21 Day Challenge: Update

Alright, so I’m a couple days late on reporting this. Better late than never, eh?

  • Write something every day. This ended up going pretty well! I wrote various things, from letters to blog posts and even scribbling random thoughts down on the train. To be honest, there were a few days that I chose my bed over my laptop. Overall, though, I feel like I did well! Now I’ve got a platform on which to move onward and upward.
  • Study countries to teach English in. I did a bit of research, yes, but I think I’m trusting my gut on this one – Buenos Aires is the place for me. However, I did discover something odd in this process: in looking for a possible new place to live, I’m realizing how much I love Chicago. It truly is a beautiful, bustling, fun city with so many opportunities. I know that I will travel and live somewhere else one day, but it’s also nice to know that Chicago will forever be home.
  • Drink three bottles of water a day. I’d rate myself a 5 out of 10 on this one. Some days I was GREAT at drinking water. I was a hydration machine. Others, though, I’d go almost an entire day without having even a glass of actual water. What did help was thinking about my body as a machine. If part of it was malfunctioning, I’d drink some water. If I felt I needed a boost, I’d drink some water. Other days, I needed something more “fun”, and had some hot tea or put an Emergen-C packet in my glass of water. It’s definitely something I need to improve upon.
  • Walk two mornings a week. FAIL. I barely walked at all. I sort of have an excuse: at the pleadings of my mother, I went to the podiatrist for my heel pain. They told me (a) my feet pronate 50% more than normal (my joint comes 50% out of my socket whenever I take a step, (b) I need orthotics, and (c) I broke my left foot YEARS ago and didn’t even notice, which tells you how much pain I consider normal. Now I’m fully equipped, so I guess I can start using my feet again. What I really think I need is a walking buddy; someone to pull me out of bed in the morning to do it. Who’s in?
  • Only buy groceries on Sundays. Thumbs up! I stopped buying random ingredients for an unnecessarily complicated dinner. I planned my meals (not too intricately, so as not to restrict myself) and bought reasonably-sized and portioned ingredients. For example, if I needed spinach for something, I’d include a spinach salad or garlic spinach as a side for later in the week – otherwise 2/3 of a bag would rot in my fridge! It’s been a delicious experiment – I love cooking for myself; it’s so relaxing.

So, for the most part, it’s a success! A lot to improve on still, but isn’t that life in general? A series of improvements and changes and morphology? I’d like to think so.

This weekend my mom and I are heading to Michigan to visit my brother, Patrick, at Central Michigan University, and then trekking up to one of my favorite places in the world – Mackinac Island. Expect stories and photos next week!

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Plagued by Careerism

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out my next steps in terms of my professional life. I have yet to really “choose” a field to be in, at least concretely. I feel like my mood changes every week. The only thing that stays the same is that I like to travel, cook, write, and be creative. Those things either (a) point to nothing in relation to a tangible job or (b) are so broad I could do a TON of things. Not an easy choice, I tell ya!

But I also have to keep reminding myself of this phrase: “You are not your career.” Americans (and Westerners in general, I guess) are brought up under enormous pressure to rise to the top professionally, or if not that, then at least choose a career path. It starts early – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Then onto high school, where you often take career quizzes and are deciding on college. Then, if you are lucky enough to go to college, you’re encouraged to pick a major that has the most payout, more so financially than emotionally. It’s exhausting just thinking about how long I’ve been pondering “what to do” with my life.

Of course, I find it incredible that women have more and more career capability than ever before. It’s a big win for ladies, for sure. And I’m all for women who want to be stay-at home moms and dedicate themselves to raising their children. Hell, it’s something I’m not sure I could do! To the women who “do it all”, I’m continually impressed at how you function daily, and raise my glass to you. Here’s my theoretical situation, though: if I don’t have my own business, or if I never become a CEO, or if I never have any children, or if I never get married; if I’m just a girl who, say, happily works in a coffee shop for 20 years even though she has a BA and goes home at night to a modest apartment and perhaps a cute dog – am I not an accomplished person? Do you see what I mean? It feels like I have to pick a box in order to matter. “Powerful businesswoman!” “Dedicated mom!” “Loving wife!” “Juggler of all three and somehow stays sane!” Let’s face it, we all want to matter in some way or another, be it to 100,000 or 1 person.

