Have a Happy Halloweekend!

Friday, October 31, 2014

It's Halloween in Madison (and everywhere, or so I've heard)! Cue students to travel in from all over the midwest for the annual giant State Street Halloween party and for temperatures to drop  dramatically, for no reason other than to allow said students to freeze in their costumes.

That's right, this morning: frost on my car. I would have taken a picture but I was too busy collapsing in a fit of tears in the middle of the street. According to the police I'm overdramatic. Whatever. I don't have underground parking, so I might as well live in an igloo.

For all you lucky people who live in warmer climates, here's a picture from my friend's instagram to prove I'm not lying:

click the link to view the caption (I couldn't agree more)
A few fun links for your weekend:

2. I really need to upgrade my phone

3. What you're actually thinking when you run into an ex. 

4. I got a Pinterest! (anyone I should definitely follow?) Thus far it is so pathetic (15 pins!) but how great is this quote?

7. I want this book tower but I'm afraid Tywin (who knocked over a lamp in the middle of the night last night) might get too carried away with climbing it.

8. Underrated throwback rap song of the week :) (this line: 11 hundred friends on his myspace page)

I hope you all have wonderful weekends! My twin sister is flying in from Cincy! So we plan to eat candy, dress up, and listen to Taylor Swift 1989 while hanging out with Tywin:

Happy Halloweekend, friends!!

Do you meditate?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Although I wrote a book review on Beautiful Ruins I forgot to include my favorite quote from the book! (I know, I'm really adept at book reviews. The New York Times called me up about a full-time Book Reviewer position the other day and I was all "Nah, because then who would instagram pictures of my cat?" I know what you're thinking and, no, Stephen doesn't have instagram. It's hard dating such a Neanderthal ;) )

Here's the quote:

In my defense (as you can see), the quote isn't actually from Jess Walter, the author of Beautiful Ruins, but from Milan Kundera who, according to Wikipedia, is the Czech Republic's most recognized living author. Yay! I'm Czech too, so we're probs related. This quote prefaced the final chapter of the book, and it stuck with me long after I put the book down.

Last week, I was watching a TED talk by Andy Puddicombe where he encourages us to mediate for 10 minutes a day, and the quote just came to me.

Here's the video: 

Andy argues we don't spend near enough time taking care of our minds, and that we should use meditation as a preventative method (not just when we're beyond stressed.) He says "we're so distracted that we are no longer present in the world in which we live, and we miss out on the things that are most important to us."

"The present moment is so underrated, it sounds so ordinary, and yet we spend so little time in the present moment that it's anything but ordinary." Maybe Andy and Milan should meet up! I'll be there too since, you know, I can't imagine they wouldn't want me there.

I strongly believe mental health matters, and I buy into the concept that if we exercise for our bodies, we should so something for our minds. But is meditation that thing? I've never tried!

The first time I heard of meditation (as something that "normal" people in the Western Hemisphere do) was in high school at a conference for student athletes. Honestly, I was unimpressed with the lady who sat us in a room for 30 minutes and told us we should focus on some random object for 15 minutes a day, just sitting there and doing nothing but thinking of that object. I remember she had a little purple elephant in the room that she forced us to stare at in silence. It's so easy to be unimpressed as a high schooler. If you are speaking as if the world doesn't revolve around me, I'm confused and uninterested. I was thankful to get out of that room.

Years later, I recently heard of the officially-labeled "Mindfulness" movement at work, when a co-worker adamantly recommended this book:

Have you heard of it? As the cover suggests, it's written by a Google employee. I think mediation has the rep of being done exclusively by Buddhist monks or yoga teachers with dreadlocks. But Chade-Meng Tan is actually one of Google's first engineers, who now focuses on training their (obviously top-notch) employees on using mindfulness techniques at work and in their personal lives. 

What do you think? Is this something you would try? Or have tried? If you have tried, I would appreciate any tips. I added it to my 101 in 1001 list to mediate for 10 minutes a day for a month. I'll report back if I haven't fled to a monastery and/or been hired by Google by the month's end.

Mom's Meals: Chicken Stir Fry

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In my adult life, I have discovered and executed exactly one recipe. Don't worry, my friends, I have already shared this recipe with you: Chicken & Black Bean Chili. I make it all the time. So I thought "I know, I'll share the recipe on rejoyce every time I make it" that way, twice a month, I just repost the recipe, you make chili, I make chili, and we're all happy. Who doesn't like chili? I mean if you're vegan, just don't use chicken or cheese or sour cream. Win-win. (I mean the recipe sounds awful at that point, but I guess it's a win for you and for the chicken.)

Then my agent told me that it was an atrocious idea to re-post the same blog post twice a month. Ok, I obviously don't have an agent but even I knew that idea sucked. Sure, life is often same-old, same-old, but blogs are supposed to be an escape from the unavoidable monotony. Blogs are fun and exciting and constantly changing and dynamic, am I right?

So then I thought, who has recipes I could share? And that was a no-brainer: my mom. I often* call my mom and say "What should I make for dinner?" When I do this, she recites 3-4 awesome, seasonal ideas, with step-by-step guidance including a play-by-play through where I should go in the grocery store. Because grocery stores? Terrifying.

I feel some sense of duty to the world to share these recipes for all those poor unfortunate souls who don't have phone call access to this wealth of cooking knowledge - so decided to start this new series (!!) on my blog: Mom's Meals. The first meal: Chicken Stir Fry.

