quarter life crisis Archives - Stratejoy
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I have some great news. Like life-changing news. I’m kind of surprised and giddy – and definitely ecstatic as I’m writing this.

You know how we’ve all been searching for purpose – spending our time journaling, blogging, reading and thinking about these big transitions in our lives?

Some of us have put it into words and others have just implied it, but we’re all searching for an “ah-ha” moment – the kind where we see a light shining through the fog of uncertainty. Where choirs of angels sing hallelujah and we suddenly have a whole life plan planted in our brains by some divine intervention.

Well that may be a tad dramatic, but hey if you didn’t already know this about me – I kind of have a flair for the dramatic. {Don’t judge me!}

Anywho, I’ve very recently had one of those coveted “ah-ha” moments. And now that I’m past it, I can’t even believe I didn’t see this sooner.

I’m not sure I would have gotten here if it weren’t for doing all the wrong things leading up to it. So now I can celebrate those things instead of regretting mistakes and missteps in my path thus far. I can’t tell you what that does for my sanity.

I feel lighter. I feel happier. I feel a little less lost in the big world with no idea where to go.

I’d been feeling like I was on the verge of this since I’d started blogging here at Stratejoy – I even told Molly so when we were discussing Elevate. It was so close I could almost taste it, but then it simultaneously seemed like I was never going to get there.

And then I did. And no choirs sang or lights shone. No secret life plan magically appeared. But with this clarity came peace.

Leading up to this, I’d spent a ton of time thinking about things that make me light up. The things I really enjoy doing that I could possibly turn into a career. It ended up being a decent sized list, but many of them aren’t things I actually want to pursue for one reason or another.

Next I made a list of the things I want out of life – I know I want to travel, have flexible work hours, possibly work for myself at some point, and I want to feel like I’m helping others. I want to empower someone else to improve their own life, especially women and young girls.

I feel really strongly about this particular demographic because I grew up with low self-esteem. I know what it feels like to feel bad about yourself, how hard it is to change when you don’t have a positive female role model who you really relate to.

Even into adulthood I’ve struggled with knowing who I am, what I want and how to love myself even when I don’t know the answers to these things.

I’ve longed to be a woman who felt she belonged in the world and had some positive contribution to the world. I want to change lives – and not because I want some glory or admiration for myself. This isn’t about me.

I want to show young girls and other women that their lives matter. That being comfortable in their own skin and taking good care of themselves is far better than chasing the latest trend and trying to be someone else.

I want to be a model of a woman who loves herself, who finds joy in ordinary places, who celebrates her individuality – and I want to pay it forward.

So what exactly was this “ah-ha” moment, you ask? Because I know I’ve been leading you on a little bit. And that is somewhat intentional and somewhat not. I’m not holding back for dramatic effect, but rather I’m indulging my natural tendency for storytelling.

I never realized this about myself until I was writing on a fairly regular basis. I’m not usually someone who can write informally and just pour out my thoughts. I’m a storyteller. I can see it when I look back over my posts thus far on Stratejoy, and on my personal blog. So this post will be no different.

I remember being in nursing school and absolutely hating it. I am completely enthralled with the human body and all that it is capable of. I could read for hours about the intricacies of each system and how they are all so interconnected. The problem, for me, arises when the focus turns to treating disease in the human body.

After I finished my bachelor’s in nursing, I thought that public health would be a good fit for me. It was less focused on the patient lying in the bed and more on the population as a whole. Public health focuses on preventing disease or restoring health after disease, but again it is on a broad scale – focusing on improving the health of the population.

This was better than nursing for me, but it still didn’t feel quite right.

After all this soul searching, talking to close friends, sharing with all of you and journaling my little rear end off – it clicked.

I’m passionate about wellness. I want to help individuals prevent diseases caused by poor diet, lack of exercise and high stress levels. I want to help young girls make health a priority and develop habits that will carry into adulthood.

I’m never more impassioned that when I’m discussing my latest workout regimen, sharing how to eat a cleaner diet, or thinking up ways to alleviate stress.

I haven’t settled on a specific job yet, but I have a ton of ideas.

Maybe I’ll work in corporate wellness – designing programs to encourage wellness behaviors and working with individual employees to achieve them. Maybe I’ll open my own gym or wellness center in the future. Maybe I’ll start a running group in my city. Maybe I’ll found a non-profit that focuses on the health of younger girls and gets them moving.

Who knows. But I’m excited to explore all these options, set some goals and get started.

Cue the angels, please!

Image via: Flickr

On January 28, 2006 I packed up my green ’99 Dodge Caravan with a few of my belongings, picked up my best friend and drove from my home in Rhode Island all the way to Los Angeles. One of the boxes in my van held dozens of bound spec scripts that I was convinced would play an integral part in me becoming the next Tina Fey.

On July 1, 2006 my mini van crossed the Rhode Island border, still filled with my worldly possessions, my best friend and my box of scripts. We weren’t there to visit; we were there to stay.

We didn’t get in a fight, we didn’t go broke and there was no family emergency back home…so why did we leave?

Love.

Ugh.

We had both become romantically involved with two guys right before we were leaving for LA. My friend started dating her dude a couple months before we left. My boy? Oh, it was just the guy I had been obsessed with since high school and thought I had NO CHANCE IN HELL WITH EVER. Seriously. He was that guy – the one you have to build up courage to talk to and when you finally do, you say something really awkward that you regret for days afterward. So yeah, that guy finally decided he liked me back…ONE WEEK before I moved across the country. Perfect timing, Andy. Truly impeccable.

My friend and I didn’t really date many people before that point, so we weren’t just going to ditch our LA plans for a couple of guys we liked. We were strong independent women and we were going to do something awesome!

…Yeah, that mentality lasted approximately two seconds and then for t/he entire time we were in California, we just missed our men folk. It was really exciting and really annoying all at the same time. Going to Los Angeles was my plan…I was going to move out there and write for sitcoms. That was all I cared about and I never considered love or starting a family or anything “boring” like that.

Well, I have a funny thing to tell you, kids: Love always wins.

Not only did my friend and I move back home for love, we both ended up marrying those guys. My friend has two beautiful children and I have a 10-year-old stepson and an insane dog that I cradle like a baby. Things have a weird way of working out.

Let me preface my next statement by saying that if I had to go back and make the decision again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am a wife and stepmother and I honestly never really knew that was going to be in the cards for me. However, that little twist that life threw my way really confused the heck out of me for the next few years.

The issue? I still wanted to be a comedy writer. A real, big-time comedy writer for a movie or a TV show or something really rad. It all seemed so possible and so within my reach when I was living in Los Angeles. Settling down in Rhode Island made me feel like I had to give up entirely on that vision…and it sucked.

Let’s be honest…it still sucks.

“But, Mary – won’t your husband move to California with you? Doesn’t he support your dreams?”

Yes, my husband would actually love to move to California. He lived there until he was 12 years old and all he talks about is going back. One slight issue, though – he has a son. And his son has a mother that lives in Rhode Island. And his son isn’t going to move across the country because daddy’s wife wants to write funny things. So we stay here because my stepson is actually really cool and my husband loves his son more than California.

I’m doing what I know needs to be done, but it doesn’t mean I have to be thrilled about it. I have just had a lot of trouble translating my dreams in to something that the smallest state in the Union can actually offer me. My quarter life crisis has stemmed from me trying to find something as fulfilling career-wise that I felt comedy writing was going to be for me.

It’s been a long road of failed jobs and total confusion, but you know where those last six years of craziness have led me? Back to being a writer. Go figure. Not a comedy writer, mind you, but at least I think I’m finally headed back in the right direction. You can’t fight against doing what you’re meant to do…it has a sneaky way of finding you again when you least expect it.

{Image via Fotopedia}

In the interest of being honest and open, I have a confession to make: I am a total creeper.

I am the queen of hunting down everyone’s personal business on Facebook, being in awe of savvy entrepreneurs on Twitter and reading blogs that I never comment on. I am a member of many communities, and an active participant in none.

But I want to be.

The majority of my creeping has involved studying and admiring the lives of freelancers for the past two years. It was a life I knew I wanted for myself, but was too scared to embrace fully. I reached a point a few months ago where I realized that I was ready. My good friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor in February and has been in the hospital fighting for her life ever since. The diagnosis and resulting surgery were so sudden that no one, including her, had time to even process what was happening. I realized that everything that has happened to her could easily happen to me, and if it did, how happy would I be with what I’ve accomplished? How long can you live your life in fear before you realize that enough is enough?

Well, I’ve had enough. I gave my notice at my current 9-5 job and as of September 1, I can officially call myself a full time freelance writer. I’m nervously excited, but I am not afraid. It feels like the weight of the world has been lifted off of my shoulders. September 1 also began my quest to lose 100lbs. I have been big for my entire life, except for 7 years ago when I lost 80lbs. I was so proud…and then I gained it all back, plus 20 more pounds for good measure. I have spent the last few years beating myself up mentally and obsessing about where I went wrong and how horrible people must think I am. I am stuck in the past now, reminiscing about “the time I was thin.” I don’t want to be thin – I want to be healthy and most of all, happy. I want to stop trying to find happiness in a Burger King drive-thru.

For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like I’m sitting around waiting for my life to happen. And it feels daaaaamn good.

In entering this new phase of my life, I also realize that I need a support system. I have wonderful husband (married 1 year in November!), family and friends, but sometimes you need a group that knows exactly what you’re going through. I’ve never been one to freely share my feelings with the world, but I want to. I think it’s an important step that will help me grow as a person. Stratejoy was the first website I found when I was going Google-crazy, trying to figure out if I was nuts for being unhappy with my current situation. “Quarter life crisis” wasn’t even a phrase that was in my vocabulary at the time, but when I started reading the stories of all the amazing women on this website, I felt like I was in the right place. Without even knowing it, you all have given me hope over the last two years while I creeped around Stratejoy silently.

I want to pay it forward and give someone else hope. I want to be friends with all of you and be an active member of your positive online community. My new endeavor has me working from home and I don’t want to feel like I have no one to talk to as I make these huge changes in my life. I consider being a Stratejoy blogger as my own personal form of therapy, and I hope it will be for others along the way, too.

“Ain’t gonna hang my hat

Ain’t gonna take off my boots

Ain’t nothing gonna stop me in my pursuit

My stage, time to rehearse

Gonna see all the wonders of the universe”

         ~Imani Coppola

Don’t think that just because we all blogged here for 5 months, our lives are magically just amazeballs. This is not the end of a romantic comedy (unfortunately – I honestly have the worst bedhead EVA and dream of waking up all shiny and coiffed!) I still procrastinate, over-think most dilemmas, am trying to get the ball rolling faster on my business, and freak out when Mr. Paul Child says “I have an idea…” or “I think this model car would look great over here with your ::fill in the blank::” (Seriously, when will the plethora of model cars end?! They multiply like flipping bunnies!) . My point is, that being apart of Stratejoy has been a blessing I never could have imagined, but it’s not a magic cure, it is a way of life.

Changing your thinking and getting out of the negative is hard. We all put up defenses and try to battle the anger and resentment, that we usually have for ourselves. We aren’t perfect, though, (I just heard my fellow type-A’s ever where sigh in pain) and trying to be is pointless.

Over the past few months we have lived this way of life because we had to come here, to you, our tribe, and report on how we were applying it. Good, bad and ugly. It’s hard sometimes to be positive and to show up every week. And my crying face is really ugly. But the good times, the moments when we have a revelation or something good happens, or we eat an awesome cookie and drink some wine with best friends, those are becoming more important, more cherished, and happily, more often.

With each week of writing here, I got stronger. I became a better version of myself, because I started to love myself and value my talents. My mother always tells me to “change my thought,” when there is something that I don’t want to do or if I’m stuck in a negative way of thinking. Every week, my thought started to change, coming here to a community of support and encouragement. All our readers are amazing and hopefully, we gave you something new to think about or a sister in QLC to relate to.

I would be nothing without the support of Mr. Paul Child, my friends & family, and my new family (my Stratejoy loves)!

Molly – I never dreamed when I first started reading Stratejoy, that I would be a Stratejoy alum. I love that this is a positive and inclusive site. We are beaten down every day with ideas and images that make us feel less and this is a place where we leave feeling whole and happy. I am so honored to have been selected to grow in front of the tribe and let them see everything that happened, even my terrible camping trip.

Katie- The right hand of Stratejoy. The lovely lady who has to edit my at the last minute posts and never once complained. THANK YOU! If we haven’t said it enough, you are amazeballs at what you do! Scrapple date soon?!

Arielle – The first person to post on everyone’s blog posts! Fedora wearing awesome cheerleader! I have a feeling that you are going to create your own career. I just see all the amazeballs-ness of your energy concentrating into a beautiful bang. And I’ll be there to celebrate with you, drinking wine and eating graham crackers.

Caiti – Your sweet honesty and hope made me weep with you, and want the world for you and your husband. I look forward to seeing you build your family and the career that you are so focused on creating, on your terms. Please smuggle Irish butter back for me. ;o)

Jill- You are so flipping funny. Love that you have talked about sex, your vagina, and picking your nose. It’s honest and truthful and we all can relate. I hope that your strength and humor will continue in a blog, so that I can laugh and nod and think “damn! I feel the same way!” Kick life in the nuts and be the brave biotch I know you are!

Camila – I want to sit and drink a cup of tea and talk about natural health with you so badly! I am so excited for you to have an incredible wedding and build an amazing life in Portland with your lovely new hubby! Will you be my doula someday?

Cassie- You are sunshine on a cloudy day! Your joy for life sparkles through your posts. I’m hope that I get to go to a Pixar movie someday that is inspired and/or written/drawn (I know it’s mostly computer now, but you could go retro and draw it!) by you! Please keep me up to date on the new boy and all your art/illustration/writing. ;o)

Sarah- Motherhood scares me, but you have taken a lot of my fear regarding it, away. All of the awesome steps you took for yourself, lets me know that being a mom, doesn’t mean you aren’t an incredible person who is still growing individually too.

I feel so blessed. I feel so strong. I feel so happy. And I thank you all for reading, supporting, commenting, laughing and loving with me.

I’ll be blogging on my own site, writing about food and living in a small town again, running a farm bakery, starting my own pastry business on the side, and traveling with my love Mr. Paul Child. Is it cheesy to write KIT on our yearbooks?

www.croissantinthecity.com

My coming soon pastry business

www.pistolwhippedpastry.com

Twitter: @CroissantITC

 

**A Note From Katie: Rachel, you gorgeous, awesome, amazing woman, you! It started off to where I wanted to meet you because of what I’m sure are amazing cooking skills. But, as I got to know you more and more through your posts, I’m all but 100% certain that we’d be incredible friends. I mean, people who actually LIKE Scrapple? Come on. It’s a no brainer.

I’ve loved all of your posts this season. Seriously. Every. Single. One. I’ve loved hearing about your past, about what you’re going through now, and what you’re going to be planning on in the future. You’ve been completely honest, even when the honesty wasn’t pretty and glittery. 

I adore every hair on your pretty head, and can’t wait for our Scrapple date.

-Katie

Bonus points if you know what movie my title is from!

How has your perspective shifted over the past five months? How have you grown?
: I feel a lot more relaxed about the present and the future. In the past I’ve always felt a need to be in control of my life and the way it’s unfolding, but realizing that the best things happen when I’m not obsessively plotting my life out, I just don’t feel the need to be nutters about it anymore. I’m never going to be a uber skinny chick, who has everything figured out, I don’t care what people think about me, and I’m okay with that. I’m happy with who I am, in my skin, and with the amazing things that are developing in my life.

What do you wish you’d known before you started your QLC journey?
: That everything is going to be okay. Everything susses out, and usually, it’s better than I could have imagined. As a type-A control freak overachiever, you think that you can control everything through sheer will…yeah, no. But life seems to get easier, the more you loosen your death grip on controlling it. Also, adding crème de menthe to my oreo cupcakes frosting was an amazeballs idea I’d wish I’d known sooner!


What are you going to continue to work on after Season 6?
:
I am going to work on my own blog and really accepting that I have something valuable to say. Putting myself out there. And then, building my business.

What little things in life right now make your toes curl with happiness?  Big things?: Building my business, Pistol Whipped Pastry, and finally being in a place where I am able to do so. My lovely boyfriend, Mr. Paul Child. Writing and photographing food. Having flour all over me as I squish bread dough between my fingers. Talenti fresh mint chip gelato. Living two hours from San Diego, so I can hit up delicious farmers markets and vintage shops. Color me rad 5K run I’m doing in San Diego next month. Coffee first thing in the morning. Getting paid to create a farm bakery program. Bad reality tv shows. Good Arizona wine. Amazing food. The hilarity of my niece, Buggy.

In the movie of your life, who would you want to play YOU?
: Kate Walsh or Sandra Bullock.

What goodies (books/music/travel/quotes/ideas…) have you found over the past few months that are helping your inspiration and creativity?
: Stratejoy Fierce Love course (I am seriously in this mode of “why the hell has it taken me this long to realize how amazeballs it is to truly love yourself”). Danielle LaPorte’s The Fire Starter Sessions (making my thought process expand and contemplate all different things in my life right now). Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life (to inspire my new farm venture). Stuck iPad app (this is an awesome way to start to think about your problems in new ways, to get unstuck).

If you were able to start over and start blogging for Stratejoy right now, what would your “Goals” post look like? What do you hope to accomplish by the end of 2012? How is it the same/different from your “Goals” post from earlier this year?

: I honestly think that my goals would be the same, or pretty close to it. Mr. Paul Child and I are living together now, so that wouldn’t be a worry, but the rest, I’m still working on. I gained so much being a blogger for Stratejoy.com. I promised myself at the beginning of this to be brutally honest with myself and in my posts, and it’s definitely helped me start to work my mind out of the process of extreme censoring myself and worrying what people will think.

By the end of 2012, I want to have my blog running on a schedule, so that I am posting often, and to build up my followers. I have had some articles published in magazines but I’m working on expanding and getting some new freelance work. Plus, I’m still working on my Fierce Love course. I’m in a place now where I can start my online business, and I’m so excited to get it rolling! Plus my new job running a farm bakery and shop…yeah, I’m going to be busy!

I think my goals are still in the same stroke as when we began blogging. I feel like my biggest change is just relaxing into my life and my own skin, and it feels amazeballs.

Name 5 things you absolutely positively could not live without.: Mr. Paul Child. Coffee. Camera. My recipe/journal notebook. Butter.

Who are your top 3 celebrity crushes of the moment?: Vince Vaughn. 

Anthony Bourdain. David Chang (chef at Momofuku in NYC).

If you had to dedicate your life to one cause for your life, what would it be? Why?

: Teaching people how to cook amazing, simple foods. With obesity and so much processed food in the world, we need to get back to real food that has been touched by human hands.

What is one of your favorite memories?: My friend Christina had a bunch of us over to her house, where her mom who is Vietnamese-born, cooked an amazing meal for us. We just sat around for hours talking, drinking, eating…those are my favorite times with my friends. So relaxed and intimate. And, hello, our favorite things, food and drinks! I’m missing my friends and those moments right now, being in a new town, so they have been on my mind a lot lately.

What’s your hidden talent?

: Procrastination, and then utilizing that procrastination to my advantage, as Procrastination Girl, who turns out better work with a deadline looming and while sporting a pink bejeweled cape!

What was the last book you read that made an impact on you, and what effect did it have?

: The Fire Starter Sessions by: Danielle LaPorte It totally rocked my world and made me realize that I have to keep plugging at it, even when it feels like people, circumstances, things are against me.

What quote best represents you or motivates you in your current place in life?

: “You time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~ Steve Jobs  Basically, this sums up what I’ve been working on…being who I want to be instead of who everyone else wants me to be.

What are three things that you are totally obsessed with right now?: The shabby chic chicken coop currently being built on the farm. All my bread tests. Gearing up to start writing and cooking/baking for my blog Croissant in the City.

What is one thing you’d like to change about the world?

: I’d like to have people be more open-minded. I live my life a certain way and everyone else has their own unique version of how they choose to live their life. We don’t have to agree with each other, but I’m so sick of people saying that they are open-minded, and then turning around and bashing my beliefs in public (sorry, facebook, sometimes you do actually suck!). And, please, use your damn turn signal, please?!

If there is one gift you could give to a stranger, what would it be?: Kindness. There have been incredible moments in my life where I haven’t known the person, but they have shown me such kindness that I always remember it and try to do the same for others.

If super heroes are real (and they are), what super power would you have?

: I would want to fly…then I would never have to go to the airport, wait in line, be herded into tiny spaces, or pay $15 for a soggy sandwich ever again!

What do you see when you look into your own eyes?: A wild west pastry queen.

What songs are you loving right now?: Damn, Jill, I’m right there with you, loving “Call Me Maybe?” It’s so wrong but so right! UGH! However, it makes me think of 4th of July with all my cousins and my sister, before my incredible cousin, Seth, left for the Navy (GO NAVY!) and we were all together, singing this song, drinking vodka and lime-aids…good night!

“Takin’ Pills” by: Pistol Annies.

Anything by Puscifer or Clutch.

“Good Feeling” by: Flo Rida

“Perfect Kiss” by Marie Hines

What 3 lessons will you take with you from over the last 5 months?:

  1. Be yourself. Always. You are unique and special (not in the I eat paste kind of way).
  2. Who cares what other people think? There is no point to worrying about it. They do not care about you and they do not worry what you are thinking about them.
  3. Just take a fucking step! Don’t sit and wait forever, wanting to plan every step before you even take one step. Take a step and the next step will become apparent, but you have to make an effort.

What’s turning you on right now?: Arizona coffee. Baking things and then feeding people. Taking photos. Writing. Traveling all over Arizona for my writing position with Arizona Vines & Wines, so I can profile Arizona artisan producers. My bread making experiments. Ordering the chickens for the hen house that is being constructed on the farm where I am the executive chef. Being an executive chef. Molly Mahar, Katie Colihan, and my season 6 sisters (I’m so grateful and proud of you all! Xoxo). Reading books on my iPad. Drinking wine on the porch with my love, Mr. Paul Child.

