Things That Make You Happy

It is finally the end of Term 2, and the end of a long Semester 1. With everything that has happened, I am glad to finally have a break. Working for 23 weeks, without a proper rest, has had me drained and emotionally, physically, mentally and in some ways spiritually tired.

This level of exhaustion made me realize that things need to change and I need to be more proactive in managing my emotions and energy.

Halfway through Term 2, at my lowest, I made a list of hobbies and activities I wanted to do but held myself back from. Things that made me happy but I pushed aside because of reluctance.

I had a look at the excuses, and realized that the only one holding me back was myself. The only one who held the keys to my happiness was myself.

Upon that realization, I gave myself permission and I made a promise to myself – to do more that makes me happy.

Starting with these holidays, there are three areas I am going to focus on:

  1. Fix my DSLR camera and discover what type of photography I like and take more photos.
  2. Be more physically active.
  3. Do more hikes/walks around Perth as well as being in nature more.

Here’s to the things that make you happy. I’ll keep you updated on how my three focus areas are going.

Dear … exam stress

Dear Sophia,⁠

Five years ago, you posted this image to social media, trying to send some positive hopeful energy out, because frankly, you were somewhat of a mess. Exam pressure did that to you. Two and a half hours later, you walked out and the heavy burden was lifted because, as you put it, “it went better than I thought”. ⁠

Repeat after me: I will pass this finance exam. I will pass this exam. I will pass this exam.

This week social media reminded you of this snapshot of a moment captured in the black-and-white photo you chose to accompany the post and it got me thinking of my students and exams they may have to do next term. What would I say to them about the pressures of exams?⁠

When I was 16, 17, what advice would have I wanted to have heard before going into exams? Those were the questions I asked myself as I sat down this morning with my cup of coffee. Reflecting on this, these are the advice I would give my younger self, but also to my students next term.

  1. Exam pressure can be scary, but remember this: we can’t do more than the best shot and effort we put into preparing for this exam. Don’t strive for perfection.
  2. Don’t let exams take over your life. You need balance; prioritize your study but make sure you carve out time to socialize as well as spend time having fun with your interests and hobbies.
  3. Clarity comes when the mind is still, not when it is busy. So take time to switch off, relax and calm the thousands of thoughts that must be racing through your mind.
  4. Spend at least 30 minutes of your day moving. Whether that be through walking, running, yoga, dancing or working out.
  5. Remember that everyone learns differently, so how you study will be different to others. Find the study regime that works for you, and create a structure.

Exam time is a stressful time and this is one of the reasons why resilience is so crucial for a balanced mental health during this time. Though whilst this letter is addressed to myself, I hope that it is helpful for anyone who needs reassurance as they enter exam times.

Breathe.

Couple of reflections in this time of uncertainty, where we have seen humanity shine in times of adversity (spontaneous balcony concerts in Spain and Italy) but also the ugliness of humanity come to light (um, hello panic buying of toilet paper).

It is a juggle and a half to keep teaching the curriculum and emotionally manage classes of students who are unsettled, because the world is unsettled.

Managing my own emotions, whilst trying to be calm and positive for students, has led to exhaustion. My emotional and mental wellbeing wobbled for a bit, but it has stabilized and is now steady … just.

What has really helped me these past two weeks has been taking a break on social media platforms, filtering what type of information I intake, making time for myself and yoga. I’ve managed to binge watch several seasons of Heartland, get up-to-date with Doc Marten and had several individual dance parties in the kitchen. Plus, afternoon naps with the kittens curled up next to me didn’t hurt.

Pause, catch your breath and recharge.

This has helped me get a balance, and be able to attack the large pile of marking that I’ve bookmarked for this weekend. It has also helped me assess a few things.

In this season of uncertainty, let us share more of the loving-kindness that we are capable of. Don’t let fear isolate us unnecessarily. Because I am an educator, my natural inclination is to share resources to help others. So, below are some tips for those who are feeling overwhelmed:

  • Do one action each day that generates happiness for you and for others. If you are stuck for ideas, look at Action for Happiness’ “Coping Calendar“. There are 30 actions you can implement to help you cope in times of uncertainty.
  • Switch off social media for a short period of time. We can all be easily overwhelmed with the thousands upon thousands of posts about Covid-19, so it’s okay to take a break and detox for a bit.
  • Listen to music that helps calm you. I’ve been playing Spotify’s “Musical Therapy” playlist a lot recently. Even though I get a few grumbles, I have noticed how it calms them and helps them focus.
  • Rest up. This is often easier said than done, but try and get 8 hours of sleep, hydrate and make sure you are eating regularly.

Let me know what you do to help you stay calm in moments of uncertainty.

Limbo

For months, I have been thinking about Liebe + Letters. Blog posts have been forming in mind, only to evaporate when I try to put words onto paper.

