November 23, 2013

What is Happiness?

 “…It’s not what you’ve accomplished in a day,
but how the day felt.”

After reading this piece on the predictions of happiness and well-being based on Harvard’s Grant Study, I have been thinking a lot about my own happiness and life.  What makes me happy?  What makes me sad?  What’s my life purpose and am I living it? 

The Grant Study tracked hundreds of men through their life, measuring various indicators of their physical and emotional health, resulting in trends indicating certain predictors of happiness, but also provided illuminations such as that “happiness is love” and also that “what is true in one stage of a man’s life is not true in another.”  In essence, there are universal indicators of happiness and wellness across a broad spectrum, but at the same time one man’s happiness is not necessarily another man’s happiness.   

Inspired by the study, I made a list of things that make me happy and unhappy.  In doing this, I learned that what makes me happy ranges from the superficial like trying new restaurants, cooking, listening to and discovering new music, and cleaning and organizing my house, to deeper pursuits like embarking on new experiences, traveling, writing/being creative, nature, being inspired, and cultivating meaningful relationships with people.  My list of things that make me unhappy was remarkably shorter but broader, and consisted of things like being misunderstood, being fearful, not living life to the fullest or pursuing my purpose, and "wasting time."  All things that are intrinsically linked, I think. 

We all want to be happy and we all deserve to be happy, but happiness all the time cannot be a life goal, necessarily.   And since the two emotions are opposite, happiness can only be fully understood and appreciated when one has endured the pain and suffering of sadness.   It is realizing your best intended purpose – which is directly correlated with a happier more meaningful life, with some moments of sadness sprinkled in – that is perhaps where the ultimate state of bliss can be found. 

The alternative to happiness or sadness is that place of numbness in between, which is in some ways the worst place to be since it implies that we’re living in a state of fear of pursuing our best life or because we feel we don’t deserve to pursue our best life, or maybe because we've made someone else’s version of a best life to be more important than our own.

Call me crazy, but I’d rather be sad than numb.  My own personal struggles have taught me that only until we open ourselves to sadness and allow it to wash over us can we see that something needs to be fixed, adjusted, or changed.  It is in this state that a more meaningful life can be born, leading to the cultivation of a deeper state of happiness. 

And that's what I have to say about that, for now anyway.

November 1, 2013

Frisk Friday Thoughts

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Frisky Friday roundup of thoughts, so here I go. 
  • Solitude is necessary for working through difficult times.  As important, though, are the company of good friends and family.  And, finally, the power of a good therapist can never be undervalued. 
  • For some reason, a Frisky Friday roundup is never complete without a nod to Katy Perry, because what can I say?  I effing love that girl.  Her new album, Prism, is a chronicle of the unraveling of her marriage to Russell Brand, which is somehow simultaneously shimmery, melancholy, and heartfelt. 
  • I recently finished Creative Visualization, a wonderful book by self-help guru Shakti Gawain.  It’s so much more than the title suggests, but one line that sums up the book’s premise is: “You must first be who you really who you are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.” 
  • Something that continues to remind me is how resilient we all are and how much we are capable of taking on, dealing with, and managing in life.  And, if we’re lucky and open to it, there is so much possibility in plunging into the unknown or being thrown unanticipated curveballs.  It can be a really beautiful thing if you open your heart to it all. 
  • To end this on a lighter note, have you tried Wendy’s Pretzel Pub Chicken sandwich?  Well, you should.  It’s the perfect little processed, sodium-enriched Friday night splurge.  Customize it with the grilled chicken instead of the breaded, and it’s only 410 calories and I daresay equally as delish.

October 20, 2013

Embracing Discomfort

In the journey of life, we all experience hard times, difficult challenges, random curveballs.  Sometimes, we try to push these hard times off, shove them aside, tuck them away, but usually, when we take this kind of approach, they inevitably reappear, the second time with a strong vengeance that is impossible to ignore.  In this case, confronting these curveballs head-on is the only way to resolve them.  The only problem with this is that this kind of confrontation requires feelings of discomfort. 

Being uncomfortable is no fun.  It hurts, it stings, it stabs.  There is a weight of dread in your tummy, an ache in your heart.  You may cry, yell, or complain, or possibly all three.  In my journey of self-discovery, I’m learning that the only way to address life’s curveball is to accept and embrace the accompanying discomfort, to walk right through it, to let it slap me in the face.

As human beings, discomfort is the complete opposite state of what we are always seeking.  After all, comfort is king.  We want to be happy and relaxed; we deserve to be happy and relaxed.  But the fact is, sometimes the only way to that ultimate state of happy and relaxed is to let discomfort whip you over and over like the biting January wind, until you’ve tackled the issue once and for all. 
In some cases, this kind of embracing of discomfort is the only way we’re going to fully awaken and blossom, developing a renewed acceptance and understanding for what we want and need out of life.   At least that's what I think. 

September 25, 2013

Thoughts Après Paris

You know the feeling before a big event – including a highly anticipated one – of excitement mixed with fear?  Though Paris was The Singular Most Desirable Place to Go on Vacation, I grappled a bit with the excitement/fear feeling leading up to the trip.  And I think it's because, traveling – much like life – is the kind of thing where there are a multitude of unknowns, and that can be a little scary.  You can plan something down to the nanosecond, but there are always curveballs – some good, some bad, some in between – that inevitably happen. 

No caption necessary.
Though there were very few negative curveballs that happened during the trip, the couple quasi-"negative" ones that did occur made it all the more interesting.  Ultimately, it was everything I would have expected Paris to be, and then some.  And I don’t mean that in the Paris is so posh and perfect kind of way (because it totally isn’t), but rather that my visit was full-bodied and life-changing, which I think is the case whenever you experience something first-hand.  In these kind of experiences, perspective grows, changes, and evolves, which is what traveling to new places is really all about.  So, herewith are some of my thoughts and photos après Paris:
Cliché as it sounds, the food really is as amazing as they say it is in Paris.  Overwhelmed by all the restaurants there were during the planning process, I left the food planning up to complete spontenaity.  When we landed in Montmartre where our apartment was, however, every restaurant we ate at was a knockout.  From beef bourguignon to banana-and-Nutella-filled crepes, fondue to Vietnamese cuisine (of which Paris is regarded highly for),  French onion soup to croissants and cravette (chocolate pastry), and toasts au saumon fume to cravette, it was all incredible.  None of it was particularly "heart healthy" or "plant based", but partaking it in all was part of the sensorial experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
French Onion Soup (which I had no less than three times during the trip)
In Paris, nearly everyone smokes, no one wears baseball caps (though I did), and people are partial to black.  For a major city, its people are also rather conservative (not a lot of leg and cleavage) on the street, though TV is a different story.  Also, Italian cuisine is akin to Mexican cuisine in the U.S. - widely prevalent and well done.

