6 ways to enjoy the days in between

It’s the holidays, which means there’s time to kill, but sadly after holiday shopping at this time of year, not much cash to do it with.  How do I get that rush of discovery without a flush of cash?

  1.  Explore new film genres or entertainment formats (documentaries, foreign films, live comedy or theater, audiobook autobiographies, self-help gurus …).  The advent of youtube has made many of these things possible for little to no cost in the comfort of your own home.  Even better is to enlist an afficianado to take you on a guided tour/experience.  Ask for tips on social media – invite responders to share in a viewing or outing!
  2.  Plan your next trip, even if it’s not in your foreseeable future yet.  Dust off that bucket list and start researching accommodations, activities, and languages you may want to explore (use duolingo to start learning for free!) to bring that dream one step closer to reality.  Don’t forget to think about ways you could accomplish this item more economically.  For example, if you’re younger, consider a working visa to visit your favorite location, earning some income to support your travels.  Look at bartering your skills – teaching yoga or painting classes in exchange for free food or accommodations.  Often, time is at a premium when money to travel is available – have your plans made!  Alternately, since travel is about chasing a feeling (relaxation, wonder, discovery), maybe you could look at some alternate ways to achieve the same feeling.  I always wanted to attend a writer’s retreat in Banff before realizing what I realized that what I wanted was a social weekend with other creatives where we could focus on our craft!  All I needed was to start a local writer’s group during the winter with folks willing to go splits on a scenic beach cottage locally to write as one of our pinnacle activities in the summer!
  3. Use all the boxing week sales to explore new experiences – learn a computer programming language, try a new gym (or workout), download some computer games from Steam, try a painting course, do some cheaper off-season vacationing at “summer” destinations and bask in the solitude!
  4. (Forgive me here, since I realize we’re celebrating singlehood, but…) Leverage local dating sites (the free ones) to socialize with members of the appropriate sexual orientation for an afternoon or evening, making it clear that you’re not looking for a relationship.  Even a bad date will give you a great story to tell people about after the holidays.  Just keep your personal safety (and compassion for the person who’s putting their heart on the line) in mind.
  5. Use this time to do good for others.  It doesn’t have to be a social experience if that’s not your thing – write letters for amnesty international or to a local politician for a worthy cause, knit hats or booties for babies in the hospital or the homeless, walk dogs waiting for adoption at the SPCA, visit a shut in, teach a teen you know a skill that you appreciate having.
  6. Make a bucket list or update it.  Or, if that’s not your style, start lists of the things you want to accomplish, experience, and contribute to in the new year.  Give yourself an expectation of unlimited resources and time (don’t worry about how right now, just what you’d ask for if there were no limits).

Friday Night (movie) Lights

Inevitably, solo living lends time for pursuing fictional escapes of one’s own choosing. Being a somewhat eccentric and nerdy female, I’ll preface these recommendations for movies with memorable female protagonists with the acknowledgement that they won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but sometimes, being adventurous means exploring new places and people in film, as much as in life!

    For the young at heart:

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”

A tale as old as time with a heroine who finds herself, and her true love, in casting off the expectations of her time and place with a soundtrack that will leave you humming happily long after the credits have finished rolling.

“Ever After”

A fairytale with another stereotype-bucking princess, featuring the enchanting Drew Barrymore. A good combination of hopeless romance and down to earth likeability.

    For the hopeless romantics:

“Love, Actually”

A wonderful holiday-themed movie that explores all the different kinds of happy endings (or?) that life can provide.

“Shakespeare in Love”

An academy awarded film and actress, Gwyneth, reciting the best of the bard while falling in love with him, dressed, of course, as a boy.

“Me Before You”

Embrace your quirkyalone essence with a heroine (Emilia Clarke) as memorable in this role as she is in her “other little part” as the Khalesi in Game of Thrones.

“Sliding Doors”

A great movie to make you reconsider all those “if only” moments and regrets life inevitably provides us with, featuring Gwyneth once again.

    For the foreign film afficianados:

“Amelie”

A gorgeous and lush visual French movie with a decidedly sheltered and loveable heroine in her breakout role. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to the subtitles, and this film is a pleasure even without them 🙂

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”

The tale of a young woman with incredible talents torn between fates offered by two alternate female mentors. Another gorgeous piece of visual art with a slowly unfolding yet entrancing storyline. Perhaps a better Sunday afternoon delight than Friday evening pursuit, but to be recommended to those who love wirework in action films. To be followed by “Hero,” if the drama is to your liking.

For the Science Fiction fans:

“Arrival”

Amy Adams plays a convincing linguist recruited to communicate with Earth’s first alien visitors. Though tense, this movie and its aliens are tense, not terrifying, and it will leave you with much to think about after the credits roll.

