Connect.

What a week, huh? Sarah and I often turn to our favorite writers during trying times (she even keeps a quote book as a way to have her favorite quotes close at hand).

muir_quoteb

I’ve spent the week thinking about similarities and differences among people – how could I not, given the divisive election we just had? And I think this election was particularly hard for me because the region where we grew up voted overwhelmingly for the candidates that Sarah and I didn’t agree with. The thing is that growing up there, I’m connected to those voters and that region, and I understand why they made that choice (granted, I know that even within that group there was a wide range of reasons for their choice), and I can even sympathize with their side of the story. I know this post is vague, but that’s because there’s too much raw emotion on the internet right now. I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of right and wrong and good or bad, because I know it’s not that simple. Instead, I just want to focus on our connections.

We’re all in this together. I hope our country will work for us in both directions : from the top down and from the bottom up. The government working in the best interest of the people, and the people working to help their families and communities grow strong and resilient. But it can’t end there. Why do we so often lose sight of the fact that we are on one planet floating through space. We have to take care of it, which means taking care of both the natural systems and forging strong relationships with the communities beyond our borders. When nuclear power plants are damaged in Japan, that radiation falls into oceans near our shores, when emissions are released from coal plants in the US, that acid rain falls in Canada. When people are fleeing a war zone, we should be thankful that the war isn’t on our soil and open our hearts to their peril. A wall can’t protect us, but good ideas can fix problems.

In moments like this, our best medicine is to go for a hike, what’s yours? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, get outside. If you can’t move, watch something that puts our place in the universe in perspective. Cosmos? Planet Earth? You decide…. just give yourself a break from the news ;-).

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5 Ways Yoga Helped Me Heal After a Breakup

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.
-Mary Oliver


I began practicing yoga seriously after I returned from a long stint in Asia in 2011-2012. My relationship to yoga actually began after I was dumped by my then boyfriend of about five years over the phone the night I returned to the USA from Thailand. Pretty fucked up right?

I thought so too. I was sad. I was defeated. I felt like I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. See about two months before I flew home, I had sensed a shift in our conversations over Facebook. I could just tell there was something different happening with him in America, I just wasn’t sure what. I even mentioned it, but he never answered.

I took it particularly hard because I had tried (and failed) to break up with this man twice over the course of five years. I knew the relationship wasn’t meant to last forever and yet somehow we would work it out, we would be ‘better’ and the attempted breakups did make our relationship stronger so when I finally committed my vulnerable little heart to freely loving another person unconditionally, I was dumped. It was painful.

In hindsight, the breakup was so devastating because this same boyfriend came all the way to Thailand that Christmas to visit me. I felt so loved and lucky to have someone literally travel across the earth to be with me. For the first time in my life, I envisioned marriage and even my future wedding. It’s true, as I traveled Thailand by bus and a love song would come on, I would listen to the lyrics and consider it for my imagined wedding. It would take me years after the break up to be able to listen to John Legend songs and not feel pangs of hurt and rejection. I guess all this is to say, sometimes you are completely blindsided by a breakup and it forces you to sit in a sobbing puddle of rejection and just deal with your feelings.

The entire next month, my main goal was to not break down and cry in public. I would go to work, which at the time was catering parties and weddings, and I would have to sneak off to the bathroom or around a corner and mentally talk myself out of sobbing. It was really hard to keep it together. Once I got in my car or home to my sister’s apartment, I would breakdown. Watching any type of tv (even commercials), listening to the radio, even walking down the street in a neighborhood where he and I spent so much time together, felt like the most challenging task in the world. I was a mess and I had never in my life dealt with something so agonizing.

At the time, my ex and i were still texting periodically throughout the day. We had actually bought tickets a few months previous, to a huge music festival together with about 15 of our closest friends and we had agreed that we would still attend it together and try to act normal. The first day was fine as I got completely obliterated, but the second was draining. I ended up just laying in a grassy field for hours and hours while all my friends pranced and danced and my ex completely disappeared from the group and did his own thing. It was during this festival that something clicked. We are all individuals and while I cannot fathom life without this dude, it’s obviously meant to be that way. If we were meant to get back together, we would eventually, but until then, I needed to try to move on and forget about how hurt and rejected I felt.

