Personal Stuff · Uncategorized

Cleaning Your Inbox: A Guided Meditation

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Ohm Chianti.

Step 1: Determine your Purpose.

If you’re anything like me, you receive an email and, unless it’s from your significant other, a family member, or Modcloth, you skip it and move onto the next one. Totally normal, totally true to your low-maintenance, shrug-your-shoulders-and-let-the-gluten-free-chips-fall-where-they-may stance on life. One day, you decide to open up your Google Drive only to find you have about 15% of space remaining to save all your PSD files, music, professional photos, etc. And that’s when you panic.

Step 2: Find a Safe Space

Deep breath. Okay. Is this your primary email account? The email you give to the lady at Bath & Body Works who insists that “each time you enter your email, you get more deals” (I call bullshit) ? Depending on what type of account it is and how long you’ve let it collect all the useless crap now floating among 15,035 other emails, you may be running into some dangerous emotional territory. Email, after all, is the new time capsule. Think about it: your interests, ideas, projects, friends, flirty messages, everything is funneled through your email these days. Even social media notifications. Set up your safe space… a space where you can scream, cry, flex your wrists, stress eat, whatever. Cheez-Its, some Yellow Tail wine and your favorite comfy socks with cats on them are a great starting point. Or your normal dinner setup, if you’re me.

But first, goddess pose.

Step 3: Start with the Worst Ones

Your list of items to blindly and immediately delete (do not look at them. Don’t even read the subject lines) should include but are certainly not limited to: Exes, dating site notifications, billing statements, those asshole student loan messages, emails from gossipy friends/frenemies, rejected job applications, and threads from school group projects that are (thank GOD) long gone. These messages may be hanging out in your archive, main inbox, or even that cute little “Personal” folder you set up. Check ’em all. Even the Finances folder.

You do not need to read these. Delete, delete, delete. You can’t nama-slay at life if you bring up the negative past. These people, and the feelings they bring with them, do not belong in your present life.

With your eyes closed and a deep inhale, move into plow pose, because you’re totes plowing away all that negative shit.

Step 4: Remember the Good

If you’re anything like me, you probably participate in some negative self-talk (“self-talk”? More like “self-monologue”. Mine goes on 24/7). Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably are using a Gmail account, which has 15 GB of space. Dedicate some of that space in a helpful way by creating a folder where you keep positive thoughts. This can include emails of praise from your manager or co-workers, exciting news that has been shared with you, images close to your heart, or even screenshots from social media that remind you of the positive things in your life.

How often do we take time to go back to positive events that happen in our lives? Many of us choose to relive negative events before we ever relive the good ones. As you sit there and clean out your inbox, take time to read those positive emails and remember the positive memories.

Close your eyes and imagine that your positive emails are forming a ball of neon green light. Take that ball and place it into an infinity pool located at the beach resort of your choosing. Swim with the ball, touch the ball, play with the ball, and, finally, consume the ball.

Step 5: Perform a Final Cleansing Ceremony

You are finally free: you have purged your inbox of negative memories. Now, it is time to create a new, positive space in your inbox that will invite serenity and happiness.

Find the settings in your Gmail account, and go to your theme options. Change your inbox background to your spirit animal: a dove, a cheetah, a lion, a polar bear, Leslie Knope, or Michelle Obama. Take a moment to peer into your spirit animal’s soul and thank them for their guidance.

Take a deep breath in, and exhale out. Take your computer mouse into your heads, and lift it above your head, with your ring and little fingers folded down, creating a modified mudra. Stay in this position for the duration of Enya’s “Who Can Say”.

Spend a few final moments in a restorative pose that calls to you. Exit out of your email, turn off your computer, and do a celebratory shot of vodka. 

Repeat this inbox cleansing at 3:00am during every full moon.

 

Uncategorized

2016 European Christmas Vacation: The Summary

It’s been a while since I’ve wrote in here, and mostly because work (and going back to school!) has meant that I really have no interest in typing or staring at a computer screen in my free time. However, I feel that my recent vacation is a great way to ease back into blogging, especially since I want to write about it while it’s fresh in my mind.

I have this terrible fear that I’ll never be able to travel, or do anything fun really, once I get older. While that’s probably a mix of true and false, it really made me want to go back to Europe again before our lives get crazier. So, we decided to go during the holidays since I would be off school. For our honeymoon, we went to a few cities in Germany and Austria, and we decided to go back and add Amsterdam into the mix. One of the best things we did was pay a little extra to allow data on our phones while we were over there — this allowed me to download and use the TripAdvisor app, which turned out to be amazing! Walking around and being able to look up things to do and places to eat on my phone, as well as read reviews, really helped guide us to some good places. The best part about the app was the timeline option: it allowed me to track everything I did every day.

So, without further ado, here’s a timeline of where we went and what we did. If I ever go back, I’m hoping I’ll be able to refer to this post.

December 22 – 23: Nuremberg, Germany

The one thing I was most excited about in Nuremberg was seeing their Christmas markets (and, sadly, there was a lot of fear going on about even visiting these markets since the attack in Berlin happened a few days prior). Nuremberg is a really old town, and it’s definitely not car-friendly, so luckily Jon and I are used to walking everywhere. Since we arrived on our first day in the afternoon, it was the perfect time to visit the Christmas market once it got dark. There were SO many vendors, and so many places to get Gluhwein (a hot, spiced wine) and just people watch. I bought two HUGE frosted gingerbread cookies, and they were amazing! They had frosting on top, and the bottom was this thin kind of wafer. Whatever they were, they were good. I also want to add that Germans don’t let anything ruin their fun — the crowds were huge for this, and the police were walking around and blocking off any road entrances. I definitely felt safe and didn’t worry much about a second attack.