 

In college, I lucked out with friends. Before September’s end, I had collected a plethora of acquaintances I could bestow the “friend” title upon. Perhaps it was because we were all in the same mindset- new to college and eager to meet people we could share ourselves with. However, I’ve talked to some other folks and it seems that my Freshman dorm while typical in it’s everybody getting acquainted was rare in that everyone became friends and stayed friends. 6 out of the 7 people I shared a house with Junior and Senior year I lived with Freshman year. The one extra person who shared the house, I lived with Sophmore year.

All of these fine individuals will be at my wedding. They’re people who within the span of a few years became my substitute family, entering into my live without abandon… people I would do anything for. We would go out and get each other food and meds when someone was sick; help each other catch rabid bats (I kid you not); prepare and share breakfast sandwiches, beans & rice, and noodles; rub each others backs and console each other when we were puking or crying in the night; and oh how the list goes on. Our Junior/Senior house even had a name, “The Oreo House” because it was brown on the top and bottom and white in the middle. All of us also reallllllllyyyy liked Oreos. I guess at this point, I have such high expectations of what friendship should be that I find it difficult making friends.

I always had this problem though. The friendship I found so quickly in college was a rarity for me, unless you count age-3-Camila’s time in laundromats. During those days, I sidled up to anyone under three feet to make my friend for the hours it took to wash, dry, and fold our family’s clothes before proceeding to collect their number so we could play at a later date. Other then those instances I’ve never been one to easily make friends. It takes me months, if not years, to cultivate a friendship that I believe in wholeheartedly. On the upside, the friends I make are ones that will last forever. On the downside, I can go a long time without making any real friends and sometimes, like now, I just give up. For instance, during my past year in Connecticut, I haven’t made any real friends because in moving to New Haven last June I knew I wouldn’t be in the state much longer so I chose not to try as hard to meet people and hang out.

It’s just more difficult now finding myself in new places where people already have their niches. Maybe that’s why it was tough for me when I was younger too, because I was always switching schools. By the time I was 18 I had attended 8 different schools. My siblings were some of my closest friends during those years because they were stable, I knew where to find them, and in commuting back and forth from NM to CO they were my constants. Of course I made some phenomenal pals in those years, friends I still have, but they took awhile to make.

Now, I know I need to make a conscious effort when I get to Portland to seek friends out, to put myself out there and say yes when I’m invited to hang out or attend some sort of event. I need to do it for my own sanity because though I love all the friends I already have, I’m realizing it’s also nice to have comrades in the place I am, something I don’t currently have. I feel like this dilemma though is something that goes along with the QLC. I know many of my friends also have a similar problem and wonder where to even begin making friends. So where do I start? Where shall I seek out these potential friends for life?

How have you made friends as an adult?

When/how did you meet your closest friends?

I live for writing recipes. It is probably one of my favorite parts of my job (maybe after taste-testing). Getting into the kitchen, hands deep in all the different ingredients. Documenting my techniques and movements. Concocting, trying over and over until I have the dish that I picture in my mind.

What is the recipe for communication? I’ve been mixing and matching and trying things out, but I seem to always fall a little short here. How do you take two (or more) people, who think differently, and allow them to communicate on the same level. I majored in communications (journalism) and I love to sit and talk, but truly communicating how I feel at any given moment, is seriously challenge. I clam up. I shut down. My brain does not want to cooperate.

This past weekend, I started the move to the small town my boyfriend lives in, and into his house. We got through the stressful part of getting the truck loaded and then unloaded, but then I freaked out. Not like crazy lady in a store loses her mind and knocks over all the wine bottles, or anything, but just a serious panic attack of “what the hell are you doing?”

We were putting away things and the stress and crazy of what was happening just overloaded my system. I’m not going back to my cute little house…I’m staying here in the sudo-frat house. AHHH?! Poor Mr. Paul Child had no idea what was going on in my little head. I was a basket of tears, headache, and sadness.

It took me all week to figure out how to tell him why I was super stressed out and frazzled. And I had to do it in an email! Sometimes, I just don’t trust my voice to speak the words that I know I need to say. I’ll write in my head, all the things I need to say. I’ll practice and practice, but then when it comes to delivering my speech (I’ve also figured out my answers to what the other person could potentially say), I get tongue-tied and locked up in my thoughts. Plus, I’m worried that the sassy voice in my head, will actually come out as a bitch, as it did when Mr. Paul Child showed me the moose sheets his mom bought him. Err, yeah, moose sheet humor is NOT appreciated, so maybe I should stick to email, where there is a “delete” button and a “cancel” button.

Is it okay to communicate via email? Does it always have to be face to face for the serious stuff? Is the recipe for communication like your mom’s spaghetti sauce, where everyone has their own version? Should I really try to learn how to talk this stuff out? Maybe I should have a glass of wine first? Can I have notecards? Please share your recipe with me, so I can concoct my version of communication.

Whenever I sit down to a meal, no matter if I’m the cook/hostess or a guest at someone else’s table, I always look at the plate of offerings, and take a lesser cut. A smaller burger. The janky looking porkchop. I’ve sat down to dinner with numerous people over the years, who always take the best on the plate…so why do I always feel like I deserve the lesser and not the best?

This isn’t the only time that I do this in my life. I do it in relationships, shutting down  in discussions and disagreements, or with-holding feelings that I have, that I feel make me look like a bitch if I vocalize them. I’m amazed when someone I’ve met a few times remembers me. I’m afraid that what I have to say/write/photograph/cook doesn’t have any value. I hate asking for help or favors that I don’t think that I deserve. I’ve been trying to figure out why I do this. Why I feel that I don’t deserve the nicest cookie on the plate. It’s obnoxious, and I hate it, but I do it on autopilot.

I’ve been staring at the blankness of my blog lately, feeling stuck. What if the words I write aren’t valued? What if my opinion and expertise mean nothing? What if I am unable to find a following of people who want what I’m selling? I look at some of the experts in my field and wonder how I get to that point? I look at others who are “experts” in my field and wonder how they are selling the cockamamie coming out of their mouths, while I’m praying that people don’t see me that way.

I think the first part of value, is uh duh, obviously valuing yourself. I know, I need to value myself and my talents, but honestly, sometimes it’s hard. Is there some special confidence I need to be able to look at that plate, with everyone watching, and take the best piece for me? To be able to write my words, take my photos, and place them in the world, not caring what people may think? Can I please get that super power? Do I have to touch a fucking ring to a lantern and recite a little rhyme or something?

I’ve been reading awesome websites, books, and have signed up for email newsletters like a madwoman. Journaling, doodling, and searching pinterest for inspiration, attempting to create a happy space for my mind. I found this awesome iPad app called Unstuck that I’ve been playing with. You type in a problem you’re stuck on, it asks you questions and takes you through some prompts then tries to help you get to the root of your problem. It’s not a crystal ball or anything, don’t get too excited, but it does inspire thought. One of the things I typed in while trying to conquer this blog fear I have, was “Be human in my blog. An expert with flaws.” At the end of the Unstuck session, my phrase popped up, “I’m going to…Be human in my blog. An expert with flaws.” It was weird, because I typed it into the program as an excuse to why I’m having problems, and it sussed out as a solution. I’m still mulling it over. How do you be an expert with flaws?

I don’t know the magic thing that makes it click. Where I feel that my knowledge and talents are valuable. I feel like my lack of making money in my profession is tied to this, and want to know how to truly value what I have to put out in the world. We can say things over and over to ourselves, but I’m waiting working towards the ah-ha moment. The click into place of actually feeling those words I keep chanting to myself. Maybe I’ll start with taking the biggest and best cookie on the plate. Cookies do make everything better.

With my move coming up and currently being knee deep in packing materials, I’ve been slacking on my Fierce Love course. I love doing the work for the course, yet at the end of a long day of work and packing, all I want to do is lay in bed and watch HGTV. But, one of the biggest ideas of Fierce Love has been lodged in my brain lately, self-love.

My cousin posed a concern to me the other day…how will I handle living 3.5 hours away from her and my close friends when I need someone to go have coffee with and vent to. Or if Mr Paul Child and I have a fight, who will I be able to go have a glass of wine with and pour my heart out to? Where will I be able to go to unwind from work, needing to filter some balance into my life with yoga? Are there any wine bars there?

All valid points and things I’ve been considering. I mean, Yuma doesn’t even have a Victoria’s Secrets, let alone a Trader Joe’s or Apple store…there aren’t really any farmers markets, gourmet cheese shops, or wine bars. It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere. It’s scary to think about, leaving life in a metropolitan area for small town existence. I know some of the wives of Mr Paul Child’s coworkers, but they aren’t really my nearest and dearest. What the hell am I going to do?

Normally, these question would have sent me into a tail-spin of panic. But for some reason, I’ve been calm about it. (I know, I was shocked too!) Where I normally would be running to my friends, lamenting my situation, I’ve been trying to be positive and look for what good things are going to come from this move. Accepting that, yes, things are changing, and trying to be “deliciously kind” to myself.

In my pondering of my move, and the self-love I need to make sure I stay mentally healthy, and keep making progress in my quest to really love myself and make some time for me, I’ve made a couple notes of how I want to keep progressing and giving to myself in my new surroundings.

1. Yoga – I’ve found two places to try yoga classes. The one looks like a defunct dance studio, where angry stage moms would scream at their daughters or sons, to plié better than the bun head next to them. Though it’s not the uber-modern chic studio I’m used to, there could be a totally amazing teacher and space for a work out.

2. Find some space for me in the house – I crave a place where I can go, to be alone, write, read, work. I haven’t fully figured out where this space will be, and have resigned myself to the fact that I may have to fashion a shabby chic box fort out of all my storage items in the guest room, but honey, I will do it if I have to, to get my me space.

3. San Diego – This will be my go to place. It’s two hours away, one of my close friends lives there, it has farmers markets, wine bars, restaurants, and Victoria’s Secrets (yes, undies!). Loading up on cheese, gourmet goodies, some chill time with my friend, and grabbing some new undies, I’ll return to Yuma happy and healthy.

4. Skype dates – I will be requiring all my friends to download Skype for in-person wine dates to talk, laugh, complain, and console. Wine a must, pants optional.

5. Running – It’s something I’ve always wanted to take up and with the lack of a plethora of hiking trails, I’ll need to replace those long hikes with something. I’ll be lacing up my Nike’s and hitting the streets to conquer a lifelong goal of becoming a legit runner.

6. My work – I feel like this is almost a cheat. Work shouldn’t be included in your self-love list, but it is for me. I get to create like I’ve never done before! I get the shell of a place and the freedom to bake, build, hire, create the place that I know will succeed. These kinds of opportunities don’t always come around and I’ve just been handed the golden goose of jobs.

7. Stratejoy and my Fierce Love – Thank God I have an online support system in place to keep me moving forward and encouraging me.

I don’t know how this whole moving to be with someone works. I’m new at it and frankly, scared silly. I like my me time, and when I’m home, getting to focus all my attention on whatever endeavor makes me happy. This whole moving in with someone, putting someone else on my priority list, is a bit strange. But I want to keep moving forward in my self-love process. I want to keep this great momentum I have in my self-happiness, rolling. I am seriously loving who I have become and what I’m after in life.

How do you get your self-love on in a new situation or space?

First comes love, then comes long-distance relationship, then comes pack all your worldly belongings and move to your boyfriend’s house/town/space. I’m not going to lie, this whole moving to the small town where my boyfriend lives is freaking me out. It’s a huge step, and don’t get me wrong, I’m ready for it. It’s just the daunting task of packing up my entire life, and moving out of my lovely girl space that freaks me out.

And, dolls, I’ve been pairing down. I’ve been tossing and donating lots of old stuff. But what part of your history, your past, are you willing to part with? Every time I do a clean out, I purge more of my things. I find more and more that I can live without. But so far they are small things.

I’ve come across a box of my old journals from college to current. If you would ask me before if I could part with them, I would say absolutely NO! But now I’ve started thinking, do I really want my kids reading them someday? Do I really want Mr. Paul Child be able to flip through them and read pages of angry scribbles detailing the drama between me and one of the guys I dated in college? Yet it’s a part of my history. It’s a piece of me in time, captured in those scrawling words. Maybe in another few purges I’ll be able to part with them, but right now, I don’t think I can get rid of those pieces that show me how much I’ve grown over these past few years. How do we decide what we keep from our past and what we pitch out with the stale, moldy bread?

This freak out is a layered panic. There’s moving out of my space, that I solely controlled and kept, and then there is the art of combining your belongings with another. I keep asking my married or in relationship friends how they did it, how did they move in with their significant other? Sitting in Mr. Paul Child’s house this past weekend, I was freaking out a little. He was attempting to make room for me in the house, but the problem is that there just isn’t room. No closet space. No workspace. No place to call my own. I look at the pieces of my life that I have to pack up and haul down there and even with the best pairing down, my things won’t have a space. I will have to take over the guest room and stack my boxes in there, despite Mr. Paul Child’s protests that we have to have a functioning guest room.

All those stupid rom-com’s I’ve watched never show this part. They don’t tell you how to make all your things fit into one house. Selecting which items you should toss and which to keep. How to not insult the other person’s taste in décor. The masterful art of not becoming furious, fighting the desire to walk out of the house when becoming frustrated trying to picture how you will live in this space. I’ve never seen Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston tackling those beastly problems while they are swooning around with perfect hair. That is the movie I want to see made!

I don’t know how this part works, and no one really has given me very good advice. Every experience is different. I’m just going to have to deal with him being pissed that I’m using the guest bedroom as a place to stack my boxes for the time being. I’m not selling or pitching important things to me. Hear that, my beloved cookbooks (see picture above!) and my lovely kitchen equipment? You are safe, my lovelies!

If anyone has an advice, HELP! Please share with us! How did you apply combination theory to your relationship?

 

People without passion confuse me. My passions have changed over time. They have refined and developed into the work I’m currently creating for myself today, but I’ve always had passion for something.

I fought against my passion for a long time, thinking that if I just found a job that made money, that someday, maybe, I would be able to pursue my passion. It’s only later, with more experience under my belt, and many footsteps down my passion path, that I realize the saying, “do what you love and the money will come,” is actually completely true. Now I fight for my passion. For the ability to pursue it.

For high school, I went to a competitive prep school. Most of my fellow students were driven, ambitious, and had a definitive direction of where they wanted to see their lives go. This is how I felt, and I was always adjusting my life plan while my passion was constantly growing. But there were a few who had no passion. No ambition. No definitive direction. They didn’t fill their afternoons with clubs or groups. They didn’t have any extra curriculars. While there is nothing wrong with this, I guess it always perplexed me because I couldn’t understand not having anything that sparks your interest so much, that you wanted to explore every nook and crannie. To have something that makes you jump out of bed in the morning, excited to start your day.

I’ve always been in love with food. I’m the person who is thinking about my next meal directly after I’ve eaten. Ask my mom and she’ll tell you that I was the best eater of her kids, cleaning every plate placed in front of me. I dabbled in vegetarianism for a while, though to be honest, it was more for the drama and I would sneak bites of my sister’s cheeseburger when she would leave the table. My love of bacon knocked me out of that phase, with the magical sizzle and snap of smoky flavor.

I attended culinary school, to enhance my food writing skills, with the intent of becoming a food writer and photographer, but I fell in love with the pulse of the kitchen. I craved the movement, fluid like a choreographed ballet. Boxes of raw ingredients, waiting to be turned into delicious plates, crafted by expert hands. Creativity and intelligence bursting from people who shared my love for the daily ritual of sitting down and sharing a meal.

The kitchen has it’s own hierarchy, language, rules. It is the world that I had been searching for, and makes total sense to me. It is here that I found my place. There is a comfort to the repetitive daily movements made on autopilot. Whisking in the new movements of specials, rushes and lulls, holidays, new people, new recipes…I’m in love with the kitchen, and what I get to do there.

Every morning I leap out of bed to work that I love. There are definite moments of frustration, but there is always something more waiting to be created. When I see people dragging along in the drudgery of their day, complaining and living a life without some kind of passion, it freaks me out. How can you live without a passion for something that grips you with joy and tingles in your fingertips?

My food passion has grown to include gardening and farming. The idea of where our food comes from and how it gets to our table fascinates me. Picking fruit from trees or herbs and veg from the ground, and transforming it mere hours later, to place in front of a customer is one of the coolest feelings. Going to the farm, and watching it grow. Seeing it pulled from the fields. It is the new trendy chic thing to have farm to table, but it really resonates and makes sense.

 

A couple weeks ago, Mr. Paul Child and I went to a farm near his house in his small Arizona town. The woman who owned the farm and I started talking about food, farming, and a hundred topics in between. I had sent her an email a few weeks prior, inquiring about renting her kitchen space in the off hours. Halfway through the conversation, she asked if I was the one who had sent the email. “Yes,” I replied. The conversation quickly melded into a job offer and by the end of the weekend, I left with a new job in the same city as my boyfriend.

My passion keeps providing for me. It keeps propelling me forward, growing my career. My personal bakery business will now move forward in my off hours, as I help move a farm bakery operation forward. I get a whole new experience, where I get to pull food from the farm and create amazing food. Score another one for passion!

“Home is the dearest spot on earth. It is the center though not the boundary of the affection.” ~M.B.Eddy

This is a quote my mom always said to us as kids. Basically, my parents taught us to not view just one place, one physical structure, as our home.

When I went off to college, my mother handed me a note, jotted on a piece of notebook paper, with this quote and a note about how proud she was. She urged me to find home, even so far away from family. That’s just what I did, creating a family of friends. We would have potluck dinners at my shared apartment, eating a delicious hodge-podge dinner and then playing charades. It was simple, but we made it our home.

 

I’ve been struggling lately. Feeling a little lost and not knowing which way to step in my life. I have the most amazing boyfriend, who I am madly in love with. I have a business that I’m working on getting off the ground. But I’m in a constant state of discomfort and unknown. I live out of suitcases on the road.

My conversations of late are peppered with the word “home.” Where is home and how do I get home? Currently, I’m in this place I like to call “So Unknown.” I realize that this is most of life, being unknown, but right now it feels more edgy for me. With Mr. Paul Child looking for a new job, we don’t know where we will end up. I look at houses all over Phoenix-area, unsure if we will even end up here. I’ve committed, to moving where he finds a great job. We want to be in Phoenix, but we don’t know where we will land.

I’m anxious. I want to get my business rolling, but now it’s in this so unknown place, because what if we have to move? I can’t keep uprooting my business to different areas. It’s not impossible to move my business, it’s internet-based, but to move it is still a challenge, so I’ve been holding off. In the same stroke, we could be waiting a year before Mr. Paul Child is able to find a job in the Phoenix-area. Can I really put my dreams on hold?

It’s frustrating living between two cities. We are constantly on the go. We cram a life together into a weekend. Planning our lives so far in advance doesn’t leave a lot of freedom for when our friends call with last minute plans.

I feel unsettled, not knowing where our home will be. It’s frustrating knowing that this hinges on his job. We wait, anxiously, for an interview, and when he gets one, we wait for days, for a phone call to give us the outcome. Lately, he’s always too over-qualified for the job. One after another, they trickle through our hope. I try to stay positive for both of us, keeping up the morale, and looping strands of hope and promise, around us.

I recently discussed with Mr. Paul Child, moving to his small Arizona town of Yuma, after he asked me to stay with him. I searched all over town for a restaurant job for myself. It seemed that there was nowhere except for chain restaurants that I could work…I started to feel really depressed about my options. Finally I found a place that wouldn’t hire me till September, but that was basically the nicest restaurant in town.

Proud and excited, I came home to tell Mr. Paul Child, who didn’t like that I would be working the exact opposite schedule as him, and that I wouldn’t be off work till at least 10 pm at night. I appreciate that he loves me so much, that the thought of not seeing me when he gets home from work, upsets him, but honestly, it made me upset that he wasn’t immediately excited at this potentially good career opportunity for me. I have never hidden who I am, and what I want from life. I love working in restaurants. I’m a chef, and this is the life. I have dreams. Big fat dreams!

After so much encouraging of his career, I was a little hurt, and wanted to pose the question, “what about mine?” After me pounding the words, “choose a job you love” into his head over the past few months, I felt empty. Guilty for wanting a job that I love, that would end up keeping me away for long hours from the man that I love. He is very supportive of my pastry business, but after his dismay at the restaurant hours I would have to work, I worry that he doesn’t fully understand the time and dedication that goes into a business, let alone a food business, and that scares me. On that note, I harken back to my first blog post

I’m not waiting on his job anymore. I can’t wait for us to get into one city. It would be perfect if the stars would align, and we would end up in the same city, amazeball jobs, and found the perfect house…but life doesn’t work like that. Mr. Paul Child is the love of my life, but I’m going ahead with my plans, and creating the business that I want. Remember my first Stratejoy post? I am not waiting! I love Mr. Paul Child, but I want to create a career I enjoy, and I never want to resent my lovely boyfriend! Someday, we will find our home together, but for now…so unknown.

 

I am pretty sure that karma has arrived at my door in the form of my mother’s knowing laugh. You know the one? Where your mom is like “ha ha ha! Been there, thought that, felt that, and I knew you’d arrive here someday! Welcome to the big leagues of life, sucker!” The past few weeks have been challenging, in the form of balance.

I’ve felt like I’ve lost momentum in many aspects of my life, which has made me stop, and ask myself how the hell do you balance everything in your life? All the pieces of the pie, how do you cut them evenly or proportionately, when each of these things is constantly in flux, changing their proportion of the pie? This is some crazy ass math and it’s constantly recalculating.

I have never been very good at balancing my life (or cutting reasonable sized slices of pie). I get into one job or hobby or relationship, and it’s a straight shot of tunnel vision (tequila would probably be better). I feel like if I don’t apply myself and focus my energy, that that new thing/person/project won’t go anywhere. However, I usually do this to the exclusion of other things in my life. I need BALANCE. I need to learn how to BALANCE.

Balance – A harmonious or satisfying arrangement or proportion of parts or elements, as in a design. Rachel is really lacking in this area!

The loss of momentum, lack of balance, and feel of chaos all the time, scares me. I feel like I’m treading water, and not flourishing like I should be. I’m spinning around and around, not completing things or pushing things forward because I’m so overwhelmed. I want to be a more balanced person, for myself, not just for others in my life.

