10 timeless reads to escape the daily grind 

Ah, the daily grind. Isn’t it just so easy to slip into it? You wake up, brush your teeth (hopefully), make coffee, get on the bus, work, get on the bus, workout, make dinner… And so it goes, day in, day out.

I’m a huge advocate for adding variety to your life. Whether it’s through diet, exercise, socialising, nail colour… But sometimes, even changing up your morning coffee order isn’t enough to make you feel alive. And then you are faced with those days you just want to pack a suitcase and genuinely escape.

Reading is a powerful practice. It’s been a pretty uncertain and unsettling time in the history of our world, and many of us are in search of a deeper meaning. And think about it, when was the last time a book completely blew your mind? Wouldn’t you like to feel that way again? So consumed by a story you couldn’t put the book down, or stop think about it?

 

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This year, I made it my resolution to read at least one book a month. For someone who often finds themselves on instagram instead of reaching for my bedside read, I’ve done pretty well. [I’ve read 10 books, and we’re in September!] And the best reads were those that made me forget who and where I was, or reminded me how amazing life can be, or taught me a valuable concept that I could apply to my life. They’ve all left a lasting impression, and changed the way I see the world.

I love a good book recommendation, so I thought I’d put together a list of my own favourites. I would love love love for you to contribute and drop your own favourites in the comments!

Happy reading!

 

1. when breath becomes air, Paul Kalanithi

 

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Well this was an emotional read. If you’re in the mood for a dramatic introspection and exploring the journey of life and death through the eyes of a neurosurgeon turned terminal cancer patient, this one’s for you. I marvelled, I smiled, and yes, I even cried a little bit. A great reminder that life is beautiful but fleeting, and that science and faith are not polar opposites.

Read when: you’re experiencing change in your life, or are trying to find meaning to your life. It was also a great plane read, although make sure you bring along some tissues!

 

2. the pillars of the earth, Ken Follett

 

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I didn’t think I would enjoy this brick of a book so much. It took me a couple of months to work through, but I couldn’t wait to jump into bed to read another chapter of this great story. Set in England in the 12th century, we follow the story of Tom Builder, a stonemason, and his family. Political intrigue, cathedral vernacular and romantic encounters are to be expected! It was historical fiction at its best for me; I learned a lot about English history and found the intricate storyline very captivating.

Read when: you’re feeling mentally sharp and clear, but need a break from non-fiction. This’ll keep you engaged, but not mentally exhausted from information overload!

 

3. a thousand splendid suns, Khaled Hosseini

 

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I feel like this one’s quickly become another modern classic – it’s from the same author as The Kite Runner, which I also highly recommend. A beautiful story of friendship and a raw depiction of the lives of many Afghan women under the Taliban regime. Feelings of unjustice and anger were frequent for me when I read this; it’s a powerful story!

Read when: you’ve lost faith in humanity a bit. Yes, it’s a terrible story, but also a stark reminder that if we stick together, we can conquer anything. Especially women!

 

4. eat, pray, love, Elizabeth Gilbert

 

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Maybe cliché, but when I read it at only 16, I was completely transported. Of course, I was nowhere near a mid-life crisis or working through any adult stuff, but I feel this book has shaped my ability to be aware of overcommitment and taking things too seriously. Because at any point, I could pack a bag and leave for an Indian ashram, or flee to the Mediterranean for a culinary adventure. It’s a great story of what’s come to matter the most in my life – to eat well, to embrace a spiritual practice and to cultivate deep relationships.

Read when: you’ve got any kind of life crisis, or need a reminder that you’re capable of anything. I will not be held accountable for the spontaneous holidays or trips that may ensue!

5. freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

 

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I also read this one in high school, after it being recommended by my economics teacher. Little did I know economics would become a career for me! Economics is everywhere – from drug dealing to the bagel industry. This is a highly approachable and entertaining read for all of us who enjoy understanding the underlying infrastructure of society. And if you’re not sure, just listen to an episode of the Freakonomics podcast.

Read when: you want to learn something new, in a fun and entertaining way, or need a new repertoire of dinner party anecdotes to tell. Guaranteed winner!