I started by moving to my other sister’s, hours from my ex and pretty much my entire life and community I had created in Philadelphia over the past five years. I’m so glad I did this and I feel like it was a major step in my healing process. To not have to bump into him and our mutual friends in my neighborhood on a weekly basis really helped to distance myself from the breakup.

I also decided to cut off communication with my ex. At my request, we stopped sending our handful of texts each day. I remember how fucking hard that week was though, I felt like my best friend had died and I was all alone. Along with not texting, I made a concerted effort to stop looking at his or his friends’ social media because who really wants to see their ex dating someone already after a couple months. Again, this was a huge step forward in terms of starting my own life again. I will admit, I relapsed a couple times and looked at his Facebook and his girlfriend’s Facebook, but that’s how I found out he started dating her before I even moved home from Thailand. While this bit of information felt like hot lava being poured on my chest, it also gave me the ammunition I needed to mentally move on for good.

After spending a couple more weeks crying and feeling bad for myself, I found a random job, started hiking with Katie’s hound dog (he’s now mine!), and making plans with my friends again.

It was around this time that I remembered a yoga studio that Katie and I visited a few years ago. I had always felt a connection to this studio even though I only attended a couple classes there. I’ll never forget the first yoga class I attended after the break up, I looked up the schedule online, realized I had about ten minutes to get there, contemplated it for a moment and then drove like hell to make it on time. That class changed the entire course of my life. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it’s absolutely true. I told you that entire sob story only so you’d begin to understand the power that authentic yoga (not just stretching and exercising to music and practicing handstands) can have on your life.

After a few months of yoga, I was completely transformed and in a way, reborn. Yoga teaches many lessons, but in terms of dealing with a breakup it teaches you ::

  • Self acceptance of where you are at this moment in time. Sometimes life throws us for a loop. There is no sense resisting, fighting what is currently taking place, you can only settle into it. When the breakup occurred, I was convinced it was a momentary mistake, something that would soon be corrected. Once I started practicing yoga and accepting what was being handed (or taken away) in life, I realized nothing is a mistake. Each situation is a gift to learn more and connect deeper with oneself. I also began looking back and remembering times in my life that seemed tragic and hard to deal with and I realized I prospered after those periods and I would after this one as well.
  • Your mat is your world. Nothing outside of your mat is a reflection or judgment of what is happening on your mat. You’ll hear this quite often in yoga. Do not compare yourself to others, focus on yourself, accept where you are at this moment in time, do no strive to be further along in your journey even if you’re seemingly further behind than you were yesterday. This lesson was absolutely crucial in getting over my ex. Not only did I feel like I lost a great dude (he was attractive, interesting and motivated), but I was replaced by a younger, more beautiful girl. For awhile, it was really hard not to be jealous of his new, fit and attractive girlfriend. I could immediately see that she was everything I was not, all the little things he had wanted me to be over the course of our relationship. Not only that, but they were traveling all over the place, something I would have loved to do. I felt like I lost everything and they had it all. What a ridiculous notion it is to look at what your neighbor has, covet it and wallow in your discontent. This will get you absolutely nowhere and it will create an ugly person in the meantime. Once I focused all my energy inwards and began cultivating my own happiness and directing my own journey, I was able to actually nurture love and happiness for my ex and his new beautiful partner. I don’t know this girl, but I’m positive she’s a great human. I also learned to see more clearly and to realize my ex was in many ways not the right partner for me. I gained clarity about my situation once I focused my energy inwards.
  • Connection to breath and body sensations. Basically yoga taught me to be mindful, something I hadn’t practiced before. Mindfulness was a completely new concept and to this day it has a profound effect on my psyche. Each time I found my mind wandering or getting hung up on a memory or feeling, I would bring myself back to a deep belly breath and try to not only identify my thoughts, but also to locate what sensations were arising and how they felt in my body. Being more present, connected and aware helped me to realize that often my sadness was just an autopilot state of being. If i wasn’t stimulated or even if another emotion was trying to shine through, my sadness would overwhelm me, it was as if my heart wanted to feel broken and my mind was just cruising along with it instead of thinking rationally about the present moment and my true feelings from hour to hour.
  • Disconnection from emotion and external forces. Disconnecting from my emotions was really the next step in my mindfulness practice. Once I was able to stay present and identify my emotions, I was able to question them and in a way compartmentalize them in my mind. Obviously it’s okay to feel deeply, but instead of allowing our monkey minds to completely hijack how we feel, it’s crucial to question why we feel the way we do, to think rationally about the entire situation at hand. I was so so sad day after day even though I had previously tried to initiate a break up, even though I knew the relationship was in no way sustainable, so why was I allowing emotions to run my life? At a certain point, it’s absolutely necessary to box up reactions and intense emotions and disconnect from them, to set them aside, and allow yourself to think with clarity about the situation in life.
  • Self love. Above all, yoga has taught me to love myself inside and out. Cheesy as it may sound, I believe self love is the key to a happy life full of successful relationships whether they’re romantic or not. Having love, gratitude and appreciation for yourself above all else allows you to thrive and feel comfortable in any situation. Creeping feelings of self-doubt and ugly notions of jealousy are eradicated and more space for compassion and appreciation is created. I now see endings as new beginnings and heartache as an experience to be cherished as much as mourned. In all beings and situations I search for love, any tiny speck of love that allows everything to fall into place and make sense.

