Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Five: Little Things that Can Brighten Your Day

A few weeks ago, I constructed a list of little things that can turn your day to total crap. But today, the sun is shining, it's brisk, and I'm feeling very connected to the "little things" in life. My dear friend over at did a list of things she's done to make herself feel good, and I feel as though this is right in line with that.

1. A chat with a friend: When things get particularly frustrating around the office, we instate what we call Coffee Shenanigans. This is a few minutes set aside to brew a K-cup and chit-chat about... well, anything. This also works nicely on the phone with a friend you haven't seen in a while, or even an IM exchange if you are digitally inclined. The point is the break from the frustration, problem, or just overall bad day.

2. A treat: This doesn't even have to be a gigantic ice cream sundae or anything monumental (or even unhealthy). But a cup of a fancy coffee, a piece of fruit you don't normally buy or eat, or just something that you haven't had in a while. Receiving something "special," especially when you do it to reward or pamper yourself is what does the trick here.

3. A doggie (or kitty) snuggle: Animals have a sense when you need their affection. I could have the most rotten day on the planet, but when I get home and there's a pup waiting to do nothing but love me and be so happy to see me, it's genuinely a lovely feeling. And he doesn't talk or ask questions. All he does is listen, and give a snuzzle (snuggle + nuzzle = snuzzle) when I need it. Animals' instinct here is what makes this so special. You don't have to say a word.

4. Laughter: There are a handful of people on this earth that I can share a really hearty laugh with. I'm not talking about a chuckle. I mean a side-splitting, tear-streaming, breath-constricting laugh. It also happens to be a pretty effective ab-workout. Laugh hard enough, and you'll burn some calories. But it also releases all those feel-good chemicals in your brain. This can also be a two-fold treat if it comes from a chit-chat session.

5. A hug: I am willing to claim that there are very few problems, pains, dilemmas, or sorrows that cannot be comforted this way. It may not solve the problem, but it makes bearing the burden that much easier when you're wrapped up by someone who loves you. A parent, a sibling, a partner, a friend. All of these people (and others) double as hug dispensers. And they rarely, if ever, deny the request.

What's particularly nice about these is that, as much as they are nice to receive... they are equally rewarding to give. Making someone else's day a little brighter just might do the same for yours.

What makes your craptacular days better?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Five: Dream Vacations

I had the good fortune of working for a major travel company that paid me to travel to a very cool place once each year, and I quickly fell in love with globe-trotting. Unfortunately, at this point in my life, the only types of vacations I can afford are the ones I create in my head.

There are many other places in the world I'd love to visit, and  to make a list of places I wouldn't go to would likely be shorter and easier. I would travel like Anthony Bourdain, learning from the locals, eating what they eat, etc. No packaged tours for this girl! If money were no object, and time were on my side, here are some of the places I would while away the weeks.

1. Greece: Let's pretend for a minute that their economy is not in shambles. I would do a quick pass through all the ruins--the Acropolis and the temples and all that--and then spend lots of time on the smaller islands--Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, etc. Simplicity of life is the key here. Quiet, solitude, and the magic of one of the most significant cultures in modern human evolution.

2. Hawaii: I've been to Oahu, Kauai, and Maui. But being there for work with 15 travel agents is not exactly how I want to re-experience Hawaii. It was sort of like a sampler platter. If I went back, I would split my time between Maui and the Big Island, secluded beaches, volcano exploration, snorkeling and diving with sharks and other sea critters, and lazing around in a hammock. Hawaii is, by far, one of the most peaceful place I've ever been, and the Spirit of Aloha is truly the way I would like to live.

3. Japan: I have always been interested in the Japanese culture and way of life. They have such a different philosophy than us Westerners, and their history is spectacular. I'd likely quickly jaunt through Tokyo and spend more time in smaller towns and villages, and definitely make my way to Okinawa. Kind of makes me want to sit with Mr. Miyagi and trim a bonsai tree. 

4. Eastern Europe: Prague, Krakow, Budapest... castles, old cities, quaint villages... An incredibly awesome blend of rich history and a late arrival to modern freedoms and cultural evolution. Of course, I can't leave beaches out of my adventure, so off to Croatia and the Adriatic for some quiet time with the sea.

5. Africa: Yes, the whole damn continent! I've been to Morocco, but I was 16, it was a poorly planned day, and, overall, was not indicative of how one should experience it. But Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Capetown... these are places I would love to visit. The Fertile Crescent, people! Home of LUCY! The Sahara Desert! maybe swing on over to Madagascar... Cultures and experiences that seem epochs away. I think there'd be some kind of higher level connection to being human to return to where we, quite literally, began.

Where does your inner world traveler want to take you?

Monday, November 7, 2011

“The world has grown suspicious of anything that looks like a happily married life.” ~Oscar Wilde

In the past several weeks, I have learned more than enough stories about trouble and deception in marriages among couples I know. Some of these marriages are only a few years old; others, decades. And as I hear stories of infidelity, betrayals, cruelty, accusations, and even crimes committed by one of the spouses, I am left with a feeling that I can't quite put my finger on. What makes it worse is all of the couples appeared to be in very happy, very solid relationships. If they were rocky, or relationships where they simply seemed to be tolerating one another, it would be different, and not nearly as shocking. But these are couples who, whether after years or decades, (superficially) stand for "happily ever after."

I am not so illogical as to swing wildly in either direction on the ideas of love and marriage. I do not think my own very new relationship is somehow impervious to such damage, that the two of us are such morally lofty people that we might never hurt each other. Nor do I believe that we are guaranteed to somehow destroy our relationship and each other. In fact, I don't think about this particular topic in terms of my own relationship's future at all. Because I don't have a crystal ball. Today, we're good. Tomorrow, we'll likely be good, too. Beyond that, it's a crapshoot. And that's reality. I won't doom us (in either direction) via speculation and internalization of other people's actions.

