in challenges , being healthy |



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in being healthy , challenges |



I wanted to go running but it was a) 35°C b) so muggy I could see the pollution and then c) thunderstorms came. A day to stay indoors and work on weights.

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in challenges , eating and drinking |

5vegsalad02

Task #11 of 30in30 is to have 5 vegetables in a day.

What better than to make a salad. Easy carrot, cucumber, pepper, sweetcorn and tomato with a japanese sesame dressing. Added a couple of small taiwanese sausages I grilled.

I had enoki mushrooms for lunch so i actually had 6 vegetables today. That, plus walking for 1.5hr while listening to a mindfulness walking mp3 made me feel sort of healthy.


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in being healthy , challenges |



Task #8 of 30in30 is to do mindfulness meditation for 20mins.

I’ve been diligently doing sb&t daily and although I’m not sure I’m seeing results, it’s a nice way to close my eyes and slow down for 10mins. I particularly enjoy the body scan meditations, which is just slowly becoming aware of parts of our body moving through head, neck, shoulders, back, arms and legs.

I found this 20min guided mindfulness exercise that is 100% body scan. It took me a few beats to get used to a new voice — this one is a British guy vs the usual American woman on sb&t. Once I got past that, I was able to follow the meditation.

I even tried a few steps of mindful walking when I was walking to the bus stop. May be I’ll download something to the iphone to listen to next time I’m out and about.

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in challenges , random words |

pp20140916

Task #26 of 30in30 is to write 1000 words for PP.

I said I wanted to build up some momentum for PP, so I made myself sit down in the afternoon to get 1000 words. Start wordcount=2472, finish wordcount=3604 so actual words written=1132.

The story is set in Franklin TN. Here’s when I wish I still lived in Chicago. It’s about 8hrs to drive there, so research in person is feasible. Lots also to do in nearby Nashville. Important things happen during the cherry blossom festival in April. MC1’s dad worked at Nissan and they even offer factory tours. Plus of course, the bourbon trail distilleries are on the way from Chicago to Nashville.


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in challenges |

20140915

Chugging along. I look at the list every night and decide which task I’ll tackle the next day. The first half of the month is easier, I’ll have to plan more towards the end of the month, especially since we’ll be away from the 26th. Have to reserve some tasks for then and complete other tasks I can only do at home.

    health
  1. run/walk/bike 30mins
  2. run/walk/bike 60mins
  3. do more than 50 squats in one set // done 06-sep-2014
  4. do more than 50 crunches in one set // done 07-sep-2014
  5. weights/TRX 3 sets of 10
  6. weights/TRX 3 sets of 12 // done 10-sep-2014
  7. mindfulness 10mins // done 02-sep-2014
  8. mindfulness 20mins
  9. sleep early // done 04-sep-2014
  10. turn off electronics 1hr before bed // done 14-sep-2014

  11. food & drink
  12. 5 different vegetables in a day
  13. 3 different fruits in a day // done 03-sep-2014
  14. mostly water (1 tea, 1 coke zero only)
  15. no red meat day // done 01-sep-2014
  16. no alcohol day // done 13-sep-2014
  17. no snack day
  18. new food/recipe

  19. personal/family
  20. family activity
  21. bbmm activity
  22. scan 10 family pics // done 05-sep-2014
  23. gratitude at 1:11 or 11:11
  24. celebrate a bizarre holiday // done chocolate milkshake day 12-sep-2014

  25. creative
  26. 25 squares
  27. do something creative // done 09-sep-2014
  28. outline nano 2014 // done 15-sep-2014
  29. 1000 words PP
  30. read a new author // done 08-sep-2014

  31. photography
  32. photofriday challenge // done 11-sep-2014
  33. random from photo-a-day
  34. random from instagram challenge


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in challenges , random words |

ppoutline

Task #25 of 30in30 is to outline this year’s nano.

Original plan was to write spotter this year, but I don’t feel like it, mainly because I’m having too much fun with it in my head and writing it down will take the fun away. In any case I want to get some momentum going for party planner, so I’m going to tackle PP this year. And since it’s already outlined, I’m sort of cheating on the task, but whatever. I’ll call it auto-completed.

I’m also cheating on nano because there’s about 2,000 words already written. Technically, nano is supposed to be writing 50k words from scratch. But hey, I’ve been doing nano enough years to know that it’s the spirit of writing 50k new words that count and it’s about time I joined the nano rebels group for a year. I just did a calculation and this will be my 10th nano.

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in challenges , techtalk |

offline

Task #10 of 30in30 is to turn off electronics 1hr before bed.

Everyone will agree that we are too dependent on being connected. Our blackberrys chime and we are compelled to look at it, even though we know it’s work and we hate it. We can’t help but check fb or twitter constantly, in case we are missing out on…something. There’s a lot of advantages for unplugging occasionally, and the national day of unplugging is in March.

Anyway, I’m coming down with something. Cold, cough, flu, whatever. Tired all day. So I shut everything down at 8.45pm. It’s fine to turn off electronics, the only difficulty was I couldn’t use the ipad to read, so I had to find a paperback. I think next time I’ll unplug from internet but I can use electronics for standalone tasks like read books or use the calculator.


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in challenges |

notdrinking

Task #15 of 30in30 is to have a no alcohol day.

I haven’t been drinking a lot, so It’s no big deal. I think up to this point in the month, I’ve had one whisky and one beer. I can do no alcohol week too. I’m quite happy about this, taking a rest from alcohol, not completely but a nice balance.

