Friday, April 12, 2019

Upcoming European Adventure!!!

Happy Friday, all!

In terms of thrilling news and anticipatory upcoming adventures, I have something exciting to share for fellow travel lovers.  In just one month, a novel and new European venture will be unfolding.  Between the days of May 11 through to May 21, I will be flying back to EUROPE!!!  What was my home for 4 years :-D (up until my moving back to the US about 1.5 year ago). 

See below for a preview of where we will be trekking in just four weeks from now!

1st stop: Venice, Italy.

Then, on to Borghetto, Italy.

3rd stop: Cortina D'Amprezzo, Italy.  We will spend Maxx's 30th birthday here!

Then, off to Slovenia, where we will both do and see the following...

Lake Bohinj


Paragliding :-D. Yes, we are doing it!

Glamping, here on these very campgrounds!

The Soca River, where we will be...

White water river rafting!

As well as, exploring Vintgar Gorge...supposed to be stunning.

And lastly...on to where I will introduce Maxx, the man I love... these fabulous people, whom I also love!!!!!!!



Melissa and Davor



Valerie (on the left).

As well as, visiting my old neighborhood!

And romping around Frankfurt!!!

Stay tuned, for LOADS of photos, details, and recommendations once the trip actually comes to pass.

The countdown is on.  Four weeks!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

How We Have Become Lousy Listeners, and Why This is a Problem

There are two main reasons why most of us have become lousy listeners.  

Reason number one is that we are distracted.  With constant competition for our attention, feeling pulled in multiple directions at once, nearly all the time.  And second, we do not actually wish to take the time, nor put in the efforts to be a focused, selfless, attentive listener.  We half listen, enough to get some or most of the information, but then we are more excited to jump in with our own opinions, our thoughts and feelings, and with what we want to say, bringing the floor back to us, me, ourselves.

Though there are of course, many more reasons why people may not be great listeners, these are two of the central ones that I can pinpoint.

To delve a bit into and expand on each one...

Distraction.  Our days are a flurry of activity, from phone calls, to texting, to reading numerous articles or from the book which we are currently immersed in, to discussion with colleagues, answering emails, checking in on our dating apps, scrolling the Facebook newsfeed or Instagram, paying bills, going to the gym, walking the dog, finishing up work projects, talking on the phone to a friend/loved one, cooking dinner, you get the idea.  

Our days are JAM PACKED with stimuli, activity, and distraction.  We are bombarded with noise, advertisements, cell phones pinging surrounding us, one-sided conversations can be heard everywhere we might be walking (offering us little choice in the matter of our hearing them or not), car horns honking, phone app updates coming in, you name it.  

We have literally hundreds of differing things/people/apps/projects/work/ideas competing for our attention every hour of every day.

This makes slowing down, taking a deep breath, and pausing to actually focus, hone in on, and sink entirely into a social interaction with another person, no easy task.  Often times, when interacting with someone, running through our minds are all the things we have to do.  Now, tonight, and tomorrow.  If we are hungry and what we might eat for dinner.  Our cell phone vibrating in our pocket, yanking us our of said social interaction going on in front of us, our attention now on the phone.  

We might be stressed, thinking about getting home to the kids.  Remembering we forgot to do something, which we should have done.  Recalling that pair of shoes we wanted to order and still need to.  You get the idea.

And then, making the choice not to take the time, nor put in the effort to be fully present with or very interested in the person in front of us.  Because while there is an excessive level of stimuli in our daily lives, it is also a personal and conscious choice not to slow down and choose to be a good listener.  

Most of us just cannot be bothered, or are far more interested in ourselves.  This is the stark truth.  Further, most of us would claim to be good listeners, feeling confident and sure of this, while the reality is that most of the people who think this are not actually very good listeners.

This is much like the statistic that the majority of people think they are above average and even excellent drivers, when of course this is impossible.  A majority of people would most certainly believe they are excellent listeners, when in fact, most of them are not great at it.

People tend to think good listening amounts to the following:

--not talking when others are speaking
--indicating that you are listening through nodding and making "mmm hmmm" noises
--being able to repeat what someone just said

That is merely the tip of the iceberg, as well as in no way indicates good listening as a whole.  Plenty of people do those 3 things and are either sub-par or even terrible listeners.

In truth, good listeners are few and far between.  How do I know this, as well as you?

Because when someone listens to us with intent, sustained interest, and focus, we feel it.  Something within us lights up, feels comforted, thrilled, heard.  There is an internal shift and opening that occurs in our hearts when this happens, because it is such a rare thing.  People congregate toward and flock to those who listen to them, because it is such an uncommon thing.  Those who truly listen are an extraordinary and uncommon few.

Some people can listen semi-well for a minute or two, but then usually drop off with their focus.  Most people wait for the person they are with to be quiet so they have the chance to jump in and speak.  Or, are thinking of a multitude of other things as their companion speaks and shares with them.  Thus, they are not mentally present.  All of us know this is the resounding norm with supposed "listeners" because we experience it all the time.

