Saturday, September 29, 2018

Life as a Minimalist

Hello friends, and happy Saturday! I hope you have a fun, relaxing weekend ahead. It seems like everyone is sharing pictures from apple orchards or of cute fall outfits every time I check Facebook. The season is definitely here and with it, all kinds of fun things to enjoy  (though don't even get me started on pumpkin spice - blechh). Anyway, I'm looking forward to visiting family this weekend and spending some time out of the office with a coworker. And you know what we're doing today? Shopping.
Now, as many of you know, earlier this year I adopted a minimalist mentality. I spent roughly one week absolutely gutting my apartment, getting rid of nearly half of my possessions. I sold what I could, donated the rest, and threw out what couldn't be saved. It was absolutely liberating, and what remains are only items that I find useful or meaningful. I've very much enjoyed creating my minimalist space, and it has been a huge help to both my stress levels and my wallet. So shopping today isn't going to be a 'spend fest', rather an opportunity to replace a few things that have grown old or just been overused. (And I have a niece turning two in one week! AH!)

But planning a shopping trip with a friend has gotten me thinking about how my shopping habits - ok, most of my habits - have changed since adopting a minimalist mentality. Over time, they haven't seemed that drastic. But looking back now to how I thought about shopping and living in general pre-minimalism, there's been a big shift. I used to buy things that were on clearance 'just because' they were cheap. I went through phases of home decor trying to create "themes" in different rooms, changing them periodically throughout the year. I once even bought a giant pink penguin stuffed animal (Edwin!) on my lunchbreak because I was bored. Needless to say, I have no more "Pink Penguin" moments. And it is such a great thing: I don't waste time cleaning, I don't wonder where all of my money goes, I don't lose things, and I don't throw away wasted food. So what am I doing (or not doing) differently?

There are certain things I just don't buy anymore.
- Coffee from coffee shops. Maybe if I'm meeting a friend for a few hours and we're spending some quality time together, I'll get a house blend coffee or an Americano. But a latte on my way to work? I'll stick to making coffee at home.
- Nail polish. There is literally no point in spending $6-8 on a small bottle you'll use maybe half of before it dries out, only to watch it slowly chip off your nails (which start to look like crap) after a week. If that. I used to paint my nails occasionally, but lately I just haven't felt the need.
- Fast fashion (think: Forever 21, H&M, some large retail store clothing, etc.). I would rather buy high-quality, slightly higher-priced clothing that will last me for years as opposed to throwing money away on clothing that loses its structural integrity after one washing. I love my Calvin Klein sweaters (from Marshall's) and Lucky Brand jeans (TJ Maxx), but they were bought at a way discounted price. I probably paid slightly more than some of these 'fast fashion' stores would sell rip-offs for, but they're great quality and have lasted for years. No more bad moods inspired by ruined laundry.
- Fast food/take-out. I was never a big fast food person, but I don't even stop at Subway anymore (my one go-to). I'd rather get a piece of fruit or something small to tide me over until I can make something to eat that's worth the money. And the calories. 
Movies. I actually got rid of 50-ish DVDs when I went through my 'decluttering' this summer, and I couldn't be happier. With streaming services like HBO and Netflix, DVDs are becoming a thing of the past. Sure, I have maybe 10 (Eat, Pray, Love, The Wizard of Oz, Dirty Dancing...the classics) and I will never get ride of my Gilmore Girls series. But the mounds of movie boxes are gone. And I'm not bringing more into my life.
- Magazines and reference books. I was never a huge magazine person, but I did buy the occasional Glamour or Cosmopolitan. First, I've realized its a complete waste of paper. Second, I've started noticing there are more ads than actual stories, so again...its just not worth it. I can read the legitimate content in the time it takes to go through the line at the grocery store! Why buy them and bring them home? As for reference books like dictionaries and thesauruses...well...the internet...(I used to have five dictionaries - five! - for different languages and time periods)
- Notebooks. I used to have a mild obsession with office supplies despite not having much  to write, staple, or mail. It's been a hard habit to break - buying cute push pins, mini staplers, and sticky notes in the shape of a coffee cup - but no, I don't need the notebook just because it has an aesthetically pleasing cover. This really does come down to self control.