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in challenges , eating and drinking |



Task #22 of 30in30 is to celebrate a bizarre holiday. Since I have homemade vanilla ice cream, it’s perfect to celebrate chocolate milkshake day. All I did was blitz together 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream with chocolate milk. It seemed the easiest, without having to buy chocolate syrup or cocoa powder, which are the usual ingredients used. It wasn’t chocolate-y enough so I melted some 70% chocolate into the mixture. Why 70% chocolate? I only have baking chocolate in my fridge.

chocmilkshake01

Very rich, a little to sweet for my taste, which I know because the ice cream was too sweet. Chocolate isn’t my first choice for ice cream or milkshake, so if it weren’t for the national chocolate milkshake day, I would probably just had the vanilla ice cream on its own or with some fruit. I can’t imagine how many calories, I made myself go running for 5 miles in torrential rain for this.

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in challenges , photography is life |

glcr154sunset

Task #28 of 30 in 30 is to participate in a photofriday challenge.

This week’s theme is nightfall. This was taken from the balcony of our cruise ship cabin at Glacier Bay in May. I was taking a picture every few minutes waiting for the perfect sunset shot, this was around 9-10pm.

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in eating and drinking |

vanillaicecreamzoku04

When I was in Chicago during the summer, I walked past a Williams-Sonoma, couldn’t help but go inside and ended up buying a couple of zoku ice cream makers. I don’t have space for an ice cream maker, so this small bowl seemed to be a great idea — no churning, and it claims to make ice cream in 10mins.

I’ve watched enough cookery competition programs to know that the best ice cream is made from a custard base. The recipe I used is from david liebovitz, one of the few american cookery writers who give metric measurements. I used half his recipe.

125ml milk — I used hi-calcium 2% milk, because that’s what I have in my fridge
75g sugar — I think this is too much, next time I’ll start with 50g
3 egg yolks — I splurged and bought best quality organic “intense flavour” eggs from japan
250ml whipping cream
1 vanilla pod — if I halved the recipe I should have used half a pod, but I used a whole one anyway, I scraped the seeds out and the pod is now soaking in bourbon to make vanilla extract

Gently heat milk, sugar and vanilla seeds until sugar has melted. Slowly add to egg yolks, whisk and return to pan. Heat very slowly, stirring constantly to make the custard, it will be ready when it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Cool.

In a separate bowl, cool the cream in an ice bath. Add the custard, stir and whisk until thickened and cold. The mixture can be kept in the fridge until ready to make the ice cream.

The instructions for the zoku is to chill the inner bowl in the freezer for 12hrs. The bowl is made of an inner metallic bowl and an outer ceramic bowl with coolant inside. At room temperature I can shake the bowl and feel the fluid sloshing inside. When frozen the coolant feels solid.

To make the ice cream, add a portion of the custard mixture to the frozen bowl, no more than half full. Then stir, fold and scrape for about 10mins until the mixture turns from a thick liquid to frozen ice cream. It really works!

Because all the ingredients are fresh and of good quality, and because I used real cream and a whole vanilla pod, the ice cream tasted unbelievable. Smooth and rich and creamy and simply irrestible.

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in being healthy , challenges |



Task #6 of 30in30 is to do 3 sets of 12 weights or TRX.

Lots to do tonight: sort out some spreadsheets, update apps, buy the all-season pass for run zombies (on sale for $9.99), defrost my fridge (again) and other stuff at home. In between I found time to get a TRX workout in, because: a) it’s one of 30in30 and b) I haven’t done TRX for a while.

I don’t usually do so many TRX reps. Two sets of 10 or 12 is what I usually do, so 3 sets of 12 was a little more strenuous. And it was great! My shoulder and triceps are already telling me they got a workout. The TRX is one of the best things sis ever gave me.


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in challenges |

tok001mosiac tok026chirashi
tok345meiji tok310mosiacwater

Task #24 of 30in30 is to do something creative.

Lots of possibilities here. Since task #26 is to write 1000 words and tasks #28-30 are photo challenges, I should try something else. Draw something, crochet a blanket or make bunting. Ack, no good at any of those. No artistic talent there.

What have I been doing recently? I sorted through the Tokyo pics. 414 pics and 2 videos into 2 sets: tokyo 01 | tokyo 02. So may be I can do something fun with them. I don’t like photo montage apps but I did use a webapp to create a mosiac out of all 400+ pics. Took a few minutes to upload and compose, I picked the bowl of chirashi from tsukiji market and the water bath outside meiji shrine as base pictures. I think the results are pretty cool.

Did that count as something creative? Or should I have drawn something or folded an origami swan? It’s creative enough for me. YMMV.

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in random words |

crossposted to medium as Getting the World to Read.




litday


Today, Monday 8 September, is International Literacy Day. The day has been celebrated since 1966, after the World Conference of Ministers on the Eradication of Illiteracy adopted the view that literacy is a means for development and an integral part of the development process.

To mark International Literacy Day, there are events in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile, New Zealand, Rwanda and other countries celebrating and promoting literacy. The big UNESCO event at Dhaka has two parts. First, a conference on the 2014 theme of “Literacy and Sustainable Development” with special emphasis on Girls’ and Women’s Literacy and Education; second, prizes will be given out for outstanding performance and innovative practices in literacy.

Former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, wrote about 15 countries that have joined together to become Learning Champions to focus on improving literacy and numeracy in the world’s poorest countries. The first country to launch the initiative was Kenya, with countries in South America, Asia and the Middle East to follow.


It is well accepted that increased literacy leads to better quality of life, improved health and economic success. To that end, it is one of the most important aspect of humanity. From UNESCO:

Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational opportunities depend on literacy.

Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy.

The numbers [pdf] are staggering, and staggeringly desparate:

  • 16% of the world’s population are illiterate
  • 64% of illiterate adults are female
  • 61% of illiterate youths are female
  • 171 million people will be out of poverty if they had basic reading skills
  • 15% fewer child deaths if the mother had primary education

There are numerous initiatives aiming to help and improve literacy — IBBY, the World Literacy Foundation, Room to Read and World Reader are just a few examples of organisations and programs doing various things in the area of literacy and education.