Instead of looking at my pie and thinking how can I make sure this person has what they need from me, or that group I’m in has my full support, I realized I couldn’t look at each piece of pie, and attempt to give a 100% or asses their needs on an individual basis. You can’t just decide to balance life and poof, it’s done. I have to actively make changes in my habits. Making myself feel balanced, gives way to balance in all those aspects of my life. So, I sat down and made a list of things that I needed to change, to foster balance. Here is Rachel’s Super Amazeballs List of things I have been actively trying to tackle or embrace in my daily life, to create more balance.

Rachel’s Super Amazeballs List For Fostering Better Life Balance:

SELF-LOVE: This is a hard one. When life is totally out of wack, every moment spent giving care to myself feels like a waste. There is this strong feeling of guilt, like I should be doing things off my huge to-do list, not going to a movie alone or indulging in some reality tv. I have definitely been rocking my Fierce Love course. As I learned in Fierce Love, when you are on the plane and the oxygen masks drop, you put yours on first, then help others. You can’t help others if you are passed out, and you can’t help others if you are so unbalanced that you are burned out.  Fierce Love is totally changing my thought process for a healthier me.

STOP PROCRASTINATING: I am queen of the procrastinators! I put things off, with a “oh, I’ll do that later,” so many times a day, that my to-do list never shortens. This is the hardest for me, to in a moment of “I think I’ll do this later,” to stop myself and FORCE myself to finish something. I always feel better, and it’s seriously amazeballs to cross things off my list, keeping momentum flowing.

DON’T OVER-COMMIT: I want to please everyone. I have started to ask myself before I put on my people pleaser hat, “Can I comfortably do this? Do I have time to do this? What else is going on?” Which leads into my next one…

LEARN TO SAY NO: I suck at this, but I’ve started to channel my two-year-old self and rock the “NO!” phase, which has helped my sanity.

LOSE THE NEGATIVE: Negative, toxic, judgement…I can get caught up in these so fast, and it drives my hope and thoughts into the ground. I keep in the notes section on my iPhone, quotes or thoughts of inspiration. Every time I have a negative thought, I replace it with one of these positive ones.

YOU CAN’T CONTROL EVERYTHING: I can only put forth the best of my ability. The world doesn’t spin around me & my needs, and things are not always going to go my way. I have to adjust and allow my self to find some sort of BALANCE even in the uncontrollable moments. I can’t obsess about things out of my control.

EMBRACE MY MANTRA: “This is temporary!” I have this on a post-it on my desk and in my notebook. Every rough moment, every obstacle, every thing that I have to do and don’t want to do, I remember this. It makes the task or situation tolerable, because I know that it will end at some point, and hopefully there will be something good that is at the end of it.

ONE ITEM AT A TIME: My to-do list    . I am freaking out about step 20 before I’ve finished step 2. This is when I implement what can I do right now? What things on this list need to get done today? What can I reasonably accomplish today? Can I finish one item? Done. Can I finish another item? Do it. It is less overwhelming and then I get to cross something off my list instead of nothing.

BE PRESENT: I SUCK BIG ONES AT BEING PRESENT! I am the worst at this, and am usually twenty steps ahead trying to plan for things that are unknown. Planning for the unknown is fucking hard. I don’t recommend it. I miss incredible moments, planning for the unknown. Being present I get so much more out of small moments, and it’s a lot easier than trying to be prepared for everything (plus my purse is a lot lighter not carrying around my Girl Scout preparedness kit).

Now, go eat some pie, watch some bad reality tv, and feel some balance return to your life.

I’m on the road again, driving 3.5 hours distance towards Yuma, AZ. Last night, I woke up from a nightmare and had no idea where I was for the first few seconds of groggy grappling in the dark for a light switch.  I ran to Victoria’s Secret to buy more clean underwear. My DVR is full, and I am currently keeping multiples of things like shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste. I ate a ½ a bag of stale Fritos, and sucked the crumbs out of the corner nook for lunch, while wizzing down the I-85. My exercise regime, aside from sex, is currently null and void. Yes, you guessed it…I’m in a long distance relationship.

 

Limbo and I are old friends. I feel like limbo and waiting go hand-in-hand, as varying shades of grey. And you know I’m a champ at waiting. Limbo is it’s a calmer, chiller cousin. It’s waiting because of circumstance, not because of fear.

I need a little limbo in my life, though I never would have said that 6 months ago. I’ve waited in limbo for jobs, relationships, and school, but this one is frustrating and joyful. It’s the melding and creation of two lives into one. That’s not something that can be done in mere moments. I go back and forth on the long distance; that it’s frustrating yet a good thing. I’m torn in my thoughts, between the two, one moment I’m on team frustrated, the other on team good for us.

We are learning a lot, being in an uncomfortable position. All the little stuff that normally comes up seems stupid, and somehow the small annoyances don’t matter.  On the other, I’m freaking sick of feeling unsettled all the time. I’m living out of a bag, even for the few days a week that I’m home in Phoenix. I dump laundry into the wash, and then pack them back up again out of the dryer. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to cook in my own kitchen. I miss my little photo studio office. Despite the discomfort and the longing for my material consolations, I wouldn’t trade what’s on the other end of that travel for anything.

There is an adventure to this. We appreciate our moments together more. It is humbling to yearn for each other. And as we start to feel quite blue, I remind us that military families would be grateful for only 3.5 hours of separation.

Mr. Paul Child has a roommate. Very nice guy, but it’s pretty funny to be making out on the couch in varying states of undress and hear the garage door opening. Making eggs in your underwear suddenly is impossible. Sex on the pool table is non-existent.

I have no space. A nomad with a car full of cooking equipment.

Mr. Paul Child has brought calmness to my life. He lets me be me, and loves when I get a little nutty. The distance sucks, but it’s not something we can’t overcome. He’s this incredible anchor for me…letting me create my business, dream, be nutty, and he tethers me to reality and safety.

One of my Stratejoy-mates commented that this is like my own romantic comedy. It feels like that, but where the hell is my neat bow where we end up happily living in Phoenix, and fabulous soundtrack to help narrate my life? I would also love the fabulous wardrobe and perfect hair and make-up when I wake up.

There is nothing normal about my/our journey. It is deliciously unique and I cherish that. Everything that’s happening feels so right. I’m not controlling it. For once in my life, I’m not trying to. I’m allowing myself to float down the lazy river of love.

 

Have you heard? The Stratejoy Book Club has officially launched!

We’ll be holding our first LIVE chat discussion.  May 21st, 2012. Grab your girlfriends, some drinks, some snacks, and jam with Molly about this month’s book, MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche.

Find out about the book, the live chat discussion, and how to host an event or attend an event right over here on the page with all of the juicy details.

I used to be scared that I would get lost in a relationship, and that I would have to be the one constantly compromising my dreams. I don’t know where this fear came from, yet I held so steadfastly to the fact that I had to be in control, to make sure I didn’t lose my way or have my dreams derailed. It has taken me 30 years to really figure out who I am and what I want. In the past few years, I have found my calling and comfort in my skin. I don’t want to lose that or the momentum for the big dreams I have.

One of the biggest hurdles that I had to get over to be with Mr. Paul Child, was learning that I won’t get lost in OUR relationship. He’s great about keeping me on track and sitting me down in front of my computer to write, or work on each aspect for my business. He values who I am as an individual, and is willing to support me in all my endeavors. I spent so much time worrying about getting lost, but the funny thing is, I don’t feel lost, and if anything, I feel more myself. I also feel supported and cheered on, at every turn and set-back. And there are a lot of set-backs.

In turn, I’ve had to make sure that I’m supporting his dreams and desires. Embracing the things that he loves to do. Which currently includes searching for a new job for him in a yet unknown location. Building his career. Camping. Jeeping. Off-roading. Traveling to all the national parks. Cue compromise.

This weekend, Mr. Paul Child and I went to the sporting goods store to look at tents and air mattresses. He loves to camp and well, I don’t. My idea of camping is Hampton Inn (no room service? Shut the front door!). It’s great that he wants to include me in the decision of the tent, but honestly, the only opinions I can offer is, “It’s cute” or “I love these little pockets inside.” While he chatted with the sales guy, I ran around the massive store, playing with camo vests, fishing nets, and duck calls.

 

Mr. Paul Child picked out a tent and an air mattress, and we arrived back at my house. With two camping trips on the books, he set it up in my living room for us to sleep in, to ease me into camping. Oh, dear. I stuffed the tent with pillows and made Mr. Paul Child angle the tent so I could see the tv (Pretty sure that’s not going to happen in the woods.). We slept two nights in there, and it wasn’t too bad. I know the woods will be different, but at least it will be reasonably comfortable. I’m accepting this probably won’t be my dream way to spend a weekend, but I will be with the love of my life and it will definitely be a new experience (Plus, excellent time to roast up some of my delicious homemade s’mores).

I’ve been trying to be as giving and open to new things as possible. How do you balance taking care of your needs and continuing to be open and giving to your partner? I honestly don’t know the answer to this. It’s something I think about and I’m pretty sure it’s not formulaic.

Our weekend ended back in a comfortable bed (YES!) watching one of my favorite reality shows. Mr. Paul Child hates these kinds of shows, but he did lay there watching many episodes with me (thank you Netflix streaming!), and didn’t complain. Compromises are little and big. We’re trying to find a balance that makes US both happy.

 

My niece, Buggy (her nickname), just turned 4 years old. I got to make her chocolate-strawberry shortcake princess cake. The coolest kid in the world, she’s brilliant, funny, and sassy. Her latest obsession is playing restaurant (be still my chef heart!). Buggy plays so hard that she never breaks character, and chastises anyone who addresses her by her name, and not as “waitress.”

She is strong-willed like I am, and I have to tell you, while I know how difficult it can be to be so determined, I kind of love that about her. I adore that she is a pistol and that she’s bossy. A couple Christmases ago, we were playing bubbles, a riveting game where we fill the kitchen sink with water and bubbles and let her “wash” some plastic dishes. I must have been crowding her, because she turned around and punched me square in the shoulder. Now, she was 2 ½ at the time, so it didn’t hurt but it demanded discipline, and she got into big trouble with her mom. I get it, though. Sometimes you just want to bop someone! All of us have moments like that, but unfortunately as an adult it’s called assault.

Watching her grow up has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. From me she gets unconditional love, attention, and well, let’s be honest, I also spoiler her quite a bit too. But what she gives me is even greater.

These are the greatest lessons that I’ve learned from a 4-year-old:

  1. Live in the moment. She doesn’t care about 1 day from now, 1 hour from now or 1 minute from now. Buggy is happy when she is playing and talking and dancing, in that very moment. The only thing she may care about in 1 minute is if she can have a big piece of chocolate birthday cake or some gummie bears, which leads to #2.
  2. Gummie bears make everything better. It doesn’t matter if it’s accidentally grabbing a cactus or some major life event, sitting down with a bag of gummie bears is a treat and everyone needs a treat.
  3. Filters are for pools. Saying whatever pops into your head is really refreshing. There are definitely times when it is not appreciated, but you’re intention isn’t to be mean, just curious.
  4. Tiaras and costume jewelry ALWAYS go with your outfit. Do I really need to explain this? It’s just the number one 4-year-old fashion rule.
  5. Sing loud and proud. This girl can DANCE and it’s downright crazy how many current pop songs she knows all the words to (I’m a little ashamed of my lack of lyrical ability).  No one rocks a car dance party from her car seat perch better than Buggy. She doesn’t care if we are in the middle of the store or playing Just Dance at home, she’s a dance and singing maven. She also doesn’t care how well you dance or sing, you will be joining her in the dance party, even in the middle of the store.
  6. Hugs are always necessary. I think we forget this as adults. We get so wrapped up in our daily life and zipping around, that we forget small acts of love make us feel better.
  7. It’s okay to be upset sometimes. I’m always trying to make myself happy, but sometimes, even at age 4, you just have to be upset for a little bit. When you lose your favorite costume jewelry ring or your Playdoh dries up, you can be upset for a few moments. Then eat some gummie bears, and things will start to look up.
  8. Big mice are freaky. She’s terrified of Chuck E. Cheese and well, so am I! I don’t know what weirdo teenager is dressed up in that rat costume. It’s freaking scary when he comes up behind you and then hovers. I get it, Buggy!
  9. Always tell people you miss them and love them. It’s so simple but when a 4-year-old says it to you, you melt, and then realize that displaying more of this love is needed in the world.

Happy Birthday, Buggy! Thank you for giving me so much! I love you!

 

 

 

I’m terrified of being judged. For some reason, I do worry what others will think of me, my business, and my decisions. I wish that I didn’t feel this way, because it is limiting, and my word this year is limitless.

I feel like this is where I fall short with my food blog. I’m so afraid that people will judge me for what I write and the things that I do, that I spend so much time trying to filter what I’m writing and saying, nothing gets published. While I don’t think that we should all walk around without a filter, I wish that more of my thoughts would be able to pass through mine.

 

I kept my blog a secret from my industry friends for years. YEARS! I was so worried that they would make fun of me or judge me behind my back that I hid that layer of who I am, from them.

Recently, while getting some stuff ready for my online pastry business, I realized I need wholesale food pricing information. You can’t get that, till you get your business license, but I needed the information now, so I could figure out how I was going to price items. I sucked it up, and sat down with an industry friend, who I had been afraid to tell about my business. Now I look back and wonder why I was afraid, because she was gracious and helpful. She showed me so much support, and genuinely wants to see me succeed.

I think sometimes we get jaded by people who want to see us fail, or by people who feel that there isn’t enough success to go around. Early on in my career, I was working as a pastry cook at a high-end restaurant. The other pastry cook that I worked with was a massive bitch. (Sorry there’s really no nice way to say that.) A phrase you may hear tossed around in the kitchen is to “set everyone up for success,” which means, doing prep and taking steps, to help the other people who will be coming in after you.  Her perpetual mistakes and laziness would leave me hanging during service at night. I started to come in early to be able to repair the prep she had left me, so that I wouldn’t be in the weeds for dinner service, and so that I could do the prep I had to leave for her, for the next day.

When the chef de cuisine came to us and asked us to come up with some pastry specials, I was thrilled for the chance to be creative, especially in such a prestigious restaurant. The other pastry cook and I decided to bounce our ideas off of each other.

I did some research and started to put together a few dessert ideas with really interesting flavor profiles and texture. I carefully sketched up drawings of each dessert in my pastry notebook. When the other pastry cook and I met to discuss our ideas, she chuckled and acted like my dessert ideas were ridiculous. I showed them to the chef de cuisine and he acted the same way. Turns out, they had their corporate chefs send new dessert ideas and the other pastry cook had her ideas shot down as well, but it made me feel like I needed to be guarded about my ideas. The next restaurant I worked at, I took those ideas and they turned out to be great ones! I sold a lot of desserts, but I carried that small-mindedness and judgment with me, closing myself off to others. Afraid to put my ideas out, in case they were ripped apart. I am still struggling with this, but I refuse to judge others, allow myself to worry about being judged by others.

My website designer contacted me this week. The design mock-up for my new pastry website is finished. It’s just a matter of yes or no. A feeling of terror and joy flooded me. Yeah, terror first, joy second.

It’s here. One of my dreams, coming to fruition. The teal blue and grey logo and website design are perfect. Each step is falling into place, unfolding before my eyes. And yet, the overwhelming sense of nausea, as the bile rises in my throat.

There are days where I put my head down on my desk and cry. I honestly go back and forth on if I can make this business successful. Who the fuck wants to buy my pastry?! I’ve worked in many successful restaurants, peddling my wares, but now this is all on me. I’m the center of attention. I’m the sole person to hold the blame. I am out there for the critique of each of my products.

On the flip side, I could kill this. I could pour my whole heart into this business and make it a huge success. People may flood the streets…er internet to buy my goodies. I may be able to actually open the physical bakery/wine bar I dream about with the money I make from this business, and that thrills me to no end. So why the hell does this little baby step freak me out?

Much like writing hereon Stratejoy, it’s odd to think of putting myself out there for everyone to see. Allowing my lovely freak flag to fly and just being the uniquely odd pastry chef that I am.

I’m taking each step as it comes or correcting each negative/judgmental thought as it comes. I know that lots of addiction programs say one day at a time, and that’s what I’m doing to get through this…one decision or thought at a time. Approve the website. Step taken. Call a potential customer back. Step taken. Pricing sheets completed. Step taken. Negative thought. Knock it out of my head. I’m literally baby stepping my way into business ownership and not caring what people think.

I know I’m probably going to end up crying on my desk (or in my wine glass with my friends) a few more times…maybe even later today when I have to write the check to the website designer, but not doing this isn’t an option. This is my dream!

Being a chef is the first time I truly felt like “I am really good at this.” It took me a while searching in different restaurants, with different styles of cuisine, and different levels of dining (casual dining v. high-end). I left a job at a casual dining place because I wanted to do more elaborate plating and production. I loved being able to experience it all.

But I found my footing in the causal realm. It’s great to go to a high-end restaurant and see the artistic presentation of their dishes, but I love and find my happiness in the simple, yet elegant plating of a perfectly made dessert that has incredible flavors paired together.

 

I got into a disagreement with the owner of the last restaurant I worked in. It was May, which is beautiful dining weather here in Arizona. There was a breeze floating through the open patio doors in the dining room, and I knew the perfect dessert special for that evening was homemade s’mores.

Homemade graham crackers, thick and buttery. Homemade marshmallows, fluffy and airy, then toasted so that the crunchy golden brown shell forms on the outside and the inside is pure white goo. Really good dark chocolate, melting. Yeah, you’re nodding your head right now, because it’s damn good!

The owner strolled through the kitchen, though we rarely saw him, and had me make him one. He leaned on the prep table and crinkled his nose, “no one will want to eat this with their hands. They won’t want to get messy. You need to figure out a way to make it so they can eat it with a fork and knife.”

I almost fell over. “NO,” I told him. “It’s nostalgia. It is the grown up version of box graham crackers, marshmallows from a plastic bag, and Hershey bars. Everyone ate them as a kid. People will get it.”

He continued to argue with me. This was a huge moment for me. Usually, I don’t outright argue with someone, especially a superior, but he was dead wrong. I knew these would sell like hotcakes.

Finally the executive chef stepped in to back me up. The owner shrugged his shoulders, and left the kitchen. That night, I got a text at 6:58 pm (dinner service starts at 5pm), they had already sold out all 30 orders before 7pm. The evening sous chef told me later that people were ordering them, and laughing as they ate them. Adults shoving these fat s’mores into their mouths, marshmallow and chocolate smeared on their faces. A few tables were so delighted, they would order another plate. Servers would appear at their sides when they finished with warm, damp cloth napkins to clean up with. The customers kept telling stories to the servers about the last time they ate s’mores as a kid. Mission accomplished.

My run-in with the owner is why I left my job. Stupid people with too much money and no restaurant experience, trying to tell me how to do what I am good at. This is why the biggest goal I have here is to keep my courage up, while starting my own pastry business. Someday to be a gorgeous bakery (long-term dream).

Right now, I feel like I’m teetering on this ledge of things starting to falling into place for me. I know that nothing will ever be perfect. I am letting go of trying to plan everything. I just have to keep my momentum going.

One of the reasons I wanted to be a blogger for Stratejoy was for the support and accountability. I need the support of our amazing tribe to help me feel safe to step up and be myself. I’m sick of psyching myself out,  and want to have our tribe keep encouraging me to take one more step, then one more, then another…With that in mind, here are my intentions or goals for the next 5 months:

  1. To get my online pastry business rolling. I am terrified. I have read oodles of stories about how people start businesses and they don’t work out. Or they get so popular, so fast that they can’t keep up and go out of business. I want this to work and I’m attempting to do it in the most cost effective way possible, so I can grow the business off of its profits. Some days, I sit at my desk and cry because I’m so terrified that this will never work, and that I will never be able to make a living doing what I love.
  2. To be a better food blogger/writer and not be concerned with what people will think of me. I think if I can bring a more honest approach to my blogging, it will be easier for me to write. I have the experience to write about food, and I need to not be worried that people are going to attack me. Plus, I hope I will be able to attract supportive, receptive readers.
  3. Get a food piece published in a magazine or newspaper. I’ve had one story published nationally, and I’m hoping to be able to put myself out there, sell myself, and get some more freelance work.
  4. I have found the guy, Mr. Paul Child, (more on him in a later post) now I have to figure out how we make it work and find a balance, living +3 hours apart. (ah! We are meeting each other’s parents in the next month! Wish us luck!)
  5. Do the Fierce Love course. I need some Fierce Love for myself, and I want to keep learning and growing. I feel like even seeing my first post published here on Stratejoy was a huge leap for me, to help me really start opening myself up. For me, Fierce Love will allow me to love myself more, which will in turn make me a better daughter, sister, girlfriend, aunt, friend, etc. If you are taking the course too, please tweet me or facebook me so we can cheer each other.

This is what I’ll be working on for the next 5 months. I’m positive that some good stuff will come out of it. Stay tuned, dolls!

 

 

My Thursday night guilty pleasure is Private Practice. It’s soap opera-y goodness, is where I go to watch doctors with too much free time on their hands sleep with each other, drink wine in their gorgeous beachfront houses, and wear obscenely expensive wardrobes. They frolic around, never really working and pretty much indulging in narcissism, with a few patients thrown in to move the story lines along. I obviously watch for the drama, it is not a place where I expected to have a core shaking revelation flipped into my lap.

The main character in the opening scene, is sitting in her therapist office. She says, “I was thinking how I keep waiting for life to get easier. And I was thinking, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the struggle, the climb, one obstacle after another…maybe that’s just life.”

I found Stratejoy last year, when I was probably in the thick of one of the worst and lowest moments in my life. Stalled in life’s waiting room, I quit my restaurant job and was trying to figure out how to make money selling my pastry creations without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, that I didn’t have, opening a bakery. My love life was non-existent because I was trying to figure out exactly what I was looking for. I was working in my family’s business, and it had left me feeling more at odds with my family than I ever had in my life. Behind all of it, I had this vision that after you graduate from college, life would get easier and fall into place, a la Tetris tiles sliding down to a perfect game.

I was waiting for the easier part of life. Waiting for the good stuff, waiting for the perfect conditions to start, I   closed myself off, locked down like Fort Knox, and held steady, I suppose in the hopes that the good stuff would just slide down into perfect alignment. Business ownership, boyfriend, financial security, happiness, fitness.

