“You’re Not the Only One” – Going to a Concert Solo

JT Encore
Encore at the James Taylor concert, Washington, DC. July 2017.

Your regrets aren’t what you did, but what you didn’t do. So I take every opportunity.
—Cameron Diaz

American society still makes a big deal out of doing things solo. Table for one? It can be done, but you’ll still get looks. At the movies alone? We’re getting better at accepting this practice, but it’s still strange. Going to a concert by yourself? Hmmm.

My five years spent living overseas taught me how to quickly get over any insecurities about doing things alone. I ate out by myself often. When my friends weren’t available or interested in seeing a particular movie, I’d go by myself. Traveling alone (even if it was on the way to meeting someone somewhere for vacation) also meant doing things solo temporarily. The point being, I got used to it very quickly and brought my comfort in this practice back with me to the United States. Since then, I have gone to weddings alone, movies alone, dinner alone and art galleries alone, but until this weekend, a concert alone was a first. Continue reading

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Breaking Down and Floating Up

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It’s been a tough week. Actually, it’s been a tough month. So tough that to my horror, I found myself silently in tears on the bus ride to work Thursday morning. It came out of nowhere, and I was horrified when I realized what was happening. It’s not like I was sobbing in a fit of hysteria, but there were definitely quiet tears streaming down my face. I did what I could to pull it together. Act like an adult, I told myself. Grow some thicker skin. Don’t be such a child, and pull yourself together. And while that sort of worked, it wasn’t what I needed to truly get back on track; it was only a temporary fix that was just long enough to stop the tears. The stress, frustration and disappointment continued to hound me throughout the week. Continue reading

Dear M—

Dear M—,

I sure will miss working with you, but I’m so excited for this new chapter in your life!

The gift I am giving you is nothing fancy. It’s rather plain, but it will become one of your most used tools as you travel the world. I cannot tell you how valuable a plain journal and working pen have become to me during my own international travels; and I am sure you will soon discover the same as you traverse through France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, and Germany. Continue reading

Notes from Two Weeks on a Soup Cleanse

I know it sounds counter-intuitive to go on a cleanse or diet of any kind during the holidays, but after over-indulging in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving (not to mention on the big day itself and several days of leftovers afterwards), I decided I had to do something about my out-of-control eating habits.

So after reading about the Souper Girl one-week (or more if you desire) soup cleanse in The Washington Post, I thought I’d give it a try. Lord knows I wouldn’t survive a juice cleanse, and I tried no-carb dieting last year (with much success but so much self-torture that I don’t think I can put myself through it again), I thought it was time to try something new. My expectations weren’t too demanding (and I think that has been the key to my success with this cleanse). I didn’t expect to lose weight after just one week doing this, but I did expect to reset my voracious appetite, curb my cravings for junk food, and literally cleanse my body of all the garbage I had been eating leading up to now.

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Souper Girl’s cleanse did not disappoint. You do it in one week intervals, and it consists of four homemade, locally sourced, vegan, kosher soups a day for five days with two days off in-between where you substitute your soups with natural vegan foods like brown rice, hummus and veggies, quinoa and other similar meals. (I’m not a vegan but was open to trying this.)

Lucky for me, I live within Souper Girl’s delivery zone and received my week’s worth of soups right at my door, with flavors consisting of the likes of Brazilian Black Bean, Wheat Berry Minestrone, Curried Split Pea Appel Kale, Gingered Sweet Potato, Barley Chickpea Kale, Hearty Lentil Butternut Squash and Greens, and Gingered Carrot Orange just to name a few.

As is the key for most diets or cleanses, the first 1-3 days can be the most difficult as your body goes through a sort of withdrawal. But, again, as with most diets or cleanses, the key is to stay busy. And thank God that is exactly how my first week went on the cleanse. I was so busy at work (and over the weekend), that I simply did not have time to think about mindless eating. Having a scheduled eating regiment actually worked well with my lifestyle (and continues to).

Luckily, the soups are very filling and range to about 1,000-1,200 calories a day. You start your day with the highest calorie soup and work your way through to the lowest. And better yet, the portions are very generous (it’s a proper bowl of soup, not a cup) and because they are homemade, they are so incredibly tasty that each one was a treat to look forward to. I really did enjoy my first week on the cleanse, so much that I signed up for a second week.