 

6. the handmaid’s tale, Margaret Atwood

 

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Anything dystopian – count me in. This was a powerful read; devastating, disempowering at times, frightening and very eye-opening. I also thought the recent TV show did it justice. Patriarchy is taken to its extreme in this read; women are turned into baby-making machines and stripped of their rights, names and independence. It also shocked me to be reminded of how quickly and easily society can spin out of control.

Read when: NOW! This is so incredibly relevant, given current discussions on women’s rights and gender equality.

 

7. never let me go, Kazuo Ishiguro

 

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This was a weird, memorable book. I don’t know why it was so impactful. Another dystopian story, set in an English boarding school, where children turn out to be clones designed to be organ donors. It’s a story of friendship, rebellion and acceptance all at once, but not for the faint-hearted!

Read when: not when you’re feeling down. I remember it being moody and dark at times. Best read in fewer sittings, since it is so weirdly intense!

 

8. the help, Kathryn Stockett

 

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Fun, light, uplifting and also dead serious. I couldn’t recommend it more (as I do the film!). Set in Mississippi in the 60s, the story is that of Skeeter, the daughter of a white family, and Aibileen, a maid, who collaboratively write a newspaper column on household tips and develop a wonderful yet challenging friendship. There’s so much tenderness and truth to this story!

Read when: it’s the summer and you want an easy read, or an autumn book to snuggle up with on a rainy night!

 

9. wild: from lost to found on the pacific crest trail, Cheryl Strayed

 

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Another cliché classic – Cheryl Strayed hikes the Pacific Crest Trail and finds herself, has many footwear issues and makes peace with the loss of her mother. I stayed up all night reading parts of it, because it’s easy to read, and yet so gripping. I think we can all relate to a character who’s feeling a little lost and embarks on an extreme adventure to self-realize.

Read when: you’re lacking inspiration, or need some motivation for a challenge you’ve set yourself (both physical and non-physical!).

 

10. attending: medicine, mindfulness and humanity, Ronald Epstein

 

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A great read relating to my field of study (Health Economics!) on the importance of ‘mindful medicine’. Ronald Epstein discusses some key principles of becoming a better clinician by leaning in and being more responsive to their patients, embracing their own humanity to make patients feel supported. It was also a reminder that we have a responsibility towards our doctors to shake up the status quo and make them listen when we’re not feeling cared for!

Read when: you’ve lost faith in modern medicine, like I had!

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september recap | hikes & other stories

September is almost over! It’s hard to believe – the California sunshine is still shining bright on most days.
This month has been filled with some wonderful adventures. From weekend trips to revelations and accomplishments, it’s been an eventful beginning to the autumn.

trips & adventures

On the first weekend of the month, I took yet another trip to SF. The Saturday farmers’ market on the Ferry Plaza was a feast for the senses. Flowers, exotic mushrooms and weird granolas all around.

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my 10-day social media detox | the why and the how

So here I am in the Sierras, hiking my way up to a bunch of lakes. It’s hot and dry and I stop to admire the mountains every few minutes. And my phone has no signal. And I’m living my best life.

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See, the whole point of taking a break from social media is not to feel deprived. You want to feel like you’re fully participating in your own life. You’re taking an amazing hike and it’s not on Instagram and that’s totally cool because memories last a lifetime. That’s exactly how I’ve felt these past 10 days.

 

It was both reaching for my phone a little too often and the opportunity to spend time in places where phones aren’t such a big deal that made me realise I wanted a break. It’s 11.25 and it’s not lunchtime yet and I Just. Need. Something. to pass the time, so I watch a few Instagram stories. That started happening a lot. My weekend away in Lake Tahoe (post coming soon!) made me realise I wasn’t always connecting to myself because I was so busy trying to connect with others on social media. Does that sound familiar to any of you? Continue reading “my 10-day social media detox | the why and the how”

a summer in sacramento | my story so far

It’s only 19 hours, I kept telling myself. 19 hours of travelling and you’ll be in heaven. It was daunting, super exciting and completely surreal to think I would be taking this trip all by myself.

