Sometimes You Fail

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For a very long time, I avoiding trying anything new. Starting a new job or a new project was weighed down not by excitement, but about all the “what-ifs”. What if I’m bad at [blank]? What if I embarrass myself? What if this is a mistake I can’t come back from? I try really hard not to linger on the what-ifs of life, but they’re there.

I know my strengths and my struggles and I’ve found in my “adult”hood that I lean into my strengths and work around my struggles rather than working the skills I’m lacking. For instance, I would much prefer to write a blog and reignite my writing skills (strength) than I would create a YouTube channel which would require one of my struggles (human interaction/speaking confidently/extroversion). I take up new hobbies that I’m already somewhat prepared for (quilting, writing, reading, cross-stitch), instead of trying to strengthen a skill I don’t already have (athleticism for example).

Don’t get me wrong, I still fail in the things I think I’ll be good at. For instance, a few years ago, I wrote a blog post about taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but I never followed through. Life got in the way. Or I wrote a blogpost recently about making my first quilts. I’ve got the basics down, but you can ask my mom about how useful a seam ripper can be (particularly with pesky triangles). Even within my safety net of strong skills, I can fail.

And it’s scary. Failure sucks. Rejection sucks. (Sometimes being an adult sucks.) But it’s part of life.

Because the last twelve months have been such a mess, I was reluctant to make New Year’s goals this year. Especially if I decided to share those goals online or with friends and then ultimately failed. So I’m not making goals this year.

I’m taking my own advice. When I wrote about NaNoWriMo, I talked about being creative for the fun of it, for the flexing of that side of the brain, instead of for perfection’s sake. So I want to make things this year – both physical, like quilts, and written, like this blog – because it is fun, not because I want perfection. I’m leaning into my what-ifs and saying “Yes, I will fail”. That finished quilt may suck, but at least it’s done. That blogpost may be the worst thing I’ve ever written, but at least it isn’t a blank page. I’m going to try that silly YouTube dance workout, not because I’m ever going to be a Superbowl halftime show performer, but because I like the song. And if one of my neighbors sees me dancing through the window, maybe I’ve provided a spark of entertainment in their day.

Will I fail at this non-resolution resolution? Maybe. But for now, it’s a challenge. And the competitive side of me loves a challenge.

Five Favorite Things: Sweden

Five Favorites, Travel

I’m coming up on five years since I flew to Sweden.

For those who don’t know, I spent six months in 2016 studying abroad just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. My time there allowed me to travel extensively through Europe and enjoy Stockholm from darkness to never-ending light. When I arrived in January, the sun began to set at 3 p.m. and it would be pitch black outside by 4. While this didn’t stop me from taking trips to IKEA or adventuring around European cities like Brussels and Prague, it did put a hamper on my ability to enjoy Stockholm. It wasn’t until later months, when the sun never really set, that I found myself learning to love Sweden and all Stockholm had to offer. I thought I would reflect on my five favorite things about Sweden five years later.

Number one: the mixture of the new and the old. Stockholm, in particular, is a great example of how Sweden mixes the new and the old. Gamla Stan (the old town) is filled with rich history and is right across a bridge from modern style buildings. You could spend hours wandering the narrow streets and feel like you’ve been transported back in time, before stepping across a bridge and eating a hamburger (at Max Burgers) in the modern day. Not far away is The Vasa Museum – a museum dedicated to a failed war ship pulled mostly intact from the bottom of the harbor – located right next to the Abba Museum.

Number two: the smaller cities. I’m not a huge fan of big cities – there’s too many people and too much going on. But the smaller cities that I was able to visit in Sweden were wonderful. Sigtuna, Sweden’s first city, is a small town that is a day trip away from Stockholm. You can spend a day wandering the town, hanging out by the lake, and eating along the pedestrian street. Stockholm is nice, but I really loved my time wondering roads in Malmö and Gothenburg; though not as small as Sigtuna, they offered a reprieve from the big city.