Although there have been progress, such as primary school enrollment reaching 90% in developing countries (as of 2010), there are concerns about the quality of education in all, even developed countries. In the UK, as reported by The Guardian:

One in six adults in Britain now has a literacy level below that expected of an 11-year-old

The most commonly read material by children is text messages.

Text messages.

srsly? SMH.

****

sisuk082books

I can’t imagine not being able to read. The earliest books I remember reading was a children’s weekly magazine that had short stories and cartoons. At school one lesson a week was going to the school library and borrowing a book to read. I read abridged biographies of composers, that was my interest area when I was about 7. Growing up, I devoured Enid Blynton, the Hardy Boys (didn’t like Nancy Drew that much) before moving onto classic science fiction and fantasy. Even now as an adult I love paranormal adventures and mystery thrillers. Romances are my guilty pleasure.

As part of a 1001 day challenge I have been keeping track of my reading and I’ve read over 90 books in 9 months. My most recent book was a funny paranormal adventure with a sarcastic and annoying main character who happened to be Death’s daughter. Very engaging read, and I would love for more people to read the book. I would assume that everyone I tell about the book will have the ability to read it; whether they choose to, that’s another matter.

Today I went grocery shopping and there are so many things I take for granted because I can read. Bus numbers and destinations, road signs, shop names, product names, prices, even the doorcode to get back home. All assume an ability to recognise words and numbers. Imagine only relying memory to know which road to take, or only recognising items by colour or size, or not even knowing how to write my name. It’s unimaginable.

****

What can we do to help global literacy? I don’t know. I know it’s a problem, but not until today when I looked into International Literacy Day more carefully did I realise how severe the issue is. I bought one of the One Laptop per Child laptops because they said for each one bought, they’d donate one to a child. I hope it helped a child somewhere.

There are so many charities and causes vying for our attention nowadays, global literacy needs is its equivalent to the ALS ice bucket challenge. May be we can challenge someone to read a book and donate $1 or donate $100 to a reading charity. Or may be we can start small:

  • give a book as a gift and include a note about literacy is so important
  • get involved in reading / literacy charities — start by going through a useful list of 150+ such charities
  • donate our used books — to the library, to a school, to a local organisation. Some charities collect used books for developing countries, some sell books with profits going to literacy causes
  • support, donate to our local libraries
  • spread the word

I don’t know what I can do aside from becoming better informed and writing about it. I know I should get more involved in charitable giving and may be it’s time I did more. i know reading and writing are topics dear to me. And on that note, I’m off to read another book.

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in challenges |

amberbenson01

Task #27 of 30in30 is to read a new author. Appropriate, considering today is international literacy day.

Sis asked me for my recommendations for science fiction books for my niece. Ah the memories. I can’t remember if I started reading scifi books at 12, definitely at around 15-16 I was going through the shelves at the library — hitchhiker’s guide and the foundation series came first, because they were there alphabetically. I can’t remember half the ones I read now. I switched to fantasy soon. I still have both sets of David Eddings’ Belgariad as well as his other books, all (I think) of Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series on my shelf, even after downsizing from 2 full bookcases of fiction to half a bookcase.

So when sis asked me, I went and looked to see what physical books I had left that I could lend to my niece. Anne McCaffrey and Philip Pullman. I’d love to introduce her to the world of Pern but I think I’ll start her with The Ship Who Sang. I also got a few recs from my fb friends. It’s enough for her to borrow from the library or get on kindle.

I also noticed the couple of Ghosts of Albion collectible hardbacks, and then I remembered I still haven’t read Amber Benson’s Calliope Reaper-Jones series. The first one, Death’s Daughter, was published in 2009, and I went to the signing in Chicago. I wanted to see if I can recommend it to my niece.

I’m a bit of an Amber fan. Tara of course. I have a small signed Chance poster framed on my wall. I remember reading that one of the locations for Ghosts of Albion was St Mary’s le Strand and it brought warm fuzzy feelings.1 I follow her on twitter and fb and instagram (but not in a stalkery way, I don’t think I’ve ever DM or commented on her posts.)

The publisher’s blurb for Death’s Daughter:

Calliope Reaper-Jones so just wanted a normal life: buying designer shoes on sale, dating guys from Craigslist, web-surfing for organic dim-sum for her boss.

But when her father—who happens to be Death himself—is kidnapped, and the Devil’s Protégé embarks on a hostile takeover of the family business, Death, Inc., Callie returns home to assume the CEO mantle—only to discover she must complete three nearly impossible tasks in the realm of the afterlife first.

Reviews for the book is mixed. Some outright fan fawning vs people who don’t think actors should write. I’m not a fan of these reviews. Actual reviews of the book are also mixed. And I can see why.

Callie is forced to return to the family fold after her father is kidnapped and she is the designated person to save him and the family business, Death. Reluctantly she drags her tank-topped and Jimmy Choo-heeled self to Hell (literally) and back in order to complete 3 tasks before a) her allocated time and b) her competition beats her to them. She’s whiny, contradictory, frustrating and basically bumbles along with help from friends, her sister and various mythical beings. Everybody talks like a SoCal teenager, even though they are mythical being or, in the case of Callie, a twentysomething immortal who lives in New York. There’s Bollywood dancing and an inordinate amount of ogling of the male body. On almost every page there are numerous pop culture references.