Yoga allowed me to fall in love with myself again, while disconnecting from emotion long enough to process the breakup and begin to heal. I was taught to practice mindfulness and realize my expectations of the relationship and my life in general were just that, expectations, not reality. Yoga allowed me the space I needed to present with my emotions without becoming wrapped up and attached to them. I look back to the person I was ten even five years ago and I barely recognize her. Yoga has changed me in many ways and it all started with one shitty breakup. Today I’m grateful for the heartache because it introduced me to a yoga lifestyle and a set of tools that allow me to thrive in all situations. Are you going through a transition or a difficult time right now? Find your nearest yoga studio and dive in.

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Creation Inspiration: Start A Quote Book


Ever come across a passage, poem or quote that really speaks to you? How do you remember it? Do you dog-ear the page? Highlight the passage? Pin the quote to your words of inspiration board? Save them all in a memo on your computer? Read it once and let it go? I used to do all of the above until about a week ago when I finally decided to start a quote book.  

I picked up a small notebook at a local shop and started by jotting down all my absolute favorite quotes from over the past few years. I dug up those random note cards, looked up all my highlights in my kindle app and wrote down all the saved bookmarks and highlighted passages that have spoke to me. It’s quite therapeutic to focus on a quote, record it and to be able to look back at all the words that connected with you at different times in your life. Think of a quote book as basically your own little playbook or pep talk. Sometimes we need a few words of inspiration to get through the day or to remember to treat ourselves properly. Our thought patterns can be chaotic. Sometimes they are a disservice. It’s helpful to bring yourself back to center with a few words of encouragement, cue the quote book!


Here are a few of my favorite quotes, passages and poems to get you started:
Talk to yourself like you would someone you love.

Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you or home is nowhere at all. – Hermann Hesse

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi

Cry everyday if you want, not because you’re sad, but because the world is so beautiful and life is so short.

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance. -Oscar Wilde

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. -Mary Oliver

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.
Desiderata by Max Ehrmann 

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender

be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;

and listen to others,

even the dull and the ignorant;

they too have their story. 

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,

they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,

you may become vain and bitter;

for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. 
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;

it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs;

for the world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;

many persons strive for high ideals;

and everywhere life is full of heroism. 
Be yourself.

Especially, do not feign affection.

Neither be cynical about love;

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment

it is as perennial as the grass. 
Take kindly the counsel of the years,

gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,

be gentle with yourself. 
You are a child of the universe,

no less than the trees and the stars;

you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 
Therefore be at peace with God,

whatever you conceive Him to be,

and whatever your labors and aspirations,

in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. 
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,

it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy. 

Asking Too Much by Andrea Gibson:

“I want you to tell me about every person you’ve ever been in love with.