About 3 months ago, it was time for me to submit my placement preferences as part of my MSc in Health Economics. It didn’t take long for me to put Sacramento at the top of my list. The promise of sun, guacamole, and an impactful project to work on was all I needed to convince me. When my allocation was released and I read “UC Davis” next to my name, I couldn’t believe I’d be spending three whole months in sunny California. Me? Who’d never flown for more than 4 hours? Impossible.

Preparations

I started planning right away and hoped to God I wouldn’t miss anything out. My visa application was particularly painful, but I don’t think anybody’s ever enjoyed applying for an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. It’s an administrative procedure that requires you to answer really obscure questions about your religious affiliations and pay large amounts of money to attend a 2 minute interview at an embassy, and maybe shed a few tears of frustration along the way, but you know what? It was worth it! My passport came back in the post a week later (because yes, they take your passport!) and I frantically finished packing up my life, sat my last ever exam at York, sold my furniture and tried to get some headspace before this huge adventure.

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ayurvedic + gut-friendly savoury oats

A warming bowl of porridge is so much more than a plate of food. Share it with a friend and it becomes a topic of conversation. Make it after a long day and it becomes a source of comfort. Let your imagination run free and it becomes a creative outlet.

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#SeptemberReset

I’m doing a September Reset!

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Last year, I did a whole30. It was interesting, to say the least, but not for me. I love a good bowl of lentil soup, and really, there’s nothing wrong with lentils. Or a grilled tofu salad. I can’t do without ’em. So, as advised by Melissa Hartig in Food Freedom Forever, I’m just doing a reset.

I’ve been on holiday and ate decently well (lots of fish and, ehm, lots of European bread which.. well, I just can’t resist!). It was totally worth it. But a lot has changed, both diet and life-wise, for me this summer.

I went to see an acupunturist. She said I should avoid salads and caffeine, and try more soups and stir-fried vegetables. Noted. I’m also consuming less waste. So however good and paleo-compliant the super fancy smoked salmon from ocado may be, I’m more inclined to see my local fishmonger for a less wasteful, less packaged and greener option (i.e. smoked mackerel, e-ve-ry time) – my diet has shrinked in variety, as a result. So stocking up on paleo ‘essentials’ like single wrapped snacks and packets of almond butter is a big no-no for me. Lastly, I’m doing a lot more yoga. My Ashtanga practice has sky-rocketed in the past few months and my diet has shifted towards a kinder approach to my body. I’m not quite vegetarian (I might get there, one day!), but I feel more balanced. I’m not constantly debating between being a macro-counting-egg-white-eating queen and being a raw-vegan-smoothie-drinking monkey. I’m just me, eating whatever I like and whatever makes me feel good.

Continue reading “#SeptemberReset”

june favourites

Happy July and happy summer! It’s been a busy month, filled with some exciting changes and revelations. Read on to find out! 🙂

mindful shopping

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This is definitely easier said than done if you’re edging on compulsive shopping, which many of us do without realising. It looks good on the mannequin, or it seems useful at the time, but when you get home you realise maybe you didn’t need it after all. Or you use it once and then it gathers dust at the back of a cupboard. I’ve done a lot of work on myself to reduce my attachment to stuff, but I’ve always been frugal, so it hasn’t been excessively hard for me to be more selective in my shopping. I had run out of summer clothes to wear and so went on many more shopping trips than I would have in the past, and most of the time, I went home empty handed. It’s life-changing to walk out of a shop knowing you didn’t feel pressured by the shop assistant, having carefully thought through any purchases (‘is it useful’, ‘is it durable’, is it worth the price’, ‘will it match my style’…).

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this is how you pack exactly what you need

Holiday season is upon us once more! I’m super hyped becauseI have actually planned a couple of trips this year, which means my suitcase will be more than just a weekend bag for a few days spent with a friend. Or will it? Is packing a huge suitcase, 5 pairs of shoes and both a hair straightener and curling iron really necessary?

Having less is seriously cool. I’m no longer worried about stuff not matching in my wardrobe, or that pink jacket I never wear: if I’m not using it, I’m not keeping it.

