Today marks the 1 year anniversary of my original departure from Santa Barbara. I left with a car packed of my belongings to set out on a journey, “final” destination unknown. I didn’t realize the adventure ahead, and am incredibly grateful for embracing each moment, not planning ahead like I normally would, and for gently disregarding the concerns others had for me. All I know is I followed my heart, envisioned what I thought would be the perfect career for me, and found myself in Nashville. Thank you to all who supported my decision, who continue to love and care for me every step of the way.

This year flew by; so much has happened. I’m thrilled to wake up each morning here, working for a cause I whole-heartedly support, meeting people passionate about life and this community.

I’ve had the pleasure of hosting six people this past month, shared the hidden treasures of this city with them as spring sprung into action, leaves and blossoms sprouted, and the grass turned green yet again. There is so much to enjoy right now!

Today also marks the first day of a seven day cleanse I’m doing with a friend; we’re utilizing the buddy system to make it through the week. Though I’ve never been an advocate of a restricted diet, I’m really looking forward to how I’ll feel after this week. It’s been a rough month for me, hosting people. In Santa Barbara if people came to visit, we’d go to Sojourner’s, Natural Café, or a sushi restaurant. Here, in the south, we go to places like Monell’s and out for barbecue. Needless to say, southern cuisine is a bit heavier than the food of a coastal town in California, and my body has felt it this past month. My runs have been slower and sluggish, and my rock climbing endurance has decreased. I’ll keep you all up to date about how I feel after this week, but right now, I’m hungry, and oddly satisfied all at the same time. I feel focused, energized, and surprisingly like I can pull this off. The last alternate diet thing I tried was a raw food diet. My roommate and I lasted one day, mostly because I don’t feel like I was educated enough about what to eat. Maybe down the road it’ll be worth trying again, but we’ll see how this one turns out first!

Thanks again for continuing along this journey with me. There really is a lot of beauty in this world; I can only hope to not overlook the smallest bits of them.

Hopefully I’ll dedicate more time to this blog in the coming days, to really share with you these incredible experiences.

Eight. Flip it sideways, it basically becomes infinity. Infinity. What a crazy concept. No beginning and no end; for most of us I’m sure this is incredibly difficult to grasp. How can there be no beginning to something? Everything has a start and an end. “I love you infinitely.” You have to remember when that love first began. It hasn’t always been…or has it? A love for a child, for instance. You loved them before they existed, before you even realized they would come into being.

Whatever your beliefs are, philosophically, religiously, or otherwise, there is this notion that we are as we were intended to be. Call it destiny, call it a “God thing”, call it karma. We are who we are…infinitely.

Defined, infinitely means “impossible to measure or calculate”. That’s what we’re told our whole lives. We’re such complex beings, impossible to categorize, put in a box, define, interpret. It’s what makes us all interesting, some more so than others…but then again, even that’s open to interpretation. To you, my mind, my story, how I choose to live my life, is fascinating. To others, it’s absolutely no big deal; I’m just another person walking this earth for the time I’m given.

To me, I appreciate my time here. To me, it’s a gift.  I want every moment of every day to be spent taking advantage of this gift. Of course, I forget this sometimes…a lot of times. But when I remember, I’m aware – aware of who I am, what my words and actions mean for myself and others, and of my surroundings. However, I’ve spent a lot of time becoming and harnessing the power of self-awareness. I don’t expect to be that aware of someone else’s self-awareness, nor do I expect them to know me to that same level.

But then I get shaken. We’re complex, not meant to be understood, let alone be put into words on a page.

Last night my friend read my Myers Briggs personality type out loud to me. And no longer was I a profound, complex being. I was merely one of sixteen personality types that exist. One of Sixteen. I’ve read the reports before, because quite frankly, I love personality “tests”. But I’ve never had someone read my own personality type out loud to me until that moment.

And I felt exposed….vulnerable.