But that’s the point. I don’t think it’s supposed to be taken seriously, it’s not like it’s the next Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Yes, Callie is, like, annoying, but her heart is, like, in the right place (that’s, like, how she speaks). I can get past the juvenile speak and get behind snarky Callie. Yes, the mythology is mixed up, with a Cerberus that acts in a surprising manner and the Indian goddess Kali acting like a mean girl and using words like “dipwad.” So what. It’s tongue-in-cheek, people.

The story itself is your standard do-3-impossible-tasks-to-save-the-world deal. Interesting twists on all 3 tasks. A flawed, reluctant heroine (like Buffy s1 or General Buffy s7) who is more concerned with shoe shopping and boys. The cover has a tough looking girl with short dark hair but for some reason I picture Lindsay Lohan (the actor with some talent, not the drug-addled failure). Hotter than hell…Hell, a castle with walls made from tortured people, a bottomless black pit and a 14-room house in New England are some of the locations. Plus a supporting cast of misfits. I can see it as a funny indie film.

It’s not a perfect book. Needed tighter editing to fix the spelling mistakes and superfluous parts. The dialogue doesn’t flow in all places and the plot jumps with no reason—they are screaming and yelling at each other then suddenly her dog bites her on her ankle.

The motivation for reading is to see if it’s suitable for a 12 year old. The story itself, yes I think a 12 year old will enjoy it. The silly speak and sarcasm too, i think a 12 year old will get the funny. I won’t be recommending it to my niece though, not until she’s older. There are too many inappropriate words and sexual references. It’s a shame, because these were the superfluous parts that didn’t add value to the story.

Death’s Daughter is the first of a series, there are 4 books now. I like this first book enough to want to get the other 3. Now here’s the problem, ebook vs paperback. In order of cost:

  • 3 used paperbacks shipped to US = $12 (I can get all 3 at 0.01+3.99 shipping)
  • 3 new paperbacks shipped to US = $21.57 (7.19 each, free shipping if I borrow the use of Prime)
  • 3 new paperbacks at paddyfield = $24.61 (64 each — paddyfield is a local online bookseller who sells English books from US/UK at almost direct fx conversion)
  • 3 new paperbacks shipped here from amazon = $26.56 (7.19 each plus 4.99 total shipment)
  • 4 kindle = $31.96 (7.99 each)

If I get the paperback, cheapest is used shipped to the US which means I have to wait till July. The advantage of ebook is obvious, and I’ve been 100% ebook for a few years now. I’ll think about it, I’m not in a big hurry.


1 St Mary’s le Strand is a tiny church on the Strand rather pitifully divided by 4 lanes of traffic rushing either on the Strand or turning left onto Waterloo Bridge. It’s also directly opposite King’s, so I would have walked past it at least twice a day for 7 years.


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in challenges |

Task #4 of 30in30 is to do 50 crunches in one set.

I find crunches harder than squats so although i was able to do 50 (not perfectly) I couldn’t get to 101. I did end up doing one set of 50 and 2 sets of 25.

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in 101.1001 , being healthy |

squats

Task #3 of 30in30 is to do more than 50 squats in one set. Task #44 of 101.1001 is to do 101 squats in one set.

I’d originally aimed for the set of 50, seeing that I haven’t been working out as rigorously as I used to. I got to 50 and felt fine, so I carried on. A little tight at 80, at which point it was worth pushing on to finish at 101.

Slow squats, on form, trying to keep a 90 degree angle at the bottom of each motion.


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in challenges , family first |

familyscan1-24

Task #20 of 30in30 is to scan 10 family pics.

Both my grandfather and father had cameras when we were small; my dad still has his camera and my grandfather even took 8mm videos. Before the age of digital cameras and social media, photographs were carefully composed on 35mm film, developed at a shop and stored in photo albums. We have a lot of family albums. A couple of shelves in their cabinet and I have 2 boxes myself. It’ll take a long time to organise and scan them all, I want to make a start somehow.

These are small 3.5”x2.5” pics of me and sis. I love the small format, these are firm favourites. There are 16 double-sided pages in this album, each page holds 8 pics so 256 total. Scanned the first 24, all b/w, I was about 4 or 5 years old. Still good quality albeit a little yellowed, adds to the charm.

p.s. image is deliberately small and blurred, I don’t want our faces to be recognisable.


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in challenges |

clock1010

Task #9 of 30in30 is to sleep early.

I haven’t been sleeping well. I wake up in the middle of the night, usually 3 or 4am, then can’t get back to sleep until 5 or 6am. I don’t know why. I don’t think I’m stressed. I don’t drink anything with caffeine after around 3pm, I don’t eat anything substantial after 8pm and because I don’t need to get up for work there are days when I’m in bed till 9 or 10am.

There’s so much research on sleep. Every so often there will be articles on why we can’t sleep, how many hours of sleep we really need and the science behind sleeping. All sort of interesting, but doesn’t solve my can’t sleep problem.

I’m going to bed early tonight. I hope I get some quality sleep.


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in challenges , eating and drinking |

303020140907fruit

Task #12 of 30 in 30 is to eat 3 different fruits in a day.

I had 13 giant peaches in the case from tokyo; one was extremely squashed and three were quite squashed. The figs I bought were also a little squashed. I had diced giant mangos in the freezer so it was an easy job to assemble a fruit salad. Even the extremely squashed peach had good bits, and 2/3 of a squashed peach tasted just as delicious as a whole peach.

I went to sis to give her the ikura, a few peaches and the pokemon soft toy to my niece. She had watermelon so total I had 4 fruits today.

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in challenges |

stopbreathethinkapp

Task #7 of 30 in 30 is to do mindfulness meditation for 10mins.

Today was a travelling day. We did tons of walking, shopping and pushing suitcases along the streets of Tokyo before flying home. Got home around 11pm, unpacked and showered. So it was good to sit quietly, close my eyes and listen to the meditation for 10mins.


