Friday, January 25, 2019

31 Awesome Things in Life

1. Cookies and cupcakes.  Love the texture of both these bite-sized, sweet treats.  And available in all manner of exciting flavors.  The perfect accompaniment to tea (or any warm drink, really).  Fun to bake, sample the batter whilst doing so ;-), and of course, devour once they are ready!

2. Summer time.  Especially summer nights, or summer weekends.  Those seeming endless, carefree, balmy nights take on a romantic air, one laced with possibility.  And then weekends, sunny, laid back, the best.

3. Fireflies.  Providing sporadic sparkles amidst an otherwise dark stretch of field or forest.  Magic.

4. Books.  You can find so much in books.  Knowledge.  Learning.  Life changing thoughts and ideas.  Entertainment.  Suspense and excitement.  Compelling people.  Explore new places, cultures, and differing experiences from ones own. 

For some bomb diggity book suggestions, check out Brunches and Books (blog).

5. Love letters.  Often, something you will keep and cherish for years.  A keepsake which warms your heart, with a special and unique aspect to reading the hand-written words from someone you love, and who loves you, which they took the time to write for you.  This is no small thing.

6. Travel and adventure.  It pushes the envelope of your sense of bravery and comfort zone.  Adds excitement and wonder to your life and being.  Turns you into a storyteller.  Enriches your life, both before the adventure, during, and years following (in your recalling and reminiscing on such).

7. Snow.  The glittering, brilliant blanket.  The lace-like look it offers trees on which it covers.  The silence that snow seems to shroud the world in.

8. Animals.  Studies have shown that when petting an animal, our stress levels go down.  How can one not love at least some type of animal(s)?  They are endearing, fascinating, and can offer us senses of comfort, understanding, companionship, and deep love.

9. Skiing.  The mixture of social interspersed with solitude this activity delivers, the best.  Alternating between barreling down a slope, the wind in your hair, a silent roar amidst your being, concentrating on the turning and bending of your skis and knees just so.  And then hopping aboard the chairlift and chatting with your companions, as well as retiring to the warm respite of the lodge for lunch or tea.  All of this, such fun.

10. Christmas.  To me, a holiday that invites thankfulness into ones life.  A sense of joy and celebration.  Delicious seasonal foods and fun celebrations.  A coziness and magic to this holiday.

The best place to experience this holiday?  Germany.  Where they have supposedly the best Christmas market in the world, people flying in from all over to revel in the atmosphere of these.

You can check them out here.

And, a specific one, the Heidelberg Christmas Market in Germany.

11. Surprises.  How memorable and such fun is it to be surprised by something personal and wonderful, from someone who loves you?  These can be things we never forget, and cherish for the whole of our lives, the memory and moment of such.

12. Being in a great romantic relationship (both, an emotionally healthy and truly satisfying one).  This can be one of the most enriching, fulfilling, growth inducing, and joyous experiences of ones life.  Again though, key words are "emotionally healthy and truly satisfying."

13. Cafes.  Cozy, inviting, ultimate people watching.  There is something about having a delicious warm drink (if its pretty, even better), coupled with a book or some writing, or meeting a friend and conversing, within a cafe that is just the best. Hence, why cafe culture in Europe is such a thing.

My own personal favorite list of cafes in Germany.

As well as favorite cafes in Boston!

14. Spending time with the people you have awesome connections with.  Those you both like immensely, feel understood by, who bring out the best version of you, and with whom you greatly enjoy to spend time.  This nourishes and fills the soul.  Can help you feel understood, loved, and supported.  Offers a sense of security and comfort to your life.  And can inspire you into both being and becoming your best self.  Even if its just one or two close friends you can see regularly, this is all it takes.  It isn't about the number, its about the quality.

15. Trying a new restaurant.  Sampling delicious new dishes, reveling in a novel atmosphere, people watching, getting dressed up and heading out, this whole thing can be an anticipatory, super fun evening experience.

Some of the most awesome restaurants I've tried in my travels...