“Contact”

Still my favourite Jodie Foster role, playing the role of a SETI researcher confronted by her disavowal of faith for science in a Carl Sagan alien story about so much more.

    For the cynics:

“V is for Vendetta”

A grand dystopian fairytale featuring Natalie Portman as a girl swept up in a masked madman’s plot.

“Edge of Tomorrow”

One of my favorite female action hero movies, nominally starring Tom Cruise and featuring a convincing Emily Blunt in their efforts to save the world from an alien invasion. Full of the kind of time loop paradoxes that originally enamoured me with Star Trek.

    For the small screeners:

“Alias” episodes featuring super-spy Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) inevitably trying to save herself and the world while negotiating love interests and family conflict.

“Game of Thrones” episodes featuring a cast of female characters as diverse as Arya Stark and the Khaleesi and Katlyn Stark. Lots of riskee and violent action here, but a complex and rewarding fantasy setting filled with intrigue and adventure.

“Battlestar Galactica”

Another sci-fi series, redone in the 2000’s, with a strong cast of female characters including ace pilot Starbuck and humanity’s remaining president Roslyn in continuous retreat from a Cylon invasion/capture.

How your values define your victories

I still remember the first time I watched life coach and media celebrity Tony Robbins present his TED talk Why we do what we do. Suddenly, a whole new world of insight into why I was the way I was, and why others might be the way they were, opened up to me.

By meticulously laying out the six universal human needs and real life examples of these needs in action, in addition to how our differing ranking of these needs in our lives created different drives and problems among people, Tony managed to illuminate something that explained the majority of my life’s subjective successes and failures to that point. (If you haven’t watched this talk by now, I highly encourage you to do so now!)

I was so impressed by this talk that I went on to invest in several of Tony’s publications, including his book,”Awaken the Giant Within.” Here, Tony dove deeper into how our unique value systems can affirm these needs, and how aligning (or realigning) our lives and lifestyles with the values we hold dearest can help us make the decisions and create the destinies that best serve us.

Even if you’re not sold yet, have you ever taken time to truly think about what you value and how your current life affirms or denies that value set? Are there ways you could reprioritize or reaffirm what you value to enjoy the sensation of personal victory more often?

In examining a list of values provided in the book, it was clear to me that values like Freedom, Friendship, and Adventure ranked higher than Affection, Wealth, or Spirituality for me. Tougher was realizing that much of my life when I was at my lowest in my 20s and 30s did not affirm these values, even though life then fulfilled other, more society-approved “means” values of perhaps achieving these “end” values. A physically affectionate relationship with a wealthy significant other and stable career seemingly promised (financial) freedom, companionship (if not true friendship), and the money to take trips “someday,” yet the promised ends never materialized, even if societal approval was high and I felt fake and unfulfilled.

Life shifted the moment I shifted from obsessing about finding “love” in the form of some significant other and focused on “choosing to surround myself with love;” when I started to prioritize spending money and/or personal time on experiences (not stuff) that enhanced my sense of adventure or adventurousness; when I started consciously reconnecting with friends new and old who were both loving and adventurous. It was then that I truly started to realize my own personal, authentic sense of happiness and success (victory).

Five Online Services Worth Checking Out!

I subscribe the notion that I would rather work a little longer into my old age and enjoy the journey along the way than live deprivation every day so I can “quit humanity/purpose” a few years earlier. So, I don’t “need” the online services I’m about to list, but I’d be lying if I tried to argue they were anything other life-affirming services that make me feel less alone and more connected in my life as a soloist.

1. Online music streaming service (Spotify): Not everyone is a neophile like me, but whether having a basically unlimited and constantly updated music library you can access online or offline, anywhere you have your smartphone or can find a computer with speakers (including at home) is worth its weight in gold to me. Whether its enhancing a dinner party with a playlist of songs picked by me and my guests, or creating a nostalgia playlist for evenings alone, or workout jams downloaded to my smartphone to keep me pushing long after I’d have given up if unaccompanied by good music, this minor investment is well worth the price for me! Apple Music provides a similar service for similar prices, and free alternatives include Pandorra.

2. Meetup.com Another childless friend introduced me to this great social networking site to meet others in the community around activities or other common interests. This is, thank goodness, not a dating site, and in the absence of groups that reflect your interests, you can even create your own! Admittedly more useable in larger communities (a nearby city has 100s of meetup groups, while mine has only 2).

3. Online movie streaming service (Netflix): Though it requires investment in high speed internet, this service was the one that finally allowed me to get rid of my cable service. For the amount that I watch television and movies, this service provides the perfect solution. It also gives me the chance to watch movies and shows from other countries that better reflect my interests (eg. BBC series, documentaries, foreign language films).