Number three: the public transportation. The biggest thing I miss about Sweden (but also Europe in general) is the public transportation. You can get just about anywhere on a train or bus. Relatively easily (and for relatively cheap) you can go from the suburbs where I lived in Flemingsberg (near Södertörn University) to the Royal Palace in central Stockholm, to Drottningholm Palace to the coolest cemetery, Skogskyrkogården, to the airport. Even when there’s a disruption to the service, you have multiple options that will get you where you need to go.

Number four: the adaptability. Though I might complain about how cold it was in Sweden when I first arrived or about how dark it got at 3 p.m. for the first month I spent there, I loved that the country adapted as needed. Sure you didn’t stay out as late in the winter months, but you still bundled up and powered through – a blanket and a space heater to eat outside and some proper shoes will keep you going. And then just six months later, when the sun never fully sets, you spend as much time outside as possible. I try to keep this adaptability in mind when I’m freezing on D.C.’s one cold day a year.

Number five: the Swedes. So much of my enjoyment of my time in Sweden was based on the very basics of life in Sweden. Things were efficient. People were polite, welcoming, and orderly. Everything was clean. There was an emphasis on living with nature, rather than fighting against it. And everything just felt balanced.

Sweden is definitely on my list of places to return to and explore so more, but I might just do that when it’s summer. I’ve had enough cold, dark days for now.

Books of 2020

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In 2019, I read 12 books. My 2020 goal was 24 books. I’m ending the year with 72 books read, according to my Goodreads. That’s accidentally three times my goal and six times what I read last year. Oops?

One of my favorite parts of using Goodreads to track my reading is the stats that come with it. This year according to my Goodreads, I’ve read 18,443 pages over 72 books. (I’d be willing to argue that the page count is probably higher because Goodreads isn’t the best at measuring pages in audiobooks or e-books which made up a decent portion of the books I read this year. But because some of what I read is debatably not really a “book”, I’m not gonna fight it. Plus I don’t wanna do the math myself.) The books span publishing dates from the 1930s to the 1960s to 2020. Of the books that I read, 12 were audiobooks, 11 were physical books, and 27 were e-books read through my library. (The rest were read through another source like Kindle or as Advanced Reader Copies [ARCs]). My average rating in 2020 was a 3.2 out of 5 stars. I gave 4 books a 5 star rating , 21 were rated 4 stars, 32 were rated 3 stars, and the rest were given 1 or 2 stars. I also allowed myself to stop reading a book if it wasn’t my cup of tea with no pressure; in fact, some of the books that I eventually ended up giving 4 or 5 stars to were books that I had put aside at some point and picked back up at a better time. Because there’s more than last year, I won’t list them out, but I wanted to reflect beyond just my statistics.

At the end of last year, I wanted to read from a more diverse set of authors. I think (mostly as a ramification of reading more and reading fewer series than last year) I managed to fulfill that goal. It’s always at the back of my mind that I want to read a variety of stories from a variety of storytellers. I read authors from the US, the UK, Brazil, Canada, France, Algeria, Nigeria, and Sweden; I read from Black authors (both academic and fiction writers), I read from Asian-American authors, from queer authors, and plenty of female authors. There’s always room for more diversity.

In 2020, I reread some old favorites including And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (both of whom are on my list of authors I want to read more from in the new year). I’ll also count The Martian by Andy Weir and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness as bests of the year (one made me laugh and one made me sob).

I enjoyed a good number of audiobooks this year. My favorites were The Test by Sylvain Neuvel, Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Bailey, and An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten. I read a few books on recommendations from family and/or friends this year which included Normal People by Sally Rooney, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Many more of the books were picked up because a YouTuber mentioned them or because Goodreads suggested them. I tried really hard (and mostly failed) to read a lot of the unread books that I’ve bought over the years. That goal will be continuing into the new year.

