Travel Diaries: Southwest Africa

I previously mentioned that I had a list of 27 things I wanted to accomplish by the time I turned 27 (read more here). At that time, I had completed 7 of the 27 items. As of right now, I have officially been able to cross off three more!

Completed Goals:

  1. Be promoted twice
  2. Go to a foreign country completely alone
  3. Celebrate Hogmanay in Edinburgh
  4. See Stonehenge
  5. Live alone
  6. Learn to like whisky
  7. Own Christian Louboutins
  8. Get certified in Barre
  9. See the Northern Lights
  10. Go on Safari

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As you may have been able to guess, I recently went on a trip to Africa (specifically: Botswana, Zambia, & South Africa). I absolutely loved it. It was an absolutely amazing trip; I not only got to see the Big 5, but also got to experience Victoria Falls, Robben Island, the Winelands, and so much more.  This trip also helped me reconnect and ground myself with what is truly important.

  • I am so lucky to be blessed with the parents that I have. Not only did they take me on a once in a lifetime trip. Going on safari has been my mom’s dream since she was a kid so getting to experience south-west Africa with her (and my dad), was nothing short of wonderful.
  • I am grateful to be American. Even in this current climate (which I have not been shy expressing my disgust for), I still have so much to be grateful for. Zambia has an unemployment rate of 60%. Cape Town is still trying to heal the wounds of the Apartheid. The areas I went to in Africa were incredible with amazing people, but the impact of colonialism is very apparent.

My biggest qualm with this trip was the actual process of getting there. Let’s just break this down: I woke up at 4 AM to drive to the airport for my first flight at 7 AM. I then flew to NYC for a 4 hour layover. From there I flew into Johannesburg (15 hour flight). I had a 3 hour layover there and then boarded a flight to Kasane, Botswana.  I do not sleep well on planes, so at the end of the 30ish hour travel day, I am not feeling my best. However, that didn’t stop me from going on a safari within the first hour of landing in Botswana.

We spent time in Chobe National Park and in the Manyeleti Game Reserve for our safari portion of the trip, and holy hell. It was unreal. I could tell you all about it, but showing you is probably easier.

 

As you can see, the animals were insane. The lion cubs and the elephants were two of my favorites, but tracking the leopards was a once in a lifetime experience.

Outside of the wonders of safari, some of the other parts of our trip were pretty memorable.

Victoria Falls or Mosi-Oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders) is unreal. Not to mention an ancestor of mine made the falls known to the Western World (Dr. David Livingstone). In fact, the city of Livingstone is the only city in Zambia that retained it’s colonial name as the people had so much respect for Dr. Livingstone. But familial connections aside, the wonder of the falls is staggering.

We also spent time in Cape Town (including the wine region of Stellenbosch). I loved the winelands so much, but I also thought Robben Island was a highlight. Robben Island is most well known for the fact that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there for eighteen years. We were taken on a tour by a former political prisoner. He was imprisoned for 5 years for participating in an anti-apartheid university rally. He explained the horrors of their imprisonment; it was a very eye opening experience.

In general, I LOVED this trip. I want to go back immediately. This is a gorgeous area with incrediable people and amazing things to experience. This may be the best trip I’ve ever experienced (at least yet!)

Fingers crossed that the next items on my bucket list are as fabulous as this one.

xxx

Love, Charlottesville

I have been a resident of Charlottesville, VA for almost 4 years to the day. This is the first city that I chose to be a resident of. It’s the city that gave me the independence I’ve always craved. Charlottesville gave me my first job, my first solo apartment, and some of the best people I’ll ever know.

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The events of this weekend have shaken me to my very core. I still can’t quite get over the fact the city I love has a cloud of hatred overhead. It seems impossible that the KKK and Nazi’s are still spreading their vitriol and vile hate speech through this country; it’s even more incomprehensible to witness the violence first hand. It’s incredulous that the President of this country refuses to call evil by its name. This isn’t something that occurred on ‘both sides’. It is ludicrous to consider the coalition of Nazis, KKK members, and white ‘nationalists’ to be a side. That is a group of hateful, evil people who are hellbent on destroying everything good and powerful within the United States. This was domestic terrorism. There are no shades of grey here.

A 31 year old woman was murdered. There is no way to make that okay. No words to wash away the fact that a life was taken. A life of someone who was standing strong in the face of evil. She refused to stay silent and let these vicious white supremacists spew their hate and threaten her community.  She was killed halfway between my office building and the studio I teach barre in. She was killed on a street I walk down every single day.  Her death needs to matter. Her death needs to outrage Americans everywhere. Her death needs to remind us all to be brave, to be strong, and to refuse to allow division and fear into our hearts.