There are certain things I don't do anymore:
- Eat out more than once per week. Even that's quite generous, given that the only eating out I've done in the past month was at Panera, and it was only because I had gift cards. Believe it or not, its actually not because I'm vegan. There are plenty of places that have started carrying vegan food in metro Detroit! My hesitation is that I could make the exact same thing - if not, better - at home. I can watch a movie or Youtube videos or something while I enjoy it. I can be cozy and have a cup of tea or glass of wine with it. Eating out is a great occasional experience with others, of course, but it's not very often that I'll choose to go out on my own. 
- Keep clutter on my desk. When I worked in the office prior to my year in the UP, my cube was packed. I had organizers, file folders full of documents (which were also saved on my computer), photos, knick-knacks, coffee mugs, push pins in the shape of a heart, and a lot of other completely unnecessary, rather distracting things. It was so easy to get side-tracked during the day dealing with so much physical and mental clutter! I keep my desk completely clean now, except for my computer (obviously), one folder for current papers/resumes, one notebook, two pens, and a coffee mug. That's it. It helps me stay focused on the job and mentally 'collected' throughout the day.
- Spend a lot of money on fitness. I once paid $69/month for a gym membership, which is roughly the cost of my monthly cell phone bill or two full tanks of gas. It didn't seem like that big of a deal at the time, given I was 'grandfathered in' at that rate while the gym was raising rates to $79/month. My current apartment has a small (albeit dark) gym with everything I need: free weights, cardio machines, a few weight machines. If I was still planning to go into the military I might seek out a gym elsewhere that had things like barbells, a squat rack, and better quality treadmills. But this works just fine, no membership required.
- Spend a lot of money on yoga. What? Isn't yoga expensive? Yes. Many studios charge upwards from $150/month for unlimited yoga (which is more than double the price of my overpriced gym membership!) But many studios give a free first class. I recently did two 5-class series that was only $25 for new students. That's 10 yoga classes for $50. And both of these studios have a few "donation classes" per week, as well as a few free community classes. If you do your research, you won't be paying top dollar for yoga. And then check out Youtube! I do Yoga with Adriene every morning before work, and its one of my favorite parts of the day. Sarah Beth Yoga is great, too. You can pretty much find a yoga video for any mood, any time frame, and any level on Youtube.
- Drink a lot of wine. This has been a pretty big change for me, given that I used to have a glass (or two) a few times per week. There was a joke in my old town that it was a "Small drinking town with a big fishing problem". Completely the other way around! Because there wasn't much to do in town, having friends over for drinks and games or movies was sort of a regular 'thing'. I would buy 4-5 bottles of wine from Trader Joe's every time I came home, and usually kept my apartment stocked. Or we'd all just get together and go out, regardless of whether it was Monday or Friday. Sure, I'll occasionally meet friends or family at Michigan by the Bottle but that's not wine at home. Right now I have one bottle of wine on my counter. That's it, and no I don't need to go grocery shopping. Did I mention it was a gift?
- Decorate for holidays. Gasp! I love holidays, I truly do. But if someone came to my apartment in the midst of a major holiday, they'd think I was a Scrooge. I used to have all of the decorations: holiday-themed table runners, different knick knacks for each season, a Christmas tree, etc. Well...I don't anymore. My aunt bought me two Halloween kitchen towels, but that's the extent of my fall decorations. I don't plan on decorating for Christmas. For me, home is home, and the holidays are more about the people and the places and the overall atmosphere. I love that my parents decorate for Christmas, and I'll enjoy every minute with family at their house. I love being outside and seeing the lights and the snow and the colorful stores. But at the end of the day, I don't want to store things all year just to bring those exact things into my apartment when I could just go out in public and enjoy them there. Maybe I'll get a gingerbread scented candle or something. Say what you will, I just like to keep things simple.

And then there are things I've started doing more:
- Taking the stairs. This might not seem like a "minimalist" thing, but it helps me keep my self-control in check when I do go sto the store. I take my burlap bags from Trader Joe's with me whenever I go shopping, and let me tell you - they are not pleasant to haul up five flights of stairs when they're packed! I used to buy a lot of melon, those bottles of wine (and the occasional 6-pack), and other heavy things. Do I really want to lug those up to my apartment? No. So I just don't buy them, and then I don't have to. Pretty simple.
- Leaving things in my digital cart. This is something I learned from the Financial Diet, a Youtube channel on smart spending. If I'm tempted to buy something online, I stick it in the cart and come back to it a few days later. And then another few days later. And if after two weeks, its still available, its still in there, and it still seems necessary, I'll buy it. Obviously sales and discounts are often time-sensitive, in which case I'll weigh the decision of "am I just saving 30% on something I don't need? or am I still willing to spend that 70%?" It has been a huge help!
- Only buying things I love. When I moved apartments, I knew I wasn't bringing much of my old, decrepit furniture with me. Most of it was handed down from others when I first moved into my first apartment, and having ugly furniture I had no mental/emotional connection to meant I tried to spend more on things to make it seem more "homey". If you saw my recent apartment tour, you'd see that I've only kept and purchased things for my apartment I truly love. These are pieces of furniture, decorations, etc. that I plan on having very long-term, and am likely to waste less replacing or dressing them up over time.
- Exercising creativity. I could spend my evenings out on the town (now that I live in a normal city). I could go to the movies once a week (there's literally a theater half a mile from my apartment). I could decide its more convenient to just buy lunch on my lunch hour since preparing and packing one takes work. But I don't. I've been having so much fun creating new recipes to take in my lunch. I've been watching more videos on Youtube, movies or series on Netflix or HBO, and even reading. And I've been looking for new ideas on Pinterest, writing/blogging, and doing more yoga at home instead of going out on the town.