I guess I’m not sure why “enjoying life how you want” isn’t on the menu. You have to make yourself fit into happiness instead of embracing what already makes you happy. Like your job as a writer? You must become an editor, it’ll bring you success and that’ll make you happy. Totally in love with your boyfriend? You must get married soon, it’s the ultimate statement and that’ll make you happy. Again, I don’t think that rising up in a company or getting married are bad things – I just don’t like the feeling that an upgrade in any facet of life is an instant ticket to happiness. It’s not.

One can technically enjoy a leisurely, non-“successful” life. However, you know what words often come with that lifestyle? Lazy. Unmotivated. Dumb. Trapped. Poor. Unhappy. I’m not sure that’s fair. It’s a result of this pressure we’re brought under. If you don’t make something of yourself, you’ve lost the game. Or, worse yet, you’ve failed to take advantage of the opportunities that our society provides to you, and scorned the American dream. For shame!

I read recently about how Denmark has the best work-life balance. An average of 67% of their day is leisure time – a.k.a., time to themselves. I find that amazing! To not only have that time, of course, but to live in a culture where that is the norm. Instead of thinking, “I’ve worked hard, but I should work overtime to prove my worth as an employee”, someone may instead think, “It’s 3pm and I’ve worked hard today; I think it’s time for me to go home and rest”. And that’d be totally kosher, not lazy. Your worth is in yourself. But the inherent problem is that an American like me sees this culture differently than the rest of the world. Can an expat truly enjoy this lifestyle without taking advantage of it, or eventually having your American ambition creep up on you, leaving you feeling inadequate? Is it something only the Danes can experience?

I’m sure I’ll look back on this post in 20 years and think, “Wow, I got all worked up about nothing.” And perhaps some of you are thinking the same thing. And that’s okay. I’m just trying to figure it all out, and I don’t think I’m alone.

21 Day Challenge

Okay, so I have been doing a lot of blog-reading and not a lot of blog-writing over the past couple of weeks. The creative tank’s been a little dry, lately, but I can’t use that as an excuse, right? Just have to get out there and write, well, anything. Something.

One thing that has inspired me is the post “21 Days” from upperlyne & co. (I’m so obsessed with this blog! Whoops). I think that it might be good for me to try a little challenge of my own. Here goes nothin’:

  • Write something every day. Of course, work writing doesn’t count. I’d like to commit to writing something, be it a few thoughts of the day or a full blog post, every day of the week. I feel as though I’ve tried creating a regimented schedule for writing, but that’s almost more discouraging than a lack of creativity – you feel like something you love is a chore. However, I do think that I’m ignoring some inclinations because I’m afraid.
  • Study countries to teach English in. That’s right – I’m seriously considering teaching abroad next year! I love to travel, and I’m thinking about becoming a professor someday, so I think that this would be an “next step” for me. More on that later! I’ve already chosen South America – I want to invest in my Spanish skills. Right now my top contenders are Buenos Aires, Argentina, Santiago, Chile, and Lima, Peru. If you have experience in any of those countries, I’d love to hear about it!
  • Drink three bottles of water a day. I mean my refillable waterbottle, mind you (PSA: plastic waterbottles are a waste of resources! Don’t use them! Tap water is fine! Okay, I’m done). I’ve mildly committed to drinking more water daily, but I think that it will be helpful to have a number in mind. I am constantly feeling sluggish, have headaches, etc., and want to know if dehydration is really the reason.
  • Walk two mornings a week. It really clears my head, it’s good exercise, and I can stop at the Farmer’s market!
  • Only buy groceries on Sundays. I need to be more stern with myself in terms of buying food. I’m addicted to eating out and grocery shopping, and it eats away at most of my paycheck. I love food, though, so I’m thinking of this more as an opportunity to spend time in my kitchen and work on my cooking skills.

I’m keeping my motivation high by remembering that this is all about making me a better person, and as Juley says, being kinder to myself. I’ll check in on October 8 to update. Do you have any goals you’d like to push yourself towards?

Sin City: Part I

Almost immediately after I returned from my Colorado trip, my boyfriend Sam and I started planning for our short excursion to Las Vegas. We apparently have a hankering for party cities – our last trip was to New Orleans – but we swear we’re not really party people. I honestly thought it sounded like fun and it was reputedly a great weekender trip. That’s all you need! And it was; though I would not rule out another trip to experience everything I missed. Here’s everything we did do, though.

