Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why Travel?




As I write this, I’m nursing a major travel hangover. Symptoms of a travel hangover include fatigue, dehydration, a suitcase that needs unpacking, an angry liver, dirty laundry, an empty wallet, a dead camera battery, a distended gut from regrettable but delicious food choices, and a lack of desire to move from the couch.

Several times, I have been asked why I travel. After all, it’s expensive, requires a lot of planning, physically and mentally taxing, and I always return fat and broke. Yet, I live to see new places. My pink suitcase is perpetually on our bedroom floor and as soon as I return from one trip, I’m dreaming of the next.

To me, asking “Why travel?” is like asking, why breathe? Why think? Why exist? We are blessed to live in a big, beautiful world rich in diverse customs, beliefs and ways of living. To deny yourself exposure to other places is to deny yourself an essential part of life. So much can be learned simply from seeing how others live.

Life is about experiences. Of course, you can have plenty of great experiences in your own town. But remaining in the same place means the same experiences day after day, year after year. This results in boredom, monotony, and my least favorite thing of all: closed-mindedness. Ever met people who have lived in- and remained in- one place their entire lives? Scary, isn’t it? They tend think the way they view the world is the only way. It’s a giant example of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I can honestly say I have never met a closed- minded traveler, but I have seen plenty of people who have never left their own backyards.

I live in the Northwest. Therefore, I’m fortunate enough to know what four real seasons feel like. I know how fresh snowflakes feel against my cheeks and how exhausting the dry heat of summer is. I have smelled clean mountain air, swam in fresh water lakes, and endured mosquito bites and bee stings. I have tasted fresh-caught salmon and freshly picked huckleberries. The Northwest is a beautiful and amazing place to live and I am grateful for all of these experiences… except, of course, the ones involving insects.

But because I am a traveler, I have also seen the breathtaking sunsets from both coasts of Mexico. I’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building as well as the Eiffel Tower. I have seen the glittering lights of the Las Vegas Strip at night, climbed the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza, and eaten clam chowder at the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I have seen the real Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris, Big Ben in London, and the beautiful castles in Germany. I’ve enjoyed the beautiful fireworks displays at two Disney parks and ridden Splash Mountain. I’ve seen a real Broadway play in Manhattan and been moved to tears by the incredible beauty of Isla Mujeres, Mexico. I have felt hot, white sand beneath my feet and cool ocean breezes against my cheeks. I’ve met happy people, sad people, rich people and poor people from all over the world who have touched my life and made me aspire to better myself as well as grateful for the things I already have.

Last September, my husband and I were in Riviera Maya, Mexico for his birthday when we decided to spend a day on Isla Mujeres. Rather than go through a tour company, we decided to take the bus like the locals. We’ve been in that area so much, we practically are locals. While waiting at the bus stop, a cab driver pulled up and offered us a very competitive rate (one of the many awesome things about Mexico).
The cab driver took us through the actual city of Cancun on our way to catch the ferry to the island. We saw where the locals ate, lived, played and raised their families. We even drove past a small Catholic school. All the children were out playing in adorable matching uniforms. They all stared at the gringos in the taxi as we passed them. I remember thinking how amazing it was that we were seeing so many sights that tourists never see. You can’t have that kind of adventure in your own backyard.

Would I have still had a good life so far had I not had those experiences? Of course. Would I be the same person I am today? Definitely not. I travel because it fulfills me, completes me and amazes me at the same time. It’s more than a hobby. To me, it’s an essential part of life.



Friday, August 21, 2009

The Pregnant Pause


It’s great to re-discover the things that make your city wonderful. The best way to do that, I’ve found, is through the eyes of someone visiting for the first time.

I’ve lived in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho for almost six years. Finally, after all this time, Sydney was able to visit me here. Due to the fact that the woman is busier than God and spent five years producing a fashion show held in August, I was always the one to head to Seattle to visit her. But finally, she moved on from the show, finished school, came back form her honeymoon, and booked her flight to my neck of the woods.