Living a minimalist lifestyle goes beyond owning fewer things. Its about making the most of what you have instead of constantly looking for happiness in things. It's about prioritizing rather than just buying what's convenient. Some people are minimalists to the point where they don't even have homes, because travel and move around. Its their priority. I love to travel too, and would rather save my money and energy for my next trip than eat out for lunch twice a week or buy new clothing every time I go shopping. There is no "wrong" way to be a minimalist! It's all about doing whats best for you, and these are just some of the things I've changed in the past few months. They fit my lifestyle, allow me to prioritize, and keep everything in my life running fairly smoothly. I'm definitely excited to go shopping today, but I'm keeping it simple: replace a ripped shirt and possibly a worn-out bag and find a birthday present. Does it take self control? Yes. But the more you practice, the easier it gets.

If you've ever dabbled in minimalism, I'd love to hear some of the things you've stopped or started doing. Do you have non-negotiables? Do you have go-to's? Let me know in the comments below, and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Goal Setting.

The older I get, the more I realize how much my life 'goals' have changed over the years. Or maybe I'm just realizing how different they are from what I thought they'd be. As kids, my cousins and I loved playing with Polly Pockets, and would spend more time creating a backstory than we would actually playing with the dolls. We always gave them the lives we dreamed of: the perfect relationship, a perfect job, twins, a dog, a great house, and of course fantastic hair and clothes. Did I mention we said they were like 23 or 24? I had ridiculously high expectations. I think we all have at some point. (And if you played with Polly Pockets and you say you never projected your dream life onto them, you're lying. lol). 

The point is, I used to have this grand image of where I would be and what I would be doing by my twenties. Guys...I turned 25 in June. The goals I have now are wildly different than they used to be. It doesn't mean I don't have high expectations, its just that about what has changed. I mean for the last three years I've been trying to get into the Navy, or - before that - the Air Force (but that's a story for another day). That was my goal. I thought I'd be at OCS by this point, or going through whatever was beyond that. I never would have thought I'd still be living in Michigan less than an hour from where I grew up. But life changes. And with it, my goals.

Most of my family have followed a pretty standard path: go to school, work for a couple of years, get married, buy a house, dog (or cat), kids...and here we are. I love my nieces and nephews, and couldn't be happier for my siblings. But honestly? I can't say if I'm after the same things. When someone asks me what I want in life, 'travel' is the first thing that pops into my mind. Meeting new people. Exploring new places. The thought of 'rooting down' in one spot without having the freedom to make travel plans is terrifying to me, just like the thought of getting on a plane and flying to a foreign country is scary to some people. I've been told its because I'm a millennial. Personally I think it's because I've traveled quite a bit and just know how happy it makes me, even in the planning stages. I've been bitten by the travel bug (but that's another series of posts for you to check out). I can't have pets at my apartment, so a dog is out of the question. (Maybe a guinea pig one day - haha.) And I'm pretty content in my current job. So today I thought I'd share what some of my realistic goals are for the foreseeable future. Who knows, maybe one day they'll look a little different (like I said, life changes, and with it your goals can, too). But for now, these are at the forefront...