Tell me why you loved them,

then tell me why they loved you.
Tell me about a day in your life you didn’t think you’d live through.

Tell me what the word home means to you

and tell me in a way that I’ll know your mother’s name

just by the way you describe your bedroom

when you were eight.
See, I want to know the first time you felt the weight of hate,

and if that day still trembles beneath your bones.
Do you prefer to play in puddles of rain

or bounce in the bellies of snow?

And if you were to build a snowman,

would you rip two branches from a tree to build your snowman arms

or would leave your snowman armless

for the sake of being harmless to the tree?

And if you would,

would you notice how that tree weeps for you

because your snowman has no arms to hug you

every time you kiss him on the cheek?
Do you kiss your friends on the cheek?

Do you sleep beside them when they’re sad

even if it makes your lover mad?

Do you think that anger is a sincere emotion

or just the timid motion of a fragile heart trying to beat away its pain?
See, I wanna know what you think of your first name,

and if you often lie awake at night and imagine your mother’s joy

when she spoke it for the very first time.
I want you to tell me all the ways you’ve been unkind.

Tell me all the ways you’ve been cruel.

Tell me, knowing I often picture Gandhi at ten years old

beating up little boys at school.
If you were walking by a chemical plant

where smokestacks were filling the sky with dark black clouds

would you holler “Poison! Poison! Poison!” really loud

or would you whisper

“That cloud looks like a fish,

and that cloud looks like a fairy!”
Do you believe that Mary was really a virgin?

Do you believe that Moses really parted the sea?

And if you don’t believe in miracles, tell me —

how would you explain the miracle of my life to me?
See, I wanna know if you believe in any god

or if you believe in many gods

or better yet

what gods believe in you.

And for all the times that you’ve knelt before the temple of yourself,

have the prayers you asked come true?

And if they didn’t, did you feel denied?

And if you felt denied,

denied by who?
I wanna know what you see when you look in the mirror

on a day you’re feeling good.

I wanna know what you see when you look in the mirror

on a day you’re feeling bad.

I wanna know the first person who taught you your beauty

could ever be reflected on a lousy piece of glass.
If you ever reach enlightenment

will you remember how to laugh?
Have you ever been a song?

Would you think less of me

if I told you I’ve lived my entire life a little off-key?

And I’m not nearly as smart as my poetry

I just plagiarize the thoughts of the people around me

who have learned the wisdom of silence.
Do you believe that concrete perpetuates violence?

And if you do —

I want you to tell me of a meadow

where my skateboard will soar.
See, I wanna know more than what you do for a living.

I wanna know how much of your life you spend just giving,

and if you love yourself enough to also receive sometimes.

I wanna know if you bleed sometimes

from other people’s wounds,

and if you dream sometimes

that this life is just a balloon —

that if you wanted to, you could pop,

but you never would

‘cause you’d never want it to stop.
If a tree fell in the forest

and you were the only one there to hear —

if its fall to the ground didn’t make a sound,

would you panic in fear that you didn’t exist,

or would you bask in the bliss of your nothingness?
And lastly, let me ask you this:
If you and I went for a walk

and the entire walk, we didn’t talk —

do you think eventually, we’d… kiss?
No, wait.

That’s asking too much – 

After all,

this is only our first date.”
I hope these words that have had an amazing impact on me touched you as well. I have so many more inspiring passages, some that come from books I read or wanderings on the internet or by way of friends, all these words are so important that I wish to never be without them and therefore the reason I created a quote book. Quote books are also an amazing gift especially if you customize them for the particular person or even more so for a particular time in a person’s life. I hope you’ll make one this year and continue to fill it until you’re forced to start volume two.

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Packing For One Month In Thailand

Katie here : Sarah’s in Thailand! What a lucky bum! But really, I’m so excited for her and can’t wait to hear about the adventures as she travels. During her first stint in Thailand, she kept a lengthy journal on her Tumblr account and it was amazing – all of our friends and family were anxious waiting for each new post. If you’re interested in that experience, those posts are still accessible – just scroll down to November 2011 through April 2012 in her archive. Today she’s checking in with a timely post on packing and staying calm when your luggage takes a different plane ;-). 