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in going places |

tok0030pokemon

Checked out early and had breakfast at a bakery café at the station. Today’s plan: last day shopping.

My niece’s request for a pokemon soft toy at the shop at the station was checked off first. I took a video of the shelves and she picked the toy she wanted, way to go social media.

tok0031icecream

Back to Ueno and bought a case of giant peaches, ikura, unagi, pickles, snacks, popcorn and scented sys masks. We made time to stop for green tea ice cream at a specialist green tea shop that was delicious. They had benches inside the store, and also served us green tea to follow the ice cream.

Back to the hotel to repack, both of us managing to squeeze everything aside from the 5kg case of peaches into our suitcases. Wheeled the heavy suitcases to the other side of Tokyo station to go back to Hanamaro conveyor belt sushi. More tuna, salmon, scallop, squid and ikura sushi.

Narita express train to the airport, a little more complicated and harder than the limousine bus, but we prefer to skip the traffic. Dropped our bags, went through immigration and onto the duty free. There was whisky and sake tasting, we bought more yoichi 15, so value for money at ¥5,500. Final shopping was for snacks, there was a potato snack that was limited to 5 per person and we saw people with their full limit. We were more restrained, only one each. Chocolate popcorn, green tea roll cake and mm bought kitkat cheesecake.

Loaded with shopping and happy memories, we were just in time for boarding. I’d checked us in early on Sunday and grabbed exit row seats. The flight wasn’t full so we had the whole row. The flight was 45mins early but bags were delayed. I was home just after 11pm.


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in challenges , eating and drinking |

30302014091401sushi 30302014091402cake

Task #14 of 30in30 is to have no red meat during the day. The last time I did 30in30 was april 2014, and it also coincided with bbmm going to Japan. Co-incidence much.

30302014091403fugu

It’s so easy to skip red meat in Japan. We had sushi for lunch, cake for tea and went to a fugu restaurant for dinner — the first time we tried the infamous poisonous pufferfish. In between, we sampled some potato snacks and red bean sweets at stalls around the Sensō shrine. If we hadn’t bought a couple of skewers of squid and chicken liver for snack, i could say it was a no meat day.


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in going places |

tok0024sushi tok0025soup

Rain most of the day, pretty miserable. We started the day late as usual, headed to Kitte mall next to Tokyo station for brunch at Nemuro Hanamaro conveyor belt sushi, this is our favourite place in Sapporo and I was happy to see that they have a branch at Tokyo. We had ikura, scallops (3 plates), tuna, salmon, hamachi, some other white fish and a bowl of yummy crab soup. 15 plates including the soup for ¥5,000.

tok0026shrine tok0027shrine

Took the subway to Asakusa, one of the older areas of Tokyo. The major landmark is Sensō-ji, the oldest shrine in Tokyo, founded in 628. The pedestrian street leading up to the shrine is lined on both sides with stalls selling souvenirs, kimono, fans, snacks and sweets. The area surrounding the shrine is also made up of small streets lined with shops and restaurants.

It had been raining throughout the day and it got steadily heavier. We sought cover at a coffee shop where we enjoyed a coffee (for mm), tea (for me) and cakes. The place only had one table occupied when we went in, but it filled up quickly with people with the same idea.

We walked around a little more in the area, both at the small streets and at a couple of department stores. Found a supermarket and bought some snacks and cakes. There was a food store at the basement of Seibu that turned out to be a Walmart branded supermarket, wandered around there too.

tok0028puffer tok0029puffer

The reason we stayed in the area and waited around for dinner was because we came across a restaurant that served fugu, or puffer fish. This is the highly poisonous fish that requires very careful handling, that chefs must be specially trained and certified before they are allowed to prepare it. The waitress told us that a set is enough for two, so that’s what we ordered. Small dish of starter, fugu sashimi, fugu hot pot and congee made from the soup. One set, with two drinks came to just over ¥5,000. No one said fugu is cheap.

Stopped by the whisky place near the station to sample some more whisky. In addition to the Amrut fusion I bought earlier, I bought a Yoichi 15, a 500ml Miyagikyo NAS and the green Ichiro’s malt.

Our last night at the hotel, same routine of going downstairs to the onsen then peaches for dessert.

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in challenges |

30days

Time for a new 30 tasks in 30 days challenge. Tried it for the first time in april and it was a good challenge. To recap, 30in30 is 30 tasks, each should be achievable in a day.

    health
  1. run/walk/bike 30mins
  2. run/walk/bike 60mins
  3. do more than 50 squats in one set
  4. do more than 50 crunches in one set
  5. weights/TRX 3 sets of 10
  6. weights/TRX 3 sets of 12
  7. mindfulness 10mins
  8. mindfulness 20mins
  9. sleep early
  10. turn off electronics 1hr before bed

  11. food & drink
  12. 5 different vegetables in a day
  13. 3 different fruits in a day
  14. mostly water (1 tea, 1 coke zero only)
  15. no red meat day
  16. no alcohol day
  17. no snack day
  18. new food/recipe

  19. personal/family
  20. family activity
  21. bbmm activity
  22. scan 10 family pics
  23. gratitude at 1:11 or 11:11
  24. celebrate a bizarre holiday

  25. creative
  26. 25 squares
  27. do something creative
  28. outline nano 2014
  29. 1000 words PP
  30. read a new author

  31. photography
  32. photofriday challenge
  33. random from photo-a-day
  34. random from instagram challenge