1. More community events
So this is something I told myself as soon as I moved out of the UP. We had occasional trivia nights (during the winter, to give locals something to do), Sunday movies at the library (literally me, the librarian, and maybe one or two others), and live music (the same guy, every weekend, at the same bar), but not many big non-touristy community events. Here? I'm constantly on Facebook's events page looking for the next interesting thing to do. I went to a "Fork & Cork" arts/music/wine festival on Saturday. It was a complete bust, but at least it was something interesting to do. I went to a "Vino and Vinyasa" class at a local yoga studio and met some neat people over rooftop yoga and wine. And today I'm going to a Harry Potter trivia night with my brother and sister-in-law and some friends at a brewery. There is no end of things to do here. My goal is to just get out there, meet as many new people as I can, and live for the experiences. 
2. More yoga
I feel like this is increasingly obvious, especially if you follow me on Instagram. I mentioned the Vino and Vinyasa class I went to last week, and this past Sunday I went to a "Breathe and Brunch" class. I find that the people who go to yoga classes are usually so friendly, especially when the teacher breaks the ice either before or after class. Then you go through a flow together and everyone feels like they have some unique connection. Even chanting 'Om' in unison with this group of people you've never met can make you feel oddly connected. I've been trying all kinds of different yoga classes, from Kundalini and Vinyasa to Gong Meditation and Yin. Naturally I enjoy some more than others, but the experience every time is just incredible. I've even just finished my second 30-day Youtube series from Yoga with Adriene and connected with an awesome group of people online - from all over the world - who have also made it part of their home practice. In person or online, I love chatting with other people about yoga and learning more from their experiences. And...there's some pretty big news coming in October so I will be sharing that with you soon!
3. Spending time with family
In the past few months, there have been a lot of really big life changes going on. Packing up, moving on, moving in, getting back in the office, changes in my personal life, etc....its nice to be around family to kind of 'absorb the shock' of it all. Sure, there are some things we don't see eye-to-eye on, but just being around my parents, my sister, my nieces and nephews, etc....it's hugely comforting. And having (almost all of) them less than an hour away feels like a luxury. The Saturday after I moved in, they all came over for a little 'housewarming' party. I'm going to the Harry Potter trivia tonight with my brother and sister-in-law. My niece turns two in a few weeks (ahh!) and I can't wait to go to her birthday party. Even this past weekend, I met one of my aunts out for wine at Michigan by the Bottle. I love being around my family and having the option to see them more often.
(Yes, that's me in the middle on the right, with the huge cheeks)
4. Reconnecting with old friends
Similar to my goal of spending more time with family, I've been trying to really prioritize seeing friends, too. Yes, most of mine have moved away from the area since elementary school and high school, and my friends from college are still in Minnesota. But there are those I've met since who I haven't been able to see in awhile because the UP is just  downright inconvenient. On Labor Day, I met a friend from my summer internship in Portland for a vegan dinner (she lives in Seattle but was travelling to Ann Arbor for work and swung through on her way). When I first chose my apartment, I got to spend a weekend with my dear Angela. We've actually been working on future plans, and I'm so thankful she's only an hour or two away! I've also been trying to set a Skype date with my German sister. And another friend is getting married at the end of October. And then friends of mine from when I lived in the UP - friends who moved to Iowa in July - are coming through my new town in a few weeks and we're making a point to go out for lunch/dinner. There is seriously nothing like surrounding yourself with good friends to help you feel at home in a new city, and I'm so happy that I've been reconnecting with them in the past few weeks. As well as making new friends at work or at yoga classes.
5. Work towards being published
Ok, getting into slightly more solid goals/tangible goals, I really want to start writing more. And that doesn't just mean write more blog posts each week or make my grocery lists more detailed, but I seriously want to start 'nudging' my way into actually getting published. Did you know I've written a book? It's a nonfiction story - my story - of losing my grandpa, travelling to find my family, running into some serious trouble while abroad, and making all kinds of amazing friends along the way. I'm asking you for advice, friends - let me know if you have any connections/experience with publishing! I did recently write an article for an online business magazine - SDR Huddle - and you can read all about the Power of Conversation here.

6. Trying new foods
I tend to get in 'ruts' of what I eat - same smoothie bowls (though toppings may vary), same lunch, same dinner, same snacks, etc. - and I really want to break out of my shell. I recently went on a tofu kick, and being that I live on my own I basically had to eat it every day once I opened it to avoid it going bad. I love TVP and use that almost daily. And then I found an organic soy yogurt that sounded great. So I thought I was doing good, trying new things, until my skin outwardly (and viciously) retaliated. (Maybe I'll do some kind of post on it soon, but basically my skin can't handle more than one serving of soy product per day.) But a goal of mine is to try more vegan food and create more, and more diverse recipes. I love my Autumn stew recipe but after having it four nights in a row, I like to have options other than oatmeal!
(By far the best vegan food I've ever had: Casa de Luz - Austin, TX)
7. New car
Kind of a need more than a want, honestly. I have had my car since 2008. It's a little blue Chevy, and I've had it since I got my license. It was my first car, and it is my favorite car. Great gas mileage, manual transmission, and has carried me (and all of my crap) between my college in MN and my home in MI more times than I can count. It took me to Kansas City. It took me to the UP. It has about 145K miles on it and two dented doors (which my brother and dad are in the process of fixing - thanks guys!). As much as I love this car, its getting to the point where I'm not willing to drive it more than a few hours away from home. I'm nervous on cold mornings. There are electrical issues in the dashboard and the speakers pop in and out and give me a heart attack when I drive. The seats are stained (as careful as I've been with coffee...) and I honestly worry about it with winter just around the corner. Its been 'time to start thinking about a new car' for the past several months. I would love to stick with Chevy, and would love to just get an exact replica of my car (but new). But because that isn't realistic, I've had my eye on a white Cruze or something similar. We'll see. Still saving...

8. Travel.
Speaking of saving, next year is the year. You guys, I'm going to Italy. Or at least I really want to. I don't care about staying in fancy hotels. I don't care about trying expensive wine. I want to take 7-10 days (same length as my trip to Germany/Greece), and hit some of the major (and minor) cities in Italy to experience the culture and learn the history. Venice, Florence, Tuscany, Rome...I've wanted to go for so long and I think next year could work. Maybe. I have to get my passport renewed, but I'd be aiming for late summer (July/August). I've even been talking to a few friends in Europe about the possibility of meeting them there. We'll see. It's in the very, very early stages of planning but oh, is it ever a goal! Intensely saving (tough, given my car situation and recent move) but I would use AirBNB and watch flights carefully and do all of the things I usually do prior to travelling. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it!
And that's it!