Once upon a time, packing was a completely daunting task. I remember I would call my friend Kandy and we would pack together, which really meant wandering around our respective rooms talking about random things and placing an item or two in a bag every twenty minutes or so. Fast forward ten years and packing is a breeze. I have an easy foolproof method that I stick to and my packing gets completed in no time. Today I wanted to share a sample packing list for spending one month in Thailand and how I go about packing in general.

When packing, I start by looking up the weather of my destination. If it’s a large country and I’ll be traveling about, its good to check multiple cities in case there are major changes in the elevation, landscape and climate. I also take note of the number of days I’ll be traveling as well as the general activities I’ll be partaking in. For instance, if I’m going to thailand for a week to visit beaches, I’ll obviously want to take beachwear and bathing suits and flipflops, but if I’m visiting to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary I’ll want to take clothes that I can easily move around in and get dirty. If I’m going to visit religious sites, I’ll be more conscious of dressing modestly. It’s also a good idea to research how the locals dress so as not to offend or disrespect anyone.


For this specific trip, I knew I would be in Thailand for a month and my main activities would be practicing yoga, relaxing on beaches, trekking in jungles and visiting the school where I used to teach English. With that in mind, I knew I would need a bunch of yoga outfits since they would instantly be drenched in sweat, a couple beachy outfits, some sturdy shoes for trekking and some modest, semi-professional clothes for my school visit. Taking climate into consideration, this time of year is the rainy season in Thailand so lightweight, quick dry clothing is essential. Also, the climate will stay in the mid-eighties to nineties in most areas, so breezy yet modest clothing is key. With all that in mind, I begin to craft a packing list, here’s what I came up with:

  • ID
  • Credit card
  • Debit card
  • Passport
  • $$$ it is always good to take cash – USD specifically. You’ll find when you travel some that most problems can be solves with USD.
  • Business cards – you may meet new friends and you will want to give them someway to contact you eventually
  • Wallet, Purse, Tote or day backpack
  • Address and phone number of where you’ll be staying during the trip (this is important for the arrival card / via on entry paperwork.
  • Passport photos – handy for visa on arrival (depending on your country of origin) and for obtaining any permits or special passes you may need for activities. Passport photos are also cheap and easy to obtain in most countries if you’d rather wait.
  • Headlamp + spare batteries
  • Camelbak and or drink bottle
  • Sneakers and or boots
  • Flip flops and or nice Sandals  and or Chacos
  • Towel and or sarong and or turkish towel
  • Toiletries – I brought: chapstick, hair ties, hair oil, face oil, hair brush, tweezers, nail clippers, q-tips, sunscreen, lotion, Aleve, bug spray, shampoo, conditioner, bodywash, razor
  • Jewelry – nothing flashy or expensive
  • Toasties aka fleece-lined leggings
  • Smartwool pullover
  • Scarf to cover shoulders and face
  • Sunglasses
  • Rain jacket
  • Bathing suit
  • Yoga pants
  • Elephant pants
  • Long skirt
  • Shorts
  • Undies + bras + socks
  • Tank tops
  • Loose t shirts
  • Modest dresses long + short
  • Dice for yahtzee
  • Deck of cards
  • Book / kindle
  • Thai language guide
  • Pen + notebook
  • Camera + film
  • Camera, batteries, charger, sd cards
  • Headphones
  • Phone / iPod + charger
  • Plug adapter – easily available at your destination, but it’s nice to have immediately
  • Keyboard? Ipad, laptop, etc (I often work from my iPhone with a bluetooth keyboard)
  • Sleeping sack / sleeping bag – Sleeping sacks protect you from bedbugs and I’m always cold in airports and on buses so I take a lightweight 50 degree sleeping bag with me.
  • Space blanket + matches + mini first aid – totally not necessary, I just imagine survival scenarios.
  • Snacks – nuts and or powerbars – absolutely essential and life saving.. never be hangry again!