Clearly I rebelled against the French aesthetic and dressed for comfort (necessary when you're walking 10+ miles per day).
Versailles was probably as crowded as the Louvre though I wouldn't have known that had I not gone.  It was fun to take the train outside the city and see a bit of French suburbia.  And while walking around the inside of the palace along with hundreds of other tourists left something to be desired, the grounds themselves were quite spectacular.  Personally, however, I much preferred the Palace and Jardin du Luxembourg, which we stumbled upon in St. Germain, taking in an outdoor jazz performance. 

Everything in Paris is freaking expensive, except for, ironically, bottled water.  Food, clothing, transportation, even deodorant(!) are all substantially more expensive than in the United States.  And, sales tax is a whopping 19.6%.   But, of course, the shopping is also some of the best in the world, so it's hard not to partake, at least a little bit, especially at the city's abundant perfumeries.  Annick Goutal, Fragonard, and the city's numerous pharmacies (which house some of France's best cosmetics) were complete gems. 
Rue Chappe (street view from apartment)
Parisians are extremely stingy with napkins.  We went to the same café every single morning for breakfast and along with utensils came one tiny napkin tucked in a basket; likewise, at “restaurantes rapide” (such as at the airport) napkins were nowhere to be found. I’m not sure if people wipe their hands on their clothes, but napkins are far from prevalent. Call me a wasteful American, but I like a little napkin action with my meal. 

Raw Beauty (view of Luxembourg in distance)
Attempting to speak French was actually quite fun.  I didn’t experience any rude Parisians, and in fact, the majority of them were quite friendly, even if some of them weren’t entirely fluent in English themselves. Nonetheless, the phrases “Parlez-vous anglais?”, “Je voudrais . . .” at restaurants, and “Bonjour”, “Merci”, and “Au revoir/Bonsoir” went a long way. 

You can reserve these pods along the Seine to have your very own picnic party.  How cool is that?

Paris has an underbelly, just like everywhere (and everything) else. Case in point being the area surrounding southern Montmartre (also coincidentally home of the Red Light District). Unfortunately, this was our entry into the city and therefore the first we saw of Paris when we arrived.  (For the record, there were no hooker sightings, just some grit and grime similar to a second-world country.)  I wish it had been the last sight instead of the first, because I probably would’ve appreciated it more, but in any event, the City of Lights can’t be all perfume and posh fashions.   

Bakery kitty.  (Note: Not taken in Paris's underbelly.)

September 17, 2013

Thoughts Before Paris

  1. The one thing that has been stressing me out since booking my flights for Paris was the tight connection at Newark.  Upon checking in last night, United gave me an option to switch flights at $75 per ticket, allowing me to get an earlier flight from PWM to EWR, therefore extending my connection time to do a liberal three hours.  So, I said heck with it: $150 is a small price to pay for peace of mind and to avoid potentially being stranded in Newark (rather than the City of Lights) for a day.  You only live once, right?
  2. The great thing about long flights is that I have an excuse to buy books at random.  (I will admit, I was a tiny bit tempted to pick up 50 Shades of Grey, but I decided to hold off on that bandwagon for a bit.)   Instead, I bought AM Homes’s (one of my all-time favorite authors) May We Be Forgiven and Domenica Ruta’s addiction memoir, With or Without You.  Both have received wide critical acclaim, in addition to being touted as Huffington Post’s Best Book Club Books of the fall.  I prefer solo book clubs anyway.
  3. The other day my good friend Liz told me that something happened to her in yoga – she cried. “Luckily,” she said, “I was in the back row, but crying and yoga is SO cathartic.  It’s like peanut butter and jelly."  How awesome is that?  Now I want to try it.  (Maybe after Paris.)
  4. I love fall. I love pumpkin. I love spice.  But this year it seems like the pumpkin-spiced-themed everything has kind of gotten outta control: candles, perfume, coffee drinks, car fresheners.  But hey, maybe that’s just me.  (It’s probably just me.)
  5. My friend Brandon sent me an email last Wednesday morning that said, “Stop whatever you’re doing and get the new Janelle Monáe album.”  As a fan of hers since the 2010 release of The ArchAndroid (also amazing), I listened to him.  The Electric Lady is beautifully varied, featuring other genre-bending artists like Esperanza Spalding, Solange, Miguel, and Prince.  If you only listen to one track, I suggest “What An Experience.”  Wow.

September 11, 2013

Paris in a Week - Eeek!

Next week my husband and I leave for Paris, the land of all things I love like good bread and perfume (Seriously, what else does a girl  need in life?).  And, while a part of me is obviously giddy, because Hello! I’m going to freaking PARIS!), the other part of me has actually been a bit nervous and stressed in the months leading up to the trip, worrying about all the potentials for travel delays and debacles. 

As the trip is drawing near, I’ve realized how the unknown of something – whether it be a trip or life in general – can actually be quite exciting.  Developing this perspective has allowed me to let go of the fear and worries and to just embrace the unknowns, which is really quite freeing.  Nonetheless, a little planning never hurt anyone, so I thought I’d write a little post on Paris: "The Meaning of Lunch" Way. 

Similar to my approach to life, I am equal parts spontaneous and structured, which basically implies that I like to have a plan and then have the option of rebelling against that plan if deemed appropriate.  So, in compiling my somewhat subject-to-change travel itinerary, I am opting not to do something just because it’s the It thing to do or merely to check something off a box.  (This is precisely why I’m skipping the Louvre this time, inspired partly by this great post from The Everywhereist, one of my favorite blogs, although I'm still planning on hitting the Eiffel Tower, obviously.)

