIS STUFF MATTERS.

If you’re depressed, just getting dressed might be enough to make it to your list. If you’re an alcoholic, not drinking is the best possible action you can take. We can’t measure this list against anything that other people are doing, it all has to be just us. And every day, we need to make five. I know that sometimes it can be hard to make yourself achieve anything in a day, let alone five things. But really, if you’re already miserable, then doing things won’t make you any less happy, will it? And by giving yourself things to be grateful for, you’re making happiness so, so much more likely.

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 My Awesome Five

I’ll admit, my mojo is kind of being hampered by this bus, but I’m still not without resources. My five things from today are:

1-     I’ve stretched at each rest stop, so I wouldn’t get headaches.

2-      I successfully blow-dried my hair out of its usual dead-seaweed tendencies (still a very new and unreliable skill for me) so I still look human.

3-      I’ve kept my temper all day despite being sleepy and cranky, so Kin and Shallow still love me.

4-      I’ve answered an email and made my cranky friend laugh (she feels much less cranky now).

5-      I’ve written a blog post about doing five awesome things!

What are your five awesome things? Did you cook something? Make something? Plant something? Help someone?

Leave your awesome things in the comments. I’d love to see what you’re doing!

Gem

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Edit II: If you can’t find the “Comments” box, try clicking on the heading “The Best Things In Life” so that you’re actually in the post. Then you should be able to see comments at the bottom.

It also seems that the reason some of you are PMing me your five things is that sometimes an error message comes up when you try to comment. I’ll do my best to fix it, but in the meantime, I’m told that just refreshing a couple of times should do the trick.

I really need to learn some HTML, damn it.

Edit: This was actually completed on Wednesday, and was supposed to be uploaded the same day, but issues with batteries, camera cards, hotel wifi, and the generalized insanity of Tokyo meant that it was much, MUCH easier to just wait until we were back in Shiga. Also, a more complete album of the Penis Festival is now available on our Facebook Page.

Being Awesome Part II

By Gem

Part One is available here.

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Okay, ready for step two?

Stop Feeling Like A Jerk

In Part One, we discussed how a bit of self-criticism can improve your relationship with others. Now we’re going to look at how self-criticism can improve your relationship with yourself. Today’s the day I want you to take a long, hard, critical look at yourself… and love what you see.

 I’m Sorry

Oh god, I think I threw up in my mouth a little. One second….

I’m a bit jaded on the topics of self love and self acceptance just now, because of the nasty, self-adoring fetishism that’s currently passing for both online. There seems to be a real push at the moment to avoid the unpleasant, indulge all desires and cling to every flaw as a virtue; after all, it’s a facet of our totally wonderful selves!

I could not possibly agree less with this nauseating dreck, but will still happily admit that accepting and loving yourself is 100% essential for anyone with the urge to be awesome. You just have to love yourself right.

 The Bad Boss

Have you ever had a really, really horrible boss?

The kind who hang over your shoulder every minute, eager for you to make a mistake? Then, when you do slip up, insult you instead of helping you and make you so nervous and unhappy that you dread going to work? How much did you get done working under a boss like that?

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Conversely, how much more have you achieved with a good boss and a more supportive atmosphere?

The good boss is aware that you have weaknesses (like shyness and inexperience) and uses that knowledge to help you overcome your troubles. They applaud your successes and help you not to fail. In such a supportive environment, it’s easy to achieve and it’s easy to recover from mistakes.

The bad boss is also aware that you have weaknesses and loves to draw attention to them. In fact, if you don’t have enough weaknesses for their satisfaction, they’ll help you to create some (like anxiety and defensiveness). The bad boss ignores your successes, but is thrilled when you fail, rendering that failure more and more likely with every day. In such an antagonistic environment, achievement is almost impossible and recovering from mistakes becomes very, very difficult.

Don’t be the bad boss. Not even to yourself.

 Being The Bad Boss

Being the bad boss is miserable. It’s setting yourself up for self-hatred based in lies. Unhappiness lies to you about what you can do and how you’re perceived by others. Loneliness lies. Fatigue, hunger and boredom lie. And depression lies worst of all.

Being the bad boss is also impractical. People who don’t love themselves don’t get anything done! If you’re constantly focused on what’s wrong (I’m a lazy, awkward frump with no skills, bad breath and a terrible haircut”) then it isn’t really any surprise that you don’t care to do much for such a loser. What would be the point?

This is where the infuriating, self-worshipping gunk plastered all over the internet at the moment is right; you do need to love yourself. And this does include the parts of you that need improving. Where it is wrong, wrong, WRONG, is in suggesting that this is where the journey ends. Loving yourself isn’t important because of internet warm fuzzies. It’s important because of what it makes you DO. You can trumpet to the skies how much you love your scatty brain/ messy house/ alcoholic tendencies, but deep down you know better. Which means that, deep down, you’re still unhappy.