What you need:

Chicken Breast (as much as you want! We made 1.5lbs & had leftovers)
Vegetable Oil
Broccoli (as much as you want!)
1 can Cashews (halves and pieces) 
1 can Sliced Water Chestnuts
1 can Bamboo Shoots
1 jar Stir Fry Sauce

Serve With:
La Choy crunchy noodles

(The nice part about stir fry is you don't need specific amounts - just get what looks right! Are you obsessed with water chestnuts? Get 2 cans! Hate bamboo shoots? Don't get them! I could do this all day, but you get the idea.)

Cut fat off of chicken and cut chicken into small bite-size pieces.  

2 On stove top, heat skillet with vegetable oil over medium heat, add chicken and stir fry until chicken turns white/is done.  

3 While cooking chicken, steam broccoli in microwave for about five minutes, until no longer frozen. (You can also use fresh broccoli - then steam if for 3 and half or 4 mins.)**

4 When done, remove chicken with slotted spoon and place on plate.  Next, add cashew nuts*** and stir fry them until slightly browned, which does not take long.  Remove and put on plate with chicken. 

5 Add more vegetable oil to pan, and stir fry broccoli.  Next, add water chestnuts and bamboo shoots and stir fry them as well.  

6 Finally, add chicken and cashews back into the mix and top everything off with stir fry sauce.  You may not need to use the full bottle.  Mix it in well and heat until warm.

7 Enjoy! Serve with Rice and La Choy crunchy noodles, and bask in the glory of your homemade meal. You might even want to brag about it on one of your social media outlets. You deserve it.

In total, this took me about 30-45 mins to make! Not bad at all. (Stephen was helping out some too, but I'm exceptionally slow so you can probably beat my time.) AND note that you don't have to turn on the oven. YAY. Life tip #1: If you never turn on the oven, you never have to burn yourself putting things in and taking things out of the oven.

I'm aiming to post more Mom's Meals recipes about twice a month - I hope you enjoy them!

*often = when the stars are aligned and I decide to get in touch with my domestic side and make something for dinner that isn't a reservation.
**You can also use this time to eat cashews. I always forget how good cashews are until I have a full can of JUST them. They are like the sour patch watermelon of the nut kingdom. Far superior to other (non-candied) nuts.
***If you have any left.

3 (more) Memoirs to Add to Your Bookshelf

Monday, October 27, 2014

...or should I say burgeoning memoir collection? First off, thanks for all the recommendations after my 3 Memoirs to Add to Your Bookshelf post. The recommendations I received fell into 2 distinct categories: funny or very, very serious. I chose to read some funny ones first, but am equally looking forward to tackling some of the deeper reads.

So the theme of this post: funny memoirs written by successful women in show business. What could be better? 

1. Bossypants by Tina Fey

This is a must-read. Fey inspires all with her incredible storyfrom growing up near Philadelphia, to commuting on the L to work at the YMCA outside of Chicago, to getting her start on Second City, to SNL, to 30 Rock and more. She shares honest insights about motherhood (and pressure from outsiders to have baby #2) which are refreshing. Throughout the whole book, her heartfelt accounts make her seem so down-to-earth. (Fun fact: Tina Fey doesn't have her driver's license.)

My favorite piece of career advice from Tina:

"My unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: "Is this person in between me and what I want to do?" If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you're in charge, don't hire the people who were jerky to you." Amen.

Pro Tip: If your company gives you money to buy "Professional Development" books (no idea which company I'm alluding to) I've heard you can get this one approved. If you've already read it, it makes a perfect Christmas gift for a sister, mom, or girlfriend in your life. Because everyone knows Professional Development money is best spent on others.

2. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Mindy is younger than Tina (so doesn't have motherhood aspects), but traces her story from childhood embarrassments to her Dartmouth days, to barely-getting-by in Brooklyn, through breaking into the comedy scene. I found many of Mindy's passages hysterical and earnest.

She did have a few chapters that I felt were kind of "fillers." Example, we'd be tracing the story of her struggling in Brooklyn and suddenly: a chapter on her feelings about proper karaoke etiquette. But some of these more conversational chapters (that didn't really move along the "plot-line") were pretty hilarious. The "Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who Are Not Real"chapter was dead-on, where she compares romantic comedies flicks to sci-fi movies (existing in an alternate (but still enjoyable) world) And she did have an entire (albeit short) chapter entitled "Why Do Men Put Their Shoes on So Slowly?" which is a question I've been pondering myself for many years now. I'd read Bossypants first, but this second. We can't all be Tina Fey, and I think Mindy has a long, successful comedy career ahead of her.

Fun note: Tina and Mindy BOTH have chapters on the horrors of magazine photo shoots. So if you've ever had fantasies about being shot for the cover of a mag (and you're not a size 0), I'd recommend reading at least those chapters and squashing said fantasies.

3. Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres

This book was a little less memoir (not a lot of details from Ms. DeGeneres' life, unfortunately) and a little more "series of funny blog posts (a la karaoke chapter from Mindy's book.) But, in true DeGeneres style, some of the chapters were laugh-out-loud funny. Quite literally. I read this on the plane rides from San Fran to Madison, and was actually laughing out loud in my seat. Oops.