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Just me enjoying some Gluhwein (or three) at the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt!

The second day, our goal was to check out the beautiful castle located in the city: Kaiserburg Nurnberg. Like pretty much every castle we’ve visited before, this one had a VERY steep incline to walk up! I was actually really impressed that some people got up there with strollers and small children, especially with the ground wet from rain. The castle was a great spot to learn more about the city, as well as (unfortunately) how much was ruined and rebuilt during WWII. Being so high up also gave us some great picture opportunities of the city.

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View of Nuremberg, Germany

For dinner, we found an awesome small restaurant called Goldenes Posthorn. I had my favorite Nurnberger-style bratwurst with some kraut, and the apple strudel was amazing and covered in cream! In addition to seeing the castle, we also visited the large churches in the area.

December 24 – 26: Vienna, Austria

I think we were both surprised at how we thought Vienna would look in our minds compared to what it actually was: a HUGE city with an endless amount of grand structures, beautiful architecture and lots and lots and LOTS of Mozart. Vienna was home to Mozart, and the gorgeous St. Stephen’s cathedral is where he was married as well as where his funeral service was. Every ten steps you walked, there was at least one store selling something with Mozart on it, or someone trying to get you to come to a Mozart concert. They love their Wolfgang there.

We stayed at the Hotel Wandl, which is located right in the heart of the city center. Hotel Wandl had such nice people working there — they gave us great recommendations for dinner, and the one guy was a huge fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lebron James, which was hilarious! He bounced between the front desk and manning the small hotel bar, and we enjoyed talking to him. Unfortunately, this is also where I got probably the worst sleep of the trip… Hotel Wandl is one of the older hotels in Vienna, and they didn’t have any A/C in the rooms. On top of it, our room’s “window” was just a window opening into the atrium inside the hotel, so we didn’t have any fresh air. The room was really humid and just too hot to get good sleep in. German and Austrian hotels use two thick, almost duvet-style sheets with absolutely nothing else underneath, so if you get hot, you pretty much have to unzip the duvet cover and try sleeping with that instead. For anyone considering this hotel, my advice would be to not do it in the summer months.

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The stunning St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria

We arrived in Vienna around 4pm, and since it was Christmas Eve we were hoping to attend mass in the cathedral, so we headed over to St. Stephen’s. There was already a huge line outside, so we entered and took our seats. What we ended up seeing wasn’t an evening mass, but actually something just as beautiful: violins, trumpets, a bassoon, a choir and organist playing Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore, composed in 1780 and intended for liturgical use. The songs were in Latin and in between songs psalms were read and a homily was given by the bishop. Hearing the choir and instruments played in such a beautiful space was breathtaking, and I felt like we really got to experience a truly authentic tradition in Vienna as well as listen to locals perform their beloved Mozart. On another day, we went back to the cathedral and took an elevator all the way up to the very top where the bell tower was. It was a great way to view the whole city from high up!

Vienna was and still is a place of money – you can tell by the elaborate buildings, palaces and churches, and the incredible amount of detail on every corner and surface. This makes the city quite different from other smaller towns and cities in Austria — you can’t see the mountains, there isn’t a rustic feel to the area, and things are a little less humble. I think Jon and I both enjoy the scenery in smaller Austrian towns best, as well as exploring castles, so Vienna almost didn’t feel like it was part of Austria.

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You think this is fancy? Almost every building looked like this!

When we planned our trip, we knew that attractions may be limited during Christmas Day, and we were correct. Luckily, the art museum, Kunsthistorisches Museum, was open, and I was extremely happy about that having read some of the reviews. This museum was, hands down, the most beautiful museum I’ve ever been in. It was built for Franz Joseph I, and every ceiling of this beautiful building has murals and details that you could stare at for hours. The museum itself is quite large — it took us about three hours to walk through, and that was at a pretty fast pace. It houses a great collection of artists, including some Rembrandts and a Vermeer (which I proudly spotted before reading the plaque – my humanities and art history classes came in handy!).

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Inside the Kunsthistoriches Museum. Do you see what I mean? It’s gorgeous.

Other places we visited during our time in Vienna included the city center, Votivkirche (another church), the parliament building and the royal crypt (I have a thing for cemeteries and crypts. The one thing I want to do if I’m ever back in Vienna is go to the large cemetery outside of town that is the burial spot for many classical musicians. There wasn’t an easy way to get there, so we didn’t go.). As far as restaurants went, we were definitely limited to where we could eat due to Christmas, but we got some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had at a restaurant called Da Capo – it had exposed brick and a really long menu to choose from. The food was delicious! Traveling in Germany and Austria is always hard for someone who doesn’t enjoy eating a lot of meat, and there’s only so many times I can have bratwurst. So, Italian food was a good way to have a bit of a break.

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I loved this creepy skull on top of one of the coffins in the crypt.

December 27 – 28th: Salzburg, Austria

I’m not going to lie: Salzburg was probably the city I was most excited about seeing when we first planned our trip. Why? It’s where The Sound of Music was filmed! When I learned that it was filmed in Austria as a kid, I knew that I wanted to go there one day, and I did for the first time during our honeymoon, but we never made it to Salzburg… the closest we got was visiting Hohenwerfen, which you can see in the background in this scene. Hohenwerfen is one of my favorite castles — I really want to go back there one day!