This issue provokes more of a bigger-picture, society-as-a-whole question: Are we somehow unrealistic in what we present as happy marriage? Do people do this stuff to each other more often than we think, and because it's so "wrong," we react with lynch-mob mentality, because it's too uncomfortable to face the truth? Perhaps this is a psychological question rather than a moral one. We know what's morally right and wrong. But we do these things anyway. We're driven by emotion. Psychologically, we want what we want, and we hope the moral center of the brain will kick in and make us see the light, but sometimes want kicks right's ass, and someone winds up in bed with someone else, or accuses his/her spouse of the same. Or any variety of crimes against matrimony.

I wonder if we are really unrealistic about what marriage really is. Or, at the very least, that there's a dark side to things, too. And maybe technology and our sudden and very recent desire to take our lives so public is just shedding light on the dark corners. I find it absolutely impossible to believe that infidelity (in its various forms) has become exponentially more common; maybe it's just become easier.

Assuming this is true leads me to another question: Why are we pretending? Why do we pretend that marriage can be this flawless thing? We are comfortable acknowledging some of the flaws in marriages: husbands expecting their wives' servitude; wives frustrating husbands because they shop too much. But these are benign in the grand scheme of what really is apparently going on. If we are more realistic about human nature, about the darkness inside us, will this change the way we view marriage? Will it improve it? Or will it destroy it altogether?

I attended a wedding this weekend, and I won't lie: Part of it gave me anxiety. Here's this young couple, she's all beautiful and they're all hopeful that they are going to have this happily ever after future. My aunt and I were saying we "just hope they stay married." But is that an unrealistic expectation? I couldn't hold my own marriage together. We made all the same promises. I was all sparkly and beautiful and hopeful on my wedding day. We were married 13 months. And we do this, over and over, because the afore-mentioned people, the beacons of happiness, make us believe that it can happen for us.

And then we find out the dark, ugly truth. We find out that people lead double lives, that one spouse has absolutely no idea that the other is carrying on a full-blown relationship with another person; we hear about people who betray their spouses in other ways, by making false accusations, by indulging in other proclivities, by putting everything on the line by committing a crime... After literally decades of marriage.

It boggles my mind. And it makes me wonder if we aren't doing all the new, young couples a complete disservice by not being realistic with them. Or maybe we hope they will be the ones to change thousands of years of behavior. That's a tall order.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Five: Snacks I Would Eat Every Day if I Wouldn't Die or Gain 700 lbs.

Greetings, Kids. Snack foods have come up twice this morning, thus inspiring this list. Now, bear in mind, as with ALL my lists, these aren't necessarily "top" five or "only" five. Just five of what could be many. So please, by all means, add your picks to the list every week. It just may inspire a follow-up down the road!

Today I present to you five snacks that I would literally eat every single day if my teeth and digestive system were superhuman.

1. Pretzels: I need to be specific here. This is not inclusive of ALL pretzels. This is restricted to Utz pretzel rods and Snyder's sourdough pretzel nuggets. The rods come in a tub that, if I were to buy them on a regular basis, I would likely go through three tubs/week. I do not have a pretzel budget. The nuggets, on the other hand, come in a bag, and frankly, it's not a big enough bag. If that sucker lasts two sittings, it's a long time. I would also assert that "skinny" pretzels, such as the thin twists or the pretzel "stix" are gross and should no longer be produced. They are a wimpy excuse for a pretzel. They would get their asses kicked by Rod and Nugget on the pretzel playground.

2. Blue corn chips: Here's the amazing thing about blue corn chips. Plain, they are amazing. With guac or salsa, ALSO amazing. They are so much better than white corn or regular tortilla chips because they are less salty, and if you wanna go the "healthy" route, they are a better option. I enjoy versatility in my snacks. Bravo, blue corn chips, for being both unique AND adaptable.

3. Doritos: Another caveat here. ONLY original flavor. The red bag. NOT cool ranch. NOT jalapeno blast or whatever the hell it's called. I want my Doritos OG. And there's only ONE thing in this world that makes Doritos even better: sour cream. Not a sour cream-based dip, just plain ole' sour cream. I know your reaction was "Ew, really?" YES. REALLY. I promise you, you will love this combination SO much, you will eat enough of it to give you a stomach ache. I have done this on more than one occasion. I also haven't solved the proper Dorito-to-sour cream ratio. One bag of Doritos to one 16-oz. container of sour cream is the closest I've gotten. And yes, I've eaten both in one sitting. Don't judge me.

4. Cheez-Its: Again, original flavor, original size. Not GIANT Cheez-Its. Not some white cheddar garbage. Good ole' original Cheez-Its. I used to buy the 5-lb box at B.J.'s Wholesale, and I could literally eat 5 lbs of Cheez-Its in one week. I will eat these until there is a cheese-flavored paste in my mouth and teeth, and I have to drink 4 gallons of water to get rid of it.

5. David's Pumpkin Seeds: I say David's because they are the only brand of roasted pumpkin seeds I will eat. The are perfectly salty. Perfectly roasted. I eat these bad boys shell and all. I also tend to gravitate towards them during very stressy times, probably because the chewing of them (shell and all) is very labor-intensive. I will also eat them until my teeth hurt, my lips are shriveled from the salt, and I KNOW (get ready for TMI) my next trip to the bathroom will be akin to passing a cactus. On the flipside, especially if you buy the shelled pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas) they are SUPER good for you, and mixing these (plain, unsalted) with the roasted ones cuts down on the labor (on the front AND back end).

Leave your favorite, could-never-live-without snacks in the comments field.... I think I need to run to 7-11.