I kept telling myself, “when you get to this point, life will get easier,” or “once you do this, life will get easier.” I think I’d be waiting forever for the easier to get here.

Stratejoy became my positive thing to do every morning. It is a joyful and honest place where I could relate to the women, and how they were attempting to create lives that fulfilled them, and made them above all, happy. Nothing is wrapped up neatly in a bow, where their lives are seemingly perfect at the end. On Stratejoy, it feels like we are all helping each other learn HOW to live a happier life. There’s no easy fix or perfect solution guaranteed here.

The Stratejoy QLC women are brutally honest with their stepping stones and stumbles, over a half year of their lives! I am envious of their ability to open themselves up like that, and I’m here to push myself to open up, share some of my crazy, messy life.

The mere act of putting myself out in the world seems to be opening doors. I recently went to grab a glass of wine with one of my girlfriends. Originally, I hadn’t wanted to go as it was late, I was already in comfy sweats, plus a couple of glasses of wine in. But out I went to the wine bar. Sipping wine with my friend, we quickly struck up a conversation with one of the owners of the wine bar, who was looking for someone to purchase pastry from to serve there. I went home with a buzz and a potential business opportunity for my burgeoning business, where I would have normally cancelled and stayed in.

At the end of the Private Practice episode, they cut back to her in the therapist office again. “And you’d think that that would be a depressing thought. That there’s no end to all the…I don’t know, that it doesn’t get easier. That it just gets different. But it’s not. It is not. It’s the opposite of depressing. There’s a relief in it. Life is complex. There’s nothing simple or easy about it. So, I can stop waiting for it to…I can stop waiting. And I can just live.”

Introducing: Rachel

How do I create this new exciting life? How do I take all these amazing ideas, bursting out of my stuffed journal, and create work that I love?”

“The proverb tells us

That it’s fate

That all things come

To those who wait

But things shall sooner

Come to pass

The sooner you

Get off your ass!”

~George Maschke

I’ve been tangoing with my Quarter Life Crisis (QLC) for a while now. We passionately tussle with each other, both trying to lead, while the song continues in it’s same, now monotonous, tempo.

I wait. I wait a lot. I wait an hour for friends to show up to a dinner. I wait for my job to shape up the way I want. I wait for my life to become what I daydream. I wait for the business I’m starting to magically morph into what I want it to be. I wait to find the one man that will be my best friend, love of my life, and my version of Paul Child (Julia Child’s amazingly supportive and adoring husband). I am so sick of waiting.

Lets back-up and give you a peak into me, before I let my tango partner give me a break, and take you for a crazy spin across the QLC floor.

I studied Print and Photo Journalism at Penn State and flourished. I felt like I was becoming myself, away from my family. Through my photojournalism professor, I scored an amazing internship at the Department of Defense working in Press Ops. Rocking the internship, I had amazing once in a lifetime experiences, one after another. Ticking off the days on my calendar, I waited patiently to be offered a position after I graduated. My last day came, I was given a plaque, pat on the back, and sent on my way.

My life lulled into its first waiting session. I wanted to work in publishing, but no one would give me a job. Quickly my Sex and the City vision of what life after college would entail, became me eating Nutella on the futon in my Alexandria, VA, apartment, trying to figure out what I wanted to write about and how to get a job doing it.

Food has always been huge in my world. Everyday, I get excited about what I will eat, planning my next meal. I even dream in food. Once I concoct a dish in my mind, I go to extreme lengths to create it on the table.

I joined my family and moved to Arizona. Starting to piece together a plan of becoming a food writer, I had finally found a way to put together my loves of food, writing, and photography. I took the leap, and attended a Le Cordon Bleu culinary school.

My first job out of culinary school was for a prestigious chef, learning the ropes under the best in the business. I worked my way through other restaurants, growing in skills, gobbling up delicious food and knowledge. My passion for food became my life force.

Restaurant work is consuming, physically challenging, and well, don’t plan on getting rich, sweetheart, because there’s not much money. Two years ago, I found myself on the brink of burn out. I wanted to travel, go on an actual date at a reasonable hour (not waffle house at 1am), be my own boss, create food the way I wanted without a pushy owner leaning over my shoulder, be the writer, photographer and food stylist that I know are in me.

Queue up my second waiting session. How do I create this new exciting life? How do I take all these amazing ideas, bursting out of my stuffed journal, and create work that I love?

A huge struggle of conquering fear continually sneaks up on me and shakes me into a feeling of being stuck. I realized, after my father was brutally honest with me, that I was, in his words, “waiting for my life to start.” There is no such thing as the perfect conditions to start anything. Dreaming is easier than doing, but at some point, I had to take action.

One of my pastry cooks sent me a note after she had found a new job in a new city. She wrote that she missed me so much because I was so passionate about food. I inspired her to be better, and want more in the kitchen. Hello, wake up call! Where is that chef that inspired a young cook?

I’m recently 30, and I’ve decided to make this my year of not waiting. My lovely friends, I won’t sit alone in the restaurant sipping a glass of wine, waiting an hour for you to show up to dinner. My burgeoning career, I won’t wait for you to become what I want. Business world, I will rock you! Love life, I will not be afraid, and will fully open myself up to the goodness that is there. Haters, keep on hating if you must, but I just don’t care anymore what you think.

This year, I will be living my life without waiting. I will become more self-loving, fearless, and open. I can’t wait to share the next 5 months of my journey with you, dolls!

 

I remember the day my hamstrings loosened. I have kind of a terrible memory, so naturally I don’t recall the exact date. But oh, the feeling. I was in a yoga class last summer, about five or six months after my teacher training began. As I moved into parsvottanasana – a forward bend that makes me want to punch things challenges me – I noticed that something felt different. That day, my hamstrings didn’t scream quite so much as they had been for months prior. That day, there was space to go a little deeper. I inhaled, straightening and lengthening my spine. I exhaled, folding forward just a little more than I ever had before. It might only have been one-quarter or one-half of an inch, but there it was. Something had shifted, and I was present, breathing, noticing.

Now I have a confession: I didn’t accomplish any of the goals I set for myself way back when in my third post.

In my first few drafts of this post, I wrote an explanation here about why I didn’t complete them. But you know what?

It doesn’t matter.

I wasn’t ready.

Am I now? I think so.

Five months after the beginning of my Stratejoy journey, I’m getting that same feeling in my life as I did with my hamstrings last summer. There’s space now. Things are shifting.

* * * * *

Five months. 15 countries (including the United States and Canada). 37 beds, couches, futons, armchairs, air mattresses, and uncomfortable, questionably clean train seats. Thousands of photographs.

Have I changed? Good lord, yes.

How have I changed? That’s…more involved.

There are the obvious things, of course. I’m no longer working a 9-5 job. I no longer live in Brooklyn; my residence is still transient. I’ve put on weight. I drink coffee now, and I don’t spend as much time on the internet. I no longer hit snooze ten times when Joan Jett yells, “I don’t give a damn ’bout my bad reputation!” in my ear.

The more subtle stuff is harder to nail. Some days, I still feel stuck in the same patterns in which I’ve found myself for years. Other days, I feel like a new person. I frequently find myself feeling so fucking grateful for people, places, and moments that I want to explode with joy. I’m more at peace; I’ve shaken that stressed-out-hurry-hurry-frequently-annoyed attitude that I picked up during my six years in NYC. And overall, I’m feeling truly empowered and happy. I’m sure that there are other things, but those are the ones that I’ve figured out how to verbalize so far.

It seems that the nomadic lifestyle mostly works for me.

* * * * *

While preparing to write this, I took a look at my values from The Joy Equation, which I mentioned in my second post.

Connection. Bliss. Abundance. Trust. Adventure. Courage. Magic. Strength. Without even planning it, I’ve ended up posting about each of those over the past five months. I love when it’s suddenly clear that I’m on the right track, even when I hadn’t been planning every detail.

Seeing in concrete terms that I’m now living my core values feels really fucking amazing.

* * * * *

Though my time writing in this space ends with this post, my journey will continue. Today I’m on a flight back to New York. That was definitely not part of the original plan – but then again, neither was staying in Europe until February. I wanted time for yoga, tattoos, my favorite foods, and friends and family.

And then: Australia. I’m sad to leave Europe, and at the same time, I’m ready to develop a routine again. I’m excited to meet Kate and other new friends, and pumped to start teaching yoga again. I’m gearing up for summer, kickboxing classes, and maybe learning how to surf!

I hope you’ll continue following my adventure:

twitter: shinyredtype
facebook: pierced hearts and true love
blog: piercedheartsandtruelove.com
yoga teaching schedule: katselvocki.com

Thank you all for being a part of my QLC! And as Edward Abbey wrote, “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”

[photo credit: my friend and travel buddy, Jenni]

The past five months have gone by entirely too quickly! It’s still a little mind-blowing to me that I’ve been on the road for nearly four of those five. A lot has happened during that time, and while the big things are obvious, I think the smaller changes are going to take another five months to process. And that’s okay! I want to keep growing and transforming as I continue working through my QLC and settling into my new life. I’m still so honored that I’ve been able to share this journey with all of you!

What are you obsessed with at this exact moment?

Zotter chocolate, yoga, mochas, getting my etsy shop up and running, visiting my OddDaughter in England, my impending gluten detox. (I’m gluten-intolerant, and I have not been careful during my travels.)

You can time travel but only to the past! What time period/ historical event do you go and experience?

This is an easy one! Every time I talk about Coney Island, I tell people that I want to go there during the early 1900s, when it was “America’s Playground”. Coney Island is literally one of my favorite places on the entire planet, and I’d love the opportunity to experience Luna Park, Steeplechase Park, and Dreamland in their heyday.

If you could be any animal, which animal would you be and why?

A tiger. I find them mesmerizing; they’re so strong, and yet still graceful.

Any person dead or alive, who would you have dinner with?

David Lynch. I think he’d be an utterly fascinating dinner companion, and boy, do I have some questions for him!

What is on your life’s soundtrack?

I planned my final yoga class at my old studio around the theme of overcoming fear. This was the playlist for the class, and I think it’s a pretty accurate soundtrack for my life as well:

In addition to that playlist, I’d add these songs that I can’t live without:

I’ve linked to as many of the songs as I could, so hopefully you’ll go forth and enjoy some new music – and if you like it, support the artists!

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?

If I could clone myself and simultaneously be with my friends in NYC, Seattle, Minneapolis, Raleigh, St. Augustine, San Francisco, Vancouver, Edmonton, Oxford, Graz, Vienna, Rabat, Melbourne, Sydney, and Okinawa – well, I’d do that. Since that’s not going to happen, I think I’ll stick with wanting to be where I as I’m writing this: Barcelona!

Who has been your biggest inspiration throughout your QLC?

My yoga kula (community): the ladies who completed teacher training with me and several other friends/mentors. They inspire me every day with their passion, bravery, and love.

If money, education, time, or location were not an issue, what would you be doing for work in life?

It feels pretty awesome to say this: I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing now/about to be doing (teaching yoga, writing, taking photographs, traveling)! I just wouldn’t need to worry about my bank account so much in the process. 🙂

What was the biggest mental shift you’ve made from 5 months ago to now?

Over the course of my last few weeks in New York, I was seriously doubting my decision to leave and my ability to keep myself afloat financially and emotionally without a 9-to-5 job. Now I feel certain that I did the right thing, and that I can make this all work.

What’s changed? List 10 little sweet things.

  1. I gave up my cozy Brooklyn apartment for a transient lifestyle.
  2. I don’t really mind wearing the same clothes four months in a row.
  3. I’ve developed and renewed so many amazing friendships.
  4. I miss good tacos and bbq.
  5. I’ve learned, once and for all, that my yoga practice – the reading, the āsana, the meditation – is crucial to my well-being.
  6. I drink coffee!
  7. I’ve visited 13 countries (six new ones and seven return trips).
  8. I’m learning to be less afraid of making mistakes.
  9. I’m a pro at navigating new European cities where I don’t speak the language.
  10. I don’t think I ever want to go back to the 9-5 world.

What’s one thing that you’ve learned – in general or about yourself – over the past five months?

I’ve (re)learned just how important it is for me to have a community. I am fortunate to have amazing friends scattered around the globe, but what makes a place feel like home for me is having some of my people nearby.

What would you have done differently on your Stratejoy journey if you were starting today?

I wish I’d put more time into soul-searching (writing morning pages, completing The Joy Equation, etc.) at the beginning. I feel like I’m only now beginning to tackle some of the really big, deep stuff! At the same time, I think that I needed space to get there, so maybe it’s all worked out for the best.

What song(s) will remind you of the past five months?

What is your favorite thing about YOU?

I am so proud of myself for doing things – from minor items to major life changes – even when they absolutely terrify me.

Name 3 things you absolutely love about yourself.

  1. I love that I’m my quirky self; I rock diverse interests that range from the badass to the absurd, and everything in between.
  2. I love that I’m not afraid to cry.
  3. I love that I don’t need a lot of stuff to survive and thrive.

How are you living life on your own terms?

I quit a steady job to travel the world and move to a new country to start a less traditional career path. Despite the concerns of my family and my slowly dwindling bank account – which will be pleased when I arrive in Sydney and also begin selling my photos – I am overall the happiest I’ve been in my life. Even when I get scared (and it definitely happens), I feel like I made exactly the right choice for me, and I love that I’m listening deeply and following my heart.

[photo credit: me!]

Dear 15-year-old Kat,

The past 15 years have been interesting, that’s for sure. Life certainly takes a much different path than you’re imagining right now, but I think you’re going to love the way it all comes together! There are so many things I want to tell you not to do (namely, guys to avoid), but if I did that, you’d miss so many other opportunities, so…I can’t. Bummer. (No, I really can’t. I know you’ve seen that episode of The Simpsons where Homer time-travels using a toaster, and things get crazy. I know you don’t want a world without doughnuts.)

I’m hoping that I can give you a little advice that will guide you through what’s to come, though. Even though you’re going to have certain challenging experiences, I promise you’ll learn from each of them, even when it doesn’t seem that way at the time.

I can tell you to be less afraid of questioning things, especially when it comes to your family. It’s okay to want what you want, even if they don’t understand it. (Hint: they’re never really going to get it, and that’s okay. They’re still your family and they love you.)

Speaking of your family, spend more time with your grandparents, looking through old photos and learning about your family history. Head over to make pierogi from scratch with your grandma, or have her teach you how to sew. Try to convince one of them to start teaching you Polish or Italian. You won’t regret that.

The love of travel that you’ll develop this coming summer is going to be hugely influential in your life. Run with it. And when your dad gives you his Nikon FM, get a tune-up for it immediately. You’ll want to take it with you everywhere you go. Take lots of photos.

Over the coming years, the saying that your friends are the family you choose will become increasingly true for you. Choose wisely! (Mostly you do.)

Don’t be afraid to be YOU. Be willing to break some of the rules. Let yourself dive into life, even though sometimes it hurts. You have an amazing support network, and they will help you through the tough times. Don’t be so hard on yourself!

Last but not least, I want you to know that you that you’re strong, capable, and beautiful. No matter what the guys you date over the years say – and some of them will say some awful stuff – that you shouldn’t stop believing that.

I love you! Don’t forget to love yourself, too!

30-year-old Kat

[photo credit: me!]

My friend Rebecca* and I decided that we’re going to implement a new test to determine whether we should be dating someone. The name of the test is still in the works, but that doesn’t matter. The point is that we think it’s going to be really useful.

It’s a simple test, really. All you have to do is give someone a zerbert (or raspberry – you know, where you put your mouth against their arm or belly and blow, and it makes a funny sound) and see how they react. Because let’s be honest: if someone can’t handle a zerbert, they’re not cut out for a long-term relationship, at least not one with Rebecca or me.

I haven’t decided at what point I will perform the test, though I suppose I’ll know when the situation arises. It doesn’t seem like first date material; however, I can’t remember the last time I had a typical first date, so maybe it could be. I could ask the basic questions – job (He should have one, and possibly like it.), last book he read (It needs to be something more recent than The Very Hungry Caterpillar, unless he spends a lot of time around two-year-olds.), favorite place he’s traveled (If he doesn’t travel, he gets the boot.), how often he calls his mom (Three times a day is not an acceptable answer.) – and follow them up with a zerbert.

…okay, maybe I should come up with an alternate plan.

I think the most practical application for me will be in bed. Now, naturally, I don’t want to have sex with someone before performing the zerbert test. If they can’t handle a zerbert, why would I want to go all the way with them? I’m thinking that perhaps the first time we find ourselves moving in that direction, I’ll lift up my date’s shirt and attack his belly. If he laughs, we can get it on. If he stares at me like I have three heads, I’ll have to hightail it out of that situation. Because if he thinks that’s weird, he probably won’t be able to cope with my penchant for having Spice Girls dance parties while I cook.

You see what I mean? It’s the perfect test.

This whole conversation started because over the course of my travels, I slept with someone new. Now, I tend to keep this sort of thing to myself – or at least a limited group of close friends, because let’s be honest, we all love talking about sex. I wanted to talk about this hookup in particular because, over the course of analyzing every detail, I realized something: I hadn’t enjoyed myself in bed that much since…2005? 2006?

Over years of worrying whether I look good enough naked, or being pushed away by my ex, or hooking up with inappropriate men, I forgot how much fun sex could be. I forgot what it was like to spend the day in bed wrapped up in each other. I forgot the electricity that can happen when a guy runs his fingers up my arms with fingertips barely grazing my skin. I forgot how good it can feel to get into a tickle war and shriek and laugh. I forgot that we can be silly in bed and that it doesn’t have to be so serious.

I think this guy would have passed the zerbert test.

Now, I do see one flaw with this new plan: someone could pass and still not be a good long-term partner for me. I’ll still have to ask those first (and second and third) date questions, think about whether he’d be a good father to our potential future children, know that he doesn’t hate my tattoos, and so on.

Chemistry and silliness – and the ability to appreciate the unexpected – are good steps in the right direction, though.

*Name has been changed!

[photo credit: me!]

There are a few things that I wish I’d known before I started traveling. The first, of course, is about the disconnect that I wrote about recently; apparently, that’s not an uncommon phenomenon. The second is that I wish someone had told me that I was going to put on weight.

Six months ago, I was probably in the best shape of my life. I was doing yoga regularly, drinking plenty of water and rarely consuming alcohol, and eating foods in response to my body’s needs (plenty of fruits and vegetables, protein as I craved it, no dairy or gluten). I’d finally dropped weight that hadn’t wanted to go, and I felt good in my own skin for the first time in years.

Once I got on the road, though, it was hard to maintain this routine. I haven’t been able to find (m)any yoga classes that I like as much as the ones at my old studio in New York, and it’s been hard to practice at home since I’ve been sharing a room. Though I’ve done my best to eat reasonably healthy food, I also tend to stick with the diets in the places I’m staying – and especially at the farms, that’s meant a lot of bread. (And when it’s not at the farms, it’s meant a lot of meat, especially in Central Europe. My love for that region knows no bounds, but cucumber and tomato – out of season, no less – do not a salad make.) I often haven’t been drinking enough water; I don’t relish using the bathrooms on overnight trains, for one.

The point of all of this is that when I recently saw myself in a full-length mirror for the first time in a few months, it was HARD. It’s tough to write that, because I feel absurd for even thinking it. The fact of the matter is, though, that I have a challenging time seeing myself as attractive.

I’m able to look at things rationally and see that my body is strong and capable. I can do yoga. I ran a 5K in June without training for it, and I was really happy with my time. I walk all over the damn place, including to the top of clock towers and such – even though I’m afraid of heights. I’m learning to play lacrosse because I might be competing in a tournament in Budapest – just because I can. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to look at myself and say that I’m beautiful, though, and putting back on weight that I lost a year ago doesn’t help.

In yoga, we talk about saṃskāras, or mental and emotions patterns. I like to picture them as the squiggly ridges on my brain, each groove representing a thought pattern that I developed over time. This one about beauty is very much present and accounted for, though I have no idea where it began. All I know is that it’s been reinforced over years of ex-boyfriends pointing out “flaws” in my body, of seemingly not being noticed by the men I find attractive, of constantly telling myself over and over that I’m not pretty enough.

It’s an awful way to exist.

I realized something important as I looked into the full-length mirror a few weeks ago. As I saw myself standing there, extra pounds and all, I finally understood the yogic practice of ahimsa. It’s often translated as non-violence, and it’s the reason why many yogis don’t eat meat. I’ve also heard it translated as compassion, though, and that day, something clicked. I’d always thought about compassion being directed externally – be kind to others, etc. – and then it hit me: practicing compassion needs to be internal, too. It seems like a simple thing, and yet, it’s really not, at least for me. How can I be a compassionate person when every day, I tell myself that I’m unattractive or not enough? How is it okay to look at my body and think horrible thoughts about my appearance?

So, here it goes: I am strong, capable, and beautiful.

Writing that feels difficult and vulnerable. It’s hard to read, and even tougher to believe. But you know what? I can’t keep telling myself awful things and expecting others to see me differently, though. Changing this thought pattern needs to start with me, right now.

How can you treat yourself with greater compassion?

[photo credit: me!]

New Year’s Eve is never much of a thing in my mind. It tends to sneak up on me, so I forget to make resolutions. I also don’t like crowds – especially after doing the Times Square ball drop thing in 2001 – which seems to rule out a lot of typical December 31 plans.

Mostly what this means is that I attempt to spend the evening with a small group of friends. We’ll eat, drink, and be merry, and then we’ll count down to midnight, champagne, and kisses. (Unless, of course, we get distracted by board games or conversation and miss midnight, in which case we’ll count down to a random time at which we yell “Happy New Year!” This has happened to me more than once.) So basically, it’s just like many other nights with my friends, except that we’re usually drinking wine instead of champagne, and high-fiving instead of kissing. I do my best to avoid straying too far from my apartment on December 31, because the last thing I want to do is commute home on the subway at some crazy hour with a bunch of crazy drunk people.