This country is not perfect, we have a dark past and a dark present, but we also have strength, and we have the ability to change. Racism, sexism, and xenopobia cannot be tolerated. Senseless violence cannot be tolerated. People who thrive in the dark, sadistic corners of this country need to be brought into the light and held accountable for their words and actions. We all need to work together to champion our fellow citizens. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder in the face of ignorance and brutality. We cannot stay silent in the face of this disease spreading through our country.

The last 36 hours have been horrifying and tragic, but even in the midst of the crisis of humanity, I have been witness to hope. I spent last night under the stars with thousands of other Charlottesvillians listening to an 80’s cover band. I saw people of every color and every age brave the thunderstorms to stand together and remember that there is good in this world. The night closed with a cover of ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, and the spirit of hope and resilience was palpable in the air.

Charlottesville is not the city portrayed on the media yesterday. Charlottesville is a community that values equality and diversity. We are not a perfect city, and we still have a lot more to do, but we will not be defined by the spineless monsters who tried to plant seeds of violence and discord here. Charlottesville prides itself on working towards universal acceptance, unity, and liberty. 80% of the city voted for Hillary, our mayor is Jewish and our deputy mayor is Black. We pride ourselves on striving to be the type of community that values the strength of diversity and progress. That is why these pathetic, sad, and despicable alt-righters chose to make a stand. They thought they could break us, and send us back in times of mistrust and anger. They have slithered out of our city and back into their holes, and we are still here.  The Charlottesville that I know is already working on banding together and celebrating love and unity. So to you fascists who are not part of our community, continue to threaten and abuse what we stand for, we are more than you can even begin to understand.

And to those who are scared and worried about what the future holds, don’t stop believing.

 

Barre So Hard

Apologies for the massive delay in posting. I can’t speak for Sarah, but I have been a tad unmotivated recently, and the idea of blogging was stressing me out. I’ve been deep in the ol’ quarter life struggle (questioning what I’m doing with my life, comparing where I am to everyone else, finding solace in being miserable, the usual!). However, I am pulling myself out of that rut.

While I’ve been extra introspective and (to be honest) a bit of a bummer lately, I also did start something new, which I’ve been really enjoying- welcome to the topic of today’s post! I am teaching barre classes!

I started taking barre last January with some friends – we all bought new member class passes for a month. Just to provide some context here, I’m not a massive fitness person. I was never super athletic growing up. I mean, I always played various sports, but wasn’t super competitive so I never really tried that hard. That basically became my go to strategy for fitness throughout college, and into my post-grad life. I’d go to the gym and casually do some cardio, enough to feel like I wasn’t being too lazy, but never pushing myself very hard. So when I went to barre, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

The first class I took was a real struggle. When I couldn’t get through the warm-up, I realized I was in trouble. It also didn’t help that I had to travel the next day, and was stuck, immobile, in a car for 8 hours. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that sore in my life. I usually shy away from putting myself in a situation where I’m struggling in public, but since I paid a decent amount for that class pass- I went back. I’m a fairly confident person, but I will say I did feel some insecurity. I would look around the studio and see all these really fit and toned girls breezing through class. Cut to Kate- sweating an aggressive amount and doing the saddest excuses for push-ups known to man. I realized a few weeks in, that I was the only one looking around the studio- everyone else was really focused on their work, and I think that was my turning point. When I stopped comparing my muscle tone, and my ability to complete the sets to everyone else, I was able to focus on getting the most out of my workout. When the one month of unlimited class expired, I bought a new package for 3 months even though my friends chose not to re-up.

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I’m the super sweaty one in the grey long sleeve (R)

While the classes never really got easier (that’s one of the great things about barre- it’s always a challenge), I noticed that I was sore a lot less frequently, and I was zooming through sets, and taking the harder options in class. Instead of panicking about needing to take a break, I was focused on making sure my form was correct. A few months later, a fellow student came up to me, and mentioned she thought I had gotten stronger and was looking more fit. I realized she was right. I had definition in my arms and legs that hadn’t been there before. My waist was more trim. But beyond all of that, I was actually happier in my day-to-day. I don’t know if it was because of endorphin’s from actually pushing myself in workouts (remember- endorphin’s make you happy, and happy people don’t kill their husbands) or from actually committing to something, but it was pretty exciting. I started looking forward to getting to the studio, and started chatting more and more with the instructors and other students. I was super content with being a member of our barre community.

About 10 months after I started taking classes, I got an email from the studio owner asking me if I wanted to teach.

“I wanted to tell you that our team mentioned your name when we had a meeting about asking some of our clients to audition 🙂 you have the BEST form and we would love to have you as a part of the team if you’re interested in teaching!”

