Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review: Blessed Are The Dead

Pictured is the second book in Kristi's series.  I've already given the first book to my mum to read!

I am so excited and happy for my dear blog friend Kristi Belcamino.  Kristi used to write a fabulous lifestyle blog called La Bella Figura and I adored her Italian-American take on living a minimalist and beautiful life on a budget.

Kristi published a book by the same name based on her blog which I have and love too.  When she finished up with her blog a couple of years ago it was to move onto her lifelong dream of publishing a novel.  After hearing it was a crime novel I admit I was a little disappointed as this was totally not the type of reading material I usually went for.

I shy away from crime tv programmes as they’re too gory for me and for the same reason I had never tried mystery/crime/thriller/suspense novels.

Well, between then and now, something happened.  I don’t know why, but I started reading mystery and crime novels and really enjoyed them.  Can I say page turner anyone?  Among my usual diet of chick lit, chic lit and contemporary fiction, I’ve read and enjoyed Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, both Robert Galbraith’s (JK Rowling’s) novels The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm and also One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis.

So when Kristi’s first mystery novel Blessed Are The Dead was published in paperback recently I was amped up to read it!

From the first page to the last Blessed Are The Dead is well-paced and kept me reading on.  There are parts of this book which had my heart palpitating and me feeling as nervous as if I were in the actual situation with the characters before I brought myself back with ‘they’re just words on a page’ (truly!).  And I did rethink whether Blessed are the Dead should be the last thing I read before drifting off to sleep (but I did, I couldn’t help myself).

I loved the main character, Gabriella, in particular the details that Kristi gave her that made her very human and almost like a real person.  I loved to read about the clothes Gabriella might have thrown on that day, what simple yet delightful dish she cooked in her tiny apartment, her big Italian family and their boisterous dinners, and her wise Grandmother with old Italian sayings.

Something else I thought was very well done were the details Kristi included in this book about working in a busy newspaper office and how she interacted with the police and also the interviews in jail.  They seemed very realistic and Kristi has obviously done a great deal of research into the twisted mind of a psychopath in addition to recalling her time as a newspaper crime reporter.

Even though some of the subject material is quite grim, I left this book with a good feeling, like I’d met someone (Gabrielle) that I’d really like to get to know better.  And of course her developing new romance with Donovan is delightful as well.  I’ve just received the second book in this series and can’t wait to start reading it (both times I used Book Depository).   

Well done Kristi, on writing a series I would be happy to recommend to anyone looking for a great read.  You are a real inspiration to go after your ultimate dream.  Look what can happen!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Getting back into sorts

Along the Seine River by Karla Nolan

Coming out of winter here into spring I’m finding myself quite tired.  I am easy to irritate and have been forgetting things.  There seems to be a lot going on all around me – at work and home – and I find it overwhelming when I am not my usual self.

I know I’ve felt like this before and come out of it, but it’s not nice to feel out of sorts like I do currently.  But just making plans to help myself feels better though.  I know that more early nights, less computer time and more good foods (especially protein) will help me get back into balance.

Have you ever heard of adrenal fatigue?  I remember going into a health food store and talking with the owner more than a dozen years ago and he told me it sounded like I had that.  I had gone in for St John’s Wort as I felt quite flat, but he put me onto an adrenal support supplement instead so perhaps I’ll invest in another bottle (it isn’t too expensive and for me it will just be a short-term thing).

At the moment it feels a bit like my tank is running on empty, and normal everyday interactions and problems can feel like they are getting on top of me.

My life is quite simplified already, both time-wise and possessions-wise, but when I feel like I do now, it doesn’t feel like I lead a simple life at all!  I long to empty out my rooms at home and have as little as possible around me.  Those pictures on minimalist living websites (the pretty rooms, not the stark ones) sound like bliss to me right now.

I know all things to do with nature go in cycles and I know I’m in a strange one right now, but I see it as a good thing.  It helps me to know what I want and know how I need to treat myself.

So here is my feel-better plan:

Wonderfully early nights to bed.  My husband already knows that I don’t feel myself at the moment, so he’ll understand.  Often he has quite early nights too, so it might be sleepy-time at 9pm (or even earlier) rather than 10pm for a while.

Stay away from junky foods especially sugar (which you crave more when feeling flat I’ve found) and make sure to include good, natural protein at each meal.

