My Self-Improvement Summer

As most of you know, I’m back at my parents’ house for a few months between Steve and my epic three-month, cross-country road trip and reuniting with him in Ireland again before we head on to a working holiday in New Zealand. As my town is quite small and uneventful and my work doesn’t take up too much of my time, I decided that for the summer I would work on setting some habits, reaching some goals, and making it a summer of self-improvement.

I know that summer isn’t technically over, but I’m wearing a hoodie and drinking hot tea during the day for the first time in ages, so it definitely feels like fall and therefore I’m going to check in as I move into My Self-Improvement September. The eight things I wanted to work on this summer were: yoga, meditation, piano, guitar, Duolingo’s German course, running, dance and this blog. Let’s see how I did:

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Five Tips for Your Best Road Trip

You may have noticed that my last post was the day after Election Day. Sometimes when we need our creativity the most is when it’s the hardest to find. Hoping to write more this summer. 

Since the majority of my blog’s readers are either my friends or my mother’s coworkers, most of you probably already know that Steve and I spent March to June traveling across the United States from Vancouver to Philadelphia. Our zigzag route took us about nine thousand miles in a beat up ’03 Ford Windstar (RIP) and to amazing destinations both natural and metropolitan. We went hiking in the Grand Canyon, boozing on Bourbon Street, ate pretty much everything we could possibly eat (plus a lot of soup cooked on our camp stove), and more. 

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At the Tunnel View viewpoint in Yosemite National Park

All along our trip, so many people told us that it was the trip of a lifetime (definitely) and that they would love to do something similar, so I decided to put together my top tips for a cross-country road trip. 

Build a sleeping platform

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Our humble abode

Honestly, sleeping in a van isn’t as rough as it sounds. Sometimes the lack of ventilation makes the night overly hot and humid, but for the most part we were pretty comfortable. However, if you’re traveling for more than a few days and don’t want to spend all your money on motel rooms, a sleeping platform is a must. We took out the back two rows of seats and Steve built ours in an afternoon with a piece of plywood and a bunch of 2x2s. We were able to put almost all of our belongings underneath the platform and a super-cozy piece of foam with bedding on top. At least one road-tripping couple we encountered were sleeping on their seats and so every night they had to shuffle all their luggage around to make room—the last thing you want to do when you’ve been driving for nine hours and you’re completely exhausted.

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November 9.

I’ve learned a lot about our country and our world in the past year, but I don’t think I learned enough. I learned about the bad, of course, inescapable as it was, but I, like so many of us, still believed it was a vocal minority. I’ve felt the effects of systemic and everyday sexism. I’ve seen the effects of systemic and everyday racism, homophobia, xenophobia, all the things that Trump espouses and champions, on friends and acquaintances, but I still, maybe naively, believed that when it came down to it, love would trump hate. Yesterday, it did not.

That makes me afraid, it makes me determined to fight back, but it also makes me aware of the bubble I live in. I grew up in a swing state that just went red for the first time since before I was born, I went to a progressive town for college, moved to a progressive state, and currently live in a progressive country. The Trump supporters I know are few and far between, and none of them would fit under the label of “deplorable.” And yet, outside of my bubble, a different story.

Those of us with the privilege not to fear speaking to those with views anathema to ours must do so. I’m sure there will be many who won’t be open to change, but (and here I reference what was, to me, one of the most shocking moments of the whole election cycle) if Glenn Beck can now publicly consider himself a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, I suspect there are many who might learn to reconsider what will make America great. Those of us with the privilege to step outside our groups of friends who believe in gay marriage and Roe v. Wade and multiculturalism and respect for all genders and religions without fear must do so for those without.

The map (see above) showing that if only millennials voted Clinton would have likely won by a landslide is a hopeful sign but also a sobering reminder that deplorable ideals have not, to be blunt, died out. It makes me all the more determined that we must not let our generation stray from a path of progression, and we must guide the younger generation onto that path. I still believe that love trumps hate, but I must now always remember that it needs our help, my help.

You must remember too. Not only you, us, Americans, but you, us, the world. Remember when we watched Brexit and thought there was no chance it could go through? Remember when you watched our election and thought there was no chance Trump could win? Imagine someone running for election in your country and says “We’ll send all the [Muslims / Eastern Europeans / refugees / Chinese immigrants / insert group here] home” and “We’ll make sure abortion stays illegal” (Irish friends) and “I’ll make your country great again.” You would hate this man, your friends would too. But do you know enough about your country to know that the rest would feel the same? I thought I knew enough about mine and I was wrong. Alt-right sentiment is rising across the Western world. Don’t be complacent.

I don’t feel hopeful today, so it’s hard for me to write about the good things that came from this election. The women born before suffrage who were able to vote for a female candidate for the first time. The women of color elected to congress. The folks who, in the immediate aftermath of the election, swore to do their all to protect their POC and LGBT and female and immigrant and scared friends and neighbors and strangers. The helpers, as Mr. Rogers would have said, who were and are ready to fight for our country and our world.

