December 13, 2012

Ok, Cupid, You Lured Me In

The plan was dinner at home then happy hour at a bar that could promise loads of handsome and single Prince Charmings who would, of course, be hypnotized and transfixed by our intellect and ravishing beauty. Yes, that was how our Thursday night was designed to play out.

My friend poured a glass of wine as I finished off a crude and hasty version of homemade marinara sauce. A few bites in and her phone chimed in with a message, seconds later a bright pink notification light shined from my phone as well.

She had a new message from OkCupid, while I had a new five-star rating from the same site. Just a couple of days before, we both joined the free online dating site. Several of our friends were on it, we’re both single, and it’s free to use – “Why not?” we thought.

Since our profiles were fresh and new, the site’s search algorithms ensured that we showed up more often in search results and appeared more frequently for the array of eligible bachelors on the site. All of which adds up to loads of messages, five-star ratings, and uncomfortably high amounts of profile views.

“Oooh! He’s cute! Should I message him?” asked my friend as she showed me photos of a guy just shy of 30. He was good looking and his photos showed him out with friends, smiling from the top of some mountain, and hugging his dog.

She decided to keep shopping around.

“How come he hasn’t replied to my message? We would sort of be perfect for each other, I mean we’re an 84% match,” I said out of frustration as I showed my friend photos of a dashing tall, dark and handsome type who OkCupid rated as one who “replies selectively.”

I guess I didn’t make the cut on that one, time for another glass of wine.

Soon enough, we migrated from the app on our phones to our laptops so we could have a full-screen view of all of the potential dates or mates we might meet. All too quickly, two glasses of wine turned into three and before long the entire bottle was empty.

“WHAT?! How is he a match?!” my friend exclaimed as she quickly turned around her computer to reveal a super overweight guy with way too much hair on his face and a joint with smoke shrouding any sort of recognizable features on his face. Sexy.

“Umm, I don’t even know what to do with this,” I said as I turned my computer to show my friend.

“TieMeUp4u, sweet screen name. Totally appropriate, all he has are bondage pics in his underwear! What the hell?!”

It was after 9:00, happy hour was definitely out of the question at this point in the evening. We both mustered up the courage to message some of our top picks. My friend carefully selected only the cream of the crop, whereas I, suffering from a bout of intense professional networking, messaged anyone and everyone who seemed like they had a good story attached to them.

Around midnight we finished our OkCupid marathon and went to sleep in a wine-induced haze. The next day, the hangover headache wasn’t the only consequence from the night before, I had an inbox full of several messages from guys I vaguely recalled messaging, all of whom had date proposals. My friend, on the other hand, had a single reply from someone who turned out to be a fantastic first date for her.

Ooops. Never ever mix wine with fake online dates. It’s like creeping on Facebook, except not nearly as anonymous as one might hope. Lesson learned, indeed.  

December 5, 2012

Daily meltdown

Five minutes in and sweat is dripping out of every imaginable inch of my body – my forearms, the sides of my stomach, my calves – places I didn’t even realized produced sweat!

“Look back, fall back! More back!” prompts the teacher. There’s a loud clap, “Change!” My head leads the way, slowly bringing my backwardly bent body upright. I try not to put pressure on my lower back, my legs are shaking as I ever so slowly come back up and see my face in the mirror.

...which by this point is beet red and also drenched in sweat. “Oh man, I’m only 10 minutes into the 90 minute class… it seems like I’ve been in here an eternity.”

But I somehow always manage to survive. Today marked day 17 of a 30-day challenge of daily hot yoga.

Each day I go to the class knowing exactly what to expect. The room is always 105 degrees and 40% humidity. The poses are the same each day, done in the same order, for the same amount of time. But inside, my body feels dramatically different from the day before.

Most people think of Bikram yoga as a special little corner of hell. More often than not, the first class drives people into a dizzy, nauseated state leaving them wishing they had never walked into the hot room in the first place.

The class is stressful, it’s hard to stare at your own terrifically sweaty body for 90 minutes. Harder still is avoiding the inevitable comparison of those around you – old men, super fit young ladies, not-so-fit people trying to make a positive change in their life – you name the type, and odds are they’ll be right beside you, in front of or behind you, sweating more than is humanly possible.

