The Disaster Effect: why not be hospitable even after the storm ends?

For anyone who doesn’t live on the upper east coast of the US right now, the buzz about Hurricane Sandy is probably some distant disaster. But last night, when the wind was howling so fiercly I thought our windows might shatter, it was very close and very real. There are wires dangling down across our driveway, and school has been cancelled for three days now. Our generator is keeping the food in our refrigerator fresh and our water running, so we’re luckier than most people, but it is amazing to think that we’re living through history right now. NYC hasn’t been shut down like this since the blizzard of ’88. Eighteen eighty-eight.

It’s interesting how we tend to take our luxuries for granted until they’re not available to us anymore. Today, my mother practically squealed with delight when she remembered that the garage doors were connected to the generator. When darkness fell at six and only the kitchen had working lights, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who appreciated the daylight a little more. And without the usual technological distractions to separate us, we spent the evening playing Boggle and Luck of the Draw as a family. It was actually a lot of fun. We usually all watch murder mysteries together on Netflix when my dad gets home from work, but it’s a passive sort of family activity, and I think we all often forget how nice spending time together can be. (In moderation, though. I am getting a little stir-crazy after being trapped in this house with my parents for three days straight without contact to the outside world.)

Natural disasters tend to bring people together, within families and even between nations, but the extra kindness and the helping hands won’t last for long. Sure, today I’m playing board games with my family, today neighbors are lending each other food and transportation,today absences are being exused, today civilians are donating their time to aid the less fortunate. But what about tomorrow? What about next week? What about a month from now? The damage will be repaired, the power lines restrung and the trees cleared, homes restored, businesses running as usual. There will be no family game nights or generous volunteers.

Some people would argue that there’s no need for that sort of thing when daily activities haven’t been disrupted, but I beg to differ. If we can be so charitable and understanding in the face of danger and destruction, why can we not carry that attitude into our normal lives? What’s the excuse to be rude, to make assumptions, to ignore other people’s cries for help? Why is a homeless person less deserving of food than a flood victim? Why not invite your neighbor over for dinner on a night when she does have power?

When I walked into the kitchen this morning, the radio was on. Whoever was speaking insisted that New York was the greatest city, the strongest city in the world, and not only was it going to bounce back from this storm, we were going to “rebuild it even better than before.” I snorted into my coffee at this absurd optimism, but then I stopped to wonder: why not? Why not build a brighter tomorrow? I, for one, intend to take a few extra steps every day to be a little kinder, a little more helpful, a little more understanding, without expecting anything in return. Perhaps I can’t change human nature, but what harm could a little extended storm-hospitality do?

The Happiness Project and staying true to me

The general population is of the opinion that the only people who read “self-help” books are pathetic, weak-minded individuals who are too lazy or helpless to figure their own lives out. I suppose I understand the mentality to a degree: why follow someone else’s advice on how to live your life? But to be honest, I couldn’t disagree more. I find self-help books, whether written by someone with a PhD in psychology or just by your average joe, are treasure-troves of insight, relatable anecdotes, and nuggets of advice to be the best you you can be. Maybe it’s just because I find psychology fascinating, or maybe it’s due to my ardent quest for happiness, but whenever I’m in a book store, I always linger a while in the self-help section to broaden my perspective on the art of living.

I’m currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and even I am surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed it. Rubin could not be a more different person from myself–she’s largely analytical, meticulous and structured where I’m more free-spirited, artistic and adventurous–but her experiences and philosophies have pinpointed exactly what I’ve been searching for. I knew these things, but I couldn’t quite find the words for them or the way to put them in action: The Happiness Project has touched upon each of these values and presented methods for tackling mental and physical obstacles. Though I can scarcely relate to Rubin’s unique problems and experiences, the book is written in such a way that the overarching message reaches me all the same.

In the chapter I just finished, Rubin discusses her challenge to have fun, and to have the kind of fun that was specific to her interests. This theme tied in so nicely with my last blog post that I found myself pausing to mull over the topic in detail. I asked myself the question: why did I start blogging? It wasn’t an easy answer. I started blogging when I was in 8th grade by spewing my heart onto a blogger page that no one read. Then, I discovered the world of fashion blogging, craft blogging, food blogging, and alas, I was inspired. I was going to be the next Elsie Larson. But it became quickly apparent that I was not the DIY-project type, and I got lazy with my outfit posts, and my one great stroke of recipe inspiration involved adding a bit of Nutella to a chocolate pudding recipe. Which is how I got here, to this new blog, on a new host, with new intentions. But I still feel like this whole thing is a little contrived. So why am I still blogging?