Without further adieu, here are a few pearls of wisdom I've learned in my research:
  1. Pack light, and ideally, take only a carry-on.  My friend strongly suggested this fine little gem from Eagle Creek, which I was fortunate enough to find brand-spanking new at a major discount through eBay; I also snagged these handy packing cubes to pack everything nice and tight.  (I am a bit OCD when it comes to packing, so I know this whole system will come in handy for future travels as well.)
  2. Take a little nightcap for the red-eye.  Some suggest Excedrin PM; others suggest half an Ambien.  We'll see what I can get my hands on. 
  3. Stay at an apartment instead of the local Sheraton.  Travel + Leisure did a great write-up on this past spring and other people have spoken very highly of the site. I booked an adorable little apartment in Montmartre (northern Paris) through the site for ~$145/night, which includes a kitchen, a washer and drier, free WiFi, nestled in a quaint little courtyard.  It will not be as convenient as staying in a hotel perhaps, but it's quite a bit more affordable and will offer a more authentic experience living as the locals do, which for me, is in many ways more important than cookie-cutter convenience. 
  4. Paris is the land of pick-pockets.  No need to stress unnecessarily, but knowledge is power, hence why I've purchased a nice little variety of "money belts," including this semi-sexy little number from Maidenform, which bonus: was only $8.  I also picked up a two-for-one around-the-neck and waist belts through Amazon too.  
  5. The French don't care so much that you aren't fluent in their native tongue, only that you try.  And really, isn't that the case with, like, everything?  I picked up a lightweight pocket translator guide by the Lonely Planet and downloaded a couple apps (SayHi and iTranslate) to my iPhone, though I will likely defer to my book since I want to limit international use of my data plan. 
  6. Parisians are more formal than us sloppy Americans, so no fanny packs and sweats for this sister.  Black and dark skinny jeans, cute tops, and comfortable flats will be my go-tos, which luckily isn't much of a deviation from my work attire.  Nonetheless, I created a little inspirational Pinterest board of outfit ideas.
  7. Do what the French do, even if it isn't your thing.  Call me crazy, but I prefer vodka over wine, and if I were to really go out on a limb, I actually prefer cake over booze, but while in Paris I fully intend on imbibing on the local vino, especially since the table wine is supposedly far superior than some of the better wines that you can buy in the U.S.  I also fully intend on partaking in French butter, because that's also supposed to be quite special.  When in Paris, right?

September 7, 2013

A Side Dish of Inspiration

In my continued journey of learning to be, here is a little side dish of quotes that have resonated with me this week.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
  • "Life consists of rare, isolated moments of the greatest significance, and of innumerably many intervals, during which at best the silhouettes of those moments hover about us. Love, springtime, every beautiful melody, mountains, the moon, the sea – all these speak completely to the heart but once, if in fact they ever do get a chance to speak completely. For many men do not have those moments at all, and are themselves intervals and intermissions in the symphony of real life." - Friedrich Nietzsche

  • "You can participate in the dance of creation and be active without attachment to outcome and without placing unreasonable demands upon the world:  Fulfill me, make me happy, make me feel safe, tell me who I am.  The world cannot give you those things, and when you no longer have such expectations, all self-created suffering comes to an end. - A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle

  • "When we identify with a small self, we are perceiving ourselves as a cluster of ocean waves, not recognizing that we are made of ocean. When we realize our true self is ocean, the familiar pattern of waves—our fears and defensiveness, our wants and busyness—remains a part of us, but it does not define us." - Tara Brach

  • "The next moment is always fresh and open. You don’t have to get frozen in an identity of any kind." - Pema Chodron

  • “One thing we do know: Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.” - A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle

  • "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain

August 29, 2013

Thirsty Thursday Thoughts

  1. After listening to Ambrosia’s “Biggest Part of Me” on XM’s ‘70s channel yesterday I realized how I own nary a single album of theirs.  (And that is odd because I am a serious smooth '70s fan.)  Needless to say, I’ve since remedied that situation.  If you're also a forgot-you-are fan, Rhino High Five has an EP containing all the heavy hitters: “Biggest Part of Me”, “How Much I Feel,” “You’re The Only Woman."  
  2. As you may be aware, I’m into TED talks these days.  I just watched Meg Jay’s “30 Is Not the New 20” and got major goose bumps.  (And, it actually made me feel pretty good about some of my life choices, which was a nice little bonus.)  She doesn't have quite the finesse that Brene Brown has, but she has some great things to say, as well as some wonderful advice.  A must-see for sure.
  3. I know I’m only contributing to the broken record that is the commentary on Miley Cyrus this week, but I can’t help myself.  Yes, I happen to be a fan (on one hand because the rebel in me admires a girl who doesn't give a f****, and then on the other hand, in the face of everyone criticizing her, it makes me want to stick up for her more.)  And let's be reals here: "We Can't Stop" is great pop music.  Today, my friend sent me this interesting commentary on how everybody’s missing the point that the song is actually a depressing homage to the highs and lows of drug use.  And while the interpretation is a startlingly accurate and sobering analysis of which I can't disagree with, I choose to respond to it in perhaps a more innocent way.  The lyrics that “It’s our party we can do what we want/It’s our party we can say what we want/It’s our party we can love who want” is also about living your own life, your own way, regardless of societal and peer pressures.  Though I agree that the song’s primary theme is probably about getting high on the party drug “Molly”, I think that its dual meaning is also about being true and real and honest to yourself and others, which for me is an even more universally felt and positive message.  (Although I will say, I’m quite glad to have become educated on Molly.)
  4. On a semi-related note, if you aren’t reading Zen Habits then you might want to consider it.  This week, Leo Babuta had the following quote, which was about eating healthy, but which also pertains to life in general: “Be curious. . . . Let go of expectations and prejudgments.  You might find out some interesting things.”
  5. Summer is ending, which is always a little bittersweet, but I ain’t gonna lie: fall fashion is the freaking best.  Bring on the sweaters, boots, and denim!
That's all for this Thirsty Thursday.  Have a lovely and relaxing Labor Day weekend!