It’s a mental battle to stay awake, focused, and moving during the class. The experience is wildly uncomfortable and it’s almost as if your mind retaliates for putting your body into a furnace for an hour and half. Crazy thoughts creep in and emotions tucked deep in your heart are released in your throat, and up out of your mouth in a quick fit of hysteria.

Then you’re on the floor again, for a moment, allowing your mind to cool off and your heart to chill out a bit. The feeling soon passes and whether you know it or not, you’re suddenly lighter.

The lightness doesn’t kick in until about a half hour after class. At which point you’re suddenly the highest high you can imagine, provided you downed at least a liter of water. Stress is gone, relaxation sets in, and the high lingers with every subsequent sip of water.

Tomorrow, I’ll wake up and do it all over again. And my body will thank me for it. My laundry budget, on the other hand, will not be so grateful.

I'm 24 and broke up with my job

A year ago I was giddy with excitement at my new job at a fabulous advertising agency. I was going to be creating brilliant campaigns! Developing strategies! And beating impossible deadlines!

All of which, I did.

In doing so, my friendships tanked, my face got zitty and at one point, 10 days before a huge event, my body broke out in stress-related hives.

Don’t get me wrong, I adored my co-workers and my company did some fantastic work, but my heart and body were screaming at my mind to get with the program and get back to what I do best. So that’s what I’m trying to do now, reconnect with things I’m passionate about and genuinely good at.

The trouble is that all of the things I’m good at are soft skills. If I may compare my talents to food, my signature cuisine would look a lot like a fine French bakery: sweet, savory, delicious and certainly not always necessary to have.

Connecting, storytelling, organizing puzzling projects, analyzing others -- these are the things I’m really good at, but that doesn’t mean I have companies knocking down my door for my services.

Like almost every other 20-something in the US, I’m saddled with loads of student debt and a pathetic excuse for a savings account. The current economic climate for my generation is a distinct and classic mix of glasses half-full and half-empty.

The half-full crew are the brilliant entrepreneurs of the startup movement. Encouraged by new technology and driven by the spirit to change the world, these folks have the brilliant ideas and skills to make our world more engaged and connected than ever.

On the same token, there is this little monster known as the “recession.” The news tells us the job market is toxic and impenetrable, businesses are dreading the impending Fiscal Cliff and consequently nervous to bring on new hires, and the global economic health is feeble and in need of a bowl of chicken soup.

As a result of both perspectives, I feel simultaneously excited for new prospects and silly for walking away from something stable and reliable. It’s as if I called off an engagement to a man I was planning on marrying.

Up until this fall, I had never in my life had to put in a two-week notice.  What’s worse is that I didn’t even have a backup job, a “rebound,” if you will. When it’s not right, it’s not right, so I cut my losses and walked away.

Now 20 days in to this strange purgatory of exploration and investigation, I feel more in tune with myself than I have in months. However, being in-tune with oneself doesn’t necessarily pay the bills.

Every single (un)employed person out there has something unique to contribute to the world. I know I have a little something special, too. It’s just a matter of finding a soul mate, err perfect profession, which is mutually compatible.

 improve. think.

September 24, 2012

Standing Ovation

This post is a little bit lazy... it's going to be 99% sharing someone else's words and only 1% writing my own. But that 1% will be meaningful.

For all of you astrology geeks out there (maybe you're like me and became one slowly, one Elle daily horoscope at a time), today was the start of a new sign. My sign (Virgo) hung up its hat for the next 11 months. 

Since the 23rd of August there have been extraordinarily high highs and some very low moments (a trip to the ER and an unexpectedly solo flight back to the States). It's been a month of focusing on the change -- the gap between where I am now and where I was a month, 6 months, or 18 months ago. There has been an intense focus on the things in my life that are unpleasant or uncomfortable and a new energy to take tangible action and do something about it. 

Why not applaud the magic of the world's heartbeat and breath and embrace the always changing tectonics beneath our feet and embedded in our souls. It's terrifying. But it's how we grow.

Go on, clap.
think. improve.

September 11, 2012

Scared little fears

Yikes.. It's been a while. Almost seven months, to be precise.

