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!

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.

Te Echo De Menos

Translation: I miss you.

It was three years ago this week that I embarked on what would become the best adventure of my life to date: living and studying in Madrid, Spain. I met some of the best people in my life while I was there. I also learned a lot about myself, independence, and traveling. Though I’m not going to be one of those study abroad people (“I’m so cultured now!”), I really do think that this trip changed me for the better. I’m feeling nostalgic, so I’d love to share some of my photos and relive the memories.

320520_2444743873337_1802979977_n First off: food! Classic drinks and tapas. It’s customary to serve free “snacks” with drinks in Spain. This bar was “El Tigre”, and is more or less known as an expat bar – but it was a great place to start the night. And hey, we were expats, after all. They had the biggest, cheapest mojitos and sangria (see on the left). They were so sweet, you couldn’t place your straw on the bottom of the cup without sucking up a lump of sugar!

292052_2400898697235_1250303752_nMy friend (now a “bset frienf” – inside joke – more later) Katie overlooking Barcelona. I was lucky enough to go to Barcelona twice on my trip – once with my study abroad group, and once with my mom. I am behind this camera and struggling to breathe, as I had a terrible sinus infection at the time. I made it through the daytime, but could not get out of bed at night. So I missed out on some crazy evenings! But I did get to spend some time in my cozy hotel bed watching “Biutiful”. *sobs*

308970_2378377534220_963140575_nA photo I love of my friend and Madrid roommate, Colleen. I adore all of the colors from the candy stand. We were in beautiful Malaga, where the sun shines forever and the Andaluces are friendly. Colleen’s friend Maricarmen lives there, and her family graciously housed us for a couple of days.

293467_2378367013957_469933157_nHer family was very, very gracious, indeed. Look at all the food they gave us for dinner! Look at those shrimp! Manchego cheese! We were in heaven. I should also note that I gave up my pescatarianism while I was in Spain. Didn’t want to give my beloved Señora a hard time.

317699_2421037560694_1445086217_nAlthough there were nights where my pescatarianism fared just fine. This is a beautiful dinner my Señora prepared for us one night: spinach, bean, and calamari soup, Spanish tortilla, and sauteed mushrooms. We also often had “tinto de verano” with dinner, which is basically red wine soda and was my life nectar. I wish they sold it here!

321660_2444773194070_599974808_nThis is Toledo, which is not far from Madrid. It is a quintessential Spanish town – stony streets, tiled roofs, churches everywhere, and Spaniards waltzing around with their hands behind their backs. We did a day trip there, and it was one of my favorite side trips – we saw a few of the main sights, but mostly just wandered around. We ended the day at a small cafe on a random street with wine, beer, and tapas. It was perfect.

305400_2444761273772_1172239121_nThis is one of my top five favorite photos of the trip. This is on Puente de San Martín (San Martín Bridge), which provided breathtaking views of the Tagus River and surrounding landscape. And my friends are admiring it so.

406414_2891087191641_785946966_nMy friends and I also took a day to hike the Sierra de Guadarrama, a mountain range outside of Madrid. It was a grey, cloudy day, but it was surreal. Earlier we had eaten sandwiches by a creek, and my water bottle was full with water from the creek. At this moment we were listening to “Love Is All” by The Tallest Man on Earth and it almost brought me to tears.

390034_2576621930206_521298202_nNow we’re on the campus of the University of Salamanca in, you guessed it, Salamanca. We had a weekend trip there as well and were on a tour of the school, which is the third oldest in Europe (founded in 1134!). This is one of the artier photos that I took. I’m not even sure where this Dalmatian came from. I hope he got lots of pets that day.

389570_2877709697212_743335467_nMy mother came to visit during Thanksgiving week. She’d backpacked through Europe when she was my age, but she’d never been to Spain! We spent part of our afternoon strolling around Retiro, the largest park in Madrid. This is just outside the Palacio de Cristal, which is a glass castle of sorts. There’s an incredibly peaceful pond just outside of the palace, and we watched the ducks. We had also bought new hats and were very proud of them (mine was unfortunately later stolen off of my sleeping head on a bus from Manchester, England to London – the nerve!).

397663_2877714777339_942255138_nFor Thanksgiving Dinner, we dined the oldest restaurant in the WORLD, Botín! Of course, we had to get a souvenir pitcher of wine.

405631_2877719337453_1823509663_nAs I mentioned, we took a short trip to Barcelona, and perused the glory of La Boqueria – a huge market on La Rambla. It was so colorful and aromatic I could barely stand it. Not to mention the abundance of delicious fresh food. Makes you feel lucky.

394824_2877740817990_1222163445_nThen we trekked back up the hill to visit Parque Güell, an artistic masterpiece of a park. This is a tile creation on the ceiling of an underpass. Incredible, isn’t it?

396056_2881825120095_2018336794_nThis. This is my group. These are my people. I can’t think for one second about this trip without being grateful for them. We were a tight-knit group from the get-go. We did everything together. I am still friends with every one of these people, and we still get together over tapas to remember our adventures together. They’re indispensable to me!

377005_2881857640908_966312389_nOh Madrid, how I miss thee.

Home Office Inspiration: An Update

I failed you all in that I did not take a picture of my table before it was finished. Maybe I have a stray photo of it in the background somewhere, but I don’t want to burden you with sub-par photography.

Anyways, here’s what I’ve done with my little office nook:

10617085_559726744155960_191029603_n

Things that I changed:

  • There used to be a Lazy Susan where the catch-all box is. That Lazy Susan is now in my fridge as a little condiment merry-go-round (so helpful; would recommend). This little catch all is filled with my thank-you notes, stamps, envelopes, my camera, and my gold tacks for my inspiration board.
  • My gold four-leaf clover was originally up on my bookcase. I liked it here, though, as a setting for my jasmine tea candles. ~*serenity now*~
  • French press coffee. It’s where it’s at. It’s a little weekend treat for me.
  • So many things on this desk are Dollar Store finds: the gold tacks, the mason jar, the candy dish, and the Rolos in the candy dish. Everything else I already had in my house. Score!
  • Before, I used to use the entire table as a catch-all: random books, old receipts, scarves, sweaters, and dirty coffee cups were strewn about. I made a commitment to keeping the clutter out of this space. And you know what? It totally makes it more inviting. I now eat at this table more often than I eat in front of the TV, which was a prior bad habit of mine. Hoping this sticks!

I’ll show you my inspiration board as well. In due time! ‘Til then…

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?

Home Office Inspriation

I’ve been in desperate need of writing and creativity lately, and this poor little blog keeps getting abandoned. I want to spend more time with it, and with you – if you’re out there. So I’ve decided that I should try making a writing space that is more inviting and stylish.

I resigned my lease for another year in charming Lincoln Square, and couldn’t be happier. I love my studio. But there is a definite lack of space, and I do not have the luxury of an extra room, or even a corner, to designate as my office. So I’ve been using my kitchen table for a year. Not very inspiring right? “In her early years, Maureen would sit at her wobbly kitchen table and churned out her beautiful first novel.”

No.

But, with the lack of space, this will have to do. And thus I have decided to work with what I’ve got, and use my creativity to turn this room into an office / eating area hybrid. I’ll be posting inspirational pieces on here as I go, and I’ll do a before-and-after once it’s finished!

everygirl-juley-le-2

This post on The Everygirl (a favorite of mine) about Juley Le (her blog is also a favorite of mine) and her life/career/office really kicked off this idea for me. I love a clean, fresh look with lots of natural light and metallic accents. Got any ideas? Send them my way!

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!