Think of the friends who are constantly checking their phones when with you.  Many of us are outright hooked on our phones, glancing at and typing on them perpetually.  And while a significant number of others are not necessarily hooked, they still use their phones to rude and distracting degrees when spending time with someone in-person.  

Despite that this has become the norm, this is about as rude as it gets, constantly checking your phone when spending time with a person.   It is akin to pulling a book from one's bag and, mid conversation with said human being, starting to read it.  Incredibly dismissive, it's a way of saying you are only half interested in what your companion is saying, only partially engaged, though otherwise, your interest is very much elsewhere.  It's a way of being half there and half elsewhere.  A way of showing your friend/love/companion, yeah, I am sort of here, but my focus and interest is easily stolen and drawn elsewhere.

Now, imagine the other people with whom you spend time, those who hardly let you speak a few sentences before cutting in and bringing the conversation back to them.  The ones whose eyes are frequently roving the room.  Those who follow up with what they think you said, in their summarizing such or in jumping with what they believe is a related point, when in fact its way off.  

Or, the friends who spend most of your time together just talking, and talking, and talking about themselves, their own life, their opinions, their recent experiences, the things they are struggling with or enjoying, etc.  Consider the people who feign listening for a short while before their eyes glaze over, their stare grows distant, and you can see they are not fully there any longer.  Or, the ones who, following several of your inquisitive, interested, and curious questions of their life, have literally zero for you in return.

These last few paragraphs describe the majority of people, and how well they claim to listen to others. 

Why is this a problem?  For many reasons 

In relationships, for those rare few who actually are good listeners, this grows exhausting, frustrating, and disheartening.  The ones who do put in the interest, focus, and effort to truly hear (and not just for 20 seconds, but for sustained periods of time), understand, and connect with their companions.  The people who work hard (as listening is no easy task, it takes energy and difficult focus) to give their friends, romantic partner, and others that gift of their listening.  

These people will grow resentful, bitter, and tired of giving such a gift to others, when the others are not willing nor interested in putting in reciprocal efforts. Thus, this can result in the losing of quality friends, when one cannot be bothered to learn the art of, nor put in the work of genuine listening.  Those friends you so love spending time with because, more often then not, they are present, intent, empathetic listeners?  They will grow tired of this when it isn't being reciprocated in the same measure.

Poor listening is also a problem because it disconnects people from one another.  A true connection is two sided, mutually shared and received.  An authentic, genuine friendship is one in which both people feel heard, both of them feeling their companion has an equal level of interest in them as they do the other.  Bad listening leads to low quality connections between people.  

We also miss valuable information when being poor listeners.  Every single social interaction, whether with a colleague, friend, loved one, you name it, has within it something we can learn.  Each person with whom we spend time and interact, has areas of knowledge which we do not, as well as things of value to share.  When we cannot be bothered to show interest and put in the efforts to inquire, learn about, and listen to these people in our lives, we are missing out.  

Just as how within books we can learn a plethora of new ideas, life lessons, and insights, we too can gain these same insights from others with whom we spend time.  As with books, we can majorly broaden our horizons, as well as be offered valuable insights, ways of thinking and being, via the people with whom we surround ourselves.  

Isn't this part of why we choose whom we do?  Because they uplift and inspire us?  Well, listening to and learning from them is how to actually benefit from these connections.  We cannot possibly hope to hear or take in any of this, when unable to or uninterested in actually focusing and listening.

It is important to note: no one can be an excellent listener all the time.  Focused listening takes energy and work, it isn't easy.  However, its important work, and is needed if one wants to have truly fulfilling, meaningful relationships with others.  

Listening is a necessary part of the equation in all close relationships.  So, while no one can be a totally focused and top notch listener all the time (as we of course, have different moments that can hinder this, such as being exhausted one particular day, or sick, or experiencing something traumatic at the moment, or being within a particularly sad mood), it is important to work actively on and put in the effort to be a great listener much of the time, with those you love.  This will not always be easy, in fact much of the time it will not be, but its crucial.

Thus, aim to be a focused, great, truly present listener 80-85% of the time.  A 15-20% leeway window seems reasonable and in enough acknowledgement of the unavoidable fact that we all have off days, moments of distraction, bad moods, or lagging energy.  Much less than 85% though is lame and becomes an issue within our connections to others.  

To add one final thought, if the reason we are hanging out with family/friends/loves/colleagues is merely to talk, talk, talk, to just feel heard, to always have the floor, to ever broadcast our own thoughts and opinions to anyone and everyone surrounding and listening, then this is not actually a genuine interest in friendship, not is it any semblance of a real human connection in the making.  Instead, this is merely looking for a space in which to dump, to use others (subconscious or not), and to remain self centered to the utmost.

A relationship and real connection between two people involves both wanting to be heard, as well as desiring hearing the other.  Its garnering meaning from feeling understood and seen, while having equal enthusiasm toward understanding and fully knowing the other person.  And making this evident via your behavior, which means approaching the relationships we value with curiosity, inquiry, and then actually listening.

