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.

Vulnerability in Writing

I’m alive! The last month or so has been a little rough for me which is why I have been MIA from the blog. I’ve noticed that when I’m in one of my slumps I find it very hard, even impossible, to write. I have sat down to write this post so many times over the last few weeks, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I started thinking about what was stopping me. Initially I just knew that I didn’t want to talk about all the things that have been going on in my head, and because my writing is usually pretty autobiographical, I obviously couldn’t write. Then I thought, “OK, I’ll just write something very objective and completely unrelated to my personal life and personal thoughts. Then at least I will be writing.” I brainstormed different subjects, but every time I actually tried to write no words came to me. Then it dawned on me that all writing is personal regardless of whether or not you are explicitly talking about your personal life. And if you are trying to leave certain pieces of your life out of your writing it makes it difficult to really produce anything of quality.

This has been one of the biggest struggles that I have had with writing. I am naturally a pretty private person, particularly when it comes to my struggles. I’d just rather not have everyone know about my flaws and I don’t like people to see me on my bad days. I think part of the reason for this is that I don’t like to address problems that I don’t yet have solutions for. I like things being neatly tied up, well-thought out and reasoned through in my mind before I talk about them.

Unfortunately, a lot of the questions that we struggle with don’t have clear answers and it is these unanswerable questions are often the central themes of writing. They are questions like: Why are we here? How do we live lives full of meaning and purpose? How do we make sense of all the suffering and tragedy in the world? How do we make and sustain connections with other people? Though these questions seem deeper and more profound than the subject of most writing, they are usually lying beneath the surface, quietly asserting their presence and their relevance.

Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” This kind of honesty however can be very difficult to muster. Not everyone is willing to bleed so openly and freely for all to see. To write is inevitably to be vulnerable, and for me, and I imagine for many others, that is the hardest part. Regardless of what you are writing about, you are always writing about yourself. Your writing always reveals more about who you are than it reveals about your subject. And when you have secrets or things you don’t want to share with the world, it becomes very difficult to write anything at all.

So my goal for my writing is to not shut down when I am not in the best place mentally. I want to try not to partition off my struggles, but instead to allow them to infect and simultaneously to nourish my writing. Objectivity is impossible in creative pursuits, as it should be. So I will try to embrace the messy, the unanswerable and the painful questions because not to do so would be dishonest.

So in the spirit of honesty, here it is: I’ve had a bad couple of weeks. I feel stuck and directionless and unfulfilled. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Sometimes all I can do is get up and go through the motions. I’ve set goals that I don’t care about because it felt better to have a plan than to admit that I don’t know what I want. And I’ve watched some of those goals disintigrate before my eyes with surprising indifference, leading me to wonder if I don’t care about what I have pretended to, what do I care about? I’m not entirely sure what the answer to that is. I do know though, that writing has always felt like something I was meant to do. So for now I am going to write, release the need to have it all figured out, and hope for the best.

I realize now that my attempt to remove my personal struggles from my writing inevitably robs it of its substance. Without the gut-wrenching honesty of these struggles, my writing is stripped of its core, and what is left is a hollow shell of words clumsily strung together. If we wait for the answers to life’s nagging questions to come to us before we begin writing about them, the page will always remain blank, the blinking cursor mocking our ignorance.

-S

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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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?

 

Goals, Goals, Goals

There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the air these days, and most of my posts have been focused on that (I’m a real masochistic). It’s easy to get sucked into the black hole of the state of the world (and while it’s important to pay attention and get involved, it can lead to a pessimistic attitude, and I refuse to let this political situation take anything else from me). So, I want to re-focus on the future and my goals.

I’m a big fan of lists. I have random lists all over my apartment: grocery lists, to do lists, lists of clothes I want, travel lists, lists of books to read, and shows to watch… you get the idea. It’s lisztomania!  Anyways, while I’m not the best at following through with all my lists, there is one list I tend to focus on the most. One list to rule them all, you might say.

When I turned 22, I made a list. I called it my 27 by 27 list. That gave me 5 years to accomplish (or at least try to accomplish) goals in a variety of different segments of my life. Some were career focused, some were financial, some were personal, and a whole lot were based on travel.

Image result for bucket list

I think having goals/a bucket list/whatever you want to call it is important. I think it’s valuable to have a written record around what you want and what you’re interested in. Life moves incredibly quickly, and you can lose sight of lofty goals (or even basic goals) throughout the doldrums of everyday life. It’s good to have something to strive to, and to check in with. I keep my list framed in my closet so I see it at least once a day, staring at me, reminding me to get my ass in gear. I also find it amusing that more than half the items on my 27 by 27 list were travel based, clearly I had my priorities in order when I wrote it!

