New Year, Updated Blog

I want to start 2016 off with a blank slate. I disappointed myself with my lack of stick-to-it-ness in posting last year, so let’s start again… New blog design, new photo, new about me (coming soon I promise) but same blog title. Thanks for following, and hopefully much more to come.

Happy New Year!

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Strangers on a Train Platform

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It was a smallish  train station, toward the end of the line.  The station ticket booth was locked, a handwritten “closed” sign hung askew on the coffee shop adjacent, and all the lights, save for the one on the platform, were off.  I was waiting on the end of a bench, as close to the overhead illumination as possible, fiddling with my phone. Moments later a woman in her mid-twenties, dressed in a chic wool skirt suit, struggled toward the bench I had claimed, dragging a suitcase and several large handbags.  She plopped the associated purses onto the bench, one unzipped with a laptop peeking out.  I smiled the awkward smile with averted eyes of two strangers all alone in a public place, in the dark.  She had now marked the other end of my bench as her territory, but didn’t sit, and was nervously stepping foot to foot on her compressed kitten heels.  She began looking around at the surrounding dark parking lot, with the exaggerated searching eyes that were supposed to alert me to the fact that she was looking for something, before she approached to ask assistance.  It is a little dance that people do when they need help, but no one knows them, and they want to ask without appearing forward/threatening/bothersome.

Finally, she turned to me and said, “I don’t know you at all, but I need to run to the bank across the street, can you watch my stuff?”  Being asked to watched a stranger’s belongings instills a certain kind of panic. What if something happens to the stuff while I’m watching it? What if she doesn’t come back before the train arrives? What if there is something sinister about her adorable matching luggage? But in the end, she was already running toward the ATM before I could even answer.

Late twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings belong to an odd in-between generation when it comes to trust of the public. We have parents who reminisce about the days when you could leave your house unlocked, your car keys on the driver’s seat of whatever was parked in your driveway and everyone knew everyone on the same street.  However, these are the same parents who taught you about ‘stranger danger’ and never, ever to talk to people you don’t know, no matter how cute their puppy. (Although, much of this advice applied when I was a child.)  It certainly is true that things have changed a great deal, and continue to change, when it comes to trusting people you encounter. There are reasons for this, of course, and the reminders about suspicious activity from train station posters, and radio ads about numbers you can text to report issues, have a very real purpose.

However, in these everyday situations, where you are thrust together with a stranger, how are you to react? Personally I would never leave my belongings with some lady on a bench in the dark, but there are times when the kindness of strangers must be relied upon. We also have to meet strangers every day if we ever want to have friends, date, or make career connections.  There are whole events dedicated to ‘networking’ … just a fancy way to say ‘meeting strangers with similar interests or valuable experiences to share.’ As the world grows more global, our need to interact with strangers will increase, while our view that it is safe to do so apparently decreases. What a strange paradox.

When the fashionable stranger returned from her trek to the bank we boarded the train together, chatting in the last car.  We discovered that we grew up in the same area, we were in the same field of work, and she had attended the same school as my sister. She seemed relieved to learn this information, even though the opportunity to abscond with her belongings was long since passed. Standing at the exit with her cumbersome bags, as the train pulled into her stop, she waved goodbye in a friendly way and that was it.

 

 

Saying ‘No’ to Saying ‘Yes’

In the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no.”

For as long as I can remember, I have always had an issue turning things down – be they work obligations, extra-credit assignments in school, party invitations, missing an event or class I’d planned to attend, even casual get-togethers.

People love stating that saying ‘yes’ to everything opens your world to opportunities and new experiences, which it undoubtably does.  However, agreeing to do everything begins to add up – so where is the limit?  I took a course a few years ago, while still a student, on persuasive writing.  The professor informed all the eager students in my section that in a professional setting, or really any setting at all, people want to say ‘yes.’  Saying yes is easier, it’s fun, it makes you feel better about your decision.  The class taught us, among other techniques, how to craft questions that could always be answered in the affirmative, even if that answer was really a ‘no’ in disguise.  So I am certainly not alone in my aversion to saying ‘no.’

