Planning food during a pandemic

In the days leading up to the COVID19 pandemic, photos of queues of people trying to buy food and that of empty shelves in supermarkets ( for some unknown reason toilet paper and pasta have been very popular!) have become the norm for a modern society used to having everything at the click of a finger (or a click on your computer screen). It is hard to get even delivery slots for food if you don’t want to shop in store.

IMG_6370
I saw this during early March when the panic buying had just started
IMG_6376
Within a few days, shelves were beginning to look like this!

I was also swept away by the societal urge or rather the herd tendency to stock up on food, although probably my shopping was nothing compared to the people who bought up shelves of toilet paper and even fought and got arrested over that.  I found that I had bought some extra onions and potatoes but its not too much of a problem to eat them.  Even then I have thought of some ways I could prevent myself from panic buying potatoes and onions or anything else.

  1. Make a food plan for each day and a grocery plan for the week: Write down a possible menu plan and what ingredients you may need. It is not always possible to find everything you need, so you have to be flexible about this.  Check if you really need to stock up a month’s supply of toilet paper or that you are a good enough baker if you are buying so much baker’s flour.  Food has limited shelf life and buying too much means you might end up having to throw it at the end.  There is a viral video of a man who stored hoarded items on top of his kitchen units, in the hallway, toilet and everywhere possible- creating trip hazards in the house and possibly, fire risks.  This also means that someone else didn’t get to have it- this is also selfish behaviour.
  2. If you really can’t find something, look up smaller stores: Many so-called ethnic or speciality shops have stocks of things not available in the supermarkets.  The last time, I looked they had toilet paper, pasta, bread flour and everything else- without the queues. Shopping at smaller stores helps them to keep going during the tough economic times. So it is a win-win situation.  I also learned some special recipes during my conversations when shopping.
IMG_6500
Smaller independent stores often have enough
  1. Look for long life items: These could be either dried foods such as rice, lentils, beans, etc. but also canned and frozen items.  I’ve no idea why people need so much pasta but I found that I could make many dishes by using brown rice for example- Chinese, India, Mexican, Japanese and Italian. Some fresh foods like onions, garlic, apples, and carrots also keep well for a long time.
  2. Freeze what you don’t need: I have prepared food and cut vegetables that might not keep in the fridge and so I’ve frozen these for quick meals. I have also frozen herbs (I found some on sale or about to be thrown by the shop and reduced).  Even opened canned food that can’t be used straightway can be frozen. I am also freezing milk in batches to use later.
  3. Share buying with neighbours: Buying in bulk will be cheaper and you may find that food shops will prefer larger deliveries, rather than small purchases.  Bigger shared purchases also bring down carbon emissions by reducing numbers of deliveries.  In my building, people have also shared shopping duties for older or ill people.  Many hygiene experts recommend washing hard items like produce, bottles and cartons while cardboard boxes, paper and cloth if left aside for 9 hours or more will kill any lingering virus on them.

There are many guidelines about disinfecting stuff bought from the shops.  But washing with water remains the cheapest and the most effective.  I’ve been washing all hard things like vegetables, bottles and cartons- a good habit anyway.  Research from the US National Institutes of Health found that the COVID19 virus survives for longer on cardboard – up to 24 hours – and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces such as door handles, plastic-coated or laminated worktops and other hard surfaces. So it might be a good time to reduce the amount of plastic you have in the home! Of course, with fresh produce that is used immediately, the cooking kills all bacteria and viruses.

The researchers discovered that copper surfaces tended to kill the virus in about four hours.  So I’ve been using all my Indian copper and brass plates.  Coronaviruses can also be inactivated within a minute by disinfecting surfaces with 62-71% alcohol, or 0.5% hydrogen peroxide bleach or household bleach containing 0.1% sodium hypochlorite. Higher temperatures and humidity also tend to result in other coronaviruses dying quicker, so if you can, wiping surfaces with hot cloths or using steam cleaner might be more environmentally friendly and even cheaper. On can follow common sense hygiene practices handed down from ages like washing hands and wiping surfaces often, separating raw meat from other foods, cooking and serving to the right temperature. Many religious or cultural practices also require this- Jewish, Hinduism, Islamic, Indian, etc.