I know this is super different content than what I normally write about, but this is a large glimpse into what motivates me, and since this blog is about sharing our interests, concerns, and inspirations, I feel like it works.

So below is my 27 by 27 list, and the current standing of where I am.  I have around 2 years left to successfully complete this sucker, and it’s unlikely that I will knock them all off, but I’m having a lot of fun regardless.

Completed Goals:

  • Be promoted twice
  • Go to a foreign country completely alone
  • Celebrate Hogmanay in Edinburgh
  • See Stonehenge
  • Live alone
  • Learn to like whisky
  • Own Christian Louboutins

In-Progress Goals (Highly Likely to Complete by 27):

  • Go on 1 trip somewhere new each year (I have been super successful with this goal so far)
  • See the Northern Lights (I am going to Iceland in a week, and am planning on hunting the Aurora’s every night- who needs sleep?!)
  • Go on Safari  (This is booked for July of this year)
  • Go to 3 Major World Events (I’m at 2/3 currently)
  • Read Shakespeare’s complete works ( 16/37 left to read)
  • Savings Goal (I am 80% to my set goal, if you include investments, 401K, and Roth IRA accounts- and since this is my goal, it counts)
  • Read the top 100 books (67/140* left to read)
    • I ended up adding some to this list based on my interests, so my list is more like 140 books

There are 14/27 items I am confident I will be able to check off my list in the next year and a half. That leaves 13 items not covered above. Those items basically fall into the ‘stretch goal’ category or the ‘no longer interested category’. There are also a few travel goals scattered in there (Isle of Skye, New Zealand, Egypt, filling up my passport) which may be possible, but are currently not planned due to scheduling and financial constraints.

Stretch Goals:

  • Go on a trip to another country with a significant other
    • This is only a stretch goal since I am currently single, and in no real rush/don’t have a ton of interest in relationships right now.
  • I have a fairly aggressive salary goal that I would like to be making by 27, and I’m pretty sure I’m not reaching it (unless I achieve the goal under this one, and it ends up getting published…)
  • Write a book- I have been working on this since I was 22 and I’m only like 6 chapters in.
  • Learn the basics of another language- I took Spanish in school and was decent at it, but have forgotten most of it, and I haven’t made any moves in remedying that.
  • Take a class for a hobby – I want to take a photography or wine appreciation course, but just haven’t gotten there yet

I’m not going to bother writing about the goals I’m no longer interested in, but I will share the three new goals I have replaced them with.

  • Get certified in Barre
  • Be able to do the splits
  • Cook my way through the two cookbooks in my house (excluding anything I really don’t like)
So that’s my list. That’s what I am trying to get out of my life in the immediate term. Fun, right? I’m excited to see where I end up with this list, and what the next iteration looks like. Maybe it will be a complete 180, and my next list will be completely focused on my career or starting a family or building a home, or maybe it will be a list of new places to go and things to experience. As I’ve noted before, freedom can be paralyzing because you have so many options, but I find that by having a list, my future is framed just a little bit more. It works for me at least!

Framing Your Way to Happiness

I listened to a great podcast the other day on TED Radio Hour called “Simply Happy” which got me thinking about the nature of happiness. The premise of the combined TED Talks was that happiness is actually not as complicated as we make it out to be and that the human brain is actually wired to be happy. Happiness in the human brain is kind of a homeostatic state; regardless of our varying moods, our minds eventually settle into happiness, or at least into contentment. The podcast referenced a study which showed that even people who suffered very traumatic experiences returned to their previous baseline state of happiness within 2-3 months. They started diving into why this is the case, and it all boils down to our brain’s ability to frame things in different lights. So when we experience negative things, our brains attempt to frame them in positive lights, or at least to not dwell on them. This is more a survival instinct than anything; our brain wants us to be happy and so it allows us to frame things in a perspective that allows us to be happy. So in part, your brain does the work for you in creating and returning to happiness. But we also are responsible for this process, and this is the part that really got me thinking about what we can do to affect our own happiness. Though I used to groan at the cliche of “you create your own happiness” as I get older I find myself buying into this theory more and more.

