For 2013, how about being yourself?

It’s the easiest, yet hardest resolution you could ever keep.

Once upon a time, I was a teenager who envied the popular girls. I had been one myself not many years before, back when most kids in a classroom could be called friends. Somewhere along the line, however, being friendly and funny stopped being very important, and the brands and makeup you wear started.

I saw the kids wearing their jackets and shirts with strange labels on them—some that I’d never even heard of before, all with made-up sexual codes that only teens can think up—and their sticky-looking gummy shoes and their perfect, pretty backpacks, and I wanted them, too. I didn’t really want them for myself, but I thought that if I had them people on the cheerleading squad or the football team who used to be my friends might consider being friends again.

When I finally bought my first silly, gummy plastic bag for carrying my books, I was dismayed at its space. How did everyone fit their textbooks in these things? They were like oversized jelly shoes! It didn’t take long for my straps to break, which was fine, because I looked ridiculous carrying the bag. Even though I had spent all of my babysitting money on it, maybe it wasn’t worth the raised eyebrow from a science teacher who otherwise doted on me, and it sure didn’t get me any friends.

It didn’t make me happier, that’s for sure.

What did make me happy is what makes me happy today—something I can gratefully say that I do much more often, on a very regular basis. (Of course, my child now claims I embarrass her when I talk to random strangers or proclaim myself to be Mrs. Pine Tree when introducing myself…) I get to be me.

On rare occasions in school—usually during after-school functions, though also sometimes at lunch—I could be my goofy, quirky, plain old regular girl self with a select number of friends I could count on little more than one hand. I could giggle and snort and be as normal as I could be without having to try to be like other people, and I know several kids who did that very same thing every day without even caring what anyone thought.

Today, I envy them. I wish I had known then what I know now; it would have saved me a lot of pain and heartache. Imagine if kids who are bullied like I was, or who lose friends like I did, knew what’s in store for them later in life. I think they’d be at least marginally happier, and maybe even look forward to the future rather than dread each day ahead.

We could make 2013 the most radical year yet by just being ourselves, without change, without resolutions, and encouraging our kids to do the same.

Toys aren’t just for children

Ideas for taking advantage of every moment.

Thirty percent of a person’s life is spent waiting. Take a second for that statistic to sink in. Now let it slip away because I made that statistic up, but even with it being just a random number, a lot of time is spent waiting in each one of our lives. Maybe it’s waiting for a bus, a loved one, or rain to secede. Regardless, wouldn’t it be a grand idea to take advantage of some of this lost time?

As children, we traveled everywhere with toys. We would hide toys in our school bag, bring something to play with at a long, boring dinner, or if you had a big family and sat at the end of the pew, even tried to sneak your Game Boy into church. Though these days may have passed, the sentiment behind the action is something we shouldn’t overlook.

While traveling in the developing world, things always go wrong. You learn quickly that one hour can turn into 24 in no time. From this, I’ve learned to travel with something I not only can do, but really want to do, to make sure my time waiting is time spent well.

Though I’m quite content to write or read, the possibilities are endless for items one can bring to keep themselves occupied. It doesn’t even need to be something tangible if you are charming and keen to make conversation!

Don’t let precious time go to waste. Carry a bag and bring whatever it is you need to enjoy time that most people just see as miserable. You’ll feel better for doing it and find that there are even more hours in the day then you previously believed. 

No list required

Some of the best things in life are often the simplest.

When people think of living their life to the fullest, the mind often settles on thoughts of a bucket list or something similar, focusing on all those things that we want to get done before we finish our time here on Earth. 

But there is more to living than just collecting experiences that are unique or dynamic.  There are thousands of little things going on every day that people often overlook, things that make life what it is in a day-to-day way.  It is these things that we should never forget to pay attention to, for avoiding the simple experiences can be just as bad as putting off the amazing ones.


If you don’t remember to enjoy each tiny piece of life, the forgotten can often return in the form of regrets - all those things you meant to get to but procrastinated until the chance was gone.  I’m talking about such simple experiences as spending time sleeping next to your pet before their time is up, or sleeping next to your son or daughter before they’re old enough to tell you to leave them alone. 

Or staying up all night to watch the sun rise with someone you care about, even though you have to work the next day.  Or listening to your grandparents talk about their lives before they’re no longer around to spin those tales.

There are too many distractions in our life and we are frequently told by those around us to “be responsible.”  Responsibility, however, comes with drawbacks, and those are often the excuses we use to not do those things we know we really want to.  We tell ourselves that we’ll get to it tomorrow, or that we’ll set aside time in the future.  We look at our empty wallets and then push aside having fun in favor of saving up for a bigger television set.  The less important things in life take precedence and we eventually become lost.

If you really want to fill out the best bucket list, there’s no reason to make a list at all.  Just stay aware of what’s gong on around you and remember to not put things off.  Don’t delay, even when responsibility calls you to do other things. 

Each one of us has a finite time on this planet, and we never know when we’re going to go or when someone close to us will no longer be in our lives.  Thus must we always stay conscious of the fact that as each moment passes it is gone forever and that how we experienced that moment was our own choice.

