advice

If it Weren’t for that One Crazy Hair

The other day I watched a YouTube video where Kylie & Kendall Jenner attempted to do their makeup while drunk. Regardless of your opinion of them or their reality show, the video is cute and funny and especially sweet if you have a sister or sibling that you love to laugh with.

At one point in the video, as Kylie is talking, I noticed that Kendall was looking at herself in the camera and trying to fix a part of her hair that (to her) looked off. She poked at it and combed her fingers through it, trying and trying to get it a certain way, while I was sitting on the other end of the screen wondering what is even wrong with it?  What flaw could she possibly be seeing?

Kendall, being an actual supermodel, whose job it is to be pretty and skinny and “perfect”, who was sitting on this video in clothes that fit her perfectly, with barely any makeup, promoting her brand-new tequila label, and undoubtedly raking in more than my annual salary by the minute. And yet, she swiped and swiped at her hair, distracted and frustrated, until she was satisfied.

At first, I wanted to think of her as shallow or vain, only focused on her appearance. But having watched the video and seen her personality, her humor and a little glimpse into her relationship with her sister, it was clear that there is more to her than that—just like there is more to all of us. But sometimes, even if it’s just for a few minutes, there is something that makes us feel like nothing else matters. Something about our clothes or our body or our skin or our hair or anything that stares back at us so glaringly in the mirror or in a photograph or on a video. Something that erases every other good thing going on and says, you look bad. This looks bad, and everyone else sees it too.

I know for me, I get especially self-conscious about my skin. I worry about when I breakout or when my skin is especially oily. I try to avoid pictures at all costs, and when one is taken it is all I can see. And while it might not be something that no one else sees, it is not something other people are focusing on. It is not a character flaw. It does not make me less of a person, less interesting or unworthy of spending time with. The same goes for that awkward way you’re standing in that one photo. Or the way your arm isn’t perfectly muscular. Or that those clothes aren’t laying perfectly on your body. Or the fact that your nails that aren’t painted. Or that your teeth that aren’t perfectly straight. Or that that one crazy hair just won’t stay in place.

None of these things discredit your heart or erase the goodness you bring into someone’s life. They don’t minimize the happiness in a photo or ruin the mood of a dinner shared between friends and family.

And while I know, depending on the day, that one thing can feel like a breaking point. It can feel like a good enough reason to call it quits on the day. To not want to leave the house. To cry or lean into bad habits or miss out on things you wanted to participate in. I also know that that one thing is not worth it.

It’s not worth your time. It’s not worth your energy. It’s not worth you missing the wonderful things going on around you. So let’s just leave it be. Let’s live inside the moments we’ve locked ourselves out of simply because we didn’t feel like we looked good enough to live them. Let’s not define ourselves and our lives on that pimple, or those jeans, or that sleeveless shirt, or that one crazy hair. You’re more than that. I’m more than that. We’re all made of millions of other colors and thoughts and dreams and ideas and memories that make us who we are and who we’re going to be, which is not and never will be defined by that one thing. So let’s put that thing aside. Let the crazy hair fly, and leave it be.

A Five Senses Check-In

Back in October I wrote this post—inspired by The Next Right Thing podcast—that was all about connecting to your senses in order to find some peace amongst the fear of the future and chaos of the present.  

Right now, I have a lot of moving pieces in my life, a lot of things that I don’t feel like I have control over and that are changing. As a result, I have been pouring myself into projects, exercise, and goal setting in order to combat the corresponding anxiety. Yesterday, after getting home from work a little earlier than usual, and with the sun out and the weather an incredible 75 degrees outside, I found myself debating over how I could be productive. Should I go for a run, a walk, a hike, do yoga, do work, write, clean, read, pray? What could I do to make myself feel good, or better, or at the very least, calm.

After a while, I decided to do a little yoga, even though I spent the first few minutes frustrated and unwilling to participate. I pretended to relax until I actually relaxed. Then, I sat down on my bed and tried to map out my plan for the rest of my evening—instantly going back to that place of demanded productivity.  My mind was racing and I felt like I was wasting time. But then, I felt the breeze come through my bedroom window. And then I noticed that the sun had turned golden with the evening and there were birds chirping outside. And then I thought back to that post, and I thought it was a fitting time to shift my focus back to the present—“to what is rather than what we are afraid could be.”