Some of my friends have New Year’s traditions that I really like, so in the past, I’ve tried to incorporate some of those into my own life. One of my best friends makes her resolutions at Chinese New Year. The holidays are her busiest time of year at work, so she doesn’t have a lot of time for reflection in December. When I considered doing that, I inadvertently let Chinese New Year slip by as well and avoided making resolutions yet again. Another friend always says, “Start as you mean to go on“. I guess I kind of do that now, as I described above, but that saying always makes me nervous. Since I already get a little stressed out about making plans that won’t involve the subway or spending a lot of money, I don’t want to add any more pressure to the night. Another tradition that I tried last year with a friend was throwing pieces of stale bread – each one representing something negative that we wanted to toss away – into the Hudson River. We used a loaf of bread that I’d baked with dough that had been in my fridge a little too long, and I found the motion incredibly satisfying. As 2010 involved my break-up and other challenges, I had a lot of things that I wanted to release. The whole process felt cleansing, though I wished I’d brought more bread.

It felt like I was Goldilocks trying all of these out, and nothing fit quite right – until I read about someone picking a word for the year. When I first saw a blog post about doing that, though, the person picked a word at random from the dictionary. Of course, I only had a French-English dictionary at home, and I ended up with words like scissors and hydraulic. Would you theme an entire 365 days around scissors or hydraulic? Hell no. I decided to declare the following 12 months my Year of Awesome. And it was. I traveled somewhere every month, saw friends and family, had a great roller derby season, blah blah blah. I was sold.

…until the next year rolled around and I completely missed choosing something in time for January 1. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

That moment confirmed that in my mind, New Year’s Eve is just another night. There is one day each year that does feel significant to me when it comes to making life changes, though: my birthday. These days, I select the word that will carry me through the coming 52 weeks by August 4, my new year’s eve. Beginning on August 5, that’s what guides me. As I mentioned way back when in my very first post, courage inspired me to make big decisions from August 5, 2010 through August 4, 2011. I dug deep to find the strength to follow through with that, and it was well-worth it.

At the moment, I’m approaching my halfway mark for my year of flourishing. Today and tomorrow, I’ll spend some time reflecting on that…

…or, if we’re being honest, I’ll likely just have a few drinks and spend time being silly with my friends.

Wherever you are, Happy New Year! May 2012 bring you love, joy, and the strength to follow your dreams – and flourish.

[photo credit: me!]

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I didn’t think this would be as hard as it is.

I’ve drafted countless posts about why I decided to spend the holidays in Europe, about not sticking with my plan to arrive in Australia in time to spend Christmas with my cousins there, about my family’s holiday traditions. I’ve been trying to slap a smile on my face about spending my first Christmas away from my parents and my brother. Everything that I’ve written so far felt false, and that’s not why I’m here.

So in the interest of speaking my truth, I’m here to tell you: it’s one week before Christmas, and I’ve been growing increasingly sad as December 25 draws nearer.

I didn’t think I would be. Christmas, though I have many fond memories and associated traditions, isn’t my favorite holiday. (In case you were wondering, that title goes to Thanksgiving, the day of eating all of the food and spending time with people you love.) I’ve grown accustomed to only seeing my parents once – or maybe twice – a year, and I saw them in May, shortly after I gave notice at my job. Also, I’m spending the holiday season in the best place in the world to do so: Central Europe. Lordy, do the people of this region love their Christmas markets, and I am all for that. Give me glühwein (mulled wine), cinnamon-crusted bread tubes, and glittering lights in cobblestoned squares. It’s magical, truly.

And yet, here I am, choking back tears as I think about how I won’t be baking cookies with my mom this year. (In fact, she was doing that while we were skyping yesterday.) I won’t be watching bits and pieces of A Christmas Story throughout the day, while it plays for 24 hours on TBS. (Does anyone actually sit and watch that movie the whole way through anymore?) I won’t be decorating a tree or carefully wrapping gifts for my family, including our labrador retriever, Max. (After you give him a new toy, he insists on taking it out into the back yard immediately.) I won’t be eating my parents’ homemade pierogi (the Polish equivalent of ravioli, stuffed with potato and cheese), my mom’s delicious Christmas Eve and Day feasts, or fried catfish and hushpuppies from Fred’s Fish House. (I love my mom’s cooking, but I’ve also got to take advantage of the fact that they live in the south now.)

Don’t get me wrong: I know that there are going to be awesome things about this Christmas. But right now, I want to acknowledge the sad parts. The missing-my-family parts. The things-changing-as-you-grow-up-kind-of-really-sucks-sometimes parts.

* * * * * * * * * *

By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be celebrating Christmas with my friends in Graz. I suspect baked goods and tasty drinks will be involved, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ll skype with my parents and grandparents, and send holiday wishes to friends who are far away. I hope that some of today’s sadness will have passed as I create new traditions with friends and enjoy my adventure.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you enjoy the day, however you celebrate. And if it’s just another Sunday, let it be a good one!

[photo credit: me!]

Nine years ago, I stepped off a train in Prague and proceeded to get scammed by a taxi driver. He charged me over three times what I should have paid – and I knew it – but there was nothing I could do at the time. I was a 21-year-old girl who didn’t speak a word of Czech, and I was trying to bargain with burly men who knew that. The alternative, though, was attempting to maneuver my large, unwieldy suitcase on an unfamiliar tram system, though, and that didn’t feel like much of an option.

I was already regretting my decision to spend four months living in this city. When I chose to go there, I didn’t really know anything about the city or the country. I only knew that it was in Eastern Europe, close to my family’s homeland of Poland. (And when I arrived, I found out that it was actually in Central Europe, so I hadn’t really known anything.) Colleagues from my internship who had been to Prague told me that it was incredibly beautiful, and that I would love my time there.

I arrived in Central Europe two weeks after devastating floods. I flew into Berlin with my ex-boyfriend, who was studying there for the semester, and then I took the train to Prague. After hours of riding in silence, the man sitting next to me told me that we were nearly there. I looked out the window and I wanted to cry. It was ugly. All I saw were tall, concrete apartment buildings – panelaks, built when the former Czechoslovakia was under Soviet rule – and I couldn’t believe it. Where was the beautiful architecture? Where were the charming cobblestone streets? What the fuck had I gotten myself into?

I don’t remember the drive through the city to my dormitory, which was up on top of the hill past the castle. Later, I would notice all of the incredible details on the buildings, the orange tile rooftops, the stunning towers and churches, and the cobblestone streets – things that would become fixtures of my daily commute to my university. Later, I would see all of the damage caused by the floods: the crumbled walls of buildings near the Vltava River, the piles of garbage by metro stations, the closed streets and trams running irregular routes. That afternoon, though, I didn’t process any of that. I arrived at Kolej Komenského, my home for the next four months, and wondered what I was going to do.

That night, I met all of my fellow students as we went to dinner a few blocks away at a Czech pub. I ate smažený sýr (fried cheese) and palačinky (Czech pancakes, which are like crepes) while having introductory conversations with the people I’d grow to know well over the next four months. When things started winding down, I left the restaurant with my roommate and two of our classmates. We walked to the top of the hill – a route we would grow to know well over the coming months – and when we got to the top, something caught our attention.

There was chanting. After a minute, we realized that it was coming from the monastery. It was entrancing. We walked around the building, trying to see where it was coming from, but we couldn’t see anyone inside. While we stood there, listening, I turned around and looked down the hill.

Prague was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.

As I gazed over the glowing city – especially the domes and spires of churches lit up at night – I was certain that by the end of the semester, I’d take that view for granted. I figured that once things became routine, the city wouldn’t feel so incredible anymore. That never happened. Prague’s beauty and magic stayed with me that semester, and my creativity soared during that time. Something about being there feels electric to me, inspiring and powerful. If you can fall in love with a city, I did so with Prague that night near the monastery.

* * * * * * * * * *

Three weeks ago, I stepped off a plane at Ruzyně airport in Prague, and I bought a transit pass. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and hopped on a bus to the metro. I listened to the announcements in Czech, catching a few words and phrases that I remembered. When I exited the metro, I easily navigated familiar streets and headed to a favorite cafe to meet some friends.

This was my fourth visit back, and it still – always – feels like home. Each time I’ve visited, I’ve returned with my roommate from that semester abroad, and we have a list of old favorites that we try to be sure to see. This time, we spent a day walking through Petřín Park, a place where I spent many hours wandering, reading, and writing nine years ago. As we exited the park near the top of the hill, we passed that same monastery that gave us pause our first night there. Dusk was settling over the city, and looking out over the church tops and orange tile roofs, I fell in love all over again. As my friends and I walked down the hill toward the restaurant where I spent my first night in Prague nine years ago, I knew that the magic of the city will stay with me.

Though this last visit was entirely too brief, I’m not worried; I know that I’ll keep going back. We may have started off on the wrong foot, but Prague and I, we’re connected.

Have you ever fallen in love with a city, or visited a place that took your breath away?

[photo credit: me!]

It’s been over two months since I left New York and a “normal” daily life behind. When I was there, I dealt every day with the stresses of my job and commuting – the high level of hostility emanating from people on the subway and the streets really got to me sometimes – and so I had particular self-care tactics that I used regularly to keep myself sane.

Now that I’m living one of my dreams, traveling Europe, and spending my time doing things that I love, my self-care system – and any routines, really – have fallen by the wayside. I eat my meals according to what’s typical in the countries that I visit, and it’s not necessarily the most balanced diet. I occasionally take yoga classes, but haven’t been practicing at home. I don’t talk to – or email – my friends and my family with any regularity. And sleep schedule? What sleep schedule?

I hadn’t thought much about it for my first six or so weeks; it didn’t really bother me. And then, I visited Fes. I loved Morocco, Fes, and the medina. Loved. The medina – or old, walled city – in Fes is the largest contiguous car-free area in the world, and it’s a giant maze of trinkets, delicious food, and stunning handicrafts. My friends and I spent two days exploring, bargaining, taking photos, and eating. It was a beautiful and fascinating sensory experience.

And that’s when it all caught up with me.

We stopped at a shop to buy scarves, and after a long sales pitch from the proprietor, my friends picked theirs out. I, on the other hand, froze. I couldn’t choose. The owner of the shop was saying how sad he was that I didn’t see anything I liked, and he kept putting different scarves around my neck. It took everything I had left not to burst into tears on the spot. (As a side note, if you want the price of two silk scarves to drop by 100 Moroccan dirhams – the equivalent of about $12 or 10 euros – look like you’re going to cry.)

All I could think about for the next few days was escaping. I was desperate to find a city where I could go and get a reasonably-priced hotel room with free wifi. My idea was that I would go to that place and camp out in the hotel bed for a few days, leaving only to find delicious, inexpensive food. I even asked facebook and twitter for suggestions about what that city would be.

Then I realized: I didn’t need to go somewhere special. Sure, I might miss some of the sights in my next stop, Barcelona, but who cares? Isn’t my health and sanity more important?

I spent the morning before I left Madrid looking for yoga studios and nail salons in Barcelona. I found a few different studios with reasonable prices and good class times, as well as a place to get a pedicure. I did some yoga before breakfast. I picked up some healthy snacks at the Mercado San Miguel later that day, so that I wouldn’t be tempted by gluten-filled train station food the next morning.

And you know what? Just the action of recognizing that I didn’t have to run around trying to do Barcelona made me feel a little better. That acknowledgment helped remind me that this – exploring and experiencing Europe – is my life now, and that I get to choose how I do that, and when to take a step back.

Look, I’m not saying that having shiny purple polish on my toenails fixed everything in my life, but it sure as hell reminds me every time I see them that this is fun – and that taking care of myself wins over seeing all of the sights.

[photo credit: me!]

The day that my friend Emily and I left Morocco, we were on a very tight schedule. We had 3:05 p.m. train tickets from Algeciras in southern Spain to Madrid, so we had to plan the Morocco end of our travel around that. Missing that train wasn’t an option: if we weren’t on it, Emily wouldn’t make it back to Madrid in time for her flight the following day. We opted to depart from Rabat at 6:42 a.m. on a train that would put us in Tangier around 10:30 a.m., leaving us with merely half an hour to catch our 11:00 a.m. ferry to Spain. (Is this starting to feel like a strange math problem to anyone else?)

We had settled on this plan simply because the alternative was a 2:00 a.m. train from Rabat, and arriving in Tangier at 6:30 a.m. seemed…unappealing. We already knew that the train station there was far from welcoming, and getting a bit of sleep seemed like a good idea. Perhaps our initial priority of maximizing our time in Morocco hadn’t been the best one, but there was no way to change that now. We needed to make the best of this new, rigid schedule.

When we boarded our train in Rabat, our assigned carriage had the lights off and a man sleeping, so we decided to sit in the next carriage that had open seats. We passed the first few hours of the ride napping and chatting with each other. About an hour before our arrival, the older Moroccan woman sitting across from us asked us about the henna designs on our hands. So began a conversation with her – in French – about our time in Morocco, her experiences in France, and politics. With the help of the other girl in our carriage, who spoke both French and English, we carried on a lovely and lively multilingual dialogue.

As our train pulled into the station in Tangier, Emily and I nervously eyed the time on our cell phones. We had under 30 minutes to get to the port, purchase our tickets, and board the ferry. Things didn’t seem promising, and if we missed that boat, there was no way we could make our train. Our new Moroccan friend saw our concerned looks and asked about our ferry. As we climbed down the stairs of the train, she signaled for us to follow her. My hopeful assumption was that she was going to help us get a taxi, and I knew that transaction would go much more smoothly – and be less expensive – with her assistance.

When we exited the station, she led us through the hoard of taxi drivers trying to get fares and found us one off to the side. She told us to get in the back, and she hopped into the front seat. I heard a flurry of Darija (Moroccan Arabic), and we were off. She asked which ferry company we were using, and we told her the name – and also that we still needed to buy tickets. More conversation in Darija followed.

Ten minutes before our ferry’s departure time, we pulled up to the ticket seller, thanked her profusely, and hurried up to the counter. She watched until we were in the process of purchasing our tickets before the cab drove off.

Every day of this trip, I am thankful for the kindness of strangers. Without this woman’s help, we never would have managed to find the ticket counter and make it to our ferry in time. I wake up every day full of gratitude for the life I’m leading right now, for the amazing people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had. I hope that someday, I’ll be able to offer the same generosity to others that I’ve received: the places to stay, the rides, the shared meals, the companionship.

For now, I’ll continue giving thanks and not taking all of this for granted.

[photo credit: me!]

When I arrived in Paris, the acquaintance with whom I was staying apologized for his sparse apartment; he’s going through a transition and doesn’t have very much stuff right now. I pointed at the bags I’d placed on the floor a few minutes earlier and said that I understood. He replied, knowingly, “That’s your home.”

I’ve been thinking about the concept of home quite a bit recently; it was hard not to after I closed the door to my Brooklyn apartment one final time. I hadn’t – and still haven’t – signed a lease on a new flat; all I’ve got for the foreseeable future are friends’ couches, hostel beds, and the two carry-on bags referenced in my bio below. It’s an interesting place to be.

For years, I’ve been the type of person who will refer to wherever I’m sleeping that night as home. I remember being on a trip – to Paris, in fact – in high school, and when other people would say something about returning to the hotel, it was just “going home” in my mind. At the time, I thought that I phrased things that way for the sake of being concise; however, as I look back, I think there’s more to it than that.

That trip to France at age 15 marked my first time on an airplane, as well as my first trip abroad. (Other than to Canada. And actually, when my family visited Ontario, we didn’t need passports to go. In other words, it doesn’t count.) I knew from the moment I set foot on the streets of Paris – well, except for an unfortunate incident involving a croque monsieur, which did not taste delicious when I was feeling nauseated and jetlagged – that I wanted to visit more places. A lot more. In fact, I wanted to be a fancy international businesswoman so that I could traipse all of the world and get paid to do it.

I’d caught the travel bug.

Though that initial dream of corporate-funded globetrotting never really materialized, I became a traveler. My mom even started calling me her little nomad. Since that first time in another country in 1997, I’ve lived* in 16 places and crashed in countless others – hotel rooms, hostels, friends’ apartments, camps, farms, etc. Each of those has been home in my mind, even if only for a night. I’m happy that I developed that perspective, because without it, I think it would be very difficult to take this trip.

We all hear from a young age that “home is where the heart is.” I wasn’t sure until now whether that was true for me. I mean, if that quote is correct, shouldn’t my heart be with my family, or best friends, or…something invariable?

And then it hit me this morning: that is exactly where my heart is. It’s on the road, with my loved ones scattered around the globe. It’s in cities where I found inspiration and new life. It’s in experiences shared with friends and family, in meals and memories. Home is transient because I am, and my heart is with me as I go.

What makes somewhere home for you?

*In this instance, I’m defining places I’ve lived as anywhere I’ve paid rent (dorm rooms included) or houses where I’ve stayed rent-free for more than one month.

[photo credit: me!]

When I turned 29, disaster struck. Suddenly, I wanted to have a baby.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me, it was entirely unexpected. Prior to August 5, 2010, I didn’t care whether or not I had children. I adamantly declared that fact for years – just ask my mom. Friends would tell me that my biological clock would kick in someday; I was convinced that I didn’t possess one.

My brother has always wanted to have a family, so I figured that he could have kids, and I would be the awesome aunt who got them cool gifts as she traveled around the world. It was going to be great.

It’s unclear to me why my biological clock decided to make its grand appearance as I was in the middle of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad breakup. Apparently my body didn’t get the memo that I wanted nothing to do with those of the XY chromosomes. I can’t recall exactly how it started, whether I woke up and went, “Ohmylord I want a baby!” or if it was my sudden, overwhelming desire to coo over photos of friends’ children. It was there, and it wasn’t going away.

It took some time, but I thought I’d tamed the beast. Sure, I still ooo and ahh over my friends’ kids. I love hanging out with my two-year-old pals, even when they want me to read the same book to them 27 times in a row. It melts my cold heart when I see attractive dads with their kids, and I wonder if I’ll ever find an awesome partner to co-parent with me. Still, I find that my biological clock, while it makes me a little sappier, is overall manageable.

Or at least, I did. And then I spent two weeks in England with my OddDaughter, B. She just turned one, and she. is. amazing.

You see those stacking cups in the photo above? I can’t tell you how many times I rebuilt that tower to see the great joy in her face when she knocked it down again. I read the same five or so books – her favorites – over, and over, and over again. Sometimes, we wouldn’t even finish them before she’d want me to start from the beginning. (One-year-olds, goodness. Talk about a crazy short attention span.) When her parents brought her downstairs in the morning, she’d come into the living room, beaming – especially the day that she put her toy train that plays music next to my head to wake me up.

I knew I was in trouble when I was willing to sing at least 20 verses of “Old MacDonald” to get her to stop crying in the car ride home one evening. For the love, that farm had a seal and a tyrannosaurus rex on it! I can’t describe the sheer joy of tiny hugs when I would pick her up, or glee over high fives. The day that I saw a photo that my friend had taken of the two of us about to go down a slide, I actually had to look away because it made my heart ache so much.

Apparently, my biological clock is actually a biological time bomb.

There are a lot of ways in which I’m not on the same track as many of my peers. I don’t own a home, nor do I want to. I quit a good job to travel around the world and settle in another country. I’m single and don’t have any marriage prospects. And you know what? I’m okay with all of those things.

This one, though – my desire to be a mother – gets to me. I think about the fact that I only have about ten good child-bearing years left in me. When will I be ready for this? (Yes, no one is every fully prepared, but as someone who’s traveling indefinitely at the moment, I want to be sure I can create a stable home.) With no long-term partners on the horizon, at what point do I need to consider asking a friend to co-parent with me? (I know that I don’t want to raise a child alone.) Even more difficult to ponder, what if I can’t conceive? Is adoption an option I’m willing to entertain?

I don’t know whether I’ll ever know the answers to any of those questions. What I do know is that these freaking hormones are no joke.

Tick…tick…tick…

[photo credit: me!]

Over the course of my life, I’ve made some pretty poor choices about friends. At a very young age, I had a friend stab me in the back of the head with a pencil. (Okay, that was an accident that happened while she was hugging me to thank me for the pencil, but still. It should have been a sign. Years later, she ended a coffee date early to go do her ironing.) In high school, two separate groups of friends stopped speaking to me for no apparent reason. (Fortunately, only one of those groups decided to compose mean songs and poems about me.) In college, one of the first close friends that I made decided that we got too close too soon, and then I never heard from her again. (It was probably all for the best, as she lived in one of the dorms all the way on the other side of campus. Still, it was strange. I mean, don’t all early college friendships begin with fast bonding over something random?) These days, it usually works that a close friend starts dating someone, and then suddenly, I’m no longer needed as the partner-in-crime/adventure buddy/confidante. (Admittedly, I’m pretty sure I’ve done that to people, too – and yet, it still stings when it happens.)

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that the friends I’ve got are the most amazing people in my life. They’ve stuck with me through: cross-country and cross-city moves; poor dating/relationship choices; job transitions; joining and subsequently retiring from roller derby; starting a business (and then determining that it wasn’t the right time); and obviously, my current travel adventure. My friends have had many a long discussion with me about all of those decisions, and I’m a lucky lady in that regard. And of course, there have been all of the fun times, too!

I always expect that those two scenarios will balance out over time, and yet, in the end, it’s often easier to get stuck in the mode of remembering the bad things that have happened. Enter: trust issues. The type where I feel like if I obsess about one more decision out loud to my friends, they’re going to tell me to get over it and stop being so self-absorbed. The sort that lead to difficulties opening up to people. The kind that make it hard to ask for help, even from those who know me best.

My time in Iceland challenged all of that.

I expected to be spending my two weeks there alone, save for a few interactions with my CouchSurfing host and the farmers. I figured I would learn about sheep and producing jam for sale, struggle with Icelandic words, and spend my evenings reading and knitting. I suspected I would excitedly await my time in England, when I’d finally get to be with friends who were fluent in English and wanted to hang out with me.

Things didn’t exactly work out that way.

When I arrived at the farm, there were already two other volunteers there. This turned out to be a very good thing, as I soon discovered that the farmer was a teacher and thus not home all day. I wouldn’t have known where to find anything or what to do if not for them – and I also wouldn’t have learned as quickly how little work there was to do. And I most definitely wouldn’t have decided to hitchhike to another farm further east that needed extra hands harvesting before the first snow.

Before this year, I probably would have stuck it out on the farm alone, even though my compatriots were leaving for likely greener pastures. I would have assumed that hitchhiking wouldn’t be safe enough to try, and that I might get stuck in the middle of nowhere – or worse. (Americans don’t really hitchhike much, at least not in my experience.) If I decided that the farm really would be too sad and lonely, I would have paid for an earlier flight to England and high-tailed it out of Iceland to a safe space with people who know me well.

