Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Books that Changed My Life- and Can Change Yours Too

One thing I've learned about reading over the years: it isn't always necessarily the best written book, nor the most poetic prose, that solidifies a books spot in ones mind or heart.  The book that goes on whispering to you long past the point of concluding reading it.  Yes, sometimes it is just that which makes a read memorable (the poetic prose).  Much more often though, its the uniqueness and provocation of the concept the book presents, which keeps it lingering in the back of your soul

Does the book prompt in someone, a novel concept, idea, lifestyle, or consideration they hadn't ever thought of prior?  Does the book stir, provoke, intrigue?  On finishing, does it leave a mark on the readers mind and/or heart?  Does it keep the cogs and gears of their intellect and mind turning?

These tend to be the books that most stay with us.  The ones that prompt a before and after type shift within.  Often times, these are also extremely well written.  Sometimes though, the writing is subpar, while the ideas within are still gold.

See below for my list of several books which, for me, fell into this category as life changers, thought shifters, heart movers.  All of which I highly recommend and believe have the same power to do such for you.

Just Kids by Patti Smith.  This book changed the way I look at romantic relationships, in powerful and poignant ways.  Patti Smith tells her story of arriving in NYC at the age of 18, destitute, alone, starving to be an artist.  There, she meets Robert Mapplethorpe, a similarly hungry artist.  These two form an instant friendship which, over the course of her story, prove to be a soul-mate like connection and love in the truest sense. 

Initially they're romantic loves, though when Robert realizes he is homosexual, this takes a heartbreaking turn for Patti.  Instead of moving apart permanently though, they continually turn back towards each other emotionally throughout each of their lives, even at times when most people would turn away because its simply too painful and "too complicated." 

Thus book showed me all the possibility of what love and a connection between two people can be, if we weren't so afraid of challenge, occasional pain, and the navigating through difficult emotions and ambiguous phases with someone.  One of the best books Ive ever read, both for the poetic prose and the uniqueness of the story itself.  Read this one.

An article I wrote on this book previously which garnered significant praise and positive thoughts from readers.

While I am about 1/3 through this book at the present moment, already, I know several of the principles within are already going to change my life.  Having prompted some major self reflection and consideration. 

The first of which: The Social Mirror

Meaning, if the only vision we have of ourselves comes from the social mirror (aka, the opinions, perceptions, and paradigms of the people around us), our view of ourselves is like the reflection in the crazy mirror room at a carnival. 

"You're never on time."
"Why cant you keep things in order?" 
"You must be an artist!" 
"You eat like a horse!" 
"This is so simple, why cant you understand?" 

These visions are disjointed and out of proportion.  They are, more often, projections than reflections, projecting the concerns and character weaknesses of the people giving the input rather than accurately reflecting what we are.

The second poignant insight I gleaned: Its incredibly east to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover its leaning against the wrong wall.  It is possible to be busy, very busy, without being very effective. 

People often find themselves achieving victories that are empty, successes that have come at the expense of the very things they suddenly realize are far more important to them.  People from every walk of life- doctors, CEOs, engineers, actors, politicians, plumbers, artists- often struggle to achieve a higher income, more recognition, or a certain degree of professional competence, only to find that their drive to achieve their goal actually blurred them to the things that mattered most, and are now gone.

How different our lives would be, and are, when we really know what is deeply important to us.  And by keeping that image prominent and at the very forefront of our minds, this can help to clarify that very knowledge.  With this picture of keeping "the end" ever at the forefront of our mind (aka, imagining, taking the time to really picture and consider the ending of your life, and how you most want to be remembered), this will help provide a narrowing of focus and a realigning of priorities, as well as can helping to guide and tweak your behavior and daily choices that you might have made differently otherwise. 

Every single day, operate with the End in MindThis can help cut through, quickly, a lot of the busy-ness and distractions, from what is really, truly important and crucial with regards to your deepest values and personal mission in your life.  What is your own personal mission?  And how do you most want to be remembered by the people who are of greatest importance to you?  

Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  While the story isnt especially unique (someone losing a parent they love deeply and spiraling downward into a tailspin over it), the way Strayed talks to her readers and narrates the story is what lends it that powerful punch. 

Strayed explores the human tensions and contradictions in all of us.  Loving someone, while still leaving them.  Feeling rage towards someone, all while loving them.  Wanting to leave, and at the very same time, of desperately wishing to stay.  Loving her body, while the next moment loathing it.  Feeling the fear, total terror, and yet doing it anyway.  Feeling both despair and strength simultaneously.  Love and resentment at the same time. 