Here’s what I wrote down:

Five things I can see

  1. The golden hour sunlight shining through the window
  2. The flickering shadows casted on my bed, my floor and my wall from my blinds
  3. A branch of the palm tree in my backyard swaying in the breeze
  4. The collage on my wall that I made to inspire me whenever I look at it
  5. My newly painted pink toenails

Four things I can hear

  1. The bells of the church down the road that mark the start of every hour
  2. Birds chirping—a reminder that spring is so close!
  3. Neighbors chatting and laughing
  4. A UPS truck driving in the distance

–Three things I can feel

  1. The evening breeze that is cool but no longer cold
  2. The soft comforter that sits on top of my bed
  3. Hunger. The excited kind of hunger you feel when you know what you’re making for dinner and you can’t wait to have it. Looking at you Naan pizza.  

–Two things I can smell

  1. The laundry detergent I used to clean the cozy sweatshirt I’m wearing
  2. Fresh air from my open window

–One thing you can taste

  1. Cold water

There are a lot of things that we can’t control, but there are also a lot of moments that we can choose not to let control us. As it turned out, there were plenty of good things to find on what tried to become a very stressful afternoon. And while I can’t guarantee that anxiety won’t sneak its way back into my shoulders, as I sat there, allowing myself to feel the breeze, to listen to the family next door joke and laugh, and to watch the sun turn gold, I knew everything was going to be okay, and that I could take a deep breath and relax.

I Want the “More”

This past weekend I finished reading The Midnight Library which is a book about regrets. It follows Nora, a girl who is so consumed in regret and despair that she decides to end her life, only to wake up in a state of in-between called “the midnight library” where there are shelves full of books that each tell the story of a different life she could have lived if she made different choices.

This concept was fascinating to me, and instantly inspiring as I am someone who often finds myself wondering “what if _____?” I sat up wondering what my own “midnight library” would look like and what it would teach me; what different decisions could have led to different lives, and what questions could be answered by finally knowing if I made “the right” decision.

I loved reading Nora’s story and how she was able to uncover and disprove some of these regrets she’d been holding on to for so long, but I also found myself wildly jealous. Because the not knowing, the wondering and the regretting about the past can take all the fun out of the present. And sometimes when my present is sad or lonely or just hurts, I turn to those ponderings and regrets, believing that if I had done something differently, I wouldn’t have to be here, in the hurt.

But then I wonder, what am I really asking for? Am I asking for a life without hurt? Am I asking for a life where I never have to feel any pain or experience any loss or wonder about any fork in the road? Because while that sounds cozy and fun compared to all of this, it also sounds naïve and fake. It sounds like a life where I never learn anything, never overcome anything and thus never become more than I thought I could be. On the surface it sounds like a happy life, but it also sounds like a life where I would never really understand or appreciate what happy is.

We all go through bad things, we all experience hard chapters, we all have moments when we wonder why. And I wish there was a place to go and get all of the answers. A place like the midnight library where you could look at all the other outcomes of a situation and understand why that was the best one. Not for the best, most perfect life, but for the life that allows you access to becoming who you were made to be.

I don’t have all the answers—about anything really. And there are many parts of my life that I don’t understand or that I will always wonder what if. But then there are parts of my life that I catch myself saying how? How did I get to this wonderful place? How am I so lucky to experience this wonderful moment? And that is when I have to remember that it was all the moments that led up to this that got me here. It is all the good, all the bad, all the what if’s and regrets that still linger. They all make me me and they make my life my life. They are what have built me and will continue to build me as I continue to build this life. And while I’m scared for what’s ahead, scared of what might happen or what might not happen, I’m excited for it all because it will make me more. And at the end of the day, that’s all I really want—to discover all the more this life has for me, and that I have to offer the world.   

Take a Step Back

To kick off the new year, my church participated in a 21 day fast. In lieu of certain food groups, I opted to delete social media from my phone, as I felt that it was one thing stealing more of my attention than necessary. And while I expected a bit of habitual reaching for my phone, and the mindless skimming through apps in search of Instagram, Twitter or the like, I did not expect the real, physical withdrawal I felt.