I was flattered, but demurred. I had a convenient excuse as I was getting surgery, which required an additional month of no physical activity, but the real reason I didn’t immediately say ‘yes’ was fear. I have never taught anything in my life. I don’t think I’m a particularly bubbly-fitness instructor-type person, I’ve been repeatedly told i’m intimidating (i.e. people think I come off as a bitch). That kind of thing will get in your head! I also felt like a total fraud. Teaching a fitness class felt wrong- like I’d be impersonating someone far more qualified.

After my surgery, which I wrote about a while back, I was feeling a little unsettled. Not dissimilar to my more recent feelings that I mentioned at the start of this post. That confusion propelled me to have an out of body experience when my barre studio owner emailed me again asking if I was interested in teaching. I immediately emailed her back and said, ‘I’m in :)’. I wasn’t sure what came over me, but I was apparently going to get instructor training, and start teaching.

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My first real class- teaching dreaded push-ups

It’s been two months since I’ve been a certified teacher, and I absolutely love it. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to design classes and playlists, or would lose count or run my classes way over their scheduled times, but none of that has happened. I find that I really enjoy making new and challenging sets, and developing my playlists is one of my favorite things. It’s been really rewarding to see students pushing themselves in my classes and has given me a totally new perspective on fitness. I don’t feel like a fraud, I feel like I get to share something I love with people who like it too. In fact, I just found out a student requested me to teach a private class that she was setting up for her friends, and I was beyond flattered.

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Always working on that form

So here’s what I learned, (granted I already knew it, but in my experience, I have to keep reinforcing life lessons), taking a risk – doing something that scares you, almost always pays off. Overcoming fear is powerful, and worth doing. I also need to remind myself that fitness, and more importantly, life, is a personal journey and you shouldn’t compare your journey to anyone else’s.

Lastly:

Image result for exercise gives you endorphins. endorphins make you happy

 

 

 

5 Things: Big Little Lies

I’ve been MIA recently (that’s my bad team!), but now I’m back and ready to write! Sarah’s done a few reviews/discussion posts on documentaries and podcasts, so now I’m getting in on the action with my thoughts on HBO’s Big Little Lies. I really loved this series, and it engendered a lot of thoughts & feelings for me.

Synopsis: The show follows a group of women in the extremely wealthy Monterey, CA area who all have kids that go to the same elementary school. The show starts by letting you know that someone was murdered at a school event, but you don’t know who or why. The story exposes the truth through an intensive deep dive into the lives of these women and their families as you learn that the surface is never as perfect as it seems. It is also based on the novel by Liane Moriarty.

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Here is my list of what was beyond exceptional in this show:

  1. The Cinematography: Holy smokes you guys. This show is STUNNING. I grew up in the Bay Area and have been to Monterey before, but I was floored by how gorgeous each shot was. The show used its scenic backdrop like a supporting actor, every frame accentuated the actors performance or propelled the story further. Speaking of providing a powerful assist…
  2. The Music: The soundtrack to the show was at another level. This show is like a case study in how influential music can be.  Music defined the show, and every use of a song added so much gravity and emotion to an already exceptional scene. Why was every scene so exceptional, you might wonder?
  3. The Acting: When you have 2 Academy Award Winning Actresses (Reese Witherspoon & Nicole Kidman) and Academy Award Nominated Actresses (Laura Dern) combined with the amazing Zoe Kravitz, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott, and Alexander Skarsgard you are going to get cinematic magic. Everyone was on their A game. Every scene was like a masterclass in acting- comedic or heartbreaking or some expression of subtle secret emotion. It was so clear how immersed and engaged each actor was. Give them all the awards. The way these characters related and interacted with one another was so compelling (and they didn’t even need dragons or robots to make it interesting- it actually felt like real life!).  Actors don’t really have any ground to stand on without the dialogue and source material, which brings us to…
  4. The Story: Liane’s world is rich and robust and real. Her story spans genres as it has lighthearted, funny moments while also being punctuated by moments of fear and drama. She created women who were more than one dimensional caricatures of women- her characters were flawed, and gritty, and relatable. She explored themes of abuse, of the struggle of balancing careers with families, of the dichotomy of individuality & having an identify as a mother or wife, and of relationships between women.
  5. The Relationships Between Women: I didn’t realize how rare it was to see deep and compelling relationships explored between women on screen, until I watched this show. BLL didn’t shy away from exploring the all too real competitive nature of female relationships. However, BLL spent just as much time showing how women stand up for one another, in both subtle and massive ways. In my experience, all women have one thing in common- we are always looking over our shoulders, some more than others. I’ve discussed this before, but from a young age, women are aware that they need to be careful (I wish this wasn’t true), but there is a very real threat (usually, but not always) perpetuated by men (obviously not all men). Big Little Lies explored this idea in a lot of ways, some more overt than others. Whether is was sexual violence, physical intimidation, physical abuse, a side comment with an underlying message, or just a look that lingered a second too long to be comfortable, Big Little Lies showed a very real look at what it can be like to be a woman. Big Little Lies made sure to explore how relationships between women can be extraordinarily powerful when a group of women bonds together and overcomes the petty and mundane day-to-day issues when presented with a real threat. I don’t want to spoil the show (since all of you are going to watch the show immediately), but the powerful last image of the series felt so real and so right.