Maybe I'll have new goals in a few years. Or even a few months. They're definitely not the 'family, home, white picket fence' goals I thought I would have at 25, but I'm happier working towards them than towards things I don't truly want. As cliche as it sounds, you have to stay true to yourself, right?

I'd love to hear what your goals are, too. Feel free to share in the comments below, it's always fun to hear what others are working towards as well!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Home: A [Minimalist] Apartment Tour.

Hello friends! I know...it's been almost a week since my last post. Though I will say, a lot of what's been keeping me so busy and preventing me from blogging is going to be shared soon (so stay tuned)! Since my last post, I've gone to a networking event with work, finished decorating/organizing my apartment, attended three new yoga classes (and by 'new' I mean new styles of teaching/class types), experimented with some new recipes, and of course  have actually worked, too. I've been loving every minute of it. I've met so many new people in such a short period of time, tried so many new things, and checked out so many new places since moving down here from the UP just under a month ago. Crazy!

So now that I've had time to settle into my apartment and officially have all of my furniture/decor in place, I thought I'd take you on a little tour. Welcome to my home!
I love the size of this space. There's a ton of room to do yoga, or as my niece and nephews found out when I had my housewarming party, plenty of room to play (or roll around on my yoga wheel haha). It's so open, and not having junk in every nook and cranny seriously puts my mind at ease. There is a coat closet, but I really haven't put much in it (and likely won't). If you read my post on minimalism, you may have seen that I went a little overboard with painting in my old apartment. Blue in the kitchen and living room, bright yellow in the bathroom, and a deep eggplant in the bedroom. This place is staying white. It's clean, its simple, and I don't have to deal with re-painting when I move out. My friend Angela inspired me to adopt some greenery, so I found a few beautiful plants at Trader Joe's and Kroger. They add the pop of color I need.

As far as furniture goes, I've been carefully putting together pieces that I truly love. I got the big, comfy couch two years ago during Art Van's Fourth of July sale (always wait for a sale!) and while it is huge and awkward to move, its also ridiculously cozy and perfect for movie nights. I debated a lighter-colored couch for awhile, but as an aunt with small nieces and nephews and an avid wine drinker, I think the dark is probably better. I'll take a risk with the light throw and white pillow. We'll see how long they last.
The TV cabinet is from Wayfair, where I also found my kitchen table (which you'll see shortly). I got it on sale (of course) with the 'free two-day shipping' option. If you ever shop on Wayfair, be sure to hit the button at the top to see the options offering this delivery method! I used to have a bright yellow TV cabinet (again, see my post on minimalism), but I wanted to create a cohesive, coordinated space and bright yellow just didn't fit in. This one took about 2 hours(ish) to build, and I couldn't be happier. My mom got the bright yellow cabinet, and I think she's pretty happy, too. There's my memory trunk in the corner. The coffee table came from Target, and was extremely easy to put together. While pre-built furniture is convenient, I think there's something to be said for living in a space where you built the furniture yourself and have the memory of doing so. 

I don't have the greatest view, but I do love the noises that come from my balcony. If I leave the doorwall open, I hear everything from neighbors chatting on their patios to sirens to the ho-hum buzz of daily traffic to birds singing. And since I'm five stories up, I don't have to worry about bugs coming in (like I did at my apartment in the woods in St. Ignace). I've been here nearly a month and have had zero spiders. It's been lovely. 
Turning back into the apartment, my dining area is in a sort of hallway from the living room to the kitchen. This is possibly my favorite place in the entire apartment. My mom helped build the table and chairs (as I mentioned - Wayfair) and my dad anchored the mirror to the wall. I've found that mirrors are great at really opening up a space and making it feel bigger than it actually is. Plus it gives me a last-minute chance to check my hair before I run out in the morning (haha). I love that the kitchen light hangs right over the table, and am glad to have something under it so no one smacks their head on it. When my family was helping me to move in, my brother must've hit his head on it two or three times! 
I already showed you around my kitchen in this post, but its really nothing special. Old cabinets, this weird in-counter cutting board thing, a very old oven, fridge, and a dishwasher I'll never use (though it does make a great drying rack). I wish there was a window or something to keep the air flowing, too. I love to cook but sometimes the scent can linger from one evening to the next if I make something particularly strong. Oh well. No apartment is perfect. I can work with this.
Down the small hallway to the bedroom, we have a closet on one side and the bathroom on the other. The closet is so ridiculously huge. Since I'm not a big believer in storing a bunch of stuff you never use, I've come to use this as my laundry/linen closet/box room. Yes - those are boxes for some of my appliances, which made moving incredibly easier. I've debated just throwing them out, but for future moves I think I'll keep them around. My printer lives here until I need it, along with my vacuum and broom. I will say, this apartment has significantly longer carpet than my old one, so I find I vacuum more frequently (and it takes longer). Hmm