August 21, 2013

The Vulnerability Party

Several months ago, I scribbled Brené Brown’s name on a Post-It when a friend recommended watching her Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) talk on vulnerability, but then set it aside.  About a month afterward, an interview of her appeared in O Magazine, and didn’t think much of it.  Just the other day, I was scrolling through my Pinterest feed the other day I stumbled upon a Pin of “15 TED Talks That Will Change Your Life”, clicked on it, and saw Brené Brown listed, which triggered my memory of the now crumpled-up Post-It note that is probably lost somewhere in the inner depths of my purse.

One of my new favorite evening rituals is doing the Viparita Karaniyoga pose, which is really just an exotic-sounding Indian name for lying down and elevating your legs up against the wall for 5-10 minutes.  So, the other night while I "hung out" with my legs against the wall I played Brown’s 2010 TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability from my iPad, fighting every urge to take notes as I listened and practiced my pose.  Tonight, I just finished her follow-up 2012 TED talk on Listening to Shame.  In addition to trying this yoga pose, you should listen do two more things and listen to these great talks.

Brown’s 2010 talk on vulnerability was particularly illuminating because for many of us vulnerability is such a pervasively felt yet feared and suppressed emotion.  Though we all have our different personalities and perspectives, we are all afraid to be vulnerable, which by many of our accounts is to appear weak, to be rejected, to be forgotten.  Brown argues that vulnerability is just the opposite, that it actually is our most accurate measurement of courage” and that it is “the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”  Food for thought, right?

When I think about it, I find people most endearing when they let their guard down, when they stop putting on heirs, when they reveal the side of themselves that perhaps they don’t feel brave enough to share with everyone.  When I am privy to this side of someone who is struggling with exposing this vulnerability, particularly if it’s someone I really like and admire, a part of me just wants to hug them and to tell them it’s okay, that this is a good thing.  Vulnerability is such an endearing thing on so many levels.

But perhaps why I find vulnerability so captivating in others is because though I am pretty in tune with my emotions, my sometimes reserved and shy nature can hold me back in certain situations, making it difficult for me to express my own vulnerable side too, even if I really want to reveal it.  Typically, and I think this is true of many of us, I am only capable of exposing that part of me once I’ve developed trust with a person or situation, which sometimes takes a little while (typical of the INFJ personality type). 

Looking at vulnerability as a “measurement of courage”, as Brown refers to it, shattered my preconceived notion that vulnerability is perhaps the less tender flower of the emotion family and ironically more of the iron-fisted one.  Vulnerability is actually quite strong and sexy; confident and powerful.  And, as I think about it more, Brown's argument is actually quite consistent with how I perceive the emotion expressed by other people.  For example, a man who exposes vulnerability by saying to a woman, “I really like you,” is actually a symbol of great, modern alpha strength rather than beta-male weakness, in my opinion.  Brown’s way of putting it is direct: “Vulnerability is not weakness.  And that myth is profoundly dangerous.” 

Needless to say, the Power of Vulnerability talk was powerful, especially when paired with a little bit of light yoga.  My homework going forward is to work more on accepting and becoming more comfortable with my vulnerability, and I urge you to do the same.  After all, “that’s what life is about: about daring greatly, about being in the arena.” 

August 18, 2013

Five Things

  • I came home late last night to a mailbox full of  thick, glossy "September issues" and it was as if someone had given me a thick wad of 20s and said, "Here.  Go have fun."  Needless to say, September is a great month if you're a magazine whore like me.  (By the by, did you see Oprah's hair on the cover of O?)
  • Beyond staying in my PJs as long as I feel like today, I'm planning on catching up on some music videos.  And while I know both the songs quite well, I've been informed that the videos to Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors" and Katy Perry's "Wide Awake" are current essentials.
  • It's been a couple weeks since I've been using the Clarisonic Plus, and I have to say: it really is all they say it is.  After having the system on my wish list for a couple years, I finally went for it after reading repeated interviews in one week about how the Clarisonic was the one face product they couldn't live without.  I've been using the sensitive brush head so far and it provides the perfect amount of exfoliation for daily or every other day use.  My skin has never felt so smooth.
  • I am one of the few females in the world who dislikes weddings and all the hoopla associated with them.  (And I realize this makes me a curmudgeon of sorts.)  A bachelorette party, on the other hand, when suited to the bride's personality rather than the generic mainstream standard of our time, is a festive and important prelude to the bride's big day.  But why must they be only a one-time event? 
  • Though I consider myself a reflective person, when it comes to making decisions I typically let instinct and intuition be my guide and just do it.  In some cases, I wind up making decisions very quickly, in other cases, sometimes rashly.  On the whole, though, my decision-making hasn't failed me, yet anyway.  This wonderful post on how decision-making should be viewed as an experiment, rather than something that needs to be overthought (when there is never a predetermined outcome to a decision anyway), was illuminating and insightful, and well, made me feel a little more justified in my approach to decisions.

August 8, 2013

Thirsty Thursday Thoughts

  • Miley Cyrus’s new single “We Can’t Stop” is carefree, sassy, and fun.  When paired with the accompanying video, however, the song becomes a compelling, thematically progressive, and thought-provoking timepiece; visually, it both entertains and cuts.  I have many thoughts, but you should form your own.  Here's the video. 

  • I am continually in search of The Perfect Nighttime Snack, which by my standards is healthy, a little sweet, satisfying, and fun.  I recently stumbled upon the "two-ingredient cookie," and yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds, that is, if you like bananas and oats.  All you do is take a ripe banana, mash it up, add ½ instant oats (not old-fashioned since you want a finer consistency), and bake on a greased pan at 350 degrees for 12-15 mins.  I violate the two-ingredient rule (big surprise there, I know) by adding in sea salt, vanilla, and cinnamon, and viola – The Perfect Nighttime Snack.

  • Having a Me Night is an underrated indulgence that restores in all the right ways and places.  I was tempted to plan something with a friend because it was my first open night all week, but I opted not to.  While I think maintaining friendships is incredibly important for a variety of reasons, what's perhaps more important is maintaining one's relationship with yourself first.  Some may say that sounds a little selfish, but my position is that if we don't first take care of ourselves, how can we be there for or give to others?  For these reasons, and because I honestly enjoy being a bit of a loner, I am a big proponent of the me-time concept.