It may be hard, today, to feel like our country is worth fighting for, but that’s all the more reason to do it. I’m not ready to fight yet, I need to take a few days to come to terms with the fact that a man who thinks it’s okay to grab women like me by the pussy and take away our reproductive rights is the leader of our country, but I will be ready soon. And when I’m ready, if you’re not ready yet—if you’re still mourning the fact that the leader of our country wants to build a wall to keep your family out, to send your family away based on your religion, to belittle you because of your disability, to marginalize and mock you and incite hatred toward you—I will fight for you. And when you’re ready to fight, we will fight for us.

Here, from Jezebel, is A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support, as a jumping off point.

Finding What Feels Good or: How I Learned to Stop Fidgeting and Love Yoga

When I was a kid, I found a yoga VHS in the house and gave it a few goes before I got bored of holding a single pose for five minutes. I’m fidgety now—I can only imagine it felt like an eternity of stillness back then. When I was a teenager, I had a set of “yoga cards,” cardboard squares with yoga poses and mantras that were, I suppose, designed to guide your practice. I carried them through several moves, always intending to use them and never quite getting around to it. When I was in college, I took a yoga class. It was at 8 or 9pm on a Sunday, which wasn’t the optimal time for a college student to feel motivated to do anything but lie in bed and watch reruns of The Office. I tried a few more times here and there, but always ended up writing off yoga as one just not for me.

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I think it was these cards, or something similar

That changed earlier this summer. When I couldn’t find an ATS bellydance class to pick up learning where I’d left off in Seattle, I signed up for the closest I could find to where I live (I’ve since found an ATS class so I’m happy to be taking that as well). This ended up being a fusion class with a strong yoga focus, so at first I was wary. Then, it began to click.

I still didn’t enjoy doing yoga for its own sake (yet), but I began to understand how the focus on flexibility, opening up joints, and strengthening muscles could translate into more powerful bellydancing. Every time I struggled into a slight backbend, I was making my body wave chewier and more dynamic. Every time I dropped from plank to the floor and into cobra (and, as time went on from plank to chaturanga to upward-facing dog), I was strengthening my core for better isolations.

I decided I needed to do yoga more than the once a week in class to really feel the difference, so I asked some friends for recommendations of youtube videos, and that’s when I found Yoga With Adriene. I jumped nearly straight into her “30 Days of Yoga” series, and that’s when things really began to fall in place. Aspects of yoga that had always disinterested me finally began to seem fun and important as I modulated my breathing and let the day slip away. Eight days into the series (as I noted in my bullet journal), I felt savasana. The “corpse pose” had always been a sticking point for me in that college yoga class—why would I lie on the cold gym floor when I could go home and lie in bed? I finally began to appreciate the way it tied together a practice to transition peacefully back into your day.

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My favourite of the 30 Days of Yoga videos, Full Potential Detox Practice

Not only did I begin to enjoy doing the poses, I began to notice improvements. Today I finished the 30 Days series with a deeper forward fold, lower heels in downward dog, and, again, a smoother vinyasa from plank to chaturanga to upward-facing dog. My attitude toward yoga has changed too. I’ve stopped checking the clock and started checking on my breath, started focusing on my body instead of every external distraction I could find. My yoga journey is just beginning, but it’s one I feel inspired and confident to continue for months, years, and perhaps even a lifetime. Namaste.

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

When I first moved to Seattle, I started following a ton of Pacific Northwest-based photographers on instagram. While obviously most of their photos were of places like Olympic National Park and the Oregon Coast, there were also some amazing pictures of places outside of the PNW. And the one place that it seemed like everyone loved more than any other was Alberta, Canada. I must’ve spent hours looking at photographs of Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, the Icefields Parkway, and more, and visiting Alberta—particularly Banff National Park—rose higher and higher on my bucket list.

A few weeks ago, Steve and I made the trip happen. We rented a car, made the 9-ish hour drive from Vancouver, and spent four nights camping in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

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Lake Louise

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Let’s hear from the ladies

My job as a copywriter means that most of my day at work is spent typing away at a computer. And our department’s unhealthy obsession with Slack means that we don’t talk too much out loud (look, you can’t speak a giphy of a kitten), so I usually have my headphones in. And since there’s only so many times I can listen to the music from Hamilton*, I generally turn to podcasts.

One thing I really like about podcasts is that, like other maker-focused platforms such as YouTube, there is room for a hugely diverse array of voices. Not relying on traditional production/publishing means that you can find podcasts about any topic, created by any type of person. While I listen to podcasts ranging from the paranormal to the musical to the educational to the financial, one of my favourite things about podcasts is how many are female-created and female-focused. Here are a few of my top picks:

*just kidding, I could listen to it on repeat for forever

 

Stuff Mom Never Told You

Who hosts it: Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin

What it’s about: How Stuff Works has a number of podcasts (another one shows up later on this list!) but Stuff Mom Never Told You is definitely my favourite. Some episodes focus on historical events or figures that may have been misrepresented or ignored in popular media and education; others explain common things  that often affect women like colorism, cuddling, and comics.

Check out this episode: Feminist Witchcraft

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