Monday, March 20, 2017

Solo Travel: My Thoughts

Hello from Houston! I am back from a most marvelous vacation. A much-needed escape from reality. A trip to a part of the country I had never before experienced. And it was absolutely beautiful. Cold and rainy much of the time, but absolutely jaw-dropping. And it reminded me, as every trip I take reminds me, that there is so much beauty in this world if we only take the time to get out there to explore and appreciate it. I am always so grateful for the opportunity to travel, and I will never regret money the money I spend to see other parts of the country and world. Even if it means I’m never shopping at Anthropologie again. But there is nothing I love more than sitting down on my couch and scrolling through photos from a past trip, remembering how I felt in that moment, reflecting on everything that I learned (though I still don’t know what was in that lotion that I was allergic to … ), and appreciating the fact that I put myself outside of my comfort zone.

And nothing puts me more outside my comfort zone than traveling solo. Actually, my trip to Argentina this past summer was my first TRUE solo travel experience. I had traveled with friends, I had vacationed with family, but this was my first time having to plan out everything on my own. And then execute it. And I shocked quite a few people with the announcement that I would be traveling to South America 100% by myself. I have friends who still don’t really understand why I did that. And in the days leading up to my departure, I wasn’t really so sure myself. But once I got over there, and I experienced the freedom that comes with traveling solo, I vowed that I would do it again. So, I did. I stayed in the country this time around, but it was an adventure nonetheless. And for those of you who remain skeptical about the benefits of traveling solo, I’ve put together a list of reasons why I think everyone should do it – at least once.

1. You’re forced to spend time with yourself
It sounds silly, but how often do you spend time with just yourself? As a high school teacher, I don’t have a ton of moments to myself. I’m either teaching English or coaching volleyball, and when I’m not, I’m talking to a student or colleague before school. I’m helping a student with test corrections on a recent exam. I’m talking to an assistant principal about a student. And I love everything about my job. But traveling solo forces me to learn how to be alone with my own thoughts. It forces me to make my own decisions. It forces me to reflect on the day and my relationships and what is truly important to me. The things I sometimes miss when I’m constantly surrounded by others.

2. You meet and converse with new people
When you travel by yourself, you don’t have the ease of turning to your friend or family member and tuning out or ignoring everyone around you. But when you’re by yourself, you don’t have that option. Sure, you can talk to yourself, and have people think you’re crazy, or you can keep to yourself, which I definitely do much of the time, but you can also engage in conversation with those around you. People are so interesting if you just take the time to listen and talk to them. And as someone who loves hearing other people’s stories, this is such a gift of traveling solo. I fifth wheeled (literally, on a biking wine tour) with two of the most fascinating couples when I was in Mendoza. They weren’t much older than I am, but they have been ALL over the world and have experienced so much. It left me hungry for more! And on the bus back to my place in Seattle, I had the most lively bus driver, and I overheard a conversation he was having with a fellow passenger about college basketball teams and March Madness. When that passenger got off the bus, I chatted with him about my beloved Longhorns, and he had much to say about Mack Brown, Charlie Strong, and the recent hiring of Tom Herman. I got off the bus with an unexpected smile on my face due to an unexpected conversation with a stranger.

3. You realize that there are still kind people in the world
Going along with the meeting and conversing with new people, you realize that there are still kind people in the world. When I travel, my faith in humanity is restored. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some goonies out there, but more often than not, you realize how wonderful other people truly are. When I was in Argentina, people were more than willing to point me in the direction I wanted to go. Most recently, I was cutting it extremely close to make my flight back home to Houston from Portland. The airport shuttle was running late, and a man, who happened to be standing in the lobby when all of this was going down, so graciously offered to take me to the airport so as to not miss my flight. He expected nothing in return, rather he offered the parting words that he had experienced the ordeal of missing a flight, and was glad to be able to help to make sure that I did not have to go through that.