Perhaps saying no – picking and choosing each event, obligation or lunch date – is a skill.  In high school I never had to learn how to be judicious with my time.  The school schedule allowed students to pursue music on one afternoon and sports on another – so I could do both!  In college, there was mention of study-life balance as a concept, but there were also semester credit limits to keep us in check, and leave room for dorm parties and movie nights.  Life in your 20ies is a little less organized.  No one is going to tell you that you cannot practice volleyball on Mondays because you have a history test, or that you cannot take 22 credits and write your thesis (not that I ever attempted that many credits!) like the good ol’ days.  The world is full of possibilities, assignments and commitments, and I could say ‘YES’ to ALL of them!

It is not simply that I say ‘yes’ to events or work that I do not want to do.  I say ‘yes’ to things that are interesting or important to me or those around me.  I do want to finish that draft of the assignment for work, AND attend the volunteer event AND meet my friend from out-of-town for dinner, but I cannot do them all the same night.  So then I have to make a choice, and it’s this choice that leads to the stress.  First comes the anxiety about which event to choose, then comes the guilt about turning down the other obligations.  I know it sounds like I stress  a lot about trivial decisions (I’m not saying this is not true) but I also think it is a wide-spread affliction.  People generally hate disappointing other people, and saying ‘no’, we believe, inevitably means we are disappointing someone.

Since discovering my proclivity toward saying ‘yes’, I have tried to say it in more discerning contexts.  It is getting easier to say ‘no’ to an evening at a bar when all I want is bad tv, pretzels and my sofa.  There are two areas, however, that still trip me up.  One is saying ‘no’ to an ongoing obligation, for example, if I am working on a longterm project and have to miss a meeting related to it, I feel like I have failed to show my dedication.  The second is learning to prioritize social and family events, which is especially difficult if they are in conflict with work.  Simply because I could not make a housewarming party does not mean I do not care for my friend or her new 1 bedroom.  Skipping a meeting here or there to catch up on other projects or attend a family dinner does not mean I am not committed to work.  However, I imagine that practice will make perfect, and I will continue to ask myself what I really want instead of just blurting out ‘yes’ to every request.

Resolutions and Revelations – 2014

It is a new year and everyone is posting their new year/new resolutions posts.  I’ve never been one to make resolutions.  However, after coming back from a week of vacation and realizing that there is a lot of clutter in my life that could be better managed these days, I’m feeling like jumping on the new years bandwagon.

I guess I always thought of resolutions as a nagging to-do list that would inevitably be left, at least partially, undone (seldom is it that a full list of resolutions is accomplished, even given a whole year).  Therefore, I avoided the concept and just hoped for improvement in my life along the way as it comes.  But this year I am re-thinking the concept.  A resolution is not something that I must do (okay, okay, I know that you are actually supposed to do them because you resolve to) but something I am aspiring to do.  I want to do these things, and sometimes just standing up and declaring out loud (or on the internet) that this is something I am going to attempt, and possibly fail, is worth it.   Sometimes there is so much going on in life that we forget to try things just for the sake of trying them.  So without further ado, here are the events/goals/projects that I’m going to leap toward!

In no particular order…

  • Remember to put the tooth paste cap back on the tube, every time (starting small helps build momentum for other resolution follow-through, right?)
  • Be kinder to those I see every day
  • Stick to my workout schedule
  • Write an article to be published in my county’s professional newspaper
  • Learn how to wear bright pink lipstick
  • Adopt an animal from a shelter (going to need some concurrence from my husband on this one)
  • Clean out that one back corner of my closet that never gets attention
  • Perfect the confident handshake
  • Play my cello once a month (at least) just for fun
  • Send more handwritten letters

That’s probably enough for now. Bring it on 2014!

Winter Accessories in Summer Colors

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Let’s play a little apparel game!  I’m going to list several items of clothing and you tell me to what season they belong…

Blazer.  Pumps.  Scarf.

Did you guess Autumn? Winter? Well, you would not be wrong, but Spring and Summer are also correct.  With the advent of air conditioning, and current popularity of vivid colors, traditionally cool weather garb is now fair game in the most humid of months.

I work in an office setting where sitting many hours a day can be the norm.  On the one hand, I’m assuming this is terrible for my posture.  On the other, it leaves open the option to wear many great ‘sitting’ shoes.  (There are two kinds of shoes – sitting, and walking.  Walking shoes are those comfy flats you know you can trek to the train and back in.  Sitting shoes are those adorable slingbacks  with the altitudinous heels that look amazing until you attempt to stand up!)  While I often opt for sandals in summer, neon and patterns add some sunny flair to a pair of pumps.