Speaking of goals for 2021: I’ve set my Goodreads challenge for 24 books again. I figure I have no idea what this year might bring and I’d rather have an achievable goal to beat than feel defeated in December. I’d like to continue reading diversely, both in terms of author and subjects and in terms of how I read. And lastly, I want to knock some of the books off my physical shelf – books accumulated over Christmases and shopping trips to bookstores and birthdays and stealing from my parents’ bookshelves. But who knows what 2021 will bring?

Quilter Quilting Quilts

quilting

A little over a year ago, the four day weekend encompassing Thanksgiving 2019 was the beginning of a year long journey. After a few days off work, I got a little bored. My mom happened to mention (/complain about) the piles upon piles of scraps that come with making a ton of quilts each year (this year, my mother’s production levels included 750 masks, 100 scrub caps, 50 quilts, and more). My mom is a quilter and has been my whole life, so she’s accumulated quite a lot of fabric. Additionally, she and I share hoarding tendencies that mean we would rather hold on to that little bit of fabric left over at the end of a project than toss it. After listening to her complain, I decided I would aid her in the downsizing of her scrap bins.

The process started with a search for yellows and blues. Fortunately, these were colors found in the scraps box(es and bags) in abundance. My endlessly patient mother spent Thanksgiving break pressing my scraps while I created my first quilt.

I’ve been helping my mom with her quilts since I was itty bitty. I spent many years as a second pair of eyes telling her when she’d placed fabrics too close or when the green went with the rest of the quilt better than the blue. As I got older, many of the pictures of my mom’s quilts featured my toes as I stood on the couch to hold up her projects. Around this time, my mom started to make quilts for an organization called Project Linus. Project Linus donates homemade quilts and afghans to children in the hospital or otherwise in need. I won’t even pretend to count how many quilts my mom has made for Project Linus, but there’s been a lot over the years.

My skillset was expanded in middle school when Project Linus hosted Blanket Days where volunteers got together to make blankets and share skills. I attended a few with my mom, bringing the average age down by 15 years at least. I would often assist with the unloading of the car and then find a back corner to sit down and power through Chinese coins. Occasionally, I would be the runner in charge of bringing strips from a quilter to an iron and back. One year, I even learned how to knit, which I promptly forgot as soon as we got home.

Despite the hours put into helping my mom and various blanket days, I had never finished a quilt entirely on my own. In the past, I always passed the quilt off to my mom when it got complicated.

So, when I started my blue and yellow scrap quilt I was determined to do it myself and actually complete it, quilting and all. I worked most of Thanksgiving 2019 and then over my days off throughout December. Unfortunately, scrap quilts require a little of tiny pieces being sewn together over and over. As my mom informed me, the bigger the pieces, the quicker the quilt. As I don’t live with my parents, nor do I have a sewing machine at my apartment, I did all my sewing on weekend visits. This meant that I completed my first ever quilt in June 2020.

The quilting was expedited by using my mom’s retirement toy: a longarm quilting machine that currently takes up my parents’ basement. It makes quilting the quilt a much faster (and much less frustrating) process. With her guidance, my blue and yellow scrap quilt was finished and sent off to Project Linus to comfort a kid.

And just like my mother, I immediately started plotting my next quilt. I knew I wanted to continue on my scrap quilt journey and I knew I wanted to go outside the blue and yellow that I used before. So I went for a rainbow pattern, inspired by a Pinterest post. After another visit to the scrap boxes and a sorting extravaganza, I got started on Quilt #2.

Quilt number 2 again took a decent amount of time to complete. Starting with 8 1/2 inch squares and then building from there. Both quilts were expedited by my assistant (sometimes known as my mother) ironing and rethreading the machine for me. There are some skills I still haven’t mastered yet. Like the first quilt, work was done on weekends and holidays. It took a little longer due to family watches of The Crown, The Mandalorian, Luther, and a variety of films. But after slight difficulties with the binding, we got it finished!

My rainbow scrap quilt is finished and will soon be properly photographed and then donated to Project Linus. And of course, I’m already plotting Quilt #3. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of scraps to be used up.