Part of the reason I am more convinced by the day that we can control and create our own happiness is because I have seen the ways that it has worked in my own life. After I graduated college I had, as most people do, a very rude awakening. I had to get a job and support myself. I had to enter the “real” world which seemed like an onslaught of responsibility, chores, and just generally things I didn’t want to do or deal with. And for a while there I was really in a slump. I felt drained by the responsibilities of adulthood and I couldn’t fathom how anyone could be happy while having to pay a utility bill. (I fully recognize now the extent of my privilege that this felt so inconceivable to me). I dragged myself to work and then home and then to work again. I dragged myself to the gym, and to clean the house and to go out and do fun things. I had this mentality of “everything is hard.” And then it became too much effort to keep up this charade of misery. I realized that I was the reason that I was unhappy, and that it had nothing to do with my environment or with external circumstances. It all came down to the way I was thinking about and framing my life. And it was actually really hard work to constantly think about things in such a negative light. Since that difficult year after college I have made a point to be very careful about how I think about things. If I find myself wandering through the darker corners of my mind, I pull myself back out. I don’t sit around thinking about mistakes I made in the past, and I don’t dwell on negative things that I can’t control. I’m not trying to make this sound easy, or like I have all the answers, because it’s not and I don’t. But I do think that learning to train your mind to think in certain ways can make a world of difference in your outlook on life and your day-to-day happiness. And I think that when you start learning to control your mind, you realize it’s not really an uphill battle. Your mind doesn’t actually want to think about your ex-boyfriend, or that time the other day when a stranger waved to someone behind you and you thought they were waving to you, so you waved, and then realized their wave wasn’t meant for you and you wanted to die a little. Our minds really don’t want to dwell on the negative things in our lives, we just force them to.

So though it makes me sound like a crazy hippie yogi, I’m going to say it: When you control your thoughts, you control your life.

 

-S

 

Disclaimer: When I talk about happiness and our control over it, I recognize that for some people with clinical depression or other mental health issues, this is not the case. My theories on happiness only relate to people under relatively normal circumstances, without any kind of mental health issue.

2017 Hopeful

To be blunt, 2016 sucked. I had this same conversation with a ton of people over Christmas, and the conclusion was the same. It seems like everyone suffered this year on some level. On a global scale, violence and death have been pervasive- the Bastille Day terror attack, the Pulse shootings, Aleppo, the numerous killings of unarmed Black men, the Dallas police shootings, Hurricane Matthew killing upwards of 900 people, the Istanbul attacks, the bombings in Brussels, the Ghostship fire, Harambe, the attacks in Germany (just to name a few). It’s been a horrible year for celebrity deaths- I was upset enough when it was just Alan Rickman, but to add Prince, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Alan Thicke, George Michael, and now Carrie Fisher, and so many others, just seems like a slap in the face. We’ve had Brexit, and the horribly contentious 2016 US Presidential election (not to mention the fact that Donald Trump will now be the president). That article that came out saying Millennials are making less than their parents, and life expectancy is declining was just icing on the worse cake of all time.

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Personally, my year hasn’t been amazing. The last two weeks really sum it up well. A 4 hour plane delay followed by getting sick enough to have to leave a girls weekend in wine country to go to the hospital, then the ER, and capping it all off with surgery, and a super painful recovery! 2016 is really ending in a fine fashion.

However, things aren’t all doom and gloom, and things could certainly be worse. As we close out this year and embark on a new one, I aim to be hopeful. LBJ said it pretty well:

Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.

So, with that in mind, I turn towards the future. I turn towards hope, I turn towards the light, and I turn towards positive progress. I’ll keep this short and sweet (everything 2016 wasn’t), and simply say that despite the shit-storm of 2016, moments of joy and happiness did occur (success at Standing Rock, Leo winning an Oscar, an Ebola vaccination was deemed successful, Harriet Tubman is going to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20, one of my cousins got engaged, another had a baby, the Nigerian Army rescued hostages from Boko Harem, and the ALS gene was isolated, which means a cure may be possible, the Cubs finally won a World Series Title).

As I will not be able to drink for the rest of the year following my surgery tomorrow, tonight I will raise a glass and toast to 2017. I will write my resolutions and I will stay resolute in the belief that this too shall pass. 