Just like on her talk show, DeGeneres manages to be funny without being vulgar. I always find that so impressive (it's not an easy feat.) This was probably my least favorite of the three, only because I wanted more actual life information about beloved Ellen. She did go into her thoughts on being an American Idol judge and mentioned she is from Louisiana (I had no idea!) This book is more of a "if you want to laugh on an airplane" read than a "must read" -- but it's still better than the trashy mag you were going to read.

And you thought you'd make it through a whole post without a picture of Tywin.
What are you reading now? I'm really enjoying A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It's a throwback about a family living in poverty in Brooklyn in 1912, but so fascinating. (The poor immigrant family lives in the same (now-nice) neighborhood that Mindy Kaling couldn't afford to move to when she moved to NYC -- what are the chances?)  For my next memoir I'm thinking of checking out the (much) more serious Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Chang. Lena Dunham's Not that Kind of Girl and B.J. Novak's One More Thing are also on my short-list, since I was lucky enough to get both of them for my birthday :) Hope everyone has a great Monday!

Twinning: Happy Birthday, Becky!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Today is my 26th birthday. I could spend the day thinking that now, at the ripe old age of 26, I am what can only be classified as "the wrong side of 25." Where did the time go? Have I accomplished enough? Am I getting too old to make major life changes? What am I doing with my life? Is every famous up-and-coming pop star younger than I am? 

All fair questions I could be asking myself; fortunately, I have the gift of having a twin sister. So instead of positing unanswerable questions*, I'm going to dedicate this post to her: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BECKY!

One of my favorite quotes really summarizes how I feel about twinship:

That's why I sometimes feel bad for people who don't have twins. It's a built-in sharer. Sure, this means growing up you share a birthday, a cake, and a room (for 18 years! --I slept in a twin bed until I was 22 years old!**) , but, when you look back, sharing is what really enhances all your experiences.

Having a twin has by far been one of the best parts of my life! (And having sisters in general - I'm not forgetting about you Grace and Janice (even though you notably never had to share a birthday ;) ...well, I guess technically you share one with the nation, G.)

Anyone who knows Becky knows she is such an awesome, giving, intelligent, and caring person. (Not to mention organized and clean! Her apartment makes my apartment look like a hot (and filthy) mess. Rooming with her had its benefits.)

I'm thankful for all the memories, sister friend, and look forward to many more to come!
matching from a young age.
still matching.
The very day we finally stopped matching (thank goodness!)
I don't get to spend my birthday with Becky (sad) but I do get to see her next weekend (yay!) I'm looking forward to it already! Happy Birthday, Beck! Eat lots of candy corn for me.

#scorpioisyoursign #andgirlyouresofine #26sittinon26mil 

p.s. Flashback Friday: my Happy Golden Birthday, Becky! post from 2 years ago.

*Ok, you caught me. The answer to the last question is undoubtedly "yes." 
**This wouldn't have been so bad except my 2 younger sisters had full beds, and their own rooms. Also, I'm six two.

My cat won't let me cook: Tywin update, 2 weeks

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The fact that I'm writing 2-week cat update makes me think that (if I'm lucky enough to have children one day) I'm on pace to being the most annoying parent in the world. To be safe, I would recommend unfriending/unfollowing me on all social networks immediately. I'm destined to be nauseatingly obsessed.

But, I just want to capture and remember these first moments with me and my new kitten.*

So far, Tywin is the perfect mix of energetic and playful, and social and cuddly.** Many people are complimenting him by saying "he's like a dog!" which I find a funny compliment-- kind of like telling a girl who's good at sports she's "like a boy!" :) But hey, I'm glad he's social. I wasn't prepared for any typical emo-angsty cat sh*t.

He (obviously) likes Stephen more. Since I spend more time with him though, I'm trying to convert him by telling him horrible lies about Stephen. (I also shamelessly overfeed him.)
I'll spare you long winded cat tales (saving those for in-person conversations) and break it down into lists:

Things Tywin is strictly prohibited from doing:

1. Jumping on the kitchen counters.
2. Going into the bathroom. 

Things Tywin is obsessed with:

1. Hair ties. I think he thinks they're alive. He chases them around, from the floor, to the couch, to the bed (where I'm lying down), all around the floor. He bats them around like they're living beings rather than elastic devices used making ponytails.

2. The toys from Claire, Steve, Marissa, and the Ragards. (thanks, guys!)

3. Jumping on the kitchen counters. I actually cannot cook anything without him jumping on the counters like every 3 - 4 minutes. Just what I need - less motivation to cook :)

4. Going into the bathroom. We keep the door shut 90% of the time, since our bathroom is the size of a luxury camper bathroom (or an average camper? it's tiny.) But, the second the door inevitably opens, he darts in. It's actually such a small bathroom that it's hard to get him out because when you open the door you kind of trap him in the room (which he loves.) He must think the reason we keep the door shut is it's a magical lair. He is so bizarre.

I don't understand the appeal.
5. His canned food. One would assume poultry pate or turkey & giblets would be repulsive, but often he won't let me put it in his bowl in peace he's so excited. (He jumps on the counters to try to eat it straight from the can. Shocking.)

It looks gross, right?
Things Tywin likes:

1. String! Shoe string, ribbon, etc. He has a (much) higher vertical than I do when jumping for said string. He also actively prevents me from tying my shoes. He's convinced it's a game.

still not a game, dude.

2. Getting into bags/baskets/under couches/into the most tiny small spaces you wouldn't think imaginable.

I wish this pic wasn't blurry!
3. Dry food. He used to be obsessed with it, but now that the vet said we need to also serve him (canned) wet food he eats the dry, but not as enthusiastically. Our snobby foodie kitten. Fits right into the Madison food scene!