Living in Excess

london, Travel

Perhaps because I’ve spent too many hours watching The Crown, or perhaps because I’ve just finished reading Rebecca (or more realistically it is probably due to my current existence in a tiny studio apartment), but I’ve found myself reflecting recently on the grand homes and palaces that I have visited over the years. As a kid, the large estates were home to magical boarding schools and princesses, and as an adult they are home to the question “how many clocks is too many clocks?”.

Home to thousands of years of aristocracy and royalty, Europe is filled to the brim with old historic homes. Of course, the Brits are prominently featured in my current entertainment choices, but my appreciate of palaces in England has been mostly via Instagram accounts. I’ve visited a surprisingly small amount of grand estates in the U.K. Without counting the times I stood outside Buckingham Palace‘s gates wondering if the Queen was home or when I walked past the Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh, the only visit to a home worthy of a period drama that comes to mind was in Brighton. I visited Brighton when I was living in London and my morning was spent in the Royal Pavilion, a strange former palace that brought weird mixes of Asian influences inside its walls.

Another visit included a tour of the Queen’s House in Greenwich with its beautiful spiral staircase. (Many of these grand homes are maintained as museums, allowing you to wander about under the guise of a history lesson, while you’re really trying to decide whether that weird looking panel is a secret door or not.) Unlike visits to cathedrals throughout the U.K., I’ve somehow managed to miss the grand estates so prominently featured in my media consumption.

Scandinavia has provided quite a few palaces over my travels (partially because I spent a decent amount of time there, both alone and entertaining my parents). The question about clocks comes from a tour of a room at the Swedish Royal Palace in Stockholm – apparently royals run out of gift ideas just like the rest of us! I think its particularly interesting to visit the Swedish Royal Palace because you’re in this grand old building, while daily life is happening just outside the window. There’s no distance between the old and the new – unlike Drottningholm, a Swedish castle on the UNESCO World Heritage list, that’s located further out of the city of Stockholm and still maintains a large grounds and garden around the building.

Copenhagen is home to a pretty good Royal Palace or two, but I really enjoyed venturing a little further out for Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød. The castle is now a museum and is genuinely in the middle of a lake. As if that wasn’t cool enough, it also features a really gorgeous (borderline over the top) chapel. [If you’re bored, please feel free to look up the history of royalty in Scandinavia and enjoy the chaos that is the region’s history. Whether they borrowed a prince after winning their freedom or named every single king some variation of Charles Gustav, Scandinavian royal history is fascinating.]

If you’re looking for over the top, the most extravagant palace I’ve ever visited was outside Paris: Le Château de Versailles. Each room is incredibly stunning and filled with an abundance of history. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Versailles and if you’re a fan of ogling at excesses of wealth or the strange French royals, you will be too. The gardens are so ridiculously over the top and the entire place is a good day trip from the city of Paris. I really enjoyed the Hall of Mirrors (an addition to the earlier question about clocks, “how many mirrors is too many?”).

A friend recently posting on Instagram asking if anyone had been to Asheville and paid to visit the Biltmore. A response she received was that it was a “poor man’s Versailles“. They weren’t wrong. The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina is an American’s attempt at the grandiosity of European estates. If you can’t hop across the pond and want to see the excess of a grand palace in person, this is one of your best bets in the U.S. The tickets are a little pricey, but the tour is interesting just to pretend you could one day be rich enough to own an estate like royalty. Another option in the U.S. that isn’t quite the same is the White House. Visiting the White House on a public tour is less of a “princess running down the hall” experience and more of a “history happened here” experience. When you consider how young the United States as a country is in comparison to most of Europe, our half-hearted attempts can be forgiven, right?

Either way, if you’re going to hoard wealth, you might as well build a grand estate with perfect gardens and an interesting story for me to learn about through an audioguide. Until my bank account catches up, I’ll have to live vicariously through Keira Knightley period dramas and the new Netflix adaptation of Rebecca.