Limit screen-time after dinner.  This means I watch one tv programme (which is the most I would anyway) and have the laptop shut down before dinner.

Investigate the purchase of a bottle of Adrenal Support supplement and start taking those.

Limit caffeine drinks and don’t have any caffeine after mid-afternoon.

Walk outside as many days as I can.

Don’t leave too long between meals.  Sometimes if I’m busy at work it could be 2-3pm before I eat some lunch.  Considering I had breakfast at about 8am and a soy latte mid-morning, that’s too late.  I need to be more organised with having lunch ready to go, rather than get to 1pm and start preparing it (and be ready for the inevitable interruptions that goes with retail).

Tidy up my surroundings (this is mostly for work for me at the moment).  Because it is coming into the new season we have many deliveries which means unpacking, pricing and photographing for my husband, and ‘cutting out’ the photos then loading onto the website for me.  As well as working in the store, doing all the admin and everything else that comes with running your own business.  This means less urgent work is pushed to the background, such as filing, tidying and organising.  But those things when left undone contribute to stress, so I am focused on doing the important as well as the urgent work.

Completing small tasks.  Don't you find it's the little things, unfinished, that bother you the most?  As I go through my day I am endeavouring to complete small tasks as I come across them, and I always receive a boost when I do.

Be around nice people.  Keeping away from people that get me down is important because they affect me more when I'm like this.  And worry and stress doesn't help you feel better!  It’s not always possible of course (I have to deal with many different types of people at work), but I’ve realised that dealing with horrid people who won’t be happy no matter what you do can be minimised.  It helps me to see it’s their problem not mine, and I can limit or eliminate my time with them.  Life is just too short to be around nasty people.

This article gave me some good tips for getting myself back into happy and healthy land so you might find it useful if you feel a little burned out yourself.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Swapping Stockpiling for Tranquility


I know this is such a ‘first world problem’ to have, but in our Western culture of stocking up, stockpiling and overstocking, there is something very satisfying of having just enough.

I used to love stockpiling bargains on consumables such as pantry food items and toiletries.  But now in an effort to live more simply and have less noise around me, I’ve tempered my ways.

I’m embarrassed to say there have been times when I’ve gone overboard and it has taken us months to plough through whatever specially-priced item I stocked up on.

Our big box supermarkets often have enticements to ‘spend $200 and receive a petrol discount voucher’ which has regularly encouraged us to see what we need and stock up on it.  But in a household of two people and two cats, we really have to try hard to spend $200 in one go.  It was quite stressful just to gain a coupon that saved us about $10-12 (which isn’t to be scoffed at, I agree, but not worth it if you are crowded out of your house with grocery items!)

So I gave myself permission not to stockpile.  I gave myself permission to let something run out and see if I missed it.  Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t.  It is quite a lovely feeling to see space in the pantry and see what items I can use up to make a delicious dinner.

It is also refreshing to know that I can use up my many skincare and cosmetic items before I even need to think of perusing another specials brochure.  I don’t even need to look at that brochure because I already have enough skin cream/shampoo/body lotion. 

Speaking of body lotion, a couple of months ago I bought a 5 litre (1 1/3 gallons!) container of body lotion from a local skincare factory shop, how funny is that.  But I do go through it is vast quantities.

It’s quite fun to see how many days we can not go to the supermarket, and if we need something, it’s put on the shopping list for when we really, really need to go.  

We often pop into fruit and vegetable stores to get fresh produce, but the supermarket list can wait for quite a number of days until we have to go.  And it still might only be less than a dozen items.  It’s such a thrill not to have armfuls of grocery bags to bring into the house.  Plus, there is not money coming out of my wallet while I’m doing this.

When you think about it, I must live a pretty sheltered life if not stockpiling is acting in a risky way, so I feel very lucky about that.  Many people in other parts of the world would wish this was their most pressing concern.

Are you a stockpiler?  Bargain hunter extraordinaire?  Does the thought of having space on your bathroom/kitchen/laundry shelves make you nervous?

‘Not-stockpiling’.  It’s the new way to save time, sanity and money don’t you know.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Chic Habits: Laying Out Your Day

Just as you might lay out your clothes for the next morning, why not lay out your day?  You could do it the evening before or you may prefer to do it on the morning of that day.

Whether it’s a day at home or a day at work I find all too often that I don’t get everything accomplished, and if I write out a to-do list I feel tied to it (I have a love/hate relationship with to-do lists I’ve decided).

