Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Fitness Tips: Xtendbarre and Yoga

Searching for fitness activities is never an easy task, especially if you're not really the sporty type. When I was much younger, I never really craved for fitness activities. Being fit seemed to just come easy and happen naturally despite the unhealthy eating habits. But as the years go by, being fit starts to require extra effort... and even most especially after having a baby.

I have been regularly practicing Xtendbarre and Yoga for more than half a year now, and I would like to share some of my experiences, what worked for me, and some tips on how to keep yourself motivated:

Find an activity that you love

Be on the lookout for activities that would not only keep you fit but would also be fun to do, otherwise it will be difficult to be motivated. One of the things that worked for me is Xtendbarre. I have been doing it regularly for more than six months now, and I'm totally loving it. For those who are not familiar with this fitness program, it's a mixture of Pilates and Ballet, designed to tone your body (with special attention to the glutes and legs) and to strengthen your core. It's fun because it feels like you are dancing when you are doing the ballet movements. But be warned, you may think that just because it is fun, it is not strenuous.


Doing some stretching before the class

Look for instructors that inspire you

The first time I attended my Xtendbarre class, my body just screamed. It was way too much work for the uninitiated. But after a week or so, I started to get the hang of it. I totally love my Brazilian instructor, even though I can always see her evil silent laugh out of the corner of my eye every time the whole class struggles to keep up with her fast-paced sadistic instructions. But that's what works for me, and that's why I love her classes.

As for my yoga teacher, she is incredibly nice and a very inspiring person. Just meeting her and speaking to her is already relaxation enough for me. She always seems so peaceful and so cheerful, which is quite unusual for someone not from the Philippines.


At the barre

Practice in a good studio or in a beautiful open space 

Finding a yoga studio in Singapore is a real challenge. Everything is expensive and super crowded. I went into some free trial classes but found that instead of emerging from the lesson feeling calm and refreshed, I ended up feeling stressed and crowded in. These yoga studios just try to pack in as many people as they can. And was I ever so glad and lucky to have found an instructor who teaches yoga out in the lush greens of the UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage site of the Botanic Gardens.


This is not at the Botanic Gardens, but this is almost how it looks like where I practice my Sunday yoga

I think, the peacefulness of the place is just perfect for yoga. Especially since, yoga is all about relaxation. You get to breathe in all that fresh air, and the soothing environment is just perfect to melt away your stress and help you meditate and reflect on all the goodness in life. My first ever yoga session was actually in The Maldives, right in front of the sea at sunset. This is what made me realize that the surroundings play a very big role on inspiring me to keep fit and healthy.


Early Sunday morning stretch at home before going to Sunday yoga... my downward dog still needs work

Get the right outfit

Never underestimate the power of a sexy outfit. At first, I was self-conscious to wear those sexy, bare back yoga tops, but when I went to Melbourne last month and entered a Lululemon shop, I had the opportunity to try some of them on. And I just went totally crazy and bought a few bare back outfits and some sexy strappy sports bra. Go ahead and indulge yourself. Go with whatever motivates you. Another good thing about buying those sexy exercise outfits is that you will have to maintain and keep working on staying fit enough to get into those clothes! But do remember that you have to be comfortable in them, otherwise, you won't feel good while working out.


Lululemon strappy back sports bra
This Lululemon top has a sewn-in strappy sports bra
Found on Amazon.com -- meshy sparkly grip socks for my Xtendbarre classes
my Lululemon non-slip yoga mat


Invest in good, quality equipment

When I went for the first time to my Sunday yoga class, I purchased a cheap five-dollar yoga mat at the drug store. I thought I might not be getting so much into it so I just bought a non-committal cheap yoga mat. But it was pure horror practicing in that cheap, stinky, slippery mat. I just had to get myself a real one. After doing some research, I finally bought myself a Lululemon yoga mat. It's a little heavy, but I only practice once a week, so I don't really have to carry it around all the time. The good thing about it is that it's not slippery at all, even when your hands get sweaty doing all those difficult poses.

Eat right

I always find that what works for somebody does not always work for somebody else, when it comes to eating right. What works for me is not feeling full. I never like the feeling of being full, so I never really eat a lot. What is not easy for me though, is to NOT eat all the time. I like to snack in-between meals. And I could never, ever give up on chips. I do not like to deprive myself of eating what I want to eat. I don't think it's healthy. I've tried it before and it DID NOT work. What's more achievable and realistic is NOT overeating. Especially the ones that are not good for you. Balance is always the key.