This is why your truthful self-analysis is vital. If you’re being the bad boss, dishonestly focusing your reflection time ONLY on negatives, then you’ll hate yourself and do nothing. But if the way you choose to love yourself also causes you to do nothing, that’s almost as harmful!

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 Being the Good Boss

In the past, I’ve told you not to go around assuming you deserve things. Today, I’m telling you not to assume that you don’t!

Confused? Stick with me, this actually does make sense.

The trouble isn’t really your conviction that you deserve something. It’s what that conviction causes you to do. If people think too much about their rights to things, they lose their impetus for action. They deserve whatever it is, damn it, so other people had better bloody make it happen.

But thinking that they don’t deserve things also destroys a person’s ability to act if they’re hanging over their own shoulder being the bad boss. Kick that bad boss away! This is the time where you do get to think about what you deserve. But I’m not talking about eating pizza or quitting your lousy job. I’m talking about real things, the things that get left out of the Tumblr circle-jerk.

Self-love does not mean indulging your own every whim. Self-love is recognising your desires (for example, good health, enjoyable work and a happy home) and then loving yourself enough to do what is necessary to achieve those desires!

Think of the respect the good boss gives you. They’re encouraging and supportive. They want you to be happy. But they don’t give you a book, a beanbag and a bar of chocolate and tell you to have a nice time. They expect you to work. And you should expect that too!

People work hard to do things like build a house, raise a child, create a business or maintain a marriage. And all of these things have made people very happy. But they also involve a lot of unpleasantness and difficulty. If you’ve thought hard about yourself and your desires, it becomes a lot easier to grit your teeth and get through the hard parts, because you understand the rewards will be worth it.

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 Expecting the Unrealistic

I know it isn’t necessarily that easy to just look at every part of yourself and love it. Most people avoid thinking about their flaws and hence, when they are forced to face them, they seem far more heinous than they would in another person. Relax. Deep down, most of us are pretty dreadful. But luckily, we’re all pretty awesome as well. You fit right in.

Your problem probably boils down to just one thing: Unrealistic expectations. There are two forms of these and both of them are bloody dangerous. There’s Form A, otherwise known as:

 I Hate Myself

Look at all of the awesome things everyone else is experiencing while I’m not doing anything. Everyone I know has a better job/ prettier children/ nicer holidays. I suck.

Form A is what happens when you have unrealistic expectations of yourself. If you don’t understand yourself well enough to know what it is you want from your life, it’s impossible to determine whether or not you’ve achieved it. In that state, it’s easiest to look at what other people are doing as guidance for what you should be doing as well.

Trouble is, all of those people are doing different things! Some of them are travelling the world, some of them are having babies, some of them are volunteering in distant places, some of them are staying home and achieving amazing things in their fields. You can’t possibly keep up with the achievements of absolutely everyone you know, so instead you wander around feeling constantly dissatisfied, no matter how many good things there are in your life.

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Or you could have Form B, otherwise knows as:

 I Hate Everyone Else

I’m an amazing person so good things should happen to me. If they don’t, it’s because society and the people around me are shallow and superficial and only care about money and prominent abdominal muscles.

Form B occurs when you have unrealistic expectations of the world. It’s not wrong to believe good things about yourself. You probably are a truly nice person.

BUT WHO THE HELL ISN’T?

Have you honestly met that many people who aren’t nice? And has the world rewarded them with riches, fame and incredible sex lives? Nope. Because being a nice person is the default setting for life in a human society. It is literally the least we can do.

On the bright side, that means we can usually depend on other people to be nice as well. On the bummer side of the ledger, though, is the fact that there are no special rewards for being nice, other than our fellow humans continuing to allow us to be near them. To get the extra goodies, we need to do extra things.

Some Form B people manage to think that far and try to do the extra things, but don’t necessarily get the goodies they’d like. That’s because their expectations are still unrealistic, like “Once I’m thin, everyone will love me,” or “If I get this law degree, I’ll be rich.” And when these things turn out not to be true, they promptly arrive at Form A via the long road, with a hearty dose of self-loathing to get them started.

Actually, I think most of us tend to combine Form A and Form B, depending on the state of our self esteem at a given time. But whichever one you pick, you’re going to be miserable, and miserable people aren’t very good at loving themselves.

Fear not! None of this is inevitable! Unrealistic expectations of any sort are caused by lack of self-understanding. And that means that you’ll be completely cured by a healthy bout of honest self-analysis (INCLUDING self-criticism). Fortunately, wiping out the unrealistic expectations makes it much easier to love yourself; and loving yourself makes it much easier to get rid of the expectations!

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 Staying Real

 When you are trying to honestly assess who you are and where you’re going, try and do these three things:

1- Look at the big picture

Sometimes we need to be gentle with ourselves. Sometimes it’s better to have a glass of wine, rather than go to an evening class. Sometimes it’s better to rest and let the dog go unwalked or the children unwashed for one day. SOMETIMES.