So I had a thought to lay out my day.  Just take a moment to step through my day in my mind and see myself doing all the things I want to get done at the best times to do them and with time between each task to actually breathe.

Even if every little detail doesn’t go according to plan, the intention is there and it steers me in a direction rather than being subject to whims (both others and my own!)

It seems that this is a useful middle ground which suits me.  Of course if there are really, really important things to be done on a certain day I will have them written in my diary as a reminder so they will get done.

As an example, the night before a day at home I might be lying in bed drifting off to sleep, and I’ll think about all the things I’d like to get done the next day.  I imagine myself waking up at 6am to have a cup of tea while I do some reading on the computer.  I think about the order in which I’ll have my shower, put washing on, do the vacuuming and what things I’d like to have completed before lunch.

Then I think about what I might like for lunch and what my fun lunchtime activity will be.  When I’m eating by myself I like to read at the dining table or watch a movie or tv programme on the sofa.

After lunch I will have some lighter activities at home and then have them all wrapped up by, say 4.30pm when I might choose to go for a 45-60 minute walk around the neighbourhood.  Then of course comes dinner prep and the evening.  I like to keep evenings clear of work, and also the computer if possible.  Sometimes it can’t be helped if I’ve been too busy (or disorganised) during the day, but I like that to be the exception rather than the rule.

Laying out the day really helps direct my focus and I love nothing more than the feeling at the end of the day of a good mix of accomplishment and relaxation which brings about the most amazing sense of contentment.

‘People often complain about lack of time when the lack of direction is the real problem’ – Zig Ziglar

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Serendipitous Evening

Soul Bar and Restaurant at the Viaduct Harbour, Auckland

Last night my husband and I headed downtown to a range viewing after we shut up shop.  The supplier was set up at an apartment down by the Viaduct Harbour, so we planned to have dinner at one of the many lovely restaurants there afterwards.  Unfortunately once we had paid for our expensive parking we discovered we were there the wrong night due to a miscommunication.

Making lemonade out of lemons, we decided that now we had the entire evening to dine, rather than a quick late bite.  Yay!  I had in my mind that I wanted us to go to a luxurious place that the wealthy dine at.  In the past we’d go to a pub and have that kind of food, but last night I wanted to go beyond that with an exquisite experience.

Of course exquisite experiences often come with exquisite price tags, but if you’re not drinking the entire bar and only having one or two courses, it’s manageable.  And we hardly ever go out for dinner so one evening isn’t going to break us.

We strolled along the cobblestones and had a look at a few menus but it wasn’t until we got to Soul (photo above), that I thought ‘here’s where I want to eat tonight’.  Soul is a long-established and well-known bar and restaurant that is one of the places to see and be seen.  It was certainly good enough for Beyoncé and Jay-Z when they visited Auckland.  And of course it's right on the waterfront, so the launches and yachts are right there.

Perusing the menu before we went in, we saw that August is Restaurant Month in Auckland, and Soul were offering a three-course menu for roughly the same price as a main course, with two wine matches for the price of one of their normal wines by the glass.  What fortuitous timing for us!  The restaurant wasn’t full at all when we went inside but we were lucky enough to be offered one of the last tables and before too long every table was occupied.

I had tonic water in a flute and my darling husband was thrilled with the wine matches.  Need I add that our three courses each were glorious.  Such symphonies of flavour and I was so glad I decided to elevate our dining experience.  Soul is consistently opulent, elegant and a little bit sexy too, so we left a few hours later with an experience for the soul (pun not intended).

I’m thrilled the Universe sent us out for dinner with our incorrect shoe-purchasing appointment.  An evening of casually luxurious fine dining turned out to be just what we needed (when would it ever not be though)!  Having a think about it, my lessons from last night are:

- Don’t be grumpy when plans go wrong, look for the silver lining
- Enjoy going somewhere different to normal
- Drink in the surroundings around you as much as the food and drink in front of you
- Take that luxurious feeling home and make it last as long as possible by copying some of their special touches that you notice (elegant table settings, stylish décor, bright, smartly-dressed wait-staff and beautiful bathrooms with scented flowing soap and little stacks of paper towels to dry your hands were just a few I noticed)

Have you been out anywhere heavenly lately?  Please share - I’d love to visit there virtually!