Reward yourself

Being fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not at all an easy task, so reward yourself whenever you get the chance. You could get a cheat day and pig out once in a while when you feel like you have been working so hard on keeping fit. Just don't over-reward yourself. Otherwise, rewards will be pointless.

two months into Xtendbarre and yoga

Love your body

Last and not the least, love your body. After all, who else will? It's one thing to work on keeping fit. But another thing to obsess about your figure. I have to admit, I have the tendency to obsess about my figure. But I always keep myself in check, whenever it becomes too much. To a certain extent, it helps to motivate me to keep fit, but when it becomes a reason to be depressed, it's not healthy anymore. With time, I have learned to live with the mommy pouch that is taking forever to recede. It might not even go away anymore because of my age. 

It helps to remember that people come in all shapes and sizes. The important thing is to work on the shape and size that you want yourself to be while being realistic. That's why, mommy pouch and all... I still love my body, and I intend to keep it as healthy and as fit as possible.

That's all I could think of for now. Ciao and thanks for reading! If you have other advice to share, feel free to write it in the comments.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday Mood

Hubby was off to business trip for a few days, and so I had no choice but to drive by myself (using Google maps for the first time) to drop my daughter off to a classmate's birthday party last Saturday afternoon. I rarely ever drive, except during my Sunday yoga class. It was quite exhilirating. I also had a chance to be by myself around the house for a bit... which I found to be quite an odd mixture of relaxation and melancholy at the same time.

Some of the week's highlights:

Trying out the beer that we brought back from our Melbourne trip

Got my plush toy and certificate from Bonrfree for sponsoring Baby Jubilee, the orphaned elephant

My view of the lake during yoga class at the Botanic Gardens

Literally a "heart-felt" list for hubby's French grocery to bring back for "pasalubong"
My daughter put the felt heart stickers for her papa

Found this pic on my iPhone -- my daughter took a picture of the view from the tall glass windows in our living room

While having dinner with my daughter last night, she complained that we have no friends. She would always count the number of persons around her and always conclude that she doesn't have friends when there's only one person with her. It made me reflect about the kind of friendships that I had and the ones that I still have. And I concluded that I am never, or ever will be any good at making "shallow" friendships.

For me, it is just a complete waste of time and effort. I noticed that as "sensible" people get older, the more they start to realize the value of time. As a result, they become wiser and stingier when sharing time with people. And they should be! I prefer to give my attention to worthwhile activities and to people who respect (and not waste) my precious time. After all, the time that you give away can never ever be replaced.

On a lighter note, I spent most of my weekend booking and planning my upcoming trips this year. I am most happy when spending time planning my travels. And I'm so excited about meeting faraway friends during my trips. It made me realize, I do have a lot of good friends worth spending time with... they are just scattered all over the globe! And I can't wait to see some of them again in my upcoming travels!

Have a good start of the week, everyone! :)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Monday Mood

A few of the things that set the mood for me for Monday:


Spanish beer and Balut (egg with duck embryo), sorry if some of you were grossed out
I do not eat balut. Somebody offered hubby to try it. He did, but did not manage to finish it.

Pasta, pork belly and panna cotta -- cheap gourmet lunch at Savour

Flowers my daughter brought back from Sunday grocery shopping with hubby

My healthy packed snack for the office... because I love to nibble at snacks all the time

I've decided to create this series to inspire myself to brave Monday. And hopefully, inspire others too.

Have a great week ahead!


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Mother's Month

In our household, we have two Mother's Day celebrations -- the first Sunday of May, as most of the world know it, and the last Sunday of May, otherwise known as Fête des mères in France. But why limit myself to just two days when I can choose to celebrate Mother's Day the whole month? And in celebration of Mother's Month, I am writing this blog to impart some useful tips and talk about my experience on being a mom of four years... whether you like it or not. I rarely ever write about being a mom, so please bear with me.

My daughter and I at Federation Square in Melbourne, April 2016
Useful Tips

Potty Training

At two and a half years, we started potty-training my daughter. At first, we were using a portable potty that we could bring anywhere with us. But after a few days, we started making her go to the toilet. It was difficult at first, especially since she developed a fear of automatic flush toilets, which is very common in Singapore. But she's getting the hang of it.