Turning your morning commute into personal time

Consider walking, biking, carpooling or busing

Ah, the morning commuters. For some, this is the worst 15 minutes to two hours of their day. It is often spent angry, stressed and hoping that if they switch lanes one more time, the lane will magically go faster than any of the other stopped up lanes. If this resembles your commute, maybe it’s time to change up your routine and take back those wasted hours of your day.

Though it can be difficult for some people, many peoples’ morning commutes are becoming a time for them to enjoy. They own this time but deciding to either commute to work by means of foot (such as walking, biking, skating, etc.) or putting in the extra effort, or extra time, to commute by some means of public transportation. Though in the short run may add some hassle, in the long run can literally save you hours of your life.

Those who walk or bike places, though it takes extra time, are often heard saying they feel like they have more hours in the day. The time spent on the move is personal time for them, where they can be with their thoughts, or plug into their favorite music or podcast. In the same regard, time spent being driven in a bus or train is time where you aren’t behind the wheel, and can be used to read, write or even get some more sleep. Those who commute don’t deal with the stresses of traffic, and have more free time.

Though small lifestyle changes will be needed to adopt new commuting habits, the benefits outweigh the hassle by a long shot. Take back those hours of your life, it’s easy, healthy and fun. 

Learning to defeat my addiction to the Internet and multi-tasking

Take small steps to focus on individual tasks.

I hate to admit it, but trying to be a writer, you know, in the age where you don’t use a typewriter, has become quite difficult. It isn’t necessarily that I lack content ideas or am missing the words I need to illustrate a thought. It is the damn compass button at the bottom of my computer that connects me to the World Wide Web.

Being born in the age of computers, I’ve been attached to the Internet since I was around 12. It started innocently enough, with instant messaging my friends, but once college rolled around, things changed. Social media, silly cat videos and the emergence of memes made it nearly impossible for someone computer savvy to have an attention span long enough to sit down and write. The Internet is corrupting our minds.

All satire aside, multi-tasking and Internet addiction are blocks in the road of production. Be it procrastinating for tests or just having a hard time focusing at work, both these issues can really hinder a person from achieving their true potential. Multi-tasking doesn’t actually save time, and the Internet, if not used correctly, can be a huge time suck. But all it takes to help curb these issues is a little self-restraint.

Taking small steps to focus on individual tasks is the cure to the ailments above. Making simple lifestyle changes, such as keeping your laptop or computer out of the bedroom, not watching TV or reading while eating, or even ceasing to open multiple tabs while surfing the internet, are changes that can increase production.

Though it may be easier said then done, learning to focus fully and keep off of the net is possible, even in this technologically obsessed existence. 

On the List: Driving really fast!

You see them doing it in car commercials and you know you want to.

Every one of us has seen it in numerous commercials.  There’s a car (usually the one that the commercial is trying to sell) and it’s racing at top speed down some twisting highway in the middle of an amazing mountain or hill landscape. 

The car cruises effortlessly along, taking the turns as if there were a professional at the wheel (and make no mistake, there is).  Meanwhile, at the bottom of the picture is a bit of fine print that says something to the effect of “This was done on a closed road by a professional.  Do not try this on your own.”

I say, screw that warning ad.  Before I go, I want a fast car and I want to take it on the best curvy (but not crazy curvy) road I can find.  If I need to put up false roadblocks to keep people off my race track while I’m doing it, then I most certainly will.  Better yet, I’ll take my super-fast vehicle for a ride along the Autobahn.  That’s one of the coolest roads ever.

I’ve always had a fear of cars, or at least riding in them as opposed to driving them.  I think it has something to do with the lack of control.  As a result of this, I’ve always been a very cautious driver.  Twenty miles over the speed limit is about as fast as I’ll take it, and then only as long as the wind isn’t kicking up too bad.  So to finally break from that pattern and just push a very fast car to the brink would be the ultimate rush.

Sure, I might wipe out and end up as a dull red smear across the asphalt, but it would be worth it.  As much as it would be safer to hire a professional to drive and just go along for the ride, it’s not the same.  To be able to hurtle down the highway with nothing more than your own wits and skills to keep you from crashing - that’s the sort of thing that living life is about.  Pure adrenaline and your life on the line in pursuit of a unique and intense experience.

Will I ever get to this part of my bucket list?  Probably not.  I’m way too much of a chicken to do something like this unless I could afford many months of training.  Despite my love of the rush, I’ve still got too many things to do before I go out.  Maybe when I’m 70 or 80 I’ll see things a bit differently though.  I can always hope.

Working at an island bar and not becoming an alchy

More running and less fruity drinks

While traveling in Asia, I’ve heard a lot of stories of people working in guest houses, restaurants and bars for room and board, as well as free booze. Most of the time, backpackers will find a place they like to stay, and to extend their trip while not wasting any cash, will exchange a few hours of work a day for the above salary. No money is exchanged, but both the business and the traveler profit from one another.  

Though I’ve yet to actually exchange labor for room, board and booze, I’ve decided that when my funds run short, I want to work in a bar on a secluded island. I’ve found a few good places to work at, mostly in southern Cambodia, but my fear is that I’ll fall into the island daze.