4. You feel a sense of freedom and independence
One of the best things about traveling solo is being on your own schedule. I can wake up when I want, I can eat what I want, when I want (dessert before dinner? Sure thing!), and I can spend as much or as little time as I want at each of my destinations. One of my biggest regrets (annoyances?) is that I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked roaming Shakespeare & Company while in Paris, but my cousin wanted to move onto a museum. But being on my own allows me to spend hours in a bookstore, and enough time in a museum to appreciate the artwork, but not so much that my eyes glaze over. I prefer to walk everywhere, as that’s often when you discover the most hidden gems, but not everyone is down to walk a mile or two in the cold rain. And while I typically like to pack my days full of activity, I can also slow it down if I want to, and not worry about messing up anybody else’s schedule. I can march to the beat of my own drum – the true sense of being an “independent woman”.

5. You learn how to handle bumps in the road
It wouldn’t be a vacation if you didn’t hit some sort of mishap. And I’ve managed to have a couple of them with each trip that I take. And while I can call my dad and moan to him about my problems, ultimately, he’s in Houston, and I’m wherever I am, so it’s up to me to get it figured out. If I’m lost, I better figure out how to read a map and get myself going in the right direction. If I’m having an allergic reaction, I better get myself to the closet medic. And the best part is – you do adapt, and you do figure it out. You may have to ask for a little help along the way, but you get done what you need to get done. I’m so used to calling my parents whenever something doesn’t go my way, but traveling solo forces me to make the decisions that I’m more than capable of making.

6. You step outside your comfort zone and experience new things
I’m an introvert to my core. And I’m also Type A to my core. Which means I love having a routine. I live and breathe by my schedule. I wake up at the same time each day, eat very similar meals at pretty much the same time each day – it’s what’s comfortable for me. But as much as I love having a routine, it’s also so necessary to get out of that routine every once in a while and experience something new. Growth happens outside your comfort zone – trying new food, trying new methods of transportation (side note: I absolutely LOVE figuring out public transportation systems when in a new city or country!), walking with no direction, and being okay with things not going according to your plan. My days spent traveling are never anything like my days in Houston, and I’m pretty okay with that.

7. You read a lot of books
You’re traveling alone, but you still have to eat. And for whatever reason, the very thought of eating alone terrifies some people. And while I love a shared meal, I love dining solo, with just a book to keep me company. It’s crazy to me how, when I’m eating at home, I tend to reach for my phone to keep me company. But when I’m traveling, I always reach for a book over my phone. Maybe it’s because I feel as though I’ve taken a step away from my typically fast-paced lifestyle, and I can put the phone away for more than 45 minutes. That whatever book I’m engrossed in is more important than what was posted on Instagram. While I’m definitely posting pictures of my trip as I go, I also feel less pressured to keep up with the social media scene, and instead escape into the world of the characters in my book.

8. You learn what’s important to you
I learned that I am the type of girl who spends all of 20 minutes getting ready in the morning. I throw on athletic clothes, brush my teeth, and pull my curly mane back into a braid. I don’t have to have every hair in place before I leave, nor do I spend any time putting on make-up. I get up early, and I’m quickly out the door ready to begin a jam-packed day. I learned that I’m the type of person who values outdoor adventures over spending hours in a museum. There is definitely a time and a place for museum exploration, but I cap off at about an hour. I learned that I’m a planner. Okay, I already knew that, but I like to start my day with some sort of plan. I may add and subtract from there, but I like to have a sense of direction to my day. Otherwise, I often feel as though I’m wandering around aimlessly. I do some of my best wandering when on vacation, but I like to have a purpose to my wanders.

And most of all, you learn. Traveling – be it solo, with family, or with friends, is such a learning experience that I hope I never take for granted. I will never feel guilty about the money I spend to travel because what I learn while traveling is not at all possible to learn from a book. In fact, as my uncle was driving me home from the airport last night, we were talking about that very thing. I may continue to get shocked responses when I tell people that I explored a new place alone, but I will continue to be thankful for each experience. Even a weekend alone in a city just hours away from where you live is a solo travel experience, and I promise it’s one you’ll look back on and remember forever.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Half Marathon Sunday

Happy SUNDAY! Holy moly, how is it already the last day of my spring break? And while I'm about to go run half marathon number eleven (!!!), I had to check in with a regularly scheduled blog post. I have loved coming back to my AirBnB at night with time to relax and read or blog. I've filled my days to the brim, and I don't feel guilty about relaxing at night. So, enjoy!