Across the hall, the bathroom is small but has plenty of counter and cabinet space. It doesn't have that weird 70's mirrored mini-cabinet above the counter in front of the mirror, which is nice because I don't look like I'm in a funhouse when I'm getting ready. My only complaint is that the fan comes on with the light, and there's no way to turn it off until you turn the light off. I used to listen to music while I got ready for work, or was taking a shower, etc. but you can't hear anything once you turn the light on because the fan is so loud. And more atrocious cabinets. Oh well. Again, no apartment is perfect. I love my shower curtain though, and found it for $16.99 (I believe?) at Marshall's.
Water damage, don't even close. Uff.
Hallway closet
And finally we have the bedroom. I didn't want to put much furniture in it, but I was thrilled to find this little mid-century modern mango wood side table at TJ Maxx. It was imported from India and it smells soooo good. I brought the lamp in from the living room because there's no light in here, but during the day plenty comes in through the window. The cabinet holding my Starbucks mugs is from Target, and following my new "thing" with mirrors, this one came from Target as well. I put my cube organizer in the closet to save space, and I love how convenient it is to just grab what I need in the morning. Not visible in the pictures, my suitcase is tucked back there, begging to be taken on another adventure. Planning some things for next year...
I love this apartment. Taking out of consideration the kitchen cupboards, the lack of lighting, and the bathroom fan, it's great. I couldn't have asked for a better location (10min to work, 12min to two different yoga studios and Trader Joe's, 5min to Meijer, 15min to Whole Foods), and so far everyone I've met is very friendly. There's a gym on the first floor (basic, but it works for now) and a pool outside. And while it is a little more expensive than I'd like, it includes free internet (which I was paying $70 per month before) and I haven't had to buy a gym membership yet. So...I feel like everything balances out.

I hope you've enjoyed seeing this lovely place I get to call home. I may make a few 'tweaks' if I find the perfect wall hanging or another plant (or two, or three...), but for the most part I'm pretty content with how things have come together. It feels like home. Let me know what you think in the comments below, and have a great weekend!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Clarification! and an Autumn Stew Recipe.

Happy Sunday everyone! I hope you've had a great weekend. Mine has been very busy with running errands, visiting family, doing yoga, and of course enjoying lots of yummy food. We celebrated my cousins' birthdays on Saturday and it was the first time I've seen many of them in a few years. (Living in the UP didn't exactly make it easy or convenient to come to family functions over the past 16 months.) So sitting around the table with them, catching up while munching on snacks and drinking wine, was wonderful. And it was sort of eye-opening. You don't realize how much actually changes over time (in both my life and theirs) until you really start to chat. I bring this up because many of them didn't know I was vegan. They knew (I think?) that I was vegetarian, and have been vegan in the past, but I don't assume everyone reads my blog, so really how would they know, with me not having been at any family functions recently? I was thankful that there were some vegan snack options - carrots, celery, pita chips, hummus, nuts, fruit - and of course I had taken a snack to share just in case. But I was offered cheese. I was offered ham/cheese/pickle roll-ups. I was asked what kind of crust I wanted for the veggie pizza. (My family is incredibly kind, but I just don't think people in general understand what 'vegan' actually means.) I've learned to just politely decline and say thank-you anyway. If you're vegan, you probably understand. It seriously is nothing against anyone in your family or friend group: it's a complicated thing to understand if you aren't living the lifestyle!
(A variation of the stew - this one with tomatoes instead of cauliflower!)

So just to clarify; vegan and vegetarian are two completely different things:
Vegan: No animal products whatsoever. No meat, of course (including fish!), but also no dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, eggs/egg whites, whey/casein protein, powdered milk, cream cheese, etc.) or honey. No animal products in make-up/bath & body products.*
Vegetarian: No meat. Some vegetarians still eat fish, but I preferred not to when I was still vegetarian. They may choose to eat eggs, dairy, whey/casein protein, etc. Honey is fine. Makeup/bath & body products aren't always 'vegan'.

*In my experience (and again, this is just me personally, not wanting to stir the pot), vegetarianism is usually seen as more of a 'diet'. Vegan is more of an all-encompassing lifestyle, because it extends beyond food with an emphasis on avoiding animal products in all things. For example, I won't buy drugstore makeup brands because many ingredients are derived from animals and most still test on animals. I use Pacifica makeup and perfume (both animal product-free and cruelty-free, but that's another post for another day) and I don't wear real leather. Again, this is just my observation.