It’s been hard to write, or more accurately, finish blog posts ready to publish. There are some many unfinished drafts that I don’t even know if they will ever see the light of day.

I’ve thought about the type of posts I write and whether or not I should change the format. Whether I should write less about reflections about life lessons and more about the minutiae of my life.

A lot has happened since my last update. Finished at my old school, relocated back to Perth and moved houses, started at a new school, became mama to two little kittens and (re)learning how to manage full-time teaching.

It’s left this blog to be in limbo, and frankly, I hate being in limbo. I like certainty, structure and routines. Knowing where I am going, and what my plan for the day is. So not having a plan and being in limbo when it comes to my writing is … daunting. In many ways, it’s uncomfortable for me.

I know they say that being out of your comfort zone is where most of the learning and growth occurs. Yet in this murky zone of uncertainty, it is hard to be reassured by that saying.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to keep writing and get all of these ideas that are floating in my brain and out into the world to see where they go. I just want to know where some guiding markers are for this project.

There isn’t a concrete ending to this post – I have no idea where to go from here and maybe that is it. Maybe the whole key learning points in this is the organic nature of writing.

All I know is that you put one foot in front of the other, just focus on the here and now and see where that journey leads you.

Dearest little sister,

Watching you grow I’ve come to realise some things: a) it is interesting to have little sisters, b) some things never change and c) where the beep did time fly?

Watching you grow, learn to manage and overcome some big obstacles has made me proud as punch and ridiculously grateful to have a little sister like the one that I have.

It’s generally the older siblings to teach the younger ones, and whilst this is the case most times, I have also found that the younger ones can teach the older siblings a thing or two.

Growing up as an only child for half my childhood, one got used to “one-person” games, as well as learning to entertain oneself when bored.

For the other half of my childhood, I learnt when to share and when not to, that younger siblings can often be your best friend (irregardless of age gap), and how to establish a (loving) hierarchy of sibling authority. I also learnt to set up boundaries, and that younger siblings (when bored) can be really annoying when you’re trying to study for exams so you learn quickly methods to annoy one another without getting into trouble.

Yet I also learnt to view life through an energetic, opinionated point of view and through this lens, it taught how to relate theoretical awesome knowledge to young people.

Despite all the arguments, the tricks played on each other, I’m grateful for the friendship and close relationship with my sister. The discussions about Pokémon (what move is good, what Pokémon should I get, what name should I give it), the banter about life and the 10 minute laughing fits are some of the things I cherish most.

Time flies by quickly, siblings shoot up in growth spurts and once when they were shorter than you, they now tower over you (or are at eye level). Treasure the time spent with them because time goes quickly and life is short.

So, to my sister that looks like me but whose personality is so similar yet so different, I love you.

Yours,

Sophia

xx

Reflections: Two Months into Teaching

Tomorrow will mark 35 days of my first (almost full time) teaching gig. To say it has been great is … well, it fails to really describe what it’s like.

I never understood exhaustion until I became a teacher. As a teacher, you’re constantly ‘switched on’; physically, mentally and emotionally. You’re fielding 1001 questions, whilst making sure kids don’t get hurt. Whilst providing extra support or challenges to those who need it. Oh, and problem solving all along the way. I’ve been so exhausted, my feet are dragging and my bones feel like concrete – but the minute I step into the classroom, that all disappears.

Being a teacher, especially a graduate teacher, it’s taught me not to take support networks for granted. Loved ones who rock up with food in their hands to a gathering or a catch up. Friends who just sit and listen to a barrage of nonsensical words of an issue (or two or three) that’s been worrying me. Partners who make you a cup of tea in the mornings. It’s the little things that make you feel not alone as you’re drowning in paperwork, lesson plans and marking.

Working with teenagers who are great one day and grumpy the next has taught me about the diversity and fluidity that are human beings. It’s taught me that rigidity and structure are great support, but it’s nothing without flexibility. It’s no use dragging kids (metaphorically) to get work done if we don’t care for them as well. I was sitting in a workshop and one of the key learnings i took was “allowing different pathways”. Sure we need a structure of a plan to achieve shared outcomes. Yet we all learn differently, and we all walk a different journey. Why not let there be different paths to achieve a shared outcome?

Self-bloody-care. I harp on about this but nothing reinforces the importance of self-care until a rough day in a crazy week as a teacher. You can’t look after and teach people if you’re not looking after yourself. As a friend put it, (paraphrasing here) “you won’t be on your A game if you’re tired from working late and not looking after yourself.”

One thing I’ve noticed is how the more I have to manage behavior, the less I can focus on teaching, and the more my confidence takes a hit and my anxiety/doubts starts to kick in. Am i actually doing the right thing? Are the kids actually learning? Am I liked? Yet like my friend and fellow teacher, Katie said: “We just need to be sure of ourselves. We do know what we are doing and we do it well!”