In summary, you should all watch this show. Major props to HBO and Reese & Nicole for securing the rights to the novel and producing this amazing piece of art.

She Persisted: Vol. 1

Happy International Women’s Day!

“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” – Gloria Steinem

If you’ve read this blog before, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m a feminist. I’ve mentioned this fact a few times, but it bears repeating. Equality shouldn’t be something that varies by gender (or race or sexual orientation or economic status or religion or any other factor other than your actions). It drives me crazy that we have to have ‘women in leadership’ programs – it should just be called leadership. I don’t like that we still have to distinguish the novelty of a situation whenever a woman does something exceptional.  However, because we still have a LONG way to go, that is the reality. I’m proud to be a woman, and I am proud to stand with the women who have come before us whose shoulders we now stand on.

So I’ve been wanting to do a feature on some historic women who maybe are lesser known than they deserve to be. There are so many incredible women across the globe and across history who deserve to be remembered- I think the film Hidden Figures really spoke to that. I’m hoping to do this on a semi-regular basis, but thought I’d start with a women who gets glossed over in Western History as I recently read a book about her, so she’s been at the top of my mind.  Additionally, while this particular installment is focused on a woman from western Europe- I plan to do features across the globe.

Catherine Parr

Catherine Parr was Henry VIII of England’s last wife. Most people are familiar with Katharine of Aragon and Anne Bolyen as that love triangle dramatically changed the face of Britain, Catholicism, and, honestly, Europe as a whole. Most people are also familiar with Henry VIII’s proclivity for killing his wives, so the fact that Catherine outlived him is a win.

She was an incredibly compelling figure, but managed to fly under the radar while accomplishing a significant agenda. Catherine was a very well educated woman, and actively worked to educate the women of her court and her step-children (one of whom was Elizabeth I of England- who is widely recognized as one of the most successful rulers ever. Catherine being Elizabeth’s step-mother during her formative years had a large impact on her eventual ruling style and legacy). Catherine also restored both of Henry’s daughters (Mary & Elizabeth) to the line of succession. Basically, she fought with her insanely unstable husband to mend his very complex relationships with his children- and she succeeded.  That alone speaks to how selfless, loyal, and persuasive she could be.

Catherine Parr was one of the first females to publish a book in England, although she did so anonymously. She did eventually claim credit for her first book and published a second book post-Henry’s death. Essentially, her books were based on her reformer views around the Protestant faith, and as Henry VIII was very fickle and often looked for excuses to find a new wife, he tried to have her arrested (with the goal of execution) on the basis of her religious beliefs, so her publishing anonymously was paramount to her survival. In fact, it’s notable to mention another amazing woman here.  Anne Askew was the first woman burned at the stake primarily because she refused to name Catherine Parr as a Protestant reformer. The enemies of Catherine Parr basically offered to let Anne go if she would give up the queen, but she refused and was killed. The fact that Catherine’s friends and associates were so loyal that they willingly died to protect her should clue you into the fact that this woman was pretty spectacular.  As an additional note, she managed to change Henry’s mind about her arrest by saying she only engaged in these religious debates with him to take his mind off of his pain, and he bought it and turned on her enemies. That is some master manipulation of an egotistical maniac by an intelligent and strong woman.

She also ruled as regent while Henry was off at war. In her three months in power, she ruled without challenge, and did effectively maintain her authority. She dealt with finances and supplies for Henry’s war while also passing royal proclamations at home, and effectively controlling the dangerous and evolving situation with Scotland. This time specifically is thought to have shown Elizabeth I what was possible for a female ruler of England (spoiler alert- EVERYTHING). Catherine was renowned for her morality and loyalty, but she was able to remain committed to her passions (religion and education) while navigating through an incredibly dangerous marriage and role as queen.

In summary, Catherine should be remembered as a pioneer and an example for women as she was able to write, speak, and act with dignity and implementing progressive views into society in a time when her predecessors met very messy ends for less.

So let’s bring this back to today-  here’s hoping Melania or Ivanka pulls some sweet Catherine Parr maneuvers, and subtlety (or overtly) influences the actions of their version of Catherine’s egotistical unstable Henry VIII. We could use a little bit of her influence these days.

