Never be afraid to be who you are

20131110-074137.jpg
I’ve gone through so many phases of my life and have continued to develop who I am as a person a little bit more each time. My core values almost always remain the same, but sometimes the way we act on those values change, depending on our life situation, our age, or job, or love life, whatever it may be.

I’ve been in relationships in the past where I’ve felt myself bend too far, where the things I was willing to compromise on took too much out of me and I lost track for a while of what it was I was really looking for, and who I really was.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that you should never be afraid to be who you are. Never try to change what makes you you, otherwise you will end up being unsure of yourself and possibly even resentful of the people around you who “forced” you to change.

Relationships are about compromise, it’s about fitting two completely different people who may view the world in very different ways, into one single relationship. It’s important that each person feels loved and happy with the other person, and that each person can be exactly who and how they are without having to worry if their partner will accept them or not. Of course, we may have to compromise behaviors, or the way we are used to doing things, (i.e. I mix my darks and lights in one load, and my fiancé likes to keep them separate. It also drives him crazy that I leave the laundry in the washing machine long after its done and really don’t mind taking clean clothes straight out of the dryer to put on each day…) so you have to be mindful of what’s going to push your partner’s buttons and at least try not to do them, but not when it comes to questions of your character or moral beliefs. You should always stay true to yourself and to what’s important to you. And the other things, you will find, aren’t such a big deal to compromise on when your “love tank” is full and you feel loved for who you are.

You are the only one who is responsible for leading your life and for being the person you are meant to be. Only you can control your fate and where you go next. So do what I do, check in with yourself from time to time and make sure you are happy. Make sure you are fulfilled and satisfied, if you are with a partner, make sure they make you feel loved each and every day. And if not, maybe it’s time to reconsider the choices you’ve made, and the actions you took to lead you down the “wrong” path. I say “wrong” because I don’t believe anywhere you go in life is without its lessons. We all make mistakes and we can all carve a new future for ourselves at any time, but if you don’t stop to take a look around once in a while and see if that’s where you really want to be, you might just get swept up in a current of frustration!

What’s Normal, Anyway?

Some people have this idea of a “normal” life. They just want to live a balanced life, loving their job, loving their spouse (or partner or roommate, whoever), maybe even aspire to buying a house in the burbs, filling it with happy golden retrievers and children’s laughter, and having enough time to go to the gym, cook a 3 course dinner for your family, and have passionate sex in the evenings.

But what if “normal” isn’t normal for everyone? Or what if your idea of normal is someone else’s idea of crazy? My fiance and I live our “normal” routine. Normal consists of him catching a flight once a week for 3-4 days at a time to whatever normal1destination his client happens to be in (lately, that’s been Frankfurt, but it changes up from time to time.) Meetings change, appointments change, so those days, inevitably, also change. Normal for me is about half a week of living la vida single – drinks with friends, going to the gym, chatting on gchat til 1 am. The irony is that I also travel for work, usually about 3-4 weeks at a time (depending on the needs of my project and how long I’ve been away from the project site.) So “normal” for me is always needing a cat sitter, always adjusting to new hours and time zones and changes in weather – i.e. never falling into a routine.

I think what most people consider to be comforting, i.e. routinized days filled with breakfast and dinner at home, lunch with colleagues, typical Tuesday, Wednesday, or Friday activities – to me sounds stressful! How can I possibly know on Monday what I will want to do on Friday? How can I tell you that in two weeks time I will be in Berlin for the weekend – what if I want to go to London instead?

I think everyone defines their own sense of normalcy and what makes them feel balanced and stable. As I’ve learned over the years, I feel most balanced and stable when everything is in motion. Monotony scares me and forward motion keeps my batteries charged, always ready for action.

What is your comfort zone like? How do you define normal?

Repost: Things to Try in Paraguay

This is a repost from 2010. I continue to travel back to Paraguay a few times a year, and people don’t seem to know what to expect, where to go, etc – so here are at least some tips to help you get by!

While living in Paraguay for 6 months, I learned quite a bit about the food culture and travel destinations, which both can be hard to come by and understand as a tourist.