Anyway, back to what’s important: Fraulein Maria. Salzburg must get pretty bad during the winter, because so many things weren’t open for the season, including a really cool Sound of Music bicycle tour that I wanted to do, as well as Hellbrunn Palace. It didn’t stop us from braving the cold, rainy weather to visit the sites that we could, including Mirabell Gardens (“Do Re Mi” was filmed there), the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” gazebo located in the gardens of Hellbrunn Palace, Nonnberg Convent where “Maria” and some other scenes from the abbey were filmed, and St. Peter’s Monastery and Catacombs which the Nazi flee scene was based on (they recreated it back in Hollywood). I plan on watching the film sometime soon so I can really see where they were compared to where we walked around, but I feel like I’ll just start crying if I watch it! Really, Sound of Music is so near and dear to my heart and I never thought I would be fortunate enough to actually see where it was filmed. Ugh, my heart is full! By the way — most people in Austria haven’t even seen Sound of Music. I think they’re missing out.

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I love when I find something completely unexpected while exploring. For me, that moment came when we went to St. Peter’s Monastery and Catacombs. I thought there would be a few tombstones, but I honestly couldn’t remember the Nazi flee scene from the film, so I didn’t know what to expect.

This place was probably one of the most beautiful cemeteries I had EVER seen. My pictures don’t do it justice at all, so I’ll include one from the internet. We visited this as the sun was setting, and it made the red votives on the plots twinkle, the flowers to appear more vibrant, and overall there was just a beautiful sense of peace. Jon was creeped out (and yes, I can see how most would be), but I really could have stayed there and just read a book on one of the benches! Does that make me weird? Probably.

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Really – this doesn’t do it justice. It’s gorgeous!
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You know I scouted for the creepiest statue I could find there.

If a city has a castle or fortress, Jon and I always want to go! We decided to visit the Salzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg) and ended up not only getting a nice history lesson on the city, but also a beautiful view. The museum inside the fortress wasn’t as impressive as others, especially without a guided tour, but it did allow us to take a little break from my Sound of Music spree. The top of the fortress was cold and windy, but the heavy clouds made for some pretty photos. Salzburg really is a beautiful place — I definitely want to go back during the spring or summer in the future!

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I think this was the only picture we took together! We were more focused on the scenery.
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Help! I’m trapped in a fortress! haha

On our last full day in Salzburg, we had to take our car (which is weird since we usually are used to getting everywhere on foot) to Hellbrunn Castle, which was a few miles away but home to the very important “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” gazebo. The castle itself is supposed to have a beautiful garden, a “trick” fountain, and you can tour inside the castle. Unfortunately, the grounds were completely closed and it looked like they had just wrapped up a Christmas market. Luckily, we were still able to at least go to the garden and find the gazebo.

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The gazebo is locked now, so you can’t go inside. This was a shame because I really wanted to hop from bench to bench like Liesl did!

We had read about a place a few miles away from Salzburg called Untersberg where you can take a cable car all the way up to the alps. Since we really had seen everything we could see in the city, we decided that the cold and dreary day would be perfect for checking out the top of a mountain.

The cable car ride up to the top was pretty exciting, although it went VERY slow, so I would feel bad for anyone with a terrible fear of heights! As we kept climbing up and up, we got to a point near the mountain that seemed like we had finally reached the top, but the car didn’t slow down. Instead, it went UP a little and took us directly over a large rock that we thought we were going to hit, only to take us up even FURTHER to the top. There definitely were a few gasps from fellow riders! We knew we had reached the very top when we stopped seeing what was beneath us and instead were surrounded by thick clouds. Not being able to see what was underneath us actually made it scarier for me.

When we exited the cable car, we realized that perhaps it hadn’t been a good day to go: the wind was so strong that the glass doors leading outside were completely white from the windblown snow, and we knew that we weren’t going to be able to see much. We were already up there, so we decided to head out.

I am not sure if I just couldn’t see this because it was so heavy with snow and wind, or if they really just didn’t care, but I saw absolutely no railings to protect anyone at the top! The path was steep and slippery and it was hard to see a few feet ahead of us. We walked about a quarter of a mile before we decided to turn around — it just didn’t feel safe to be walking without any visibility.

And this, unfortunately, was the last day of me feeling well. I blame the snow, wind, lack of consistent sleep, and too much wine.

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View from the cable car!
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The side of the restaurant on top of the mountain looked like we were in the middle of Winterfell
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Do I look warm? I’m not.

December 29th: Heidelberg, Germany

Our next stop was back to our very first stop on our honeymoon – Heidelberg! I have to pause, however, to talk about the hilarious Burger King experience we had while grabbing lunch on the road. Although I’m not a huge fan of McDonald’s, they seem to be the only reliable form of fast food in Germany or Austria. They even had self-serve kiosks available in German and English, which made ordering super easy. I guess we assumed that Burger King would be the same.

Nope.

The young female cashier at Burger King didn’t seem to speak English very well. Trying to make it as simple as possible, I told her I wanted a “number two” which was a Whopper Jr. meal on the menu. She said “Two?” and I’m like “Yep, two.” Then I asked if it came with a drink and she said, “Drink?” and I said, “Yes, a coke.” She obviously thought I wanted “two” of everything plus an additional drink, because when our food came out, I was mortified… here I was sitting in front of two Whopper Jr.’s, two fries, and THREE COKES (which, of course, came sans ice or lid). Talk about looking like a fat American. Jon and I just looked at all the food and cracked up. The burgers weren’t very good, unfortunately, so we left most of the food uneaten.

Anyway, back to Heidelberg. We decided to stay in the same little bar/inn called The Dubliner that we had stayed in on our honeymoon. In order to get your room key, you basically walk into the bar and the bartender checks you in and hands you your key. The best part about staying here is you actually get a discount at anything in the bar for being a guest!

