Friday, 30 August 2013

Which Rules Run Your Life?

I've given up on self-help books a long time ago, because the more I read them, the more I find that authors contradict each other, and that confuses me, that I end up reading more self-help books to deconfuse me. And then the more I read, the more I find out that most authors are advising the same things anyway, the difference is in the wording and semantics. 

The last time I took out a self-help book was because it was illustrated, it was so lighthearted.


Being Happy by Andrew Matthews was such a fun read when I was in my late teens to early 20s. I think everyone at that stage could use some coaching on how to be happy.


 And with captions such as 'Why Do Parents Act So Crazy?', who in his or her teens wouldn't relate to that?

Typical of any travels, I browsed WH Smith's book deals on my way to Sicily a month ago and the title of this book caught me.

The Rules to Break: A Personal Code for Living Your Life Your Way

I'm a stickler for certain rules. That's the Kate Middleton Capricorn in me. But at the same time, when I find that rules are exceptionally stupid (and I'm not even going to look for a more polite word), I tend to break them. That's the Kate Moss Capricorn in me.

I quickly scanned and the first rule to break instantly appealed to me because I have already broken it, or at least the idea of it. I had to treat my curiosity to a new read. 

Richard Templar is the pen name of the author of several other Rules book, which are next in my to-read list. His premise is that our belief system is made up of 'rules' that are ingrained in us through our families or we pick up along the way as we go through life. His challenge is for us to question why we believe what we believe in. He laid down 93 rules in this book, some of which I don't agree with, but most I assent to. These 93, he says, are what he found most common among people from all walks of life. At the end of each rule which he encourages us to break " least some of the time", he gives principles in lieu of what we grew up with, which he hopes would have some relevance in our lives. 

I'd like to share with you my handpicked 10 out of 93. I'll quote the Rules book's stance-disputing insights and add my thoughts on the rules that spoke to me.

The statements with strikethrough are the rules to break. The italicised line is Mr Templar's take on the rule. The third line is my interpretation.

Rule 1. Success is a good job earning lots of money
Success is what you say it is
Success is not one-size-fits-all. Success to someone may be having a big family, or being happy to be child-free, or doing an ordinary job that allows enough time to pursue passions outside work or buy holidays twice a year. It's not about the conventional gauge of achievements such as money and possessions. Another person's idea of success may not match yours. "You, on the other hand, need to think about what it means, or you can't work towards it", says The Rules to Break (TRTB).

Rule 10. Have something to say for yourself
If you find it hard to talk, try listening
As an introvert, small talk to me is a big job. I've learnt to counter this social awkwardness by letting the other person take centre stage. I find that the more I listen, the more interested people become in what I have to say. Either that or they think I'm boring. Fair enough. It's not about me all the time.

Rule 22. Friends are for life
Friends come and go
TRTB talks about Dunbar's Number theorised by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who proposed that humans can only comfortably manage a (big) circle of 150 friends after a study which began with the Christmas-card-sending habit of the English. That's a wedding entourage size that includes family members. The gist is we keep in touch with people who matter to us most. Some friendships naturally bloom (with some effort involved of course) and some just naturally fizzle out despite the efforts.You lose some. You win some. That's life.

Rule 24. Be a friend to everybody
You don't have to like everyone
I never understood the need to justify one's self for not liking someone. Sometimes it's just the way it is. TRTB says you give people your best shot but "...don't feel obliged to like them." Be civil at all times and treat everyone as you would like to be treated, which is a prelude to the next rule.

Rule 31. Respect the elderly
Respect everyone
TRTB is not advocating that we disrespect the older generation. "The fact is that we should respect everyone, unless they give us a reason not to." So whether it's your parents or siblings, children and friends, the waiter and the sales assistant, another person's peace and quiet, or someone's opinion, it's not too much trouble to give due respect. It takes up much more effort to be appallingly rude. And please, tantrums are only reserved for children.

Rule 28. Stay true to your dreams
Priorities change over the years
Growing up and getting older involve a series of shifts.Sometimes things don't go according to plans. As they say, life happens when you're focused on something else. My personal and professional choices and priorities have definitely changed over the years as my circumstances changed, but my ultimate dream has not. It may not happen, but I have not stopped working on it.