Here’s some tips for what you are eating when you order:

Food

  • Bolitas de Mandioca – Mandioca and cheese rolled up and fried, (like a croqueta)
  • Bollo - Doughnut that is typical of San Bernardino (a lake town about 45 minutes outside of Asuncion) and is filled with cream, dulce de leche, dulce de guayaba, or any other type of filling the “La Alemana” (the famous bakery that makes bollos) chooses to make
  • Borí-Borí - A chicken or vegetable stock with balls of corn flour and queso Paraguay
  • Chipa -  most traditional chipa is made from corn flour, mandioca starch, pig fat, queso Paraguay, eggs and a dash of anis
  • Chipitas – this is the same ingredients as Chipa just in a smaller snack size – great for mindless nibbling because once you start you can’t stop
  • Chipa Guazusimilar to Sopa Paraguaya (see below) but a bit creamier in texture (my preference of the two!)
  • Dulce de Leche – Condensed Milk and Sugar, cooked to perfection – similar to caramel
  • Empanadas de Carne - I assume you know what empanadas are – and then just imagine them filled to the brim with delicious meat (or whatever other ingredients the chef fills them with!)
  • Fruit – Paraguay has amazing fruit trees all over the country, the most typical you will find are: Grapefruit (Pomelo), Orange (Naranja), Sour Orange (Naranja Hi), Tangerine (Mandarina), Lemon (Limón – though this looks more like an orange!), Guava (Guayaba), Passion Fruit (Mburucuya), Mango, Papaya (Mamón), Strawberries (Frutillas), then of course there are always Bananas and Apples available throughout
  • Gnocchi – Just like exists almost anywhere in the world, Paraguayans love their Gnocchi, and so do I – especially when made with Batata (sweet potato)
  • Helado – (Ice Cream) – This is pretty self-explanatory, except that the ice cream here is AMAZING! I recommend Frutos del Bosque (Fruits of the Forest), Mburucuya (Passion Fruit), Or any other type of creamy/chocolatey/dulce de leche -y flavors!
  • Jugo - The juices in Paraguay are outrageous and you can find them on the menu of almost any restaurant place that serves food (see list of fruits above) A popular Paraguayan brand for store bought juice is Frutika – and it’s worth it’s fame!
  • Lomito – a sandwich consisting of thin slices of beef with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and usually served alongside any number of sauces to make this already outrageous sandwich even more delicious!
  • Mandioca – (Yucca or Cassava) – For those who are not familiar with Yucca, this is a potato-like vegetable – can be served cooked or fried (Mandioca Frita)
  • Mbeyú – a mix of corn flour, Paraguayan cheese, and egg that you mix together and cook in a frying pan. You used to only be able to find this seasonally, but now it seems to be available year round.
  • Meat - Paraguayans LOVE their meat! And most of it is delicious!
  • Milanesa – This is very thinly sliced meat (usually carne = beef) that is then breaded and fried to perfection – you can also find some good Eggplant Milanesa which to me is even tastier!
  • Mousse de Mburucuya - Passion Fruit Mouse!
  • Pizza al Tatakua – (Tatakua = Horno = Oven – in Guaraní) – Brick Oven Pizza
  • Sopa de So’o - this is a very typical Paraguayan soup with a beef-broth filled with meat and vegetables, depending on the chef
  • Sopa Paraguaya – despite the name this is not soup, it has more of a consistency of corn bread and is filled with onions and salt
  • Terere – Terere and Yerba Maté are almost one in the same – they are herbal teas very popular in South America (you can see people walking around with their thermos and guampa or mate (cup where the terere is served.) The main difference between the two is that Terere is drank with cold water and Mate with hot, depending on your mood and the temperature outside!

Here’s some tips for what’s worth seeing when you find yourself in Paraguay:

Places

  • Arregua – About 45 minutes outside of Asuncion on the other side of the lake from San Bernardino (read below.) Famous for their Artesania (local Artesan crafts and art) primarily in ceramic, as well as their Expo de Frutillas – Strawberry Festival – every winter (from about August-September) where they feature their delicious strawberries (where everyone in Asuncion buys their year’s supply) in the form of natural fruit (both sweet and bitter), juice, cakes, ice cream, empanadas, liquors, etc. They also have a famous church which overlooks the beautiful lake, which is unfortunately too contaminated to swim in.
  • Arroyos y Esteros – literally translates to Streams and Estuaries – about 1-2 hours outside of Asunción where you can find a lot of waterways and farms
  • Cataratas de Iguazu - The most amazing waterfalls you’ve ever seen in your life in Argentina, and Brazil – but borders very closely to Paraguay’s Ciudad del Este.
  • El Chaco – in Northern Paraguay, the largest territory in Paraguay taking up 1/3 of the land, it has very dry heat year round and a lot of wildlife
  • Ciudad del Este – A city in the eastern region of Paraguay that is famous for having any type of contraband or product you are looking for; i.e. don’t want to pay $200 for that new iPhone, you can probably find it for $50 there!
  • Mbatovi – Nature reserve with eco-adventure-tourism, like ziplining, rapelling, etc. Unfortunately I have not had the chance to go yet as they were closed when I tried, but I’ve heard it’s amazing.
  • San Bernardino (SanBer)- A beautiful lakeside town about 45 minutes outside of Asunción, very popular in the summer. Unfortunately the lake is not swimmable due to contamination (don’t try it) but you can get delicious Dulce de Leche or Cream filled doughnuts at the famous Aleman (German) restaurant in the town
  • San Rafael Reserve, Atlantic Forest – Natural Reserve in the Atlantic Forest that still maintains it’s jungle beauty – more specifically, if you want to stay the night, you should contact ProCosara
  • Pantanal – This is one of the most naturally incredible and beautiful places I’ve ever been. It is absolutely worth the effort, but I must say it is definitely not easy to get to, it’s either 2 days by car, or a small jet can take you in two hours, but I would not recommend trying to organize on your own as the tourist industry is not quite built up. Going on an organized trip through an eco-tourism organization, such as Guyra Paraguay, is definitely recommended.