We had some pretty awesome plans for our weekend together. I was going to take her to my favorite Mediterranean restaurant on Friday night, The White House Grill, where they use more garlic than should be humanly possible. Saturday we’d go to Art on the Green, the annual art festival held at the park downtown, and then I’d show her all my favorite wine bars and get the details of the London honeymoon she just returned from. I booked us a Sunday Brunch lake cruise the following morning, and then we’d do her favorite thing until she flew home: shopping.

Sydney and I have never spent time together without some sort of unexpected adventure occurring. I should’ve known better than to think our weekend in Idaho would be any different.

I picked her up on Friday and, as planned, we stuffed ourselves full of Greek food. Although I had seen her weeks before when I had performed her wedding ceremony, there was much to catch up on. She’d just spent two weeks touring London, I had scored a new writing gig, and as always, we had gossip to share.
On Saturday, we were off to Art on the Green as planned. It was incredibly crowded and ridiculously hot outside, but we had fun browsing through the crafts and finding gifts. Syd also discovered a new love: Hawaiian Shaved Ice. She couldn’t get enough.

When we’d had all of the intense heat we could take, we decided to head back to my house to get ready for our night out. But first, we made a little stop at Walgreens. Sydney wanted to get a pregnancy test- just for reassurance. After all, she had just returned from a lengthy honeymoon and said she’d feel better about drinking once she “passed” the test. I understood completely. Who hasn’t peed on a stick for peace of mind once or twice in their life?

We decided on the EPT, because you can’t get any clearer than “Pregnant” or “Not Pregnant.” Then we went to my house, Sydney did her thing, and we discussed our evening plans.

“Go check my stick, Jess,” Sydney commanded. “A martini is starting to sound really good!”
I went into the bathroom, picked up the stick, and laughed. It was a picture of an open book. Somehow, there had been an error. Fortunately, we’d purchased the EPT value pack with two tests. I crammed Sydney full of water, and she did her thing again.

While we waited, Sydney pulled up a YouTube video of her husband’s bachelor party, which he and his friends called Man Day. They had taken a tour of the Seattle Seahawk training facility, played some sports, and of course, had some beer. I was reminded, again, of what a great guy Jeff is and how perfect he is for my Sydney.

Then the timer I had set beeped (we weren’t taking any more chances).
“Here it goes,” I said to Sydney and Mr. W, who were waiting on the couch. “Let’s go make sure we can drink tonight!”

I walked into the bathroom and picked up the test. And then time stood completely still as I read the word, clear as day: Pregnant.

My heart stopped beating as I stood there in complete shock, holding Sydney’s future in my hand, reading the word over and over. My mind and body refused to work. I was paralyzed. It occurred to me that I was literally the only person in the world who knew this secret.

Then Sydney’s worried voice brought me back to reality: “Jessica? Jessica! What’s with the pause? Get out here!”

The walk down the hallway back to the living room was the longest of my life. Tears flooded my eyes. I couldn’t speak. Without a word, I handed her the test.

“Oh my God! Oh my God!” Sydney was shrieking. All at once, I could move again. I raced over to my purse, took out money, and handed it to Mr. W.

“Walgreens! Now!” I yelled. “We need another test!”

Mr. W sprang into action like a champ, heading for the door as Sydney and I stared at each other in shock, and finally, began to laugh.

“I hope it’s a girl!”
“Of course it will be a girl.”
“Holy shit!”
“Sydney, you finally come visit me… and you’re knocked up!”
“I know! Holy shit!”

Before we knew it, Mr. W had returned with another set of tests. They only confirmed what we already knew: we were having a baby.

When the shock wore off, we finally headed to dinner, where I had the martini Sydney couldn’t- hey, after that, I needed a drink! We toasted with water, had a delicious dinner, and told the live jazz band our news. The band played Sydney a special song, and there were more tears.

Turns out, Sydney and Jeff had decided to “let nature take its course,” thinking it would take at least a few months. It doesn’t really surprise me that it didn’t. When Sydney says she is going to do something, she does it and she does it now. Even the girl’s eggs are motivated.