Since she turned four, we started to not put a diaper on her anymore when she sleeps at night. We started doing this while we were on holiday in Melbourne. She's been doing quite well and rarely ever pees during sleep.

I think the trick to all these is to do it step-by-step and to not rush things when your child doesn't feel ready yet.

Travel

- On the airplane, bring a separate hand-carry bag for your little kid, which contains all the essentials: change of clothes, socks, pyjamas, diaper, toiletries, entertainment kit (tablet, kiddie headphone, stickers, crayons and paper, her favorite small toy), wet wipes, tissue, drinking bottle, snacks (preferably something to chew on during take off and landing to ease pain in the ears)
- It's better to choose to fly at night when taking long-haul flights so that they will just sleep in the plane (better than them running around and you chasing after them, if they're hyperactive like my daughter)
- If it's a long haul flight, I put her in pyjama pants already on the way to the airport, and then put on the pyjama top after having the food in the plane
- Don't forget to bring her medication with you, if any
- Check if she needs to take travel vaccine when visiting certain countries
- Check if the activities and places that you are going are "kid friendly"
- Always check the hotel booking conditions. Sometimes, you will not notice that you will have to pay more for a baby cot, or even to just have a child in the room with you (depending on child's age)

Privacy

As an adult person, I like to safeguard my privacy and respect others'. I would like to do the same thing for my daughter. I am becoming more and more careful about posting pictures in which strangers could ID her. Also, I would never share her whereabouts, pictures of documents containing important information, etc.

Changes in the past year

Heightened Curiosity

Right now, the challenge for all moms of four years is that their child is now more aware of what's happening around them. While at a restaurant in Melbourne, a pregnant couple sat next to our table. My daughter asked why the pregnant lady has a big tummy. I said, "Because there's a baby inside". She looked so shocked and said loudly, "She ate a baby?!"

Developed Conversational Skills

She is now also able to engage in normal conversations, and listen a lot to adult ones. She even tries to involve herself and ask questions while hubby and I are engaged in serious conversations. This is that time when you really have to be careful about what you are saying. And be careful also about what they are watching on TV and on Youtube.

Colorful Vocabulary

School also plays a huge role in their development. Most of their vocabulary, especially the nasty ones, are learned from conversing with kids her own age. Right now, my daughter is thankfully starting to wean out of the "caca" stage -- she would answer "caca" to every question you ask her, and then laugh at your face. "Caca" is the French word for "poop". Early this year, we went to visit her kid cousins in the Philippines, and she got all the other kids mimicking her, and saying "caca" all the time, even if they really didn't know what it means.

Tarte aux pommes (apple tart) that hubby and the little one made on Mother's Day

On being a mom in general

Needless to say, this stage takes a lot of patience, which comes easier when you have a lot of understanding, and a lot of love.

Speaking of love... one of the things that happens to you when you become a mother is that you feel more empathy and caring for the small and innocent babies, not just of your own species. The other day, I was reading some of my favorite travel web sites and I chanced upon this article about how a baby elephant is trained to entertain -- that includes painting and circus acts, and to be ridden by humans. As a mother, this was so heart-breaking to read. It makes me feel sad for my daughter, growing into this kind of environment where this kind of cruelty exists.

So please, please, please, if you go to Thailand, do not ride on the elephants. They have suffered a lot for this. I have made this mistake once in Chiang Mai, of not being able to convince my fellow traveller to not ride on the elephant. I was forced to ride with him because they needed me to make the seat balanced. I felt so sorry for the elephants.

This comment on one of the web sites I visited really resonated with how I feel about wild animals being used for entertainment:
"It’s possible to kill an entire species by ‘loving it to death’. I’m appalled when I hear someone gush about their dream to swim with dolphins at a dolphin swim facility. Do they know how the dolphins got there?? Wild animals are not here for our entertainment. They usually suffer terribly from contact with us."
This is one of the reasons why I really never enjoy visits to the zoo, because seeing animals in captivity makes me sad.

I searched for sites where I could be of help to baby elephants. I found a lot. But I did my research first. Until finally, I chose Bornfree. Now, some people are questioning the term "adopt" as a marketing strategy for these NGO's. As for me, I don't really so much care about what they call it. And I couldn't care less about the certificate and the plush toy that comes along with it. What I appreciate is that they will send you reports and progress of your adopted animal, which makes me happy. I think this is the perfect Mother's Day gift to myself. I would like to help preserve endangered species in my own little way so that my daughter and her future children and grandchildren can still live to see these amazing, intelligent and gentle creatures.