Rule 50. You don't need words to show you appreciate someone
Tell people how important they are
Actions speak louder than words. We've all heard of that, and it's true in many ways. But it feels a million dollar to hear or read words of appreciation from someone. TRTB says, "The more specific you are, the more sincere you sound." So the next time you thank someone, don't just thank them. Say why you're thanking them.

Rule 56. Always get off on the right foot from the start
Bide your time to make a good impression
 Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Movement, once said, "If you make listening and observation your occupation you will gain much more than you can by talk." Lame blabber to show you have opinion about things but don't back them up with facts is ushering yourself into questionable credibility. Timing is very important. Stand at the back and slowly work your way up to the front. The limelight is yours when it's yours.


Rule 68. Give good advice
Don't give advice
No to unsolicited advice. Even solicited ones. The trouble with giving advice as TRTB says, is that "Only they can know what will work, because only they know how they feel." On the other hand, your suggestions and ideas for possible options should help friends or family to see the bigger picture. Ok, you might think that's playing safe, but people must be responsible for the decisions they make, based on their own assessment. Ever wonder why that friend of yours never ever seem to follow the advice you give?

Rule 71. You've a right to be treated fairly
Stop expecting life to be fair
Because it isn't, and no one established that it is in the first place. Consider yourself lucky over someone else who's probably worse off. "So be grateful for everything you have that not everyone else has, and then you may feel you've got a better deal than you realised."

At the end of the introduction, Richard Templar encourages his readers to share what rules they have successfully broken via his Facebook page which you can find here.

After the 93rd rule, I didn't feel that I've been preached to again. It felt more like a refresher course about life's little essentials.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Taormina: From the Mountain to the Sea (Last of the Fitness Sicilia Series)

It happens. You fall inlove on the last day of your holiday. It's that incendiary concoction of drunken intensity and knowing that you might not see each other again to recreate the spark, that makes you pass for a 14-year old One-Directioner (I've always been a non-Belieber)--you want more but just can't have more.

Our last day in Sicily was spent in Taormina, Giardini Naxos and Spisone. Driving up to Taormina, I couldn't help but daydream about living in a town where I have access to the mountain and the beach all-year round. And by access I mean not taking the plane to get to both, just relying on my flip flops to get around, and enjoying generous and unrationed sunlight.

View of the Ionian sea before the entrance to Corso Umberto, the main high street of Taormina.

The stand-off. But before reaching the gate, Domenico (not Dolce) the driver had to negotiate a sharp narrow curve to let another bus driver through. One tour guide commented that in Italy--or at least in Sicily--driving is like playing a video game. Domenico aced this round.

The famous old world Excelsior Palace Hotel. Notice the Moorish-inspired exterior, reflecting Arab influence when Taormina was once renamed Al-Muizzia during Arab rule that ended in 1078.

The horizon evokes the thought of water cascading as falls do, as if the sea were just a giant basin of water.

And the luxury cruise ships, yachts, and boats are just made of paper, made to float by a child...

On our way to Corso Umberto

Corso Umbero lined with balconies

The Duomo or Church of San Nicola or St. Nicholas, Taormina's main cathedral, was built circa 1400 on the ruins of a small medieval churchI'm drawn to chapels--the smaller and less grand the church, the better. But this cathedral was relatively small that it almost fit the bill to be considered a big chapel.

My church visits are secular. I go in for serenity. I come out as if I just had an ice-cold glass of water on a scorching hot day.

Not sure what happens here, but cabarets are cabarets.

The Torre dell'Orologio or 12th century clock tower that takes you through to Piazza IX Aprile, the oldest part of Taormina. On 9 April 1860, Garibaldi landed at Marsala to liberate Sicily from the Bourbons. The square was named to commemorate that historic event.

San Giuseppe (St Joseph) Church at Piazza IX Aprile

St. Augustine's church, also at Piazza IX Aprile, just opposite St. Joseph's church, is now Taormina's public library. I particularly enjoy browsing in libraries and it would have been a unique experience to do so in a former church.