We caught an early morning July 4th flight from Midway in an effort to squeeze out as much time of the vacation as possible, not to mention to try and beat the holiday crowds. When we touched down in the dry tundra that is the desert, our plane had to stand for a moment before docking, and our flight attendants asked us to close our window shades to prevent it from getting too hot. At that point, I started chugging water for fear of dissolving in the Vegas sun.

Rolling into the Monte Carlo at 10:30 am turned out to be a smart move. We finagled our way into a 19th floor room with a view of the strip. Tip: get to the hotel early, and don’t hesitate to ask for a upgraded room – if you don’t say anything, you probably won’t get anything other than what you were expecting. They’ve gotta fill all the rooms they can. Worst thing they can do is say no! Anyways. After admiring our view and settling in, we immediately walked around the hotel to get our bearings. I’ve never been to a casino before, and now I can say that my standards are set high. It seems like a never-ending room full of blinking machines and people slinging cards in uncomfortable tuxedos. At all hours of the day, you could find people gambling, although there were certainly different crowds at 3pm and 3am.

First Vegas meal was to Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris Paris. Another tip: if you’re going around a holiday like us, make reservations for dinner ahead of time! Even though July is low season for Vegas, the streets were still stuffed with people, and wait times were horrendous. Luckily I had done a bit of researched and snagged us an outside table at 6:30 pm. My boyfriend and I dove straight into the booze (appropriate) after we had safely hydrated. White wine and IPA, stat!

Sam and I enjoying our first Vegas libations.
Sam and I enjoying our first Vegas libations.

Sam ordered the Trout Amandine with brown butter and almonds. The one forkful I got was very succulent and savory. I had the Mussels Mariniere, which were soaked in a white wine herb sauce and came with fries. Absolutely to die for. Although,  I did have a wardrobe tragedy mid-meal. Whilst picking a delicious morsel from a mussel shell, my fork slipped and I splashed the marinade all over my brand-new dress. I booked it to the bathroom, seltzer water in hand, and scrubbed as hard as I could, although it didn’t do much. Ah, the price of decadence.  The best thing about this restaurant, though? Across the street were the Bellagio fountains. Dinner and a show, indeed! The view made up for my dress disaster.

Can this get any more gorgeous? Cue "Claire de Lune".
Can the Bellagio get any more gorgeous? Cue “Claire de Lune”.

After dinner, I dragged Sam to Walgreen’s to get a bottle of Dawn (a lifesaver for grease stains!) so I could do a little dress damage control. There was no way this number wasn’t seeing a night out in Vegas! Our side trip shortened our first event of the night: Fun on the Fourth at the Stratosphere. We were led up to the pool on the 8th floor, where there was a live band. Things were definitely dwindling down – it was an older crowd than we anticipated – but we made it just in time for the fireworks! Of course, in true unpredictable fashion, it started to pour buckets (for the first time in four months!) two minutes after the show started. Many locals were rejoicing in the storm, as the West has been suffering through a terrible drought. It actually worked perfectly for me as well. My dress was splotched from my stain rubbing, and now I could just blame it on the rain!

About 4.7 seconds before it started to pour.
About 4.7 seconds before it started to pour.

Now comes the part I am a bit ashamed of: we then went to Tao Nightclub at The Venetian for…wait for it…Khloe Kardashian’s birthday party. Okay. It’s out there now. I had heard that she was throwing a 30th birthday bash about a week before we left for Vegas. After much cajoling, my ever-so wonderful Samuel nervously agreed to go to the party. How can you not attend an event like that, though? Nothing like this happens in Chicago! Plus, I have a Kardashian vice, and I figured if I was going to give into my vices, Vegas was the place to do it. We arrived to see throngs of people dancing, drinking, and wearing very Kardashian-like outfits. High heels and lip gloss abound. We immediately grabbed a shot and a drink and squeezed onto the dance floor. Of course, Khloe did not show up until about 1am, so we had a couple hours of good ol’ dancing before the madness began. Once she (and her new boyfriend French Montana – I am paining myself with this knowledge) arrived, the crowd pushed in her direction and never really stopped. Phones were flashing as a large cake and Vegas dancers made their way to the Kardashian Korner (I’m so sorry). Sam and I lasted about 30 minutes before we had to get out of there. I had gotten a few decent photos for proof, and had a fresh stiletto heel in my toe, and thus it was time to go.