Her story is told in a raw, real, very human voice.  Love this story.  Everyone can find themselves somewhere within it.

12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson.  While there are bits and pieces of Petersons principles and theories which can be problematic or obnoxious (though I think this is a given for any psychologist or really, even most people.  We all have some viewpoints/opinions which are skewed, not totally accurate, or which are lacking insight.  This is what it means to be human), so much of this book is excellent, thought provoking, incredibly well written, and very worth reading.  I was astounded by several of his observations and thoughts on life, finding them to be well stated, aptly observed, and inspiring.

Shrill by Lindy West.  Wow.  This book is one we have been needing for a long time as a culture.  And are still in desperate need for many more like it.  Part memoir, part manifesto on numerous problematic areas of our culture with regards to women, such as body image, within politics, and how women are treated as well as regarded in the media, at work, and in personal veins, this book is excellent.  In parts, laugh out loud funny, whereas in others, emotionally moving and thought provoking, I loved this book.  Underlining several passages and even reading them aloud to Maxx who agreed on it being a strongly written and inspiring read.

Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson.  One of the best books Ive ever read with regards to food and health.  The premise being: the majority of us who eat loads of fruits and veggies think we are eating for optimal health.  Not so.  In fact, most of us who do just that are often hardly getting any nutrients at all.  This depending largely on how we store these foods, as well as how we prepare them.  Frequently doing so in such a way that saps most of them of any substantial nutrients along the way.  This book will change the way you eat, prepare, and think about fruits and vegetables.  A vital read.

The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel.  This one is about how infidelity is perceived and treated in our culture (which is, in a very one track, narrow way).  Always horrible, always a relationship ender, and ever the cheater being a unethical, selfish villain.  Perel debunks much of that and probes one to think deeper on this issue, as well as in a wider, more open way, with regards to multiple other possibilities in considering the human heart as well as human desire. 

Her point being that while cheating is always crappy and wrong, and that while sometimes cheating is incident of lack or love or evidence that someone is a jerk, that other times is doesnt mean anything of the sort.  That reasons for and meaning behind cheating are relative and can run a wide gamut of reasons, can be layered with contradiction, and are worthy of closer examination.  That an incident of cheating does not always indicate a bad relationship or lack of love as our culture is quick to slap on as the only possibility ever with regards to cheating.  It can mean this.  It can also mean a lot of other layered, complicated things.

This is an incredibly thought provoking, fascinating read.  Highly recommend it, regardless of your thoughts on the topic, merely for the experience of further learning, mind opening, and provocation of thought.

The Soulmate Experience: a practical guide to creating extraordinary relationships by Mali Apple.  This book is one of my favorites about relationships.  Offering up concepts for closeness I hadn't read about in any other relationship books, nor had I ever considered anything like them.  Some even seeming contrary to closeness on initial consideration, though then on reading further, finding them to be thought provoking and inspiring.

The Color of Home by Rich Marcello.  While the writing in this book was average, the story was inspiring, unique, and thus, memorable.  About a couple who meet and fall in love, though in the middle of their romance, realizing that the timing between them is off.  That both of them have signifigant other life goals, dreams, and pathways that will cause their paths to diverage if continuing to chase all that they deeply desire. 

They decide to part ways for the time being, though not in a sense of "doors slammed shut" and the relationship being done.  Instead, they decide to pursue these diverging paths for the time being, and to trust in the universe.  That if they are meant to cross paths again, they will.  Its the only love story I have read with this type of plot.  I found it deeply thought provoking and relevant to real life and relationships.  Nor had I ever read another romance story with a concept like it.

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm.  This book turned on its head, numerous things I thought I knew and believed to be true about love.  Both, with regards to romantic love, as well as parental love.  A thought provoking, emotionally moving, philosophical read.  Highly recommend it.

Deliciously Ella by Ella Woodward.  This is an excellent cookbook in terms of rustic, easy to make, homey, plant based, vegan meals.  I really love most of the recipes in here, including the desserts, so yummy.