Happy Mother's Month, everyone! :)


Saturday, May 7, 2016

In and Around Melbourne


New post on escapecapades.com, featuring my recent trip to Melbourne:

In my more recent travel posts (starting from this post about Melbourne), I shall be including short reviews of restaurants and hotels I've been to, to make my travel journals more useful to readers and followers.

Fun graffitis everywhere

The famous Victoria Market

Kangaroo Crossing

Driving along The Great Ocean Road

Friendly birds at Kaffe Koala

Twelve Apostles at sunset

My friends' beautiful vineyard wedding in Yarra Valley

From now on, I shall be posting all my travel blogs on escapecapades.com. See you there!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Strawberry and Pink Theme Birthday

This year, for my daughter's birthday, I decided to exert a little extra effort for her party. We never really hosted a real children's birthday party before because hubby and I are both lazy when it comes to organizing events. But I was thinking that our daughter is now at an age when she will really appreciate having a birthday party with her friends.

I have shared some useful links at the bottom of this post to make my site more useful to parents planning to hold a birthday party for their kids.

Strawberry and everything pink theme

I made some pink lemonade, sponge cake and some fruit and marshmallow kebabs

I was very glad to have had the help of my friend who was visiting from France. She helped me with the decorations.

The day started really early for me, preparing the cake and the lemonade and the fruit kebabs. I didn't realize how much time and effort it takes to do all these preparations. It took me half the day to set up everything, even with the sponge cake being baked the night before. I'm so glad I had the instinct to do that.

My very simple Sponge Cake with whipped cream frosting
To entertain the kids, I made them blow bubbles and left them to run around at the playground. Some of the kids went swimming in our little kiddie pool even though it was a little bit rainy and cold for a swim. I also covered the tables with white paper so they can draw all over them with crayons and put stickers on them. Kids are crazy about stickers. I always carry around a few sheets of them when I travel with my little girl. It keeps her entertained.

I also made my very own pull-string strawberry piñata out of some thick pink, red and green craft paper. This really took a lot of effort. I don't think I'm ever doing it again. I will just buy the ready made one next time. It was a bit rainy outside and so I had to hang it inside the function room. Still, it was quite a success with the kids.


Kids enjoying the goodies out of my DIY pull-string strawberry piñata

Fun times with friends

Enjoying her presents
Throwing this special party for my daughter reminded me so much of the times my aunt would throw big birthday parties for myself and my siblings when we were kids. It made me appreciate my aunt even more. 

Birthday parties are such special times for kids, especially during this time in their lives when they really appreciate all the love and attention that you show them. Plus, it's also a good time (and excuse) to get to be a kid all over again.

Useful links and sources:

Balloons and party supplies from Dreams and Confetti 
Baking supplies from Bake King
Marshmallows and candies from Muji
Party favors from Spotlight and Daiso
Craft papers from Artfriend
My daughter's cute birthday clothes from Cotton On Kids

And here's a link to my Pinterest Board, where I posted other stuff that you might just find useful.

P. S.
I had to adjust the sugar measurements for the Sponge Cake because I found it a little too sweet. Same with the Pink Lemonade. The marshmallows from the Japanese shop, Muji are heart-shaped, not very sweet at all, and on sale! And for the piñata, I made the strawberry design myself. ;)

Friday, April 15, 2016

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

Emergency flight back home

Grieving this week on a week that is supposed to be meant for celebrating numerous happy occasions... life's many ironies.

This week has been quite an extraordinary week -- there were two birthdays, a wedding and a funeral. Life is like a soap opera, or even a movie sometimes.

It's really difficult to lose a loved one. Especially one that is closest to you. And one who cared and dedicated her whole life to you, even though she didn't really have to.

I find it really difficult to search for words about how I feel, but I just want to say, I will forever be grateful to those who have been very sensitive to really feel and partake with my grief, despite miles and oceans of separation -- friends who took the time to ask and to listen, family and neighbors who lived close and far away, long forgotten faces who suddenly appeared out of nowhere to condole and console. Thank you, thank you, thank you.