One of the traits of my type is that I’m “quiet and reserved; difficult to get to know well”. And it’s absolutely true. (This whole blogging of the 28 things was a challenge I set forth for myself knowing it would be one of the most difficult I’d ever face.) But that’s not the only thing written about my type. There are other things, things I’ve kept to myself, not shared with other people…and it was all there. Published on the World Wide Web for all to see.

Granted, I understand that there is more to me than that. Myers Briggs doesn’t say that one of my favorite things in the world is breathing early morning air right after a rainstorm, or that friends have found me in a crowded restaurant or bar by following my laugh. However, it gives a clear and accurate portrait of the traits it took me so long to realize about myself.

So what do I do with this information? I am who I am…I’ve taken the test three times in my life…once when I was a pre-teen, once my freshman year of college, and once during my senior year of college…and it was all the same result. I will likely attempt to do things, like this blog series, to step out of my “comfort zone”, but ultimately I’m really happy with who I am, how I came to be, and who I will develop into.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts…do you take it as is and continue on? Or do you take it as an opportunity to try and shake things up a bit?

So many thoughts swirling in my head. So many times I started a post, and just didn’t finish it. And why? Mostly because I was afraid I wasn’t quite ready to publicly broadcast that part of my life. Or afraid of what people might think. Afraid of judgment, afraid of hurting someone in the process…just afraid. But I know I’m not alone in this. I know that fear holds the power in so many lives. But a life lived in fear is not a life I want to live. And this is my thing for today, which seems to be a fitting topic, as we watch our nation outcry about the senseless tragedy in Newtown, CT.

As I watch post after post in my social media feeds, the most frequent themes range from shock and disbelief to sadness and mourning to anger and hatred. No one can seem to believe that someone would walk into an elementary school and mercilessly shoot at children mostly under the age of 10. We’re sad because we know that there’s great loss in this. And then we’re angry because we need something or someone to blame. But why are we afraid to address the real issue at hand? We’ve seen these shootings, stabbings, and beatings before, sometimes en masse and sometimes in single episodes. They force us to talk out against bullying. We say that things should be different, that we need to help those who show suffering before things like this happen. We say it…but rarely do we act upon it.

WHY??!! 

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll speak for myself. And you all can agree with me or raise arguments against what I have to say. But this is from personal experience, and you can’t really argue with that, so here it is.

Fear guides so many of my decisions.

I’m afraid to give money to a homeless man because I don’t want him spending it on booze or drugs. But then I’m afraid to engage him in conversation because I don’t want to be late to a lunch date. Or afraid to give him information about the nearby services available to him because I don’t want him thinking I think he needs help. So then I ignore him or maybe give a glancing smile as I walk quickly by.

I’m afraid to tell someone I just met that I really like who they are and that I’d like to spend more time with them…tomorrow. I’m afraid that if I do, they will think I’m crazy or have no friends or am desperate for companionship. I’m afraid of this judgment. And I shouldn’t be. I know that some people will understand me and who I am, and others will not. I know that not everyone is comfortable with the level of friendship I tend to bring to the table, hell, sometimes I’m not even comfortable with that. I’m afraid to lead people on, especially guys, by showing too much of a vested interest. But I’m a passionate person. I give everything my all, especially my friendships.

I’m afraid of commitment. Well, other than to friendships and now to this job. I don’t see myself buying a house…ever…because I don’t want to be tied to one place. I’m afraid of missing out on the incredible experiences that exist in another land. Unfortunately, that fear of commitment exists in “romantic” relationships. And that’s a whole other discussion where my fingers don’t possess enough strength to tell the whole story. But I will say I’m afraid to start anything here in Nashville because I’m afraid of hurting them when I move on to another city. Friendships carry on no matter the distance. Not sure relationships can survive that.

And those are just a few small things. There are also things that are justified, like being afraid of being followed if I walk alone at night (because I’ve been followed before) or of germs in a public bathroom.