Piazza IX Aprile's characteristic black and white paving

The entrance to Teatro Greco

The ancient Greek theatre (Teatro Greco) in Taormina is one of Sicily's most celebrated architectural ruins. It was built early in the 7th century BC, and noted for its remarkable preservation and picturesque location. The theatre holds rock and classical concerts, opera, and ballet. Preparations for the opera Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni were ongoing at the time I took this photo. Elton John, Carlos Santana, Sting, Mark Knopfler, and Patti Smith have all performed at Teatro Greco. The Taormina Film Festival is annually held here in June.

These seats are reserved

Imagine the view at night....

Hanging around Giardini Naxos while waiting for the boat ride to Spisone. I thought Mt. Etna was smoking in the background.

The seats that float. It was blazing hot in Taormina, a quick dip in the sea was in order.

Someone decided to dry her Zumba towel while waiting for our boat.

Here it comes! The boat ride was slightly bumpy, but I suspect the driver enjoyed our cries of excited nervousness. We were served almond wine on board. Mine came in a leaky plastic cup. Twice. I had no choice but to drink it straight. I suppose that was his trick to calm our nerves.

Bryony could see how close we were to the blue caves...

A glimpse of La Grotta Azzura or Blue Grotto, so called because of the distinctive blue reflection in the water that looked as if the sea was lit from below. You can dive to enter the caves.

Can't say no more why I love blue....

The walk down to Ristorante Lido in Spisone for dinner

It looked to me like the dome part of a minaret. Or a fancy watch tower. I have no idea what it really was, but I loved it.

Outside Ristorante Lido Spisone

A pensive seagull looking out to the sea. Had to take this photo from a distance as the flock flew one by one as I got closer.

And I leave you this. Just behind me while waiting for our farewell dinner to be served.

Summer's drawing to a close and I'll soon be moaning that the radiator's not working at the office. You see, in the UK, summer can jump onto winter without hesitation or winter crosses over summer with no second thoughts. My flip flops are getting jittery. But like anything adventure-filled that ends, you look forward to the next, and the wait is only half as bad when you know how good it can get. 

How has summer treated you?

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

I Left My Honey in Zafferana (Fitness Sicilia Series)

When I was a little girl, my maternal grandmother fed me honey fresh from the beehive. She didn't own the beehive for commercial purposes, but the bees that took up residence in one corner of her hut did. Sometimes, she would hand the honey to me and my cousins, still dripping from a piece of the beehive. It was warm and very sweet to the taste, the best way to eat it was to mix it with water naturally kept cool in an earthenware tap, and calamondin or kalamansi, a citrus fruit indigenous to the Philippines, which grew in abundance in her backyard.

A couple of weeks ago in Sicily, my Zumba group's tour guide took us to Zafferana, a Catanian municipality renowned for producing 20% of Italy's honey, or miele. I'm not sure if I heard Fabio, the tour guide, correctly, but whether it's indeed 20% more or less, the fact that the comune holds a honey festival in October, marks how such an important commodity it is for Zafferana.

I have substituted honey--preferably raw--for sugar, so I didn't need to be convinced to go for honey tasting. The part that took a great deal of convincing was deciding which varities to take home. But before visiting Oro d'Etna for the honey-tasting experience, we took off to Zafferana's town square one warm night in Viagrande where our villa was. As a summer resort, Zafferana's night temperature was cooler and just perfect to sit down with friends for an ice-cold birra, a glass of wine, and a tub of gelato. A jazz band played in the backgound while we wandered around.

Zafferana's old town main square overlooking the sea. It would've been lovely to see this at sunset.

Zafferana parish church that sits cheek by jowl with the old town square

One of the main streets in Zafferana that leads to the main square. The festival arches reminded me of barrio fiesta in the Philippines where similar arches are installed along with buntings.

Finally, at the Oro d'Etna shop where we had our fill of honey, olive oil, olives, antipasti, wines...and soap--yes, soap!

