day one with my phone

And already, by tonight, all of my Iphone anxiety is back in full force. I had big hopes for a gradual re-entry into it, but no. I consumed every opportunity I had to look at it with relish. Yes, even while driving. I arrived at my 4:30 yoga class sickened by my obsession, but very aware of it. So that’s the silver lining, I suppose. I’ve cultivated a hyper-sensitivity to my own addiction which, one would hope, can only help in my continued quest to kick it. Appropriately, my teacher played this song for our savasana today (that’s the part at the end of a yoga class where you just lie down and rest – truly, the best part). I can’t think of a better way to describe the dysfunctional relationship I have with this evil little device:

milk and cookies

It’s 7pm on April 30th and I’m approaching the end of my iPhone detox. Surely you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for the results of such a ludicrous experiment. I gotta say, not such a big deal really. Even Sean adapted quicker than I would have expected and had a mostly alright attitude about it the whole time. I did take a 3-day hiatus mid-month when Sean threw his back out, but other than that I stayed the course and resisted the temptations of that evil temptress, Siri. I was grateful to not be tied to work 24/7, that’s for sure, and I certainly don’t think I lost any sales from not responding to customer emails in my normal turnaround time of two and a half minutes. I quite liked not being reachable by anyone at times and while at first I felt some guilt at this, I really embraced it by the second or third week. Imagine going on a hike for two hours without feeling the nagging anxiety over a missed text or email – amazing! I felt more connected to my children as well and didn’t mind their endless questions and chatter nearly as much because I wasn’t being pulled away by something or someone I perceived as more pressing. That being said, to anyone considering a tech detox of their own, be warned: you will instantly start hating everyone else around you who’s using a cell phone. It was exactly like when I quit smoking. One day I was outside 2-3 times a day getting my fix and the next my inner dialogue sounded more like this: “I cannot believe someone would even think about smoking a cigarette this early in the morning. I mean, does this guy not realize that other people have to share the sidewalk on their walk to work and maybe don’t particularly feel like breathing and smelling his Camel Light right now??” Such is what it’s like to put down your cell phone for an extended period of time. It’s a bit disconcerting to feel suddenly like no one is paying any attention to you (or to anyone else for that matter). Just because I put my phone away doesn’t mean anyone else did. On the other hand, since April was also my birthday month, it’s important to note that a few friends went out of their way to reach me sans phone by sending cards or flowers – thank you, lovelies! All in all, it was a good run. I enjoyed feeling like I had some privacy back that I had been missing for years, but I certainly missed things like Google Maps, ITunes and my CorePower yoga app. Oh, and of course I was a much safer driver. That is one thing I’m really going to put my best foot forward on by keeping my phone out of reach while driving.

A new idea that came to me during this month of no IPhone was turning this one-time, month-long experiment into something I could prolong into more and more blog fodder. Maybe not every single month (because I have to leave myself a way out), but at least here and there I thought it might be fun to play around with other month-long experiments. Not only would these exercises in discipline give me writing material, but they could also help me learn and grow as a person (and keep me from getting bored, which I do easily). The idea I came up with for May came straight out of a book I’m reading right now called “The Buddha Walks Into A Bar” which is a modern day “guide” for anyone interested in more mindful living. One of the suggestions the author gives for bringing the practice of meditation into your life outside of sitting down and actually meditating is by following a practice he refers to as “not saying no.” As I’ve said in an earlier post, while I understand and admire the benefits of actual meditation, I’m not ready for it yet. But alternatives like yoga (often referred to as moving meditation) and now this interesting (and horrifyingly scary) idea are intriguing. The problem, and therefore the need for a month-long dedication to such a practice, is that I say no all the time. It’s kind of my thing. Just ask my husband. Generally, I’m not good at taking risks, I need to have my expectations managed at all times and I am a control freak. Oh, and I have naughty kids. All of this equals a lot of “no.” In addition to saying no all the time, I can also be very closed-minded through my lack of action. I resist new experiences (exception: travel) at every turn and am often regretful after the fact. I have a comfort zone that is very…well, comfy. And so I’m proposing a month of not saying no and of not resisting new experiences. This one is going to be much more challenging for me than the phone detox, so I’ve already started practicing a little bit in the last week. In just a few days I’ve already learned that by simply letting go of the rules I have in place for myself and others, life gets better. Somewhere along the way I made up a rule that there would be no more drinks in bed for the kids. Why? I have no idea. I probably got tired of washing sippy cups. But lately the whole bedtime routine has been hellacious from start to finish. So I let up on my rule and now we let Kathryn have milk at bedtime every night. Problem solved! 45 minutes of demands and tears gone!  Today at the park, Kellan was throwing an epic tantrum about the particular park I chose to take them to. So Sean gave him a cookie. Tantrum over! Magic! I know, I know, I know. No, I’m not advocating for rewarding children for asshole behavior; I’m just lightening up a bit. Or opening up a bit. Or maybe I’m just saying “fuck it” for a month. Why not?