First thing you wash in the shower?
My hair. I’m still trying to figure out how people go consecutive days without washing their hair. I understand that every article and magazine out there tells us we shouldn’t be washing our hair every day, but when I don’t wash my hair, it looks like I haven’t washed my hair.

Are you more of a coffee or alcohol drinker?
Well, I don’t like coffee (I know, I know – just give me a few years, and I’ll be on the coffee train. I’ve heard it all before.), but I am also not a hug alcohol drinker. I will have the occasional glass(es) of wine, but it’s not something I have to have every night. But because I don’t drink coffee, I’ll go with alcohol.

Do you plan outfits?
I do. If what I am about to share with you doesn’t point back to my Type A personality, I don’t know what does. I keep a weekly to-do list, and I actually write down the outfits I plan to wear each day at the beginning of the week when I’m writing down everything that I have to accomplish. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it saves me a few minutes each morning when I already know what I’m going to wear that day. And for someone who doesn’t lollygag around in the mornings, every minute matters.

Do you bite into your ice cream or just lick it?
Well, seeing as I can’t eat ice cream, I’ll answer this question as though it were asking about gelato. Even the idea of biting into an ice cream (or gelato) cone makes my front teeth hurt, and because I don’t often allow myself the luxury of gelato, I want to make sure I truly enjoy it. And while this very word and image kind of grosses me out, I admit that I kind of slurp my gelato? As in, I won’t take an actual bite, but I will do more than just lick it, if that makes any sense.

Would you go sky diving?
I’ve done it before, and I would absolutely do it again if the opportunity presented itself. Skydiving was by far one of the coolest experiences I have ever had, and I would welcome the opportunity to do it again. And pull the parachute for myself, whoops!

If you were paid one million dollars to spend the night in a supposed haunted house, would you do it?
That depends. Am I doing it alone? If so, probably not. If I could have a couple of friends with me, I bet we could really have some fun. After all, the dorm I lived in my freshman and sophomore years of college was said to be haunted, and on the very last night before we were released for the summer, and the nine RA’s were the only ones in the dorm, we had more than our fair share of fun hanging out on the fifth-floor study lounge. And to be one of nine girls in a dorm that size? Yeah, it’s a little scarier than it sounds.

If you could go back in time, which time period would you visit?
The 1920’s. That time period so fascinates me. After devouring novels like The Great Gatsby, and The Other Typist, which are both set in that time period, I am just so intrigued by the lifestyle that seemed to consume so many during that time. It was a time period full of energy and fashion, but also a time period of greed and materialism. Anyway, these are two novels that transport me to the roaring twenties (which, by the way, isn't it crazy that we'll be back in the twenties in just a few years?!), and I am always very reluctant to leave once the books is over.

If you were on American Idol (or The Voice, XFactor, etc.) tonight, what song would you sing and why?
I will literally never be in this situation, but in the instance that aliens ever came down to Earth and gifted me a beautiful voice, I guess I would sing something that means something to me – like Rise Up by Andra Day, or What If by Five for Fighting. Of course, there are many songs that mean something to me, but these are two that came to mind right off the bat.

What’s a common misconception about you?
This is an interesting question. And it’s one that’s hard for me to answer. When I’m around a group of people I don’t know very well, I tend to stay very quiet, choosing to keep to myself and just listen to the conversation happening around me. So others may think that I am a very shy, reserved person. And that wouldn’t be incorrect. Once I get to know someone, though, I will come out of my shell and be more chatty and bubbly and energetic – the all-around opposite of reserved. I still listen very well, but my overall demeanor definitely changes, especially if it is just a group of five or six. I feel as though I can get a pretty good gauge on the types of people I’m dealing with, and decide if I want to really open up or not.