While at first I thought it was just frustration, FOMO, this sense that I must be missing out on something big, I soon began to realize I was actually feeling a little afraid. Unbeknownst to me, social media had become a bit of a crutch—a coping mechanism that I’d been using for whenever I was sad, angry, lonely, jealous, or confused. If I felt a feeling I didn’t like, I’d take a scroll through social media to find a new one. And now that I didn’t have that option, many of the feelings and thoughts I’d been avoiding were all demanding to be felt.

I lay awake almost every night of the first week, unable to fall asleep, unable to quiet my brain the way social media had been doing. It had become such a habit to scroll through whichever app until I got tired, never sure what I was looking for, but always hopeful it might be in the next post, or the next. But it never seemed to be there.

Having time away from social media, I’ve given myself space to think, space to wonder, and space to just listen.

Reaching for my phone is still a habit. I still catch myself tapping at the screen, hoping something pops up that might make a bad moment better or a long day easier, but I am also doing better at looking for things offline that can help. I’m reading more, I’m praying more, I’m being more creative. I’m feeling all of the feelings that come naturally each day, and I’m allowing them to pass through me rather than attempting to shut them out.

I will admit, I thought this fast would be harder for me than it was. And after those first few nights, I was convinced I would never make it. But having come to the end of the 21 days, and not feeling even an inkling of the relief or freedom that I thought I would, I realize how crucial this fast was for me—even when I was someone who would have considered herself not to be addicted to social media.

And so, I’d encourage anyone to take a step back. Just to see if there’s anything you might be missing. Take a step back and feel the feelings that you might be avoiding. Take a step back and listen for the things that have always been inside you but have been muted by the endless scrolling. Take a step back and breathe. Exist in the real world and simply in the real. You don’t have to leave social media behind forever, but it’s important to remind ourselves that social media is a place to visit, not a place to live. Take a step back, log off and look around. There’s a lot more for us out here than there is in there, and out here it will last a lot longer.

Elton John’s Only Question Worth Asking

I recently read Elton John’s book Me, and it was a wild ride.

I’d highly recommend reading it in any way you prefer, but I’d especially recommend the audiobook as it was a fantastic listen that featured both Elton John himself, and Taron Egerton, who played Elton John in the biopic Rocketman.

One thing that has particularly stuck with me in the days and weeks after finishing the book is the very last sentence of the epilogue. After telling the incredible story of his life that is full of very high highs and very low lows, Elton John speaks wisely about the hard fact that all he’d gone through—even the things he regrets—got him where he is today. And while he’s wondered whether or not he’d go back and change things if he could, he says, “there’s really no point in asking, ‘what if?’ The only question worth asking is, ‘what’s next?’”

I know I live in the what if far too often—even when I’m not aware I’m doing it. There are things I regret, things I wish I could change, conversations I wish went differently, moments that still make me sad, mad, and embarrassed. But the fact of the matter is, all of those things made (and make) me who I am. They are the reasons the people in my life love me, and the reasons I’m learning to love myself.  They are what will make my life my life.

So let’s stop asking what if and start getting excited for what’s next. Let’s look forward to the possibility that comes with growth, for the understanding that comes with failure, and for the levity and humor that (eventually) come with embarrassment. Let’s look forward and stop looking back.

5 Things to Wish for at Midnight (List-cember #9)

Well my friends, we have made it! Against all odds, we have made it to the last day of 2020. The final hours of a trying, brutal, relentless year that none of us saw coming. And now we are going to start something new. It might not look new, it might not look easy, and unlike many New Year’s Eves, the strike of midnight might not look exactly magical. But I don’t think that should sway us from counting down, setting goals, or making wishes for a fresh start.

In fact, I feel it is more important than ever to make those wishes this year, not only for ourselves but for the world as a whole. So as those final seconds start to countdown on the clock, here are five things we can all wish for:

1) Unity

One of the most common phrases we heard throughout 2020 was “we’re all in this together.” And while there were many instances where I saw this to be true, there seemed to be many more where it was clear that it wasn’t. This year brought a lot of panic, a lot of fear, a lot of hard, and a lot of new into focus, so it was understandable the way tensions rose. But never have I seen such clear division, constant hate, and widespread loneliness caused by fear of saying the wrong thing, holding the wrong opinion or having a moment’s hesitation. I think there are a lot of positive changes being made in the world, and there are a lot of long overdue conversations taking place, but I also feel like there is a lot of impulsive cancellation and condemnation rather than encouraged understanding and hopeful redemption. Let’s hope for real unity in the year(s) to come. Unity that is built on differences and two sided conversations. Unity that is not eradicated by conflict but made stronger because of it. Let’s truly find a way to be “in this together” and rebuild a better world.