We only had one night in Heidelberg, so Jon decided to meet up with an old work colleague who lived nearby. We filled our time between arriving and dinner by heading to another Christmas market. This market was beautiful simply because it had the castle in the background. They had an ice skating rink as well! It was very chilly that day, and I was beginning to feel what would end up being a terrible respiratory flu coming on. My bones felt sore and I just couldn’t get warm at all. I had a respiratory flu back in July and the symptoms were the same, so I knew I was definitely in trouble.

The restaurant we ate at was a really large brewery called Kulturbrauerei and was laid out in the traditional German style of long tables shared by multiple parties. I was an old lady and had a pot of tea instead of beer, and I ordered a delicious baked feta and risotto dish. It was nice to have Christian and his wife join us for dinner — having good company was nice for a change.

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December 30th: Cologne, Germany

Ah, back on the road again. I was smart enough to only pack up a backpack when we stayed in Heidelberg for the night (mostly because I already knew The Dubliner didn’t have an elevator for their third-floor rooms), so we got up and back in the car pretty quickly and began our journey to Cologne.

If you’re looking for an old, beautiful German town, Cologne probably shouldn’t be your first choice. It’s a relatively industrial-looking city, with plenty of large companies in the vicinity. What drew us to Cologne was, of course, their beautiful cathedral (Cologne Dom). According to Wikipedia, it is Germany’s most-visited landmark and the tallest twin-spired church.

After having an early lunch, we walked over to the cathedral to take a look inside. It was beautiful! We found out that you could even go all the way to the top, so we decided to buy tickets to do that. Unfortunately we realized that (unlike the St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna) there wasn’t an actual elevator to take you to the top — you had to walk. Ugh.

If you were not the religious type prior to visiting this cathedral, you would be about ten minutes into the ascent to the top. Why? Mostly because you were praying that you would only have a few steps left to go. What started as an innocent-looking spiral stairs turned into a dizzying, claustrophobic act of torture. The stairs could not have been more than six feet wide and contained very few tiny windows as you walked up and up and up. Keep in mind that you not only had people walking up, but people descending the stairs as well. It was terrifying every time you had to somehow make way for people to pass.

The stairs seemed to go on forever — the sign outside of the ticket booth said it was an estimated twenty minute ascent on foot. That doesn’t seem like much until you realize what a tiny, twisting space you’re in… not to mention there weren’t many breaks aside from about two quarters of the way up, where you could stop and look at the bell tower.

By the time we arrived in Cologne, I was developing a bad cough and still feeling pretty weak. I didn’t want that to stop me from seeing this beautiful cathedral that I had heard so much about from Jon. I tried… I really did… to complete that ascent. After fifteen minutes of climbing, in which i had to press my arm against the cold stone to keep myself from passing out, I decided that I couldn’t go any further. I stayed at the bell tower and put my head in my lap and tried to catch my breath, and I told Jon to go on without me. He didn’t come back for about twenty more minutes! I was glad I made the decision to stay where I was.

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Bell tower inside Cologne Dom
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Looking up

At this point in our trip, I knew I needed to find medicine to help bring up whatever was getting caught in my lungs before it turned into an infection. Here’s the fun thing about Germany: you can’t buy normal over-the-counter medicine in their shops. You have to visit their pharmacies, called an Apotheke, to get medicine. I was able to find one and luckily get some (admittedly WAY stronger than what the U.S. sells!) form of an expectorant. I was very thankful I didn’t need to see a doctor or get a prescription to get some kind of medication! We went back to our hotel, and I slept, all the while knowing in the back of my mind that we had an early train to catch to Amsterdam the next day.

The final stop: December 31st – January 3rd – Amsterdam, Netherlands

I’m a romantic – I was super excited about this train ride into Amsterdam. The Cologne Central Station was beautiful and bustling at 7:00 AM, with what seemed like endless platforms. I don’t know what it is about train stations or airports, but they always get me excited and energized (which is odd because, as an introvert, I’m not supposed to like crowds). I guess it’s the idea of exploration that I love: all of these people coming and going, announcements made in multiple languages, the steam rising from the platforms, and the bags under people’s eyes as they face the long journeys ahead of them.

It seemed like we waited forever for our train to come. We read the schedule screen on our platform incorrectly, and we missed our train — we had unknowingly watched it come and go! So, we had to go back to the kiosk and get new tickets. The next train was two hours away, and we were a little pissed that we had already checked out of our hotel and now had to find a place to pass the time (thank you, Starbucks!).

I was relieved when the train came. Usually I would have wanted to people watch or read a book, but the medicine I took was making me incredibly tired. I did something I usually find impossible to do — I slept the majority of the way! I did wake up in time, however, to get a little packet of Haribo gummy bears that they were handing out. Germans sure love their gummy bears.

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Amsterdam Central Station

We checked into our hotel at the Park Plaza Victoria, which was conveniently located right across the street from the train station. As soon as we exited the station, it was obvious that crowds were beginning to pick up for New Year’s Eve celebrations that night.

Although it is technically illegal to smoke marijuana outside of a coffee shop in Amsterdam, the scent of pot was pretty much floating around everywhere, and people didn’t seem too cautious about rolling joints for everyone to see. As we stopped and had lunch, we counted two different groups duck into the alleyway near the window to roll joints, and I kept seeing people walking by with ice cream as well. Ice cream in December? It seemed like an odd thing until we learned that they were cannabis-laced ice cream cones!