april fool?

Perhaps. Some might say (and have said as much already), “HELL YES!”  You see, I have decided to put down my Iphone for the month of April. And when I say put down, I mean put down. I don’t mean Instagram abstinence or a (necessary) refrain from texting while driving. What I mean is that my phone is currently turned off and locked up in my glove compartment. It was actually in a drawer in my house until I had the sense to take Murphy’s Law into consideration and the guaranteed emergency roadside situation that would ensue had I left it in said drawer. But beyond an unforeseen and very real crisis, I will not so much as look at it for the next thirty days. I’ve shared my plans with a few close family members and friends, plus key acquaintances like our babysitter and the kids’ preschool. The responses have ranged from “wow, that’s brave” to “good luck” to “wait, no cell phone?!” My personal favorite so far is my dear, supportive husband’s: “Do not go turning into some crazy hippie. If this starts messing up my life, I’m going to be really mad.” To be sure, we do lead busy lives, we do have children, blah blah blah. But thirty days isn’t going to kill anyone.

The truth is, I am a bit of a hippie. But the bigger truth is that I have an Iphone problem, probably not unlike the majority of my entitled American peers. I do text, email and Google while driving. I do work at all hours of the day due to easy access to my email. I do not walk past my phone without checking things out. If I pick it up and there is no missed text, call or email, then I don’t put it down until I make that phone my bitch. I will order that candle I desperately need on my Amazon app, I will Google “how many carbs can I eat per day and still lose weight” (oh for the love of God, yes, I’ve given up carbs for April too), I’ll do a quick scroll through Instagram or I will simply email myself a reminder to do something at some later point in life. Often enough while I’m obsessing over these insanely pointless activities, my children are asking me questions about Inspector Gadget, my husband is trying to tell me about his day and my poor dog just wants a little butt scratch action. And I am ignoring all of them. Real life, real moments are happening all around me and I am missing so many of them because of this seemingly perfect little piece of technology. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. My career depends on it, for one thing, and there is an infinite number of positive uses for technology in our lives. This blog, for example. I don’t have to be a published author in order for people to enjoy my writing. My dogs never go hungry because I have their food arriving on a very specific Amazon Subscribe and Save shipment schedule. I will never be lost again unless my Iphone dies and I forget the charger (hmmmm….). You get the point. What I’d like to see come out of this cold turkey experiment is just a more moderated version of my Iphone-loving self, not a “crazy hippie.” As I’ve already made clear to so many of my near and dear and most certainly to my husband, I’m saving that phase for retirement.

I’ll keep you all posted…

friend for life?