Having been vegan once before, the transition was very easy for me this time. But to those who don't know much about veganism, it can be confusing trying to understand why someone who's vegan won't eat something. For example, certain snacks have animal by-products even if they aren't obvious. Wheat Thins have powdered skim milk in them. Doritos have cheese cultures. Some pretzels have honey in them. Cake and sweets often have eggs, milk, or butter in them. Some sauces have fish paste or powdered milk in them. Even many tomato or gourd-based soups contain milk. (I'm currently bummed about Trader Joe's pumpkin soup having milk in it...boo!) When my family asked me what crust I wanted for the veggie pizza this weekend, I told them up front I probably wouldn't have any - I've tried just pulling the cheese off pizza before, and you guys, it's a headache. And its messy. And it probably makes everyone around you really uncomfortable. They did have salad (I did pick out the cheese for that) and fruit, so it was a light but filling dinner. Sometimes it's easier to just politely decline rather than launch into a full-blown explanation of why you won't eat something. I'm actually planning to do a post soon about how to stick to your way of life (whether its vegan, keto, paleo, gluten-free, etc.) around family and friends who don't follow that lifestyle, and still enjoy get-togethers/outings without feeling awkward. You should never avoid a situation - especially involving the people you love - just because of the food! I spent an entire weekend with my lovely friend Angela, who's keto! A keto and a vegan - and you know what? We had a pretty darn awesome time together.

So today's post is going to be one of my favorite recipes, just to show how easy (and delicious) it can be to cook yummy, fully vegan food. We don't just eat raw veggies and salads!!! Because it's been awhile since my last recipe post, I've decided to share one that is very versatile. (If you do eat meat, for example, you could substitute the TVP for chicken or ground beef.) I make this recipe almost every day for dinner (definitely on a kick right now), and when I don't it's usually only due to lack of ingredients. You could call it a sauté; you could call it a stew. Whatever you call it, it's a perfect dish for autumn, very easy to make and take for lunch, and of course is packed with nutrients. Let's get right into it!
Ingredients:
- 400g (1 medium) zucchini
- 100g (1/2 medium) sweet potato
- 100g cauliflower
- 35g (1/3c) Bob's Mill TVP
- 50g (1/3c) Mushroom Pasta Sauce (or your favorite sauce). Double or triple if you like your stew more "soup-y"
- 80mL (1/3c) low sodium vegetable stock
- Cumin, garlic, and paprika
- 35g spinach (optional)
- 25g (1/4) avocado (to top)
- Trader Joe's 'Everything but the Bagel' seasoning
- Nutritional Yeast (to top)

Directions:
1. Chop the cauliflower and sweet potato, and cook until soft. I would have preferred to roast mine, but due to a non-functioning oven (praying for a replacement soon!) I had to boil mine. It tasted just fine. Have this prepared prior to continuing with the next steps.
2. Chop the zucchini, then add to a frying pan (I coated mine in cooking spray, but you can use oil). Add the garlic and cook until soft.
3. Meanwhile in a small saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a simmer. 
4. Once the stock is simmering, add the TVP flakes, cumin, and paprika. Stir gently, allowing it to soak up all of the vegetable stock. This will happen fairly quickly.
5. While the TVP cooks, add the cooked sweet potato and cauliflower to the zucchini and add any additional spices you'd like (I usually give it another few shakes of garlic, personal preference). 
6. Add the pasta sauce to the TVP and stir until everything is evenly absorbed. It should be the consistency of ground turkey.
7. Add the contents of the TVP saucepan to the zucchini/cauliflower/sweet potato mixture. If you chose to add spinach, chop and add in now. Cover and let cook for 4-5 minutes.
8. That's it! Transfer from the frying pan to a large plate/bowl and add the avocado, Trader Joe's seasoning, and nutritional yeast. 
9. Enjoy! This recipe serves one but you can easily double/triple/etc. the recipe to accommodate more, or to make extra to freeze.

I hope this post was helpful in clarifying some of the differences between veganism and vegetarianism. I know there are so many lifestyles out there and to those who don't follow any one specific kind, it can be really confusing to keep them straight! If you're interested in learning more about being vegan, feel free to reach out or check out my post on being vegan. Let me know if you give my stew a try, and feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions/additions you might have!

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Travel Bug: My First Trip to Germany

I mentioned in my last Travel Bug post that the summer I spent in Dublin was what sparked my desire to travel. It's completely true; I was there for only a short while, but everything I did and saw in those months felt bigger and more transformational than anything I'd ever experienced. These experiences include my first trip to Germany, which is where this post begins. 

Disclaimer: please excuse the quality of the photos in this post - this was before the days of smartphones and I had a brick of a Kodak camera that no amount of editing can fix (haha).
I had never been to Germany prior to my summer internship in Ireland. I'd read about it, dabbled in learning the language, and knew my family had German roots, but I never actively pursued visiting Germany. I liked German: it was an entirely unique language and completely different from the French I'd been studying for years. Gothic, not romantic. Different sentence structures. Different verb forms. A completely new culture with a whole new set of traditions, norms, foods, stories, architecture, history....the list goes on. I was the secretary of my high school's "Deutsch Club" (I did study it for three years) and loved watching German movies, cooking German foods, and celebrating the culture with other members in the club. We even went Christmas caroling (auf Deutsch) around the school before Christmas break!

And then I met Cleo.