2) Innovation

Even with all the restrictions in place this year, there was still a heft amount of innovation. Doctors found ways to treat and help countless patients. Families found ways to celebrate special occasions with Zoom, drive by parades, and handwritten letters. Online campaigns brought attention, help and joy to those in need with fundraising, collaborative projects and acts of kindness. I remember very early on a girl made the news by designing clear masks that made it possible for the deaf and hard of hearing to better communicate. People found ways to make life easier, more efficient, and sometimes even more fun while the world moved slowly and frightfully into the ever-winding turns and peaks of COVID-19. Let’s hope that this new year will only bring more innovation and more ideas that have never seen the light of day. Let’s hope we all find ourselves sitting, awed, and saying, “wow, I never thought of that!”

3) Creativity

When I think of creativity, especially this year, I think of someone like Taylor Swift, who leaned into the confines of quarantine and wrote two albums. Granted, this is some next level kind of creativity, and not one that we should all measure ourselves against. It is hard to be creative in a time when you can’t travel, can’t see friends and family, can’t do much more than stay inside your own home. But there are moments we all experience, little ideas, in any and all genres, that poke at the back of our minds and say, try this. Sometimes those ideas are only for us, sometimes they find a home outside ourselves and make the world a better place. So let’s hope that creativity is stirred and that we are brave enough to answer the call. Let’s hope that creativity runs wild in this new year and that we see great, new, wonderful things.

4) Kindness

I often find myself saying (or thinking to myself), “it is so easy to be kind.” And while this is true, it is not always easy to want to be kind—especially when the world is seemingly falling apart around you. Still, kindness can go a long way. It can mean everything to the right person in the right moment. So let’s hope that more people (including ourselves) find that want to be kind in the new year. Let’s hope that when we reach those crossroads—perhaps on a daily basis—we try harder to take that extra second to be kind.

5) Patience

What we might need more than anything in this new year is patience. While there is a lot of positive progress being made, the world is not going to go back to normal overnight, or any time in the immediate future. And even though sometimes it seems impossible to live in this version of our world for another year, another few months, or sometimes even just one more day, we need to find it within us to be patient. Be patient with the doctors who are trying their best day in and day out, be patient with the first responders and frontline workers who put themselves as risk each and every day, be patient with your friends and family who might have different fears or opinions than you, be patient with yourself and the ups and downs of emotions that don’t seem to quit. Be patient with 2021, it is a new year, with new possibilities and each day has the chance to be something special.

Happy New Year!


Check out more List-cember posts here.

17 Goals for 2021 (List-cember #8)

In 2017, I made my first list of 17 goals. They were bold—crazy even—and they were hard, but they also pushed me to do things I never thought I’d do. Since then, I’ve figured out a rhythm to goal setting. I’ve made sure to set goals that I want to accomplish rather than those I think will impress people, and I’ve set goals that are a good balance of challenging and achievable, rather than outlandish and impossible. After all, it’s easy to make big proclamations about all that you’re going to do after that New Year’s clock strikes midnight, but it’s very difficult to stick to those promises in the 365 days that follow.

Plus, some years you set goals and then a global pandemic happens, making most of them literally impossible. So you gotta work with what you’ve got. And you’ve gotta give yourself goals for you—goals that will inspire you, challenge you, and/or just make you proud you put your mind to something.

With that being said, these are the goals I’m setting for 2021:

1) Volunteer 5 times

This is a staple on my list of goals and one that I always look forward to. With COVID restrictions still in place, I might have to get creative with this one, but no matter what’s going on in the world, there is always a way to lend a helping hand, so hopefully I can find where I am best able to serve.

2) Watch the sunrise

I have watched many a sunset in my life, but far too few sunrises. And if I’m asking myself for one. One early morning. One day out of 365. One drive before dawn to a good spot where I can watch a new day begin, I think I can handle it.