I chose to try something different.

In one of my first posts, I talked about realigning my life to reflect my values, and one of those is trust. After spending two days hitchhiking about halfway around Iceland, I think I can safely say that I’m learning to live that one. For two days, I traveled with two people I’d met less than a week earlier, trusting that they wouldn’t abandon me somewhere along the way. I relied on the kindness of strangers driving past, who were giving us rides in exchange for nothing other than conversation with an American, a Belgian, and a German (and sometimes cookies, which I’d baked without a recipe before leaving the first farm – and I must say, they were a big hit). I needed to trust that our lifts would be safe drivers on winding Icelandic roads; it’s a small enough country that I didn’t need to worry that they knew where we were going. I hoped that once we got to the junction nearest the farm, that the directions we’d received from the farmer would be clear enough that we’d easily find it as we walked at dusk with all of our bags.

Two days, 600 kilometers, six lifts (including a member of an Icelandic punk band and a former Icelandic Olympian), two dozen cookies, an unexpected stay in a village called Kirkjubæjarklaustur (seen in the above photo), three kilometers walking from the main road to the farm, and countless hours waiting by the side of the road and at petrol stations, we made it. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I haven’t even touched on the people that I met on the other farm or my two CouchSurfing hosts, both of whom turned out to be really rad. I haven’t talked about the connection I formed with the two other volunteers with whom I was traveling, the silly inside jokes we developed, and the ease of our time together. I haven’t shared any of the farming experiences I had and what I learned about herding sheep and harvesting turnips. All of those things were a bit part of my two weeks in Iceland, too.

What I’ll remember the most, though, is how letting other people in and trusting strangers can lead to adventure and magic, and that I’m ready to do that a little bit more than I was before.

[photo credit:  me!]

I had the pleasure of meeting the gorgeous and badass Jenn Gibson on twitter, and her website, Roots of She, is one of my favorite places on the internet these days. (If you haven´t checked it out, go now – after you read the interview, of course. It´s an inspiring collection of shared stories for and by women, and I think you´ll love it, too)

I think she´s rad, and I was thrilled that she was willing to share a piece of her story with me for the Stratejoy tribe! I´ll let you meet her in her own words:

In 100 words or fewer, who’s Jenn?

I’m a yoga lover and a believer in the power of dreaming big. Kittens and dancing make my heart go pitty-pat. I moved back home over the summer, bought a little house near the beach and love being so close to my family again. I write gratitude lists more often than to-do lists, and my favorite things right now are watching the leaves fall, listening to the wind high up in the trees, drinking hot tea and the quiet time before sunrise.

What motivated you to start Roots of She?

Because a site like this needed to exist. I’m coming to the table with feminist beliefs and a deep-seated need to translate those beliefs into something empowering and welcoming. My intention for this site: to act as a gathering place for women, a place where we can share our stories, no matter what flavor or bent they take. Think of a country porch on a cool summer evening, sitting around in rocking chairs or swings with mugs of tea in your hand – that feeling of home, safety, connection, solidarity. That’s how I hope you feel when you visit.

With Roots of She, you’ve created the opportunity to connect with so many amazing women. What have you learned from the tribe members that’s touched you the most deeply?

Wow, that’s a tough question because these women teach me every time they put fingertips to keyboard. One thing that’s resonating right now is something that Hannah taught me — the power of making my bed each morning. I would never make my bed before, absolutely loathed doing it, viewed it as a waste of time. I took her course The Joy Up over the summer and one segment of it was about making your bed. Something simple, right? So, grumbling and huffing and probably stomping my feet some, I started making my bed. Then I noticed that setting my space to rights each morning was calming, soothing. Relaxing, even, because I knew that when I would go to sleep that night, my bed would be a peaceful place. The sheets would be pulled up, the pillows plumped. There would be no chaos of tangled and jumbled sheets, no blankets left in disarray. It establishes my room as sacred space.

Do you feel like you’re going through/went through a quarterlife crisis? Tell me a little bit about your experience of it.

Oh, if you were here, you’d’ve just heard such an inelegant and loud snort. Yes, I totally went through a quarterlife crisis, complete with John Mayer soundtrack. I graduated from college when I was 23 and jumped right into working at a newspaper — oh man, journalism just got me so revved up. And then… and then it didn’t anymore. Then I got tired of being told which stories to tell and how to tell them. It just wasn’t working for me, and I angsted all over my friends and family. I had no idea what to do, I felt so small and lost. After a while, I decided that I’d go to grad school and get certified to teach. I loved working with kids and ensuring that they had a strong foundation of knowing that… they were enough, that they could do anything, it was so important to me. One thing led to another and I had to put those dreams on pause. Once in a while I would wonder what life would be like, who I would’ve become, if things had been different, but life is awesome from where I’m standing, I’m happy.

Who/what inspires you?

Who: Danette Relic. Hannah Marcotti. Pixie Campbell. Amanda Oaks. Rachael Maddox. Gwen Bell. Tara Wagner. Jen Lemen.

What: The smallness of every day. Baptiste yoga. Being around people who get so jazzed on life it can’t help but rub off.

Who/what challenges you?

Who: Me. I get in my own way so often, bahaha. Sometimes I get so wound up about things that it feels like I’m literally standing in my own way. When that happens I know I need to take a break and step away from things.

What: Anxiety and depression.

As you know, I’m a girl who loves to travel, so I love other people’s travel stories. What’s your favorite place that you’ve ever visited? Why?

Hee! I love San Diego! I went there a couple of years ago — it was in February, the East Coast had just gotten spanked by two blizzards, and days after that, there I am standing on a pier and people are apologizing to me for it only being 60 degrees. I couldn’t believe it, it was amazing and something I never thought I’d be able to do. Oh wow, the ocean was so big and pretty. It was vast and I looked out and thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

Any final words of wisdom for the Stratejoy tribe?

Hmm. Yes, actually. These are the things I wish someone had told me when I was 25 and 23 and 28: Your value and worth exceeds any dollar amount. You can do anything, even if you don’t believe it right now, even if things are hard, your potential is limitless. Be fierce and fearless, trust in yourself and your tribe. And when you get scared, remember to breathe. You can handle anything a breath at a time.

Money’s been on my mind a lot lately. Long-term travel plans will do that to you, I suppose. I’ve got a variety of fears related to this trip, but the one that’s most consistently present is the fear of running out of cash. I touched on that in my post about my travel/moving plans, but I think it’s worth a closer look. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here, and I suspect this fear is what stops some people from following their dreams of traveling, opening a business, and more.

My parents raised me to make very practical choices about money. My family is solidly middle class–perhaps even upper middle class in the economically-depressed area where I grew up–and they taught me from a young age to save. I’ve never been the type of person to accumulate a large sum of credit card debt, and while I was employed, I was putting money into a retirement account. I decided to leave my job in Seattle to do AmeriCorps partly because the paychecks were sometimes uncertain. Even though I wasn’t going to earn a lot of money during my AmeriCorps year, at least I was able to plan for that.

Point being: my nature is to make reasonably intelligent financial decisions and save money.

What the fuck was I thinking when I quit my job?!

I was thinking that I’d spent a few years automatically transferring 20-30% of my earnings into a savings account every month. I knew that someday I’d use that money to do something awesome, and that time had come. When it wasn’t in my checking account, I didn’t spend it. It was like magic when I looked at the savings balance later!

I was thinking that I was tired of earning my keep in a way that drained me. I was doing so many things on the side that I enjoyed–teaching yoga, blogging, taking photographs–and I wanted more time to explore those options as a potential sources of income.

I was thinking that life is short, and that I’ve never really bought into the idea that we should wait until we retire to follow our dreams. A former coworker once said to me: “It’s hard to dance when you have a walker, but it’s easy to sit at a desk and type.” I don’t want to wait my whole life to do something that I’m excited about now. I don’t want to spend my whole life saving for something that might never happen.

I’m not advocating racking up debt to fund crazy plans and diving into things with reckless abandon. That’s not my style. I am suggesting that if we want to do awesome things, we need to make those a priority. I was able to save the money for this trip by living what some people saw as a spartan lifestyle. I spent money on the things that mattered most–travel and food, including eating out with friends–and I was cautious about the rest. There were certainly times that I missed living alone, but I saved hundreds of dollars each month by having a roommate. I rarely bought things like clothes, books, and other random items because those weren’t in my budget.

My dad said to me a few years ago that he and my mom had a hard time understanding me because they saw my brother buying things (new tv, car stereo, etc.), and I wasn’t like that. I like to spend my money on experiences. That’s how I choose to live my life, and that includes the financial side of it.

All of that doesn’t take away the fear of running out of cash. You know what’s scarier to me, though? Planning around a someday that might never arrive and living a life that isn’t authentic.

Of course, I’ve still got a semi-meticulous travel budget. It’s not like I can get away from my upbringing that easily.

[photo credit: me!]

Confession: This trip scares the bejesus out of me.

I’m writing this at a café in Reykjavík, and by the time you read this post, I’ll be cozied up with one of my best friends in England. I will have spent two weeks traveling alone in a country where I speak about five words of the language, and one of those is (pronounced – and meaning – hi).

This visit to Iceland is my first time traveling alone. Sure, I’ve flown plenty of places by myself, but I always knew that someone familiar would be meeting me at the end of the flight. It’s not that I didn’t want to take some solo trips; it’s that each time I began planning one, a friend decided to join me. Those experiences turned out to be a blast, and in the end, I was always a little relieved that I didn’t have to go it alone. Now, here I am at age 30, and I’m finally taking my first solo adventure.

It’s both thrilling and terrifying.

I love being on a schedule that is entirely of my choosing. I think one of the toughest things about traveling with friends is figuring out how to balance the time together so you don’t drive each other insane, as well as finding the right travel partner who wants to see and do the same things as you. It’s hard if you’re someone who likes to get up early and go to museums if the person you’re with likes sleeping late and shopping all day. My schedule will change once I leave the city to work on a farm tomorrow; right now, though, it’s exactly what I want. That’s been rad, especially after my crazy final week of frenzied packing and preparation in Brooklyn. (My time in Seattle was lovely, too; however, I was sick for half of that, which made it…a little less fun.)

Of course, there’s also the scary stuff. I worry the most about the increased risk of being harassed, mugged, attacked, or raped. I suspect that I’m not the only single woman who fears those things. I was jumpy while walking around my old neighborhoods in the States on the best of nights, and then I wasn’t usually carrying as much stuff with me. I’ve been followed home more than once, in different cities, and it was really creepy. I don’t like to be paranoid, but this is a reality that I need to consider.

I’m also getting used to simply being alone, and it’s a challenging adjustment. Between having a fancy internet phone and a consistent internet connection at work, I’ve grown used to being accessible all the time. I did get an Icelandic phone number and some pre-paid credit, but it’s not the same as unlimited minutes on weekends. When I have wi-fi, I can share photos and stories on facebook and twitter, but I don’t have an unlimited data plan to update as things are happening. While it’s probably a good thing to break that addiction, it’s tough because I want to be able to share moments since there isn’t someone here experiencing them with me.

I think the strangest and hardest thing about being alone here is that…this is it. When you live in a place where you know people, you can choose to be alone. When you’re visiting or living in a city where you don’t know anyone, there isn’t someone to call to make plans later. It would be completely normal for me to go on a solo photo walk in Brooklyn, because I could always call and meet up with someone later. If I spent a weekend by myself, I always knew that work would roll around on Monday and I’d see familiar faces of friends there. Here, I’ve got me.

Still, I’m doing this. I’m here, and I’m facing my fears. I spent the past two days walking around Reykjavík solo, taking in the sunshine (and the rain), the ocean air, the sounds of languages around me while I walk in silence. I ate my favorite foods from last year; in case you’re curious, those were lobster soup and pylsur (Icelandic hot dogs). I visited museums that I missed on my last trip and wandered semi-familiar streets. I stayed with a CouchSurfing host, and tomorrow, I leave to work on a farm that raises sheep, grows rhubarb, and makes the rhubarb into jam and other treats. I have no idea what that will be like, and I can’t wait to find out.

I may be alone. I may be afraid. I don’t know what’s on the other side of either of those things. But here I am, writing at a café in Reykjavík, and I’m happy to be here and excited to learn what’s next.

[photo credit: me!]

It might be that I have a terrible memory, or it might be that I’ve blocked out a lot of my high school years. Whatever it is, I don’t recall much of 1995-1999. Bits here and there, yes, but nothing particularly consistent.

One thing that I do remember is a quote from one of my teachers. Maybe it’s because it was particularly poignant, or maybe it’s because he gave several homilies based on that quote over the years. (I attended a Catholic high school, and we had weekly Mass on Wednesday mornings.) All I know is that to this day, I’ve got this line ingrained in my mind:

“You can’t give thanks for what you take for granted.”

I grew up believing that I could do anything. At age six, the list of careers I thought I might have ranged from fashion designer to the first female president of the United States. From reading, to painting and drawing, to Girl Scouts, my parents encouraged my hobbies. By age 10 or 11, my grandfather had me reading and discussing the business section of The New York Times on Sundays. Most distinctly, I remember winning my local spelling bee at age 13, and my dad asked me what was next. I responded that I would win regionals and compete in the National Spelling Bee that year.

And you know what? I did. And my parents were behind me 100% of the way.

I’m a little hard on my parents sometimes because I wasn’t allowed to choose a creative career/degree. Looking back on it, I don’t know that I would have been able to put together a portfolio that would have gotten me into an art school, and I don’t know that it would have been the best thing for me in the long run. I can give you a list of reasons why I feel like college made me dumber–though the more I think about it, what I really mean is that my undergraduate degree in business and the accompanying classes killed my creativity. It’s taken me years of slowly building my creative confidence again to do what I’m doing now: traveling, teaching, and building writing and photography portfolios.

Here’s the thing, though: you can’t give thanks for what you take for granted.

I forget that I was able to read at age three, and that my parents enrolled me in some accelerated classes in elementary school. Approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries aren’t in school at all according to the Girl Effect, and I had the chance to go above and beyond basic schooling with those classes and extracurriculars.

I ignore the fact that college was a given for me, and even though I didn’t exactly choose the right degree, I learned a lot about myself when I was there, met interesting people and made some long-term connections, and was able to study and live in another culture for four months. According to the Girl Effect, an extra year of secondary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 15 to 25 percent.

I’m fortunate that I am 30, single, and have enough money saved to travel for three months and move to another country. It’s easy to forget that when you’re living in a culture like the one in New York City, where you can’t keep up with people who are making two or more times your income, where rents are high, and where the first question anyone asks is what you do for work.

I’m lucky that I grew up with a family that pushed me to excel in and out of school. I’m fortunate that I was able to get a degree that helped me obtain a job that increased my earnings so that I could save the money to live life on my terms now. Without the foundation that I had, all of the work I’ve done over the past ten years probably wouldn’t have gotten me here.

On my photo blog, one of our recent themes was gratitude. Ending the New York chapter of my life and beginning the next part of my journey has had me thinking about my family, friends, and life in new ways.

It’s time to give thanks.

[photo credit: me!]

I’ve come to expect any or all of the following questions when I tell people that I’m moving to Australia:

It’s not that I mind answering them; I’ve come to terms with the fact that they’re going to come up, and clearly, I like talking about myself. The catch is that I don’t really have answers to any of those questions…

…and I like it that way.

People don’t seem to know how to react to that. It’s not that I blame them; after all, I’ve had six months or so to come to terms with my decision and how I’ve (not) planned things. At first, their responses made me uncomfortable. I stopped wanting to talk about my travel plans for a while, because I didn’t want to deal with the shift in tone of voice or odd look when I didn’t have concrete answers. I’ve been learning to come to terms with the fact that I’m not crazy for doing this, and I’m making a valid choice and can have faith in my decision.

Here’s the thing: with the exception of my AmeriCorps year, I’ve spent the past eleven (!) years working in event planning in some way, shape, or form. I can research options, create schedules, manage logistics, and coordinate people with the best of them. I love a good to-do list, and for the most part, I don’t shy away from spreadsheets. (In fact, I’ve got quite a few of them to assist with some unavoidable moving and travel logistics.)

After planning out all of those details for so long, I just don’t want to do it anymore. After living by a relatively rigid schedule–elementary school, high school, college, 9-to-5 jobs–I want to step away from that for a while. I want to reclaim my time, explore, and see if there’s a better way to structure my life. I’ve created the opportunity for myself to do just that, and I’m going to run with it as best I can.

Since I’m really excited about my globetrotting and my move, though, I can tell you what I do know. I’m spending about three months traveling, with the intention of arriving in Australia shortly before Christmas. When I initially started planning this trip, I was going to take a week in Seattle and a week in England (or maybe a week in England and a week in Austria–who can keep track at this point?) before heading down under, and then somehow, the trip kept growing. Not that I’m complaining!

The next three months will be filled with new adventures, friends old and new, good food, and quality time with myself. I’m in Seattle now with one of my dearest friends, and then heading to Europe for a mix of solo travel and journeying with friends. I’ll volunteer on farms in Iceland and Italy and celebrate my OddDaughter’s first birthday at her home in England. I’ll take a solo train ride through France and Spain en route to meet up with friends from my knitting circles in Morocco. I’ll gather with another group of kamarádky for Thanksgiving in Prague; my heart starts to beat faster when I think about walking those familiar streets that captured my heart during my study abroad. I’ll head to Austria with some of my Prague travel companions to spend time visiting with them in their home. I’ve got a very loose schedule for the solo parts of the journey, and a little more structure when other people are involved.

It’s going to be awesome.

And then: Australia. That’s where I really don’t have answers. I’m planning on teaching yoga, yes. I have some job leads, yes. I have friends and family who are willing to house me, at least for a little while, so I won’t be homeless when I arrive. (And realistically, I could always stay in a hostel if I needed. I wouldn’t be without shelter.) And I’m okay with this.

I was going to say that I’m completely, 100% okay with this. That would be a lie. Of course there’s a part of me that’s terrified. I’m moving to a country halfway around the world, with a dream of teaching yoga full-time and a vague idea of where I’m going to live. Who wouldn’t feel some fear? In the end, though, I’m more afraid of being stuck where I’ve been.

These days, when people ask those questions, I give my nebulous answers. And every time, I remind myself of two things:

1. My dream has been to travel and move to Australia. I’m doing that. No matter what happens once I get there–even if I end up working odd jobs to pay the bills, or coming home after a few months–I’ve succeeded. I left my job to follow my dream, and it’s happening.

2. I have many homes, and I’m choosing not to live in them right now. One of my greatest fears is that I will end up running out of money with no place to live. That will never happen, because I have friends who will always, no matter what, let me spend weeks–or even months–on their couches or air mattresses or spare beds until I figure things out. I will always have a home–many homes–to return to.

Even though the answers aren’t always complete enough for most people, they’re perfect for me.

[photo credit: me!]

I’ve been grappling with writing this stupid manifesto for months now. I’ve known it’s needed written since May. I’m really excited to write it and share it with the world! But somehow, it keeps getting pushed to the backburner. Why?

Well, honestly, a couple of reasons.

I don’t have a solid grasp on what it needs to say. I want this short piece to form the foundation of everything else I do from this point on. The holy grail of my blog. The big idea – the mission – that inspires everyone else to get onboard and go with me wherever this crazy train goes.

That’s pressure. Self-applied pressure, granted, but still. What if I decide to change course midstream? Will my people still be behind me? Will they still be interested in sharing a mission and taking it to new heights on different levels? Will they even like the idea I start with?

For any of you familiar with the StrengthsFinder test, my chief strength is input. That means I absorb information like a sponge. I’m great at synthesizing ideas, but I have issues standing behind an idea or way of thinking for long because I’m constantly analyzing and adding new information.

Okay, confession time.

I’m afraid of commitment. Not like I can’t hold down a relationship type of commitment. It’s more like I’m terrified of committing to an idea or belief system. And it’s starting to hold me back.

That’s why I’ve been holding off on writing this thing. It’s a statement of what I believe and what I’m looking for. And being in the midst of a QLC, these are the major things I’ve been struggling with. Most of August, I felt like I was stuck and had no idea which direction to go next.

That’s when I started the Joy Equation. Now, being a writer in the lifestyle design niche, I’ve seen a LOT of personal development guides like it. I’ve even started a few of them.

But, as I started to go through the exercises, I found that I wasn’t just engaged – I was smiling the entire time I was going through the guide. Even with the tough topics, I was so happy just to have it written and out of my system! What a relief. I did think something – something I could stand behind without any doubt.

Like my values! I thought I had them pretty well refined, but it turned out I had been operating under limiting beliefs of sorts. I’d never given myself room to explore what my values looked like in a larger context. The definitions helped, too. Defining something makes it easier to understand and implement.

Here’s what I came up with:

This was such a massive discovery for me. I knew freedom, adventure, and community were important to me, but romance was like finding a missing link.

It was everything I could never find the words to describe before. I knew I was passionate, but finding such a perfect word was empowering and revitalizing. It was like, “Holy crap! I can finally explain to my partner why little things are so important to me!” It was a revolution for my heart.

So here I am now. This is me presenting what I believe without question. The first words in my manifesto are…

“I believe you are beautiful, brilliant, and unique beyond any doubt. There is nothing you can’t do, and there is no situation you can’t overcome.”

Because it’s my truth. And I can commit to truth.

Moving sucks.

There, I said it.

I’ve sold my furniture; donated clothing, books, and other random items; and trashed mountains of paperwork that have been secretly breeding on my shelves and in my file box. (Honestly, all of my possessions must have been reproducing in my closets and drawers, because there’s no way I ever owned that much stuff.)

My apartment stopped feeling like home two weeks ago, when I repainted the walls. Before that, it was bright, cheery, and oh so me. When my ex and I decided to take this apartment, I agreed as long as I could paint some of the rooms: Kermit-the-Frog-green accent wall in the living room, pale blue bedroom, yellow accent wall in the guest room. The walls are back to being Navajo White now, and I’m closing this chapter on my life–the NYC chapter and the chapter with my ex.