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in going places |

tok0015ramen

Did not sleep well last night, woke up between 3-5am, didn’t wake up till 10am. Luckily we had no particular plans. It ended up being decent timing, we went to Rokurinsha at Ramen Street Tokyo Station, which supposedly serves the best tsukemen in Tokyo, if not the country. This style of ramen is called dipping ramen, with the noodles (absolutely excellent) and soup (thick, full flavour) are served in separate bowls. We take some of the noodles, dip it into the soup and slurp to our heart’s content. There is a permanent queue there, we got there around 10.50am, just in time for them to reopen at 11am for lunchtime service. Still had to wait around 30mins, totally worth it.

tok0016shibuya

Next stop was shibuya, the pedestrian crossing outside the station is arguably the world’s busiest intersection. The best view, from my research, is at the 1/F window of the starbucks right at the crossing. Good view.

tok0017market tok0018market

A 10min walk from shibuya is the weekend farmer’s market at the united nations university. Fantastic looking produce — fruits, vegs, flowers, honey, bread, pastry as well as small food trucks that look exactly like the ones at the real food market in London. We rested for a while with a drink of sangria from one of the trucks (alcoholic for me, non-alcoholic for mm).

tok0020shrine tok0021shrine

From the market we walked around 20-30mins through the harajuku champs elysee (same wide street with trees either side, same designer shops) to the meiji shrine set inside yoyogi park. A pleasant walk in the grounds, we stopped for a drink — coke float for me, coffee for mm. The shrine consisted of several large buildings, when we entered we joined the locals in the hand washing ritual. No photography was allowed at the main shrine, where people were praying.

tok0022yakitori tok0023yakitori

It was already 5pm so we debated where to go for dinner. At first we thought of going back to tsukiji but since we were only 1 stop from shinjuku we decided to go to Omoide Yokocho, otherwise known as memory lane or the more local name of piss alley. The narrow alley is situated next to shinjuku station and consists of dozens of tiny yakitori stalls. We went to one that proclaimed that it serves the best yakitori in Tokyo. A mother and daughter team ran the place and we had a mixed chicken and pork platter, green peppers and squid grilled skewers. Washed down with a beer. The place started getting busier as we left.

Back to the hotel later than the past 2 nights, by the time we made it downstairs to the onsen it was 8.30pm. Soaked for half an hour, had peaches and yogurt back in our room.


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in going places |

tok0006lake tok0007shrine

Breakfast at the hotel, buffet of rice, soup, stewed vegetables, salad, fish and fruit. Filling enough for us to skip lunch. We were in no hurry and didn’t leave till around 10.30am.

The destination today was Ueno 上野 to visit the park. Inside the park were several museums — the national museum, museum of science & nature, children’s library, art museum, a concert hall, a zoo and a few shrines. Didn’t go into the museums or the zoo, took a few pictures at a small shrine.

tok0004lotus tok0005lotus

A major feature of the park was a lake, divided into three sections. Two of the sections were in fact lotus ponds. Not all the flowers were in bloom, there were a few visible, very pretty. It took us a couple of hours to walk around the park.

tok0008alley  tok0009freak
tok0010fish tok0011fruit

A few minutes from the park was Ameya-Yokochō アメヤ横丁, a rabbit warren of streets and alleys that make up a crazy open air market. The street is also called candy shop alley, but nowadays there are shops selling clothes, shoes, fish, fruit, toys, bags and many other things. Crowded on a Saturday. We stopped at a conveyor belt sushi place for a few plates of sushi, bought a few odd items from a pharmacy, some clothes and socks from the Uniqlo across the way.

tok0012unadon tok0013peach

Early dinner of unagi don (grilled eel on rice). It was only around 5.30pm so the place was a quiet oasis from the bustling street outside. Very delicately flavoured eel, really nice and not too filling.

Got back to the hotel early and went down to the spa again. Not too busy, at 7pm most people were probably out at dinner. Soaked in the spa for about half an hour, then back to our room for dessert of giant peaches we bought at the market. Very juicy, really sweet and delicious.


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in going places |

Long day. Flight was at 1am so we were at the airport at 11pm on Thursday. Check-in and everything else were quick so we found ourselves sitting at the gate with 2 other 1am flights. The plane was full, and the crew turned the lights off as soon as the plane levelled at cruising altitude. We were given a sandwich box which we saved till we landed at the airport. Landed around 6.15am, we were out at arrivals by around 7am. We sat, had breakfast of ham & cheese roll, chocolate muffin and a few pieces of fruit.

My research told me to get the NEX express train, by showing our foreign passport we get a 50% discount for the one way ticket to Tokyo station. A good deal. Our hotel is right across the road from the station. 9am was too early to check-in, we left our luggage there and made our way to Tsukiji fish market. We were too late to see the world famous tuna auction or any of the wholesale activities, but there was lots going on at the market.

tok0001chirashi

We joined the queue for one of the small restaurant stalls for lunch — it took about an hour of queuing until it was our turn, there were lots of people and the restaurant only sat 12. We ordered hamachi, uni and salmon roe chirashi. The ingredients were fresh and we were pretty hungry, not as good as the fish in Hokkaido though. After lunch we had coffee in a very old-fashioned counter café. I had a milky coffee which tasted great even to this non-coffee drinker.

tok0002egg

Walked around the market some more, both the wholesale area and the more familar outside area with dozens of stalls and restaurants. Had a snack of tamagoyaki (egg roll) for only ¥100. Washed down with green tea.

tok0003whisky

Walked to Shimbashi station and took the Yamanote line back to Tokyo station. Still too early to check in so we visited the department stores as well as the maze of underground shops at the station. Found an absolutely amazing liquor store with shelf upon shelf of whiskies, rum, brandy, vodka and all sorts. The best thing, they let you taste 10ml of many bottles for a small fee (¥100-200). We tried Amrut single malt and fusion — award winning from India and a Revival (3yr) plus Komagatake 10 from Mars distilery. All 4 are very unusual and hard to find. The Revival is supposed to be limted edition but at 3yrs it was like grain whisky and not worth the ¥10,000+ price tag. Our favourite was the Amrut fusion.