Instead of drinking at wine bars wearing cute dresses, we found ourselves on my couch in pajamas eating ice cream and watching Knocked Up. It was the kind of Saturday night that would’ve bored us to tears five years ago, but neither of us could’ve asked for a more amazing day.

We did our brunch cruise on Sunday and we did shop- for baby books. Some women immediately purchase What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Not Sydney. She went right for The Little Black Book of Hollywood Baby Secrets. We also got a book for Jeff, which we’d later wrap with the positive tests and a little pink outfit that said “I Love Daddy.”

Sydney didn’t fly out of Spokane until 7:40 PM. I am certain that Sunday was the longest day of her life, but she was a trooper, walking around the park with me and having appetizers and “mocktails” at happy hour. Finally, I took her to the airport and made her promise to call me when she’d broken the news to Jeff.

I have been blessed with many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities in the 27 years I’ve been alive. I have met some of my favorite celebrities, traveled to amazing places, and experienced things some never will. I can honestly say that nothing compared to being a part of yet another milestone in my best friend’s life. I’m so grateful I got to be there when it happened, because a phone call wouldn’t have been the same.

It’s still very surreal. I’m just getting over the emotional high from her wedding, and now I’m going to watch her become a mother. I know she and Jeff are ready. This is the next step in life they both wanted to take. My friend who used to take me out to Seattle nightclubs until 2 am is now going to be doing 2 am feedings. That little honeymoon baby is going to be loved, cherished, and spoiled by her godmother Jessica Lee. The test didn’t give us the reassurance we were hoping for. It gave us so much more. While it wasn’t at all what we expected, Sydney and I agree that her first visit to Idaho was completely unforgettable.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Re-train Your Brain (you are what you think!)

We’ve all heard the expression “You are what you eat.” Now, studies indicate that a more accurate statement may be “You are what you think.”
I’ve been a huge advocate of positive thinking for years. Not only is it extremely helpful when making goals and striving for success, it’s just more fun. I always admired the positive people in my life and spent years re-training my brain so that I, too, could be one of them. Who doesn’t want to be one of those people who are always smiling and can laugh at their own misfortune?
When I finally reached a point where I could be considered a positive person, I noticed something. Not only was I happier, I was healthier, too… both physically and mentally. I got sick less often, I lost weight with less effort, I wasn’t constantly fatigued like I used to be, and I just seemed luckier in general. Of course, everyone in my life thought I was crazy for thinking my positive outlook had anything to do with it.
Actually, I might not be so crazy after all. New studies, especially studies by Dr. Bruce Lipton, indicate what many who know The Law of Attraction have believed for years: our thoughts can actually change our DNA.
Traditionally, it was believed that biology was controlled by molecules. Turns out, our cells are a lot smarter than we thought. They are controlled by signals coming from our environment, thoughts, and food we eat. They adjust their behavior accordingly. This doesn’t mean we can all become supermodels overnight just by thinking it (I know, that’s unfortunate). It does mean that things you think are beyond your control are not necessarily so.
As if that’s not reason enough to become an optimist, a recent scientific study indicates that a positive attitude can actually help protect your heart from disease. The study found that out of 97,000 women between 50 and 79, the optimists were less likely to die during the eight year study period, less likely to show symptoms of coronary heart disease, and less likely to die of heart complications.
Looking at our society in general, it’s clear that the positive people tend to be the people who succeed. When rich, famous, insanely successful people are interviewed, they never say they never believed in themselves, that their success was by chance, or that they didn’t think they were worth it. Everything that happened, they’ve made happen. And each of us has the same ability.
This is not to say that the world is a perfect place where things never go wrong. Alarms don’t go off. Tires go flat. Money runs out. People mistreat us. But that doesn’t mean we have to dwell on them, think we are destined for failure, or become one of those negative assholes no one likes to be around. No one is happy all the time (at least, not without copious amounts of drugs, which eventually run out, I’m sure). But you can be genuinely happy most of the time.
Everyone is different. Some people can re-train their brains quickly. For some, it takes years. For some, it never happens… because they refuse to make it happen. Since everyone is different, there are many different ways you can help yourself become an optimist. Here are the tips that worked for me:

1) Train yourself to wake up every single morning thinking it will be a great day. There’s a reason for the expression “he/she woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” If you wake up pissy, you’re going to be pissy all day. You’ll dwell on all the bad things that happen and you won’t even notice the good things. That sucks. Don’t have those days (at least, not all the time).