I’m no stranger to big moves: I’ve shifted my life cross-country twice, both times leaving behind dear friends and comfortable cities. This feels different somehow, perhaps because Australia isn’t exactly in easy/affordable flight range for most people. Although the prevalence of twitter, blogging, and facebook in my life means I’ll be able to keep in touch with my New York friends (you know, the same way I keep in touch with my Seattle and DC friends now), I still feel flooded with sadness when I think about the moments I’ll miss here.

My heart breaks when I think about the fact that I’ll no longer be able to walk up to my friends’ apartment upstairs when I’m feeling stressed or sad, to sit on their futon and have their dogs and two-year-old daughter shower me with unconditional love. I start crying when I think about leaving behind the knitting group with whom I’ve spent nearly every Tuesday night for the past four years; they have been my strongest support through both the best and toughest times that I’ve experienced in this city. I start to wonder, What was I thinking? Connection is one of my core values, after all…

Like I said, moving sucks.

Fortunately, there are things that can help. Throughout this whole awful process of letting go of everything familiar–including possessions that had moved cross-country with me both times–the yogi in me has been reiterating that it’s good to practice non-attachment. All of this stuff doesn’t make me who I am. I’ve learned through my last two big moves that the people who matter stick around and stay in touch, and you find ways to maintain friendships across the miles. Asking for assistance is important; good friends are willing to do everything from assisting with painting or packing, to sitting with you while you cry and stare at your freshly-painted while walls. And of course, there’s been travel planning, which is pretty exciting when you’re meeting up with friends all over Europe. If I were only focusing on what I’m leaving behind, I’d never get anywhere. Connection may be one of my core values, but so is adventure. I want to find that balance.

With two days left in New York and barely anything in my apartment, I’m trying to soak up as much of my friends and the city as I can. I’ve been writing and taking photos, and also thinking about what I want from the next five months. After a few weeks of thinking about goals, I’ve finally settled on three:

Though I consider myself successful for quitting my job and taking this trip in the first place, I’m pretty certain that I don’t want to go back to sitting at a desk every day working for other people. I want to use the next five months–and the next year, really–to do everything in my power to create a life that won’t involve that.

This is it.

Two more days.

[photo credit: me!]

The relationship that I ended last summer left me in a fragile state. It had been unhealthy for me for a long time; when I look back at things honestly, there were warning signs that I ignored from the very beginning. Because I’d spent a lot of that relationship quashing my dreams and trying to make myself something that he would love, I hadn’t noticed how it was destroying my self-esteem little by little. By the time he delivered some soul-crushing blows during our breakup—I think it’s the only time anyone’s ever called me boring and no fun, and those were far from the worst of it—I believed some of the awful things he said about me.

It probably goes without saying that I wasn’t doing particularly well last August. I recall telling friends that I wasn’t sure how I got out of bed every day, that I did it because it seemed like the only thing to do. I feel pretty confident stating that it was the worst month of my (then) 29 years. I’d realized that I needed to end the relationship, I’d told him to move out, and after that, I had no idea how to pick up the pieces of my life. I wasn’t sure who I was and how to feel like that person again.

Right around that time, I saw someone post on twitter about The Joy Equation, so I thought I’d give it a try. I wanted a way to start connecting with myself again. I think the most telling thing for me was completing the section about my values; it finally clicked that I hadn’t been happy for so long because the life I’d been leading for the previous two years wasn’t in line with any of my values. No wonder I’d been feeling so awful, frustrated, and angry! I stayed in a relationship at first because I hadn’t wanted to be alone, and later because I’d been so torn down by my ex that I didn’t have the confidence to leave. How could that possibly have made me feel anything other than terrible?

I’d love to say that things magically transformed then. Though they didn’t, I slowly began to heal. Things started feeling normal again; I did some traveling. By December, I was ready to make a decision that would dramatically change my life for the better: I enrolled in a 200-hour yoga teacher training.

It’s funny, because I think a lot of people expect yoga teacher training to be about learning to teach yoga. It is, of course, but there’s so much more than that. The teaching part is easier: you need to know the poses, how to adjustment them, and how to sequence them. The biggest—and hardest—part is knowing yourself. How can you hold space for others in a class if you aren’t taking care of you? I had to face some of the scary things that I’d been hiding deep within me for months and even years. There were nights when we’d be practicing together and suddenly, I couldn’t stop crying. I had to learn to let go.

Halfway through teacher training, someone I knew commented that it seemed like I was discovering a lot of things about myself. I replied that I wasn’t finding them—I was remembering. That’s the moment that things started coming together for me; it all started to make sense, and I knew I was ready to make some big changes and work toward living in line with my values.

It’s hard to look back at the past year and see the things that I’ve learned, because I wish I hadn’t needed to conquer those lessons. I’m able to see a lot more clearly now how staying and justifying that relationship was unhealthy for me. I have a much better idea of what is important to me in a relationship; I’ll never again stand for someone who judges my tattoos, someone who wants to stop me from doing things that I love, or someone who wants to change integral parts of my personality. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve remembered how to be alone, and the good that can come of being present with myself.

And in case you’re wondering about those core values that were a wakeup call last summer, they are: connection, bliss, abundance, trust, adventure, courage, magic, and strength. I expect I’ll be exploring those a lot more in this space over the next five months. Though I’ve begun to realign my life to reflect what matters most to me, I’ve got more to learn—and remember.

[photo credit:  me!]

INTRODUCING: LAURENNE

“Each day, I wonder when my six-year Quarter Life Crisis will end.”

The old QLC tapped me on the shoulder the day I started my dream job at 25. From my very own cubicle, I was to write witty TV commercials and make people laugh. Ever since acting out ads for every item in our bathroom as a kid, it’s what I’d always wanted to do. I spent four years in undergrad and then an extra two years spending LOTS of borrowed money at an artsy school just to break into the ad field.

But just a few days into the dream job, I felt something was wrong. I’m a vegetarian, and they wanted me to make up reasons why people just HAD to try a new fast food burger. I was lying, and I felt like a smarmy saleswoman making people feel like they *should* like a certain brand or *should* feel a certain way. What did I know? I couldn’t afford a car, couldn’t pay my student loans on time, and had a bad case of adult acne. Who was I to tell anyone what they *should* do? Plus it wasn’t the healthiest environment. The boss expected sixteen-hour days and would throw our scripts across the room if he didn’t like them. I felt it was in the best interest of my self-esteem that I change careers.

After five years wondering how I could take the leap away from my ad job, I had enough money saved to go traveling. I didn’t know why I wanted to travel, but I felt like seeing the world would help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I started in Australia and took myself around the world for all of 2009. I stayed in huts in Papua New Guinea. I ate spices in India. I didn’t touch alcohol. I studied Buddhism. I made a million friends from all over. I listened to all my thoughts. And I figured out what I wanted to do with my life: write.

I was already writing commercials, but as I wrote about my travels on my blog, Humans are Funny, I realized I much preferred writing about meaningful things. My goal was to tell the world about the world. I came home itching to make every American interested in  Cambodia and world politics and culture. I figured I’d try to get a job writing for NPR.

But as I listened to my thoughts even more, I realized I had a bigger story to tell. My father committed suicide when I was sixteen, and I spent that traveling year really finding peace with it. Why not write about things that would help other people find that same peace? Okay, not everyone had a suicidal dad, but surely most people are wrestling with something that could use some detachment or love.  I’d much rather write about my journey than write copy about burgers or cars.

I spent 2010 working on ads until I’d saved enough money to take 2011 off and become a writer! With computer in hand, I’ve been taking the cafe circuit by storm. I’ve pitched my stories to every magazine in existence. I’ve taken dialog workshops and ‘finding your inner voice’ workshops and freelance writing seminars. I have enough logo folders now for the rest of my life and yours. I’ve spent every other waking moment writing a book about my father and how I learned how to choose a different path than his. I started Taboo Tales, a comedy storytelling show in LA that encourages writers to talk about things they wouldn’t usually want to admit to anybody. I’ve woken up every morning this year so grateful I’m doing what I truly want to do with my life.

But I still have no job. No offers. Lots of people are telling me I’m on the right track. But none of those people have stacks of money in their hands. I don’t even want a huge stack of money. I just want to pay my rent sometimes.

I’m beginning to feel more homeless than freelance.

Not only that, my ego, Lawrence, is pissed and defensive. He thought we would be famous writers by now, flying off to Cannes and cashing in advance checks for the millions of projects that would be lined up.

Mostly, I’m still just spinning out hope at cafes. And as my savings account has dwindled, I’m forced to go with a regular coffee instead of a cappuccino. THE HORROR.

Worst of all, I’ve made this non-existent career such a priority that I’ve pushed everything else away.

2009 – traveling

2010- working like crazy to save

2011 – working like crazy to start over

My relationships have suffered. I haven’t looked up from my screen long enough to pay attention to the people who really count. I’d like to take more of an interest in my wonderful, beautiful friends. I’d like to wear heels and go on dates. I’d like to figure out how to be able to do all that and still learn how to earn a living doing what I absolutely love. I’d like to find balance.

Is it crisis? Yes, I would call it a definite crisis. Is it a quarter life? Sure. I’m 31, so that would mean I’ll live until 124. Yes! I like that. That gives me plenty of time to figure out how to pay my rent.


[photo credit: Roy Dunn]

INTRODUCING: ASHLEY

 “I know I can’t just sit here hoping that life will one day make me happy. It doesn’t work like that. “

An over-sized mug warmed one hand while the other gently tucked a stubborn strand of hair behind my ear, fighting the persistent breeze. I slid a foot out of my well-worn shoe and tapped it against the cool sidewalk, as if slowly counting the undeniable stars in the sky.

My 22nd birthday was spent sipping hot chocolate in front of the Eiffel Tower. That evening I realized how alive I was. An unforgettable moment accented by the twinkling lights around and above. That moment.

Somewhere over the past two years, I lost sight of my dreams, my moments, and began to settle into a “normal” routine.

And that is not okay with me.

The first 18 years of my life were relatively uneventful and the definition of by-the-book. I graduated at the top of my high school class and attended a medium-size, private university because I thought that’s what you did. Four years later I was left with a fancy piece of paper, but no set plan for the future.

So, on a whim I accepted a teaching assistantship in France. The experience was full of culture, self-exploration, and travel. I wandered through tiny European towns and I ate gelato like it was my job. I learned that I adore red wine, that I’m happier with friends close by, and that I can push myself further than I ever thought possible. Through all of this soul-searching, I also discovered my passion for counseling children. You know that feeling when fireworks are exploding inside you and you can’t wait to share that energy with everyone around you? That’s how I felt about this discovery. I applied to graduate school feeling confident that I had my life perfectly mapped out.

That fall I packed up three suitcases and moved to New York City to begin working on my master’s degree in Psychological Counseling. I felt like I was stretching myself, in a good way. I traveled through Europe, was on the right track professionally, living in the most vibrant city, and my relationship with my then-boyfriend of five years was becoming more serious. It seemed like the pieces were falling into place.

And then all of the sudden my life began to crumble.

In 2008 my dad passed away. Four months later, my boyfriend and I broke up. When I graduated in May 2009 and could not find a job, I moved back home and into my childhood bedroom, unemployed.

Now, I’m no expert, but I believe this is what they call your Quarter Life Crisis.

NOT PART OF THE PLAN!

Slowly I began picking up the pieces and putting together a life that wasn’t part luck, part shame, and part embarrassment. I wasn’t creating a life I was in love with, but one I could live with.

For now.

I found a job in my field that barely pays the bills and have settled into that unfulfilled routine over the past two years. Last July I began dating an amazing guy who makes my heart smile, but with over 2,600 miles between us, it can be challenging. A few months ago I signed a lease on my very first solo apartment and am learning that I’m pretty good at cleaning the bathroom, but will do anything to avoid taking out the trash.

Considering where I was two years ago, my life doesn’t seem so bad today. It’s perfectly fine by many standards, but it’s still not full of that audacious joy I’ve heard so much about.

I have big goals, things I want to accomplish and memories I want to leave a mark on my life, but I realize I can’t keep waiting for these next steps to just happen. I’ve had some curve balls thrown my way, and I know I can’t just sit here hoping that life will one day make me happy. It doesn’t work like that.

This is MY life.

I need to be brave, take ownership, and start living on my own terms.

This is the year I create my own happiness and make my own dreams come true.

I think I’ll start by making some hot chocolate.

 

As I write this, I’m two weeks away from my due date of July 3rd. Little ZomBaby has a makeshift nursery set up in our bedroom, complete with comfy seating for me and ample snuggle space with his daddy. I’ve watched my life transform from video games and gadgetry to Bumbos and baby clothes. Nothing’s been replaced. The additions have been comfortable (so far).

My nights are getting shorter; the mornings are early and sleep doesn’t come easily to a woman with swollen feet and aching muscles. When I was younger, my muscles ached from organized sports. I’m closing in on twenty-five and the muscle pain is from being a little top heavy.

Behind me, there was a lot of broken — broken dreams, broken hearts, broken promises. Beckoning to me, there is a world of promise — promises of love, fulfillment, and success.

Mike and I had a deep discussion last night about youth and what it meant to each of us growing up. Mike has always had this incredible youthfulness that he wears as a badge of honour. He’s responsible and mature where it counts (our finances, etc.) but is playful and whimsical the rest of the time. It was one of the things that really drew me to him six years ago. Until we met, I was very serious. Playful at times, but usually very serious.

I worked hard. I rarely enjoyed my life. It was one big drama after another with me, which may or may not have been related to my eighteen-year-old disposition.

I had to grow up fast. My mama — this incredible woman with an incredibly warm heart — has been chronically ill for the entirety of my life; my family needed me to step up, even if no one asked. I wanted to ease the burden on my parents as best as I could. I made breakfast for my brother when we were small. I got my first job babysitting at eleven so that if I wanted to get something special, I wouldn’t have to ask my parents for it; it was important that the money went to medication, groceries, and my brother. My self sufficiency and fierce independence was the product of that “grow up fast” mentality.

So when Mike and I had our discussion about youth, I realized that I had spent most of my life avoiding youth. Avoiding playful and wonder and whimsy, just so I could make ends meet or so I could ease the burdens of family (even friends).

I wept. I hadn’t realized it before… but I was starting to feel the bowers of my life closing in.

What if this youthfulness was lost to me entirely?

Mike disagreed.

We would reimagine youthfulness and experience it through the eyes of our child. As he grew and wondered and played, we would grow with him. We play and see the world through his young eyes.

So while we’re on the home stretch — the final weeks of my pregnancy — I’m finding myself more and more at peace with motherhood. With parenthood. With childhood.

I’m grateful, as always, for this moment. These handful of moments, really.

Image is my own.

I started reading Reality is Broken a little while ago. Jane McGonigal caught my attention with her TED Talk a while back, where she talked about how gaming — yes, of the video gaming variety — could change the world. Of course, my being a gamer meant that I was all like, “HELL YEAH, BABY! LET’S DO THIS THANG.”

And then her book came out.

While I thought the book was going to be all about explaining the awesomeness of games to non-gamers, it turned out to be an exercise in paradigm shifting. I’m not very far into the book (yet) but the chapter on Happiness Engineers really caught my attention… especially after recent events.

You guys know that Mike and I don’t own a vehicle. No point in this transit oriented city. Mike went over to Vancouver Island last weekend and brought back his mom’s SUV (since she’s using her other vehicle and Mike’s dad is in Toronto for four weeks). It’s been nice to have wheels.

I digress.

Not the point.

He proposed that we go and get our hospital bag(s) packed for when ZomBaby decides to make his appearance. I noticed I didn’t have everything I needed so we figured we’d go out and pick it up from the local Mega Store of Groceries and Other Things (ahem, Superstore). About three blocks into our journey, I burst into tears.

Of course, Mike was a bit horrified. I’m not usually one to just break down and cry out of the blue. We can blame the pregnancy hormones all we want but the truth is this: I’ve been feeling very isolated lately. Events had occurred recently that had really shifted my perception of the people in my life. Where I wouldn’t expect someone to step up, people have stepped up. Where I have expected support, people haven’t bothered to show up.

It’s an odd thing to be faced with that kind of reality. It’s like I’m in perma-Opposite-Day-mode or something.

Okay, it’s not just odd.

It’s devastating.

So I sat in my mother-in-law’s silver Nissan SUV and I bawled. It wasn’t just a few tears. This was a full-on, big ugly cry. With hiccups. And black liquid eyeliner EVERYWHERE.

As soon as I could speak, Mike asked me, “Baby, what’s wrong? Why are you crying so hard? Did I hurt you?”

Sniffling hard, I said, “No, love. I’m just so angry that while I’m faltering and flailing… people keep leaving or not bothering to show up. I feel alone. I feel desperate. I feel isolated. I feel under-loved… like my soul is malnourished or something…”

Eventually, I pulled my shit together and we managed to get our hospital checklist taken care at the Superstore.

The next day, I contemplated my reaction in the car and really dug deep to understand both my motivations and the motivations of others.

1. In which we love too much.

I’ve always been of the mind that if I pour my heart and soul into another human being that they will reward me with loyalty and respect. I figure that if I love people enough, it will act as its own deterrent for people seeking to hurt me. After all, what kind of person would go out of their way to hurt someone that loves you so damn much?

And, as always, my naiveté overpowers my logical brain meats.

Shortly after my outburst in the SUV, Mike pointed out that the people I know aren’t being malicious. People have their own lives full of their own worries and concerns. I can’t expect to be loved by everyone. It’s simply not possible. Or reasonable.

“But I love a lot of people,” I protested.

“Yes, but you are the exception, not the rule. I know that I don’t tell my friends I love them. I may care for them but it wouldn’t occur to me to say it out loud. I figure they just know.”

I found myself vexed. Perhaps Mike was onto something.

Which led me to…

2. We engineer our own happiness.

“Positive psychology is the relatively new field of science that studies “human flourishing”, or how we achieve different kinds of happiness. For just over a decade now, positive-psychology researchers have been accumulating a formidable body of knowledge about how our brains and bodies work to help us achieve well-being and life satisfaction.” – Jane McGonigal (Reality is Broken)

It’s a luxury to be thinking about happiness and joy and “human flourishing”. I know it is. I know that I’m blessed enough to have grown up in (moderate) privilege, without having to worry about my personal well-being and survival beyond more than, “What shall we make for dinner tonight?”

When I think about happiness in the context of my life, I think of myself as a happy person (especially these days). I smile a lot. I laugh all the time, without thinking. Many things (and people) bring me a distinct feeling of joy and fulfillment.

And that, as I’ve learned, is wherein the problem lies: things and people bring me joy.

The conclusion I came to is that if I relied on the rest of the world to bring me joy and happiness and fulfillment, I would be left with a string of disappointments in the form of completely busted relationships that were buried under high expectation and lack of mutual respect.

Happiness must come from within, first and foremost.

It was a hard lesson to learn, especially after the years I’ve spent being a firm believer in cultivating relationships and love in order to feel loved (and happy) in return. By allowing my thirst for love and approval to drive my happiness, I became tied to the moods of friends and family. Slippery-ass-slope especially when…

3. People are fickle.

Yes, yes they are. People will come. They will go. They will show up when they’re least expected. They’ll be conspicuously absent when they’re needed. They’ll love you when you feel loved up. They’ll ignore you when you’re desperate for a scrap of human attention and validation.

Or they’ll surprise you and do something completely unexpected and wonderful in the process.

People are fickle (and, by our own nature, selfish), therefore we must become our own Happiness Engineers. We can’t be looking to the horizon and saying, “If only this person would love me a little more — a little better — I could be happier.” Or wishing for Prince Charming to swoop in. Or Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. Whatever floats your boat, really.

This is one the hardest things I’ve ever had to learn in my life. I know that it will take many, many more years of reprogramming my own behaviour until I get to the point where my friendships and relationships can’t crush me.

I must become Happiness Sufficient of my own volition.

Talk about a tall order. Got any advice for me? Better yet, got a similar story to share?

Image found via Image Spark.

 

Happy Monday.

You might be thinking, “uh, where’s Molly Mahar?” and to that, I say “She’s in Greece. Having a fabulous time. Living boldly. Completely unplugged. Completely overjoyed with spending time with her family. And yes, I do need to call her by her first and last name because, honestly, how much cooler could your name get? Molly Mahar. ”

I digress.

You probably remember me, Katie. I was a Season II’er. I swooped in a few months ago to check in. I’m dropping in again because, well, I just love it here. Plus, since Molly is off being Greece-y, I didn’t want Mondays to be completely barren. We all need a little Monday inspiration sometimes.

Also, I wanted to take this opportunity to share a little somethin’ somethin’ with you guys that I’ve been working on for the last week or so. Non-stop. All day. All night.

The backstory: About 40 or so days ago, I joined a group of over 30 women led by our own Molly Mahar. “The Council”, as it was called, was a 40 day commitment to ourselves. A commitment to each other. A commitment to change something. Or a lot of somethings. We all got something different out of it. (I learned a crap-ton of stuff about myself, and I made two amazing friends, who are now big parts of my heart, and just ‘get me’).

One of the main focuses of the Council, (and of Molly’s post from last year), and the thing that was most difficult but beneficial to me, was learning how to love yourself in all of your perfectly imperfect glory. I learned how to accept my weaknesses and embrace them. I learned that my weaknesses don’t make me less of a person. I learned that I don’t have to change a damn thing about myself to be “more of a person”. I learned that I Am Enough. Just as I am. Right now.

This, my loves, is my declaration that I am enough. This is my “I Am Enough Manifesto”

I Am Enough

I’m intelligent, and can never learn too much. I’m witty and playfully sarcastic, and can never hear too many jokes. I wait for others to walk before I do, I hold the door open for people behind me, I have conversations with strangers.

I’m committed to my family, friends, clients, and colleagues. I’ll go to the ends of the earth for anyone who needs me.

I lose interest in jobs, projects, and people if I am not mentally stimulated. When I find a job, project, or person that I care about, I am 115% committed and won’t stop working, trying, and accomplishing…ever.

I’m a mover, a shaker, a true Libra, an ISFJ, and a sucker for the laugh of a child.

I need to feel needed, and if I don’t feel needed, I feel less than adequate. To gain the feeling of adequacy, I will often do things that I don’t want to do, in order to gain the respect and desire of others.

I’m still enough.