Namaste – Things I’ve Learned From Yoga

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My first semester of college I got really into attending workout classes at my university’s gym. One of the classes that I rarely missed was 11 a.m. Saturday yoga. I had done yoga before, but this class was the first time I regularly practiced and I really found myself enjoying it. Unfortunately, as winter hit and school work piled up, yoga was less of a priority and I lost my motivation.

Since moving back to the D.C. area, I picked up yoga again, attending a class each Wednesday with my mom. Quarantine shifted that class online and instead of one class each week, I’ve started to attend Zoom yoga twice a week. I can tell on Tuesday evenings when it is time for yoga and honestly struggle to keep track of what day it is without these classes. But I’ve also learned a lot through my yoga classes.

The hardest lesson to learn is that everyone starts at a different place. Maybe you’re like me and you watch Instagram yogis doing handstands and complicated twists and you think I can’t do that. And you’re missing that many of those “yogis” are former gymnasts or have been doing yoga for ten years or maybe they’re just genetically gifted. Whatever it may be, I’ve found that the more comfortable I become in my approach to yoga, the less I care about their cool handstands in matching workout sets, and the more I focus on the feeling I get when I finally hold Crow Pose for more than a second. (What’s that inspirational quote about not judging your day one to someone else’s day one hundred?)

In addition to remembering that we all start at difference places, I’ve had to learn that sometimes you just can’t and that’s okay. Though my mother and I share a lot of genes and have generally similar approaches to exercise and yoga, there are moves she can do with ease that I can’t even begin to do and some moves that she can’t do that I can do no problem (despite her longer history with yoga and pilates classes). I’m not one to admit defeat and I generally hate saying that I can’t do something, but sometimes its necessary – both in life and yoga – to acknowledge your limitations. Everyone’s body is different and I can tell you right now that my hips will never allow me to do certain movements without collapsing on the floor in pain.

I guess that’s another thing – it’s okay to push through discomfort, but you shouldn’t be pushing through true pain. If it hurts, something isn’t wrong. I hate Downward Dog because the traditional move kills my wrists. So I modify. And that’s okay. I’d rather modify a move to fit my body than seriously injure myself just to prove a point. This point is pretty applicable to real life as well – sometimes you can push through and sometimes you need to modify.

One of the things I love about my yoga teacher is that she emphasizes that everyday is different. Yesterday is not today and today is not tomorrow. What you could do with ease yesterday may be the most challenging move you do tomorrow. Or maybe you couldn’t touch your toes yesterday, but today, your palm is on the ground. Sometimes you sleep wrong or you get frustrated or you hydrate a little more than usual and all of a sudden your body changes. No two days are the same.

Another of my favorite phrases from our yoga classes is “to wobble is good“. Whenever we’re in the middle of a balance pose and my legs start to shake or I start to lose stillness, my reaction is to give up. But sometimes the shake or the wobble is just engagement – forcing those muscles to get to work. It’s a thousand times easier to wobble and quit than it is to wobble and find steadiness again. Plus if you find that stillness again, maybe next time you’re just that little bit stronger to tackle the next off-balance moment.

Then comes my least favorite phrase from yoga (and all other areas of life): practice makes perfect. I don’t love the sensation of being bad at things or struggling through; I’d much prefer to be naturally gifted. But unfortunately, my genetics are not made for me to jump up into a handstand or balance on one finger. Over the many, many yoga classes I’ve taken, I’ve noticed that I genuinely have gotten more flexible over time. I am stronger and more patient with each pose that I do. And from the first moment on the mat to Shavasana I see a difference in my muscles and in my thoughts. Over time things balance out, because I’ve pushed through that awkwardness and that discomfort (but not pain!). Trying over and over again, with modifications and patience, has made a huge difference.

And lastly, at the core of it all – breathe through it. All of this wouldn’t be possible without breath. Every wobble evens out with a deep breath; every stretch becomes a little deeper with the exhale.