2) Exercise. It releases endorphins. Endorphins are awesome. You’ll feel like you did something good for yourself- because you did. Also, it keeps you healthy. Healthy people are happy. You’ll begin to appreciate your body not for its size but for what it can do.

3) Allow yourself to be pissed off when something bad happens. Like I said, you’re not going to feel amazing all the time. The trick is not to dwell on it. Get mad, rant, do what you need to do… and then, let it go. It’s easier said than done, but with enough practice, it really does work. Holding onto anger isn’t healthy. Wishing bad things on others is like drinking poison and expecting them to die. Let it go… after a good rant and maybe a baseball bat fantasy (just one!).

4) Be grateful for what you do have. Sometimes I look through magazines or watch TV and get bummed out that I don’t have a mansion and I’m not a size 2. Then I realize I’m being a total tool. I have a very nice house, a husband who loves me unconditionally, a family I love, and awesome, genuine friends. I also have a body that was once a size 12 and is now a 6. I made all those things happen.
I read somewhere that statistically I am richer than 90% of the world simply because I have a roof over my head and enough food to get me through the day. I think about that when I want to be sad that I can’t go out and spend $10,000 on a new wardrobe. Be grateful. You really do have more than you think… and the more grateful you are, the more you receive. For real. Try it.

5) Realize you deserve good things. Why do people, especially women, feel guilty when people do nice things for them? You deserve help when you need it. You deserve to go after your dreams. You deserve to be healthy by exercising and eating things that are good for you. You deserve love. I have never had a problem with feeling deserving, as anyone who knows me will tell you, but I feel the guilt sometimes, too, before I stop myself. Enjoy the good things you receive, or they won’t be as good.

6) Compliment others. Mean it. It will make their day and you’ll feel pretty damn good yourself. Accept compliments.

7) Believe you’ll succeed. Again, you don’t see successful people saying “I always thought I’d be a loser all my life.” If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. I know that totally sounds like an after-school special on crack, but I can attest to its authenticity. If you find it hard, fake it ‘till you make it. This also works.

8) Realize that you alone control your own happiness. No one else has the power to make, or ruin, your day unless you let them. I admit I still let others ruin moments for me, but never an entire day. Don’t give other people that kind of power.

Studies continue on just how much our thoughts create the people we are. But it’s clear that all those things once dubbed “New Age” aren’t necessarily so crazy after all. I, for one, am excited to see what will be learned from current and future studies on this subject. I have a feeling we’ve only scratched the surface of what could be truly amazing breakthroughs.
Bad news, though: you can no longer blame your genes on your crappy outlook on life. Stop making excuses and get happy. It could save your life… or at least make it awesome.

Sources: http://www.brucelipton.com
http://laurieboris.pnn.com
http://www.articlesbase.com/spirituality-articles/your-thoughts-can-change-your-dna-258420.html

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Steps and the Stories


Every writer knows that he or she is just a little bit different than everyone else. For the most part, writers weren’t the popular kids in high school. They weren’t voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” They weren’t on the prom court. They were, for the most part, forgotten and ignored, quiet, blending in with the crowd. They weren’t sure quite how to fit in. They may have said the wrong things at the wrong times and been a bit socially awkward.

Then, one day, their thoughts, hopes, dreams and passions explode onto the pages of a magazine…. or their first novel… or a poem… and suddenly, the world finally recognizes them for the extraordinary people they’ve been all along. The world sits up and takes notice. And finally, the writer gets their moment in the sun- their time to shine. If the writer has the desire and perseverance, that moment will eventually come for every one of them.