3) Raise my VO2 Max score to 40

In late October, I came across a statistic on my FitBit called “VO2 Max”, which is essentially how efficiently your body uses oxygen during exercise. At the time, my score was a 35, which was marked as “average” for a woman my age. And even though I’d never previously heard of this measure of health, or had anyone telling me I needed to improve it, I instantly decided that I could no longer live a satisfying life unless my score was in the “good” range—which is a minimum of 36.5. As of now, my score is a 37, making me cleanly and wholly in the “good” range, so naturally I am now striving for the “great” range. Great is marked by a minimum score of 40.7, but for this year I’m going to start with a goal of 40.

4) Get published

Last year I made it a goal to take a writing class, and in looking for a class to take I found an entire Creative Writing Capstone through UCLA Extension that I am now in the process of completing. In doing so, my writing brain has been kicked in to overdrive and I have started to write about things I may have never had the courage or drive to write about before. So it is my hope that I can continue to write, submit and have something published in the next year.

5) Donate blood or plasma

This is another goal that I’m going to try to make an annual thing—even if it’s a little nerve-wracking and involves needles—because it’s an easy way to help those in need, and you get free snacks at the end. I’m not sure what the world of donations will look like in 2021, so I’m leaving the goal at a single donation, but if I’m brave enough, I’m going to try and do more!

6) Reduce screen time to 3 hours/day (or less)

If you have an iPhone, you might get those weekly reports on the average amount of time you spent on your phone each day. I will admit, in quarantine, my numbers skyrocketed, and I have been trying desperately to bring that number down ever since. So for this year, I want my weekly report to average 3 hours or less every week. Preferably less and less as the weeks go on.

7) Finish this writing prompt book

In September, I bought this little book of writing prompts as a fun way to get my creative mind working. For a little while, I got into a good routine of doing a handful of prompts per day, but I have since fallen off that schedule, and admittedly haven’t opened the book for a couple of months. So I’m hoping that this year I can get back into it and even finish it. Who knows, maybe one of the prompts will inspire a future blog post. (find the book here)

8) See one WLRA

A couple years back I made this list of the World’s Largest Roadside Attractions and I set out to see as many as I could. I have crossed out a good handful since then and I am hoping to cross off another one this year.

9) Read 5 books on this list

After I came across this list of inspirational books I decided to make reading through the list an item on my bucket list. So, in order to start working towards that goal, I’m setting out to read five of those books this year.

10) Cook 1 new recipe every month

I am a big creature of habit. And while a few years ago I got really into cookbooks and trying new recipes, most of the time I make what I know and what I love, or what I know I’ll love. So I’m hoping to branch out a bit this year. Nothing too crazy, just one recipe I’ve never tried each month.

11) See all the movies nominated for Best Picture (and maybe even predict the winner!)

It has always been a goal of mine to see every movie nominated for Best Picture before the Academy Awards, but somehow I have never managed to accomplish this. I want to feel like I have a real opinion on the matter, rather than just rooting for the one movie I happened to see. So, this year, the moment that list comes out, I’m filling the gap between what I have and haven’t seen and I am making a prediction!

12) Finish my Dodger Stadium cross stitch

One of my favorite quarantine projects has been a counted cross-stitch of Dodger Stadium that I designed myself. Some weeks I work on it a lot, others I forget it exists. As of now I’d say I’m about 70% done with it, but I have a feeling that last 30% might take me a long time. So while I think this is an easy goal, it’s also one that I want to hold myself accountable for. I want to get this project finished and show it off!

13) Learn to curl my hair

I am embarrassingly uneducated in all things hair. About five years ago I cut my hair short for the first time since I was a kid, and it was at that time that I first learned to properly blow-dry my hair. And as of now, that’s about all I know how to do. So, with a new straightener in tow that I got for Christmas—one that I allegedly can use to curl my hair as well—I am aiming to get a little more educated in the hairstyling department, and more or less emerge as a hair goddess.

14) Try acupuncture

My mom tried acupuncture for the first time this year and has become a firm believer. I followed her lead this past year on trying out the chiropractor, so I’m going to continue following in her footsteps and give acupuncture a go!

15) Read 12 books of the Bible

I often get overwhelmed by daily devotionals or reading plans, because I always fall behind, and then I fall so far behind that I give up and stop reading all together—which is very much not the point. So my sister suggested this goal, which I like because it gives me room to read more if I’m in a good groove, and it gives me room to catch up if I fall behind.