So ladies, let’s get out there and inspire!

 

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Just Another Night…

Last night, I was out with a group of my friends having a great time. The night was winding to an end, when some random guy asked me if I wanted to dance. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t. I said, ‘thanks, but no thanks- I’m good’. In my head, that was a super normal, non-incendiary response. I didn’t say, ‘oh hell no’ or ‘you disgust me, get away you monster’ or ‘go fuck yourself’, just a simple ‘no’. This guy didn’t take that well.

He immediately started yelling at me- calling me a whore, ugly, a bitch, and a slut. I (shockingly) didn’t engage back. I just sat there while he verbally abused me for not wanted to dance with him. (Apparently you can be a whore for choosing to not engage with a random guy- who knew?!) At this point, a female friend of mine inserted herself between the guy and me- she told him to get away from me, and leave us alone. He then started screaming obscenities at  her- the same types of things- commenting that she was ugly and a slut (again- apparently defending your friend is slutty, but I digress) He was getting more and more irate when some of our male friends got in his way. They were very calm and told him to leave immediately, and that he was making an ass out of himself. He tried to get physical with them- granted, the three of them averaged 6’4, so it wasn’t the best call. Before things got too crazy, he got kicked out.

We all left the bar within the next 15 minutes or so and he was outside- still yelling about how awful, unattractive, and slutty I was. My female friend who initially stood up for me ended up having to be held back while he antagonized us further. People kept telling her to calm down, and that he wasn’t worth it. She replied with ‘if we don’t stand up for ourselves now, when will we?’. Everything ended up being okay- we all got home without any further incident, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

I firstly want to thank my friends who took it upon themselves to block me from this guy. I really appreciate having people in my life who are willing to stand up for me. But all of this raises a lot of issues.

It just amazes me that this guy felt justified in verbally attacking me for choosing to not dance with him. I cannot imagine ever doing anything or saying anything like this guy was- it was disgusting and pathetic and really disheartening to think that he thought his actions were considered okay.Obviously this isn’t applicable to all guys, but I’m generalizing. I don’t understand the lack of respect so pervasive in our culture. I’ve had so many people make overtly sexist comments as well as more subtle remarks to me, and while sometimes its a joke, more often than not it’s a realistic glance into true opinions. Women are still getting paid less then men and are still 40% less likely to be in the workforce. The double standard among our culture is still in existence in a big way. The rules are different for each gender and it’s completely unfair. I just get so angry that guys have this power to make women feel so unsafe and objectified. What right do these guys have to make us feel cheap? It is sad and a complete waste that society has made it okay for men to be such assholes.

We all have our stories about times we were objectified, or threatened, or worse. In recent memory, I was in a bar with a friend of mine and she was assaulted by some creep- he felt it was okay to grab her by the crotch. I’m not super proud (I am a little proud), but I punched him in the face and had the bar staff drag him out. A little while after that some random guy tried to break into my apartment, and I managed to hit him in the head with the door and startle him enough to get the door closed and locked. Not too long after that a  random guy tried to lock me in a bathroom with him, but a friend of mine broke the door down and we got away safely. I’m saying all of this because I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve certainly encountered dangerous situations, but I’ve been able to avoid the worst outcome, and a lot of women aren’t as lucky. Which by the way, considering that a lucky outcome is fucking insane.  In a survey conducted a few years back, “nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked.” I personally know people that fall into those groups. These women are strong and smart and incredible, and it’s sick that they have to fight every day not to be defined by the actions of their attackers. These women aren’t victims, they are survivors.

And it breaks my heart. It’s horrifying that we live in a ‘modern society’, and that we consider ourselves enlightened and exceptional, when half of our citizens are demeaned on a consistent basis. It breaks my heart that it isn’t safe for women to walk alone at night without being scared.  It breaks my heart that women have to be on alert at all times. It breaks my heart that women who are survivors of violence have to fight to be believed when they come forward.

Women are conditioned from childhood to be constantly on alert for threats of this nature, but men are rarely conditioned from childhood to understand what is acceptable conduct in regards to women. Society has conditioned us with a “don’t get raped” mentality as opposed to a “don’t rape” mentality.  This is not okay. Boys don’t just get to be boys, while women have to live in an naturalized state of fear. Even when that fear isn’t overt, it’s always there.

We need to do better. We need to stand up for ourselves, and we need to have the tough conversations. We need to figure out the right way to talk to our children about these things. We need to make sure girls feel empowered and strong- not weak and victimized. We need to make sure that men respect women, and do not feel entitled to anything a woman isn’t willing to give- whether it’s just a dance or whether it’s her body. It’s her choice, and that the bottom line.

Get Your Fika On!