16. Dancing.  The point isn't whether you're a "good" or "bad" dancer (many people feeling as though they are the latter).  Dancing, if you can mostly let go of what others think of you, can be such a blast (hint: studies show that people arent nearly as concerned with us as we think they are.  Most people are too wrapped up in themselves to be watching you ;-)).

17. Libraries.  Hushed and cozy.  Laden with all manner of stories, new knowledge for the taking, gripping reads, opportunity for further learning, chock full of life changing potential.  And lets not forget their romantic atmosphere, as though on stepping into a library, time falls by the wayside, ceasing to matter so much.

18. Experiencing a new place.  In tune with #6, this often, if we let it, can fill us with wonder, anticipation, and thrill.  The exploring of a novel place.  It can expand your mind, offering new ideas for ways of living and being.  Leaves you with resonating and poignant memories.  Arms you with stories to share.

19. Feeling loved.  Is there any more awesome feeling?  There arent many.  This one tends to rank among the top for most.  Feeling appreciate, valued, liked, and loved.  These are some of the utmost feelings that people covet and cherish in life.  We all do.  Thus, decide to let someone know, today, that you love them and they are special to you.

20. Being truly, genuinely listened to by another personThis is far more rare than you think.  Most people are mediocre listeners.  Generally "listening" through the lens of trying to figure out how they will respond once you finish talking, or considering while you are speaking what they wish to say.  Or, even thinking of other things entirely while you speak.  Or, itching for you to finish so they can cut in with their thoughts/opinions on it.  Or, growing bored and their mind wandering.  Or, distracted by thoughts of their own.

None of this is listening.  Listening, truly focused and interested listened, takes intent and effort.  Most people are not great at this, but the good news, its a skill you can learn.  Become a good listener and people will flock to you.  You will never have a shortage of friends, if you become a great listener. 

(Side note: no one can be a great listener 100% of the time.  Even the best listeners have moments where they are distracted or poor listeners.  This is human.  Aim though to be a great listener 80% of the time).

21. Board games.  Such a variety available, for all people with all tastes in terms of game type preference.  This is a great activity, both with one other person, or with a whole group.  Its a connecting activity, a rousing and super fun one.  Game nights = laughter and silliness.

22. Birthday celebrations.  A chance to make someone you love feel cherished and special.  To recognize someone who is important to you. To surprise and delight a person you love.  And, when its your birthday, reveling in the one day every year in which others send you sweet wishes :-D

23. Watching someone for whom you care deeply, get married.  This can be a heart rending, incredibly moving, deeply meaningful and awesome thing.  When attending the wedding of a distant relative or of someone to whom you arent especially close, this can be fun, though doesn't tend to be quite so special for you as the attendee. 

But, when the person getting married is say, a sibling to whom you are quite close, or a best friend, or just someone you love very much, a wedding is a beautiful thing to attend and experience. 

Witnessing two people who love each other so deeply, they are committing to building a life together, in front of their loved ones.  This is an incredibly romantic thing and a beautiful intent.

24. Swimming.  Refreshing, relaxing, sometimes even a respite, all while getting in a semblance of exercise.  It can also be playful or romantic, depending on with whom you are swimming.

25. Being gripped by a truly phenomenal book.  One of the most marvelous feelings, to be in the midst of a story/book which you cannot wait to get back to, re-open, and delve back into.  Anxiously awaiting work to conclude, or the time of day to come when you can climb back into this world with which you have become invested and enmeshed.  This is the best.

26. Seeing a friend again whom you haven't seen in a long time.  This can be such an exciting, joyous thing.  Akin to slipping on a favorite, cozy sweatshirt or much loved blanket.  Reuniting with someone to whom you have been quite close, though haven't seen in a while.  Like eating ones most loved comfort food dish.

27. The feeling of accomplishing something or completing a major goal.  Filling your soul with a sense of happiness, a sense of accomplishment, meaning, and even awe.  Its a fantastic feeling, doing something which you've intended and/or longed to do, something that may have been challenging or daunting and instead, realizing you made it happen.