Now maybe yoga isn’t for you (or maybe you’re like my dad who does “back exercises” instead of a yoga class), but I’ve found the lessons applicable both in yoga and in life – figured they might help you too.

Spooky Season as a Scaredy Cat

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I’m sure if your local stores are anything like mine, you’ve had Halloween candy and pumpkin spice candles on displays since July, but the season doesn’t quite feel right until that first morning when you step outside and get a gust of cold air that reminds you that you are wearing seasonally inappropriate attire. The atmosphere that comes around when the leaves start to change colors and the air gets that nice crisp feeling.

I enjoy fall, but I will happily admit that I am a scaredy cat. The spooky season comes not only with crunchy orange leaves, but with haunted houses and scary movies and all the things that go bump in the night. And I spend much of the season with my hands over my eyes hoping to avoid nightmares.

To enjoy the atmosphere of the spooky season while being easily terrified has become a challenge. I try to only watch scary movies in the middle of the day when all the lights are on and I’ve confirmed the doors and windows are locked. I reach for more atmospheric fair over your classic jump scares. I enjoy films aimed classically at children like Hocus Pocus or Halloweentown. I find my music taste moves away from summer bops to more seasonally appropriate music. And all of a sudden I start craving apple cider donuts.

Most of the time I can avoid the worst of the season – I skip friend’s invites to watch the newest scary show and have a firm line about not venturing to any haunted houses, but sometimes I am convinced (FOMO is real, y’all). One such instance was my first year of college. I told myself to say yes to every opportunity, which is how I ended up on a ropes course and how I ended up a part of a gospel choir.

So when my RA came around asking if anyone wanted to go to a haunted house in one of the campus fraternity houses, I was reluctant. She convinced me by saying that we were going on Wednesday, which was “kids night”, so it couldn’t possibly be too scary. I said alright and signed up. When we arrived, our group of six was led around to the back of the house and sent in. We lined up and held on to each other’s shoulders as we made our way through. I have to apologize to the girl in front of me because her coat had permanent claw marks from when I held on for dear life. It’s not the gory or the gross, and clowns aren’t even that frightening. It was the jump scares of which this particular house seemed fond of. My eyes might have been closed for the majority of the adventure and that breath of fresh air once we left was wonderful. On our way back to the dorm, I joked with one of the people who had run the event that it was awfuly scary for “kids night” to which they replied “Kids night was yesterday”.

My RA didn’t hear the end of that for a few months and I made a friend from across the hall confirm that there wasn’t anyone hiding in my room before I went to sleep for the night. And I haven’t been to another haunted house since.

Will I ever happily watch a scary movie? No. Will I let that keep me from enjoying autumn? Also no. But for now, I’ll avoid cemeteries at night and playing with ouija boards, and instead enjoy a handful of candy corn.

Williamsburg in the Fall

Travel

Yesterday, I took a day off from work for the first time since February. This special occasion was used to take a family trip to Williamsburg, Virginia.

The trip had a few core goals:

  1. get out of the DC area. Sometimes it’s necessary to venture out of the city for a bit.
  2. fulfill some autumnal traditions. We wanted to see orange and yellow leaves, and enjoy the few weeks of cool, crisp fall weather before we descend into winter. A bonus perk: our favorite fall tradition was moved online this year, so we needed something slightly autumnal and slightly historic to replace the hole left by the Waterford Fair.
  3. give my father an excuse to bike somewhere new and give me an opportunity to peek at a possible law school option. (Spoiler: both were successes.)

The drive usually takes about 3 hours, but due to light traffic and the fact that we drove down in the middle of the morning, the drive from DC to Williamsburg was pretty easy. The leaves aren’t quite ready to change yet, but every once in a while we would spot a bright orange tree. Once arriving, we had two priorities: park the car (preferably for free) and get something to eat. We were able to find a parking spot next to Bicentennial Park, just a few blocks from where we wanted to eat lunch.

