Soaking up Local and Foreign Culture

Guys.  It’s May.  HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!?  I am always amazed at how quickly each year goes by, and also surprised at myself for being amazed by this fact year after year.  I mean – I feel it every year.  Why haven’t I gotten used to it yet?

The theme of March was culture (I can’t believe I’m writing about March in May).  I chose culture as the theme because I knew I would be traveling to Ireland and Scotland, and what better way to experience culture than through traveling?  While I believe that’s true, I also think we need to remember to celebrate our local culture more.  Peoria isn’t the most exciting city in the world, but it – like any place – can be so full of interest and life if you actually look for it.

For me, the most exciting thing happening in Peoria right now is the renaissance of Main Street at its intersection with Sheridan Road.  In just a few years, I’ve seen that area go from a place where I had little reason to visit, to an area I find myself visiting at least once a week.  There is so much to soak in here – artist’s studios at the Studios on Sheridan, the funky bar Blue, the corner coffee shop, the community garden, the decades old thrift store, and the long time costume shop – I love it all.  And I especially love visiting on the first Friday of each month to check out the live music and the rotating art exhibit, and to watch people as they walk around in awe thinking, “I can’t believe this exists in Peoria!”

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My Mom’s Studio

So yes, you can get your culture fix right in your own backyard – but traveling is always a much more appealing option.  There’s something to be said about leaving your backyard and your everyday habits, and experiencing something totally different.

Bridget and I soaked up a lot of urban Irish and traditional Scottish culture on our travels.  Perhaps most informational for me was our tour of Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison that held – and in some cases executed – many influential Irish leaders.  I not only learned a ton about Irish history, but also, I absorbed a lot of information on prison design styles and theories, something I hadn’t ever given much thought to.

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Of course we also visited the Guinness storehouse where we learned about how the beer is made; the story of Arthur Guinness, the brewery’s founder; and the fair treatment of workers by the Guinness Corporation.  Oh yeah, and we also enjoyed a pint at the seventh floor Gravity Bar. 🙂

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As always though, my favorite part of traveling is simply exploring the city – walking the streets, sitting in the local cafes, and discovering local shops.

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We weren’t sure if we were going to make a trip to the Cliffs of Moher – the cliffs are on the West Coast of Ireland, while we were staying on the east coast – but boy am I glad that we did.  It literally rained every single day we were in Ireland, except for the day we took this trip.  It was an absolutely incredible site.

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Our experience in Scotland was much different, as we were staying with Bridget’s Aunt and Uncle.  They took us to a ceilidh (pronounced kaylee), which is a social gathering with traditional Scottish music and dances.  It was kind of like a line dance – the host would teach us the steps and then we would dance in partners/groups.  Man, was it exhausting!  Most of the dances involved spinning your partner around vigorously over and over again.  We had a ton of fun! But I didn’t capture a picture 😦

We also had to have plenty of Scotch whiskey.  Here’s Bridget and I taking a sample of one of the three we tried on this night, which were Glenlivet, Jura, and Turmore. A little blurry, but what do you expect…we were drinking whiskey.

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We took the train to Edinburgh and visited the castle.  To be honest, I didn’t enjoy this much.  The castle itself was cool, but I found that I really had no interest – and no ability to absorb – any of the history that was being displayed.

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My favorite part of our trip to Scotland was our visit to Dunnottar Castle.  We had spent the day driving through the highlands, unable to see a thing because the fog was so thick.  I was kind of losing hope of seeing any spectacular views that day, and then we arrived here!  The view was spectacular…and Bridget and I had the whole place to ourselves.  After taking in the view of the castle, we climbed down to the rocky beach and then walked along the coast line into the town of Stonehaven where Bridget’s Aunt and Uncle were waiting for us at a pub.  BEST END TO THE DAY EVER.


So, there you have it.  A little glimpse into my trip abroad!


Spreading the Love

It’s funny – all month long, I have felt this incredible sense of guilt around not setting aside time to write in this blog.  When I set goals, I have expectations about how they will unfold and what my end result will be.  It’s hard, but I have to learn to let go of those expectations and just enjoy the journey.

Though it’s been awhile since I’ve written, my year of living with intention has not subsided.  February was my month to reflect on and strengthen my relationships, and I feel great about the way this intent played out.  I went into this month expecting to be the one making thoughtful gestures to friends and family.  Instead, my family and friends showered me with love and kindness.