I had big plans for our New Years Eve: I had bought tickets to a huge event that included several DJ’s, plenty of alcohol and live entertainment. I continued to feel pretty sick, however, to the point where my body ached to even move around. I realized that I needed to be honest with myself and admit that I could not possibly stand around a loud, crowded area and party that night. Looking back, I’m still really mad about this… I was most excited to see Amsterdam, I wanted to go out and have a good time, and I wanted the energy to do it. We spent New Year’s Eve watching Harry Potter (seriously) on TV in bed, and we didn’t really get good sleep until about 4 a.m. due to the constant fireworks going off. I really do not think I will plan an action-packed trip like the one we had in the winter again, because apparently my immune system couldn’t handle it.

Feeling terrible and having absolutely no appetite left me weak, but I was determined to not let it stop me from seeing what I wanted to see in Amsterdam. One of our first stops was the Van Gogh museum. We got to see a great collection of Van Gogh’s work, but the main highlight of this museum was actually the interactive tour. We were given iPod-like devices that allowed us to navigate the museum on our own and listen to different information based on the pictures we were seeing. You didn’t have to go in order, and some of the artwork even had some interactive features on the device! I felt like I learned a lot more using this.

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I think I was about to pass out here.

I used to love Heineken in college, and I always thought it would be cool to get a tour of the brewery if I went to Amsterdam. We were planning on seeing if we could get tickets for this, but we ended up changing our minds after we saw the incredibly long line. After touring several small breweries, we agreed that we wouldn’t enjoy it if the brewery was completely packed with people. This is still on my list for if I ever get to go back, however! I think I would probably buy tickets ahead of time and do it on a weekday (not on a holiday weekend!).

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Next on our list to see was the Anne Frank house and museum. I have not quit many books halfway through, but unfortunately The Diary of Anne Frank was one of of them. I was worried that I wouldn’t appreciate this museum as much as others because of this, but I was wrong! This house is, obviously, incredibly small. Because of this, the museum only allows about 20 people to go through at one time, which then can create extremely long lines. I had booked our tickets a few months ahead, and even then they were selling out within minutes! We tend to be spontaneous on our trips, but I was very glad I at least planned this part ahead.

The one thing I never realized about Anne Frank was that the family actually had multiple rooms in the annex. I had always just assumed that they were crowded in this single room. They actually had a decent-sized kitchen and bathroom, and you could easily see how the room had been well-hidden. Another thing I never knew was that Anne went through multiple journals. Her original journal was plaid (this was on display and, again, I never had known what it looked like), but she continued to write in notebooks and scraps of paper afterwards. It’s incredibly sad that Anne and her family were shut out from the world for so long, and especially in such a beautiful place like Amsterdam.

As we were walking around the city, which was pretty cold and rainy, I saw many tour boats going around the canals. Yes, it seemed touristy, but it also seemed like a great way to see the city! The canal cruise we went on was wonderful because it allowed you to see the city in a different perspective. The slow pace allowed me to really take in the architecture of the houses (we learned that they were intentionally designed to lean in like they do), learn some of the history, and admire this amazing canal system that made the city so prosperous. One of the most interesting things that I noticed were the adorable boat houses all along the canals! These houses were pretty much just as expensive, if not more, than brick and mortar houses in the city. It reminded me of the children’s TV show PB & J Otter, which was about a family of otters living in a boat house. I think I have a new goal for where I want to retire one day!

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Waiting for the canal tour to start!
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Swimming in the canal! Kidding.

We ended up stumbling onto the famous flower market after visiting the Anne Frank museum. This flower market is floating on the canal, and they had tons and tons of beautiful tulips, tulip bulbs, seeds, and gifts. If going through customs wouldn’t have been an issue, I think we would have purchased some bulbs to plant at home!

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Tulips, tulips, and more tulips

So, how was the food in Amsterdam? I think it was certainly a more diverse cuisine than the other places we visited, and I was thankful for the variety. Holland is famous for cheese, so we decided to try out a fondue restaurant in the Red Light District (yes, they have awesome restaurants, yes, there were prostitutes, but not nearly as many as I thought there would be). The restaurant was called Het Karbeel, and the fondue was amazing! The best part, though, was the adorable little restaurant cat hanging out near the bar. She had her own seat and was sleeping peacefully despite the crowd.

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A very rough life for a fondue restaurant cat.

One other thing that anyone traveling to Amsterdam should know is that they LOVE Pringles. I’m not even kidding – they were everywhere, and were certainly the snack of choice at any bar we went to. Heineken in Amsterdam was also, of course, completely different. It lacked the skunky smell that you get when you buy it in the U.S. and was a lot smoother. I stuck to Coke, but I did have a few sips!

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Fun fact: apparently Rembrandt was buried here. There isn’t a marker of any sort for him because he was bankrupt when he died.

Overall, our trip was a great one. I am not sure we would travel during the holidays again, simply because of the crowds, unreliable attraction hours, and the weather, but we were able to see many cities in the small amount of time that we did. We picked up a few new German words, accidentally crashed a gay Meetup at a restaurant, had many people associate Lebron James with us being from Cleveland, and we made memories that will last us a lifetime. Next on my list is still Scotland, but I’m not sure when that will ever happen… here’s to hoping!

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Thanks for the memories, Bonne Bell.

It’s fourth grade and I’m sitting in class at my hellhole of a Catholic elementary school. I open up my pencil case and smile. I have a secret. I am a rebel. I have lip gloss in the form of a Lip Smackers Raspberry Spritz Lip Sparkler in there even though makeup is totally verboten.