From my perspective it's almost like I'm dusting off the pages of a thick novel that I started more than two years ago and am trying to pick up where I left off. This blog has taken an array of directions, starting off primarily as a travel blog then morphing into daily news analysis, and now it's just trailed off with a...

Any number of excuses will suffice as to why I haven't kept this blog up, but none of them can really do justice to the fact that I love to write, and I've been denying that love for too long. So, here goes.

(Insert nervous blank stare at this part of the screen for at least five minutes)

The truth is, I'm scared to write. 

I'm scared that I don't have anything interesting enough to share.

I'm scared that my style of writing is unoriginal.

I don't want to waste your time. 

I'm scared that no one will relate.

I'm scared that I won't succeed.

These nervous, fleeting thoughts are what have paralyzed this blog and plummeted its readership for the great majority of this year. These thoughts have grown and multiplied like infected cells and before I could even recognize it, my confidence in the one thing that I love to do most was sitting on the floor, broken and whimpering.

I'll bet you have that one thing in your life that makes you both grin and cringe at the same time when you think about it. That dream you had (or rather, have) that seems too impractical, too complicated, too insurmountably challenging to actually implement even though you know somewhere in your soul that it's the right thing to do. 

It could be something simple, like committing to that once weekly yoga class, or finally learning at least two or three chords on that guitar you bought without knowing how to play. Or it might be something bigger: business ideas, travel plans, career changes, lifestyle goals... whatever your little gem might be, it deserves to be noticed.

The spiral of self-doubt and negativity is a tough one to avoid, but I'm starting to realize it's better to acknowledge it, feel it, and move on from it than to deny its existence. Only by taking the time to recognize all of the reasons (note reasons rather than excuses -- they're different!) why I wasn't writing in order to actually start clicking away at this keyboard. 

You should try it, too. Whatever idea or dream it is of yours that you've been denying. Go ahead, grit your teeth, and take a tiny step, you don't have anything to lose.

This blog entry is just one simple little move towards something bigger. I wish I could the Farlang Lady is going on more foreign adventures, but you'll have to wait a few months. Regardless, the blog is back. The dust has been wiped off. And I'd love for you to re-join and come along for whatever strange little life my words may take -- you have my promise that I will certainly always keep things interesting.

Cheers; it's been far too long.
improve. think.

February 9, 2012

The clumsy grace of my dog, Millie

My toes were a little cold and I was pressing my nose against the small back window of our pickup truck trying to catch a glimpse of as many stars as I could. The sky was wide and cold in early December, I was tired and kind of crabby -- we had been Christmas shopping all day in Minot -- and I knew dad had to stop in a town halfway home to look at a tractor or something. I could've cared less, I just wanted to get back to our farm. 

But somewhere in the back of my mind, I let my thoughts flicker to a deliriously good thought -- maybe we were stopping to get a puppy rather than a tractor. I had heard my parents talking about getting another dog on the farm a few weeks before, but I didn't think there was any possible way I would be lucky enough to get a puppy for Christmas.

We pulled up to a house but I didn't see any sign of a tractor. My mom, dad and I got out of the truck and I heard the yelps of little puppies. In what seems like a flourish of a second in time, I had a wiggling pitch black lab in my arms and I was laughing and crying and all I could mutter out was, 

"She's mine?!"

That was 1999 and I was in the sixth grade. We decided to call my puppy Millie after the millenium, but over the years it affectionately turned into Mildred. She was the dog that never lost the puppy in her.

Thank goodness for the acres and acres of yard we had for her to run free and chase birds, cats, horses and other "tummy aches" as my dad called them. Millie would always do this funny little hop with her front paws and when they slammed to the ground a noise that was half woof and half whine came out. 

She was the least graceful critter I've ever met, always clumsily barreling through the house door or into our farm truck with this mischievous look in her eye as if she was trying to be sneaky and was surprised anyone noticed that she tagged along. But Millie was impossible not to notice, she was a big black labrador retriever who was rarely without a dopey grin and a wildly wagging tail that paid no notice to anything that might lie in its wag zone.