Sugar Blues by William Duffy.  Wow, was this a jarring read.  Im embaressed to admit it but this is the book that brought to light for me all the dangers and health wrecking affects that sugar has on your body.  From hemmeroids, to diabetes, to heart disease, to bad skin.  I was horrified, sobered, and stunned reading this book.  With no idea of any of this prior to reading it, aside from my vague knowledge that "sugar isnt good for you."  An important read for anyone who cares about their health, both long term and short.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.  Ignoring the crass title, this book is pretty excellent in terms of the life philosophies it offers.  Many, quite contradictory to what we typically hear in phisosophy and psychology/self help type of stuff.  Though sobering, inspiring, confidence building, and thought provoking.  This book can easily be life changing, if one carefully considers the insights within and applies even a few to their own life.

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel.  Love this book.  Totally changed the way I think about relationships, desire, monogamy, and love in general.  As well as space and boundaries in our closest relationships. 

The underlying question and premise of this book: can one sustain desire over the long-term for what they already have?  Hint: its more possible than you might think.  Sometimes it just requires approaching our romantic relationships a little differently than people usually, traditionally tend to. 

(And no, that isn't necessarily a reference to monogamy.  One can be monogamous and maintain this sense of desire over the long term as well).

Zen and the Art of Happiness by Chris Prentiss.  Based on the Buddhist theory that states: the universe doesn't make mistakes.  The idea that all which happens to us is exactly what is meant to be happening in that moment.  That all of it leads and adds up to the big picture of whom we are meant to become.  I found this book deeply inspiring, thought provoking, as well as helping instill a sense of peace within me when going through challenging phases in my own life.

The Friendship Factor: how to get closer to the people you care for by Alan McGinnis.  Ive read this book at least 4 times and will read it again most certainly.  One of the best relationship books Ive ever read.  This book, discussing concepts like vulnerability, making time for the relationships in your life, highly prioritizing them, learning the gestures of love, as well as even, the normalcy of anger being somewhat present in most close, intimate relationships.  This is an excellent book on relationships, both platonic as well as romantic and even familial.

The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant.  I loved this book on health.  Written in a conversational manner, easy to read, as well as fascinating, this is another one that will shift the things you thought you knew about health.  While I don't particularly follow a Paleo diet myself, this book did open my eyes wide with regards to various health issues, regardless.  Health findings based on real research and PhD studies.  If health is a concern and interest of yours, this is worth a read, whether you decide on maintaining a Paleo lifestyle or not.

The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan Pease.  The concepts and material in this book continually permeate many of my social interactions and observations in the years following my having read it.  Gives the reader more of a sense into people, the ways they move their bodies and how this might inform us of their intentions, as well as their inner emotional states.  Ive found it useful on numerous occasions since.

Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKeowen.  The concept of this book is a great one.  Most of us, especially Americans, seem to feel and be perpetually too busy.  Overworked, overscheduled, overtired.  We cannot ever seem to "get it all done," usually juggling multiple priorities and responsibilities. 

This book will help you to reconsider that notion and approach to life completely.  Challenging you that something around 80% of what you consider "really important" and "must dos" in your life, are actually not that important at all in the big picture.  That often times, we focus on and prioritize things which should be way further down the list and really don't actually matter all that much, and instead tend to push aside and ignore the things that actually, we should be focusing on and investing in far more. 

Check out this book for a perspective check on that concept.

The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence, and Imagination by Robert Moss.  This book was majorly thought provoking, with loads of real life examples illustrating and proving the powerful concepts he was suggesting.  That in fact, our dreams, as well as synchronicity and coincidence, and our imaginations, are far more powerful, insightful, and intuitive than we tend to think.  Instead, most of us often dismissing them with excuses along the lines of "it was only a dream" or "it was just a coincidence," or, "that's just your imagination."  When in fact, many powerful things (premonitions, inventions and ideas that have changed the world, life saving insights, etc) have come from these three sources.

Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud.  This book brought into stark focus the realization that endings are a natural part of life.  That most of us view endings as unnatural, awful things to be ashamed of, avoided at all cost, and which signify failure.  This is not so at all.  Everything in life has a natural ending/conclusion.  Relationships, jobs, life phases, all of it.  There are periods of growth and flourishing, and then declines, conclusions and endings.  Some things lasting much longer, whereas others are shorter lived.  This book helped me learn that concept, both, not to be afraid of endings, as well as to be able to identify when an ending might be necessary or impending.

For further life changing, thought provoking, gripping, and just generally awesome reads, I put together a list a couple of months ago, a "master life reading list," if you will that, in my opinion, gives a person the most comprehensive of foundations in reading all of the included.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Lousy Leaders, Bad Bosses, Damning Dictators

Poison and subpar people in power.  Why is this so often the case?

Of course, there are many fantastic and phenomenal bosses out there, to be sure.