4. Walking all over my keyboard! Thus far he has only fb messaged one of my friends jibberish -- but if I randomly like a strange photo of you, I blame Tywin. Any future awkward social media interactions are henceforth blamed on my pet.

5. Sitting on my books as I attempt to read them (he's such an attention whore.)
He clearly finds my reading boring. He does like book pillows though.
You're totally making seeing the words a breeze, man.
Things that absolutely baffle Tywin:

1. The origin of the laser pointer. (thanks for the suggestion, Rachael!) It's hilarious. Video forthcoming.

Things Tywin detests with the passion of 1000 suns:

1. The vacuum cleaner.

2. When we scoop his litter. (We have to shut him out of the room when we do this, or he'll stop us. How does a 6 pound cat stop you from doing anything? you ask. He lies in the litter box and doesn't move. Incredibly effective method.) Even when I shut him out so I can scoop in peace, he peers under the door while I'm doing it and gets all moody. It's similar to a baby that screams her head off when you change her diaper, I guess. Hello! I'm the one who should be mad in this situation, not you!

Things I have to use ALL THE TIME because Tywin's propensity to track litter all over:

1. The vacuum cleaner.
2. Paper towels. It's so noticeable how much quicker we now go throw paper towels. Hello, cleaning supplies I never before bothered to buy.

Overall, we love him. I actually can't believe it's only been a little over 2 weeks since we got him. Stephen and I were joking the other day "What on earth did we talk about before Tywin? What was life like!?" but he really does take up a lot of mental energy! I'm sure it will wane over time as he grows out of the kitten phase.

He also wakes us up on the weekends. We get up at 7:15ish during the week, and we don't get up then on weekends. Tywin hates it. He meows and meows and meows, a little alarm clock. It would be extremely annoying if it wasn't so cute. His cuteness makes it only moderately annoying.

It's my goal to make him the most social cat ever, so maybe I am trying to make him dog-like. But notably a dog that doesn't need to go outside when it's below 0 degrees next week ;) Thus ends my cat update post -- until next month. May my street cred forever Rest In Peace.


*Did you just throw up in your mouth a little bit? I'm sorry. I'll stop. 
**Okay. Honestly, I'm not really going to stop. Maybe you can just skip the cat update posts, but read the other ones? All other posts will be less nauseating, I promise. Though these ones have the cutest pictures!

Mariposa Grove in Yosemite (and prom)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

It's been over a month since we flew to the West Coast for our Golden State getaway - and I've only done one very high-level post about our trip! It's funny how you think that when you get back from vacation you're going to sit down and organize all your photos, but then, reality hits and you get swept into the day-to-day.

When I was growing up and would attend a school dance, we would all snap tons of photos on those yellow one-time use disposal cameras. Then, we (read: all the high school girls) would rush to get them developed and bring them into school in little flip albums to show everyone! We would even get duplicates of EVERY SINGLE PICTURE developed -- just in case. How excessive were we?! Can't risk only having one copy of me awkwardly wearing an ill-fitting strapless dress standing with a classmate who's a full foot shorter than me and making a peace sign with my eyes closed.

But looking at everyone's photos at school (in between writing notes) was such a highlight. As you can imagine, the quality of my pictures were nothing short of superb:

Spoiler alert: Every single one of us went on to win at least one season of America's Next Top Model.
Now with the digital age, and with handheld iPhones with cameras 2 million times nicer than the ones we religiously used, sure, pictures are likely of much higher quality, but there's also less mystique. You don't have to wait to get them developed, eager to see "how they turned out." Prom pics go up (filtered) on instagram before Vitamin C sings "Friends Forever" to a circle of swaying soon-to-be-graduates as the night concludes.*

The process of taking and sharing photos has changed dramatically in our life time. But, much in the same way we would excitedly share our hastily-snapped prom photos with one another, I'm excited to share my hastily-snapped Mariposa Grove photos with you! Good news: I've abandoned strapless dresses and stuck to a full-on lululemon outfit for exploring Yosemite.

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is located about 2 miles from the South gate to Yosemite National Park.**

I have never seen anything like the Giant Sequoias. They truly looked like they were from another, more whimsical, world. Stephen and I started our day at around 7:30 am there, so we beat the rush. (A big thing about Yosemite you should be aware of if you've never been: lots of people! We even went late in the season, in September, and there were still tons of people visiting.)

many of the trees were named!
Wandering through the Giant Sequoias to start our day was such a magical morning hike! Here are way too many pictures since my words cannot do the Giant Sequoias justice:

"Bachelor and Three Graces"

Fallen Monarch

The Grizzly Giant
Aren't they huge? For reference, as a 6' 2" person (I read somewhere I'm taller than 90% of people on earth.) But I look petite next to these guys!

Ok, maybe "petite" is a stretch. But I look, you know, not abnormally large.
Stephen taking a walk through the tunnel tree.
Blackened burn marks from forest fires were prevalent throughout our hike:

Why do people insist on carving their names into trees? You're not adding anything to the natural beauty of the forest, you guys. I'm looking at you, DAVID. 

The giants actually rely on fires to survive, since they are built to withstand them (and other species are not as resilient.)

When European settlers first arrived, they put out any and all fires. They had the best intentions, but by doing this, the Giant Sequoias almost went extinct! The sequoias are made to resist and live through fires, and they depend on the fires to kill out other types of trees/plants so that they can "rule" the area.