Finally the best tip is not look at supermarket queues and avoid social media or news stories about food scarcity- herd mentality makes people scared and buy more than what they need.  It is estimated that in the UK, people have hoarded up £1billion worth of food while some may go hungry while there is enough food and grocery in the supply chain.  Social media and news sometimes stirs up unnecessary fears.  Believe that you will find what you need or become resourceful enough to use what you have! As the Italian writer, Francesca Melandri, who has been under lockdown in Rome for almost three weeks due to the Covid-19 outbreak, wrote,

‘First of all, you’ll eat. Not just because it will be one of the few last things that you can still do.

You will count all the things you do not need.

The true nature of the people around you will be revealed with total clarity. You will have confirmations and surprises.’

(I have not printed her entire article but you can find it here)

Hope springs

‘And all the spaces of our past moments of solitude, the spaces in which we have suffered from solitude, enjoyed, desired and compromised solitude, remain indelible within us, and precisely because the human being wants them to remain so. He knows that the space identified with his solitude is creative; that even when it is forever expunged from the present, when henceforth, it is alien to all the promises of the future, even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic. We return to them in our night dreams.’ (Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, 1958)

I’ve been very sad recently.  My childhood home in India which was locked up, had been burgled. Not satisfied with not finding much there (yes, we were very poor), the thieves then ransacked the place, even ripping apart the mattresses.  Even if a home has been a very humble place, with not many things there, it still has its memories. It was also my first home and a place I always went back to.  I learnt to walk there and play with the children who lived nearby.  Our school was nearby.  So many people came there.  The address is forever etched my heart.  My beloved uncle and my father both passed away there. That place was the centre of my universe for decades until I left but I always came back to it whenever I visited India from the UK. My British born children loved it too.

Then this burglary happened- totally out of the blue. I felt violated myself because my home was so intimately connected to me- it was who I was, it was my body. The mattresses that had been ripped apart lay on the same bed that my father had died.  I was angry and helpless. But there was nothing to be done. When I was praying, the thought came into my head, ‘You need to concentrate on yourself. There is nothing to be done by getting angry or upset’.  And then I read about the people in Australia who had lost everything in the recent bushfires- and precious things like their pets, photographs of their childhood, livelihood, etc.  Tragically some had even died trying to save their homes. I began to feel grateful that such physical evidences of my life were still there- photographs, mementos, and my memories too.  No one had been injured during the burglary.  I heard a woman say about her home being destroyed during the floods in the UK, ‘After all, it is just bricks and mortar.’  And I thought about all those people around the world who had lost homes, left their homes fleeing wars or other disasters, or were even homeless.  Suddenly I began to see a brighter side to everything- and really how lucky I was.

Black_Mountains_on_fire!.jpg
Black mountain on fire, February 2020 (image: Wikimedia commons, Saritha Balram)

Then today, I saw this- a little tiny shoot of a cactus plant.  Cactus plants are quite difficult to grow at home from seeds but somehow this little thing had managed to sprout. I felt like it was saying to me, ‘Don’t give up hope.’  It is still a long way from becoming a proper cactus plant but I thought this little thing has struggled and found a way to come out of the dark sandy soil, so could I come out my own dark place.

IMG_6136.JPG
My tiny cactus plant!

Increasing creativity through mindless drawing

When I was sketching in Venice in 2017, a small crowd gathered around me, watching.  As the crowd grew in size, there was even a person directing people.  At first, I felt very conscious of the people staring at me and then as I suffer from fear of crowds, I started feeling fearful. In an age when people use their smartphones to take selfies and photos, it must seem very archaic and time wasting to sketch.  But recently I discovered that it also helps others to watch people sketching.  There is a South Korean artist, Kim Jung Gi, who draws fantasy art and many people pay to spend hours watching him. It is said to be therapeutic, and induces a feeling of stillness and calm in the viewers.

There is another way that ‘mindless’ drawing can help- this is with increasing creativity.   Just like sleeping on problems and dreams can help with solving problems, using drawing (especially organic shapes) can help with problem solving and increasing creativity.  The Nobel Laureate, polymath, poet, musician, painter and author corrected his texts by doodling over mistakes.  His wooden seal with his initials is also of an organic shape.