So, out of all this here’s the one thing I want to take away: Believe in yourself, have faith in your capabilities. You’re stronger, wiser than you know and it’s not being popular amoungst the kids but being there in the classroom everyday with the kids and guiding them.

I can do this.

Yours,

Sophia
xx

Motivation and changing habits.

There are some things in my life that I want to do more often because of the positive impacts it has on me, but I find it hard to motivate myself to actually do it.

Take running as an example. I like running – once I get some great tunes going, I’m all set. I’ve got the gear, i just don’t have motivation.

I’ve never been a sporty person; I was the musical kid at school. Yet the days when dad and I would go cross-country training are some of my favourite memories and I actually enjoyed doing them.

I could go on with other examples, but what really is important is this: sometimes you need to put effort into it to do things that don’t come easy to you. Sometimes you actually need to just do it. Your body may be completely filled with nerves and you may feel ill at ease, most days you’re going to have to fight through that.

Something worth fighting for won’t come easily, but it is worth the effort you put into it and the motivation you get out of it.

Yours,

Sophia x

Dear baking

Today I did something I rarely ever do – I baked for the sake of baking. Not baking for a friends birthday, or for a class, but baking because I wanted to. So with the rain in the background, I decided on baking something I hadn’t done in a long while – an apple crumble.

I could go on a massive tangent about the recipe, and write a long post about its amazingness and how yummy it was, but I won’t. I’ll just share the recipe below, and let you jump on board on the Äppelsmulpaj train.

I grew up in a family that bakes. My maternal grandma bakes ALL the time, and the cellar (especially in holiday seasons) often has cakes resting in the pantry. I think it annoyed and amused (in equal amounts) my grandma whenever the grandkids (and often son) were around because there would be pieces of cake going randomly missing. I inherited Dutch baking recipes from my Oma from she used to bake and inherited her sense of quiet happiness seeing the kids enjoy the baked goods.

Despite my mum being those “bake-from-packets” type of baker (much to the dismay of her mother), I inherited her love of Scandinavian baking. So this morning, I opened up my favourite Nordic Cook Book, flipped it to deserts and found the Äppelsmulpaj recipe.

Once it’s finished, I’ll take the Äppelsmulpaj over to some mates for afternoon tea … because that’s something I’ve grown up with, and something I try to do often.

It’s cultural tradition from where I come from, that if people are over around afternoon tea time, you offer them coffee and cake. If you don’t have cake, then you scramble a platter of biscuits together.

I’ve often asked mum and my grandmas why they put so much effort into afternoon tea and sprinkled amongst the “Because it’s nice to do something like this!” and “It’s what you do!” answers, was the real reason – you do it because you love them. Afternoon tea gatherings are moments of time where we all sat down together, being present in the presence of the people that we love.

Bonding over shared food allows us to break down barriers, share our heritage and culture with others and provides an opportunity to build stronger relationships. Bonding over shared foods, be it afternoon tea or mealtimes, reminds us of our own humanity and for me, that it includes the values of neighbourliness, hospitality and welcoming diversity.

We all need reminders of our common humanity, so bake a cake, put the kettle on and invite friends and family over for afternoon tea.

… just make sure you have a sneaky piece or two before everyone gobbles the Äppelsmulpaj up.

Yours,

Sophia
x

PS: Because I love this recipe for Äppelsmulpaj, I decided to share it with you. The recipe is originally from Magnus Nilsson’s The Nordic Cook Book.

Orange Minimalist Recipe Card.png

Love, over hate.

This letter has been sitting in my drafts since October 2017. I wrote in the evening after I was verbally harassed because I didn’t give someone my attention as I was walking down some stairs on the way home

It sat in my drafts because I wasn’t sure if I should post it, and had several doubts about it. But I’ve decided to post it because I don’t want to let a single post control my doubts.

So without further ado, here is the letter:

Today, I was yelled at for simply walking downstairs at the train station. Words like “b*tch”, “c*nt” and “I’ll kill you” were lobbed at me. All because I walked down the stairs with earphones in my ears, listening to Paul Kelly.

Did it make me scared? Did it make me feel vulnerable? Yes, it did. It made me assess where I could sit on the train, where I should stand on the station for protection because I did not know if the person would follow through on their threat or whether the person (like I suspected) was all bark, no bite.

Yet what makes me mad, is that this is not a one-off moment, but rather a common occurrence for women. Far too many nights have I walked home in the dark, or walked through Northbridge alone with keys in my hand as a self-defensive measure, being aware of everyone around me.

I don’t get harassed, name-called often to my face, but I know that I am privileged and that for my sisters of colour, it is a common occurrence.

We all need a bit more love in the world, less hate and more acceptance of who we are as humans.