Below are the activities I wanted to accomplish this month and a little bit about how each played out.

Email or call an out of town friend I haven’t spoken to in awhile. I didn’t have to take the initiative on this one.  I received calls from 2 beautiful friends from college, and received an email message from another.  I hadn’t spoken to 2 of these friends in over a year.  It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to pick up with someone after so long and go on like you were never apart in the first place.  Friends like that should be treasured.


Plan a date with my boyfriend.  One of the many things I love about Nick is his willingness to experience things with me – even things he may not be super excited about.  I had been dying to see a couple of the rotating art exhibits at the Riverfront Museum, so I decided to drag Nick along.  We ended up making a day of it – he beat me in literally every athletic game in the IHSA exhibit (my vertical leap is so pathetic), and we went to see Gravity at the Giant Screen Theater.

Nick took me out on his date of choice later in the month.  We drove up to Galena, IL for a day of skiing.  It was my very first time!  I came away with several bruises, but I had a blast, and will definitely be going back!

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Call or send a letter to a relative.  I sent a letter to my amazing cousin/friend.  Isn’t it cool when you can call someone your family and your best friend?


Send postcards to several friends.  Snail mail is just so fun.  Seriously, it is.  It feels so much more personal than an email, facebook message, or a text.  I really enjoyed writing letters to friends – I’d love to set aside more time to do it in the future!

Go out to dinner with the whole family.  I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this yet – this was my BIRTHDAY MONTH!!  I invited my immediate in-town family to dinner at Sugar.  I had such a wonderful time, and was reminded – as always – of what a wonderful family I have been blessed with.  I definitely missed my brothers though – they always keep it interesting! 🙂

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Rearrange my office.  This one may seem random, but I thought it was important to remember that we have relationships with more than just people.  It’s amazing how much our relationship with space can affects us as well.  Bright, colorful, and clean spaces can lift my mood in a second.

I took rearranging my office to the next level – I moved out of my shared office and into a private one!  Though I miss being able to shout out random thoughts to my co-worker, I am really enjoying my new space.

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Grab a drink with someone I want to get to know better.  Though there is something to be said about meeting new people and expanding my friend base, there is also something to be said about strengthening friendships that already exist. Originally, I thought the “someone I want to get to know better” would be someone I knew hardly at all.  Instead, I unintentionally learned something new about a current friend.  It was a good reminder that there’s always something more to learn about people, no matter how long we’ve known them.

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Surprise a friend with a thoughtful gift.  I dropped the ball on this one.  It was totally in the back of my mind, and then it just never happened.  No worries, though – I will follow through with it this month instead.

Cook a meal for someone.  Another one of the many things I love about Nick is his willingness to eat absolutely anything I cook.  And I cook some weird things.  I made us a barbecue chicken quinoa salad one night (Nick actually loves this and specifically requested it), and butternut squash mac and cheese another night (we will not be having this again LOL).  I also prepared a superfood cereal for Hannah and me one morning.  It is delicious and super healthy!  Here is the recipe:

2 TBSP chia seeds
2 TBSP hemp seeds
1/2 cup quick oats
1/4 cup raisins
1 apple, chopped
1 banana, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1.5 cups almond milk

Refrigerate for 10 minutes to 12 hours.  I made mine in a mason jar the night before and ate it the next morning.

Offer to help a friend with a task.  I offered to shovel the driveway at my house.  I actually just wanted to play in the snow and get some exercise…but I also knew that the roomies would super appreciate it.  It was a win-win for all!  And the next time it snowed, one of my roommates scraped off my car in addition to shoveling the entire driveway!  If you can’t tell, things are working out quite well in my new home!


Let someone I know I care for her and why.  I accomplished this in some of the letters I sent out.

Compliment someone.  I tried to give out at least one genuine compliment each day.  I feel like sometimes I see things I admire – whether it’s a character trait, a piece of clothing, or a talent – and I forget to share my admiration out loud.  It’s so important to build each other up and recognize the unique gifts that each one of us offers to the world.

There are so many other relationship related things that happened this month.  Here is a list of some of them:

  • Volleyball teammates treated me to dinner at the Creek
  • My roommates treated me to dinner at Public House in Peoria Heights.  They also surprised me with gifts – chai latte Keurig cups and a to-go mug.  Best present ever!
  • Came home to a present waiting at the door – it was more chai latte Keurig cups…my friends really do know the way to my heart.
  • One of my volleyball teammates stopped by to drop off a birthday card.
  • Nick and I celebrated Valentine’s day at the Harvest Cafe in Delavan.  The food was AMAZING.
  • I discovered that one of the paintings I have had in my home the past 7 years was created by a woman I met last year who happens to also be the woman who inspired me to create this blog.
  • I visited a friend in Chicago.  We spent the weekend eating amazing food, shopping, and catching up.