28. Feeling as though you've made a difference in someones day.  Brought them joy, or good feelings.  This is a sensation that will fill your own heart with a sense of meaning and happiness.  Knowing you have brought meaning and a lift to someone else. 

Go out of your way to do this today :-).  Decide to do something nice for someone.  It can be small, but unexpected.  Even better, do it for someone to whom you dont usually talk or interact with (maybe a colleague whom you know a bit and who seems nice, but who you haven't really spoken with much).

29. Fireplaces.  Is there anything more cozy?  Not much.  And that hypnotizing quality of crackling fire and flames.  Sitting by a fire is quintessential romance and coziness, almost luxurious.

30. Brunch.  In my humble opinion, the best meal.  Setting the tone to your day with a plate full of pancakes, sides of bacon and eggs.  Or, french toast as the centerpiece.  Potentially Greek yogurt with a swirl of honey and berries on top, as an aside.  Orange juice or a smoothie.  The comforting warmth of oatmeal.  The list of possibilities going on.  Brunch = the best.

My favorite brunching locale ever.

And, last but not least...

31. Romance and magic.  Two essential ingredients to an amazing life, both every day in your daily experience, as well as over the big picture of your life journey.  Both are out there in abundance, if only you choose to see and cultivate them.  Decide to both, see the magic and romance in things, as well as actively seek and create it yourself.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

How Weddings Have Gotten Out of Control

The main, overarching sentiment of a wedding: to commit to building a life with the person you love, and to celebrate such with the people you both love.

This is a relatively simple, though very sweet, beautiful, and wonderful thing.  However, as a culture, weddings have grown outrageous and out of control.  From spending thousands on a dress to wear once, to ridiculous expectations of our friends in attending wedding-related celebrations, to our settling for none other than "perfection" with regards to the details of one's wedding day.

Weddings have become a plethora of added bells and whistles, demands, expenses, and distractions. An event that has become all about presenting a particular image, and very much focused on consumerism and extravagance.  The vast majority of this, serving in taking away from what the wedding day is supposed to be truly about.

For a visual metaphor, let's compare a prospective wedding day to the baking of a cake.  For a delicious cake, one only needs the actual cake itself (the cake can represent the couple), and then a swath of frosting across its surface (the frosting representing a few, small, sweet additions for the celebration- such as loved ones attending, a smattering of tasty food, and some drinks on offering.  Plus music to get down bee-bopping to).

A simply frosted, elegant, no-frills cake.  Lovely.  Enticing for both looking at and in the idea of eating.

The cake is the couple, the frosting of the cake-the add ons to the wedding celebration.  The more frosting and toppings you have...the cake gets lost underneath.

When you begin piling on loads of (unnecessary) flourishes, such as a $1,000 cake, a $1000+ Bachelor/Bachelorette weekend, truckloads of flowers in "exactly the right" shades, professional hairdos, destination weddings, receptions serving dinner at $100+ per head, a photographer for several thousands of dollars, a never-ending guest list (almost guaranteed to result in arguments and hurt feelings over who gets an invitation, both between the couple and their families)....this is like adding globs more frosting to your freshly baked cake, all over its surface.  Incorporating all these additional aspects to the day which are largely unnecessary.  Akin to dumping an entire container of jimmies on top, adding bowls full of whipped cream to its surface as well, spooning layers of fruit atop, and adding some powdered sugar, cherries, gummie bears while we are at it.  You get the idea.

The result will become a cluttered, ill-tasting, stress-inducing mess.  Not especially delicious.  Maybe colorful and fun to look at from certain angles, but off-putting to actually ingest.

This, to me, is what weddings have become in our culture.

In our increasingly celebrity obsessed, look-at-me, consumerist and image-focused culture, weddings have gotten out of control.  This often results in much stress for all of those involved, the spending of an arm and leg money wise, people becoming angry/resentful/upset, those who cannot afford it end up being left out, and ultimately just majorly taking away from what its all really about.