Take your pick. L-R back row: chestnut honey, eucalyptus honey, honeydew honey (that's double the honey), yarrow honey, wildflower honey, French honeysuckle honey, lemon honey, orange honey; L-R front row: honey cream with pistachio, honey cream with hazelnut, honey cream with melon, honey cream with strawberry, and honey cream with forest fruit.
The above roll call of honey variants made me smile as it reminded me of that scene in the movie 'Forrest Gump' where Forrest's friend Bubba recited a litany of ways to cook shrimps.

Honey which? Honey what?

Have some olives.....

Or croutons soaked in various types of olive oil on offer....

Artichokes, capers. sweet garlic. among others. All that's missing was a kitchen.

Mixes and Spices

Pre-packed pesto mixes, olive oil and condiments to take away.

I regret not purchasing at least a jar of pesto. I never imagined that choosing a bottle of olive oil was difficult. But it was.

One of the ladies took home a bottle of almond wine for her baking. I settled for the same white which we've been having at the villa for days.

Looking up grapes at Oro d'Etna's front garden, to be bottled one day...

And live bees! I was traumatised as a child from a bee sting so I was scared to get closer.  I didn't want my holiday to end as if I entered and lost a boxing match.

My Oro d'Etna haul from left to right: honey soap good enough to eat, Sicilian white wine, garlic extra virgin olive oil, regular olive oil, onion extra virgin olive oil, melon honey, and lemon honey

Strada Mareneve (sea to snow) is that long stretch of road in Sicily that takes you from the sea to the mountain. For this trip, my friends and I have climbed Mt. Etna, visited Zafferana and Milo, and enjoyed Sicilian gustatory delights along the way. Taormina and the sea are calling and we get to fluff our beach towels next time.

Here's wishing for summer to outstay its welcome !

You can find Oro d'Etna here. I was told they deliver outside Italy. Better yet, pop in if you ever find yourself in Catania. 

Friday, 16 August 2013

Finding Solitude at Villa di Bella (Fitness Sicilia 2013 Series)

When I arrive at a holiday destination, I prefer to refrain from immediately throwing myself into a frenzy of activities. As it will be my home away from home, I like introducing myself to my unfamiliar surroundings, discovering its nooks and crannies, feeling it and appreciating it before I venture out into the even more unfamiliar outside its confines.

I was the last one to arrive at Villa di Bella in Viagrande, Catania, Sicily on the first day of our Fitness Sicilia trip. Aside from me managing to lock us out the cottage by getting the ancient key stuck in the main door's keyhole and the villa kitchen's confusion over guests' food intolerance and allergies, everything else was hunky-dory.

Whether at work, at home, or on holiday, I seek solitude. I'm not gregarious by nature, so silence renews me when I have to step out of my comfort zone into a flurry of socialising. I'm not as bad as Emily Brontë who's been said to be reclusive, but it wouldn't hurt to have an observant disposition at par with hers. 

"I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself," says Maya Angelou. The entrance to the stately main house at Villa di Bella, and the cottage where my lovely roomies and I stayed, as pictured from a distance.

The road less traveled

Nothing can come between me and my sleep

Enjoy the ride!

Going out of my way


A view to a well

The light's not at the end of the tunnel--it's along the walkway.

Now you see, now you don't. I haven't seen a house lizard since leaving my tropical roots. The webbed feet seen in great detail were fascinating. They looked caught by surprise.

Look at the bright side of life night.

The basin stands are of antique sewing machines', or perhaps inspired by it. I envisioned the stand as a hallway sideboard with a dark wood on top instead, but I won't complain if this were in my bathroom.

A dog called Linda (not her real name). One of us gave her the monicker, which means beautiful in Portuguese. But wasn't she Italian? Monica Bellucci would've been too obvious. She hung out with us by the pool, at body balance class, by my side while I was napping under the shade and by our cottage doorstep. She showed off her bone-gnawing skills. My friend Bryony and I witnessed her on the prowl one night. No luck. I didn't see her on the day we left the villa. I wonder if she's finally scored a date?

I guess enjoying my own company is my version of 'selfie', except that the camera is still not focused on  myself :D

Have a lovely weekend everyone! xxx

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