What fitness related class or exercise are you dying to try?
City Surf Fitness in Austin. This is a relatively new class in the Austin area, but one that looks like SO much fun. I’ve never actually been surfing before – I’m kicking myself for not taking lessons when my family vacationed to Hawaii back in 2003 – but I know it’s a killer workout. And while as a Houston resident, surfing isn’t something that I could do on a regular basis, I would love to mimic the experience by taking what seems like it would be an enjoyable exercise class that combines strength, balance, and cardio.

Describe a time you gave a hard time to a teacher.
I’m going to be honest – I don’t know that there was ever an instance when I gave a teacher a hard time. I was such a goody-two shoes, and I genuinely wanted to please my teachers. I wanted them to like me as a person. I hoped that, if my name ever came up in the teachers’ lounge, it would be met with positive sentiments. I am still very much that way, but now, I’m the teacher. And if the question asked me to describe a time a student gave me a hard time, there wouldn’t be enough room on this page.

Alright folks, I'm off to the race site. I’ll be sure and give you all a full race recap, but for now, just cross your fingers that I have enough time to take a shower before boarding my flight back to Houston. Otherwise, it’s going to be a l-o-n-g couple of hours for the person sitting next to me. Catch y’all from Houston!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Things I'm Loving Friday LIII

Happy Friday from Portland, Oregon! I arrived here late last night, and I am actually on my way out the door for a little day trip to Cannon Beach. It was recommended to me by multiple people, and it's on all of the "Portland To-Do Lists." So, how could I possibly resist?Though it is hard to believe that my spring break is already winding down, I am so incredibly grateful for this little getaway. I was craving an escape from the Houston chaos, and I have absolutely loved exploring this part of the country. 

But, before I go, I had to share a list of the Things I'm Loving lately. Enjoy!

How To Develop Mental Toughness
Mental toughness. This word is thrown around by many, and it's one that I've really been reflecting on as I tackle this marathon training plan I've embarked on. I've learned that it's not just about your ability. It's also about your mindset. And this doesn't just apply to athletics - it applies to anything. For me, running is where it's most applicable. I've got a clear vision: Boston. It's lofty, and I've got a tough road ahead of me if I want to make that a reality. But I've also accomplished more than I ever thought possible, and I can carry that with me going forward. And while every statement on this list resonates with me, the last one - particularly Coach Sommer's response - resonates with me the most. I've hit bumps in the road, and I've had my "this is too hard" moments. Only to be reminded that it's supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great. 

Teachers: The Only Mode They Have is Action
Okay, I am not one to talk about politics. I tend to keep quiet when people start discussing politics. I will share something about politics on social media every once in a blue moon, MAYBE. And while I have opinions, I tend to keep them to myself. And while I have opinions on Trump's Secretary of Education hire - Betsy DeVos - I think this response to DeVos' comment about how teachers are in 'receive mode', puts my thoughts into words pretty well. I suppose I'm biased, being a teacher myself, but I'm inspired every single day by the people I have around me. I see how hard they work for their students, and I see how much they give to their students. And it makes me want to do the same for mine. They're worth the money that I spend on school supplies each year. They're worth the few extra bucks it costs to get into a playoff game so that I can watch them do what they love to do. They're the reason I wake up in the morning, and while I certainly don't always (or ever) do my job perfectly, they're the reason I'm happy to be absolutely exhausted at the end of each day. Because they're worth it.

An Open Letters to Runners Who Think They're "Too Slow"
Open letters are all the rage these days, right? Well, I happened upon this one as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and I couldn't help but read what it had to say. And I loved every word of it. Because so often I have people say to me, "Man, I could never run like you do. I'm way too slow." As if that gives them an out. It's like they say, "Well, I can't run fast, so I may as well never do it at all." And I get it. I'm so guilty of scrolling through Instagram and seeing posts from women who run sub-7:00 miles for an ENTIRE marathon. And I'm working so hard to run 8:00 miles. But just because you think you're too slow doesn't mean you're not a runner. Whether you're running a 6:00-mile or a 10:00-mile, you're still reaping the benefits. You're still lapping everyone on the couch. You're still going to experience the runner's high (and the lows...), and you're going to feel so proud of yourself for getting out there and doing it. Whether it's one mile or 26, you are a runner. So lace up those shoes and get to running.