Depending on how closely you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that one of the intentions I set for 2015 (blogging) was apparently set with little or no momentum behind it. While my yogi life is in full swing, and I’m very proud of that fact, I do wish I was putting the same amount of effort into my writing. Time is not the issue as I have such a flexible work schedule most days that I can certainly squeeze in blocks here and there. I just don’t. The truth is, I spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians on Instagram than I do keeping up with my blog (don’t be alarmed, I counteract the Kardashian sisters and “Lord” Scott Disick with a good amount of the Deepak Chopras and Elizabeth Gilberts of the world as well). What I am is not strapped for time, but strapped for inspiration. I haven’t yet figured out if I want a blog that is more like a diary of my life (and therefore only appealing to my nearest and dearest, if even them), a commentary on society or a little bit of both. So in recent days I’ve asked a few of my readers for ideas on what they might like my thoughts on. Frankly, it would seem that most of them are equally uninspired these days. My friend (and also one of my most loyal subscribers), Kasia, on the other hand, had two worthy topics at her disposal, one of which I will focus on today – the evolution of friendships.

Since despite my best attempts I still don’t have a shred of comprehension around male friendships (and quite honestly question their authenticity altogether), consider my expertise here specific to the female-on-female variety. Kasia asked if I’d given much thought to the way our relationships with our friends change over time and also how the way we invite new friendships into our lives changes as we age. This is a topic I have, in fact, given an almost unhealthy amount of thought to in recent years and it’s shocking that I haven’t already ruminated on the subject. I suppose it’s because with my family life at the center of nearly everything I do nowadays, I often have those moments where I go “how the hell did I get here?” and along with those moments comes the flood of memories from a time when my friendships were at the center of everything I did. If you spent the majority of your 20’s as a singleton and put the brakes on marriage and kids like I did, then transitioning into a role (see: wife/mother/professional) where you almost have to be selective with your friendships can be quite a bit more painful than if, say, you got married and started a family right out of college. Every year at Christmas card time I review my address list with sadness and a little bit of disgust, actually. These people were at my wedding for crying out loud, and they haven’t called, texted, emailed or so much as liked one of my fucking Instagram pictures in three years!! Yes, I have these thoughts, but then I quickly realize that I haven’t exactly kept up with any of them either, although I would argue that I am better at the random acts of friendship than most. I never, ever wish a good friend happy birthday through Facebook (a call, or at the very least a warm and personal text), even if that’s how I found out it was their birthday in the first place. I love surprising friends I haven’t talked to in months (or years) with an unexpected card or email. And I write some of the best damn thank you cards you’ve ever read. Because I consider myself a thoughtful friend, and with limited time and energy to spend on these relationships, I realize that thoughtfulness is the key to a lasting friendship in adulthood. And let’s be clear, you’re not an adult until you’re at least 30 (men, sit back down until you’re checking the 40+ box). It doesn’t take getting married and having kids to understand the idea of quality over quantity when it comes to friendships either. What it does take is growing into the person you are and although we are ever-evolving human beings, I feel like we have most of the kinks worked out by a certain point and we just know who we are.

Oftentimes who we are is not who we were 20, 10 or even 2 years ago, so why hold ourselves hostage to friendships that no longer apply to the current version of ourselves? As I’ve assessed my current and past friendships I know I’ve made mistakes – mistakes in hurting people who cared for me and mistakes in letting people I cared for hurt me repeatedly without taking action. On the other hand, I am also mastering the art of both trimming the fat and then letting go. There is absolutely no place for frenemies or for “friends” who continue to disrespect or devalue us. There is also no shame in purging people from our lives who continue to receive whilst not giving. I do, however, still hold a great deal of affection for the friend who can disappear for a few years and then come back with a vengeance as if not a single day had passed. And while I once measured the quality of my friendships in years, and once vowed not to make any more “real” friends once we left Chicago, I now understand the importance of bringing not just new people into our lives, but new people of all ages and backgrounds. I have made some wonderful friends here in Colorado and most of them were completely unexpected. I even made better friends with people in Chicago (i.e. Kasia) once I had left. I also lost a few, and that’s okay. I’ve even gained and lost one in the three short years I’ve been here in Colorado. Again, trim the fat and let go. I understand that I may have overestimated my value to some of my once-friends too and that is perfectly okay. I am not for everyone and everyone is not for me. All relationships evolve over time just as we each do individually and I think the difference for me in how I approach my relationships now compared to how I did in my younger years is by choice. I’m not going to be friends with someone just because they are married to one of my husband’s friends or because I sit next to them at work, but because I genuinely enjoy their conversation and their company. I also won’t get too bent out of shape if one of those gals doesn’t like all of my Instagram pictures. As with everything, life’s just too damn short.