Isn't that ironic***? Trying so hard to save something that you're actually hurting it? I'm not going to get all philosophical (first the "Graduation" song, then this!?), but if you think about this, it can perhaps be a metaphor for some relationship in life that you might be holding onto so tight you're actually strangling it. Or not. Perhaps Europeans are just stupid and like killing all things they stumble upon. (Being a descendent of 5 separate European nations, I can say that.) (Thanks, Columbus.)

Fortunately, nature won out in this case. And the park now orchestrates controlled forest fires in these areas.
Deer! The only wildlife we saw other than squirrels. Though we were only there for one full day (and lived in constant fear of seeing a bear.) 
As Vitamin C would have never predicted, where I was when I was 25 was walking around the Mariposa Grove of Great Sequoias in Yosemite National Park. And the experience was so much better than prom. The pictures? Obviously not quite as good.


*That's still how all dances still end, right? p.s. first line in that song: "So we talked all night about the rest of our lives, where we're gonna be when we turn 25...." Real tears.

**My senior prom was located at the Hyatt less than 2 miles from the Pittsburgh International airport. (since I know you're all wondering. Theme: "Come Fly Away")

***Maybe. I have this theory that you can never ask the question "Isn't that ironic?" without people coming out of the woodwork and screaming all the reasons it's not, actually, ironic. Thanks, Alanis.

The phrase you should never say to a depressed person (or anyone, probably)

Monday, October 20, 2014

You may not know this, but I went through a really bad bout of clinical depression in college. I likely had minor depression for years before (and after), but it surfaced my sophomore year of college in a very serious way.

I don't talk about it much --not because I'm trying to hide some dark secret of my past, just because people generally don't talk about mental illness much. I don't like making people uncomfortable. I'd rather talk incessantly about my cat and force them to watch iPhone videos of Tywin jumping at a shoestring in slow motion multiple times. You know, really cool stuff.

But, I think silence only perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental illness, so I am determined to start doing a little blogging on the topic.

One (of many) not great parts of being depressed is not being able to help those who are trying to help you. I had friends, teammates, family, and others who wanted to help me, but didn't know how. And I didn't really know how they could help me either. Obviously, this led to frustration on multiple accounts.

However, in the magic of hindsight, I can reflect upon what did and didn't help me throughout this time period. There was one thing that was said (a lot) that was so unhelpful I wanted to share it here, and offer some alternate phrases. I understand people who said it had good intentions, but, if you know someone going through depression, I encourage you to reconsider using this phrase:

"It could be worse."

Here are a few reasons I detest this phrase, along with (hopefully) helpful alternatives:

1. It is a promise for worse things to come, which is exactly the opposite of what a depressed person (or any person) needs. I'm having trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I'm struggling to perform basic tasks, and feeling more and more alone with each passing day. I may even be considering taking my own life. I'm constantly reminding myself I don't matter, and that no one would miss me. And you're here to tell me it could be WORSE than this all-consuming fire of self-hate ruining my outlook on life and prospects for the future? Because, I one-hundred percent can't handle even a little bit of "worse" right now. If I fail this quiz, or get a parking ticket, or feel left out one more time, I am worried about how I'm going to react. I don't need "worse."

Alternative phrase I found infinitely more helpful: "It will get better."

2. It is dismissive and belittles the current issue. "Oh, you're suffering from clinical depression? Well, you don't have AIDS or ebola or brain cancer or a a torn ACL, do you? Come to me when you have a more real problem."

A daunting part of mental illness is that people don't really take your issue seriously. It's like the whole world is subconsciously suggesting (and probably hoping) that maybe you're not actually depressed, and you're just a drama queen. "It could be worse" furthers that notion. You're not on crutches, you don't have a cast, you don't have a constant exterior indicator of your disease, so people doubt if you really have the disease at all.

Another thing to say instead, which I always found helpful: "Hey, I like you."

3. It's insulting to my intelligence. I'm depressed, not stupid. I understand that I was born to a middle-class white family in the United States of America. I understand thousands of children every year are born in the slums of India, in active war zones, or even in the ghettos of our own nation. I was not one of those children. I know I am physically capable. I'm not in a wheel chair, I'm not blind, I have all my limbs. I'm even a college athlete! I know I am fortunate.  I understand I am incalculably lucky to have the opportunity to be going to a prestigious University. I'm not a moron. But how lucky my circumstances are isn't relevant right now to the constant song of "you're not good enough" that's playing in my head.

If anything, reminding someone who is depressed about how privileged they are can actually backfire and make them feel worse. It led me to an increased amount of "What's wrong with me?" questioning, which, for the record, was a question I was already asking myself hundreds of times a day.

The truth is, clinical depression is generally not an outcome of external factors; it's an internal battle. And pointing out any inherent advantages of the depressed person is irrelevant.

You don't go up to a cancer patient and say, "At least you're rich!" or to someone who just tragically lost a family member and say, "Thank goodness you weren't born in a poverty-stricken third-world country!"

On an even smaller scale, you don't go up to an athlete who just lost a close, important basketball playoff game and say "Aren't you glad you didn't get injured out there on the court tonight?"