The Eternal Search for Delicious Brunch

I am eternally searching for the best restaurants in Berlin. The latest, greatest, most delicious, most undiscovered place where I can sink my teeth into something divine. Berlin happens to be a happening brunch town, if only you can find the right places to go. Sundays offer up all-you-can-eat buffets to dine to your heart’s content, but where is it worthwhile spending such a luxurious period of your life? There are, of course, the staples (or at least my staples!):

  • Anna Blume for their beautiful brunch tower and over-sized tea mugs
  • Pasternak for their creative and unique buffet filled with Russian goodies (many of which remind me of my grandmother’s cooking) and mouth watering desserts
  • Frida Kahlo which tends to disappoint during all other mealtimes, but they seem to have gotten the Sunday brunch buffet filled with eggs, rice, beans, chicken, pancakes, etc right!
  • Barcomi’s which has your standard bagels affair with delicious dessert options.
  • Nalu Diner for a typical American breakfast complete with diner pancakes, bacon, eggs how you want them, and killer hash browns.

But say you want to take a step away from the norm…where would you go? Inputs welcome.

 

Friends Get Married

I’ve hit that age when everyone you know starts getting married. Some even start having (gasp!) babies! In the last year alone I’ve been to weddings in Serbia, the U.S., Germany, and Paraguay (oh, and there was that time I met my BFF’s baby in the Bahamas.) It’s expensive to keep up with so many friends and their love lives, but it’s also so much fun!

Every country has their traditions – some of them seem weird (actually, no, they ARE weird, but let’s not debate semantics here) but they are all equally as crucial for the couple getting married and for the guests in attendance. Here is a list of some of the things I found to be the strangest, or most unique, in the “foreign weddings” I attended this year:

SERBIA

Vladi and Ive

Vladi and Iva

  • The first wedding is in a church (pretty standard) and not all wedding guests are invited to attend – this is usually a small, intimate ceremony that lasts about half an hour – the couple must accept congratulations and smile and pose with every guest who came to the church for the photographer
  • When you walk outside the church, there are local gypsy brass bands that come up to the wedding party and play music – their music becomes more insistent the longer they play, often putting the horn of the instrument directly in your ear and playing at full volume until you give them some cash (at this particular wedding the best man also brought the gypsy band to the party, much to the delight of all the guests) – keep in mind, these guys can pull in thousands of dollars a night for a big wedding
  • When you arrive to the reception, the couple once again stands outside and poses with every. single. guest. (in this case about 350 people) Only after every guest had their photo op does the party begin.
  • Lots and lots of different cakes.
  • Oh, and the photographers have printers on hand and walk around the party distributing photos that guests can buy on the spot (this is not so much weird as awesome!)
Brass Band

Gypsy Brass Band

GERMANY

(This was a mixed wedding: half East German half Northern England, i.e. Geordie)

1069928_10152077900059278_1670812392_n

Ali and Neil

  • Straight from leaving the church the friends of the bride and groom hold up an old bedsheet which has a giant heart drawn in the middle, and the name of the bride and groom inside of that. The bride and groom are each given a pair of tiny scissors and they must work together to cut the heart shape out. Once complete, the groom then carries the bride through the opening they’ve created in the sheet.374396_10152077898159278_1848781778_n
  • German tradition is that as the first true test of marriage, the newly wedded couple must work together as a team to saw apart a foot in diameter log using an old school, massive saw. The first marital row, if you will, ensues.995734_10152077899664278_1485770867_n
  • This might just be East German, not totally sure, but the bride and groom are each given two giant loaves of bread – they must create a pair of shoes from this bread. The first one to walk across the stage (or room) in their new shoes wins!
  • Each guest is given a balloon filled with helium and a postcard pre-addressed to the bride and groom. Each guest writes a message to the couple and ties the postcard to the balloon. Everyone releases the balloons at the same time (great photo op!) Once the balloon finally lands (wherever that may be) it’s up to any random stranger passing by who finds it to mail it back to the couple. (Strangely, our postcard made it back to Ali and Neil from the Czech Republic!)