Good lord, I felt special this month.  Thanks to all of my friends and family who wished me a happy birthday!

I know we are already into the second week of March, but I still need to finalize my list of activities.  I will be back with that ASAP.  The theme?  Culture!

January Lessons and February Activities

5 Lessons I Learned in January:

  1. Writing is one of the healthiest activities you can do for yourself.  I do quite a bit of technical writing in my job, but I haven’t written for just me in a long time.  When I was studying abroad, I committed to writing in a personal journal daily.  I wanted to remember all of my experiences and document the complex thoughts and ideas that were being taught to me.  Every time I look back at those journals, I am shocked at the amazing connections I was making and the crazy epiphanies I was having.  This blog is helping me realize that I don’t need to be in a foreign location or in college to exercise my intellect.  There are a million ideas rolling around in the world and in my head.  Writing allows those ideas and thoughts to come to life.
  2. Sometimes we fall off track.  Transitioning to a new living space put strain on my ability to grocery shop and prepare healthy meals; all of my kitchen supplies were packed away, and I was trying to clean out my fridge, not add to it. Additionally, a huge deadline at work was pushed up, which caused me to work longer days.  As a result, I ate out quite a bit and did not set aside time for writing and yoga.  There are ways I could have stayed on track.  I could have prepared several meals the week before and I could have made time for at least 20 – 30 minutes of yoga.  But sometimes, we stray from our intentions, and that’s okay.  It’s just important to get back on track as soon as we can.
  3. I like spending time in the kitchen.  With the exception of the last week in January, I have been spending a lot of time in the kitchen, and I find that I am quite fond of it.  I used to get super stressed out when I cooked, until my college roommate, Raisa, suggested I play music and pour myself a glass of wine.  This was great advice, and I have  tried to follow it ever since.
  4. I prefer practicing yoga in a group/class setting.  I thought that practicing yoga alone would make it easier to be mindful of each pose and concentrate on my breath, but personally, I find it to be more difficult.  There’s something so much more relaxing about being in a quiet, dark room with other people’s energy flowing around me.  In the coming weeks, I plan to attend more group yoga classes.
  5. Accept what you don’t like.  Because it has amazing nutritional benefits, I cook salmon dishes relatively often. Every time I cook it though, I’m disappointed.  It’s not a taste I particularly enjoy, and I never look forward to eating it.  Being healthy also means being happy, and if salmon isn’t doing it for me, I don’t need to force myself to eat it.

February (Relationships) Activities:

When I started this blog, my intention was to do daily actions.  I’ve found this to be quite difficult, so I’ve decided to switch things up a bit.  Instead of daily activities, I will commit to doing several activities throughout the month, maybe 3-4 per week.  Here is a list of activities for February:

  • Email or call an out of town friend I haven’t spoken to in awhile.
  • Plan a unique date with my boyfriend.
  • Call or send a letter to a relative.
  • Send postcards to several friends.
  • Go out to dinner with the whole family.
  • Re-arrange my office (exploring my relationship with space/place)
  • Grab a drink with someone I want to get to know better.
  • Surprise a friend with a thoughtful gift.
  • Cook a meal for someone.
  • Offer to help a friend with a task.
  • Let someone know I care for him/her and why.
  • Compliment someone.

I’m super excited to get started with these activities! ❤

New Beginnings

January – A Healthy Me
Days…yep, I lost track.

This week has been rough on me.  I am preparing to move out of my downtown apartment that I have come to love despite its many annoyances.  I’ve lived through a leaking bedroom ceiling that ruined a ton of my books, loud construction that interrupted my sleep, and radiators that heat the place to a stifling 80 degrees during the winter.  Yet somehow, as I pack up my belongings, I can’t help but feel like I’m leaving something truly wonderful behind.

I like to think that I am open to change, but in reality, I really struggle with it.  It’s hard to leave something you know and love behind, only to dive into the unknown.  From past experiences, I know that new beginnings can be rough, but I have also come to realize that once I break through my fears, doubts, and “what-ifs,” I discover something wonderful – about myself, about the world, about people.