But I think the one I’m having the most trouble with is my fear of judgment, as mentioned above, specifically as I try and meet people in each new city where I’m going to live. And honestly, I’m struggling right now to finish this post for that very reason. But I’m going to because I think it’s important. It’s something I’ve learned and I really do not want to live a life in fear.

We are all examples for the children of this world. If we can show them that we’re not afraid of each other as adults, then maybe they wouldn’t show so much fear among their peers. Maybe they’d be brave and sit with the kid who usually sits alone at lunch, or stand up to the kid who’s known as a bully, or be confident of the fact that they’re the smart one in class. Maybe then we won’t have these school shootings. It’s not about the guns, it’s about the person holding the gun. What got them to that point? Was it years of neglect? Of people around him being afraid to say something, to tell him he needed help? Of a parent afraid to admit their child wasn’t perfect? And I’m not saying this to be offensive or to start something controversial. I just want to make us all think about someone we’ve been afraid of and then take steps to overcome that fear.

I was on a walk the other day and came across a ragged-looking man sitting on a wall, staring out at the street, deep in thought, tears in his eyes. I could have ignored the fact that I saw him, the tears, the look of sadness, because I was afraid of what I might hear. But I sucked it up, stopped, and asked if he worried about the lunch he just ate. He looked up, a bit bewildered, then gave a small chuckle and said, “Thanks for making me laugh.” I asked what he was really thinking about and he proceeded to say that he went “home” to his room at a motel to find his stuff outside the door. He couldn’t pay his rent, not until the end of the month, and didn’t know what to do. We talked for a while, I listened to his story, asked about what he could do next, and what, if he could, he’d rather do, and then we parted with a hug. I didn’t need to give him money. I didn’t need to provide answers or fix his problems. He wasn’t going to follow me home or steal my phone. He just didn’t have anyone to talk to about his situation in that moment. But then I was there. And I stood up to my fear and did my part to make sure he had at least one smile in his day.

So what if we all did that? What if we stop fearing judgment, stop fearing people, and shared a smile with everyone we came across, or at least not trying to hide it when we fear that it might come across as weird? What if we finally told that friend that we love them and want only what’s best for them…and that it might mean they need to get out of that relationship?

All I know is that when I embrace life as it comes, act in the moment, follow my heart, and love people for being a part of humanity, I feel better. I will always need  reminders to address fear, tell it to back off, and go for it. But every step I can take to overcome a fear is a step in the right direction, no matter how small. What’s your next step?

One last thing…if you’re going to tackle a fear, tackle it 150%. I think when people approach a fear timidly, it doesn’t always work out as well…and then they regress. Give it your all. If it doesn’t work out, you at least know you did your very best in that moment, the moment you can’t have back to try again.

Sending thoughts of love to all those who have lost someone they care about, especially those who lost them due to needless violence.

Imagine Peace

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, my thing for this post is:

6. Saying “thank you” again never hurt anyone and when you say it, mean it.

How many times as a young child were you told to say, “thank you,” after receiving something from someone, often saying it to a total stranger. Half-heartedly and often brusquely we’d say it as we looked at the item, at our feet, or as we turned in the opposite direction. Yes, we’re taught to say it, but at what age should we be taught to mean what we say?

As we continue to grow, it more becomes habit to say the simple phrase than anything else. Think about the last time you told someone, “thank you.” Was it on the phone? Via text? How about in person? Was it just second nature? When you said it in person, did you look them in the eye? Do you think they believed you?

Sometimes I wonder if the phrase shouldn’t be used so lightly, like how we use “love”. Maybe that’s why we have different ways of saying it. “Thanks!” or “Thank you, kindly,” is more casual, like if someone holds open the door for you at the mall. “Well, thank you!” with a slight lean back and a smile, follows after a compliment has been received. “Thank you, all,” is meant to cover everyone who helped with an event…even though not everyone put in the same amount of effort and soul into making it happen. Holding someone’s hand, looking them in the eye, and saying slowly, “Thank you…really,” implies a genuine, deep sense of gratitude. But remember the last time you were on the receiving end of that deep-seated gratefulness. For me, it’s uncomfortable, like what I did to be on the receiving end of such a statement wasn’t really worthy of such attention, of a pause in that person’s life that they’d single me out and show me true gratitude.