So I didn’t dwell on today’s occurrence for long because I don’t need that negativity. I’m only posting this because I need to see written proof that I’m not at fault, nor should yelling at a person for choosing not to give your their attention be acceptable.

But I wanted to leave these words here – let’s share the love more than the hate. Because we all are important and valued, no matter our gender, sexuality, or background.

Love,
Sophia
X

Why it’s important to listen

Sitting in the back of a car, drinking tea out of my passenger camping mug, I sit reflecting on life, and this guilt that accompanies taking time out to plug off and enjoy life.

I wonder if our lives are consumed by this need to work. That our identities are defined by our work.

I wonder if we’ve lost our natural curiosity for our lives around us. I wonder, that in my teaching, how I can get teenagers and young people to be curious about the world and the people around them.

I wonder if we can get empathetic communication back between all of us, and then I wonder did we ever have empathetic communication?

Then I wonder how do we develop and learn empathetic communication? Then I realise that it’s all about accepting the person as they are, with their life experiences and treating them as a human being.

Because we have a lot to learn from each other and we can make the world a better place by learning from each other.

Yours,

Sophia

x

Holidays + Routines

December rolls around every year, and accompanying December is the process to reflect, and if necessary, change or modify any personal goals. You know, that end of year routine common to many people.

We, humans, are creatures of habit and we seem to really like our routines. Routines let us understand what is coming up and can act as a comparison stick in case anything out of the ordinary arises. Just like in a maths equation, once we know the variables, we can solve the equation. Routines help us figure out the variables.

The lead up to the holidays often means that our routines get interrupted, with all the planning, cooking, that last minute rush to sort out presents and fitting in as many social events before the year ends getting in the way. We are so busy looking out for everyone else, we forget to look after ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, looking after others is an important part of our lives because it builds empathy. It helps us connect with people, and we learn from each other. Yet empathy can’t be developed on an empty tank. One really important part of building empathy is self-awareness, the ability to distinguish between our feelings and thoughts with the feelings and thoughts of others. As such, we need to connect with our own thoughts and feelings, not neglect them.

One thing 2017 has taught me is that it is okay to take a step back from the chaos of life, all the competing pressures in your life and to look after oneself. It is okay to take that 10-minute break enjoying the seaside, or that 10-minute meditation practice or simply to sit down with a cup of tea enjoying the nature around you.

Because in looking after everyone else over the holiday season, we also need to connect with ourselves. So over the next 19 days left in 2017, and in the 12 days up until Christmas, schedule some time with yourself on a daily basis.

Yours,
Sophia
x

Dear life.

Dear life,

It’s been a while since I last wrote. I’ve had my head down to the grindstone, as the saying goes, making sure I meet deadlines. So my life has become all about the routine. Getting up at the same time, having a morning tea, making a tea in my keep cup to drink on my way to prac. So, nothing at all exciting. Nothing adventurous. (Yes, I know you’ll be saying – that’s just a matter of perspective.)

By the time you get this letter (ha, such a cliché saying in a letter), I’ll be finished with prac. In fact, I’ll have slept the weekend away – that’s how exhausted I feel right now. I’m trying to keep perspective on my uni workload, but I’m finding that hard to do right now. A small part of me is questioning whether I’m doing self-mental-health-care right if I feel this exhausted, and that’s just one of many questions I have for you.

So, next time we meet up I’ll ask you all of them. They’re too many for this letter. But one question I’ll ask now – am I doing okay? I know it’s a funny question, but I need an outsider’s perspective – I get so caught up with the what ifs, that my perspective gets blinded most times.

You asked me in your last letter, if I am loving uni, and the answer is yes, I am loving uni right now, I travel down by train every day and see the beach every day. Although that part of the trip is always accompanied by a pang of longing – I’d rather be soaking up the salty air and the sand between my toes than be sitting in an 8:30-morning lecture. I’ve never been a morning lecture person.

I’ve got several assignments coming up in quick succession, something that I’m not terribly looking forward to because it means the same-old routine of long hours studying, early starts and the creeping exhaustion.

Although, I’m also not looking forward to that same-old routine because I’d rather be enjoying the nice weather we have right now. You can tell summer is slowly coming to an end – days aren’t boiling hot anymore, instead, the weather is more commonly the warm temperatures mixed with the endless blue skies. So I’m trying to make the most of it by walking or running most days.

Talking about running, I ran the other day after months of not running. Ran a 1km! Hurrah! (Walked 800m though, so win some, lose some.) This is the part where I write the same old promise I make every year – “I’ll try to run more regularly, and it’s the perfect weather to start this.”

We’ll see how well that works out this year.

Anyway, I am writing whilst I’ve got food in the oven, so I have to finish here. I’ll try to write soon.

Lots of love,

Yours,
Sophia x