However, it seems like people tend to have far more "bad boss" stories as opposed to good ones.  That, when considering the whole of ones personal employment history, the poor management and leaders more often than not, outweigh the incidence of good ones.

How can it be that so many people who make it into such prominent, high power, leadership roles are much of the time, totally ill equipped or even downright awful at it?

There are several reasons for such, both that I have observed personally, as well as gleaned via my reading on this topic....

1.  They don't have a handle on their own emotions (aka, emotionally immature). 

A person simply cannot effectively lead others if not in control of, or thoughtfully aware, with regards to their own emotions.  Most people need greater awareness of why they feel the ways they do.  This would result in improved awareness and greater choice with regards to the ways they then respond to and act on those emotions. 

Often times, people tend to be defensive when met with information about themselves that might be hard to hear, though indicates areas in which they may need to grow. People also tend to blame others, a lot.  Its tough to take responsibility and admit error/fault.  Its rare to find a person with much personal clarity, self awareness, and a sense of personal responsibility (without defensiveness or anger accompanying).  Thus, many people move through life in a cloud and/or rut of remaining just as they are, with little to no personal growth, or true inner emotional awareness.  

Further, while some people do this, most do not, and what I am referring to is this: the active pursuit of continual learning, growth, and seeking of wisdom.  Via many routes, including reading books, articles, taking classes, and receiving feedback from others (both positive and negative)- considering such carefully, and then growing in the areas where need be.  Most people do not do this, much, if at all.  Hence, all of this tying into a major reason why we have so many poor leaders.  They don't have a handle on their own emotions, nor even really much awareness of such.

2.  A lot of people have never seen inspiring, motivating, high quality managers in action themselves

Because there are so many lousy leaders and bad bosses out there, just like there are numerous other unhealthy relational models (romantic ones, communication ones, etc), when this is all a person has ever known/experienced/witnessed, they don't know any better.  And thus, they assume that the dysfunctional, crappy managers they have seen are actually what is the "norm."  And potentially, even mistaking these poor managers for decent ones.

Good managers: empower others, build a vision for the future and inspire others to follow, respect your boundaries, encourage corporation and collaboration between people, understand and honor what makes their employees tick, and much more.  The vast majority of managers are so overwhelmed with whats on their plate that they fail to attend to (or even care) about the needs of their staff.

Unfortunately, as humans, we believe what we seeAnd there are few great role models out there for us to learn from.  The truly great leaders usually ascend up the ladder quick and shoot out of our orbit before we can learn from them.

3.  Many managers mistake authoritarianism for leadership. 

Many managers think that parading their power and influence for all to see, and demanding blind submissions to their will, is leadership.  It isn't.  Instead, that's called being a dictator and bully.  How many of us have had a boss who insists on our being a "yes" man or woman as being the only means by which we can succeed in their company?  How many of us have had our ideas suppressed or contributions undermined, and our growth thwarted because of a narcissitic boss who cannot tolerate being challenged or being given difficult feedback?  This is not a good boss.

4.  Communication skills are sorely lacking in a lot of managers (as well as, a lot of people in general throughout  our culture)

So many of us are utterly mindless when it comes to how we communicate, and the powerful impact of our words and actions.  Again, sadly, many in corporate America are more comfortable using their words as weapons rather than communicating in kind, open, gracious ways that pave the way for better listening, trust, and collaboration.

5.  Too worried about politics and managing (and kissing) up. 

Terrible managers worry more about kissing up, being noticed, and getting ahead, rather than doing the right work at the right time, with the right people.  Being politically savvy is certainly important, but spending most of your time and energy maneuvering to step over others and reach the next level makes you a lousy manager.  If your sights are solely on the prize of a better title and salary, youll miss plethoras of opportunities to grow, learn, develop, and lead in the truest sense.

6.  They are miserable in their own careers. 

Believe it or not, a lot of people with "top" positions and huge salaries are not especially happy people.  Many are strained and overly worked, incredibly stressed, and are struggling in a job they dislike intensely.  Often times, someone like this is too wrapped up in their own unhappiness and stress to see straight.

(You can read a bit more on this topic, the studies that show how more money actually tends to make people less happy, in this blog article).

Your cup must be at least half full to muster energy, generosity, and time to support the growth of others through a positive "giving" management approach.

If stuck under a terrible boss, there are several solutions and things you might do:

--Use this as a temporary learning experience.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of difficult and even bad people out there.  One needs to learn particular skills (very strong personal boundaries, inner strength and confidence, etc) in order to deal effectively with these people and not let them affect ones own life negatively.  Your current job can be a perfect learning experience for this very point.