The tube itself is a little sad – the poor thing has been through a lot. It leaked a few times, so the outside is sticky and covered in a metallic grey film from rubbing against the broken pieces of graphite rolling around. Covertly putting it in my pocket, I head to the bathroom to reapply. Fuck makeup bans… I have like ten more of these at home, anyway, and I dare those nasty teachers to even TRY to stop me.

After hearing the news that Bonne Bell is shutting down all production in the United States yesterday, I felt as if I was losing a close friend. Bonne Bell was one of the first to make fun flavored products for young girls and teens. They started a revolution – just look at how many different variations of lip products we have now! It brings back so many memories of just how much these products were a part of my life.

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Goodnight, sweet princess.

When I graduated from college, I decided to move to the west side of Cleveland in a wonderful town called Lakewood. As I was driving around one day, I almost got into an accident. I had found the Bonne Bell headquarters. No. Way. I immediately ran home, pulled open my makeup drawer and grabbed the first Smacker I could find. Sure enough, it said Lakewood, OH right on the label. I think I almost cried when I realized that my twelve year-old self would have NEVER in a million years guessed that she would one day live so close to where her favorite product had originated.

Do you remember all the seasonal tins they would come out with? How about Lip Lix, the more ‘grown up’ balms that were tinted and just as delicious as their more adolescent Lip Smackers counterparts? And does anyone remember what they were like BEFORE they started putting colorful labels on them? I sure do. How about the necklaces they used to make where you could switch your favorite glosses in and out? What about Sun Smackers, the sporty SPF versions that almost every lifeguard in the 90s had dangling around their necks at the local pools?

sun smackers lip smackers

I wish I could say I did research before writing this article, but I didn’t… I have so much love for these products, so many memories, so many damn tubes of them that I just can’t find it in my heart to say goodbye. Even though I’ve ventured on to better balms – ones without the cloying fake scents and excessive glossiness – hearing this news gave me the opportunity to do something that I think I would have felt guilty doing before if circumstances weren’t so dire: I bought every Smacker I could find on the Target shelves today and I didn’t regret it one bit. For now, they will stay in my makeup drawer with their packaging intact and their bright colors and fun scents untouched by my hands… hands that are much older, perhaps a little more wiser, but nonetheless the same hands that held so many of these in my tiny palms throughout the 90s and my Dr. Pepper and bubblegum-scented childhood.

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I removed eight inches of my life

“Are you freaking out? Because I would totally be freaking out. Once I start, I can’t undo this.”

My hairdresser Lena pauses with her scissors in her hands and looks at me with concern. I tell her to do it, and I watch the first of what will be a TON of hair fall to the salon floor. For the first time since the age of twelve, I will have hair just below my chin. 

I got married a little over a month ago and went through a pretty stressful engagement which I really don’t care to talk about. It left me, as I’m sure many newlyweds will attest to, with this feeling that something anxiety-inducing was just around the bend again. It was like I had almost trained my mind to just assume that drama and arguments and spending tons of hard-earned money on crap was now a permanent fixture in my life. I needed a change — no, I needed a healthy distraction to get me out of my funk. I needed to feel confident again. I needed to get rid of this unbearable weight that was my hair. So I did.

My sister Bridget was my inspiration. She had donated her long locks and looked absolutely artsy chic with her long bob. Bridget has a cute, rounder-face and dimples and could probably pull off anything. I, on the other hand, have a longer face, stress-induced acne (and acne scars, yay!) and I often actually hid behind my long hair because I didn’t want to deal with how I looked. I realized that cutting my hair short would force me to deal with that, and as scared as that made me feel, I decided it would be a healthy thing to do.

I was surprised at how calm I was when I looked in the mirror after the deed was done. I was so desperate for a change that I didn’t even go through an initial shock… I was just happy to look at myself in a different way than before. In the days that followed, I immediately began understanding what Bridget had said: I really was learning a lot about myself.

Things I learned after I cut my hair short:

I had either been using a curling iron wrong or my brain was completely wiped after my hair was cut. I actually had to look up basic YouTube videos before I realized that I was curling my hair in the opposite direction of the barrel, thus producing some pretty terrible looking 90 degree angle bends in my hair. The second night after I had cut my hair, I ran up to my husband and yelled, “What am I doing wrong? How the hell am I bending my hair like this when I’ve been curling my hair for like seven years??” Obviously he didn’t have an answer or solution (and I would have been slightly concerned if he had). He looked terrified.

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Before and after.

I have to wear more tank tops to cover up cleavage at work. I could usually get away with wearing V-neck shirts at work because my hair almost always was covering my chest area. Now, if I wear anything lowcut, it’s like BAM, there’s my boobs. I’ve had to Amish up my clothing choices a bit, at least in a professional environment. Probably not a bad thing.

I realized I had “hair habits.” Ever see a teenage boy who had really long hair and then cut it short quickly flick his now-invisible bang away from his eyes? My personal hair habit was grabbing all my hair and throwing it to one side while talking to people or while on the phone. I’ve tried to do it a few times since then only to realize that, duh, I can’t do that anymore.

I realized that I associated femininity with long hair. And honestly, most people do. This was probably the biggest thing I had to get over (and I’m still getting over it). I’ve had to think of new ways to define myself and make myself feel feminine, including looking up new hairstyles, wearing red lipstick and choosing to wear more girly clothes. I didn’t feel as attractive around my husband because I knew he liked my long hair, but I had to get over it and remind myself that this was my hair and my body and it’s something that only I give myself permission to control. 