When I Play
March is Women's History Month. But I think every month should celebrate the incredible achievements made by women, and this video does just that. This short film, created by women, honors women who see their movement as a movement. It celebrates women who are proud of their athleticism, and who find freedom in the sport. It gave me goosebumps as I watched it over and over and over again because, as someone who has been an athlete her entire life, it's so important to me that girls remember why we play the game. It's really not for anyone else. It's for ourselves. It's pulling our hair back into a ponytail and not being afraid to sweat and be tough. Because we love the game and we love the adrenaline rush it brings. I used to be so afraid of not being seen as 'girly', but now I know that playing "like a girl" can very much mean "win the race".

8 Things Happy People do Every Day

Okay, call me a millennial (because that’s exactly what I am), but I love article lists like this one. They’re organized, they’re focused, and they’re relatable. Anyway, there are many different types of people in this world, but I think we can all agree that we know at least one person who just seems to find the negative in every situation. A woe is me, the world is against me kind of person who is exhausting to even be around. And then there are those people who are seemingly always in a good mood. While I definitely have my days, I like to think of myself as someone who falls under the latter category. And I can attribute it to every single item on this list, and then some. Drinking plenty of water? I have my 40 fl. oz. to thank for that. An adult bedtime? I try my best to be in bed by 9:30pm every night. Teacher life, am I right? I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have skipped breakfast in my 25 years of life, and the me-outside-music time comes in the form of running or walking my dog each day. I live and breathe by to-do lists (there’s just something satisfying about being able to physically cross something off of a list), and though I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit, I was at one point super consistent about writing down three things I was grateful for at the end of each day. I tend to wear people out with my high energy levels and mostly positive attitude, but I know for a fact that I can attribute my consistent good moods to these consistent habits. 

Catch you Goonies later!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Fitness Survey Fun

Happy SPRING BREAK Sunday! Hallelujah, we made it! And I have loved every minute of it. It's been mostly spent relaxing and cleaning and packing because I leave for the Pacific Northwest TOMORROW! I'm so pumped for this little getaway, and I could not be more excited to explore a part of the country I've never been to before. I think I've got my days pretty much planned out by this point, but feel free to send any last-minute suggestions my way!

Horns up for spring break!
But first, let's keep things regular around here with a Sunday Survey.

1. What is your favorite snack?
I think I could eat Chobani coconut yogurt with dark chocolate chunks mixed in every day for the rest of my life and not get tired of it. I’m also really into eating mango slices these days. I probably eat enough slices at one time to make up an entire mango, but hey, it’s fine.

2. Favorite workout move, and what does it target?
Hmm, I am probably going to sound crazy, but I really love doing lunges. I think I do them so inconsistently that I feel the burn every time I actually do do them. Lunges target the lower-body – specifically the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Oh my quads!

3. Least favorite workout?
I dread sprint work almost as much as I love what it does for my running ability. I’m definitely more of a distance runner, so getting my speed up for such a short amount of time is hard for me. But what’s hard is usually the most beneficial, right? Embrace the hard is what I'm learning.

4. When do you feel your best? 
Typically, it’s after a good workout. But lately, that just means after a good run. And running will always be my go-to form of exercise. Because as much as I dread speed and tempo work, I always feel such a sense of accomplishment afterward. And there is nothing better than lounging on the couch with your pup post-shower, knowing that you don’t have to move for the next couple of hours.

5. Describe your “perfect” breakfast? 
Breakfast is hands down my favorite meal of the day. If I had the time each morning, or maybe, if I made the time each morning, I would alternate between making vegetable-filled omelettes, experimenting with any of the various healthy waffle/pancake recipes I’ve pinned, blending a refreshing smoothie, or whipping up some trendy avocado toast. As it stands, I grab a yogurt or two and dash out the door.

6. Favorite splurge meal?
A hamburger and sweet potato fries. That’s actually my go-to pre-race day meal, but I’ve been known to enjoy it other days of the week as well. I always have to laugh at myself when I go out to eat with my girlfriends because they have this ability to take half home with them in a to-go box. That is not something I have ever experienced.