On the other hand, I really enjoy thanking people, and with oomph to say the least. But I’m not sure I do it enough. There are so many people who’ve made an impact on my life. About 6 months ago we held a Gratitude Luncheon in celebration of the mentors in our lives as a benefit for the Fighting Back Mentor Program. The speaker spent a year traveling the world thanking the people who’d made a difference in his life. He sat down with each of them and personally thanked them for how they’d changed his life. At the end of our luncheon, he asked us all to write a letter to at least one person for whom we were thankful by the end of the day. I didn’t see anyone start writing at that moment, but looking around the room I saw people engaged in one-on-one conversations, thanking each other for the difference they made in their lives.

Thanksgiving is the time of year that reminds us to be thankful. But what if we pledged to be thankful other months? To be sincere in our gratitude, even with a child, thanking them for the joy they bring to our lives simply through their innocence and laughter. We assume that people know we are thankful for them, our parents, our friends, our teachers and mentors, but do they really know? And if you’ve thanked them today, it never hurts to say it again and make sure they really understand how grateful you are for them.

Well, I’m here, two-ish days into my 28th year. I’ve been thinking a lot these past couple days about what I’ve managed to accomplish in the past 27 years. I truly believe that we all have a purpose for being on this earth, whether it’s for two minutes or a hundred and twenty years. We make an impact with our decisions, indecision, our words and silence, our actions and inactions. We have a choice every day when we wake up of what we’re going to do that day. Sure, we have work to tend to, making sure we put food on the table, keep a roof over our heads and the electricity on. But how we interact with others, how we treat ourselves – that’s where we have a choice. Life has taught me many things, sometimes I’ve listened, other times I ignored and found clarity the hard way. There are no regrets, only lessons.

So with that, I’m going to brave this online world, use my voice, and share 28 things over the next some-odd days, things I’ve learned, and how I’ve learned them. Hopefully you’ll join me as I dig into my own life, pull out these little gems – some personal, others fun – and impart your own bits of wisdom so that I can, we can, continue learning together, building better communities, shaping better lives for ourselves and those around us.

We’ll start with the category I love most…food. :)

Food things

tempeh with broccoli & white beans, topped with greek yogurt & fresh cilantro

1. Tempeh is an awesome protein sub for you chicken lovers. It’s more substantial than tofu, has a grain texture, kind of like sticky brown rice. The flavor is mild, able to hold sauces well. Tried it because I signed up to do an online vegan cooking class with my friend, Elaine…opened up a whole new world of culinary treasures! Give tempeh a try…it’s now a favorite of mine.

2. On that note, something my parents always encouraged, was try everything once. No matter how bad it smells, how gross it looks, you can’t say you don’t like something if you’ve never tried it. That was how I found out surprisingly that I enjoyed escargot. And more recently, pâté. Make it a goal to try out a new recipe once every 2 weeks…maybe even with an ingredient you’ve never used before.

maple glazed eggplant with tempeh & sweet potatoes, topped with feta and fresh cilantro

3. You’re doing okay on your fruit and veggie intake if you eat every color of the rainbow at least once a week. This helps maintain a healthy enough balance in your diet. This comes from my mom, someone who I try to ignore a lot, but mostly because she’s right, and admittedly, I get annoyed when people are always right. Sorry, mom for the backwards compliment. I love you always, and you have great advice, especially when it comes to health and nutrition, seeing as you have like 5 degrees/ certifications in these departments. So I’m spreading the word on your behalf. :) Thanks for the great advice, mom!