Please have the same courtesy when addressing someone suffering from a mental illness. By saying "it could be worse" you're pointing out something that is, yes, objectively true, but also, completely irrelevant and insensitive.
Thus ends my rant. Who knew there was so much to say about four words? I didn't! :) I understand there are many varying opinions out there, and hey, if this phrase actually helped you, I'd love to hear about it. I just found it anti-helpful so I wanted to share with you all some alternatives. 

I also understand that this phrase is often used as an attempt to help put things in perspective. When it comes to putting things in perspective, I'm about as good as Tywin is at playing chess (read: terrible), but I do think there are many better ways to help someone put things in perspective, and I plan to blog on those at a later time.
In his defense, he's almost as good at chess as I am.
I know if you or a friend/family member/co-worker are suffering from depression it can be very difficult (understatement), and I'd be happy to talk more about it, if you wanted to shoot me an email, meet up for coffee, drinks, etc.

Fair warning: pictures of my cat will be forced upon you. But I think connecting and working through hard times together is a good trade off. :)

A Movie in Review: The Skeleton Twins

Friday, October 17, 2014

I chatted about seeing Gone Girl a couple weeks ago, and I actually saw another movie recently that I liked even more: The Skeleton Twins.

I was drawn to the movie for a few reasons:

1. I'm a twin (duh!)
2. I like movies with witty dialogue, and I knew banter between Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader could deliver. SNL people for the win!
3. It also stars Luke Wilson. I'll always love him based on nothing but Legally Blonde. 
4. It seemed dark, but funny.

So, we went to see it during our vacation to California! Overall, I liked it. The sibling bond is always a refreshing switch from the romantic bond Hollywood usually focuses on. (Kind of like Frozen but real people and rated R. Very much R.) I made up an entirely fake unscientific book rating system in this post so I figured, why not do the same for movies? YOLO.*

I give The Skeleton Twins 3.75 out of 5 stars. It is definitely dark, and has hilarious dialogue (check and check!), but I wasn't thrilled with the ending, and found some plot lines maybe even a little too dark/disturbing. Thoughts like, I get everyone here is having a rough time, but does it have to be that rough? Really? went through my mind while watching it. But hey, life's tough. So I respect what they were doing.


A central theme of the movie is suicide, and I appreciate movies that try to broach that difficult topic. I think the more public and socially acceptable we can make the conversation about suicide and suicide prevention, the better chance we have of addressing this serious issue. (Fast fact: About 40,000 Americans die of suicide every year. And for people ages 15-24, suicide is the second leading cause of death.**) Suicide prevention is actually a topic I feel very strongly about it -- and I just did a quick search of my 3+ years of blogging, and I don't think I've ever talked about it before! It's hard to discuss. So, although I wish it wasn't so stigmatized, I applaud movies that are bold enough to go there.

And, it's a tricky topic to address because it's hard to take the right angle. You certainly do NOT want to romanticize suicide (Did you see the article about the careless tweet regarding Robin William's tragic passing?), but you also don't want to belittle it or dismiss it or make it seem like a less serious issue than it is. I personally thought this film did a nice job of striking a balance between capturing the lasting impacts suicide can have on those left behind, and the challenges of contemplating "a way out" in the first person.

It also had some awesome dialogue. The awkward dinner scenes were amazing. Luke Wilson (Wigg's wife) is perfectly casted.

I think it's only out in limited release, but if The Skeleton Twins is showing near you, I'd check it out! From my biased opinion, it looks better than most of the other movies that are now showing!

Unless you're looking for a total happy escape. (And if you are - I don't blame you!) Then you can't go wrong with Frozen.

*I give you my full permission and even some encouragement to report my blog/report me to the police for the terrible use of that cringe-worthy acronym.

**Source for my stats on suicide: SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.) Link leads to more stats.

The dessert you've been searching for

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

If there's one thing I love, it's dessert. My grandma once told me, "I always eat dessert first, because I know I'm always going to eat dessert, no matter what. But, if I eat my dessert first, maybe I won't eat as much of my main course." I haven't tried that method yet, but it's basically the only diet I'm ever interested in pursuing.

If nothing else, my 101 in 1001 list progress thus far has proved that I eat out relentlessly, even when I'm home in Madison. But what you may not know is not only do I eat out a lot, but also, I consistently order dessert while eating out.

This happens nearly every time I dine out with Stephen:

Waiter: Would you two like to see the dessert menu?
Stephen looks at me, knowingly.
Me (out loud): Sure, why not? I guess we'll just take a look at it to see what you have...
Me (in my head): Obviously! I'm confused why you even had to ask. Can we skip this step next time and you just bring the dessert menu immediately after, or even slightly before, I finish my main course?

Stephen and I generally "split" a dessert, much in the same way toddlers "help" with chores around the house. I eat 80%, Stephen eats 20%. I like this analogy because, even though it doesn't work perfectly, it makes me seem like I do more housework than he does (blatant lie.)

But we found one dessert in Madtown where Stephen actually does eat half of it!* There's really no need to even see the dessert menu when we're at Nostrano, because we're 1000% sure what we want to order: the affogato.

If you've never been to Nostrano, go. If you don't live in Madison, we have an extra bedroom and live less than a half a mile away. Sure, you'll have to share said bedroom with a brand new super energetic kitten, but it's worth it.

For those of you who don't know, affogato is a beautiful Italian dessert that was born in a manger a couple thousand years ago and has been saving the world ever since.