PARAGUAY

(This was a mixed wedding half Paraguayan half Colombian – so the traditions may be a bit mixed up – at least in my mind)

Nati and Luis

Nati and Luis

  • There is a traditional Paraguayan dance at the beginning of the reception and every guest must dance for a few minutes with the bride and groom (men with the bride, women with the groom) and smile for a photo op!
  • Ligas – this took me a while to understand! The bride has about 20 garters under her dress (one garter for each single woman at the wedding). One garter is special (i.e. a different color) and the rest are traditional white. The bride sits opposite the single women (one at a time) and they each lift their right leg and touch the souls of the shoes. The groom then takes one garter from the bride’s leg and must slide it across their legs and feet and up the thigh of the single lady. His “last chance to touch another woman” if you will! The woman who gets the colorful garter is the next to marry. Ligas in Paraguay
  • Masks/hats/whistles/glow sticks/silly string, etc – Boxes of costume-like hats and whistles, (see list above) are distributed to guests to liven things up. I have to admit, this makes the party a hell of a lot more fun!
  • Whiskey – easy as that, the drink of choice for the night is whiskey, the nicer the better
  • For the Colombian tradition that stood out most, aside from sharing a bottle of whatever they were passing around, is some dance where a woman lies on the floor (or I suppose it could also be a man?) and all the party guests dance feverishly over her. (See example of Mapale here.)

1396934_10100309793069029_418846677_o

As I continue to grow my international network of friends, I will continue to observe the oddities of culture, which are never more openly displayed than in time-honored traditions such as weddings!

Finding Your True Calling

How many of you have struggled, like I do, to know what it is you “really” want to do? Do you spend days/months/years trying to figure out what your true calling is? Isn’t it possible that maybe there isn’t just one perfect job for everyone, but rather a job or path that allows you to learn, explore, and push yourself harder to achieve.

I spend so much time worrying about whether I am making the right choices, whether I am on the right path, whether or not THIS job will get me where I want to go, that I often forget to take a break and take a look around me. To realize that even if this is not the “perfect” job or the “dream” job – that as long as I am continuing to grow, evolve, and create, it’s pretty damn good for now.

I have long dreamed about working with animals. To me there was no possible way for me to be satisfied in work unless I was working with/helping/talking about animals. So I pushed (and maybe shoved a little) to find my way to this conservation organization where pandas and tigers are our flagship species. And yet, my day-to-day work has nothing to do with animals at all. It’s a bit ironic, but I have to know in my heart that even though I am not out in the field counting Jaguars, I am preventing the destruction of the habitats of those creatures I’ve so longed to protect. Sometimes you just have to take a look around and realize the impact you have, even if it doesn’t feel like “the dream” straight away.

dream-job

I have a very wise friend who once laid out her view of the different types of jobs one can have; the job you are passionate about, the job that enables you to do the things you want to do on the side, and the job that disables you from living your life while working for “the man”. And in a lot of ways, I think she is right. It’s a matter of knowing where you are in your career and what you want for the road ahead before you can realize the benefits of the job you are currently in (or, in some cases the drawbacks.)

What is your dream job? And how many of you are actually in it?

Fitness First

So even though I haven’t been writing about it much, my fitness experiments have continued undocumented. I more or less stopped going to the trainer – really, my 6 month contract ended and although I was getting a lot of benefits and seeing (at least core strengthening) results, I didn’t want to pay the money to be stuck inside a gym during the most beautiful summer months. I’d rather save it up for when it’s gray and miserable out and I need the sauna to feel human.

So my poison of choice? Running and Biking. Two things I am already very familiar with. The added benefit? A likes to do them too! He’s back on the running bandwagon and motivated to push himself hard, which of course pushes me even harder. While I normally give in to “feeling tired” or “I’m not in the mood” knowing that he’s been out pounding the pavement – or that when I go back home we have a run scheduled for the evening – always motivates me to push a little bit further.

I’ve always believed I wouldn’t do well with an exercise partner, or that I hated going to the gym with a friend – mostly because I didn’t like to be tied to someone else’s time constraints, or didn’t want to feel pressured to do more or less than I was comfortable with. While these things are still somewhat true, (I run out of breath because I work myself up to keep up the pace,) it’s been totally motivating to have someone by my side to push me a little bit further and to hold me accountable for what I say I’ll do.

Another bit of motivation? We signed up for a 10k in Berlin in October. Nothing like the thought of panting and crawling along a race path gets me motivated to get my butt moving and start training hard. I don’t need to be a winner at the end, but making it through without losing composure is definitely high on the 10k priority list!

So the fitness conundrum continues and new experiments are undertaken. Does anyone else have as many start and stop bursts of motivation as I do?