setting intentions

It’s been a number of years since I abandoned the traditional American idea of the New Year’s resolution. All too often this idea of “to do or not to do” is tied up in things that are unrealistically ambitious for the person making the resolution – lose 25 pounds, get a better job, quit smoking, etc. etc. It’s no wonder that the average resolution-making person is shrouded in failure (or amnesia) by mid-February. Not only is the novelty of the fresh start all but gone, but our expectations were mis-managed from the very beginning. Being the impulsive, instant-gratification loving folk that we are, what happens when we’re still 25 pounds over-weight come February? What if we’re still kissing the ass of our shitty boss and taking 5 smoke breaks a day? We give up, we forget, we push those resolutions to the way, way, way back porch of our consciousness. So I stopped making resolutions and started making goals. Every S.M.A.R.T. businessperson knows what elements make a good goal – it must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and have a time frame. I believe in this system, actually, and I think it has a real place in the academic and business worlds that many of us are a part of. Sometimes I do still make goals as part of my ringing in the new year routine, but they aren’t really at the heart of how and why I celebrate my annual fresh start. For me the new year is a time when I really spend some time reflecting on myself, how I’ve grown in the past year, what events shaped me the most and how I can use that information to continue down a path of self-improvement. The goal is always the same – to see myself as a better person one year from now than I see myself today (the most important distinction here is that I’ve shifted my focus from how others see me to how I see me).

In order to do this I first banish anything perceived as stress-inducing. Resolutions and goals be damned. Instead I work on what many people in yogi circles refer to as setting intentions. Setting an intention is to tell ourselves that we will do something and then to put action to it. It’s different than simply having an intention. How does an intention differ from a resolution or a goal you ask? Well I’m no Webster, but I believe that a resolution is something that stems from our brains (and the media) telling us what we are supposed to look like, behave like and be like. An intention, on the other hand, comes from the heart. It’s the result of an authentic assessment of one’s self. Am I happy? Do I make other people happy? Am I loved? Do I love? Am I living passionately? From here I am often able to quickly and easily identify a path to betterment.

So what intentions am I setting for 2015? I thought you’d never ask! I’ve already set the intention to intensify my yoga practice. Yoga has been a focus of mine for the last two years, although months will go by that I don’t even find myself in lotus pose on the carpet, much less on a rolled out yoga mat. Still, the intention was there and still is today, however I am acting more fiercely now than ever before. On the flip side, I think it’s healthy to let go of intentions as well. I’ve completely let go of developing a meditation practice – while I honor its immense benefits for the millions of people who hold this practice dear, it’s not something I’m currently willing to commit to. And that’s okay.

My other intention is to carve out the time I need to write more regularly on my blog. Writing is something I truly enjoy – it also answers the questions of whether or not I am happy and if I make others happy in the affirmative. I have received a great deal of praise from my readers over the past couple of years, yet unfortunately since I deactivated from Facebook in July I assumed no one was reading if I wasn’t able to share my posts that way. The truth is my passion for writing is tied closely to the validation I get from other people reading my material. So I’m going to get down to business in 2015, figure out how this whole WordPress thing works a little bit better and give my readers what I hope is an improved experience. Maybe some pictures, eh? The first improvement you’ll notice is a little “Follow Marissa” option on the right sidebar so you can receive email notifications when I do post some fresh material. I’ve toyed with the idea of having a Facebook page dedicated just to my blog as well, but for now I’m relying on those of you still on the most popular social media platform in the universe to spread the word for me. If you enjoy my ruminations on the ups, downs and road rage cycles of marriage, friendship, parenthood, self-awareness, spirituality, the world, life, etc. then I encourage you to follow me and to share my bullshit on whatever social media platform you happen to be on. Maybe one day someone will pay to read this bullshit and help me with my intention of operating out of a cabana in Costa Rica.