Katie and I each wrote posts about our preferred carry-on contents. Take a look at those, but for international flights, also think about what makes you most comfortable and plan for the worst. Imagine you land in Bangkok at 1:30am only to realize your luggage didn’t make it to the final destination. Shit. Now you’re left to only what’s included in your carry-on bag for the next couple days. Did you bring an extra pair of undies? Toothbrush? A fresh outfit? This just happened to me! My bag was left in China, but luckily I kept calm (this has happened many times before) and didn’t worry about it. I had everything I needed with me and I knew my bag would eventually show up.

Always, always, pack for the first day or two of your vacation in your carryon. I learned this lesson early as my luggage was lost during my very first trip abroad. I had to spend four days in Jamaica wearing the same outfit, a white t-shirt and sweatpants capri leggings, I can picture them perfectly. I actually threw them away right when my luggage arrived, I was so sick of that outfit! Most of my trips are longer term and therefore lost luggage is really no big deal, but if you’re headed to Hawaii for a week for your honeymoon, you might be a little peeved that you didn’t get to wear the four sexy swimsuits you bought specifically for the trip so just think about the first day or two of your trip and shove those belongings into that carry on bag.

In my experience, lost luggage always resurfaces after a a day or four, but if it doesn’t and you have travelers insurance, you’ll be reimbursed for the contents of your bag and for the bag itself. I don’t do this, because I’m not the most organized person, but it’s a good idea to jot down a quick list of everything that is in your checked luggage that way you can easily put together an itemized list for your insurance company. I had to account for each item in my lost luggage at 1:30am in the baggage claim office at Bangkok. I was so tired and would have loved just pulling out a list of everything and its value. Thankfully my stuff showed up, but if it didn’t, my insurance company would have used that initial list to base their claim off of so make sure to take care when you’re filling out such paperwork.

A few tips for longer trips / backpacking adventures

  • Take old clothes and donate them or throw them away along the way
  • Take old undies and socks and throw them out as you wear them. It’s a great way to thin out your wardrobe and you wont have to worry about laundry as much. Added bonus? Your bag will become lighter.
  • Visualize the items in your luggage that you absolutely must bring home, try to make that pile as small as possible just in case something happens – you may find amazing souvenirs to fill your bag or your ferry might be sinking and you can only float with one suitcase – jk, but who knows?!

That’s all jet-setters! A quick and easy formula for packing your bags for that next big trip. I’ll be back in a few days with suggestions on how to adequately prepare to be immersed in a new culture, stay tuned!

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Sarah’s Five Must See Documentaries on Netflix

Hey booboos! It’s not a stretch to say this post lacks a bit of substance, but these five documentaries are chock full. If I’m not watching adventure or travel documentaries, it seems the only type of TV I truly like is that which practically rips my heart from my chest. If I’m sitting wide-eyed, unblinking and holding both cheeks in my hands then I’m enjoying myself, even if it looks like I’m about to cry, which I probably am. I’m sure you’ve watched Making a Murderer by now. If you haven’t, kick off your ‘questioning life and existence’ documentary binge by watching it on Netflix. Making a Murderer really reawakened a true crime obsession that I’ve had for at least a decade. My family was less than thrilled that one summer at the beach when I bought five true crime books, all with various blood patterns splattered across the covers. If you’re not into true crime, don’t worry, these documentaries cover a broad range of topics, but fair warning, all are pretty dark.live-seasoned-netflix-documentary-suggestions

 

Amanda Knox – The story of American exchange student, Amanda Knox, when she is tried and convicted of murder in Italy. This documentary is enthralling because it features in-depth interviews from Amanda herself as well as her boyfriend at the time (also convicted) and the detectives who worked the case. Truly a terrifying story because I realized anyone can get caught up in a serious situation.

The Square – A current, first person account of Egyptian revolutionaries organizing against the regime. The Square shed a lot of light of a story I knew relatively little about. It’s a documentary that encourages empathy and cultural understanding by highlighting another country’s relationship with their own government.

Audrie & Daisy – Is a heart wrenching look at the effects of bullying in today’s world where photos and fibs are spread online like wild fires. Audrie & Daisy helped to remind me of the struggles that young girls and boys face each day throughout middle and high school. If you have children, this is an important documentary to watch, but not necessarily with them. Have tissues handy.