This new chapter in my life will be no different.  Yes, I will miss my independence.  I will miss the view outside my kitchen window and the sun that comes streaming in through the living room each morning.  I’ll miss being in a downtown setting and the atmosphere I’ve created with all of my art and furniture.  Hey, I may even miss the creaking of the floor above me when my neighbor is bustling around. I’ll miss what I know.  But I also have so much to look forward to.  First and foremost, my friendship with Hannah (my new roomie) will inevitably deepen.  We’ve already planned on movie marathons, intense workout sessions, and DIY craft nights.  Though there are a million unknown factors that will surface in the coming months, I must have faith in the beauty of the unknown and the power of change.  After all, when looking back, the wonderful things that exist in my life are the results of changes that occurred in the past.

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When we think about working out, we usually envision running, lifting weights, or being athletic in some way.  As a society that primarily sits all day, we often have to create time devoted solely to exercise.  But working out doesn’t have to be separated from our other obligations.  For instance, this week I had to focus on packing to prepare for my upcoming move.  Though it may not be as intense as running, it certainly offers your body more benefit than if you were sitting on the couch watching television.  Saturday is moving day – I will be carrying boxes, tables, my couch and bed down two flights of stairs and into a trailer.  I will definitely be counting that as my workout for the day.  🙂

Here’s several pictures of meals I’ve created this past week.  I’m continually impressed with the quality of these recipes.

Raw Pad Thai

Raw Pad Thai

Skillet Salad with Sausage

Skillet Salad with Sausage

Broiled Salmon with Ginger-Garlic Pilaf

Broiled Salmon with Ginger-Garlic Pilaf

Taco Tuesday – the Healthy Way

January – A Healthy Me
Day 13

Daily Action:

Conquer those cravings.  It’s Taco Tuesday!  There are various taco deals around the region today, including $1 tacos at the Locker Room and $1.50 tacos at Oliver’s, both of which I have indulged in with my volleyball team in the past.  Tonight, I will not be consuming any sub-par tacos, as I already satisfied my taco craving at lunch.  I must say, these tacos were absolutely delicious.  I will be making them again.

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corn tortillas
barbecue sauce
brown rice
black beans
tempeh – This was a new one for me. I tend to shy away from meat substitutes like tofu and soy, but this was pretty good!
red onions


A Forgotten Anniversary

January – A Healthy Me
Days 9, 10, 11, & 12

Nick and I finally celebrated our 2 year anniversary on Friday, though our actual anniversary is on December 9th. We meant to celebrate on the day of our anniversary, but the day came and went, and it completely slipped our minds.  Five days later, we were lying in bed and reflecting on the last year together when I realized we totally blew it. Hey, at least we both forgot!

Anyway, we went to Biaggis, our favorite special occasion spot – though when they nixed the stuffed pork from the menu it dropped a few points – and for the first time ever, I left without feeling like I had consumed an entire elephant.  I managed to control my impulse to inhale the entire bread basket – I only had one piece – and I ordered the soup and spinach salad – which was actually what I was craving.  We ended with one serving of the bread pudding, which is a must-have at Biaggis.  It’s all about moderation, people.  🙂

Daily Actions

Do something active on a date. After dinner, Nick and I went bowling, an activity we had never done together.  As a former football player and an avid weightlifter, I figured he would knock bowling out of the park.  He didn’t.  He was just as terrible as me.  In fact, we tied the first game 52 – 52.  PATHETIC.

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Try something new.  My friend/co-worker Katy set up a rock climbing lesson for Saturday at Upper Limits in Bloomington, and when I found out, I decided to tag along!  I had heard of people going, but for some reason it never occurred to me that I should try it out.  We didn’t do much rock climbing the first time, as we were learning all the basics, but I plan on going back within the next 2 weeks to test my memory.  (By the way, the place is located in an old grain silo; the silos are 65 feet tall. What a BRILLIANT re-use of that space!)

Relax.  Somedays we just need time to veg.  Sundays are usually those days for me.  Though I kept up with my eating and yoga, I took time – a lot of time – to just relax on the couch with my boyfriend.  It was lovely.  🙂

Prepare.  Eating right is all about proper preparation.  Though the extra time and effort it takes to prepare breakfast and lunch for the next day the night before has been a bit annoying, it has started to feel a little bit more automatic this week.  It can be so hard to start new habits and break old ones, but it can also be so rewarding.