4. Online workouts (Les Mills On Demand): Sometimes, you’re addicted to something that’s just not available when and where you need it. For me, that was Les Mills group fitness classes like Sh’Bam and BodyFlow. When Les Mills launched these programs in shortened formats online, updated regularly and available at a price cheaper than a gym membership, I hopped on the opportunity! This particular service is not available in every country, but similar fitness libraries are whether yoga or beachbody is your thing.

5. Online audiobooks (Audible.com): Everyone is different, but whether I am listening to non-fiction self-improvement books while cleaning, or trying to drift to sleep by distracting my anxious mind of its to do lists and worries, nothing feels better than “creating company” by putting on an audiobook while enjoying the luxury of time alone in my apartment. I haven’t yet joined audible, but most of the audiobooks I’ve bought lately have been produced by this company, leading me to decide I’ll take a free trial over Christmas break and invest in this luxury in the new year.

Managing Meals for One: Pepperplate.com

One of the biggest obstacles to my eating well and healthily is laziness, to be honest – a point that became abundantly clear after starting to meet with my personal coach. I’ve already compiled a list of tonnes of ingredients that are both healthy, affordable and available. Yet, when I get to the end of a hectic day, I’m not often looking to heat a large oven, search for healthy recipes, get over-involved in creating a lot of vegetable handling tasks and dishes. Heck, even the mental energy to think of something other than my lazy mental default – frozen pizza – seems more than I’m willing to fight through, especially while hangrily searching the inner aisles of the grocery store for incomplete mental lists of ingredients I might want to collect for the evening’s supper attempt (only to arrive home without a key ingredient).

The modern age, however, is amazing, in that there is now a *free* app for effortless/mindless recipe import, grocery list, and meal planning purposes, on any smartphone and/or computer. The app? http://www.pepperplate.com/

I started by entering some of my simplest, cheapest microwave recipes posted earlier, and ended up with a great starting point for new health eating habits! Here’s to a healthier me in 2017!

Small indulgences: Immersive Video Games

Winter is coming, which means, for this teacher, snow days! Living alone can make snow days a little anti-social if you are, in fact, snowed in, which is why I broke down and bought a gaming system (Playstation) a few years back now. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a “gamer” per se – I basically missed that boat when my parents refused to buy gaming systems (like the Nintendo) for me as a young adult for budgetary reasons. However, I do enjoy getting away from it all from time to time by purchasing and playing an immersive game where lightning fast reflexes and violent (first person shooter) actions are not a necessity. This rules out many of the most popular games, but does open one to a kinder gentler world(s) that I’m about to recommend.

The first, classic, immersive game I played was the Myst series. It’s a puzzle based game set in a beautiful and immersive world where you are often the only human character present. The graphics may have aged a little, but the slow, reflective gameplay has not (for me, at least), and it doesn’t require a gaming system to play – just a personal computer.

Perhaps flight/travel is more your style? Try “Journey.” You walk and then fly through a desert world as a charming little character as you listen to a stirring soundtrack. Once again, there are few, if any, real opponents in this game. The enjoyment is in traveling the extremely scenic landscape. Bonus here is that you can complete the entire game in just 2 hours (if you play at my pace). If you like this game, the same company has produced at least two more similar, hypnotically beautiful and addictive games to try out.

If you’re feeling inspired or nostalgic about the Live Action “Beauty and the Beast” re-release and are a sucker for a good story, then “Child of Light” may just be for you. This game opens with the same kind of fairytale prologue and though there is combat, it is turn based, making it playable for even the uninitiated button mashers like me.

Finally, another game I am looking forward to purchasing and playing soon (based on trailers) is “Unravel” where you roam the Swedish landscapes as a small yarn doll collecting memories and solving puzzles. Yes, this is part nostalgia based on time spent living there, but I believe the game will hold its own from what I’ve heard and seen.

Regardless of what you choose, the adventurous solo will find worlds of escape in these digital excursion games. Well worth the money!

Simplifying meals made solo: guidelines

Before I start posting more recipes and reviews for my meals made solo, I thought it might be a good idea to outline my guidelines for meals made solo. Why? Because although I’m sure there are Michelin Star soloists out there, I am a rather low ambition and low ability chef when it comes to eating on my own. Sure, I have a stable of maybe 5-8 dishes I can reliably prepare that are appetizing and affordable when there’s company coming, but that’s for high occasions. Day to day, I want to make dishes that serve my lifestyle, not my instagram account. Thus, my guidelines are as follows:

1. I will not subscribe to the theory that I have to meal prep once a week to fill 7 (or 14) multiple containers with the *exact same meal* in order to eat healthily, or at all, as a soloist. My time may be limited, but so is my patience for meal monotony.