  • Today marks my six-month juicing anniversary and I can honestly say that I can’t imagine life without my morning juices.   While I definitely feel healthier and more energetic, I know there are a multitude of benefits to my body that I can’t even see or feel, which is exciting.  This post on Food Babe provided a good overview of common juicing mistakes and reiterated the multitude of benefits juicing provides.  Who knew that swishing juice actually made you absorb nutrients better?  I didn’t. 

  • Food for thought from my guru Eckhart Tolle: “Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.” 

August 2, 2013

Never Stop Growing Up.

A couple weeks ago, journalist Connie Schultz had this piece in Parade entitled “Life in the Middle Ages.”  While I have not yet approached middle age, the article resonated with me because it discussed the exciting side effect that with growing old, “[y]ou get to keep growing.”  In the article, Schultz included a passage from Gail Godwin’s The Finishing School, which was particularly moving:

          There are two kinds of people . . . One kind, you can tell just by looking at them at what  
          point they congealed into their final selves.  It might be a very nice self, but you know you
          can expect no more surprises from it.  Whereas, the other kind keeps moving, changing. 
         With these people, you can never say, “X stops here,” or “Now I know all there is to know
         about Y.”  That doesn’t mean they’re unstable.  Ah, no, far from it.  They are fluid.  
        They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them
         young.  In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive. 

The second type of person is who I hope to always strive to be.  Never resisting change, never being stunted by some internal block, never shrugging my shoulders and saying "I am who I am" in the face of challenge with myself and others.

On some level, however, I agree with the common notion that as people get older they get stuck in their ways and become complacent.  After all, if it works and if it ain’t broke, why  fix it?  But on the other hand, just ‘cuz it "ain’t broke" doesn’t mean it couldn’t work better, and you could actually be a happier, more content person in the end. 

One of the requisites of an assistantship I got for grad school included teaching English 101 to college freshmen.  At the time, public speaking was perhaps my biggest fear in the world, which was even bigger than my fear of snakes; it was that big.  I knew that I wanted this assistantship because my M.A. would be paid for, but I also realized how good the opportunity would be for me because it would force me to overcome my fear of public speaking. 
In the spring and summer preceding the fall when I was slated to begin the program, I did some personal work, the first step reflecting on what the root of this fear was.  It occurred to me that a big part of it was lack of confidence, of someone making fun of me, of being rejected on some level -- all emotional things.  But the other part of it was simply not knowing how to do it.  After doing some soul-searching, I decided that counseling would be a good way to work through the issues, so I talked to someone about it (i.e., a counselor).  (For any of you on the fence about counseling, I am a big fan; just make sure to find the right one, for you.)

During the initial sessions, we talked about all the kinds of things you would imagine: my upbringing, siblings, family dynamics, my fear of public speaking and why it was so scary to me.  I only met with her a few times before our sessions turned to conversations about astrology (she saw strong Virgo tendencies in me, which was interesting) when I knew that her work with me (for the time anyway) was done.   
The big takeaway of my counseling sessions was not playing the victim, of not pigeon-holing myself into a static version of Sarah for years to come.  It was after the counseling that I realized how capable I was of overcoming this public speaking thing (as well as other things).  I may not like it, and it may always be stressful for me (oh, it is!), but I can learn to do it without crippling fear and I can even learn how to do it well.  Needless to say, despite the horrific nightmares the evening before, I didn’t faint the first day of teaching English 101 and actually did a decent job.  And guess what?  I’ve since touched, even held, my share of snakes too. 

It’s true that we are not completely malleable – I will always prefer to be the wallflower than the attention whore – but we all have a rather vast sliding scale of self-improvement, and oftentimes we can even surprise ourselves with the things we’re capable of.  Sometimes we set limits without even realizing it, and perhaps it’s because we’re satisfied with where we are (which is totally okay!).  But when those limits become limitations that prevent us from living the best life possible, or in some cases, even hurt the people we love, it’s worth pushing ourselves a little harder and a little faster. 

After all, we’re all capable, and more important, worthy, of change, growth, and becoming better versions of ourselves.  

July 26, 2013

Frisky Friday - A week in review.

  1. I learned this week that cleaning my house on a weeknight is not only oddly rejuvinating, but it frees the weekends up for more fun things.  I am continually aiming for that perfect combination of freedom, fun, and R&R in a weekend, which is not always attainable, but by trying to squeeze in some chores during the week, I feel like I'm getting closer to that ideal. 
  2. Lately I've been working on calming my food noise, a term coined by my favorite former Housewife, Bethenny Frankel.  Calming my noise means allowing myself to give into temptation a little more often, as long as I'm doing it in a moderate way.  The ultimate goal of this is to avoid a constant diet mindset.  For the past week I had been craving cheap mac & cheese, the really bad-for-you kind made with the powdered stuff, so that's what I had for din-din Tuesday night.  Yes, it was amazing as cheap mac & cheese can get, and yes, I started my day the next morning with a fresh green juice.  Life is about finding the right balance that works for you; my personal balance just happens to include mac & cheese every once in a while.
  3. I was never a pedicure kind of girl, but since a nail place opened up two doors down from my work I've become a total convert.  It is like the best little indulgence $20 can buy.   OPI's "It's a Girl" is currently on my toes right now and it's the Perfect Nude Pink, IMHO.  Sexy and subtle - just the way I like it.
  4. If friends are the new family I have the best family a girl could have.  Yesterday afternoon, out of the blue, my best friend sent me the sweetest email which completely melted my heart.  It reiterated the importance of these kinds of relationships and just how lucky I am to have certain people in my life. 
  5. A weekend with no set schedule is one of the most underrated luxuries in life (see #1 above).  This weekend happens to be the first in several weeks where I don't have to be anywhere at any given time and I'M SO EXCITED ABOUT IT.  If all my weekends were this way I probably wouldn't be so excited, but a quiet one amidst several busy ones really is like a diamond in the rough. 
  6. You know this post wouldn't be complete without a little music tidbit.  Of course, right?  Well, this week I've been really digging Booker T. Jones's Sound The Alarm.  My personal favs are "Watch You Sleeping," "Broken Heart," and "All Over The Place" - all tracks featuring some lesser known yet exceptionally talented vocalists. 