I’m back again with a new Scandinavian life hack! When I wrote about hygee a while back, I thought it was a one and done topic, but it turns out that our Northern friends have more than one thing we should be aspiring to in our daily lives. This time, we turn our attention to our friends in Sweden for a lesson on Fika.

Fika is a Swedish cultural concept that literally translates to ‘coffee break’. Now I’m sure some of you are sitting there going, ‘Is she insane? Americans drink coffee like water. What’s so special about this?’

Well friends, I may be insane, but fika is unique to the typical American lifestyle. Americans typically use coffee to jump start their day or to reinvigorate themselves during an afternoon slump. In my experience, coffee is a vehicle for forward momentum and moving as fast as we can to get as much done as possible. In Sweden, fika is synonymous with a break. The point is to savor the moment, enjoy a beverage with a pastry or cookie, and allow yourself a chance to relax. People engage in fika with friends, family, significant others, and even just themselves, in cafes and parks across the country.

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Fika is particularly important in a work setting in Sweden. It is common to have 2 fika breaks a day in corporate Sweden, one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon. Fika has become an integral event that allows employees a chance to disengage from work, while also engaging with co-workers on a more personal level. Often the entire office will break together and bond over fika. This seems like an incredibly simple, but powerful addition to any company. I find that when I have a chance to get to know people on a personal level, and take a second to break out of my normal routine at work, I am more productive and my communication is better. Granted, I don’t drink coffee, but I’m a big fan of tea, and when I’m at work, I really don’t tend to savor and enjoy my tea, but rather I drink it like fuel- propelling me onto the next thing. I want to try and incorporate fika breaks into my work week.

The Scandinavian lifestyle has a lot to be admired. That region is exceptionally productive with strong economies, and the people who live there tend to be happier and more satisfied with their lives. That’s a pretty strong case study, and I for one would love to incorporate some of what they’ve found to work into my own life.

So, get your fika on! See if you find yourself more relaxed with an uptick in productivity and empathy for the people around you. See if your work days move a little faster since you have something small to look forward too each day. See if you find yourself more contemplative and content. Can’t hurt, right?

 

Freedom of the Press

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – Constitution of United States of America

Image result for trump press  political cartoon

Can anyone guess what today’s topic is? That’s right- the media! Firstly, I wanted to define a couple terms:

  • News: newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events
  • Fake news: deliberately published hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news

Fake news is not a label to be thrown around lightly. Discrediting journalists and the media without a cause is dangerous (and, historically, has preceded dangerous times in our world, i.e. the Holocaust). Attacking the media because you don’t think they are treating you fairly is stupid, petulant, and insane. The President of the United States (especially when that President is a white male billionaire) doesn’t get to play the victim card. Remember when Trump was campaigning, and he said once he was in power he would act presidential?  LOL.

Part of the job of the President is to be held accountable by the media (and by extension, by the people). I get that the media is a super convenient target for someone like Trump- someone who is so egotistical, narcissistic and completely insecure. It feels like a SNL skit, considering how many blatant lies the Trump administration has told, and yet claims fake news is rampant and only being perpetuated by the media (the whole birther nonsense, the Bowling Green Massacre, the size of the inauguration crowds, Trump lying about how he supported the Iraq war, his fake standing ovation at the CIA HQ, VOTER FRAUD, his relationship with Russia, claiming the cancellation of the meeting with Mexican President Nieto was a mutual decision, honestly there are so many- I suggest you read more here).

It’s beyond hypocritical and completely unethical for Trump (and his team) to be perpetuating lies, and then attacking journalists for reporting the truth. When Fox and CNN are aligned, you know there is something seriously wrong in the world. Banning news outlets like CNN and the NY Times from press briefings is unacceptable, and it’s un-American. You don’t get to pick and choose who reports on you, especially when you are involved in some shady shit. It’s even more insane when you consider that Trump himself is one of the biggest bullies and trolls around.  It’s surreal that this is the state of the United States of America. It’s hard to reconcile the ‘greatest nation on earth’ with the fact that we are moving further and further from the Utopian democratic union we all pretend to be. We’ve literally been downgraded on the democracy scale to a ‘flawed democracy’. Is that what making America great again looks like? Flawed? Angry? Divided?