13th – The 13th highlights government policy that led to the massive success of private prisons in America and the perceived motive of those moves. This documentary serves up stats and information that will come in handy during your next cocktail party debate about the prison system in American without you having to read The New Jim Crow, which is an enlightening book that I’m constantly telling everyone to devour.

The Culture High – Possibly the hardest documentary for me to watch, The Culture High, features graphic scenes and stark realities of the war on drugs in America. The criminalization of drugs in America is a topic I’ve personally had to deal with and suffer the consequences of, which is why I cried throughout this movie, knowing how lucky I was and how unlucky others were when dealing with the same drug possession charges.

If you’re wanting more, I highly recommend these true crime documentaries, none of which are on Netflix at the moment: Central Park 5, The Jinx, and The Staircase.

Now go! Go feel pain, agony and helplessness and hopefully gain more empathy for our fellow man’s struggle.

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Ginger & Pomegranate Punch

I made this punch last weekend for a cookbook club meeting (more on that soon!). I’m not normally a punch-maker and was a little bit nervous putting it together, but it ended up being amazing! I think it was all due to the ginger beer… If this is any testament to the punch’s deliciousness, it was the first thing to go at my little cocktail bar that night. This recipe is our party gift to you at the beginning of what’s sure to be a long, fun, and punchy (ha!) holiday season.

With the realization that we had a winner of drink on our hands, I knew that I wanted to share it on the blog, but forgot to take any beautifully staged drink shots, instead, we have some after-party empties. #oops

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The ingredients for this bad boy couldn’t be simpler : ginger beer, pomegranate juice, and mango nectar. The ginger beer provides a ginger flavor (obvs), but I really like it because it also adds a fiery warmth to the drink that you aren’t going to get with ginger ale. Don’t accept any ale substitutes. The pomegranate juice provides the punch’s tart flavor and the mango juice its sweetness.

I used 25 oz of ginger beer, 8 oz of pomegranate juice, and about 12 oz of mango nectar. After you put that all together, you can give it a taste and adjust things to your preference.

Originally I was going to spike this with light rum, but then decided against it since we were going to have some non and light drinkers in the group. Instead, everyone had the option to add whatever alcohol they would like (we had rum, gin, vodka, and SNAP available). I loved it with rum and stuck with that for my two glasses, but I know a lot of other guests were excited by the ginger-snap description of SNAP and ended up enjoying that paired with the punch.

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Since I was serving this for an October event, I used it as an excuse to experiment with dried ice for the first time! My goal was to serve the punch in a pumpkin with dry ice creating a smoke or haze that would flow out and around the punch bowl. I would give the final result a C+. The punch in the pumpkin looked super seasonal at the drink station (I even kept the pumpkin top and it made a cute lid on the punch before party time), but I couldn’t get the volume of smoke that I was looking for. Maybe you’ll have better luck.

Here’s what I did : I cut the top off of an extra-large pumpkin and cleaned out the insides. Then I carved out the insides slightly until I was able to fit a metal* bowl down inside the bottom of the pumpkin, BUT I tried to not carve too much of the top rim of the pumpkin away so that my glass “punch” bowl could rest on the pumpkin and not sit down in the metal bowl. I think the following two pictures will help to illustrate the set-up.

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At party time, I placed the dry ice in the lower metal bowl and poured some water over it to get it smoking, then I placed the glass punch bowl on top for serving. While the ice would smoke some, it would also peter out fairly quickly. We would pour more water over it, causing another big release of smoke, but again, it was quickly exhausted…. maybe I just needed more dry ice in the lower bowl? While it wasn’t a dramatic success this time, everyone loved that we gave it a shot, and I’m still game to do a few more dry ice experiments.

*Metal is essential here since the dry ice gets so cold that it could shatter glass bowls (I even worry about pyrex because there have been some issues with lower quality pyrex being manufactured in recent years).

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See what I mean? It’s an ehh, on the scale of awesome, but hopefully I’ll have my dry ice game down by the time the boys are teenagers (gotta impress them with something).