2. I am as lazy as the next person (or as efficient), so I will prioritize meals that can be made in the microwave, the toaster oven, the blender, with a water kettle, or one pot/pan. Hours spent doing dishes or Kilowatts spent warming a family size oven for a solo meal – “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

3. I will focus on what works, not necessarily what is cheapest (though I am on a limited budget). I justify this to myself by remembering a) food is fuel b) I teach aerobics and walk to my other workplace without any other source of food.

4. Meals in 45 mins to an hour, max! (I get hangry!)

5. Meals will be “Ecotarian” where possible – meaning that if there’s a good meatless alternative that will help lower the impact on the planet (while still being edible), I’ll try that 🙂

Flight of the Hummingbird

Being a soloist gives you the freedom to explore just about any life direction you choose. Sometimes, however, this can leave some of us feeling a little directionless. If so, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Flight of the Hummingbird” talk on Oprah’s OWN network (try not to shy away from the content for the sake of the provider, if you’re the more cynical soloist) might be exactly what the doctor ordered.

With stunning clarity and authenticity, Liz tells us why we *shouldn’t* follow our passions. Intrigued? Follow the link:

Elizabeth Gilbert: Flight of the Hummingbird – The Curiosity Driven Life

Bucket list on a budget

Dreams. Everybody has them. Maybe yours is to climb to Macchu Picchu. Maybe it’s to own your own cabin or cottage in the wild. Maybe it’s to win American Idol. Maybe it’s to master the craft that stokes your greatest passion(s) in life.

Whatever your dream, the realities of life often make it financially harder for the soloist to attain. Does this mean you should downsize your dreams and just accept things the way they are until you either win the lottery or partner up? Yes. And no.

After going through a major career retooling and change a few years ago, I can tell you that finances became extremely tight, but my need to pursue the things (bucket list items) that made life worth living and the fight worth continuing seemed more pressing than ever. It was at this point that I came across the concept of changing my focus from “means goals” (ie. winning the lottery so I could travel to New Zealand and meet my Les Mills fitness superheroes) to “end goals” (have a personal interaction with and get my picture taken with the Les Mills program directors I’ve idolized for years) as presented by MindValley president Vishen Lakhiani. Put another way, as expressed by self-help guru Tony Robbins in his TED talk, it was time to stop blaming a lack of resources and start targeting my lack of resourcefulness to grant myself my deepest desires. What followed was life-changing.

The minute I identified exactly what “end goals” I wanted out of my bucket list items, 90% of them suddenly came within easy financial reach. For example, in the scenario presented above, knowing that it was the personal interaction and photo (momento) that I was really craving, I suddenly started to look at other ways to achieve that. If I couldn’t afford to fly to New Zealand to attend one of Les Mills (fitness) Program Director Dan Cohen’s live classes and chat after to get a picture, maybe he would have to come to me (or meet me halfway). Yes, it sounds insane, except that the moment I opened my mind to that possibility, I found out about a fitness event in Canada he would be attending. Much more affordable, and yet still just a tad out of my reach … until I mentioned it to friends, who donated air miles for my flight tickets, and a room to crash in to eliminate hotel fees. Suddenly, I was the grinning girl who had this picture in her facebook feed (literally one of my *prime* bucket list achievements):

dan-and-me

Which brings me back to my flippant suggestion that you “downsize your dreams” … except the more proper and simultaneously appealing wording would be to “distill your dreams” down to the true end goals of those bucket list items. What *exactly* does that dream entail to you? What feeling are you chasing – and is there another way you could achieve the same thing?

I’m still chasing down my bucket list items (life would be boring if I’d crossed them all off by now anyway), but more and more of them have become totally attainable since changing to this approach. My desire to enjoy sunrise yoga on some tropical beach somewhere during the winter months turned into the chance to have an all-inclusive five star vacation almost completely subsidized by agreeing to teach sunrise yoga (no lie) using skill sets and certifications I already had, simply by becoming aware of the end goal I was shooting for! My dream of having a writer’s retreat in some rustic cabin with others somewhere with a spectacular view suddenly became the impetus to start a local writer’s group, making new like-minded, creative friends, and eventually culminating in group rental of a cottage on the shore not too far from home (still working on this one, but it’s motivating because it’s so doable). Even my desire to “work less” and “on my own schedule” (which I always imagined I’d have to be independently wealthy to do) to allow for these kinds of activities has been supported by the realization that I can make a full-time income by taking multiple, more flexible, part-time jobs and choosing not to subscribe to fixed costs that don’t really serve me anyway (like cable tv or a gas-powered vehicle).

There is, of course, always that last 10% of the bucket list that does seem to defy any reduction in financial scale. The good news? You’ll be steps closer to it for all the money you’ll have saved downsizing your other dreams – and you won’t feel any less fulfilled if you’ve done your honest homework.