Nostrano makes it like this: take homemade sweet cream gelato with sea salt, pour espresso over it. And, as if that wasn't delightful enough, serve it with a side of bombolini (which are like little Italian beignets. Do you like Italian food more than French food? Either way, you will like bombolini more than beignets;) )

I think sometimes the gelato flavor is changed up to carmel or something along those lines, but no matter what, it's always the best! Take it from me, a self-proclaimed dessert addict, and a scavenger of dessert menus across the isthmus and across the country, you can't go wrong with Nostrano's affogato.

There's not much more to say because I really can't properly express how much I like this dessert in words. So you all just need to go try it, stat, and please report back with your life-changing testimonies.

*And he has practically no sweet tooth. It's incredible, really. Do you find the boys in your life generally have less of a sweet tooth than the girls? Why is that?

A new chapter: passionate over practical

Monday, October 13, 2014

After working there for 3 years and 3 months and 5 days (but who's counting?) I'm excited to announce that Friday was my last day at Epic. (Remember when I first started working there in July 2011? Time flies.)

Although I'm all for negative, complaining posts (so long as they're funny) this post is not one of those. I'm striving to have a "rear view mirror torn off" perspective-- as Jo Dee Messina so eloquently put it in her classic 1998 smash hit* --and focus on the future. 

Epic provided me a great place to start a career, and an awesome opportunity to meet some excellent co-workers and customers, and for that I am thankful. I know that every company has its pro's and its con's and, suffice it to say, after 3+ years, I am ready to move on to the next and experience something else. Cue Jay-Z, obviously. 

What's next? Every time someone asks me that I imagine Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby

And the truth is, I'm not 100% sure exactly what I will do with all my time now. But I do believe I'm making a shift in the right direction towards something I'm more interested in. I'm going to leave the healthcare software industry behind, and focus on improving my writing.

Before I ever picked up an Epic training companion, or even a basketball, I always loved writing. I was the kid who, when my second grade teacher told us to write a story about Johnny Appleseed on a sheet of apple-shaped construction paper, filled 10 notebook pages front and back and stapled them to the back of the apple before turning it in.

In third grade, we'd get a list of vocabulary words and it was homework to use them in sentences. I would always make my sentences a coherent story. Once, I remember sitting at my kitchen table and complaining to my mom, "I want to go outside and play with my sisters! But I can't think of a story for these words, they don't go together!" And my no-nonsense (but obviously awesome) mom responded with, "Joyce, you could just write separate sentences like everyone else. You don't have to make it a story, that's your choice." Although, that never seemed like a choice to third-grade me.

You should take this moment to be thankful that you never attended any form of school with me. (Of course, if you did, please accept this belated apology.) I was a not-as-smart version of Hermione Granger except I was neither friends with the most popular boy in school nor secretly Emma Watson, so I was a nearly intolerable classmate, probably.

Childhood embarrassment aside, writing is truly something I've always enjoyed. It's one of the reasons I majored in English.** It's the sole reason I started this blog. But, it pains me to say that I've never really prioritized working on it in my life. Other things have always come first, you know? The practical things.

Practical things always seem to get in the way of the passionate things, don't you agree? I wanted to major in English at Bucknell, but I also wanted to be "employable." So, I complimented my English degree with a second major in Business Administration. Too often, my English classes (the ones I most enjoyed) were now on the back burner to microeconomics, managerial statistics, accounting, decision sciences, and so on. Who has time to read Middlemarch in its entirety when there were balance sheets to balance?

Then, my senior spring, during the whirlwind of uncertainty that is job hunting, I dappled with the idea of getting into editing/publishing, but didn't try too hard. So many of the "opportunities" came in the form of unpaid internships, most in highly unaffordable places like New York City. And that just felt so....hard. I wanted an easy answer for "what to do when I grow up." I went to a career fair, handed a personable Epic recruiter my resume, and had the job in about a month. Since this well-paid job offer was stacked up against zero other offers*** it seemed like the easy answer I was looking for. Practical. A good career move. A springboard. A good place to start. High-paying (for me anyway).

And then I hit my practicality limit. I felt like continuing my job there was like pursuing a goal that wasn't even ever MY goal. "Moving up the ranks" there was never even anything that I wanted. So now, I'm trying to get back to focusing on what I want, and pursuing what I've always enjoyed: writing.

I'm consciously choosing the option I'm passionate about over the most practical option, at least for the time being. It's hard! I start a part-time unpaid internship at a local magazine tomorrow. I know it's a good move toward aligning my career with something I'm naturally interested in, but I'm tempted to apply for random part-time jobs left and right, just because subconsciously I associate a paycheck with proof of being productive. (And, on a deeper level I likely associate productivity with self-worth.)

But, I'm reminded of this John Wooden gem of wisdom:

On  my last day of work, the sent emails in my Outlook outbox numbered 17,296. I am not mentioning that because think that's a huge achievement; rather, that seems to me like a whole lot of "activity." I'm hoping to prove to myself that I don't need a paycheck to feel productive, and further that I don't need to feel productive to have self confidence and feel valuable. 

I'm not certain of the specific activities I'll pursue in the coming months (other than my unpaid internships and continuing to blog), but I do hope to feel as if I achieve something, or move in the direction of achieving something. I hope you will follow along! :)

*not sure if this was actually a smash hit in real life, but it was in my life! Also, do yourself a favor and please watch that music video. The buttoned-down tied up shirt-turned-mid-drift obviously needs to make a comeback stat.
**The other reason? I love reading. Shocking.
***I blame the lingering recession. 