Much love and prosperity in 2015!!

getting over bali

Today is the start of my second full day in Vietnam, though it feels like my tenth. An inordinate amount of logistics went into getting to thisroom where I could finally unpack, open a book, a bottle of water and breathe. And to be sure, I find myself rather annoyed at this truth. I find myself annoyed about a lot of things actually: my inability to communicate with the locals, the weather forecast, my poor attitude. The problem is that I can’t stop comparing everything and everyone to that first momentous experience in Bali. Bali was my first love and Vietnam is my Southeast Asian rebound guy. You’ve made this mistake before, right? You try to recreate the same experience, the same feeling, the same euphoria that you had the first time you were with a certain person, in a certain place with a certain set of circumstances. That level of expectation never hits the mark (how could it?) and in the midst of all the shortcomings you miss all of the lovelies.

Like the lack of geckos. Or the bird symphony that greets me every morning and right after a rain shower. Or my bright green hammock. Or that despite the noticeable lack of English spoken here by comparison to Indonesia, the warmth and welcoming nature of Vietnam’s people is palpable. Or that the sheer beauty of Northeast Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay area is hard to imagine.

Nature is everywhere. Yesterday I kayaked through a small opening in one of the 2,000 emerald green karsts that speckle the bay and was transported into a place of perfect serenity. In a small ocean pond inside of a tiny green island all I could see were lush green walls surrounding me, all I could hear were the echoing bird songs in the space above me and all I could feel was the gentle drifting of the waves beneath me. Now if only those damn French girls hadn’t been there to invade what could have been the start of a lifelong meditation practice.

Yet such is the joy and the essence of traveling. Those damn French girls – Helene, Helene and Helena – saved me from yet another day of language barrier hell and I wouldn’t have traded them for all the dong in Vietnam. Much like my darling Mara in Bali, these ladies validated my gypsy spirit. They shared stories of pure traveling hell without once considering the alternative – not going. In Helena’s case, it is a matter of freedom. She has spent years getting through a law degree that’s left her feeling stressed out and miserable. So with the weight of her licensing exam looming above her she decided to stop, take a breath and see the world. Be free. Make choices for each moment instead of for her entire life. Stop planning every second of every day, every day of every year. I’m sure eventually she will return to Paris and get that license to practice law, but only when she’s good and ready and by her own choice.

So what if I was robbed of a few moments of unadulterated mindfulness? The day I spent on the waters of the East Sea with three girls from France served as an important reminder for why I do this and for why I need to get the hell over Bali. I’m here to be free and to live in each moment. Above all I’m here to cultivate a practice of living free of any expectation except one of personal choice. Traveling alone is an empowering gift because it forces you to make choices for you and only you. Of course in real life we must consider others in our decisions, but so often we get lost in those decisions and we can’t remember where we are or how we got there. Traveling by myself allows me to come back to myself. That doesn’t mean it’s easy; I laugh when people call this a vacation. A vacation is what I do with Sean or my friends, where I can relax and say “whatever you want is fine” and let someone else arrange transportation. This is much different, but it’s important to my sense of self-worth. It feeds me in many more ways than a vacation ever could.