When I set my mind to something, I will do it. I’ll fall off the wagon, I’ll make a mistake or seven.  But I always get back on the horse, no matter how long I’m in the mud.

My story is one of true courage and will-to-survive. It is an inspiration to others, and I love when people tell me that they’re proud of what I’ve overcome.

Sometimes I reach for a pint of ice cream, a bottle of wine, a few peach pills, a box of chocolate to feel more at ease and to relieve stress. I cut corners when there is something else that I’d rather be doing. I watch a lot of TV. I leave important tasks up until the last minute because I work better under pressure. I make up excuses of why I didn’t exercise. I break promises, I’ve said one thing and have done another.  I’ve lied to myself. I’ve lied to others. I’ve hurt myself. I’ve hurt others.

And I am still enough.

I swallow my emotions more than I express them, but I have a true desire to be more open and honest with my feelings.  I can be inspired by a quotation, an episode of Sex and the City, or a conversation with my family or friends. When I am truly inspired, nothing can stop me. I am passionate about psychology, counseling, and helping others. I have a truly beautiful mind.

I believe in the power of love to conquer all. I want to feel the warmth of a true, honest, healthy relationship. I have faith in people that most people don’t have faith in, but can also lose my faith quickly in a friend who betrays, lies, or misleads me. I build emotional walls to keep people out, and I don’t let many people in. But when I do, they’re often inside for life.

I have not always liked myself. I’ve hated, punished, and spoke poorly of myself more than I’ve loved, rewarded, and commended myself.

Right now, just as I am today, I am enough. I’ll be enough tomorrow. I’ll always be enough. I always have been enough. I am the one that I’ve been waiting for. I’m everything I need, I’m worth it.

I am Katie. I am enough.

[photo credit: myself. (appropriately)]

 

Elle Canada ran an article in their June 2011 issue about cheating men. Normally, this is the sort of article that I would idly flip through and smile to myself, reassured in my relationship. It’s not that Mike is the perfect husband (’cause he ain’t). It’s that Mike is honest, almost to a fault. When he’s unhappy, I’m the first to know; the same goes for any other emotion or need.

Seriously. Asymmetrical knowledge is not his style.

So, while I was reading through the article — waiting for something to upload on my client’s FTP server — I noticed something strange. This was Real Journalism. Peadar de Burca spent five years interviewing men that cheated on their partners, trying to figure out motivations, personality type, and even what kind of woman the “other woman” happened to be.

I was intrigued.

I read on.

And then the showstopper.

In five years of interviews, I would always ask what the “other woman” was like: appearance, personality, profession. There was one constant. Longer hair. (Now you know why women compliment other women after a haircut: another rival out of the equation.)

Reeling, I placed the magazine on my desk and stared at the wall for a little while. Long hair and the elusive nature of femininity is a deep well of hurt for me. For a long, long time, I had a hard time feeling female. Gender dysphoria, although rarely discussed in polite company, is something that was a real issue for me growing up. There were instances where I felt like I had genuinely been assigned the wrong gender. I’ve identified far more often with the masculine in the past.

It wasn’t until I entered adulthood that I started to come to terms with womanhood. And, at least for me, hair has always been a huge part of that transformation.

When I read about the “other woman” and her long hair, I temporarily panicked. Mike had often commented that he missed my long, chestnut hair (in my own defense, the long hair was the result of my own laziness to get it cut… and that was six years ago). For our wedding, I relented and grew it out. The wedding pictures, although beautiful, are the Idealized Me (minus my weight gain). The Me that people expect me to be.

The Real Woman with Real Womanly Hair.

You see that picture down there? With the short hair? That’s the woman I see myself as. The punk rock look may not exude glamour but what it lacks in sophistication, it makes up in (strong) personality.

Rationally, I know that femininity is subjective; it means different things to different people. It’s fairly universal (at least in my experience) that many men prefer women with long hair — something about it screams, “I’m beautiful. I’m feminine. Come love me up, baby.”

Short hair is intimidating. It shouts, “I don’t need you. I’m strong and confident all by my lonesome. You’re welcome to come along for the ride, though.” Truth? It’s part defense mechanism. If I don’t let people believe that I need them, then I don’t have to be disappointed when they don’t show up.

Whether or not long hair is the definitive feminine form, it’s just one part of the whole. Hair changes. People evolve — and, in some cases, devolve. I defiantly stand behind my choice to chop my hair and be who I am.

After all, as Gaga says:

I am my hair.

Image found via Image Spark.

I’ve been thinking about marriage lately. Bri’s taking her first steps into married life (with a gorgeous little baby on the way). Laura’s planning her wedding. Juliana’s been married for seven months. I recently celebrated six years with Mike, with our third wedding anniversary on the horizon for August.

Elizabeth Gilbert has been trying to get the masses to drink her Kool-Aid again. After the overwhelming success of Eat, Pray, Love — PrivLit’s golden achievement — Ms (or is it Mrs?) Gilbert has published her thoughts on marriage in a book called “Committed“. I must admit, at first I was intrigued.

Marriage in all of its polarizing dichotomies is something that’s near and dear to my heart. I find the “institution of marriage” fascinating, especially considering all of its controversy. So while the rest of the world contemplates what Real Marriage looks like, I’m going to riff a bit on what marriage — between two people, same-sex or not — means to me.

Shortly before my 21st birthday, Mike surprised me with a platinum engagement ring from his grandmother, bent on one knee in a soccer field at the local high school. He had gone to see my parents earlier that day, to ask my father for permission to marry me. I’d insisted that he ask my parents. Why? Because at 20.75 years old (even at 24), my parents’ approval still meant the world to me. When he asked, I was shocked into tears. Joyful tears. Joyful tears are something that I’d never experienced before. I relished them.

Moments are so fleeting.

Those joyful tears weren’t the result of “OMGWEDDING”. Those joyful tears represented three years of hard struggle on both our parts. From the time I met Mike in 2005 up until about a year into our marriage, I was a COLOSSAL fuck-up. I don’t say that lightly, either. Between the emotional turbulence of bipolar and the fear of my own nature coupled with complete and utter job dissatisfaction, we had ourselves a perfect storm for a break-up. There were a few times (more than a few times, really) when it would’ve been easier for me to just walk out and find something else.

But we stuck together. We screamed at one another. We said hateful, hurtful things in the middle of our anger. I would throw things in the heat of the moment, usually with the intention of maiming. He would grow cold and distant. We would have angry, make-up sex because it was easier to do that than talk to one another about the real issues in our relationship. Our communication SUCKED and I was a major part of that problem.

When Mike asked me to marry him, I knew that we could weather the storms that would accompany the long years of our lives. When I walked down that aisle in that pretty blue dress, blonde streaked hair in soft ringlets, I knew that when we said, “Forever”, we would mean it. Would I say that my wedding was the best day of my life? No, I wouldn’t. I would say that my wedding was fun and memorable. I would say that standing up in front of my friends and family and celebrating my unyielding love for Mike was absolutely brilliant.

But the best? Nah.

Over the last few years, I’ve watched as friends got married, divorced, and tried all over again. It’s hard to sit on the sidelines when things like that go awry. I want to be comforting. I want to be able to rush in and tell them that it will be okay and they’ll be able to pick up the pieces before they know it.

For all of my distaste for Elizabeth Gilbert, she did have a point when she said, “Marriage is not a game for the young.

However, “young” is a state of mind. I know plenty of fortysomethings that wouldn’t have a hope in Hades if someone asked them to be emotionally or fiscally responsible. Just as I know a fair few twentysomethings that are changing the world and turning entire schools of thought upside down.

Success in marriage shouldn’t be us flipping a coin and becoming a statistic. Success in marriage needs to be more than a monetary investment; it’s a lifelong emotional and psychological investment.

One day in a white dress ain’t gonna cut it.

Weddings are giant, expensive cocktail parties. And my-oh-my are we a wedding obsessed culture. Anytime you turn on TLC, there’s another episode of “Say Yes to the Dress” or “Four Weddings” or some other reality show centred around planning (and experiencing) the Big Party.

Here’s an interesting thought: why not skip the marriage — the lifelong commitment that you’re pledging to this one person — and have the cocktail party? Why not invite a bunch of your closest friends and family to a big party with lots of booze and beautiful dresses to dance the night away?

Using marriage as an excuse to throw a big party is not only a waste of money, it’s a waste of time.

You don’t need a good excuse to have a big party, really. We used to do it all the time when there was this crazy thing called the aristocracy.

You will not be left out in the cold if you don’t have a big wedding. What I can guarantee is this: if you get married without fully knowing yourself and your partner, you will end up on the wrong side of the 50/50 statistic. Divorce is an ugly thing — ask anyone that’s either gone through one or witnessed it. As the years go by, you and your partner will change.

Sometimes, these changes will be positive.

Mike is now able to entertain a room full of people, smiling and laughing whereas six years ago, he could barely stomach it. I’m now able to sit quietly and contemplate, whereas six years ago, it would’ve made me insane.

Sometimes, these changes will be negative. We may find ourselves in ruts. We may find that MONTHS have gone by without a decent bout of sex (seriously, that’s the worst part of being pregnant).

Six years ago, I might’ve wanted my wedding to be the most important event in my life. Hell, up until I actually started planning the damn thing, I envisioned it being this magical, blissful event. In actuality, it was a special day. Nothing more.

Life is made up of a handful of fleeting moments. Some moments are very important and deserve to be cherished and treasured; things like weddings and babies and graduations and your first kiss. When you place too much emphasis on any given moment — say, a wedding — unrealistic expectations arise where you’re suddenly faced with the awful reality that marriage is, in fact, not a fairy tale.

You’re faced with a horrible choice: you can either stick it out because you refuse to give up on a relationship that wasn’t working in the first place or you can admit defeat and cut your losses. Neither seems particularly palatable.

Shit, right? Rock, meet hard place. Hard place, meet cliff edge.

So yes, Ms. Gilbert, marriage is not a game for the young. Instead, marriage is a mixture of heady romance and cool-headed resolve that, when coupled together, create an atmosphere of understanding, mutual growth, and el-oh-vee-ee LOVE.

And while you may not think marriage is a game at all, I say, “Game on.

But, that’s a whole other post.

4

Image is my own.

I’ve been watching the cracks form around the edges of my little life lately. I’ve been waiting for them to become large enough for me to fall into. Part of me hopes that it would provide me a bit of respite. I know it won’t.

Molly wrote about feeling overwhelmed a couple of weeks ago. When I read it, I knew that we’d been living in the very same place; a place where everything looks sudden, urgent, and necessary. Everything becomes a top priority (therefore nothing is a priority anymore). And, while I’ve been busy treating everything as a reactionary cause, I’ve been losing sight. Again.

I’ve been told more than once that I need to slow down, settle into my new role of mamahood. “Enjoy these next few months because you’ll miss them when they’re gone?”

Part of me wants to believe them.

Sure, who wouldn’t want to be eight months pregnant, suffering through nasty bouts of heartburn coupled with abnormally swollen ankles and the onset of what can only be described as “Holy Shit Mood Swings”? It does seem rather enviable, doesn’t it? I’m bipolar. I’ve never been shy about that. It’s not what defines me but it is a part of me. Lately, everything makes me cry. Lately, I’m faced with dark corners that I hadn’t thought of before.

Friendships. Relationships. Inward reflection. External journeys. Doubts. Hopes. Dreams. Fears. Failures.

Standard stuff, really.

And while part of me wants to “slow down”, the other part is terrified to.

I have too much going on right now to even consider slowing down. I give pause and think about decorating the nursery from time-to-time only to turn my attention back to more important, pressing concerns (again with the reactionary). People inquire about my excitement levels all the time. I don’t know what to tell them anymore. Most often, I lie and say, “Oh, sure. Who wouldn’t be?”

Note the verb.

Lie.

I have to LIE.

In polite conversation, people want to know that my impending mamahood is the only thing that matters to me right now. In polite conversation, I have to grit my teeth and agree. My father and I have often agreed that we go around with blood in our mouths from just… biting back our responses.

So, am I excited?

Of course.

But not.

And then I get an overwhelming dose of guilt as I try to figure out why it is that I can’t seem to get excited about the baby’s arrival. It’s another one of those dark places, lovelies; a dark place where I’m convinced that I’m going to be a neglectful mother that would much rather run off to New York than attend her kids’ recitals. It’s a fucking hard place to be — this dark place — but I’m forcing myself to figure out why that place exists at all.

A few weeks ago, I watched a friendship implode. Violently. I was left reeling, in spite of my best efforts not to react. Or, at the very least, to make a conscious effort to react in a somewhat positive way. Did it hurt? Of course it did. Do I get a nasty pit in my stomach every time I think about this person? Damn straight. But was I going to sink into the same dark place this person was? No. I care about said person, in spite of the ire that was loosed on me, and it would serve no purpose (except some self indulgent rambling and raging) to hurl insults.

Inside, I was no better. I wanted to hurtle insults. I wanted to fall into that nasty place, too. It would’ve been easy — much easier than brushing myself off and saying, “I love you but I can’t do this. I wish you well.”

I was angry. I’m STILL morose.

But those cracks are starting to get bigger.

This person found a very apt way of making sure I knew that. Drawing attention to my rather sore spot of being oversensitive in the first place is an excellent way to locate a major fault line in my foundation. And then throw a stick of dynamite down it to see what happens.

Nothing says, “I love you” quite like a stick of dynamite, after all.

Our dark places are scary. Overwhelmingly so, even. It’s good to examine our dark places — in the mirror, on paper, during meditation. It’s even good to set up camp there once in a while.

I refuse to live in that dark place.

Tomorrow will be brighter.

I know it.

Image found via Image Spark.

Road trips with my parents have always been a highlight of my life, believe it or not. When I was little, my mom would drive our old Chevy Corsica and my dad would read us snippets of The Lord of the Rings. As we got older and the road trips got more infrequent, the time spent with my parents was relegated to whenever I had time to get back to my hometown (usually once a month or once every two months).

I have the best conversations with my dad when we get on the road. He tells me about his childhood (reminiscent and melancholic), about what he was like as a teenager, about what my mom was like when they were younger (they’ve been together since high school), and waxes poetic on the meandering madness of the universe in general.

We’ve talked at length about his conflicting ideologies — logic is King, yet the Universe is wise. During this particular trip (wherein my parents saved me from the arduous and lengthy Greyhound trip back to Vancouver), my dad and I talked about heeding the warnings on the universe.

When the universe gives you a big signal that you’re making a mistake, you do well to heed its warning. It only comes once. If you choose not to heed it, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt.

My Dad

Warnings and gifts seem to appear right when we least expect them to. It’s easy to misinterpret them as benign or unintrusive or devoid of meaning. Upon closer inspection (and introspection), these signals take on a different life. They have the potential to provide deeper meaning or insight into a given situation.

My first big warning from the universe was when I lost my job as a programmer. Strange as it was, it was easy to follow orders (and shove down my inner monologue) and do what I was told. There was no creative control. There was very little risk. It was comfortable. I could’ve continued my vocation, even though I was miserable. If I had just quit my job, I could’ve returned to being a programmer at any time. Maybe I would have.

But I heeded the universe. Through my very heartbreaking termination, it had warned me that I was heading in the wrong direction with my life.

The second big warning came just after my wedding. My relationship with Mike was, at best, strained. We struggled to keep up with our bills — financial solvency was a ways off, yet — and our communication was completely broken. We barely saw one another for a good four months while I whittled away at a degree that was ultimately doomed to failure. In 2009, Mike had decided that he was sick and tired of his current vocation as a programmer and wanted to become a police officer.

I was left reeling. Our relationship became even more strained (I didn’t think that was possible) and I struggled to keep it together while I felt like everything was falling apart. When the universe presented an opportunity (a gift, really) to go back to my hometown to figure it all out in peace, I took it. I spent four months piecing together what was wrong and struggled to find ways to repair the damage that had been done.

Our relationship wasn’t irreparable, even though at times it appeared to be. I was determined to make it work. I knew that a life without Mike wasn’t something I was prepared to indulge. So I fought for us. He fought for us. We slowly improved our communication, our sex life, and our financial situation. By the time my Autumnal Faceplant of 2010 came around, we were happy and at ease.

If not for the universe providing me an opportunity for growth — if I had stayed in Vancouver and muscled my way through my tumultuous feelings and damaged relationship full time — I might not be with Mike today. I certainly wouldn’t be expecting a baby in a month and a half. And I sure as shit wouldn’t be running a biznez.

Logically, I would’ve been able to figure all of these various issues out given enough time and energy. I might’ve been able to suffer through being a programmer for another couple of years while I figured out what I wanted to do, providing an extra paycheque during some particularly difficult financial situations. My relationship with Mike might’ve been okay had we gone through therapy together and employed another person’s insights into our issues (I’m a firm believer in the power of therapy, baby).

In actuality, I’m grateful for the universe looking out for me. I’ve known plenty of people that have been given the same opportunities and the same sorts of warnings but have failed to heed them over and over again.

The universe will only make its intentions known once, if you’re lucky. In my experience, it’s best to keep yourself open to possibility and try to learn from as many situations as you can. You never know when it all might come together and shine big and bright on your star.

Image found via Image Spark.

In the early morning hours — long before anyone else is awake in the house that I grew up in — I am imbued with a wild energy. As a bipolar, mania is something I’m accustomed to. As a teenager, I found myself in manic spurts more than a few times where I would go-go-go for days on end before collapsing into a puddle of goo and sleep for countless more.

This energy is different.

It’s… malleable. Changing. Flowing. Unyielding.

The morning, which had previously been unwieldy, has become my strange refuge. No one’s around to peek over my shoulder or ask me where a deliverable is or even to check in to say hey. Most people are still asleep (unless they’re in a different time-zone) or are on the way to work. Early has become 7:00 instead of 9:00 (which had previously been 11:00).

Andrea tells me that this wild energy is an essential part of pregnancy. The hands-on mamas that I know channel this energy into preparing the nursery for the arrival of the baby. The traditional-job mamas are trying to get everything tied up before they go on parental leave. And the entrepreneurial mamas like me?

We’re busy trying to polish off projects so that we can take a short break after the baby’s born.

One of my goals for this season is to get my biznez to the point where I can hand over the “keys to the kingdom” before the baby’s born. My methodology? Influence and affluence. Wild energy — this affluence and flow — is integral to me actually getting there. I know that affluence can often be thought of as cash flow and although cash is important (who doesn’t need a few more dollahs here and there?), it’s the flow of my self that will either make or break my itty biznez.

I’m a control freak.

There, I said it.

My name is Amanda Farough and I am a hopeless control freak.

I have a distinct inability to follow orders without question (which makes me very unemployable) and I have to have either complete or partial control over every biznez situation, otherwise I get nervous that no one will do their damn jobs.

I think this is residual feelings from when I was in high school and university: team projects were always the worst. There was always one person who ended up doing everything for the project and guess who that person was? Oh yes, it was the control freak. Not the slacker or the sheep. Nope, it was the control freak that worked thirty hours a week at Staples and still did a full course load that managed to get stuck with the majority of the code.

And while I don’t have an allergy to collaboration and/or coopertition, I do have an allergy to letting someone else run the show.

Why make this a goal for an entire season, though?

Because it’s hard.

For me, knowing that my biz is potentially going to be out of my hands while I figure out what I’m doing as a mama is potentially more terrifying than the actual baby-having (and I had quite the meltdown about that… well, let’s be real, I’ve had a couple of meltdowns about that). What if something goes wrong? What if a client needs me? What if my partial replacement is better than me at my job and all my clients jump ship?

And, as I’ve said, losing control is far more terrifying than giving it up willingly. Sadly, it’s the “giving it up willingly” that is often more difficult than the “losing”. I start playing the “what-if” game and there are no winners in that.

The other part of my control freak self that tends to hinder my delegation tactics is trust. Not trust that my people aren’t amazing at what they do; trusting them to actually get it done on time and on budget. These are professionals, damn it. They know what they’re doing. Most of whom are a bit older than me so they’ve got their shit together (usually far better than I do). I get caught in the corner, desperately trying not to panic about deadlines, and hoping that my control freak nature won’t kick in and just say, “Screw it, I’ma do this my way.”

I am not an expert in everything.

Damn it, I have to learn to let go.

With this wild energy, I finally have the chance to sweep those pieces up and let them fly where they must. My people will do their thing. They’re amazing. I do trust them and I trust in their process. With parenthood will come the need for me to let things slide off my shoulders. Taking on too much, worrying all the time, and never getting shit done is an excellent combination for self destruction.

My personal flow — this affluence of self — is my biggest obstacle to overcome in the next month or so. Baby’s almost here (I’m eight months along) and I’ve gotta get this figured.

A girl’s gotta know: how do you get the hell out of your own way so that you can take a breather (either in life or in biznez)?

Photo by aselundblad

On my way to wherever it is that I’m going to, I walk down a street lined with old growth trees, BMWs, and charming two-storey homes built sometime mid-twentieth century. It’s that time of year when the trees are starting to bud and bloom, long after the cherry blossoms have come and gone. And the rain — oh, the rain that comes with living in a coastal rainforest — drowns the daffodils and chokes the azaleas.

As I round the corner to walk up to my favourite cafe to get another afternoon of work done, it’s one particular house that catches my attention. It’s humble — a bungalow, really — and sits sandwiched between a large blue-stucco house and the run-of-the-mill “Vancouver Special”. But something about it calls to me. And, as I’ve been learning in my online leadership course with Tara Mohr, listening to callings is oh-so-important.

It could be the French door. It could be the front yard, with the azaleas and lush green grass. It could be the white trim or the beautifully-kept steps that lead into the house. It could be the Tiffany lamp that’s always on in the front room of the house. It could even be the stucco siding.

It could be anything, really.

But really, it couldn’t be.

As I walked down the street on this particular day, I took my earbuds out and stood across the street from this house. I regarded the architecture, the landscaping, and the Tiffany lamp. I thought, “This is the first time I’ve actually seen this house.” Sure, I’ve looked at it admiringly but seeing — really seeing — is a different matter. Rain tugged at my resolve. I stood fast.

What this house — this buttercup yellow house — represents is promise. Hope. Family. Unexpected meaning in unexpected places, even. When I look at the yellow house, I see a future. An idealistic future, perhaps, but a future all the same.

Someday, I will live in a yellow house.

Image is my own!