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Why I Got a Dog

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This weekend Umur and I welcomed a new rescue pup to our family. We named her Luna, Luna Lovegood to be exact. She’s had a rough start to life after someone dumped her in a lake as a puppy hoping she would drown. She has spent the last 6 months or so in various shelters and foster care systems. It’s unimaginable to me how people can be so cruel and heartless, especially to animals that are incapable of such cruelty. I have always been a huge animal lover, so the obvious reason why we got Luna is because of this life-long obsession. When I was a kid all I wanted to be was a vet, until I found out you had to be good at science to be a vet, and then I quickly disposed of that dream. Another big reason I wanted to get a dog was because I wanted to rescue a dog. Not buy one at a pet store or from a breeder, but really rescue a dog that would have had an unfortunate life otherwise. We have created a terrible situation for dogs through excessive breeding which has landed millions of dogs in shelters all across the country, and I think we bear the responsibility for taking care of these animals. The easiest reason to explain for why I wanted a dog was because I have the ability to take care of her and I knew that I could make her life better. There is a sense of purpose that comes from that knowledge (and also a sense of overwhelming responsibility).

Aside from these clear and easy to understand reasons for why I wanted a dog, there was also another reason. This is the one that would most likely get me funny looks, so I usually go with the easier to explain reasons when asked. But really, I wanted a dog because I wanted to go on walks and be outside more. I know that sounds like a really silly reason to get a dog, but in the past few years of working I have felt more and more like my world exists inside several screens, rather than in the actual physical world. If I had to guess, I would say on an average day I spend about 10 minutes outside. I get in my car in my garage, drive to work where I sit inside all day without moving, then drive home, then drive to the gym and walk to the door which is about 20 steps from my car and that’s it. So maybe not even 10 minutes. The rest of the time I spend in front of my computer at work, and then in front of my tv and phone at home. And spending all this time in front of screens is enough to make a person feel very detached, easily distracted, impatient and even incapable of enjoying simple pleasures like taking a walk. I got a dog because I wanted to remember what it felt like to go on a walk outside and just take my time, without rushing to the next thing I have to do, or compulsively checking my phone every few seconds. Even in this act of walking her though, I can feel my impatience dulling the pleasure I take from it. I have even found myself telling her to hurry up when she is zig-zagging in front of me smelling every bit of grass in our neighborhood. This impatience I think will be hard to break, but I’m working on it.

The other day Umur and I went on a walk with Luna, and it was the first time in a long time I can remember us going on a walk together, with our phones away, just walking and talking and watching our crazy dog. I felt an immense sense of peace and authenticity in that moment. I felt connected to the world and to the living things around me and I felt present. I think she will bring me a lot of these moments throughout our lives together. We like to think that we are training our dogs to be better, but I think she is training me to be better as well. She is teaching me to be more present, more patient and more grateful for life’s simple pleasures. And that’s why I really got a dog.

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-S

‘What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding’

I just finished reading What I was Doing While You Were Breeding, and I absolutely loved it. The author, Kristen Newman (who wrote for That 70’s Show and How I Met Your Mother), put together an insightful and insanely entertaining memoir. Spoiler alert: While her friends were ‘breeding’ and settling down, she was traveling the world. Her anecdotes are inspiring and poignant, and at times, hysterically funny. I think her book speaks to what Sarah was talking about in her last post, perhaps we need to stop worrying about where we are and what we’ve achieved, and simply enjoy our lives… Try to separate societal expectations from your own, because society doesn’t give a shit about your happiness, but you should.

Seriously, who can’t relate to this?

“I wanted love, but I also wanted freedom and adventure, and those two desires fought like angry obese sumo wrestlers in the dojo of my soul.”

She gives you a lot to ruminate on, and what I found especially important is that she never casts a judgmental light on anyone’s choices (despite what the title of the book might suggest).

“Life is almost never about choosing between one thing you really want and another thing you don’t want at all. If you’re lucky, and healthy, and live in a country where you have enough to eat and no fear that you’re going to get shot when you walk out your door, life is an endless series of choosing between two things you want almost equally. And you have to evaluate and determine which awesome thing you want infinitesimally more, and then give up that other awesome thing you want almost exactly as much. You have to trade awesome for awesome. Everyone I knew, no matter what they chose, was at least a little in mourning for that other thing.”

Basically, reading this book reinvigorated my desire to travel, and to go on some solo adventures. I’ve done one large international trip by myself (and some smaller domestic/international trips), and it was amazing. I chose to go to Ireland, on a road-trip down the Wild Atlantic Way. In honor of Kristen’s memoir, I decided to share some things I learned from my solo adventure.

Buy the damn rental car insurance.

Buy the Damn Rental Car Insurance.