It’s easy for me to sit here and blame Trump for all of this (and trust me, I do), but this is bigger than just one man. We allowed this to happen. The media played a massive role in getting Trump elected, in fact, his presidential bid really only started after the media attacked him at the Media Correspondents Dinner years ago.  Sarah wrote about her issues with current state of the media a few months back- and it’s truer than ever. Yes, we need to demand accountability from the media and our elected officials, but we need to hold ourselves accountable too. We need to become a more active and engaged citizenry. We need to avoid letting anyone tell us ‘facts’ and we need to seek them out for ourselves. We the people, need to be an engaged populous. We need to be able to cut through the bullshit and rhetoric to find the truth. No matter what side of the spectrum you fall on (misleading the American people happens on the right and the left), informing yourself is a universal step in actually making America great. If we want to be a strong nation, we need to be a strong people. We need to be educated and informed on issues and the state of the world. We need to demand our government make information not only accessible, but digestible. You shouldn’t need an advanced degree to make sense of our legislature. We need to be better, our journalists need to be better, and our President needs to be better. However, we only have direct control over ourselves, so I am pledging to keep myself as engaged and aware as possible in regards to our government and place in the world.

Stay woke.

-Kate

 

 

 

 

Travel Diaries: Iceland

Góðan dag!

I just got back from a short 3 day trip to Iceland. It was my first time to Iceland, and yes- I chose to go in the dead of winter. As I wrote a while back, seeing the Northern Lights was a bucket list item of mine. Beyond that though, I have been having a really strong urge to visit Nordic/Scandinavian countries. This happens to me fairly frequently- I’ll become hyper-focused on a place after some inspiration strikes, and I try to make it happen. I’d been thinking about Iceland for a while, and asked a lot of friends if they wanted to go. Everyone was interested, but no one could commit. So what did I do? Booked it anyways and took off on my own.

I flew over on IcelandAir on a red eye. I have to say- I was astounded by how great this airline is. Both flights got in early, the planes were nice, and they actually treated passengers like humans and not cargo. I also liked their upgrade option- a few days before your flight, you get to bid on an upgrade, as much or as little as you’d like. I ended up getting both legs of my journey upgraded which was so worth it. Lounge access alone made it worthwhile.

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Really making the most of the lounge.

Anyways, we landed before 6 AM, and I was dropped at my hotel. Obviously I couldn’t check in yet, so I decided to go exploring. I bundled up and headed up a hill, through the woods, in the dark, to Perlan.Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 9.58.50 PM.png

Perlan is an architectural landmark in Reykjavik- it’s a dome topped building with 360 degree views of the city. I didn’t go in at that point since I looked like a creature after traveling all night, and I was rounding 24 hours of being awake. I did, however, get treated to some pretty incredible views.

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I spent a few hours wandering around the building, and the hill it is located on (Öskjuhlíð). During WWII it was actually used by the US as a place to build bunkers, so there are a lot of markers/remains of that time.  I watched the sunrise through the trees, and eventually, I headed back to my hotel, checked in, and (as lame as it is) napped for a few hours.

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Post nap, I took off for Reykjavik. Honestly, not my favorite city. Reykjavik didn’t feel like it had as much character as other cities in Europe, but even so, there were a lot of parts I did like.

I spent the rest of the evening hanging out in a geothermal spa. Iceland is basically run on geothermal energy, someone told me 90% of the country’s heat comes from geothermal energy (which is crazy). Beyond that, Icelandic culture is also heavily focused on spas; Icelandic people spend a lot of time relaxing in thermal baths and saunas. I ended up in geothermal spas every day I was in Iceland. The most unique was on my Golden Circle tour (the Golden Circle is a driving route in the south of Iceland that takes you through a National Park, the geysers, and to some serious waterfalls- It’s an insanely popular tourist spot). We stopped at Laugarvatn Fontana, which is on the bank of the Laugarvatn Lake (largest in Iceland) and is a hot bed of hot springs. In fact, Fontana Spa literally bakes bread by digging a hole in the sand and leaving dough in the hot sand for 24 hours. The bread is delicious and definitely worth trying if you go.

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It didn’t look quite like this while we were there, as it was snowing, and the winds were insane. However, it was really cool to be in a naturally heated pool in a snow storm. I also am a big sauna person- dry heat is right up my alley. The whole visit to the spa was invigorating and relaxing all at the same time!

Speaking of the Golden Circle, we hit up Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geyser geothermal region in Haukadalur. It was heavily snowing when we were in the National Park, so visibility was minimal. They did film scenes from Game of Thrones (those Beyond the Wall) and it was very easy to picture.

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Really getting a Game of Thrones vibe

Our visit to Strokkur (a geyser) was also very cool. There is a slight smell of sulfur in the air as the entire area is basically bubbling with geothermal energy. I watched Strokkur shoot like 40 feet into the air twice, and it was pretty spectacular.

The crowning moment of the Golden Circle, for me, was Gulfoss. The weather had cleared, and the view of the falls was spectacular. I would love to come back in the summer when you can get way closer to the falls themselves.

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As it had been snowing all day, and the aurora forecast was low- not to mention that the tour the previous night had been cancelled due to poor conditions, I was not optimistic that I was going to get to see the Northern Lights. However, the forecast called for the skies to clear so I decided to take a shot and see what there was to see.