What is it supposed to be about?  The couple.  In love.  Committing to a life together, and wishing to share it with a few of their loved ones.  That's really it.

A few ways in which weddings have gotten especially out of control...

--Weddings have grown increasingly expensive, now typically running anywhere from $15,000-25,000.  Sometimes even more for the especially rich.  People, this is for ONE day!  That is the cost of a car...a down payment on a least 3-4 amazing vacations for two!  How can this possibly be worth the expense??  The obvious answer: it isn't.

Solution: you can have a beautiful, romantic celebration that is largely homemade, DIY, low key, while still lovely, elegant, and memorable.  There are countless ways to do this.  You just need to get creative and thoughtful about it.  Then, save the money not spent to go on a few awe-inspiring trips with your love in the next couple of years!  Way better use of the dough.

--Bridesmaid culture has become laden with favoritism, as well as become all about image, and the spending of tons of money.  First off, matching dresses for the sake of photos.  This squashes out any sense of individuality, as well as prompts a friend to shell out (often) a boatload of money for a dress she 1. may not even like.  2.  is unlikely ever to wear again.  And 3. possibly, even likely to be unflattering.  All in the name of "matching" for photos.  Really...?

Why not allow the women you love to wear entirely what they wish?  To let them choose what they can afford, as that will differ widely for everyone, as well as in what they feel beautiful wearing.  Does anything else truly matter?  It shouldn't.

Same with hairstyles.  Let each woman wear her hair in the way she feels most lovely.  She should enjoy herself to the utmost at your celebration, yes?  Especially as she is a guest of honor.  Thus, let her dress and be totally herself, no restrictions.  She will enjoy this, be leaps and bounds, far more.  When allowed to dress in a way that she feels most herself and attractive.

--Bachelorette/Bachelor parties.  These have gone from one night, to now whole weekend affairs, even sometimes extending into a week-long celebration.  The parties can now cost anywhere from a few hundred per participant, to well over one thousand.  If you consider this notion carefully, this is a ridiculous ask, certainly an exorbitant, and even possibly entitled request.  Often leading to friends feeling guilty and torn.  Wishing to come and participate, as well as celebrate with the bride for whom they care and love, yet, maybe not wanting to spend so much money (which is a totally fair thing) on a singular celebration/event, or even further, potentially not being able to afford it.  This puts people in a tough position, trying to decide between these conflicting feelings.

Often times, when it happens that a bridesmaid or guest bows out of the Bachelorette and cites cost as the reason, there is judgment, resentment, and gossip behind their back amongst the bride and her friends.  As in, what a lame friend, clearly she doesn't prioritize the friendship since she was unwilling to spend the money on this.  And if the friend chooses to spend her money elsewhere (say, $500 towards a ticket on an upcoming trip instead of on our Bachelorette weekend), we make this out as evidence of her being a bad friend, not being giving enough.  Sorry folks, but this is a really crappy thing.  We make scenarios such as this synonymous with being a good friend- a friend being willing or able to foot such a huge bill for a party.  That is crappy, misguided, and unfair.  A good or even great friend is not synonymous with their being willing to partake in and put money towards such.

Further, why even host such obscenely priced and time involved parties at all?  It's an excessive and very high demand of both the time and money of one's friends.  Why create a dynamic that leads people to feel guilty, or stressed about paying the money for such, or sad and left out if they cannot or choose not to come?  Isn't the point to have all the people there whom you love, to celebrate with?  When costs and time constraints inhibit this, doesn't that take away from the whole point of it all?

A side note on Bachelor parties: lets not even begin to get into bachelor party culture.  Of this one night being license toward or a permit of sorts for terrible behavior of blatant disrespect to their romantic relationship.  How does this make any sense?  Just before deepening their commitment to someone they supposedly love, this is seen as a "freebie" to let loose and (often) borderline or even blatantly cheat (lap dances, which involves the touching of another woman's naked body and becoming turned on by such- sometimes it even going much further than this).  This makes no sense and is a ridiculous and nonsensical notion our culture has adapted.