Dinner was tempura and soba from one of the station restaurants. We were really knackered by then, it was only 6pm. We went back to the hotel to find that they had already placed our bags in our room and everything was sorted. After choosing our pillows we made our way to the small spa to wash away the day’s dust and tiredness. Early to bed.


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in how the day went |

exthdmouse

Our flight is 1am tomorrow, so there’s a whole day of waiting. Nothing much to do except eat up all the food in the fridge, watch tv and read. My mouse failed, the optical sensor has gone haywire. Couldn’t be bothered to find out what’s wrong, it’s easier just to get a new one. 5 years is pretty good for a mouse.

While I was at it, I got an external HD for mum because she lost her old one. I don’t know how anyone can lose a hard drive, especially since she never took it outside. Nevermind. Hard drives are so affordable now, I got her a 1TB one, I doubt she’ll ever need that much space.

And now back to waiting for time to have dinner, shower, do the laundry and leave for the airport.

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in 101.1001 , challenges , eating and drinking |

chickenballotine01

Tasks #49-58 of 101 in 1001 are to try 10 new recipes. This is #8, the third savoury and only the second meat recipe.

One of the classics in tv cooking history was Jacques Pepin deboning a whole chicken, stuffing it and making a galantine, a truly amazing demonstration of butchery and cooking skills. Nowadays I see chefs on masterchef and cookery competition programs making ballotine of chicken, duck, veal or another meat. There are many names: Pepin’s galantine, Americans favour roulade and ballotine seems to be used in the UK and commonwealth. It all comes down to the same concept: meat swiss roll with some stuffing (meat, vegetables or a combination) rolled up in an outer layer of meat.

This is a recipe I worked out myself, inspired by bonappetit. Serves 4 with sides, or 2 very hungry adults:

  1. pan fry 2 chicken thighs, season and dice to small bite-size pieces
  2. dice mushroom into small pieces, cook with chopped reconstituted dried porcini and sun-dried tomato, season
  3. combine thigh with mushroom mixture to make the filling and leave to cool
  4. butterfly 2 chicken breasts, cover with clingfilm and flatten slightly — not as flat as an escalope, around 1cm thick, season with s&p
  5. layer jamon, fresh basil, emmental slices on top of the chicken breast — jamon because the packet I bought was from spain, I was initially aiming for prosciutto; emmental because that’s what I found in the fridge, mozzarella or provolone will work just as well
  6. spoon on filling and roll carefully, secure with toothpick if necessary — it was difficult to roll so I used another slice of jamon on the outside
  7. sear in a pan until golden brown
  8. transfer to oven and bake at 180°C for 10mins
  9. rest for 5mins then slice

chickenballotine04

Served the ballotine with roast potatoes, mushroom and cherry tomato. I made some sauce by combining the mushroom cooking liquid with the water from the porcini and sun-dried tomato. It tasted really good, I only cooked the chicken breast for 10mins so it was still juicy.

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in outside interests |

hollowbook01 hollowbook02
hollowbook03 hollowbook04

Here’s something for the person who has everything, via bb, an etsy store that sells hollow books: hollowed out hardbacks with matching whisky flask. Edgar Allan Poe, Pride and Prejudice, DC comics, even the Bible.

I’m trying to de-clutter and minimalise my life. I have been collecting whiskies, now should I get one of these book whisky flasks to enjoy a wee dram? Tempting.


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in going places |

tokyo201408

Flight is confirmed, just need e-ticket. Hotel is booked. We decided against ryokan: the ones with availability weren’t as conveniently located as we like and we like the hot spring bath in the hotel we found.

So most of the day was doing research on things to do, possible day trips, food and, very important, where to drink and buy whisky. Everything is neatly organised in my evernote notebook. We’ll be there for almost 5 full days, arriving on the red eye at 6.25am and leaving on an evening flight. Even found some bargains: the NEX from Narita is half price for non-Japanese and sanrio puroland (aka hello kitty land) is almost half price after 3pm.

Then I remembered to check out /r/tokyo. Thanks reddit for the monthly travel megapost of ideas. Attractions, getting around and lots of tips. I know this already, that there are very few free wifi hotspots in Japan, but I didn’t realise there is free wifi at 7-eleven and starbucks, providing we pre-register. Other options are renting sim card or pocket wifi.



This being reddit, I learn that sumo season hasn’t started but we may be able to go watch the training, there’s a place in shinjuku with ¥120 beers and we must

GO TO FUCKING ROBOT RESTAURANT, IF YOU DON’T GO WHILE YOU VISIT TOKYO GO KILL YOURSELF

The robot restaurant in shinjuku can only exist in Japan. It seems to be an insane combination of giant robots, flashing neon, cosplay, dancing, wrestling and more. Hmm, may be we’ll see if we have time.

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in going places |

tky036night

Possibly the only good thing about living here is the proximity to Japan. We can go to places like Hokkaido or Kansai or Tokyo at a moment’s notice. Which is what we are doing, Tokyo for a long weekend, this weekend. Every time we plan a holiday, we skip Tokyo in favour of other more unusual places, because in our minds it’ll always be there. We’ve both travelled to Tokyo for business, but it’s been many many years since we actually visited for holiday.