7. Best advice for a beginner? 
Keep going. It’s not going to be easy, and you won’t be able to do it all right now. And that’s okay! Find something you truly enjoying doing. Learning to live a healthy lifestyle is far more important than losing a quick ten pounds.

8. Favorite one liner for motivation? 
You haven’t come this far to only come this far.

9. Best place to buy workout clothes?
I hate myself for saying this, but I do love Lululemon. I know that comment just earned me quite a few eye rolls from some of you guys, but their shorts are THE best. I’m not as much a fan of their tops, but I will gladly spend $50+ for a pair of shorts that fit me well, and that I will have for years. A pretty solid investment if I do say so myself.

10. Favorite workout/running shoes?
Right now, I’m a big fan of Brooks, but I’ve run in pretty much all of them. I love a good pair of Nikes for walking the dog and any cross training that I may find myself doing.  

11. What is your ratio of clean vs indulgence?
Probably 75/25. Honestly, it may even be higher than that. I am fairly conscious of what I put into my body, and while I have gotten so much better about letting myself enjoy foods that I used to completely reject, I know that I feel better the cleaner I eat.

12. Best way to feel confident? 
If only I had the be-all, end-all answer to this question. I think it’s different for every person, but for me, it’s to think and act positive, and to smile. It sounds silly, but it’s all too easy to let negative thoughts cloud our minds, and if we can replace them with something positive, we can stand a little taller. And I bet you that extending a smile will get you a smile back.

13. Number 1 tip for beating cravings? 
Sometimes, you just have to let yourself eat a little bit of what it is that you really want. I cannot go a day without eating dark chocolate, so I allow myself two little squares of Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate squares after lunch each day. I mean, I allow myself more chocolate than that, but I’ve found many times that, when I’m trying to avoid eating something “unhealthy”, I end up eating even more and then I’m not even satisfied. If I had just allowed myself a little bit of what I had wanted in the first place, the whole fiasco could have been avoided.

14. Describe your “dream” day of fitness? 
I would start with a long sunrise walk with Mack along the water. Hey, you said “dream” day, so I’m living my water-side dream. I would come home for a light breakfast, head out for a six- or seven-mile run through the park, play a few rounds of sand volleyball or paddle out on Town Lake, and end the day with a sunset bike ride.

15. What is your “power” song, the song that keeps you going? 
Well, this answer could potentially get embarrassing. I definitely go through “power song” phases, but my current power song is Downtown Girl by Hot Chelle Rae. I ran some fast miles to that song the other night.

16. Favorite fitblogger?
Julie over at Peanut Butter Fingers was the very first healthy living blogger I ever followed, and the blog inspiration for fitnessandfroyo. I’m not quite as creepily obsessed as I once was, but her blog posts never fail to put me in a good mood.

17. What do you wear to workout? 
Typically shorts and one of the dozens of performance tops I own. Or just a t-shirt. I’m not too picky. The other day I was freezing in my apartment (cheap people probs, not turning on the heat), and I kept on the yoga pants I was wearing as I traipsed over to the gym to sneak in a treadmill run. I regretted that decision approximately three minutes into my run. And always with a Lulu headband on top.

18. What is your biggest accomplishment?
Because this is a fitness-related blog survey, I’m going to keep this answer in the fitness realm. I think my biggest accomplishment is finishing a half Ironman. That was arguably the hardest day of my life, and while I definitely cried a few times along those 70.3 miles, I finished the race. I may not necessarily be proud of my time, nor am I at all proud of my training, but I am proud of mental toughness, and my ability to finish something I wanted so badly to quit.

19. What is your fitness goal?
My overall fitness goal is for fitness to never stop being a part of my life. I hope to always make time to be active, and to continue chasing after my big goals.

20. What is your next fitness challenge?
This time next week, I’ll be running in Portland, going after that sub-1:45 half marathon time. And if and when that ever happens, I’ll take it one step (okay, multiple steps) further by going after that sub-3:35 marathon time. Boston, I’m chasing ya!

And with that, I'm off to be semi-productive before I press pause on all things school related. Hey, we all need a break every now and again. Enjoy your Sunday!