--Begin interviewing widely outside your company/current workplace, to get a better idea of your own worth in the marketplace, as well as to assess what else is out there.  (Trust me, you are never stuck anywhere, and there are always LOADS of othert possibilities, opportunities, and so much more beyond wherever you are at the moment.  Do not forge this).

--If you aren't going to switch jobs at the moment, explore new ways to do work you love in another department, group, or division that is out from under this boss.

--Build a powerful support network within, as well as outside your current employer, to help support you to change jobs when the time is right.

--Develop a mentor/close friend at your company who can have your best interests at heart and help you navigate these challenging waters.

--Actually put in the effort to seek out and secure another jobYou spend 8-9 hours a day at your workplace.  If its somewhere you feel largely miserable, this is a problem, and one that needs to be addressed, and changed.  Life is way, way too short to spend the vast majority of your waking hours in a place that feels deeply distressful, totally unfulfilling, or miserable.

--Use this experience with this terrible boss (and the other crappy ones you have had prior), to learn about the kinds of ways you do not wish to be/behave/act, both as a person in general, as well as a potential prospective leader yourself someday.  We desperately need more good leaders/managers/bosses.  You can be one of them.

If you are struggling under the stress of having an awful boss though, don't forget, this is just one job, and just one person.  We often forget just how much more there is beyond the narrow picture of what each of our lives are at the moment. 

There is SO much more out there, endless possibilities awaiting.  Additional job opportunities you likely haven't even considered or had cross your consideration.  Even other career options that you hadn't thought of, which are likely to be just as good a fit for you as your current one, if not better. 

Life is short, and fast.  All of which is one big experiment.  If the current experiment isn't working so hot any longer, it might be time to seek out a new one.  Learn from it while you are there, but do not remain complacent, stuck, or stay in something that isn't a great, as well as healthy and inspiring fit for you over the long term.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Why Money Does Not Increase Happiness

Contrary to our cultures popular beliefs that more is better, especially with regards to money, several studies show this actually isn't so.  And that even, surprisingly, its even the opposite.  That study after study has actually shown that the more money people make, the less they actually enjoy their life outside of work.

So, why then have we all been conditioned to believe that money does buy happiness?  If that isn't so, why are so many of us still chasing such?  And how can it be that this is so incorrect?

As a culture, we are continually urged to buy and consume.  More, more, more.  From the Super Size option at McDonalds, to the double D breasts one can now purchase from a plastic surgeon, to the most monstrous SUV, to the biggest and best juked out beach house along the ocean strip.  We want it all.  More of it, bigger, swankier, pricier. 

Much of this stems from a place of "keeping up with the Jones's," so the speak.  As none of these things actually increase our happiness over the long term.  Instead, we experience a short burst of satisfaction and thrill over the novel item we have acquired.  However, important thing, this soon dies down and out, leaving us at the same relative level of happiness we were before.

What does make people happy?  Both, interpersonal relationships, and experiences.  These are two of the richest sources of fulfillment and joy in life.

Interpersonal relationships are what life is all about.  Look at any movie, book, song, poem, you name it.  One of the main topics ever focused on is love.  And while its usually romantic love we profess about and obsess over, platonic love (as in, close friends, or deep ties to great family members, are equally as fulfilling and joyous).  What reduces the stress of our lives, what makes us feel supported and loved, what makes us feel understood, a major source of fun in our life, as well as inspiration and spawning's of growth, all of this comes from the high quality interpersonal relationships of our life.

And then experiences.  This can be traveling to an awe inspiring locale, taking a thought provoking class, reading a thought-changing (aka life changing) book, learning something new, eating a mouthwateringly delicious meal, going on a heart-pumping adventure with someone you love, feeling swept off your feet by a romantic love.  These are the things we remember.  The experiences.  The aspects of life that make our hearts swell are those which truly burn themselves into our memories.  Not what brand of shirt we wear, or how expensive our car is.  These are the aspects of life that we will revisit time and time again over the years, smiling with nostalgia, longing, and wonder as we do so.

Money is not involved in either of those.  While yes, money can help to fund experiences, it isn't necessarily a crucial aspect of them.  Experiences can be just as moving and memorable and cost absolutely nothing.  A moment of deep connection with someone you love, laughing a lot, seeing spectacular scenery, feeling incredibly loved by someone special in your life, etc.  So much richness of life doesn't cost anything at all.