I stood in the freezing blackness for an hour and a half with like 100 other people (all getting more and more anxious- the shouts of ‘please turn off your flash’ turned into ‘if you don’t turn off that motherfucking flash- I SWEAR TO GOD’). If we hadn’t seen a super vibrant shooting star about 45 minutes in, I’m fairly certain the crowd would have turned on one another. Staring at the insanely bright stars was nice, but it wasn’t what I hoped for. I started to lose steam, and once I couldn’t feel my feet or hands, I went back to the bus to warm up. Within (I kid you not) 30 seconds, the entire sky lit up. I ran off the bus without my gloves or purse (I did grab my camera). Standing under those lights with 100 people cheering, and at one point there was singing, was mind blowing. I felt so connected, to strangers and to the universe. It is awe-inspiring and every bit as magical as I had hoped. I have caught myself staring up at the sky anytime it is dark just trying to catch a glimpse of those lights again. You know that feeling when you finally hook up with someone you’ve been into for a long time, and you catch yourself smiling for no reason for days afterwards? That is exactly what this was like for me. I’d just be maniacally smiling, and acting giddy because of the lights. I am so thrilled I got to cap off my trip by knocking this off my bucket list. Although, I already want to see them again. This time though, I want to be in an isolated spot, maybe in a hot tub with some prosecco to really top the moment off.

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The lights were actually dancing. So worth it.

All in all, Iceland gave me everything I was looking for. I came back feeling refreshed and satisfied, and I can’t wait to go back. I am hoping to make a summer trip and hit up the Blue Lagoon and go trekking on Icelandic horses. If you’re thinking about going- go. It was spectacular.

Skál!

Kate

Can You Feel the Love?

Happy Valentine’s Day! I used to absolutely hate Valentine’s Day (especially when I was in a relationship). I’d wear black in protest, roll my eyes at the flowers and hearts, and scoff at ‘romantic plans’.

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I was very JGL in 500 Days of Summer with my Valentine’s feelings

The pressure to make the day special made me feel like I couldn’t live up to that expectation, so I wouldn’t even try. It was easier to say ‘I hate Valentine’s Day’ than to try and put in effort and have it backfire. Low expectations= high chance of getting what you expect. Now that I’ve been single for awhile (and gotten older), I find myself enjoying Valentine’s Day more.  I’ve re-framed my view, and think of it less as a spectacle-required holiday, and more a chance to indulge free from guilt. And, boy oh boy, do I love to indulge! I like having a day to reach out to people I care about, and let them know they matter to me. It’s all too easy to overlook the people in your life. So, I plan to text and call my friends and family, and finish my evening by popping some bubbly, eating chocolate, taking a bath and watching one of my favorite romantic movies (currently deciding between Shakespeare in Love, 10 Things I Hate About You, Romeo + Juliet, or Pride & Prejudice).

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So why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day? Where did the roots of this day even come from?

THE LEGEND, THE MYTH, THE SAINT

St. Valentine is a bit of a mystery. There have been 3 different people named Valentine who have been considered Saints by the Catholic Church (all were martyred). Some think the St. Valentine was a priest who defied his Emperor, and married people in secret after the Roman Emperor banned marriage because he thought single men were better soldiers. He was killed for his trouble. Others contend Valentine rescued Christians from Roman prisons, and was arrested. While under arrest he fell in love with his jailers daughter, and wrote her a note signed ‘From Your Valentine’.

Basically, we have no idea who Valentine was, but we do know that similar to other major holidays, the Catholic Church aligned the date with an existing pagan festival.

THE PAGANS KNOW HOW TO PARTY

Lupercalia was a pagan festival held in mid-February. Lupercalia was a fertility festival honoring the Roman God of Agriculture, and the founding of Rome. The basics of the festival involved sacrificing a goat and a dog, then running through the streets lightly slapping women and fields with rags soaked in blood. The blood slapping would naturally result in fertile women and fertile fields. The festival would conclude with the young women putting their names in an urn, and young men choosing a name. Often this lead to marriage. Sounds like a typical day…

As these things go, Catholicism started taking over, and Lupercalia was outlawed and replaced, in the 5th century, with  St. Valentines Day.

ROMANCE IN THE MIDDLE AGES

Over time, the day became more an more associated with romance. The Middle Ages solidified St. Valentines Day with love as the giving of Valentine’s became standard practice. You needed something to distract you from the dismal living conditions, short life spans, and rampant disease after all…

And that brings us to today! I hope you enjoyed that history lesson, and I hope you enjoy your Valentine’s Day, in whatever way you chose to celebrate it.

XOXO,

K