Some basic preparatory research led us to having sandwiches from The Cheese Shop in Merchant’s Square. Though the house dressing had been slightly overhyped, the bread was yummy and the cookies that came with our meal were perfect snacks for that mid-afternoon nibble later on.

Once we’d finished eating, we set our game plan. My father would ride to Yorktown and back, which he guesstimated would take two and a half or three hours. During that time, my mom and I would pop over to William and Mary Law School and take a peek, before wandering around Williamsburg for a bit. Unfortunately, there are no tours right now and the campus is pretty quiet while most folks take their classes at home, but it was still nice to see the location and size of the school. (I’m a big fan of the idea that the most important part of applying to schools is getting to know their vibe and feel, and then going with your gut about whether you’d fit in there. Those feelings are tough to experience through a computer.) Fun fact: William and Mary Law School is the oldest law school in the U.S. (bonus points to anyone who can guess the oldest continuously running law school – W&M had to shut down for the pesky business of a civil war taking place just miles away.)

Unlike college campus visits, law schools don’t tend to be particularly large, so we decided to continue our walk. We lucked out that the date we’d picked a few weeks in advance for our visit ended up being a gorgeous day in the 70s with the sun in the sky and the occasional breeze. We made our way back towards Merchant’s Square, turning early into the neighborhood. Our path led us towards William and Mary‘s undergraduate campus. Despite many visits to Williamsburg over the years, neither my mom nor I had been on their campus and we were both surprised at just how large it is – every time we thought we’d reached the end, there were more buildings.

Once we’d finished with our campus tours, we decided to stop for a snack. We grabbed milkshakes from Baskin-Robbins and found a bench in the shade in Merchant’s Square. While resting our feet, we had the chance to do some people watching, an activity I haven’t really been able to do in the last six months. The nice weather brought out tourists, locals, students, and the occasional puppy to entertain us while we rested a little.

Following our break, my mom and I made our way through Colonial Williamsburg. There’s no ticket required to just wander about and there were very few tourists or groups out and about. We walked the length of Duke of Gloucester Street admiring the historic homes and the blue skies. For our return to the car, we opted for a side road, Francis Street, that would provide a different view. It rewarded us with a shady walk and a field of sheep. Our timing was pretty good as we made it back to the car just as my dad arrived.

I cannot vouch for the length of the car ride home as I was worn out and took a nice nap in the backseat, but overall, I’d say the day was a success. Now to plot the next day trip…

Tackling a Reading List

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I find myself motivated by a challenge. I am a competitive person so challenges (even if I’m the only one participating) move me to actual tackle the things that I’ve been interested in doing. Whether the challenge is to not buy new clothing for a month or reading every month, I like chasing the feeling of completing that last step to finish a challenge. All that being said, last year I started using Goodreads seriously and challenged myself to read 12 books in 2019. And I did, which only encouraged me to read more in 2020. Seeing how comfortably I finished 12 books, I decided to push myself in the new year and try to read twice as many books.

But I understand reading isn’t for everyone. Or maybe you’re like me and every time you finish a book, you find yourself adding three more to the pile of books you want to read. Either way, I’ve written down the tips and tricks that have encouraged me to read more this year and hopefully long term.

First up: read what you wanna read. Now, this may sound obvious, but in case you haven’t heard, you should enjoy what you’re reading. If you’re like my dad and you find large tomes on the life of dead American generals interesting, read that. If you wanna read YA books, but you’re scared you’re too old – do it! If you finally want to admit that reading Great Expectations wasn’t fun in high school for a reason – ditch it! Unless you’re reading for school, what you pick up in your free time should be enjoyable.

And there’s no shame in what you’re reading. It’s okay to not read classics all the time. Sometimes you want to pick up a graphic novel or a childhood favorite. And you should! Those are fun too. (And yes, I’m saying this as much for myself as for anyone else.)