I looked over all the posts on this blog, and I realized that the ones that I was most proud of, the ones that seemed most “me,” if you will, are those long text posts about my personal philosophies, or nutrition, or advice. So why am I blogging, really? I’m blogging because I want to reach out to people. I want to share my experiences, my acquired wisdom. I want to help people. I want to inspire people. I want to be a leader.  And maybe those posts are the ones people read the least, maybe if I kept blogging about fashion I’d have a lot more followers, but there is something so fulfilling about being true to yourself.

The person in me is a budding inspirational speaker, life-coach, motivational author. So I’m going to try to channel me, exactly as I am, onto this blog. Will it probably turn into a lot of personal anecdotes and long-winded speeches? Maybe. If you don’t like that sort of thing, you might want to leave now. Or maybe you should stick around and broaden your own horizons. There’s no better way to find happiness than to challenge everything you thought you knew.

On time management and finding your true passion

Oh dear, it’s been a while. I’m terribly sorry, everyone. I guess I have a hard time sticking to blog schedules, or perhaps schedules in general. Life has been delightfully hectic, and I’ve had to let some things fall into the background to get through the rest of it.

I’ve always been a bit of a social butterfly… and an activity butterfly… and a project butterfly. Basically, I’ve been jam-packing my schedule since I was eleven. I am always dashing from one activity to the next. I’m always in the middle of a book, a painting, a novel, a homework assignment, a meal, and in the end, I do a whole lot of things half-ass. This year, I decided to take a step back and assess what was wrong about my state of being.

As I looked at my life retrospectively, I realized that I’ve participated in a ton of activities–and I’ve quit almost  all of them. I did ballet, tap, figure skating, soccer, horseback riding, and tennis; I attempted to write no less than three novels and couldn’t seem to get past a 25K word-count; I took guitar lessons, piano lessons, pottery classes; I started an Etsy shop of my very own handmade items, and my sole customer was my dad. But you know what I’ve always known? It’s better to quit than to waste your time.

When I started to fake stomachaches in order to get out of tap class, I knew it was time to quit. When I only practiced guitar because my teacher would know I hadn’t, I realized I was wasting my parents’ money. When I wondered why other people were advancing faster than I was, I figured out that it was because this is what they did with almost all of their free time; they loved it that much. My little brother has been taking piano lessons for a year, and he really wants to learn to play, but he’s constantly frustrated that he isn’t advancing. I told him the only way to be a better pianist is to get off the computer, turn off the TV, and play the piano. Every day. And if it was something he dreaded, something that seemed like a chore, he probably shouldn’t be playing piano at all.

It can be bittersweet, letting go of something like that, especially if it’s been a part of your life for a long time. But if you can’t set aside time to develop a skill, clean the house, read a book, exercise, learn to cook–anything!–you will never be able to do it. You can’t, and shouldn’t, continue to do things half-ass.

These past several weeks, I’ve tried to apply this bit of wisdom to my own life. I’ve set aside time each day to paint, read and run, as well as do homework and do some organizing. As a result, I actually feel less busy, but more productive! By allotting time for all the activities I can never seem to get done, I’ve made it incredibly simple to pursue these passions, and almost impossible to waste time. A lot of the panic that I associated with busyness turned out to be anxiety due to unfinished work and projects. Making time for the important things cleared these feelings of inadequacy and eliminated a lot of stress and disappointment from my life, and it certainly helped my focus on my goals!

I have a running list of TV shows I’ve been told I simply have to watch, but in all honestly, I will probably never watch them. I’d rather be adventuring through the woods or learning to play music. We all have twenty-four hours in a day. How will you use yours?

Fall Favorites: Apple Cider Donuts (and the war against pumpkin everything)

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As soon as October hits, the internet blows up with a very, very diverse variety of autumn recipes. Pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin chocolate, pumpkin spice quinoa, pumpkin wontons (yes, really), ham with–you guessed it–pumpkin spice glaze. Pumpkin ice cream. Pumpkin muffins. If aliens visited our planet right about now, they would assume the only plant that thrives in the autumn is pumpkin. I mean, really. I don’t even like pumpkin that much, and any craving for it has been squashed by the pumpkin-spice frenzy that has consumed our world.

So let’s talk about some fabulous fall treats that are not pumpkin-related. Can I just write an ode to the apple cider donut? Apple cider is good, donuts are good, cinnamon sugar is good, but when they’re all combined into this one delicious treat, the heavens sing their praise. Luckily, there are plenty of places around here to enjoy these wonderful, homemade donuts, including our local apple orchard which I visited this morning. YUM.

My favorite way to add some fall flavor to my favorite foods is by adding spices. Cinnamon and nutmeg are what make apple pies and pumpkin spice lattes so delicious, so why not add them to other things, too? I often add a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg to my hot chocolate or stir it into my oatmeal. You can also get creative with brown sugar and maple syrup in your everyday dishes. Trust me, it’s these things that make all those pumpkin recipes so delicious, not the actual pumpkin. Pumpkin is a squash. It’s really not that tasty, I promise you.

What are your favorite fall recipes?