I’ve loved to write for as long as I’ve known how. I love to tell stories- my stories, fiction stories, other people’s stories. My high school English teacher- you know, the tall, handsome, brooding man who makes the jailbait swoon and pretend they are, like, so deep- used to say, “We all have stories. Stories are all we have.”

The older I got, the more that made sense. What is life, but a series of moments? At the end of our lives, all we will have are the stories of the people we were and the things we did. Each of us has them, and they’re all different. People love to experience the stories, but sometimes it’s just as much fun to tell them, isn’t it? And that’s what I want to do with my life. I want to tell stories. Some may think that’s insignificant. I happen to think it’s awesome.

But it wasn’t until this year that I actually decided to tell every voice inside my head to shut the hell up so I could actually live this dream. Just like every writer knows he or she is different, every writer also hears a lot of negativity.
“Writers don’t make any money.”
“If you want to write, that’s fine, but you’d better have a job that pays the bills.”
“Writing isn’t a real job.”

Who hasn’t heard those gems? I heard them all, and more. For eight years after I left high school, I was confused. I knew I wanted to write. I also knew, deep down, mainstream journalism wasn’t for me. I’m too stubborn for the agenda-setting, depressing, spoon-fed news stories you see on TV and read in the almost extinct newspapers. So after college, I took some sales jobs because I believed I could make good money. I was lured in by the promise of high commissions and residual income.

Of course, I learned the hard lesson every adult learns eventually: when you’re not passionate about something, you won’t be happy doing it. I’m not going to lie- I like having money, so the thought of being poor made me re-think being a writer. I’m actually not an overly materialistic person (I know, I'm surprised too). I just like not having to worry if I have money for food or bills. I like being able to have nights out with my girls and dates with my husband without worrying about the tab. But most of all- I like money for traveling. Next to my husband, travel is the great love of my life. Traveling provides us with new experiences- new stories. And it all comes down to the stories.

Since last summer, when I decided to pursue my dream of writing as a career, I’ve felt as if my life has been a series of small steps. This is an entirely new experience for me- steps in the right direction. I took online writing classes through a local college- step. I sent out my first few rounds of queries. Step. I got a blog. Step. I began writing travel articles. Step. I joined PNN. Step. Best of all, each step feels like a victory, be it small or large. I have never worked so hard for something in my entire life, because nothing has ever mattered this much. I don’t just want to be a writer- I have to be a writer. I simply won’t be happy doing anything else.

I don’t remember how I heard about the Willamette Writers’ Conference in Portland. I signed up months ago and suddenly, it was here. I arrived at the Sheraton this afternoon wondering where the year had gone and how this date had arrived so quickly. This is yet another step for me, but it’s a pretty big one. The next three days will be full of classes, guest speakers, pitching, and networking. This is the real deal.

I’m excited and terrified at the same time. There’s a part of me who still can’t believe I’m actually doing this. There’s a part of me who still thinks I’m crazy for even trying. After all, I’m the girl who hid behind the piano rather than perform her first recital for others (in my defense, I was five). I’m the girl who quit softball when it got hard. I’m the girl who never took risks- who never quite fit in- who stayed silent rather than face others challenging her ideas.

But here I am, baring my soul to the world like it’s nothing. Here I am, realizing that taking risks is a part of life. There’s that part of me, the one who thinks I’m crazy, who fears that any minute now one of the successful authors is going to come up to my room and take my name tag away because they’ll realize that I’m not one of them… that inside I’m just a scared little girl who has absolutely no idea what the hell she’s doing.

Fortunately, the Sheraton has 24 hour room service and they’ll bring wine right to your room, like magic, so I’ve been able to shut that inner voice up pretty well tonight with some deep red syrah.
I could be wrong, but it really feels like every step I take gets me a little closer to that moment in the sun. I don’t know what the next few days have in store for me, but I do know, deep down, that I am meant to be here. Stories may be all we have, but it’s the writer who really turns that story into something worth telling.

 
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