The best I could do with an old Iphone and several sweaty rows of fangirls away.
The best I could do with an old Iphone and several sweaty rows of fan girls away.

Next up in the Vegas saga: lazy rivers, Cirque du Soleil, huge frozen drinks, and Club XS. Stay tuned!

Motivation

mural

Sometimes I get discouraged when I’m creative. “What’s the point?” I think. What purpose will this serve? There’s probably several pieces similar to it in the world. No one is going to randomly stumble upon it and deem it the smartest thing they’ve ever encountered. I may not even think that myself.

Then I saw this painting, which may be the oldest landscape art in the world. The person who did that also did not have a purpose. There were not museums, nor the notion of fame (for art, at least), and possibly not even the full comprehension of creativity itself. He or she just wanted to. That’s all.

It’s oddly encouraging. You don’t need to have purpose in order to do something. I struggle with this every day.

I’ve been told that I like things in boxes. My friends, my boyfriend, my family, my things. I like knowing where things are and whether or not I can rely on them in certain situations. I guess this is a way to create security in my life – but shouldn’t that already be there without me having to ensure it? As in, shouldn’t my choices reflect security? I’m not entirely sure that’s my responsibility.

I’ve also been told that I don’t need boxes. But how else do I go about my life? Without knowing what to expect? Without being caught off guard? Maybe it’s just a matter of letting go of that fear, though. Of the possibility of losing someone or something; of something not turning out the way I wanted. Of control, really.

Sometimes you write or paint or sing or walk or talk to a stranger simply because you feel like it. An endpoint isn’t the motivator; nothing is. It’s just something you do as a human. I think that may be what life is about.

Coke Spies

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It’s known to all of my close friends and family that I am a Coca-Cola addict (from here on out, I claim the right to use “Coke” without the obvious drug joke! Get your laughs out now!) I frequently tell people that quite literally owe the delicious soda my life. You see, my parents both worked for and met at the Coke Company Headquarters in Atlanta, GA (where I was born and raised). It was only recently that I discovered what exactly they did at the company, and boy was it an amazing story!

Immediately after graduating college, my parents, both free of any real commitment, moved to Atlanta to work at Coke. However, they weren’t in the city for long. Coca-Cola was looking to investigate several establishments across the U.S. for misuse of the brand name. If someone were to ask for a Coke at a restaurant, but they were served another cola product, that’s illegal! My parents were given a company car and drove all over America to flesh out these investigations. COKE SPIES!

Here’s a typical day-in-the-life of a Coke Spy: they would arrive at a bar or restaurant, usually with a newspaper in tow, and immediately ordered a coke. Then, using the newspaper as a shield, they poured some of the coke into a plastic bag and put it away. They would usually linger at the establishment for a bit, then head back to their hotel. There they would have test tubes at the ready for the cola samples. After pouring the Coke into the tubes, they would mail it back to headquarters. If the results came back negative (not Coke), then they would have to go back to the establishment with a corporate representative and tell them that they were being sued by the Coke Company unless they took immediate action.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason why waiters and waitresses have to say “Is Pepsi okay?”.

Is that not an amazing story? For 50 weeks of the year, my parents would roam the country, expenses paid, and tasted Coke for a living. This is essentially my dream job. If it were still available, I would do it in a millisecond. Wouldn’t you?

Genealogy Kick

Recently I found that Ancestry.com has a two-week free trial going on right now. I’ve always been curious about my family. I’ve been told stories, but much like the game of telephone, I’ve always wondered whether or not those words were the truth. So, I got myself a temporary account.

It’s exhausting but fun to create your family tree! The website finds “hints” (little green leaves) for each person you add to their tree. These hints are documents or other trees that may be related to your family member. Then you find out who their parents were, and their parents’ parents, etc…it’s fascinating.

Sometimes, though, you can hit a dead end with a family member who has scant information available about them. The farthest I’ve gotten so far is on my mom’s mother’s side. I got all the way back to the 1600s! And guess what I discovered?

I have ancestors that were on the MAYFLOWER! Turns out that Samuel Fuller, a pilgrim, is my 7th great-grandfather. Be still, my historically-inclined heart. We’re old stock! Now all I want to do is visit Plymouth and find my ancestors’ graves.

I only have about 9 more days with my free trial, so I’m still searching fervently. Anyone who has a bit of free time and a lot of curiosity about their roots should definitely try it out!