Meet Tywin

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I am excited to announce the newest resident of our apartment...

Shhh! Don't tell our landlord ;)
Stephen and I went over the weekend to the Dane County Humane Society. Let me just say: I am not a cat person, but I still wanted to take all of them home! It's just so sad seeing them all cooped up in their little kennels. We played with three cats, but "bonded" the most with this guy. ("Bonded" was the word used by the kind volunteer who helped us, not me, please. I'm not a sap.)

We decided to name him Tywin (pronounced Tie-win for you non-throners) in honor of one of our favorite Game of Thrones characters:

Isn't the resemblance striking? ;)

Some of you might remember years ago when my roommates and I got a kitten in college off of Craigslist (Minnie!) and, well, she wasn't exactly an easy cat. "Spawn of Satan" may have been used once or twice when describing her. That was perhaps an understatement. She routinely refused to use the litter box and instead used random corners in our apartment, my roommates' beds and....our shower. Let's just say I resorted to showering 100% of the time in the basketball locker room. When the basketball locker room is your cleanest option, you know you have a problem. (I even got "published" for my 6-word story about Minnie's apartment-destroying antics.)

Well, after school my roommate Christa (she's a saint!) took in Minnie and I lived a cat free existence for a few years. But, you know what they say, all good things must come to pass. Kidding!

You guys, this may be killing my street cred but, right now.....I love him. 
Us holding hands. How cheesy am I?
His first night in our apartment went smoothly! He explored (and sniffed) every square inch of our space. Including weird places like behind the fridge, under bookcases, the whole works. So curious! He stayed in the second bedroom over night (spoiled, I know), where we set up his food, water, litter, and blanket-turned-cat-bed. His favorite place is under the bed, naturally. He is about 5 months old, so not teeny tiny, but still playful and adventurous.

This morning when I was getting ready in the bathroom, he reached his little paws underneath the bedroom door. And then, the second I opened the door, he sat down on my feet, started purring, and looked at me as if to say please don't go. My heart melted.

This guy may turn me into a cat person after all. I will likely be posting (an embarrassing amount) of pictures on my instagram with the hashtag #tywinstagram (I was proud of coming up with that one) if you'd like to follow along :) Any cat-raising tips appreciated!

101 in 1001: 3 Month Update

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

As I mentioned here, I decided to compile a list of 101 items to do in 1001 days to establish concrete things to try in the next 2.75 years. I wouldn't necessarily call all of them "goals" (unless upgrading your iPhone is generously labeled as a goal these days?), but they also are not merely mundane life-sucking tasks. Sure, I could have (all too easily) made a list of 101 things to do around my apartment/car: clean out the fridge, scrub the shower, make my trunk usable again, determine which air mattress actually works and just get rid of the other ones for the love of God, but that wouldn't have been as fun.

Also? I don't want to do those things. Maybe my life is elevated by the fact that the trunk of my car is filled with a growing collection of mysterious items. I always wanted to be enigmatic.

Now that I'm 106 days in to this challenge (12 down, 89 to go!), I thought I'd give a quick update and highlight some completed items:

2. Try 10 New Madison Restaurants
I don't take many food pics- but here's a Moscow Mule in a cute copper cup!
This one? Came way too easily. I honestly didn't even attempt to visit new restaurants in honor of this list; it just came naturally. The burgeoning farm-to-table restaurant scene is something I've always loved about Madison, and my favorite thing to make for dinner is reservations, so I hit my tenth new restaurant (Madison Sourdough for brunch, yum!) a mere 104 days in. It's officially safe to say I eat out WAY too much.The picture above is from newly-opened Cento, which boasts some of the best cocktails in the city. My favorite of the 10 was probably tucked-away Natt Spil, which I've now been to multiple times (oops!) We can all agree that #54 is going to be the real challenge here.

4. Complete my first Wisconsin triathlon!

the things I do for free tees
It may not have been pretty, but I finished! Posts about training for it and completing it.

7. See a Cubs' Game at Wrigley Field.
We got pretty good seats, that weren't too pricey!
The stadium is so charming! I've now been to 4 Major League Baseball Stadiums: PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates), Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers), Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs), and Yankee Stadium (you guessed it, NY Yankees). And, although PNC Park is my favorite (typical Pittsburgh-er), Wrigley Field comes in second. It is very historic and feels small and cozy. Also, it's situated in the fun, young neighborhood of Wrigleyville. I'd recommend checking out the home of the lovable losers if you're in the midwest.
Their logo overtime (I always find that stuff fascinating)
14. See a New Broadway Show
Featuring the car that dropped me off. (Kidding, I obviously took the subway.)
I saw Of Mice and Men starring James Franco. And cried. Three distinct times. I always thought I preferred musicals over plays but I absolutely loved this play, and now think I should prioritize seeing plays over musicals. (Madison Friends: it's showing at Sundance 608 theater on 11/8 &11/10 through National Theatre Live - I highly recommend!) 

34. Explore California
Chilling by the GGB, NBD.
Stephen and I had a great time doing just that! I wrote a post on 10 things I didn't do while on vacation where I shared some pretty Cali snaps, and I am working on writing miniature guides to the places we explored - so look for those!

Overall, I'm pretty happy with my progress on my list....but disappointed with item #39! I still haven't been able to think of 101 things! I've only been able to come up with 83 items, so I still need to brainstorm 18 more things that I want to tackle. Any non-cleaning-related ideas appreciated :)