Rabindranath_Tagore_Ra-Tha_seal_initials.jpg

Even when feeling tired, I have found that doodling and drawing can be done when reading is too difficult.  These drawings are no practical use but to me, they are part of my creative self.  I’ve given myself two different rewards each day- when the weather is bad, I draw, and when the weather is good, I go out and take photos.  Sometimes I draw without my glasses and sometimes I use both hands (I’m right handed). It’s always good for me to see what I create and how well I feel after that.

2B77BB62-4947-405D-98D2-39DE3EE7D96B
Organic shapes just joined together
5391371D-D93C-4C1A-8E9A-2BECE977F246
Who is she? Why is she smiling?Why are her eyes closed shut? I don’t know- she came out of my head after a busy and tiring day. Maybe I’d like to be her!ption
IMG_0356
One of the good weather days when I photographed this spectacular sunset

Insight of the day

‘If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present’,  Lao Tzu

IMG_1404.JPG

This is my friend’s five year old.  While I was talking to his dad about future projects, our worries and the state of the world, this young man decided to enjoy his surroundings.  While the grown-ups’ talk was getting darker and depressive, this child found my Venetian mask and said he would put on a ‘funny face’.  As soon as we saw him, we all started to laugh.  The present moment was alive again.  I realised we were having a dinner party and we weren’t actually enjoying it.  We were drawn back to the present, thanks to the intuitive wisdom of a five year old!

Only Plan A

Plan B types

I have read that the best way to pursue your creative ideals to divide your sources of income- i.e., to have a day job and also a creative evening job.  The intention is that if your creative job isn’t paying the bills, the day job will pay until one day you hit jackpot with your creative venture; and eventually that will become your only source of income.  So your day job would get you ‘passive income’ while you pursue your true vocation.  So you see the bank clerk who plays the piano in the evening at a bar, or the painter who pays his bills through his teaching job.  You can see this from many historical examples- Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin, the Russian: Georgian Romantic composer whose day jobs were as a doctor and chemist, Phillip Larkin, a librarian who was a poet and many others.

Plan A types

On the other hand, artist Paul Klein says that you should have only Plan A and you should put all your energy into pursuing it.  By having too many eggs (and perhaps even too many baskets), you are exhausted with nothing left for creativity.  In this video on Youtube, he says only have Plan A- having Plan Bs are distractions.  By having only Plan A, you focus almost desperately because there is no other way- you have to make it succeed.  Paul Gaugin comes under this category but he never made any money from painting while he was alive- only after death did his paintings sell well.  Do you agree with this approach?  Personally, I am very risk averse and currently do a few jobs while I pursue my creative ideas.  What about you?  Let me know. Here is a lovely video on finding your passion from Ken Robinson, who says it is not enough to be good at something, you need to be passionate too.

 

 

 

The most powerful life tool you have

Every lesson you have learnt about time management, decluttering, managing your work, dealing with people, healthy living and finding happiness boils down to one thing- the choices you make.  Whether you decide to spend some time reading, keep a piece of paper, do a particular type of work, the friends you have, your weight and the fun you are having is down to the choices you have made in the past.  Buddhism says that if you want to know the future, look at the choices you are making today.  And that if you want to change your future, you need to change the choices you are making today- it is as simple as that.  However, despite being simple, this can be a daunting and not everyone is ready to throw something away- whether a piece of paper or a friend.  But as I have grown older, I think it is getting easier to let go.  But if you can do, you have the most powerful tool for living your life as you want- your choices.

This powerful talk by Caroline Myss is worth listening to if you have any doubts or are feeling you need some support in this area.  It really helped me.