Posting a before and after picture of your hair on Facebook can result in a ‘like’ and comment from an award-winning author. Anyone ever heard of the amazing Wade Rouse and his hilarious books, including Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler? That fabulous man liked and commented on my picture, and I fangirled for a good three hours or so. Amy Tan, Margaret Atwood and Cheryl Strayed — I am patiently waiting for you all to do the same.

I actually make an effort in the morning. I had a few bad hair days at the beginning — I went to work a few times looking like I crawled out of bed and let a toddler try curling my hair and I just had to suck it up and own it. I had to get up earlier than I had before just to practice what I had practiced the night before so I could look halfway decent. No matter what I did, I had to embrace it the moment I walked out the door, and I had to acknowledge the change in front of countless co-workers even on days when I felt like a hat was my best option. I couldn’t just wake up twenty minutes before work and throw my hair into a braid or quickly run a flat iron through it in a half-assed attempt to look “done up” anymore.

So, now that the change is made, am I going to keep it this way? I haven’t quite figured that part out yet. My next trim is in October, so I will definitely be sporting short hair throughout the colder months. The whole experience, though — from the adrenaline rush of such a big change to the learning process that followed — was a meditation, of sorts, in how I view myself and how easily I can boost my happiness if I just focus on something new and different. That, I feel, made it all worth it.

 

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I thought this was going to be different: my first encounters with a British person

Five minutes from the Pittsburgh airport and four minutes into my Turkey Sausage Breakfast, I find myself at a Bob Evans sitting across from Patricia, a woman from England who is a new hire at our company and in the “States,” as they like to call it, for program training. At that moment, I am getting a feeling similar to the one I had when my parents explained that Barney wasn’t a real dinosaur when I was little. Disappointed. Sad. Slightly panicky about what other great disappointments life has in store for my poor, feeble soul.

Let me explain why.

When I was little, I thought British people were the bomb diggity. How could I not? I had grown up listening to the soothing voice of Julie Andrews, admired the great Angela Lansbury during my weekly viewings of The Pirates of Penzance and Beauty and the Beast, read ALL of the Georgia Nicolson books at least five times, and my mother encouraged us to partake in the British “afternoon tea” with the various tea pots and cups she had acquired over the years. She taught us to always drink our tea with milk. We were totally British but, like, not.

Naturally I wanted a British penpal and I found her at the impressionable age of eleven: Charlotte. Charlotte was from Essex and sent me PG Tips, strawberry gummy “sweets”, Cadbury chocolates, you name it. The girl was pretty much my British food dealer. I became engrossed in the British culture and royalty and by the time I was in middle school I refused to partake in Fourth of July celebrations because I knew my true home was in England. I never got to meet Charlotte in real life, or the other penpals from England that I would have later, but it was always my dream to meet up with a British person that I had befriended online in “real life”. The friendship ideally would lead to me visiting them at their cottage in the countryside where I would drink tea and eat home-made scones in their garden while wearing fascinators and bitching about the Queen. I so wanted this. I wanted to bask in a person’s British awesomeness but more importantly I wanted to be British, damnit.

Back to Bob Evans and Patricia.

british bloody hell teacup british flag

Patricia, although young and cheerful-sounding on the phone, seemed to lack that particular joie de vivre in real life. Her clothes were frumpy and obviously not from Top Shop, Madewell or H&M so I couldn’t talk British fashion with her. She had whiskers. Bleached, but still present. She was NOT the super adorable, well-dressed and well-spoken 24 year-old who she had replaced and who I would have absolutely loved to meet in person. She didn’t crack jokes and seemed to lack any semblance of a sense of humor at all. No, Patricia was not the ideal real-life British friendship that I had always dreamed of.

I tried everything to tap into her good side and make conversation in the hopes that she wasn’t as boring as I thought (seriously, I try not to judge people). Heck, I even made jabs at American tea while my boss was in the bathroom. That’s right, America, I bashed you in front of a Brit.

“Oh my God,” I said as I poured more coffee into my cup, “I seriously hate the tea here. Lipton? CRAP! You guys have all the good stuff over there.”

Patricia just looked at me and blinked a few times.

“Yes, it’s true the flavor doesn’t, um, empty as well into the cup with your teas.” That was seriously the end of this conversation. Even after I had listed off all the British teas I tried, Patricia was not impressed at my distinct and — dare I say amazing — taste in her motherland’s beverage of choice.

I then tried filling the incredibly awkward silence at our table by asking if she had kids, to which she responded no. I asked if she had pets, to which she replied, “I actually don’t have…anything living… that I’m responsible for.” Hmph.

I guess expecting every British person to be as fabulous as Charlotte or Patricia’s predecessor is like Europeans expecting every American to be fat, rude and loud (although a good amount of us are). It’s not fair to assume everyone is the same, and I realize that. But my God — after more than a decade of being an Anglophile and using the Queen’s English in school just to confuse my teachers at times and watching every episode of Coupling and Father Ted, you think the universe would have sent me someone that could have opened my eyes to such a wonderful country a little bit. I was so… underwhelmed.

As we left Bob Evans — the most American dining experience we could provide at two in the afternoon — we waited for my boss to pay for our meal. A server asked if we were ready to be seated, to which I explained that we had already ate. Patricia turned to me with a wrinkled brow and said, “This is quite an odd place.” Standing there, watching my dreams of a kindred British spirit crumble, I nodded my head in agreement. Yes, considering my expectations and what I had always imagined my first “real life” British meeting to be like, this was an odd place to be indeed.

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Guard those precious LinkedIn connections! My take on the scathing emails from Kelly Blazek.