This guy is about to get married.  Apparently though in our culture, its accepted and even encouraged to use this celebration as an opportunity to disrespect his relationship and even cheat- to celebrate the relationship he supposedly cherishes and is committing to!  Makes a lot of sense.

--Weddings have become very much about the lavish price tag and the image of the celebration.  How much was the dress?  And made by whom?  How big is the ring?  (Aka how much does he love/value you-an absurd connection to make between these two entirely nonrelated things).  Are the photos perfectly staged?  How much were your bridesmaids willing to spend on your parties and to be involved?  This becoming measurement for their commitment and quality as friends.  Are the flowers "perfectly matched"?  The dresses ideally coordinated?

All of this is ultimately a distraction and most of it, unnecessary and a deterrent from what the day is truly about.  Shifting the focus of a wedding to petty worries such as these which brides come to be obsessed over and get all bent out of shape about, none of which actually matter at all or have any connection to the meaning behind a wedding day.

We seem to have lost sight of the meaning of what a wedding celebration is truly about.

--The Vows. While the idea behind vows is a beautiful one, wedding vows are canned, one-size-fits-all statements.  Spoonfed to the bride and groom and then regurgitated.  Further, sometimes people uphold these vows, but just as often, if not more often, they do not.

Within the phenomenal, relationship-changing book "How to be an Adult in Relationships" by David Richo, he talks about how marriage is not necessarily synonymous with a true commitment.  Living together is also not automatically a genuine commitment.  These things of course, can go hand in hand.  But just as often, they do not.  Frequently, we even think we are committed, by means of marrying or moving in.  This in and of itself is not real commitment though.

Commitment, real commitment, is not premised on vows blindly followed, nor on convenience or shared history, nor on ease or security, nor on having married or shacking up.  Most of these, instead of signifying commitment, are reasons people lazily or fearfully stay in relationships that may have otherwise expired or not be especially happy/healthy, or just not a great match generally.

Genuine, adult commitment depends on both people actively doing what they need to do to consciously attend to the relationship and to nourish and love on another, on a regular and frequent basis.  It means doing at least half the work of what it takes to be a great partner.  It means being open to feedback and interested in growth.  It means being flexible and present.  Focused, giving, and open.  Giving your partner the 5 As of love, regularly and often (Attention, Affection, Allowing, Appreciation, Acceptance).

When this ceases and one partner stops doing the work such as described in the paragraph above, truly healthy adults relieve their end of the commitment.

So, vows can be problematic and are generally misguided, in that they promise and prompt a sense of blindly following one's partner through anything, no matter what.  This can be unhealthy, result in miserable people who stay together out of a sense of martyrdom ("I made a promise so I have to keep it, unhappy or not"- really silly and nonsensical), and not infrequently results in relationships that are not especially good.  This is why vows can be dangerous.  Again, a truly adult partner relives their end of the commitment when one partner stops doing the work to be a great partner.  Vows or not.

(Quick side note: this, of course, does not mean jumping ship at the first sign of challenge or a partner making mistakes either.  We are human.  No one is a perfect or even awesome partner 100% of the time.  The point should be: does this person meet my needs and come to the relationship with intent and effort most of the time?  If yes, all good.  If not...may need to re-evaluate).

These are just a handful of the aspects of weddings which I think are misguided, even downright harmful and hurtful to those involved.  Aspects which do not foster the creating of closer connections, of bringing people together, nor of making the relationship between the couple healthier.  Instead, much of what I outlined above seems instead to be focused on image and extravagance.

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to make your wedding day a memorable, special, beautiful, and romantic one (I certainly felt this way about mine, as well as love making celebrations atmospheric, memorable, romantic, and lovely), we often take this idea way too far.  And even in some ways, misconstrue and mistakenly perceive how to actualize such, getting sucked into consumerism, image, and the extravagance of it all, allowing it to bury for us what our wedding should be truly about, and to distract and even take away from the relationship for which we are celebrating, or the underlying purpose and idea behind the day.