I broke my leg a year after we got Millie and she had plenty of rambunctiousness in her adolescent body, but she managed to calm down when she was around me and we would lay on the couch for hours -- me with my full leg cast, and she on her back with a few paws stuck straight in the air as if she couldn't bend her limbs either.

Shortly thereafter I discovered I could make Millie smile. Really smile. You know when you're petting a dog's ears or cheeks and you hit the nerve that makes their lips shoot up so they have a cheesy grin? I could do that with Millie -- just me -- not my dad, mom or anyone else. It was our little trick.

Millie was very particular about her toys, she had two that I swear she thought were her puppies in different life. One was a toy hedgehog that made this awful snorting and roaring noise that I have not heard in any other dog toy before. Through the course of her lifetime, Millie chewed through about a dozen hedgehogs. Each time she got a new one she cried with happiness and took great care bringing it with her everywhere in the yard. 

Her second toy was a lopsided, ugly bulldog that I attempted to sew in eighth grade home-ec class. She only got that toy when she came in the house, so my bedroom was the first place she would bolt as soon as we let her in. She always knew where to find it and would make a few laps around my upstairs room before finally returning to the basement.

When she turned three we welcomed a batch of nine impossibly cute puppies: six brown ones, two gold ones, and only one black one. Millie was an expert at making sure her pups never felt alone. Whenever she'd go outside or eat her dinner, she would snatch up a stuffed animal and carefully place it in the large crate my dad had built so her puppies would always feel the secure presence of their mother.

We kept one of the gold puppies and named her Jules. They turned into quite the duo. Millie was a natural hunter and was fearless of guns, whereas Jules would run and hide at the sight of a shotgun. Jules was cuddler and was rather polite and dainty (as much as a dog could be) when it came to treats. Although Millie loved people, she didn't demand constant attention and she would jump and have a treat swallowed before she even had a chance to see what it was.

The only thing I ever encountered that Millie didn't like was grapes. She was especially partial to chokecherries and grasshoppers and frequently grazed right off the tree and snacked off the car grills in early autumn. 

Within a few years I went off to college and shed more tears for Millie and Jules when I left home than for anything else. Dad always said Millie knew the sound of my car and could sense me coming from more than a mile away. Even as she was getting older, I was still the only one who could guarantee a smile from her.

Three nights ago Millie was barking at coyotes, keeping my parents awake. Two nights ago she seemed like she wasn't feeling very well. And last night she died. Thirteen years of mischief, goofy antics, and brilliant pranks only a dog like her could be brilliant enough to pull off ended in a matter of a few short days.

For most of us we have that one pet who grew up with us, the one who was endlessly loyal and undoubtedly the greatest pet that ever lived. Mildred was mine.

January 24, 2012

How to tame [this year's] dragon

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Yesterday was the start of a 15-day Spring Festival, marking the end of an old year and ushering the new one with an array of traditions and superstitions that are as distinct as the customs surrounding Christmas -- most of the western world celebrates one thing or another during the month of December, but each religion, community and family adds their own nuance to it.

The superstitions surrounding food are the ones that most easily stick out in my mind. This time of year plates ought to be filled with the following:

  • Noodles for a long life
  • jiaozi (dumplings) look like little gold pouches, so they'll bring you wealth
  • Fish for an abundant life; the Chinese word for "fish" sounds very similar to "abundance," which makes it an auspiciously delightful dish
  • Sticky rice, radish or taro cake (I've had all of them this week!) -- all of the foods contain the word "gao" which means "tall" or "high" in Chinese, which may mean a year of high achievements for you
  • Oranges and pomelos to keep your prosperity levels high
If you coordinate a meal with these foods, you'll surely be guaranteed a year full of good luck, abundant prosperity, wealth, and a healthy life.

Of course to go along with food traditions, there are several superstitions that you should take note of in the next two weeks; check out this CNN story that showcases what some Chinese will be be doing to ensure bad luck stays at bay in the coming year.

Even though I was in Asia for last year's Spring Festival, I wasn't in China for the actual Lunar New Year festivities. But I did make it back for the Lantern Festival, which wraps up the 15-day holiday. It was absolute madness. Hangzhou was transformed into a warzone of pops and explosions from fireworks. I remember fireworks bursting just outside my 15th floor window and my taxi driver that night broke his windshield from shrapnel from a partially-exploded shell. I've never seen such a spectacle -- it was incredible! See what I mean by checking out these photos from yesterday's celebrations across Asia, courtesy of The Atlantic.