4. It’s perfectly okay to indulge every now and again. I think we need it to fill our souls. But that’s just my opinion, and not a medically-sound one at that. But I think there’s something to be said about how our mood can change when we enjoy a warm chocolate chip cookie, a hearty portion of ooey-gooey mac & cheese, or a juicy burger. I think the mistakes come into play when we finally get outside for a run and think we can then eat anything we want after that…a run doesn’t always burn enough calories to balance an unhealthy diet.

5. Diets don’t work. I’m not saying this from personal experience, but just understanding the mentality behind them is what bothers me. Diets are fads in people’s minds. It’s something temporary. It needs more to be about lifestyle change. If you’re concerned, start monitoring what you eat, how much you exercise, and see a nutritionist. They’ll help you gain a better understanding of a balance of vitamins, fats, carbs, protein, etc. Even just looking at a log of what you’re eating will probably help you change your dietary intake. Recruit friends to help you accomplish goals, take small steps, understand that it won’t change in a day, and be okay with that. No one is going to expect you to go from 5 cups of coffee a day to none. It just doesn’t work like that. Same with other things. If you’re used to eating red meat and potatoes 4 times a week, you can’t expect to cut it out completely all at once. Start planning your meals ahead of time to make sure you don’t stray during grocery trips, and keep in mind lesson #3 above…

I’d love to hear what you have to say on this topic, things you’ve learned about food…favorites, ingredients that don’t work well together, best cookbooks, restaurants, indulgences, etc…

For youth who have no safe place to rest, Noah’s Anchorage is there for them. The only emergency youth crisis shelter on the California Central Coast, Noah’s provides eight beds for youth ages 10 to 17. The nearest shelters otherwise are in San Francisco and Los Angeles, a far distance for youth to travel who may not have access to a car or money for a train ticket.

Noah’s is a division of the YMCA’s Youth & Family Services (YFS). They employ fully trained, qualified, and caring staff who provide counseling and resources for youth “working through difficult personal and family issues.” Their full list of services also include crisis intervention, resolution, workshops, therapeutic groups, and individualized support services. They have a street outreach team who link homeless youth with available resources.

Recently, the SB Housing Authority opened a new facility on Cota, partnering with Noah’s Anchorage, providing “funding for 10 transitional placements for foster youth. Nationally, 18-22% of youth aging out of foster care experience homelessness within three years.  The Grand Jury report issued in Santa Barbara in 2007 found that in that year 32% of the youth emancipating (12 of 38) were homeless within six months.” This new facility provides support for one of the most underserved populations of 18-25 year olds. They’ve aged out of foster care, but aren’t prepared for what the “real world” has in store.

You can designate your much appreciated donation to Noah’s Anchorage here, or call (805) 963-8775 for more information.

Just Communities advances justice by building leadership, fostering change, and dismantling all forms of prejudice, discrimination and oppression.” They “envision an equitable and inclusive Central Coast where all people are connected, respected and valued.”

Just Communities provides cultural competency training to community members, addressing issues of race, poverty, religion, age, sexual orientation, and income. They believe in the core principle that we all deserve to be treated with respect. We are diverse, we are all in different walks of life, and we all have something to contribute. The organization strives to “bridge differences,” embracing who we are and accepting them, that they keep life interesting.

They organize a CommUnity Leadership Institute for 50 Central Coast high school students, our future leaders, helping them “understand injustice in the world and translate that understanding into positive action in their schools and communities.” I’ve known several students who’ve attended this institute and who in turn, gained invaluable lessons, feeling empowered to bring messages of acceptance back to their campuses.

Among other programs, they walk their talk. They embrace other service organizations, working with them to leverage resources and spread the message among all Central Coast communities. One example of such an initiative is the THRIVE program. Just Communities explains the demographics of the areas served on their collaborations page.

I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a place that embraces who I am, who strives to find out what I can contribute, and who aims to support me in my efforts to strengthen my community using my skills and talents, believing that I am a valuable and positive contributing member of society. You can donate to this effort here.

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