16) Keep my plant alive

One of the cutest gifts I got for Christmas was a little succulent in a ceramic dinosaur plant pot that my sister gave me. If you know anything about me, I deeply struggle with keeping plants alive, so she got me this in the hopes that I might, you know, not kill it. And I am so dedicated to this new plant child—that I have named “Bronto”, like brontosaurus—that I have made his well being one of my goals for this year. #prayersforBronto (find the plant pot here)

17) The Tuesdays of 2021

My final goal of the year is a little photography project. In years past I have done a one photo per day project and I have done a one second per day project. And while they were both fun and turned out really cool, they were also stressful and hard to remember to do every. single. day. So this year, I thought, why not choose one day a week to take a picture or record a short video? And why not make it a random day like Tuesday? There are 52 Tuesdays in 2021, most of which might otherwise have been relatively forgettable, but this year I’m going to have a little memory of each and every one, and to be honest, I’m already excited to see them!

Did you set any goals for 2021?


You can also check out my previous lists of goals here: 2020201920182017

My 2020 Rec Roundup (List-cember #3)

One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is to look at everyone’s “best of” lists. I love recommendation lists and you will find my notebook, my phone, and sometimes even my hands covered in scribbled notes of things to check out. So, since I know I will be actively consuming these lists, I think it’s only fair to contribute one of my own.

Here are my favorite things from 2020:

Note: these aren’t necessarily things that came out in 2020, but they are things that I found this year and loved.

Books

  • Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
  • Sorry I’m Late I Didn’t Want to Come by Jessica Pan
  • Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic by Michael McCreary
  • The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
  • The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
  • This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
  • A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost
  • Black Widow by Leslie Gray Streeter
  • A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
  • Fortitude by Dan Crenshaw

Podcasts

  • Pretty Big Deal w/ Ashley Graham
  • Truth & Lies: Jeffrey Epstein
  • Straight Up w/ Trent Shelton
  • Dolly Parton’s America
  • Everyday Decisions w/ Jo Firestone
  • Off Air with Joe & Orel
  • 1619
  • The Next Right Thing
  • Human Seeking Human
  • Song Exploder

Movies

  • Little Women
  • 1917
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Emma
  • Brittany Runs a Marathon
  • Home Again
  • Troop Zero
  • Swiss Army Man
  • Peanut Butter Falcon
  • Knives Out

TV Shows

  • Schitt’s Creek
  • Hunters
  • Outer Banks
  • Dark
  • Never Have I Ever
  • Normal People
  • Emily in Paris
  • Pen15
  • Peaky Blinders
  • The Queen’s Gambit

Music

  • Rare by Selena Gomez
  • Ocean by Lady Antebellum
  • Apart by Léon
  • Lady Like by Ingrid Andress
  • Go Somewhere by John Splithoff
  • State of the Heart by Patrick Droney
  • Kelsea by Kelsea Ballerini
  • folklore by Taylor Swift
  • The Otherside by Cam
  • Sad Hunk by Bahamas

Misc

Take the Day off Cleansing Balm: This is hands down the best makeup remover I’ve ever used. Not only does it get allll of my makeup off, it doesn’t irritate my skin, and it lasts for a long time. (find it here.)

Aveda Shampoo: I feel like I’ve been looking for “the right” shampoo for my hair for a long time and to my absolute delight, I finally found it in this one. This was an intensely impulsive purchase that was brought on by quarantine boredom, but it has been a lifesaver! Pro-tip: if you try it and like the shampoo, just get jumbo size bottle, it’s worth it. (find it here.)

Tangle: This bi-partisan newsletter was a valuable find for me, especially this year when there were so many important conversations being had. I liked being given both sides of an argument rather than trying to weed out the truth between all the screaming and arguing that took place on opposing sides. (find it here.)

AirPods: I would have never guessed that I’d be finishing out the year recommended AirPods as one of my favorite things but I would be lying if I said I haven’t used them absolutely every day since I bought them. These have especially been a lifesaver for listening to music at work, doing chores, talking on the phone, etc., because I no longer have to worry about the cords of my old headphones. (find them here.)


Check out more List-cember posts here.

And you can check out last year’s Rec Roundup here.

In Case You’re Looking for a New Thanksgiving Staple

When I was little, my maternal grandparents used to host Thanksgiving every year. And just like any other holiday, I would arrive looking for a few key staples: the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the pre-meal black olives that I would place on my fingers and pretend I got a manicure, and the cheese filled celery sticks that I would lick the cheese out of and throw the celery away.