 

In search of perfection

Many artists like to produce perfect artworks- that is understandable.  They see beautiful works of art before them in museums, cities and in homes; and now in the media.  So the quest for perfection is ‘even more in your face’- if your work is not perfect, perhaps you are not perfect.  I have now heard from two artists who are suffering from depression and exhaustion, trying to be perfect, and trying to produce perfect pieces of art.  There is a Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, which actually elevates imperfection

But there is a Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, which actually elevates imperfection.  So cracks in pottery are filled with gold, literally emphasizing and embellishing the imperfection, instead of hiding it.  The Wabi-Sabi aesthetic is a beauty that is ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete’. It is quite like our physical selves- our bodies are not perfect but using clothes, shoes and make-up we make them look perfect.  But the most memorable faces are those that highlight imperfection- such as David Bowie’s mismatched eyes.  The actress Jennifer Grey who had her nose done, regretted it- she felt she had lost herself or her unique character.

IMG_0958.JPG

These are two pieces of pottery that I found destined for the skip.  The creator had discarded them in this bin in a pottery workshop.IMG_3517.jpg

I took them home and I have used them regularly for the last three years. They have not broken or cracked (and I have washed them in the dishwasher) and were perfect the way I have used them.  As I use them, I thank the creator of these two pieces and sometimes feel sorry that in the quest for perfection, the artist threw away two little gems.  I am pleased they came my way- each time I look at them, I think about the imperfection of life and how we can create value of each imperfection through acceptance, patience and love.

De-cluttering: part 1

I have just come back, having spent a couple of weeks decluttering my elderly and disabled parents’ home.  One of the triggers for this was watching a Youtube video where someone was describing house clearing after their parent’s death.  Don’t get me wrong- I am not wishing for an early death of my parents but this is was a practical necessity as my parents do not have the time and inclination to declutter now. They were brought up in extreme poverty and have got into the habit of extreme saving.  They have kept everything from scraps of rags, my school books to letters, just in case, even though they no longer had any use for these.  There was a danger from not only vermin infestation and hygiene issues but also the clutter was in the way of them getting about their lives- my mother often fell down as she hit something.  I have often helped other people after their deaths to declutter but with my parents, I wanted to do it now to help them to make their lives easier.

The decluttering was physically and mentally very tiring- I had to stop often and rest.  It is also very interesting to see what people collect towards the ends of their lives.  In the case of the people I had helped in the past, I remember a man with over 40 mirrors and a  lady with a room full of scented soaps!  In my parents case, while they used only 20% of the space and contents, the rest was full of books and stuff left by my siblings.  They also had huge amounts of kitchen paraphernalia and crockery- mostly not needed now as they only used one or two plates.  While I was clearing the stuff, I also went through my own therapy. I saw how what my parents had collected was also reflected in my own home- too many books and crockery!  Why did I do this?  Even though my parents must have influenced me, I cannot blame my parents as I have had enough time to correct this tendency myself.  But I found it very interesting to see how my childhood in a cluttered home had led to my own clutter and disorganised home.

Some people react in different ways to their childhood environments- some children grow up to be very organised as an antidote to their parents’ disorganisation.  In my and my siblings cases, we had all become very disorganized and cluttered as we grew up.  So when I returned home, I started to take a deep look at what was in my home and where.  My mother is especially grateful to me as we managed to sell some of the stuff and make some money.  However, I am even more grateful to her for letting me do this and also take the decluttering further and clean up my own environment.  For those who want to declutter, it might be a useful thing to examine the place they grew up in- it might offer clues as to why you are what you are now.  This decluttering of my own place has had effect on my own children- they have naturally begun to give things away and keep their bedrooms tidy- a small trickle effect.  This is much better and more effective solution than nagging at your children to be tidy.

Now the clutter of my parents has a very different origin to my own but the effect is the same.  My parents wanted to save every scrap of thing that they had because they were poor while I just have too many things.  So regardless of the intention, the effect manifests in similar ways.  Some people believe that by treating the cause, you will cure the problem.  But I believe that just like how you can change your mental attitude by forcing yourself to smile, in a similar way, this problem can be tackled by just removing the clutter.  As soon as I moved her stuff outside to the yard and the rooms began to look clear, my mother began to clear up other areas of the house herself.  She needed to experience the clarity of the space to get clarity of her intention.  It is said that making people clear up their clutter is impossible but I think through this experience, it can be done.  In fact, each person comes to the point when it all gets too much and they want someone to help them.  It is at this point that this kind of help can be given, not before.  My mother wasn’t ready before.  The fear of letting go of things is tied to the fear of dying, as people relate their possession of things to their lives.  Letting go is very freeing and empowering- that relates to both possessions and people!