In short, if you decide to actively work on being and becoming a great listener (as well as choosing to spend time with those who offer you the same in return), you will have no shortage of immensely satisfying, enriching, and fulfilling relationships in your life.

A quick and dirty cheat sheet on good listening:

-Make eye contact.  Roving eyes do not indicate listening or focus.

-Do not interrupt.  Let the person get out their entire thought, even waiting several beats past their concluding, before you speak.

-To piggyback on the previous point...if while someone is speaking, you are itching to talk, ready to speak, have loads of thoughts on the tip of your tongue read to come out with?  You are not and were not listening to the speaker.  True listening means focusing intently on and taking in their message.  This cannot be done while formulating your own speech simultaneously.

-If other thoughts creep into your mind while your companion is speaking, push them away and refocus.  Once they finish speaking, then take the time to consider what they said and how you might respond.  Yes, this might involve several beats of quiet between their finishing and you responding.  This is totally ok.  Its indicative of a far more thoughtful conversation in which both people are engaged and actually listening, as opposed to just blabbing over each other.

-One frequently misunderstood point: listening is not just hearing words.  It's attempting to perceive and feel how your companion might be feeling, as well as what message/emotions/points (not just the words) they are conveying and sharing with you.  Its really attempting to understand them.  

-For gods sake, get your phone off the table, out of your pocket (as even sensing its vibrations is still very distracting), and do not look at it when spending time with someone in a person-to-person interaction.  Not only is this incredibly rude, whether a "norm" or not, its also quite distracting

Lastly, a very worthwhile and awesome article from the Harvard Business Review: "What Great Listeners Actually Do."  Anyone actually serious about becoming a great listener, and thus deepening and improving their relationships, as well as being a far better friend/relation, will check this out.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Best Boston Brunching

Hi, fellow brunch lovers and foodies,

Here is a list of, in my humble opinion, some of the most fawn-over worthy brunches in Beantown. 

Of course, there are two caveats.  One being that there are a plethora of places I have not yet sampled and thus, this list is limited to those I have experienced thus far.  And two, this is a relative idea.  "Best" in my opinion will differ in another's.

With that said, I feel confident that in checking out one of the following for brunching, it will result in your reveling in and swooning over a scrumptious, truly excellent meal.

Little Donkey.  The food here is bomb.  Also a bright, cozy, and trendy space.

Tatte.  This place boosts a very Instagram-worthy interior, as well as, is spilling at the seams with desserts to die for.

Lincoln Tavern.  Piles of pancakes on offering, in all manner of amusing and imaginative flavors.  The brunch menu is extensive, inventive, and delish.

The Paramount.  All sorts of classic, homey, totally tasty breakfast options here.  Eggs, French toast, Omelettes, you name it.

By Chloe.  The inside is way funky and cool, the food, whimsical and so yum.  A slightly upscale, fast food esque, vegan place worth checking out.

South End Buttery.  Housed in one of the more romantic, brick lain, photogenic areas in Boston, and with decadent desserts to boot.  A walk after dessert with tea in hand?  Yes, please.  

Veggie Galaxy.  The menu is pages long, with all manner of vegan offerings.  As well as a towering dessert display, with loads of sweets available for sampling.

Life Alive.  Entrees and snacks you can feel good about eating, overflowing with vegetables, rice, and succulent sauces.  The food here is scrumptious, and super healthy!

Thinking Cup.  A low lit, charming, inviting cafe, with the BEST desserts.

3 Little Figs.  Feeling as though it could be a breezy cafe in Greece somewhere (with the blue and white color theme), this place is airy, alight, and the menu is simple, though enticing and healthy.

Boston Public Market.  A boatload of food offerings in here, from sweet treats, to seafood, vegan baked goods, crepes, ice cream, to veggie stalls, and fruits.

Coppersmith.  The interior of this place is way fun.  Vast, airy, trendy, red brick lain, sprinkled with all manner of copper accents.  A loft-like, factory-in-a-past-life type of feel to this too cool spot.  Highly recommend for any meal really, or for drinks on a date.  Great atmosphere.  And get here fast, since the rumor is that its closing soon for good!

Myers and Chang.  The food here is phenomenal.  Ate here recently and my mind was blown.  The menu is inspired, trendy, and fun, though cooked, seasoned, and baked to perfection.  The interior is also pretty whimsical and fun.

The Gallows.  This restaurant is housed in a spot where apparently real gallows used to exist in Boston, hence the name.  The theme is slightly dark and macabre, with a Ouija board on one wall, crow motifs and themes of darkness and hauntings sprinkled subtly throughout.  Apparently on Halloween, its way cool.  They deck the place out, with bats hanging from any and every spot on the ceiling.  All the food here is excellent.  I've had brunch, drinks, and dinner.  All mouthwatering and truly awesome.

Love <3