And in fact, studies show that over focus on money can take away from these very things.  And that additionally, in some ways, it decreases happiness.

Its true, there is a minimal amount of money that one needs to feel secure.  If a person lives in poverty, this is immensely stressful and certainly detracts from the quality of ones life, in more ways than one.  However, assuming one has an average salary on which to live, has their basic needs met (food, decent shelter, health insurance), with a little bit left over, this is what one needs to be happy.

And numerous studies show that once someone makes more money than this, their happiness levels do not increase.  They may feel a short boost of thrill, but this subsides soon thereafter.  Usually replaced by a hunger for even more money (yearning to feel that same boost again).

So, here are several reasons why money does not increase happiness:

--As humans, we tend to always want more.  We often think, once I get that raise, then I will be happy.  Once I am making $100k instead of 80k, then I will be happy.  Shocker?  Not so.  You may experience a temporary boost of excitement and satisfaction when it initially happens.  Then, your happiness level will peter back out and return to whatever it was before.  Nothing really changes.  

--Many people think they want to make more money in order to be able to enjoy their lives outside of work further (better vacations, more material goods, etc).  In fact though, study after study has shown that the more money people make, the less time they have to enjoy their life outside their job.  With more money often comes longer hours, greater responsibility, far more expectations, stress, and pressure.  Companies use money as the dangling carrot to entice people to put in more hours.  This leaves less and less time to actually revel in and experience your life outside of work.

--A study by Berkeley showed that money actually brings unhappiness.  In a Capitalist society, people generally believe that richer is better, but that is not what this study found at all.  You can read time and time again, of the rich man or woman who "has it all," in terms of money and material goods, and yet the rest of their life is empty.  Void of meaningful connections or much joy outside of work, because they don't tend to have time for any of it.  They've chosen their job and money as the priority.  So while they have loads of money, they are lonely and mostly miserable.  This is of course, not a blanket truth of the rich.  Not even close.  But it tends to be accurate quite often.

--There is also research on moneys impact on our overall happiness over the big picture.  Princeton researcher and 2002 Novel Prize winner, Kahneman (PhD) says that money does not bring about happiness.  That people overrate the joy inducing affect of money.  He says that increases in income have a relatively brief affect on life happiness, as well as psychological studies showing that the wealthier people are, the more intense negative emotions they experience.  So, as you can see, these studies do not link wealth with greater incidence of happiness.  

Yes, having enough to live on, with a bit left over to do some things you enjoy, is important in terms of feeling joy and satisfaction with life.  Not having enough money to live on is incredibly distressing and disheartening.  However, past that point, more money adds nothing to your overall actual life satisfaction, fulfillment, or happiness.  And in fact, in many ways, it can even take away from or decrease it.  Be careful when you feel yourself hungering for more and more and more.  There is a good chance you are focusing on the wrong life priorities, if this is the case.  Ones that will not actually bring you happiness to any lasting or resounding degree.

Instead, focus on the wonder of being alive, of experiencing life day to day.  Being alive is rather astounding and awesome, in and of itself.  Whether that's being fully present in the moment while kissing someone you love.  Witnessing an astounding natural scene, or eating an incredible meal. Shooting down the mountain on skis, the sweet solitude, arresting scenery, and adrenaline from the speed, all filling you up inside.  Feeling a deeply resonating and fulfilling moment of connection with someone for whom you care.  Hugging and holding your beloved pet.  Being engaged in an activity that fills you will passion, joy, and a sense of meaning.  Reading a book that either inspires or grips you.  The list goes on and on. 

These are the types of moments (not the # on your paycheck, or the fanciest pair of shoes, or the fastest car, all of which lose their appeal after that short, momentary burst that happens in the beginning of receiving such) that bring both happiness in the moment, and major life satisfaction, both in the short term, as well as lasting and over the long term. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Amazing Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine

Naturally, a trip involving Brooke and Maxx was started off with something sweet :-) a cupcake we both agreed was phenomenal from Sue Cakes in Belfast, Maine.  A detour on our way up to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park for Labor Day weekend.  Chocolate raspberry flavor, the frosting creamy and light, the cake moist and rich.  We devoured this thing in seconds.  A delicious conclusion to our couple hours spent wandering Belfast.

Lunch was had at Chases Daily in Belfast.  A spot Maxx had chosen prior, imagining my liking it.  He hit the nail on the head.  My god, the white bean puree vegetable sandwich we sampled here was to. die. for.  As well as the Kale Salad- whoa.  Mouthwatering and superbly seasoned/flavored.