I had to remind myself of the various districts and what to do:

  • tsukiji fish market of course
  • ginza for shopping
  • shinjuki 新宿 for more shopping and busy area
  • shibuya 渋谷 for the iconic busy crossing, shopping at Tokyu Hands and Takashimaya plus proximity to the Meiji shrine
  • ebisu 恵比寿 for restaurants and izakayas
  • roppongi 六本木 for bars and clubs
  • akihabara 秋葉原 for electronics and otaru stuff
  • ueno 上野 for park and zoo
  • asakusa 浅草 for a bit of history, culture and religion
  • odaiba お台場 artificial island with a bridge, beaches, exhibition halls and shopping

And that’s not including Tokyo Disneyland, Sanrio Puroland (aka Hello Kittyland) and day trips to places such as Hakone, Fuji and Yokohama.



I also had to remind myself how enormous the entire greater Tokyo area is. Superimposed on a map of the UK, it takes up most of the Midlands. Almost 40 million people. We are looking at a hotel near Tokyo station, which is 60mins by express train from the airport and 25-30mins from the popular areas like shibuya and shinjuku. It’s a newer hotel, good price and has its own hot springs bath.

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in random words |

bellagiftcert

Bought 16 books. Between a discount code and a gift certificate, total out-of-pocket was around $100 meaning I averaged $6.25 per book. The majority were full priced although there were a couple of novellas at lower price. Still, $6.25 per book, that’s a Mcdonald’s meal.

I actually could have reduced the spending if I used up all the balance on my gift certificate. One of the things I work very hard to overcome is not saving the last piece of something. It seems to be human nature, that the last chocolate was the best. May be it’s the freshest on our minds, or somehow we perceive that because there won’t be more, it must be preserved and saved. Mum a good example, there are many many single pieces of chocolate, cereal bar, snacks wrapped up in her fridge: almost always the last piece remaining. I’m trying to stop myself doing that as part of a general trend towards minimising clutter. I’ve also been burned — “best” pieces that I’ve saved to enjoy later have a tendency to spoil.

I tend to spend around $50 a month on books, and since I hadn’t done a big order since May, I feel good about the big order today. My aim is to slowly use up the gift certificate balance, may be $10 or so each month. This way, the certificate lasts longer and I can work in any sale or incentive available. This is apparently a savvy way to spend gift cards:

Get the most bang out of a gift card by spending it on already-reduced merchandise

I think I’m doing better at the not!hoarding business. Every time I’m tempted to save the last piece, I remind myself of the chocolate crickets [warning: insect pic] from Wittamer I was saving up but had to throw away because they got mouldy. Every time I buy something, I think about where it will go and how often I will use it. I will use up every $ on the gift certificate. I don’t want to add to the $44bn in unused gift cards sitting out there (okay, I won’t be adding to that because I’m not American, but imagine the global figure).


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in 101.1001 , being healthy , challenges |

mordorwalk458

Task #40 of 101 in 1001 is to complete the walk to mordor challenge, following Frodo and Sam’s journey from Hobbiton to Mt Doom. It’s a total of 1779 miles.

No, I haven’t gone that far yet, though I’m determined to finish this task by the end of 101.1001. I’m happy to say that I’ve reached a milestone: 458 miles from Hobbiton to Rivendell.

This was from a combination of walking, running and cycling (both real bikes and stationary bike). Didn’t keep details of how many miles by each method, I think at the end of the day it’ll balance out.

Next milestone is 462 miles away. This is where Frodo and Sam set out with the Fellowship from Rivendell, through Moria, to Lothlorien to get to 920 miles total.

mordor20140822

So it’s taken me 265 days to complete 459 miles. I’ve used up 26.4% of my time allocation to achieve 25.8% of my goal, so I’m very slightly behind. I have 736 days to cover the remaining 1320 miles, at just over 1.79 miles per day. So far I’ve averaged 1.73 miles per day so I just have to ramp it up a notch and I’ll be back on track.

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in about me |

syd4014dolphin

It’s #tbt so I posted a 10 year old pic of the dolphin watch cruise at Port Stephens near Sydney. I’d almost forgotten about that trip! In 2004 I was travelling so much that it seemed like I spent more time at hotels than at home and the trips blurred into a giant foggy semi-memory. That trip to Sydney was part of a massive 3 week trip as part of the service centre set up. I managed to meet up with sherlock, her gf at the time and we drove up to Port Stephens / Nelson Bay for a dolphin watch cruise. It was my first time and it was very interesting.

The reason I can look back is because I have archives so I can see not only what I was doing 10 years ado but my general state of mind. Reading through august 2004 entries and doing a SB&T check:

  • physically I seemed to be suffering from back pain and eating out too much, not exerising
  • mentally I had to continue to be alert because of work, I had a lot of information to gather, analyse and present at the end of the trip
  • emotionally I was in a bad place, even now the loneliness and sadness came through — it was less than a year since mm lost her sis and our relationship was pretty rocky

cwall016denham

Lots happened in the past 10 years. What I wouldn’t give to go back 10 years and have a talk with 2004!me. Or pick the brain of 2024!me. This is what the guys at nerd fitness are asking us to consider. Three things:

  1. something the current you would tell yourself 10 years ago:
    • don’t wait till you can’t bear to look in the mirror before getting your health in order; exercise, start eating healthier and watch the alcohol
    • work stress is not worth it; do the best you can, but don’t be lazy
    • things with mm will never go back to how it was, communicate positively and build for the future
    • keep a closer eye on your finances, you can be a bit more aggressive in your investments

  2. what your future looks like, being as specific and detailed as possible:
    • congratulations on another marathon PR
    • you won an award for your pics from the antarctic cruise (continent #7)
    • you finally get the recognition you wanted as a published author
    • the microfarm and the attached café restaurant are doing really well, and wow, new cookbook coming out
    • you and mm made some good property investments, and designed your new home

  3. what’s one thing the FUTURE you would come back and tell TODAY you so that you head down the right path? Actually I have two things:
    • learn more about mindfulness, just let things be
    • run. run more. don’t stop running




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September 2014

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