If you’re a busy person and sitting down to read isn’t always the best for your schedule, audiobooks have really improved in the last few years. No longer do you have to pull out the twelve disk set – now, you can listen on your phone. Apps like Libro.fm make listening to audiobooks easy, and if you don’t want to spend money, I know my library system has started to provide audiobooks through their Overdrive site. I’ve started listening to books while I play games on my phone or while I’m scrolling Pinterest and it allows me to fit in books that I might otherwise not get the chance to read. Listening to an murder mystery book while you’re taking a late night stroll isn’t recommended…

Maybe audiobooks aren’t for you, but you don’t really have space in your purse for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’ve found that renting E-Books from my library gives me access to books on my phone (or Kindle if I ever remember to charge it) and I can read on my lunch break. E-books are just generally more convenient – reading a chapter on the train or while waiting for your doctor’s appointment is a lot more productive than scrolling Instagram or trying to beat that level of Candy Crush or 1010!.

Speaking of doctor’s appointments, I’ve found myself enjoying books of essays recently because they allow me to read a short burst and not have to worry about forgetting the characters or getting confused by the plot. (My most recent reads were Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom and Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay.) Alternatives with the same benefits are books of poetry or short story collections. Lots of little stories are just as valid as one long story.

I’ve learned that I enjoy books best when I sit down and just devour them, dedicating an afternoon to reading and nothing else. I understand that not everyone has that ability, but the next time you sit down to binge watch The Office or Friends (again… [I will fight anyone who says these shows were worth watching to begin with]), maybe reading that book you bought back in the day might be just as entertaining. I get it, television binges are easier, but sometimes turning off Netflix for the day can come with some benefits. I’ll let you know the next time I follow my own advice on that one.

Pics or It Didn’t Happen

Travel

I was very fortunate as a child in that my parents took my family on many an adventure. In between trips to visit family in Indiana, upstate New York, and West Virginia, they dragged my brother and I from coast to coast. This started when I was very young and can’t remember much about some of these earlier adventures. My mother however refuses to let me complain because she has photographic proof that I had an adventurous childhood. As an adult (though I struggle to admit I’m old enough to fit that category), I’ve re-added some of those places to my list of places to explore. Yes, I have photographic evidence of my toddler self in these places, but it’s not quite the same as an adult memory.

First up on my list is one that is relatively close: Chincoteague Island. As a child, my mother and I spent a day on the beach here and the ocean tried to claim me. Fortunately, a kind lady was able to grab me before the waves pulled me too far from our spot on the sand. I have no memory of this, but the story remains in the family history book. I’d like to revisit this beach (though I will try to avoid being swept out to sea). This is on our list that reappears each summer of places we want to take a day trip and just haven’t managed to quite yet.

Next up is San Francisco. Allegedly, I’ve been to the Bay Area and I’ve heard all sorts of things about that part of California, but have no memory of any time spent there. After seeing friends visit over the last few years, I figured I would like to see for myself whether or not it’s a place I’d enjoy.

Let me paint a picture: imagine tree lined roads curving through the wilderness with bison blocking your path and pull offs for gorgeous waterfalls. And imagine you want to take a video of said waterfalls but the audio of your video is just a Nintendo soundtrack. That would be most of the footage from our family trip to Yellowstone. Sorry, mom! While I remember this trip more than others mentioned, there is so much to see and do in Yellowstone that it seems unfair to not include it on this list.

Another family trip was to Montreal. (See photographic proof above.) Now my memories of this trip include being stung by a bee on the back of the neck outside a McDonalds with a menu in French and forcing my mom to spend way too long waiting for me to get my hair wrapped like all of my friends did each summer. Unfortunately neither of these memories are particularly about the city, which I would like to revisit (perhaps once I brush up on my French).

Some of the places that might have a place on this list have already been revisited, including London and Luray Caverns. And I’m sure I’ll post this and my parents will both say “Well, what about….” and they’ll be right. But for now, I’ll stick with this list as my starting point.