As well as during our brief stopover in Belfast, stumbling on, hands down, one of the most unique, charming, way cool bookshops I have ever had the pleasure of exploring the inside of, Bella Books

I ended up chatting with the owner for several minutes, telling him such with regards to how unique and special his bookstore was.  The two of us hitting it off right away.  A deal was then struck with Maxx, who waited for me outside with Ida.  I had purchased an Orange Julius Gingerbread cookie, which was to be his if and when he went inside on his own (while I then stayed outside with Ida) and checked out this memorable bookshop for himself.  He did, gone for several minutes more than I expected and on coming out, agreeing whole heartedly on how great it was inside. 

Man, oh man, if I lived in Belfast, I would take up residence at this rustic, romantic reading respite every Sunday afternoon.

See below for photos of the quaint downtown area of Belfast, as well as the rustic and romantic interior to Bella Books.  Swoon.

How fun are the painted on motifs of this door?

Bella Books

Bella Books

Bella Books

Hangin by the water in Belfast, sitting in lobster trap chairs :-)

Sweet Ida <3

Now, onto Acadia National Park.  We spent our full allotted day in the park hiking one of the Carriage Roads, leading us to an other worldly clearing, cut through by narrow stream, the focal point an old, arching bridge made entirely of individual stone pieces, so neat.

Pause and rewind for just a moment though.  Prior to our dreamy discovery down the Carriage Roads, we attempted hiking Penobscot Mountain.  This was, to put it mildly and in a nutshell, exhilarating, terrifying, and hilarious. 

At first, the trail was relatively easy.  A meandering incline of rock steps and narrow twisting turns.  Quickly this turned into steep rock faces, and eventually, cliff edges and boulders with sharp drops off into nothing.  Were it just Maxx and I, we could have done the hike, granted it would have been sweaty and shaky armed.  With Ida in tow?  This was not happening.  She clung to each step, shivering, quaking in terror, stressed to the max.  Refusing to budge until we had cajoled and pulled her into her coming along with us grudgingly.  We had to almost literally carry her at varying points, all while Maxx and my feet were wedged into the rocks at precarious, dangerous angles.

Both of us laughing and dripping sweat.  Ida was the only one without a smile, not seeming to find the humor in the situation ;-).  At one point, even turning around and, to mine and Maxxs chuckling and surprised reaction, walking back the way in which we had come, beating a swift retreat backwards the first second she was able.  Plopping herself down in the middle of the trail, she refused going any further, much to our amusement.

Finally, on coming to what was sheer rock as an intense angle upwards, we had to turn back.  Knowing there was no way we could possibly scale it safely with Ida.

This was as far up as we made it during our Penobscot trek ;-)

After the stressful, laughter inducing, and adrenaline packed attempt up Penobscot, see below for our wander and stroll along one of the Carriage Roads of Acadia, leading to a stunning stone bridge.  It seeming to glow in the afternoon sun.  The area was secluded, felt mysterious, as though from another time, as well as was bright, and magical.  My remarking to Maxx, "couldn't you totally see fairies and leprechauns hiding behind the trees of these woods?"

Check out this insane looking mushroom!!!  Like something from another planet.

Ida was enjoying this leg of the trip FAR more than our hike up Penobscot ;-p

Ida, taking a much needed rest.  Yes, half in the river ;-p

The underside of the bridge.  How gorgeous and way cool is that!?

And now, for more of Acadia State Park.  The below photos include: near Thunder Hole (though we didn't actually see Thunder Hole itself), as well as Otter Cliff.

See Maxx and Ida? :-)

See the person at the top of the cliff?  For size perspective, of where we were walking.

See the people in the photo?  Maxx, Ida and I spent a few hours walking along these very trails, with the stunning craggy cliffs and never ending stretch of water alongside us.

The next several photos are of our boat ride around several of the islands surrounding Acadia, including our stopping at Cranberry Island, a small lobstering island/village.  This was a gift from Maxx to me, and, both of us agreed, one of the major highlights of our weekend.

We saw bald eagles, huge osprey nests (including baby ospreys attempting to fly), porpoises cresting the water, gray seals popping their heads up out of the surf, and all manner of unique birds.  The day was just warm enough for this to be perfect, the breeze on our faces and in our hair.  The host of the boat cruise, Winston, a passionate, knowledgeable, elderly gentleman, was such fun to listen to.  It was obvious he loves Acadia and knows plethora's of information about the islands and wildlife there.  His narration akin to reading an engaging and informative story.