To avoid the constant stream of intoxication, but still live and labor in paradise, I’ve come up with a few rules. First, late evening or sunset runs each night. I know that if I hold off on my daily run until the evening, the temptation to drink or ingest green fruit loops will be overcome by my addiction to exercise.

Secondly, fruity drinks only a few nights a week. When drinking beer, I know what I’m getting into. I fill up quick and I know my limits. Finally, I’m going to remember that I’m not a reggae singer and I’ve never been to Jamaica. Though the great state I was born in just legalized it, it has never been high (haha get it?) priority on my agenda.

Though island mentality is hard to stave off, these rules will help me to keep my life from turning into The Beach. Paradise ho!

Becoming a history buff

Knowledge of our past can tell a grasping story of what the future holds

History repeats itself. I’ve heard this many times in my life, and the more I learn about the world, the more I start to believe it. It can come in the form of interaction with friends and family, or watching governments make the same mistakes that have happened in the past. Regardless, the more I see, the more I realize that knowledge of our past can tell a grasping story of what the future holds.

While visiting Phnom Penh in Cambodia, I found out how little I knew about the nation I was visiting. Though I had a great time trekking in the north, and seeing what natural beauties the country had to offer, I knew very little about its gruesome history. I had no idea about the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge during the late '70s.

What happened during the time of the Khmer Rouge was disgusting. The three and half years of the killing fields, when over 1.7 million Cambodians perished, is absolutely tragic. The sad truth is, though, that this isn’t the first time it has happened. Genocide is something that has happened in multiple time periods, in multiple cultures. As the haunting voice said over the speakers at the end of the tour, this is not the last genocide the world will see, either.

I’m not saying that becoming a history buff will curb crimes against humanity. I do, however, believe that robust knowledge of our past can garner a much brighter present and future. Learning about our ancestors, mixed with a healthy dose of knowledge of our neighbors, is a great recipe in creating a cosmopolitan society worth living in. 

Four ways to make the most of your Sandy downtime

Distract yourself with these useful projects.

A lot of people are home this week as Hurricane Nor'easter Superstorm Sandy lumbers towards the East coast. Judging by Twitter, most people are planning to spend their time either getting drunk or high or both. And hey, those are valid options! But what if you want to use your time a little better? Here are some suggestions for useful time-killers that don't require electricity.

1. De-cluttering
This could be one of the best ways to spend your Sandy down-time. It doesn't require a lot of concentration, but it does require a lot of time and effort. And when there is a disaster looming that you can't do anything about, I find that it's helpful to keep your hands busy.
Pick a closet, a bookshelf, or even just one drawer. Sort the contents into three piles: Keep, Throw Away, and Donate. Finish the whole project at once, don't leave it half done. For Keep items, place them back neatly. For Throw Away items, bag these up and put the bag next to your front door as a reminder to throw them away the next time you go out. For Donate items, box or bag them up and set them beside your front door as well.
2. Read those magazines
I'm pretty sure every single person in America has at least a few magazines hanging around, to be read "soon." Magazines take up space, both physical and mental. And it drives me nuts the way they create slippery piles that are forever sliding off the coffee table.
Gather up all the unread magazines in your house, plunk yourself down, and get to it. If there are articles you want to keep, cut them out and set them aside. Don't keep the entire magazine just for one recipe or article! 
3. Turn around all the clothes in your closet
You've heard this trick, right? You turn around all of the clothes hangers in your closet. Every time you wear something, when you put it back, you put the hanger the right way.
Six months from now (next April), pull out everything that's still on a backwards hanger and donate it to charity.
4. Re-organize and clean out your kitchen cupboards
No matter how hard you try, your cupboards and pantry always slowly devolve into chaos. This is a good time to pull everything out, clean the shelves (Windex and a clean cloth work great), sort things, and put them back in an orderly fashion. 
This is a great time to pull and eat any canned goods approaching (or past) their expiration date, and to set aside canned goods for charity drives.

Learning to let go

Burn your problems with a traditional Chinese ritual.

The more I knock off travel destinations from my Bucket List, I find it starting to fill up more and more with personal growth items. This week, when having a lot of free time to think on an island in the Mekong River, I realized a new addition. I want to learn to let go.

Though I’m not a person to hold a grudge, I am a person who has a hard time forgetting things, and truly letting them go. I can forgive people quickly, but the remnants of someone wronging me, or experiencing past sorrow, seem to linger. I find myself becoming a bit scared history will repeat itself, which ends up holding power over me and my well-being.

Having grown up in a religious family, and being used to rituals as an athlete, one way to help me grow is to create rituals, or ostentatious motions, of letting go. One example I found (through mad googling skills) is actually burning your problems. What this entails is creating some sort of vessel, filling it with sheets of paper saying what you want to move on from, and burning that mother down to the ground! As crazy as it seems, it is derived from Chinese culture, and is best if you can create something like a lamp that floats away.

Pyrotechnics aside, I’ve already started to feel the weight of the past slowly dwindle. It may take time, but movement, action and ritual all are becoming key pieces in my own growth. It seems to be, that all it takes to attain the growth we search for, is a little introspection, and a lot of patience.