July 20, 2013

Putting the Present to Practice

Now that the dust has settled after reading Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now, I thought I’d do a little follow-up post.  It is only natural for inspiration to wane after time, for us to forget the lessons we learned and to revert to old habits, but for whatever reason, this book has continued to improve my approach and my perspective on life.  Here are a few of the big takeaways that continue to have moved me:


 “Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now.” – Eckhart Tolle

I used to worry about time a lot, especially with things like life and mortality, the past and future, by anticipating and worrying about imagined future events that were completely beyond my control.  This was exhausting.  I thought that I needed to worry about the future, as if that would help prevent the things I worried about (death, catastrophic events, awkward social interactions) from happening.  It was only until I read this book that I realized that this kind of incessant worrying is completely counterproductive and unnecessary. 

Now I try not to focus on mind time, to worry less about things that are out of my control, and to not think too much about the future.  This is not to say that I don’t consider chronological time, which involves putting events on my calendar and requires some modicum of planning, but the obsession, the worry, the anxiety about the kinds of things that are completely beyond my control has been reduced drastically.  And I have to say, I feel a huge weight lifted off me.  Life really is so much more enjoyable this way, the way that it should be. 

 Worry pretends to be useful but serves no actual purpose.” – Eckhart Tolle

Overthinking is another issue I've always grappled with.  I am an INFJ, a Pisces, and an English major, meaning that I have all the personality traits of an overthinker.  All I did in college and grad school was read books, analyze them, and then write about them.  I used to think that being an overthinker was a good thing.  It was only when I realized that it’s actually being that is the key to enlightenment -- the opposite of thinking -- a light bulb went off.  Just the other day I was reading an interview with Singer Janelle Monae who said that “[R&B singer] Erykah Badu once told me, ‘Stay out of your mind.’  Whenever I’m anxious about something, I remember those words to anchor myself and not overthink the moment.”  It's comforting to know that some of my favorite artists struggle with this too.
Thinking too much zaps our energy stores (leaving less for things like creativity!), when all we have is the now, this very moment.  If we’re in our heads the whole time we’re missing out on experiencing the richness of our lives right in front of us.  Though I might be inherently prone to overthinking, I’ve learned that when I step outside my head and actually think less I’m a much happier and more content person.
Acceptance and Surrender
         “Sometimes surrender means giving up trying.” – Eckhart Tolle

So much of my life has been focused on striving, improving, and becoming that I often fail to realize that it’s okay to just accept where I’m at and be for a bit.  The cliché really is true: you have to just stop and smell those roses from time to time.  While lots of things can be achieved by being so future focused, it's easy to lose sight of basking in the glow of life as it is now.  Accepting and surrendering, that is, just letting go to whatever state you're in and not resisting where your world is at the moment, is a completely new concept for me, but it is incredibly freeing and invigorating.

Friday night I came home after work and dinner with a friend and was exhausted from a long week, so instead of resisting the urge to do nothing, I accepted it and surrendered to where I was.  I stripped out of my work clothes in the kitchen (don't judge:  you know how hot it's been!) and laid down on the floor and watched the sunset.  It sounds strange, but it was my own way of accepting and surrendering in the moment, and it was perfect.

"If you are present, the painbody cannot feed anymore on your personal thoughts, or on other people's reactions." - Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle writes about this thing called the “Painbody,” which he describes as the “emotional aspect of egoic consciousness.”  (This article explains it really well.)   Painbody can be likened to an addiction to unhappiness.  While I am not fundamentally a negative person, the concept has made me more aware of how easy it is to grasp onto the negative, to latch onto thoughts that fuel negativity and dysfunction in relationships.  While we don’t like feeling pain, we are also somehow drawn to it, kind of like masochism.  By realizing the kind of actions that fuel the painbody, I have been working on my awareness of it within me, which has made me conscious of when it tries to rear its ugly head. 

July 9, 2013

Just a Tuesday Tickle.

A random list of thoughts brought to you on a Tuesday by yours truly.
  1. It occurred to my on my ride home from work today that Enrique Iglesias's "Bailamos" might be one of the great long-lost pop hits of the '90s.  Just don't watch the video because let's just say it hasn't aged well, the styling of which has reduced the song to a corny choreographed mess.  But the song really is a sexy little number.  Listen to it, and you'll hear what I mean.
  2. This article made me feel a little less guilty about consuming a half-watermelon every time I crack one open. 
  3. The writing in Dexter continues to blow my mind.  Dr. Vogel offered up this gem (Episode 2 of Season 8), which really resonated with me: "I developed a framework for your survival.  That's what mothers do."
  4. Another beautiful quote from the ever-inspiring and enlightening site, Brain Pickings, has stayed with me ever since I came upon it the other day: "Always be more than you appear, and never appear to be more than you are." - Angela Merkel 
  5. It's amazing what things do to your ego (and after reading The Power of Now I've become that much more aware of how ego is involved in everything we do, think or say), but alas.  So, one of the Entertainment Weekly's editors followed me on Twitter the other day and then "favorited" one of my tweets today.  Is it bad that it kind of made my ego's day? 
  6. I'm pumped that Sara Bareilles's new album comes out on July 16.  Her songwriting's so pop-rock delicious.  I also happen to be a pretty big fan of the beautiful/talented/good girly/nerdy combo.  (And as an FYI, she's pretty fun to follow on Twitter.)
  7. I'm always walking that fine line of whether it's inappropriate or appropriate to tell someone I've dreamt about them.  The honest part of me feels a strange ethical obligation to let them in on it, as if it's something they need to know, to be privy to; the other part of me realizes this might come off a little creepy.  I wonder if this is some kind of strange compulsion or whether it's normal-ish.  (Thoughts welcome.)

July 6, 2013

Maine Beer Company's Lunch: The Soulmate of Beer?

I visited Maine Beer Company’s (new) digs in Freeport, Maine, over the long holiday weekend and I will say that it didn’t surprise me that the brewery, which includes a bustling little tasting room, lives up to the growing reputation of its product.  Before I go too far, I should mention that I only know about craft beer by way of reading about it and taking sips from my husband’s glass.  Being the curious cat that I am, however, I find myself intrigued by the craft beer movement.