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But then comes your exotic trip, and you think you need the entire asos swimwear department to survive it. (Just a piece of friendly advice before we start: you don’t.) I take more long weekend trips than weeklong holidays so I’ve become accustomed to packing a small carry-on and making the most of what I bring! Here’y how you can apply underpacking to longer holidays like I am this year!

1. Think ahead

Beautiful view of Ostuni, Puglia, Italy. Photo: Kate Holstein:
Ostunia, Puglia © Kate Holstein

If you’re not one of those people that starts packing or thinking about packing at least 2 weeks before you leave, start now. Honestly, this is a huge help – ask yourself where you’ll be, what you’ll be doing and how often, think of what you already have and what should be replaced or bought for the occasion. I’m leaving for Italy in a couple of days for a super casual poolside reading and city exploring break. Realistically, only 3 scenarios are likely: a day out, for which I’ll need some comfortable, functional and breathable, a day at the pool, for which I’ll need swimwear and a cover up and a classier option for the evening to wear to a nice dinner. My make-up and hair routine can be adjusted accordingly by increasing the intensity rather than the amount of products used. Instead of just slapping on some mascara and eyebrows, I might spend longer on some eyeliner or contouring. And then there’s the airport days, where you should think of wearing something comfortable and layerable, for example the only thicker jacket you’re bringing in case of colder weather, and to keep yourself warm on the flight, over a t-shirt you can wear on a city day later on. Write it down, draw it out, whatever you need to do: just think!

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how to make the best gut-healing oatmeal

Oatmeal, porridge, whatever you wanna call it. One thing: treat it like risotto.

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Oats are like the perfect middle-ground between incredibly indulgent and incredibly nutritious.

I was probably born with a spoonful of oats in my mouth. Wherever I was, at home, at school, on holidays, oats always made an appearance. Except my oat consumption has changed drastically since those dairy and microwave days. I actually used to pour cornflakes on top of my porridge. That crunch was everything. Now it just comes in a different shape (i.e. spoonfuls of PB)!

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why you should seek balance + 10 ways to find it

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I love the YOGABODY Yoga Talk Show podcast. Every week, I look forward to the latest episode; the range of topics covered is so broad I’m guaranteed to learn something new. A couple of weeks ago, the topic of discussion was life balance and the causes of adrenal fatigue. It’s not a sexy topic, but it’s an important one.

I’m 21 and I truly believe our generation is seeking balance, or at least trying to tip the balance in favour of their well-being as opposed to reckless enjoyment. More than ever we are seeing turmeric lattes and superfood açai bowls and cool yoga studios. Public figures are healthy cookbook authors and instagram yogis and fitness ebook writers.

And yet so often it’s an all-or-nothing affair. You’re vegan or you’re not. You’re a yogi or you’re not. You’re healthy or you’re not. And you only ARE if you take things to the next level. You a raw vegan, and practice 90 minutes every day and always drink your lemon water in the morning. I’m not sure why there is such an obsession with perfection, but let me tell you, it’s not perfection you seek. It’s balance.

Have you ever regretted eating so healthily you couldn’t eat your mother’s apple crumble? Probably.

And have you ever been so careless you regretted eating the entire brunch spread last Christmas? Probably, too.

But did you regret having that one bite of your friend’s pancake stack and ordering the smoothie bowl for yourself? Probably not.
We also mistakingly feel that balance is just a food thing. Balance is an everything thing. Because what is imbalanced in one aspect of your life may be counterbalanced by something else. Balance is something that is advised by yoga teachers, nutritionists and life coaches; not choosing one extreme over the other. It’s a way of life, not a means to an end. Balance should not inspire guilt, either. It’s not because you’re not a raw vegan you’re a bad vegan. It’s not because you haven’t done the whole30 that you’re a bad paleo. Balance for you will look nothing like balance for someone else. But balance is so abstract, don’t you think? It’s an ideal that’s hard to pinpoint, you can only feel it. There’s no common denominator or way of measuring balance on a scale.

So how do you add more yin to your yang, so to speak? Well here are 8 things you can do to bring balance, rather than an extreme of good or bad, into your life!

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