It took a couple of days and some fellow nomads to remind me that my annual soul-feeding really is about the journey after all. Onward!

another year, another adventure

Here I am enjoying a latte at the San Francisco airport, more than a year since I returned from the beauty and spirit of Bali, about to embark on my second solo adventure. This time the friendly skies are taking me to Vietnam, a destination though despite its booming international tourism, still raises the eyebrow of even my most enlightened American friends. While my two-week stint in Bali certainly had its critics (“you’re going alone?” “you’re leaving your kids behind?” “you’re going alone?”), most people had at least seen “Eat Pray Love” and could visualize its relative safety and immense beauty. Vietnam? Well, not so much. Most people have seen “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Platoon.” They think Vietnam, they think war-torn country. In fact, Vietnam is one of the safest, most beautiful and most culturally rich places in all of Asia. My first stop, and the deciding factor for my focus on Northern Vietnam (8 days is simply not enough time to cover more than one or two places; my goodness, I’ve lived in Colorado now for 2 years and haven’t even scratched the surface of my own state), is Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba is the largest and only inhabited island of the nearly 2,000 islands that sit in and around Ha Long Bay. A quick Google Image search yields the answer to the question I’ve been asked countless times: Why Vietnam

I’m staying at the Cat Ba Eco Lodge, a “hotel” that is buried in the forested hills of the island and far away from what I understand is some fairly cheesy tourism in the main hub of Cat Ba Town. From my isolated piece of paradise I will hike, write, sleep, read, meditate, kayak to private beaches, laze about, or maybe try to spot one of the only 60 Cat Ba langurs that survive today (they are one of the most endangered species in the world).

For now, though, I just need to get through the first 24 hours of logistics completely absent of any Vietnamese speaking skills. Wish me luck!

i’m not the only one

Much as I try to remain aloof about Facebook, limiting my wall-scanning to once a day at most, rarely commentating and even less often posting my own thoughts and pictures, there occasionally comes a post that causes me to have a severe emotional reaction; so strong, in fact, that it takes all of the will-power I can muster to detach from it gracefully (i.e. not post hateful and/or sarcastic comments in response). While I take pride in having cultivated a group of Facebook friends who tend to avoid using this medium as a forum for political, religious and otherwise inappropriate topics, there are still a few ranters and ragers out there who’ve managed to sneak into my network. So since I’ve struggled to find the inspiration (or time) to blog lately, I’ll use a recent post I read that, despite my best efforts to dismiss, has continued to make its mark on my thoughts, leaving me feeling frustrated and disappointed with our culture.

It was a post that came right after the latest school shooting in Oregon and was directed at the Facebook community at large, suggesting that “we” should stop using school shootings as an argument for stricter gun regulation because “we” are lying to ourselves anyway. “We” don’t want stricter gun laws at all, because what we secretly want is worldwide disarmament. That’s right, no guns. No guns anywhere. Not here, not there, not in a train, not in the rain, not with a fox and not in a box.

I’ll just say it now – I don’t secretly wish guns didn’t exist, I openly wish for it!! Not because I don’t recognize the argument for their existence in today’s society, but because fundamentally and at my core I am still a loving, caring, non-violent human being who wishes that we could all (and by all, I mean ALL) put our pride and arrogance aside and treat one another with kindness despite our differences. And what I find so horrifying about this post is that this person, and likely many more, think that wishing for something like a worldwide laying down of arms is reproachable. Maybe this is a good time to remind everyone what the definition of “weapon” is: something (such as a club, knife, or gun) used to injure, defeat, or destroy. So what if it’s not realistic in the current state of the world – should we not still strive, even at the individual level, for peace and harmony with fellow mankind? We recently bought a gun; we live in the mountains alongside bears and mountain lions and our garage was robbed in the middle of the night last fall while we were all sleeping. So I get it. I understand the right (and motivation) to bear arms at the individual level as well as at a government level where many of the freedoms we enjoy in this country are indirectly or directly related to our reputation for having a powerhouse military. But all of that being said, I don’t have to like it and I don’t have to stop wishing for something better for me, for my family or for the world at large.