Cleo was an exchange student from the northern part of Germany that I met my junior year of high school. She was in my French class and we started sitting together at lunch with a few exchange students from Japan, Korea, and Switzerland. It was so neat being friends with such a diverse group of people, and I loved hearing stories from their home countries over lunch. The better half of our conversations left us in misunderstanding and we were terrible at putting plans together because of language barriers, but we grew very close nevertheless. And then at the end of the school year, after we all went to Prom together, it was time for Cleo and the others to return home. I honestly thought I'd never see her again. We Skyped a few times after I graduated and went to college, but eventually we lost touch. It was devastating to lose such a great friend but I came to terms with having to let go of things and move on. It's part of life, and I did the best I could to embrace that. 

The Easter before I went to Ireland, I got a phone call. I didn't recognize the number at first, but I decided to answer anyway - and thank goodness I did! Cleo was back in Michigan visiting her host family and was wondering if I'd like to meet up for coffee. OF COURSE I WOULD! The voice in my head was screaming, I miss you!!! Unfortunately I went to school in Minnesota, nearly a thousand miles from home, and it obviously it didn't work for me to see her. But as I had already started planning for my internship, it hit me: I was going to Europe that summer. Germany was only a short flight away and I simply had to see her. We didn't have a solid plan, only that we had to make it happen somehow. We re-established contact over the next few months as I prepared for my internship, and the following weeks until our visit just flew by.
We'd decided on the Fourth of July weekend. We would have Friday through Sunday evening together, and Cleo said she had loads of things in mind for us to do during my first trip ever to Germany. It came before I knew it, and I had packed only a small carry-on for the weekend. I boarded the small Aer-Lingus plane and landed in Germany a short while later. When I did get to the airport in Hannover, Cleo met me at the gate. We hugged, we cried, and we just stood there for a moment in disbelief that we were actually seeing each other again. It felt like I was in a dream as we walked to her car, catching up on each others' summers thus far and what was coming in the next few days and months.

Her house wasn't far, only a short drive to her beautiful neighborhood in a town called Langenhagen. We grabbed a quick snack of German brot and a few fruity beers, then headed off to Hannover. The majority of our weekend was spent exploring the city: we walked around downtown, visiting a few different cafes and bars including "Jack the Ripper", where we met a few gentlemen who were watching the Fussball game. The World Cup was going on, so every place we went to was showing the games as they were played. 
Cleo also showed me some of the unique parts of Hannover, such as a "love lock" bridge, a few of the government buildings, some ruins from WWII, and bookshelves randomly placed throughout the city for people to "take a book, leave a book". It was so different from Dublin, and incredibly different from anything in the United States. I was in love. The city, the architecture, the people, the transportation...everything. We went to the Herrenhäuser Gärten, a large garden leading up to the Herrenhäuser Palace, where people now put on events and even weddings. It was modeled after the Garden of Versailles, and having been to both, I can say they were very similar but completely unique. We loved it.
After the Garden, we went to a flea market (Flohmarkt), where I bought a German mug and Fussball scarf, Cleo bought a kilo of cherries, and we both bought brightly colored, extremely comfortable pants from India. We had an amazing time browsing around, seeing all the knick-knacks that people brought to sell. It was a nice day out, and we walked around for what felt like hours. It was like she'd never left Michigan: I half expected the bell ring and for us to 'head to class' like we had years before.
From the Flohmarkt, we went back to her house to have dinner before heading out again. Germany was playing France in the World Cup that evening (the second-to-last match in the entire tournament), and Cleo wanted to take me to a traditional Biergarten to watch the match. When we arrived, I was blown away by the amount of people donning black, red, and yellow gear! Everyone was showing German pride and it was an absolutely electric atmosphere. The game was on a giant screen at one end of the Biergarten, so after Cleo and I ordered our drinks (Tequila shots and Kirsche - cherry - beer) we found a spot and settled in. Germany won (of course) and the entire place erupted. We had a few more drinks before leaving, and the Germans were celebrating hard. Flags were being draped outside cars, people were running around with their faces painted, and drivers even honked at each other in celebration. Even Michigan doesn't get that excited when the Lions win...
We had a relaxing night that evening, watching Wolf of Wallstreet (Cleo and I share a passion for a good Leo flick), having some wine we picked up at Edeka, and just talking. Then the next day it was back up and about, soaking in every minute we had together. We drove into town and went to a Schutzenfest (Shooting Festival) parade, both sporting our new pants from India. It was hot out, and we were amazed to see the heavy costumes worn by those in the parade. I'm fairly certain I would have passed out if I'd been wearing so many layers!
The day passed quickly, and before I knew it Cleo was driving me back to the airport. It was an incredibly short visit, but we were both thankful for the time we had together. And since that trip, Cleo and I have kept in touch - through snail mail, Skype, Facebook, you name it - and I've even been back to visit her a few times (more Travel Bug posts to come!). For never having thought that I would visit Germany, it made an enormous impression on me. After just that first trip, I knew I'd go back. I had to. And I did.

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