I am typically against spending money on the non-essentials when traveling (I’d rather save my money and blow it all on some amazing souvenir or experience), but paying the extra $60 dollars for my rental insurance was the smartest thing I could have done. It ended up sparing me a $2,000 repair bill for a scratch. Scratching a car in Ireland is easier than finding a pint of Guinness, and it costs a hell of a lot more to deal with.

Minimizing stress and protecting yourself from potential incidentals when traveling by yourself is a major step in enjoying yourself.

Befriend Bartenders. When you go out alone, especially as a woman, it is important to be safe. Ideally, this wouldn’t be something we would have to deal with, but that is not the world we live in. While on a night out in Galway, I made a point of sitting at the bar and chatting up the staff. They realized I was on my own and were invaluable in keeping drunken fools away from me. At one point, a guy had overindulged, and was getting a little too handsy with me, and the bartenders asked the guy to leave. Quick, clean, and easy.

You can also get free drinks…

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Meet Locals- of all ages! My very first night in Ireland I met an elderly man that I ended up having dinner with. He was full of amazing stories and introduced me to a few of his friends. One of them played music in a local bar and invited me along. I went, and I was treated to complimentary Irish coffees. I ended up making friends with some people around my age, and we sang along to Irish folk songs and Beatles tunes until 3 am.

 Treat Yo Self. Traveling is stressful. Taking a break and relaxing will only help you enjoy the craziness of touring a new place. Towards the middle of my trip, I decided to go to a spa and get a facial. Being pampered for an hour reinvigorated me, and made me beyond ready to hit the road. Obviously, not everyone is going to a spa, but taking the time to sleep in, or pass on a crazy night out to get some extra shut eye can turn a trip around completely.

Get Lost.

Turn off your GPS and get rid of the map. Part of the charm of going somewhere new is wandering off the beaten track. I went for a walk in one of the towns I stayed in, and I had no set destination, but headed out towards the ocean. I stumbled on a completely deserted ruin of a castle (I might have hopped a fence or two). It was a surreal and out-of-body experience for me- it was like something I had dreamed up. Since it was my first day, and I was severely jet-lagged, I didn’t actually believe what I was seeing until I climbed into the castle in the picture above (even my imagination isn’t good enough to come up with a complete floor plan).

Bring Books. While I could wax poetic on the wonders of traveling along forever, it can also be lonely. I’m not going to lie and tell you that eating alone is a wonderful, magical experience all the time. It can be really awkward to be surrounded by couples and families giving you a pitying ‘you have no friends’ look or the more aggressive ‘are you a murderous lunatic?’ stare. Having book can turn a lonely dining experience around. You don’t need dining companions when you can disappear into a solid story.

Do something unique.

Have you always wanted to bungee jump? Or learn a traditional jig? Or go surfing? Whatever it is- just go for it. There is no one to tell you it’s stupid, or silly, or not worth it. Don’t have regrets.

For me, it was horseback riding across the open fields of Ireland. I ended up on a one-on-one trek where they let me canter and jump over trees and fences. Riding over the green hills with (I kid you not) a rainbow over head, was enough to make me believe in the magic of Ireland.

No One Knows You… do what you will with that There is a 0% chance that your friends and family know anything you did unless you tell them (within reason- if you get arrested people will know). If you want to have a crazy one night stand with a random person you can! If you want to pretend to be someone else for a day, go for it! If you want to flirt with someone all night and then run away, you do you! (I’m not saying I did that, but I’m also not saying I didn’t). You can do and be whomever you want without worry that your friends or co-workers or family members will judge you. Go crazy- OR DON’T!

Seriously, you can do whatever you want. Well, within the confines of the law and normal human levels of decency. You have no schedule and no one to be beholden too besides yourself. If you’d rather sit in a pub than hike a mountain, go for it! If you want to spend an hour staring at a painting, you can! If you want to see every tourist attraction in a 20 mile radius, get in your car and get going! The freedom of traveling alone is amazing, and you have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t enjoy your trip. There are no excuses.

 In summary, traveling alone is the best.

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On my first trip, I tried to wade into it by going somewhere known for being friendly and English-speaking. I was absolutely terrified to go. The week before I left, I didn’t sleep well since I was so nervous.

I can honestly say it was on of the best experiences of my life. I learned I don’t need to rely on other people to have an amazing time. I can trust that I am enough for an incredible adventure. I am so much more confident after having had this experience. I feel like I know myself better, and (luckily) still really like myself.

Get out there. The world is yours.