January – A Healthy Me
Days 7 and 8

Hooray!  I am officially one week into my new lifestyle, and I feel great!  I feel less tired during the day and more focused when I’m at work – it’s like I was living in a hazy fog and it finally lifted.   It’s amazing how fast you can feel and even see change in just one week.

I’ve been relatively health conscious since college – Macalester is the only school I know of where people develop healthy eating habits rather than put on the “freshman 15” – but to be honest, I have never fully committed to any one eating program.  Up until last week, my typical day would look like this:

Breakfast – a bowl of Kashi cereal with almond milk; a cup of tea when I get to work
Snack – Lara Bar
Lunch – Turkey, lettuce, and cheese sandwich with hummus and an apple
Dinner (if I decided to go shopping that week) – A  recipe found on pinterest like this southwestern chopped chicken salad (Nick’s fave by the way).

I also go out to eat relatively often and consume a few too many alcoholic beverages on the weekends, both of which do not bode well for a healthy lifestyle.  Oh, and I drink way too little water on a daily basis.  In fact, I don’t drink much of anything.

I always thought I was doing pretty well with my diet, especially in comparison to most, but when I compare that diet to the diet I consumed this past week, I understand my biggest problem.  I’m probably not consuming enough calories!  A bowl of cereal and a sandwich?  Really??  No wonder I’m always feeling tired and sluggish.  And when I do consume enough calories by going out to eat and drinking 3 – okay, 4 – vodka cranberries, I’m not filling my body with the nutrients it needs to function properly.  Last week my typical day looked like this:

Breakfast:  Smoothie- 2 cups of frozen fruit, 1/2 cup of almond milk, 1 cup plain greek yogurt, 2 cups of spinach, a tablespoon of nut butter, and a tablespoon of honey
Snack:  hummus and veggies, greek yogurt with flax seed and berries, or a Lara bar
Lunch:  BLT salad – salad greens, tomato, avocado, and turkey bacon with homemade creamy garlic dressing (made with cashews!)
Dinner:  Skillet salad (my fave so far) – quinoa mixed with sausage, spinach, cashews, garlic, cranberries, cherry tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar (Side note:  I never knew that was how balsamic was spelled.  I thought it was balsalmic.  Thanks spellcheck!)

I also have been drinking an enormous amount of H2O.

And sometimes dessert – One night I made Sadie’s Mexican Chocolate Macaroons. They were TO DIE FOR.

Obviously with this plan I’m consuming a lot more calories than I was before, especially during breakfast.  I don’t currently own a scale, or I’d fill you in on whether or not extra calories has translated into extra pounds- though I highly doubt it.  Eating more means my metabolism is up and running and being a calorie-burning machine!

I am truly looking forward to continuing on with the remaining 14 days of this plan.

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Daily Actions:

Pay Attention:  According to a paper out of Stanford University entitled “Awe Expands the Perception of Time,” when triggered with something inspirational, people’s perception of time actually slows down.  In another study, subjects were triggered by fear – each person was asked to estimate the amount of time they were in free fall during a specific amusement ride, and they almost always overestimated the time by about 36 percent.  What does this mean?  According to Sadie Nardini (my inspiration this month), it means that the more present you are to what’s happening, the more your life will expand.  I LOVE THAT.

Today, I decided to try it out.  I paid attention to my surroundings all day – Where am I? Why am I hear, and how did I get here? How does this space feel to me? Am I happy?  I also paid close attention while I was eating – to the tastes, textures, and smell of my meals (it actually took me a good 30 minutes to eat a salad.)  It was a great exercise in staying present and feeling grateful.

Organize your work day:  My job requires a lot of juggling of projects and tasks, both big and small.  A lot of days, I find myself jumping from one project or task to another, unable to actually complete any of them.  A few months ago, I discovered this great site called Trello, which allows you to mega-organize all of your tasks.  Though I’ve been using it on a regular basis, I haven’t been using it well.  Today I created several lists to try to use the site to its potential:

1. Tasks to complete
2. Tasks to complete TODAY
3. Tasks that have been accomplished

At the beginning of the day, I looked over my to-do list, dragged several over to the To-do today list, and focused ONLY on those for the entire day…even when I was distracted with emails relating to other projects.  I found that it worked quite well.  I stayed on track and focused.  Also, it feels super great when you are able to drag a task into the accomplished list.  I highly recommend it!  🙂