What’s intrigued me about Maine Beer Company is its entire approach to its product.  From the bottle, which is taller and more slender than a standard beer bottle and therefore more akin to a wine bottle, to the crisp and clean-like-linen label, to the slogan “Do what’s right”, Maine Beer Company is all about quality over quantity, with nothing – from taste to image -- being sacrificed.  It's apparent that the product, the beer, sells itself, which is suggested on the label as being consumed within 90 days of the "stamped born date" as "[h]oppy beers do not age well."  Lunch, Maine Beer Company’s perhaps most sought-after American IPA, receives a world-class rating of a 97 by Beer Advocate, emits a delightful aroma of citrus and pine.  And though I’m no connoisseur, it is the most delicious-smelling beer I’ve ever set my nose on.  No exaggeration. 

After visiting the birthplace of Lunch, the tasting room of which is situated in a light and airy space where you can order all MBC’s offerings as well as some interesting mashups off a chalkboard, I was struck by how the space itself was a continued reflection of the company’s product with its white-washed walls, hand-carved taps, and large picture window where you can watch beer being made as you sip an IPA born yesterday and play a little game of Jenga with your friends.  All of this is comfortably flanked between a pastoral farmhouse setting and Coastal Route 1.  Ah, Maine - the way life should be.

Like Maine Beer Company, I am a quality over quantity person.  Take a look at my friends and you will see what I mean.  They can be easily counted on two hands and are all equally incredible people: smart, interesting, wonderful, and wise.  They all happen to have superior qualities to me, which I'm well aware of, and hope that through immersion their greatness will eventually rub off on me.   

Maine Beer Company is kind of like that knock-your-socks-off person you meet who’s almost too good to be true:  Smart.  Interesting.  Deep and also funny.  Humble.  Wise.  Attractive.  Fun to be around.  Refined but not snobby.  Can be found uptown or upta camp.  And bonus!  (Also happens to be quite sexy.)  As you probably know, this is a next-to-impossible combination, though of course it does exist.  Hey, just take a look at Lunch!  But when it comes down to it, many of us are a little intimidated by that knock-your-socks-off beer, person, or thing, and instead settle for what is easy, cheap, and ubiquitous.  Though my good friends aren't easy, cheap, and ubiquitous, I happen to go for this combination in my mascara (which is usually L'Oreal Voluminous, if you really want to know.) 

Sometimes, people will go for what’s a little below them because it has the dual effect of temporarily boosting their egos while also expending no intellectual or emotional energy on their part, which is not always a bad thing, though it is usually accompanied with temporary gratification and ultimately leaves them kind of bored and under-stimulated in the end.  To get to the thing that knocks your socks off typically takes a little extra work, a bit of effort, some hustle and flow.  Take MBC’s Lunch, for example.  It can be hard to find at your typical corner store, is rather pricy at $6 a bottle, and might be confusing to the palate at first, which is why many of us go for the easy-to-get and often underwhelming Budweiser; the overrated and oversweet Pumpkinhead Ale (just because it's seasonal doesn't make it better); or PBR, the beer that everyone knows and everyone makes fun of, but will still hook up with, because hell, cheap ass is still ass.   

Though my friends would receive similar ratings to MBC’s, I actually happen to have a beer palate of a five year old, which is why you will likely find me sipping on any sudsy low-end light beer, if my preferred drink of choice -- a vodka tonic -- is not available (though if you know me really well my ultimate preference would be chocolate cake).  So, let's be real here -- who am I to write about Maine Beer Company's Lunch?  All I can say is that I know a good thing when I see it. 

June 30, 2013

What's Missing from Entertainment Weekly's All-Time Greatest?

Entertainment Weekly just issued its “100 All-Time Greatest” issue, which lists the supposed greatest movies, TV shows, albums, and novels of, well, all time. In the Editor’s Note, Jess Cagle writes that “[w]e would decide what was best, without worrying whether it adhered to or violated conventional wisdom,” which included trying to “honor contemporary work that will endure for centuries to come alongside the classics.”

While I am well aware that music is as subjective as one's taste in the opposite sex (which is why many people look at me funny when I tell them my all-time celebrity crush is Tom Selleck!), as a music fanatic I couldn't help but share a few albums that I think should’ve been included in the “All-Time Greatest issue”, although for whatever reason didn’t make it there.   

So I'm just going to go out and say it.  Why the eff did not one single Steely Dan album make the list?  I realize that some do not like Steely Dan and that some may not have heard of Steely Dan (those who have not are either 12 and/or exclusively listen to whatever the Top 40 station spoon-feeds you, and for that your opinion doesn't really matter in this case.)  Most anyone who loves music, or perhaps more importantly knows music, realizes that Steely Dan is a serious band for the serious music nerd, case in point being Paul Rudd’s character in the movie Knocked Up.  His friends made fun of him for it (because that's what douche-y dudes do, but as a music producer he knew his stuff and made his case for why Steely Dan is one of the greatest bands ever). While my life changed (good art has that effect) when I really discovered Steely Dan at the age of 17 is actually pretty irrelevant here, especially since Katy Lied and Pretzel Logic are both albums that have received wide critical acclaim and beyond that are just really universally great pieces of music.  No disrespect to EW, but for these reasons, at least one of those albums should have made the list.

Whether you like hip hop or not, I was quite appalled that not a single Roots album appeared on EW's list, though I did agree with the inclusion of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The Roots are the kind of band that transcend their genre.  And by this I mean that people who don't even like hip hop happen to appreciate the Roots. But strictly on an album level, their records are the sort that encompass a very distinct mood and theme (of particular importance since EW's listing is based on greatest albums and not bands). Most notable, and missing from the list in my opinion, were Illadelph Halflife (released in 1996) and undun (released in 2011).  Both are the kind of albums that will continue to blow your mind no matter how many times you've played them over.  Listen for yourself, and you'll likely agree.

Finally, how did Al Green's Call Me (which I like, understandably) make the list, but not Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information? That album is disgustingly incredible. Released in 1974, it maintains a consistent laidback, romantic mood, while simultaneously unfolding like a novella.  As a timepiece of the 1970s, it also somehow still manages to transcend the time period. For example, I could play the album in summertime 1970s Greenwich Village or summertime 2010s Greenwich Village and in either era it would hold up as one of the great Greats. And, well, “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Aht Uh Mi Head” are easily five-star tracks, at least they are for me.