John Lennon’s hit song, “Imagine,” has been regaled as one of the greatest songs of all time, not just in America where we take relative peace and freedom for granted, but around the globe. The sheer popularity of that song over the last 4 decades is a testament to our fundamental belief that a better, kinder, non-violent world is possible. Even if it can’t happen overnight, it can happen and it’s certainly okay to imagine:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

my drug of choice

Travel. What a glorious thing it is. Just the mere thought of the next new place I might explore is serotonin-producing for me. I have my parents to thank for instilling this passion in me at a young age. They took me to Spain when I was 12 and while that experience certainly ignited the overseas traveler in me, it was never just a matter of international travel. It was a commitment they simply made as role models to expose my brother and me to as many new experiences and places as possible – we drove cross-country and flew when we could afford it. I often joined my mother on business trips, be they in Washington DC, Toronto or Beijing. Needless to say, I’ve never been without a current passport – you just never know when the opportunity or mood might strike. Another commitment my parents made that I’ve since brought into my own marriage is establishing a regular travel routine sans children. Let’s be honest, up to a certain age, traveling with children is less vacation and more work. Well, for me, anyway. I do know mothers who swear that traveling, even internationally, with small children is no big deal and they truly love it. Just like anything motherhood-related, to each her own. But I know myself well enough to know what my limits are in that regard. In fact, I just read a blurb in a motherhood astrology book this past weekend about the Aries mother and how the selflessness aspect of parenting is by far her biggest challenge. The authors made it clear that without consistent visits to the “decompression chamber,” an Aries mother is likely to explode. I’m apparently a superb role model when it comes to setting examples for independence, individuality and ambition, however. Phew!

So in accordance with these more selfish character traits, I’ve grown newly passionate for the solo travel experience as well. My 2-week adventure in Bali last year was incredible, to say the least, and often described by myself and others as a “once in a lifetime experience.” The more I thought about it, though, the more depressing that statement became. Why only once in my lifetime should I break out of life’s everyday rhythms and fly free? If I have the time, financial means and encouragement from the people who matter most to me, why stop at just once? And so I approached Sean with the idea of giving each other the gift of a solo travel experience every year for our birthdays. An annual trip into the decompression chamber, if you will. I brought this idea to him around the time of his birthday last August, but he’s no dummy. He knows who he married and he knew this was just my feeble attempt at cleverly disguising something I wanted badly as something we could both benefit from. What can I say, the man loves me and so he obliged. And there are a host of life-threatening activities that Sean would love to do that I simply don’t have the stomach for – heliskiing, base-jumping, Everest-climbing type insanities. What better way for him to meet his death-defying goals than by going alone? And so we have it – an idea was created, a budget was set and a tradition was born. Sean has since decided to triple his budget and defer his inaugural soloventure to 2016 when he will, in fact, go heliskiing in Alaska.

But for me, I have been salivating in not-so-patient wait for April to roll around so I can find out where I’m going in 2014. Part of the tradition is that the gift-giver gets to reveal the recipient’s destination. No one, and I mean no one loves a surprise more than this girl. And while there are certainly hundreds of picturesque and culturally rich places I have yet to see in my home country, I was praying that 2014 would require a passport. And in true see-right-through-me fashion, Sean came through. Come this October I will be boarding a jetplane for Vietnam. Vietnam!! I will go for about a week and likely focus on the Northern part of the country, places like SaPa and Ha Long Bay (for your own benefit, this is worth a quick Google Image search). I’m toying with the idea of getting completely outside of my comfort zone and doing a short homestay with an indigenous family. Whatever the outcome of my itinerary, I’m over the moon with gratitude for what is sure to be another life-affirming experience.

“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” – David Mitchell

a way with words

A friend asked me ages ago to write a blog for her custom stationery website about a thank-you-letter-writing campaign I embarked on a few years ago. The hope was that my story might serve as an inspiration to her customers to dust off their ball-point pens and ultra- finepoint Sharpies and (gasp!) hand-write a good old-fashioned letter to someone (by way of her beautifully designed cards and paper, of course). So here goes, albeit belated (sorry, Tonya!)…