Finally, I have to give a shoutout to my Chinese Zodiac Sign: the dragon. (You can learn your zodiac sign here). 

Here's to hoping the dragon brings a lot of luck, prosperity, and good health to your family and friends. I'm hoping I won't need to breathe much of my dragon fire this year ;-)
Gong xi fa cai! (Happy, healthy new year!)
see. eat. explore.

January 22, 2012

Winter salt spray

explore. laugh. After a week's worth of being stuck inside the house with snow, ice, and rain enveloping Seattle, a weekend escape to nearby Whidbey Island was much needed.

The house was full of midwesterners, all graduates of NDSU (with the exception of only one). It's quite magical when you put a bunch of landlocked Midwesterners on a beach. Most often we're transformed into little kids enamored with the shapes and colors of the stones and driftwood. We get awestruck by the deafening sound of the water and the power of the salty wind racing to land. The smell is something unfamiliar to what we knew growing up, and it's intoxicating.

I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

January 19, 2012

Snowbound in a city

So it's been a while. 
To be honest, I didn't quite know how to follow up my last post about my aunt. Anything and everything I wanted to write about seemed so frivolous and silly compared to the magnitude of emotion I was feeling as I was writing on here last time.

A little more than a month has passed, and with it came Christmas and the start of 2012. Most of us find ourselves in the bane of winter -- impossibly cold temps, snow, ice, ultra cold bathroom floors and frosty car windows. 

Right now I find myself in Seattle in one of the worst snowstorms they've had in a while. I had heard rumors about how this city reacts to snow, how it freaks out and shuts down after an inch or so. But I wanted to give hearty Northwesterners the benefit of the doubt; after all, they're known for their insatiable outdoorsy spirit and I feel like anyone who can trudge through mud on damp, chilly hiking trails can surely handle a bit of snow.

I was wrong.

Six or so inches of snow later (at least in my neighborhood) along with a glorious glaze of a quarter-inch of ice, I finally understand why this place can't handle proper snow. I nearly skied down the hill with my boots and arms full of groceries tonight. Hillsides were transformed into sledding routes, and since virtually none of the streets are plowed it's perfectly appropriate to invade an entire slope with eager sledders and cross-country skiers.

The fact is, this weather wouldn't have made anywhere in the Midwest or New England even flinch.
I love it though. January looks like it's supposed to, and it's fantastic.

Snow in a city appears magical, and it seems as though everyone around town wants to believe in it. Since no one can really drive, everyone is out walking and wanting to commiserate together. It's almost like the Christmas spirit that everyone pines for late in December has come to life with the fresh fallen snow. Of course, this is all highly romanticized and the reality of it is, people have found one blatantly obvious thing in common: we're all impacted by the snow. Really, it just gives us an excuse to talk to more people. It's a shame this attitude doesn't transcend into more average, pleasant weather.

I miss the snow. I mean, I don't miss the 6-7 months of it that we have at home, but I miss the four distinct seasons. There's something about the seasons that makes one more aware of the passage of time. Without truly distint seasons, it's easy for things in life to be stagnant. The snow cleans things up, makes everything appear fresh. Unfortunately I know in 24 hours, all the beautiful, fluffy snow will turn into grey and brown slush and be gone altogether by Monday. 

I know I say this every few months about how I need to write more and keep more regular track of my blog. Don't think I've forgotten, I think about it almost every day, I just feel like I don't have that many interesting things to write about anymore. I mean, a year ago right now I had just crossed the border into Vietnam and was navigating through markets in Hanoi to try find warmer clothing. 

Now I'm stable and stationary. I have a job that I'll go to tomorrow at 9 and leave at 5. There's nothing too extraordinary about any of that. But I still feel like I have things to share. I've tried other types of social media, and with the exception of Twitter, blogging is the only thing that has stuck. So I'm gonna stick with it. And I hope you'll stay with me along the way.

I'll be back soon. Hopefully tomorrow. 
I promise.