Cleveland job seekers and recent graduates have spent the day discussing the terribly rude and self-centered email that Kelly Blazek, head of the Cleveland Job Bank, sent to an innocent and, from what I read, hardworking young professional and job seeker.

As a recent college graduate and a former job seeker myself, I feel it’s important to discuss Kelly’s response to the individual who requested her help because I fear her attitude is indicative of how many C-level professionals from other generations view  my generation. In particular, I’d like to discuss her “I love the sense of entitlement in your generation” comment.

First of all, what ambitious and educated person doesn’t have a sense of entitlement? After all, we were all told when we were little that if we studied hard and got into a good university, we could live a comfortable life and support ourselves. Keyword here? Support ourselves. Instead, upon graduation, we entered a world where the economy was bad, jobs were hard to come by and student loan debt was larger than ever before. Despite this, we worked unpaid internships, did volunteer work and tried to better ourselves in hopes of standing out from the many job applicants out there.

So, why wouldn’t we feel kind of entitled to at least have a job that could help us support ourselves? Is that asking too much?

job_hunt

Here’s another interesting thing to keep in mind: in order to get a large majority of jobs in this country, you have to get some kind of education. Even many blue collar jobs require some kind of vocational school or training of some sort, and we pay for this education in hopes of getting reimbursed in the form of employment. Not everyone is cut out for higher education, however, and that’s totally okay. Our brains are not all the same, and that’s okay. Making individuals pay for school just so they can get a low paying job, only to beat down their confidence and increase their debts, is not okay. It’s something I really hope to see changed in the future.

I’m sure Blazek had good intentions when she started the Job Bank. Perhaps she recognized the fact that we all don’t come from a circle of coveted connections that can easily let us obtain any job. I’m certainly not one of these people. My parents, both extremely hard workers and very smart individuals, felt terrible when I called them one day, only to explain that I asked my college advisor for advice on how to find a job after graduating, and received the response “The economy is bad. Use your family’s connections.” The Job Bank helped people who didn’t have those connections find jobs, and that’s great. I personally frown upon letting a less qualified candidate get a job over a better qualified candidate only because he or she had a good connection. Sadly, that’s the way things work, and there’s not much we can do about it.

Blazek’s response, however, didn’t help. To beat down a well-qualified young professional who is most likely already low in confidence from job hunting does not instill the hope that recent graduates need.  To refuse access to her LinkedIn connections is childish and, most importantly, sad. I’m sure those connections don’t even want to be connected with her anymore.

Kelly, here’s my advice, and it’s something I’m sure you learned back in preschool: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it. Give us a white lie maybe… tell us that it’s becoming easier and easier for penniless graduates to get jobs, tell us that our talents will shine above the rest, tell us that Cleveland is a wonderful place to work and that its high-tier professionals are ready to welcome us all with open arms. If you can’t do that, or if you at least can’t decline someone politely, I’d suggest it’s time your bank closed.

 

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Move Away from the Cubicle! Why Working Out Is Great for Your Job

yoga at pyramid of Giza

 

From my junior year in high school until six months out of college, I worked in retail. I’ll never forget how I felt the first week on the job: my legs and back were sore from standing up so long, my glutes hurt from bending down and getting up again to restock the shelves, and I found myself constantly drinking water due to the humidity in the stock room. I felt exhausted and completely out of shape, and I was convinced I would never get used to doing my job.

Speed up to 2011 — I had just graduated from college and had landed my first “big girl” job. “Yeah, I get to sit down at this one,” I remember boasting to my retail co-workers. When the time came to set up my cubicle and bask in the luxuriousness of sitting down all day, however, I felt… lazy. I found myself itching to move around because I was so used to it. After a few months, I realized my body was less toned and I had even gained weight. I discovered what I had at my retail job, although painful at first, was actually really good for my body and well-being.

A few months ago, I decided to sign up for a membership at a gym about ten minutes away from work. My decision was based on two things: I wanted to stay healthy, and I also really wanted a way to move around on the days I was sitting down at my desk all day. After two months of going to the gym at least three times a week on my lunch breaks, I can confidently say it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while. So, without further ado, 

Why Working Out is Great for Your Job

  • It gets you out of the office. It’s important to step away from your work environment and give your senses something new to experience. 
  • It refreshes your mind. Yes, sweating on the treadmill isn’t exactly the most relaxing way to spend a lunch break, but it puts your brain back on track. Boosting your endorphins, moving your body and gulping down a lot of water afterwards (so many people forget to drink water during the day!) can give the jolt you need to come back to work and really be productive. 
  • It is great ‘me’ time. Answering your phone, responding to emails and staring at a computer screen all day is not about you — it’s about doing your job right. And while that’s important, doing something for yourself is, too. I find that on some machines, such as the stationary bikes, I can actually double my ‘me’ time by multi-tasking: I’ll place my Nook in front of me and read a few pages of the book I’m reading while on the machine.
  • It saves you money. Before I joined the gym, I’d spend my lunch breaks going out to eat or trying on clothes that I didn’t really need. Yes, gym memberships aren’t cheap, but spending money on things you don’t need isn’t cheap either! Now that I spend my lunch break at the gym, I am forced to pack a lunch and only do my basic errands after work, and it’s really made an improvement on my finances. A lot of companies will reimburse or partially pay for gym memberships, too… make sure to ask your employer before you get a membership!
  • It manages your stress and helps you stay healthy. It’s obvious but true: working out is a natural stress reducer and can help you live longer and stay healthier. Take an hour to remove yourself from the stress in your personal life or job: get on a machine, sweat out those toxins and focus on your breathing instead of the crazy chatter in your head. You’ll be amazed at how you feel when you return to your desk.