But please don’t be so gentle with yourself that “sometimes” starts to become “mostly”. If you aren’t moving toward the things you desire, then you’re waiting for someone to given them to you. And is that really very likely?

2-    Measure your progress against yourself

“My friend just ran a full marathon!” Well good for them! But you learned to make Pad Thai, so good for you, too. Don’t judge the worth of your accomplishments by what others do, judge them by how far you’ve come. Your achievements will make you greater, so it’s safe to take joy in those of your loved ones. They do not diminish you.

3-    Don’t make excuses!

It’s okay to not want to do things sometimes, even when those things are good for you. It’s also okay to want to do other things which aren’t good for you. What’s not okay is when you try to sell those feelings to yourself by blaming your long day, sore knee or lazy spouse!

There is no need to try and eliminate your imperfections, or hide them behind a wall of denial and shame. If you examine them in the light, there are usually ways to work with them. But if you’re nurturing your feelings at the expense of your development, that’s not loving yourself. It’s killing yourself.

Basically…

You can’t be awesome if you think you’re rubbish. Accepting and loving who you are is one of the first and most vital steps of your journey.

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Just never forget; it is a journey. And without regular, honest self-criticism, even those first steps are going to be impossible. Don’t criticize yourself too gently; you deserve more respect than that. But don’t dwell on your failings, either. Sure critics can be harsh sometimes. But other times, they give rave reviews.

On with the show!

Gem

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Happy New Year!

By Gem
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What a year it was and what a year it will be!

There we were in January 2013, huddled in our new(ish) Japanese apartment, sick, isolated, wretchedly cold and watching cloudy grey skies dump another few feet of snow on our already-buried bicycles (not to mention our defunct kitchen herbs). Venturing outside was frozen torment, while staying inside was chilly, miserable and soggy! The only place to find relief from the cold was the bathtub, but even this wasn’t safe. Both of us were so ill, the hot water made us horribly dizzy and, on at least one memorable occasion, almost knocked out a struggling Kin (who was running a spectacular fever at the time).

Here we are, in January 2014, in the same apartment in the same town, with the same grim skies dropping the same white stuff on us in big, crunchy drifts. We’ve even had very near facsimiles of the same viruses! But in 2013, we gradually learned things we needed to know to work with the situation. And this year, we’re warm, happy and having a great time!

We learned how to dress. Such an obvious thing to Northern Hemisphere folk, but a total mystery to two clueless Australians, whose usual response to winter is to simply pop a coat over their regular clothes. Here, we had to learn how to add layer upon layer before we stick the coat on top, then carefully plugging up all of the gaps with gloves, woolly scarves, mufflers, big socks, hats… you get the idea. It’s a complex process and we were starting from scratch, adding one element at a time, desperate to escape the horrible, face-freezing, bone-hurting cold outside. This year, our apartment is toasty warm, thanks to Kin developing sealing techniques with foam tape and our discoveries of various active heating methods, involving location changes, sunlight, cooking warmth and a small, very well-researched kerosene heater. Our most valuable plants are enjoying above-zero temperatures in a sunny space indoors and, importantly, we’ve learned that it is impossible to get around in snow without boots. Now that we know about boots and about which back roads regularly see the snowplough, isolation is no longer a problem.

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The rather laboured point I’m trying to make here is that, during unhappy times, it isn’t always your situation that’s the problem. Once you’ve learned how to deal with a situation, a lot of the problems will vanish. Last year we were suffering. This year we aren’t. All that has changed is what we know and do. And the reason I’m making this point now, is that the internet is currently full of joy and optimism regarding the New Year (which is great!) together with happy certainty that this year everything will be different (which is NOT!)

This time next year, Kin and I will have left Japan behind, to return to Australia. On the outside, everything will be different. But when you look at our basic situation, nothing is going to change. We’ll still be married, so we’ll still spend each day experiencing the rewards (and demands) of life with another person. We’ll still need to earn money, maintain our home, nurture ourselves and manage our growth. And we’ll need to learn the skills and the information necessary for us to be able to do those things in the manner that we choose.

Were you suffering in 2013? What do you need to learn so that you don’t have to suffer any more? If you have no money for things that you need, perhaps you need to learn from a financial advisor. If you are miserable in your job, perhaps you need to learn work skills that will allow you to leave. If you are surrounded by people who are unkind to you, perhaps you need a counsellor or a sympathetic friend who will help you learn that you deserve kindness.

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There is no need for you to suffer this year. You have the right to be happy. It is GOOD that you are full of joy and hope; a new year has just begun and wonderful things ARE going to happen in it. But that’s because we’re going to make them happen.  

Don’t say to yourself “This year, things will be different.” Say “This year, I will be different!”

2014 is going to be an amazing year, because all of us together are going to MAKE it amazing! We will be positive! We will set goals! We will love and be loved! What will you learn?

Bring on the new year!

Gem

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