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Five Tips For Shooting Better Fall Photos

Happy Monday! There’s only one week of October left, eeek! Grab your camera and go take a walk in the woods, but before you head out, learn how to take better fall photos. This post was originally published on October 30, 2014, but after a wonderful hike in the woods this weekend, I thought it was worth another look.

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Autumn really tends to steal the show in terms of natural beauty, dontcha think?  This year I took a trip to Asheville, NC and after cruising up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway I don’t think I’ll ever take fall for granted again.  I spent three days hiking, driving and simply sitting and looking at leaves.  After the trip I mentally cataloged what went well and what went wrong in terms of the photos I took.  I thought it might be helpful to share a couple fall photography tips here in case you want to capture the season.

  • Zone in.  Don’t be afraid to focus in on one tree, one branch, even one leaf!  Get close, choose your angle and go for it.  While the whole forest is beautiful sometimes when we constantly shoot at a wide angle, the viewer’s eye doesn’t really know where to focus when looking at the picture.  The resulting image will be a mess of pretty hues instead of that amazing sugar maple with fiery red leaves. While you’re busy looking up, don’t forget to look down and around too.  There are multitudes of berries, fungus and seed pods waiting to be photographed too.

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  • Photograph your subjects in open shade or on cloudy days.  Cloudy days are great for photographing people; the clouds act as a huge soft box eliminating all shadows.  Obviously you have no control over the weather, but avoid midday sun and its harsh shadows, instead find a big wide open area of shade (near a building, under tree cover, etc) and take portraits there. You should find that the light is even and diffused because of the shade, but still bright enough because you’re in a wide open area.  If the sun is peaking through and creating hot spots (over exposed areas) in your photo, it will be pretty distracting so look around and try to avoid that as best you can.  Shooting in open shade is more comfortable for you (not so hot!) and your subject (no squinting) and the balance of light between your subject and background won’t be as drastic and therefore much less confusing for your camera in turn creating a better image.

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  • Shoot when there’s weather. Shooting during a sunny day with blue skies is nice, but shooting when it’s stormy, foggy or rainy is more dramatic and interesting. Weather easily adds mood to a photograph without a subject present.  I especially like shooting dark blue stormy skies during the fall because the contrasting colors of the deep blue sky makes the orange leaves pop even more. Shooting in the rain (or right after if you want to stay dry) looks fantastic during fall.  The colorful leaves that normally look dry (well, cause they are) glisten and shine, which really brings out their color.  Think about how nice a car looks when it’s freshly washed and still has drips of water on it or how shiny your nails look when you put a clear coat on.. it’s all about the glisten 😉

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  • Try setting your white balance to Shade.  (Its symbol is usually a house with three diagonal lines next to it)  Shade basically warms up your photograph, which in turn will result in leaf hues closer to what you are seeing with your eyes.  Sometimes photography can be frustrating and disappointing because what we see isn’t what our camera sees.  It’s ok to use the camera as a tool to better create the scene in front of you.  Using Shade white balance is one way I’ve found to help the camera represent changing leaf colors more accurately. Try it and see if it works for you.

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  • Coordinate with the fall foliage.  We think about color whenever we’re trying to create something visually pleasing (interior design, picking out an outfit, choosing a palette for an art project) so it only makes sense to do the same when we’re creating photos.  If you know you’ll be the subject or the shooter, dress to compliment your scene!  This is especially easy in the fall because you generally know what colors to expect. Next time you are the subject of the photo, you’ll compliment the scenery and visa-versa.

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I planned on only dishing up five tips, but here’s a bonus that works for shooting in any season and setting: Shoot during the golden hour.  This rule basically runs every photographers life.  The light is warm and shadows are long, which creates for interesting and beautiful photographs.  If you want to shoot the changing leaves and natural scenery, shooting during the first hour and last hour of light is highly advantageous.  The colors of the yellow, orange and red leaves will look even more brilliant during the golden hour so plan your walks just before sunset!

Have fun and happy shooting! Oh and if you snap a shot using one of these tips, tag us on IG @liveseasoned because we would love to check it out 🙂

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