What I like about it:

  • Truly delicious soups
  • Big portions and very filling
  • Packed with nutritious ingredients
  • Convenient to prepare (just microwave in the container the soups come in)
  • The “off” days offer flexibility in your diet
  • Curbs your cravings
  • Resets your appetite
  • A glass of wine a day is allowed
  • Actually does cleanse your insides
  • I lost 2 pounds; probably water weight, but it was water weight that needed to go

What I don’t like about it:

  • It’s a little pricy ($135 for a week’s supply however, repeat buyers get a $10 discount, but still…)
  • Toward the end of the first week of the cleanse I did get a little sick of soup overall, but it obviously was temporary since I signed up for a second week and continue to enjoy it

Lessons learned from the experience:

Diet truly does affect your body, both inside and out: I didn’t lose a lot of weight, but I lost enough water weight so that my clothes fit more comfortably, and my body literally was working around the clock releasing all the junk that had accumulated inside me over the weeks.

Homemade makes a difference: I’ve tried commercial diets before, and while they worked well for me, they weren’t very tasty. I truly do believe the fact that these soups were homemade made a difference in this cleanse experience. They tasted divine and were not skimpy portions.

Flexibility in a diet really helps: The fact that this cleanse has two off days really helped, and after the first week of successfully following my “off day guidelines,” I felt comfortable enough to indulge in just one meal of evil carbs and fat (pasta carbonara and fried mozzarella) knowing that the next day (and several days after), I’d be back into the routine of healthy soup eating.

Veganism is not bad: No, the experience did not convert me; I will continue to consume meat and eggs and milk and such, but I learned that my body can function just fine without those products, too. If anything, I didn’t get sleepy mid-afternoon (as I usually do at work), and I attribute that to the cleanse and likely vegan aspect of the diet.

So with two more weeks to go until Christmas, I feel much more comfortable confronting the holiday and all it’s glorious junk food and am happy to know that afterwards, I have a plan to get back on track and stay that way until next holiday season.

 

Hiking through the woods on a November morning

As busy as our lives are in the DC area, today was one of those days where it would have been a sin to stay at home and rest. It would have been a crime to sleep in, and it would have been a waste to not be outdoors. The air was cool and crisp (it even had a bite to it early in the morning), the sky was big and brilliant and blue, the autumn sun was bright and generous, and the fall leaves were an explosion of reds, yellows and oranges. We could not have asked for a better day.

And so it was that J. Miguel and I woke up early and drove to Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland, not far from Camp David. We got there before the crowds came, before the sun warmed the mountainside and before the day was half over. And as soon as we got out of the car, we just walked, and climbed and marveled at the views around us, the leaves above us, and the hard, solid mountain below our feet. And as we hiked, something inside both of us changed. J. Miguel called it the “energy of the nature around us.”

I’m not a mystical person. I don’t believe in things like energy or spiritual vortexes. But I do believe that when the planets align, they can create a positive transformation in people with the right combination of beautiful weather, clean air, breath-taking scenery, and silence. And that’s exactly how things fell into place for us today on that mountain. We both felt…happier, lighter, energetic.

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During the occasional moments that we did pass other hikers along the Charcoal Trail or at Wolf Rock, I noticed something strange. Everyone greeted us with a “hello” or “good morning.” That’s unusual in the DC area. This is a part of the country where you can be walking in the street, crossing in a crosswalk with a green light and get hit by a car, and people will just walk around you as if you weren’t there. No one says “hello” muchless “good morning,” here (not counting the mentally ill, but very friendly man who yells “Good morning!” at the top of his lungs to passersby each day near my office). Generally speaking, people don’t smile here, and they don’t make eye contact. Instead, they flip you the bird if they don’t like how you drive or they intentionally key your car if they feel it looks too nice. In short, people are pretty mean here. But not today on the Charcoal Trail.

“It’s because people are exiting their cars and are climbing up the mountain,” J. Miguel said to me when I commented on the unusual friendliness of those we were encountering. “We are crossing paths with them at the point where they have been hiking for a while, and the higher they climb, the more their minds and bodies are cleansed of all the demons they have brought with them to this place. That is why they smile and greet us on the mountain, but not anywhere else,” he acknowledged. Spoken like the partial Incan he is.

I think there is something to be said of that. I can’t say the earth has ever “spoken” to me, but I also can’t deny that nature has a calming effect on people. It was having an effect on me, right there in Catoctin Mountain Park. I was unusually care-free. I was curiously happy. The hike was physically testing for me at times, but I didn’t care. Something about that place and the experience of walking in the woods with fall colors around me recharged me more than any nap, energy drink or gym work-out could.

I now realize that as an urban dweller, I have to make an effort to find nature. But I also realized that I need more of it in my life. I am starving myself in the concrete jungle and florescent light maze I battle five days a week. My skin needs vitamin D. My body needs to move. My soul needs to be refreshed.

Origins

This weekend I hosted my parents in Northern Virginia/Washington, DC. They’ve been here before, but it’s been a few years and a lot has changed since their last visit. For one thing, there are new buildings, new restaurants, and new stores throughout Northern Virginia. The Mall has a new Smithsonian museum—The National Museum of African American History and Culture. I live in a new condo, in a new neighborhood and a new zip code, and as part of that process I have purchased new furniture and decor, completely transforming all they have previously known to be associated with me and where I live.