Let’s talk jackets.  I know, I know, wearing a jacket in summer sounds crazy, but hear me out on this one.  Choosing a blazer or a jacket with the right bright hue will make a formerly winter look fit right in during August.  Throw in a beautiful, jazzy scarf like this kaleidoscopic silk (gift from my sister!) and you can’t be beat by the heat.

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Blazer by Forever 21. Calvin Klein scarf.  Shoes by Nine West.

Adventures in SPF

My family went on summer vacation every year, or at least every year that I can remember, to a lake in the mountains of Vermont.  We are lake people, and mountain people.  We set up chairs by the dock under the shade of overhanging trees, and swam in t-shirts to protect freckled shoulders.  My father’s ancestors hail from Scotland and Germany, while my mother’s side long long ago came from Holland, and Scotland also.   Sunscreen is a topic of conversation for us.

As a kid, I balked against the gloopy lotion, but daily spf is now part of my routine.  It is pretty easy these days with many lotions and makeups already containing some level of protection.  However, as a person of pale complexion, it is amazing how many events involve sunscreen…

As a high school student, I lived in Germany for several months as part of language exchange program.  One afternoon while heading out for a day of volleyball in a local park, some friends noticed me putting on sunscreen.  I was vigorously applying SPF sport “50.”  50?! they questioned me, why is the number so high?  I tried to explain in my basic German, but at that point I had not yet learned the words for “pale” or “trying to avoid blistering sunburn.”  So when they finally supplied an explanation – that Americans use fahrenheit, and Europeans use celsius – I just went with it.

Recently in preparation for my outdoor wedding, I went to Sephora in search of the perfect primer/foundation/powder finish for the big day.  The sales associate began telling me that my usual foundation contained a stronger spf that some people think can look odd in flash photos.  I stopped her right there, and told her that no matter what the result of the photos, standing outside for several hours naked-faced was not an option.

As annoying as it is to be that person hidden behind the big floppy hat, or wandering the beach sunscreen in hand, asking “can you just get my back?” it is worth it to avoid the short-term burns and long-term damage from sun.  My sister, back from a recent trip, lamented that she had not been prepared for so much beach action.  We commiserated, that indeed, it requires some warning to take on a serious multi day beach stay.  You have to pack enough sunscreen, and a hat, and some cute shirts to wear at the beach.  When I met my  now-husband, a beach devotee, I got serious and purchased a beach umbrella.

The best way to avoid burns, at least the method that has worked for me over the past few years, is reapplying sunscreen over and over (and over) again while outdoors. I’ve heard a rumor that anything over 30 spf  does not actually provide much more protection.  It may be true, it may not.  I’m still drawn to the 50 or even the new 95 spf that beckons with the promise of sand and waves from the pharmacy shelves.  Because, why even take the chance?

Early Owl and My Quest to be a Morning Person

I was not a punctual child.  When i was an elementary school I was never an early riser, and used to groan and growl about day light savings time and changing my clock – specifically in the Spring when things got an hour earlier. 

As I mentioned in my ‘About’ page, I have always been a night owl.  In college things began to shift a little as I realized that being perpetually late for anything before 9am was not going to be an option anymore.  Thankfully, my college had a policy that everything started 10 minutes late. I guess the reasoning was you could walk between classes and still be on time, even if they were back to back and in different buildings.  So my quest to become more of a morning person had begun, but the 10 minute policy certainly hampered my progress.

Next came grad school.  This is where I really started to hone in on my, i’m never going to be late and wake up early attitude.  I took the subway to school so one missed train meant an extra 15 minutes late to class.  I wasn’t the only one who didn’t naturally awake at the crack of dawn.  One professor, about two weeks into the semester, announced to the entire class, “This class starts at 8:15am.  It will always start at 8:15am, and if you are not here by then, you are absent.”  Message received.  I was on time.  A dozen others dropped the class.

Now my schedule is such that I wake up between 5 and 6am depending on the day, the amount of light seeping past the shades and the level of rustling around the apartment by my husband.  I never would have imagined that I would be driving to work at 6am, but you know what… it’s kind of fun.  The streets are quiet.  The air is still and not yet humid with the sticky, clingy dew of Pennsylvania summers.  So maybe I am a morning person after all!