See the huge osprey nest on that giant rock??

Entering the quaint lobster village on Little Cranberry island.

And then, on our last night, a fabulous seafood dinner.  Maxx had the traditional lobster dinner, with a side of clam chowder and wild rice.  I had grilled salmon with a cranberry apple chutney, which was superb.  Sweetly spiced and lovely.

Below, the only two photos which are not my own (aside from the 3 at the beginning of this entry of Chases Daily in Belfast)- these pictures are supposed to resemble a little wood that Maxx found, both of us stunned by how gorgeous it was.  Maxx commenting, "now this is a wood where fairies and elves would live."  It truly was. 

Moss blanketing the forest floor, much of the moss even flowered.  Little foot bridges and logs for crossing miniature ravines in the ground.  Snaking pathways.  Gigantic tree roots, twisting and curving along the ground.  Beams of light shining through the tree leaves above.  It truly was an enchanting little forest, the most beautiful Ive ever walked in or seen.  I was so bummed at not having brought my camera along.  Therefore, here are two photos I found online which most conjure up what it was like...

And, way cool thing/follow up: Maxx found a link online that shows actual photos of this very little wood we explored and loved!  This blogger calls it the "best short hike in all of Maine."  Its the loop trail on the Frank E. Woodworth Preserve in Harrington, Maine.  You can scroll through the blog entry and see a few photos of the actual wood I described just above, with the small wooden plank foot walkways and such.

Now, back to my own photos...a snapshot of the area we stayed just below.

One evening, Maxx and I walked down past the picnic table and laid out on a huge boulder alongside the water just below.  Staring up at the starry ski above us, awed.  It looked like a forest of stars.  As though the sky had been thrown with glitter in varying sizes.  Hands down, the most jaw dropping night sky I have ever seen with my own eyes.

We lay here for roughly 20 minutes, just gazing upward, lying side by side in the cool night air.  Awesome.

The only other photo not my own in this article, this is very akin to and closely resembles the night sky that Maxx and I witnessed that night.  I didn't take this picture, got it offline to give an example as close to what I could find as what we saw.  It was truly astounding.

While in Bar Harbor Maine, Maxx and I dined at several succulent and delectable establishments...

Those include:

--Mount Dessert Bakery: where we sampled a decadent mint chocolate brownie, both moaning over the deliciousness of such.

--Café This Way: where we split a Korean mushroom sauté (with tofu, kimchi, and carrots, all in a spicy broth), then I had the Pecan Crusted Fish Cakes (so yummy, though for $14, the portion was TINY), and Maxx had the Lamb Kofta Tacos (looked absolutely delicious) and the Sesame Tuna Poke.  All of the food was great, we agreed.  High quality, excellent stuff.  And the atmosphere of this place, I personally reveled in.  A low lit, intimate, cozy, romantic library/café type of spot where one might hole up during the colder months.

--Rosalie's Pizza: ordering a half and half pizza and then taking such to the local park where we sat, devouring our pie with a great view of the harbor, along with the cliffs and forests beyond.  My half with spinach, feta, and tomato, while Maxx ordered a veggie with pepperoni.

--Our seafood dinner at Galyns Restaurant, with great views of the harbor.  The food here, pricey, though very good.

--Morning Glory Bakery, where we sampled a blueberry muffin, a moist chocolate cake with maple frosting, and I had an awesome salad on our last day there topped with curried chicken, roasted red peppers, onion, spinach, avocado, cucumber, and tomatoes, SO good.  Highly recommend this place.

--Mount Desert Island Ice Cream.  We sampled this spot twice.  Said to be one of the best ice cream shops in New England.  Maxx and I both loved it.

--CJs Big Dipper Ice Cream.  Maxx could not get enough of the homemade blueberry softserve here.

And, onto our last awe inspiring moment of the trip.  Cadillac Mountain.  Check out the below photos of us at the peak.  The scenery below us, absolutely arresting and stunning.

In conclusion: cannot recommend Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine enough.  Maxx and I had a fabulous time, reveling in every moment of our weekend together.  Both agreeing on our having to pack up and leave come Monday that 2.5 days isn't enough.  That we easily could have done 2 more full days, as there is just so much to do, taste, and see in Bar Harbor and Acadia!

Absolutely make a point to spend a long weekend or vacation up here when you can.