Shortly after the birth of my first child, Kellan, probably while on maternity leave, I stumbled upon a glorious publication known as Real Simple magazine. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s a magazine targeted at us women who are part of that special circus sideshow act known as Mothers, Wives & Coworkers Seeking Constant Domestic Perfection, Career Fulfillment & Inner Peace. An impossible balancing act, for sure, Real Simple aims to help us achieve it through test driving the best cleaning products, offering up quality book recommendations, sharing never-thought-of-but-surprisingly-useful applications for the empty toilet paper roll, and publishing insightful and heart-warming essays that probably only the women in the aforementioned category can truly appreciate. Ever since my discovery, I’ve pretty much devoured every page they’ve put out. One particular issue devoted a piece to an author, John Kralik, who published a book (“A Simple Act of Gratitude”) where he writes about his personal endeavor to write one hand-written thank you note every day for a year. While his reasons for starting his campaign were much different than mine (in short, his life was in shambles and he saw these expressions of gratitude as a karmic approach to turning things around), I was still struck by the idea. I had always loved both sending and receiving hand-written letters myself and so I wondered if I might also be able to write one every day for a year. And so it began on January 1st, 2011, that my discipline would be put to the test.

Before you go and give me too much credit, no, I did not make it through 365 thank you notes. I made it through about 120, though, which I’m still quite proud of. I even scanned each one to a USB drive before mailing it so I could document the “project” and also so I could read back through them one day and have a pretty good glimpse into my life at that time. I wrote notes to anyone and everyone – my Starbucks barista, my infant son, my deceased mother, my close friends, my not-so-close friends, my mortgage lender, my husband, my mother-in-law (I think she received several, but probably deserved all of them), and the list goes on. Eventually I think I just ran out of thank you note fodder, both content and recipients, but it was truly a worthwhile experience on many levels. First and foremost, gratitude is one of the most meaningful things we can possess as humans. Overall I think most of us are thankful for the things and people we have in our lives, but how often is that gratitude really expressed? How often do we send a quick email to say, “Hey, old friend, I’m thinking about you and I hope you’re doing well…?” An effort that literally takes less than a minute, which most of us never take the time for and yet, at least for me, when I’m on the receiving end of something like that, I am overjoyed at that person’s thought and kindness. So imagine how much the joy meter goes up when it’s more than a quick email, but a note or a letter that was lovingly hand-written, addressed, stamped and sent off to its destination? Being witness to the joy that my notes brought others was the most gratifying part about my project. With the onset of technology, the hand-written sentiment has largely become a thing of the past, so it goes without saying that on the rare occasion you receive one, it becomes instantly special.

People do tell me that I have a way with words and since writing is something I truly enjoy, I like to believe that I’m pretty good at it. What that doesn’t mean, though, is that someone who isn’t particularly gifted with words shouldn’t still put forth the extra effort to show another person that they care. I still believe in etiquette, after all, and how many thank you notes have we all gotten in exchange for a wedding or baby gift that simply said “Thank you for the (insert mundane registry item here)! It was so good to see you at the (insert obligatory, costly event here)!” Yes, we are all guilty of the quick, requisite thank you note, especially when you know you’ve got 85 more to write and the chances of your spouse helping are nil. But still, didn’t those people take the time, energy and money to celebrate you and your life? Don’t they all individually deserve an extra moment spent thinking about what makes them meaningful to you? Why did you invite them to your baby shower in the first place if they didn’t have a special place in your life? The note doesn’t need to be long necessarily, but just show a little extra kindness. A note that says “Thank you for sharing this incredible time in my life with me. You have always made me laugh, even on my wedding day, when you shared the story about your cat performing tricks on your leather ottoman in order to help calm my nerves.” I mean isn’t that more special than “Thanks for the crystal picture frame. It was one of our favorite things on the registry.” Eh. No thank you.

Again, it all goes back to the sheer bliss that can come out of expressing gratitude for another person in your life, no matter how insignificant the gift, act or gesture might seem. Giving thanks for the little things can often make the biggest impact because it is likely unexpected and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t appreciate a pleasant surprise. So pick up your phone, your Ipad or best of all, your pen, and send some love and thanks. You can’t go wrong, unless you don’t use quality paper products, which you can procure at http://www.tolukapaper.com. Happy shopping!