The Autotelic personality

A few days ago, I attended an event where a very well known British journalist, broadcaster and political aide was speaking. He is a polished and entertaining speaker. He illustrated his talk with anecdotes and stories from various high profile people ranging from Diego Maradona to Barack Obama, many of whom he had interviewed for his bestselling book about winning. It was as to be expected- a very successful event.

However, for me the unexpected star of that evening was the person, Gert, who organised the evening. The story of how this came about is also bizarre- it seems that  Gert had been holidaying at a French ski resort when he came across this famous personality. Gert invited him to do a lecture. Upon return to the UK, Gert wrote to him but the broadcaster told him that he had never been to the ski resort in his life and worst of all, had never met him either. Not the person to give up, Gert thought that he had perhaps been forgotten but he persisted. However, the man was adamant. In the end, they both agreed that Gert had met a look-alike but to his credit, the broadcaster agreed to speak despite the mistake.  So what did I learn from Gert and that evening?

First, a lesson about networking: that Gert had used an opportunity to make contact with someone and even though, this person turned out to be not someone he had thought to be, he still was able to create a connection. Your next business opportunity is more likely to come from a loose or weak connection (one of the many people you met at the recent event or at a ski resort) than from Jo/Joe in your office.

Second, lesson about persistence: Gert’s polite, humorous and optimistic way of being persistent was important factor. If either of them had lost their cool, it would have been an embarrassingly different story. So if you are going to be persistent, then use humour, politeness and humility- and know when to back off. Persistence is a game played on the edge of the card- if you’ve shown your trump card and that’s not worked, then it is time to leave. But with two seasoned networkers who respect each other, then like this evening showed, it can be a win-win situation for all.

Third, a lesson about creating something bigger: Gert didn’t just use that opportunity for himself but used it to bring the speaker to a wider audience. That included not just his own colleagues but also invitees such as me who had never had any interaction with him before. There is an expression in Buddhism called ‘Jigyo keta’ which roughly translates from Japanese as ‘benefiting oneself and benefiting others’. Any action that benefits you as well as others is a great success, a win-win event. Such successes also make you happier than ones just for your self only.

Gert is a typical example of an autotelic personality. The word ‘autotelic’ comes from the Greek words Auto, meaning ‘self’ and telos, meaning ‘goal’. Autotelic activity is about having a purpose in and not apart from itself. Applied to personality types, autotelic person is someone who does things for their own sake, rather than in order to achieve an external marker of success. The autotelic personality is a yin yang person- a combination of receptive qualities such as openness and flexibility; as well as active qualities such as engagement and persistence. To succeed in today’s world of chaos and complexity, it is essential to have an autotelic personality. In the cast of characters for that evening- the speaker, Gert and everyone who was involved, even the doppelganger- had autotelic personalities, otherwise the evening wouldn’t have succeeded!

Moving away

Our early and later relationships in life can be shaped by our childhood.  People we are attracted to could be either opposite or similar to our parents or any significant person in our early lives.  It is only when we begin to move away from these ‘types’ and start to look for what makes us happy, then only we find people and things that do.  Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising expert, has started a trend to keep things that only ‘spark joy’ rather than concentrate on throwing things that we don’t like.  It is always better to go to things we love rather than run away from what we don’t like.  When we run away due to fear, we do not notice anything else- even things that might be good for us.  Its like we are running in a dark forest without the ability to pick or choose our paths.  This is a fight or flight reaction. Note that it is a reaction rather than a pro-action.  It is a situation where we are not in control.

But finding that calmness where we can decipher what is good for us or not, can take many years and decades to find.  It is only now, I find that I am much happier and able to find things and people who ‘spark joy’ in me.  It is not that I am not my parent’s child any more but it is more that I refuse to live by the past.  Of course, I wish that this had happened much earlier but then that is life. This is when it was meant to have happened and I am grateful that at least it has happened.  Now days, I am quicker to find joy and move on quickly from people that don’t bring me joy.  And strangely enough, I find that even people who I did not get along with in the past, are people I can now tolerate or even like.  By finding joy within, I am finding joy outside.