And that's all I have to say about that.

June 22, 2013

Why I Like the Big K (Where Image Isn't Everything)

Despite the narrow aisles and low ceilings, constructed for a time of skinnier people and skinnier carts, Kmart feels simultaneously spacious and airy and at the same time, from a different era.  You go there not because the prices are lower (like Walmart) or for its snazzy, trendy wares (like Target); you go there because there will be no lines, no people to run into from work, but also likely no pocket-sized Pizza Hut/Dunkin’ Donuts/Starbucks (which is neither unfortunate nor fortunate, I suppose).

At Kmart, there happen to be fewer shoppers sporting SpongeBob PJ pants and slippers, screaming kids, and the current common cold du jour than the Walmarts and Dollar Trees of yore, though it is not to say that the store doesn't cater to a humble group of folk.  At my local Kmart, for example, there happens to be a high percentage of Franco-American senior citizen shoppers with their polyester pants and carts stocked with whatever cleaning products that happen to be on sale, which provide a certain familiarity because they happen to remind me of my own late Franco-American grandmother.  
Nevertheless, while I am never particularly jazzed by the stock of goods that Kmart has to offer (things like storage bins and shampoo always seem to be just a little inflated in price and there is no particular flashy gimmick, such as the promise of a nice stash of new Essie nail polish or trendy, one-season-only apparel freshly hung on the clearance rack), there is something warm and fuzzy about the Big K, and what can I say? I am a real sucker for the warm and fuzzy.

Typically, the soundtrack at Kmart brings me straight to the late 1980s or 1990s, playing ballads from Heart or Celine Dion or even Amy Grant (I believe "Baby Baby" happened to be playing the last time I was there), and it makes me want to head straight to the coloring book aisle and pick out a little something for my former 6-year-old self. 
In its glory days, the Kmart I used to go to was a bustling destination complete with a well-stocked music department, not to mention Walkmans galore.  But the especially exciting feature at the Kmart from way back when was its in-house cafeteria, which, if you could get past the cloud of cigarette smoke, lent a delightful little reprieve to the end or middle of the Big K shopping experience.  They had every fatty, processed, nutrient-devoid dreamboat snack you could want: hot dogs, chicken fingers, French fries, various cream pies, your standard stash of handy-sized chips, and a nice selection of fountain sodas (including, I believe, Mello Yellow).  The cafeteria abutted the hair product section, which was next to the cosmetics section, which meant that the Caboodles (remember those?) were somewhere mixed in between.  How I remember this is no matter, but I loved my Caboodles almost as much as I loved my perm. 

But back to 2013.  I found myself wandering the aisles this past Saturday, well, because I needed some laundry detergent stat and because Kmart happened to be next to the record store where I picked up some Seals & Crofts (summer is when I crave the smooth '70s tunes).  And while I was there it occurred to me how grateful I was to be able to have the freedom to aimlessly wander the aisles of Kmart on a Saturday, but also how grateful I am that there is such a place in 2013 that is neither flashy, nor hipster, nor bottom-barrel cheap, nor particularly relevant, which is, quite honestly, really refreshing.  
With its underwhelming aesthetic and lack of identity, Kmart is a kind of unassuming and safe haven, much like Empty Nest (that everyone used to watch but everyone apparently forgot about besides me, it seems), or maybe it’s just where I like to spend a random hour on a random Saturday afternoon, simultaneously out in the world while also away from it.  We all need a little of that in our lives, I think.

Image credit: Pinterest

June 11, 2013

From Impure Thoughts to Thoughts of Self-Acceptance

Growing up Catholic, going to confession was a regular ritual in my family.  Once a month, my mom would drag my siblings and me to a church three towns away so we could tell a priest our sins.  Truth be told, it was equal parts humiliating, cathartic, and simply a task that was part of my Catholic upbringing.  Nevertheless, I always felt better afterward, because (a) I felt that for the 15 seconds while I did my penance in the church pew I was devoid of all human sin; and/or (b) the whole thing was over until the next month; and/or (c) we typically went out to eat afterward.

The problem with confession as I saw it was that I typically wound up confessing the same slew of sins each month, particularly the personal biggie: "impure thoughts."  When I was old enough to realize that having such impure thoughts was even a sin, I asked my mother how to confess such a thing.  My mother, being the cradle Catholic/enlightened woman that she was, had the apropos response for her precocious child:  "In that case, you say that you've had 'impure thoughts.'"  I was thankful to her for giving me the perfect catch-all for such a complex-to-me-at-the-time-kind-of-sin.

Now that I'm all grown up, I know that these "impure thoughts" are simply a fact of life that can't be erased from my mind no matter how much I try.  After all, I'm a human being with a fully functioning brain and body that are intended for making babies but which serve so many other purposes.   Now I'm not ashamed for such impure thoughts that enter my mind because it reminds me that I'm alive and thriving, and that my body is as engaged as my mind, which is a beautiful, biological thing.  

Furthermore, trying to erase thoughts of any kind only increases the potential for such thoughts to squirm back in, because that's just how the mind works.  We have an uncanny way of rebelling against ourselves, don't we?  (Well, at least I do.)  While I've evolved to know that impure thoughts are natural and acceptable, there are always other things I'm working on or striving to improve, different spiritual philosophies have taught me that self-judgment does not an enlightened mind make (a Buddhist philosphy instead of a Catholic one), which in my adulthood seem so much more logical and practicable. 

Only until we accept ourselves for our various shortcomings, weaknesses, and transgressions, et al. are we more likely to find success in changing and overcoming them, because it is upon self-acceptance that achievement in overcoming shortcomings suddenly becomes wholly and truly attainable. 

Feeling guilty about our weaknesses or failings only consumes energy that could be applied to more positive areas of our life that could by default reshape our focus away from our weak areas.  Since our bodies and minds only have so much energy, as it releases from the negative to the positive these thoughts/actions happen less often or, if you're truly a saint, not at all.  (Though who wants to have no "impure thoughts" at all?  Isn't that what makes us perhaps a little more interesting and endearing? I like to think so.)