When I got older and my parents starting hosting Thanksgiving, I wanted to find my own staple to bring to the table. Something that people could look forward to and rely on me for, and something that I could pass down to my kids when my mom passes the turkey down to me, so I can undoubtedly take on the job as if I am precisely diffusing a bomb for five hours. 

One year, I decided this staple might be rolls. As the turkey cooled for carving and the final touches were being put on the side dishes, I volunteered to butter and bake the rolls, which to some members of my family are arguably the most important part of the meal. I thought it was a can’t lose move. But it turns out, when you reach in to grab your cooked rolls and accidentally light your oven mitt on fire, filling the whole kitchen with smoke and a burnt smell that begins to overtake every other pleasant smell, just as your guests start to arrive, you put yourself in a can lose situation.

So I ditched the rolls. Or rather, gave them back to my aunt, who’d failed to ruin them or set off a smoke alarm even once. Show off.

Then, after a solid year of pouting and self-deprecation, another year of Internet research, and then a tentative shopping trip for cheeses I’d never heard of, I found my side dish. My staple. My claim to Thanksgiving table fame.

This Martha Stewart Macaroni & Cheese recipe.

I will admit, it’s not a walk in the park. And while I’ve gotten into a good rhythm over the years, I still usually sit down at the Thanksgiving table looking slightly weathered and a little sweatier than I’d prefer, but it’s always worth it. So if you’re looking for something to spice up your Thanksgiving, your Christmas, or even just your Tuesday, might I recommend this recipe. It’s DELICIOUS.

Plus, if you make it enough, people start to forget that Martha Stewart created it and start calling it “your macaroni”, allowing you to feel like an innovative culinary queen (or king.) And that, my friends, is a can’t lose situation.

Also, pro-tip: grate your cheese before you start.  

Keep Hold of Your Elephant

I recently read former SEAL and current Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s book, Fortitude, which talks a lot about how to live a more balanced and controlled emotional life, especially in this age of “outrage culture.” In one chapter, I found a metaphor that really stuck with me and I wanted to share.

It comes from psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt, who described the human mind as a rider on an elephant. The conscious or logical mind is represented by the rider, and the unconscious or emotional mind is represented by the elephant. By all accounts, it would seem that the rider is (and should be) in control, but in certain situations, that elephant can pull and steer the rider in a direction they didn’t expect to go, and that won’t benefit them in the way they hope.

I loved this visual, partially because elephants are my favorite animal, but mostly because I felt like I’ve experienced this pull or sudden loss of logical mindedness in favor of a larger, more overpowering emotional response. And the harder I’ve tried to pull back and fight against that emotional reaction, the harder it’s fought its own fight, leaving me either frozen and at war with myself, or headed in a direction I don’t want to go. So the advice here is to realize that you are still in control. Your logical mind will always be that rider that can calm the elephant and steer her forward. But it is up to that logical mind to decipher—not ignore or belittle or wish away—whichever emotional reaction is trying to lead, and weed out what is true about it and what is not. What will benefit you (i.e. dealing with grief, mourning failure or rejection, etc.) and what won’t (i.e. worrying about things you can’t control, spiraling into self hate, tossing blame/anger onto other people).

In today’s society, we are told to react instantly. To immediately know our opinion, and, especially, to immediately be offended, angry, hurt, afraid, ecstatic, etc. I know I’ve felt the pressure to know exactly how I feel in only a matter of seconds—even if I’m not exactly familiar with what I’m seeing or talking about, and even if I don’t have all the facts or context that might help me form my own opinion. I know I’ve reacted to things based solely on the pressure to react, and the fear that if I didn’t, I’d be rejected, cast out, or left behind. I’ve looked on from my metaphorical elephant as a herd went running in one direction, and worried about the fact that we were still standing here, processing.

But the point is: that is okay. It is okay to process. It is okay to take your time. It is okay to go in the direction of the rest of the herd and it is okay to go in your own direction, as long as the rider is in control.

Don’t let hate steer you.

Don’t let fear steer you.

Don’t let doubt or greed or jealousy steer you.

Feel your feelings, listen to your feelings and then take the time to figure out which are telling you the truth and which are lying to you. Lead that elephant forward and do it on your own terms.