I have a newish job. My social circle has changed as friends of mine they have met have moved away to other states and new ones have entered my life, albeit at a cautiously slow pace. I am older, my cat is fatter and things are overall…different. I may not have moved far, but so much about this area has changed since they were last here. It was like a new vacation despite the fact that they have visited before.

And they have changed too, I noticed. They aren’t elderly, and they are both healthy, but they are also both slower than I remember (although this city is pretty fast). They tire faster. They don’t hear as well as they used to (granted, NoVa and DC have become pretty loud places when you venture from home; restaurants like to blare their music, traffic is in surround sound, and you can hear everyone’s conversations). For the first time since living here and hosting them, they seemed more Midwestern than ever in this fast-paced East Coast environment.

And in many, many ways, it was comforting, endearing. These are the people who raised me. They brought with them to NoVa/DC the values and comforts I grew up with and have since lost in this crazy part of the country: the appreciation for a good, wholesome breakfast at a local diner (thank you Bob and Ediths!); a sense of patience in this impatient world (politeness in the face of appalling customer service); delight in nature and animals (the National Zoo continues to bring them joy); and awe and amazement at the fast-paced, cut-throat world I live in.

Sometimes we need reminders of where we come from, whether our origins are good or bad, we still need to remember where we started out and who helped us get to where we are today.

 

Remembering to Breathe

A friend recently complained on Facebook about how long it takes her to do even the simplest things in this town. For example, she had to take an entire day off work just to complete the mandatory annual vehicle safety test all Virginia car owners must do (and pay for). Imagine having to take an entire day off work to do vehicle maintenance work as mandated by law! Did she really have to take the whole day off to do this? Probably not. I’ve spent about half a day of my weekend doing the same exam, but I didn’t like it—weekends are precious to me.

She then went on to vent about how taxing it is just to buy a loaf of bread at the grocery store. That is literally true. Here, you have to deal with traffic, crowded grocery stores and long lines at the check-out. (That’s why I buy the majority of my groceries online and have them delivered to my home. And for items—especially certain produce and health and beauty products—that require an in-person visit to the store, I wake up early on a weekend and hit the shops before 10:00 a.m. when the streets and stores are empty. With the exception of getting up early, it’s relatively painless, and I still have the entire day/weekend to do non-errand-related things.)

But I do get her point. The suburbs of DC are not really suburbs. They are very urban and have extremely high population densities which means congested roads even on weekends, crowded shops and long lines. Coming from rural Minnesota, I can confirm that her complaint is legit, it truly is a chore to do the simplest things in this town due to the massive amount of people wanting to do the same thing as you at the very same time. (Happy are those who telework or have flexible schedules during the week while the rest of us are at the office!)

Because such daily struggles are so real here in DC/Northern Virginia, this article really spoke to me. It talks about eliminating certain things from your schedule so you can do more of the things you enjoy. It sounds simple and rational, but it is harder to do than it sounds. But if you can manage to make some small changes in this direction, noticeable benefits do arise. Some key take-aways from the article (emphasis is mine) include:

“With fewer activities, there’s less stress on your calendar and your budget. You have less worry about carpools, traffic, and arrival times. You relieve that feeling of living through over-full, overcomplicated days.

“More free time means more space for stillness and contemplation. It means more space for dreams and growth. It means more time for listening and reflecting.”

“When there’s open space in your calendar, there’s more room in your heart for considering your place in the world, for thinking about who you are and how you intend to live.”

This may all seem boring to some people out there. Especially those who need constant motion and company. But I think there is value in this philosophy for everyone.

A good friend of mine is recovering from surgery and has been told to give herself six weeks of physical rest before she can live the way she was living before her procedure. Already in week two, it is driving her nuts because she wants to go to the gym, move around and push herself physically, much like she did before her operation. And she even tried to do so after her surgery, but quickly learned it was a bad idea. There is something to be said about rest and disciplined stillness, whether it is physical or mental. There is nothing wrong with slowing down and reflecting. In fact, that is how some of the greatest inspirations are born—out of thoughtfulness, silence, thought. Action followed, but it required some silent thinking first.

So while the Western world (and DC especially) glorifies constant movement, busyness and action, I no longer buy into the hype that those who don’t constantly hustle fall behind. Those who don’t also remember to breathe and reflect will, in the end, cause themselves more harm than good. The challenge is making those arrangements in our lives to be able to do all this—to slow down, reflect and contemplate.

It is possible though and it does require sacrifice. But, I have found, it is totally worth it.