How to Cope with a Pandemic

Ok, so I’ve been saying for quite some time that this is the perfect time to learn to slow down — especially in this country (USA). Yet here we are at the start of year three of the pandemic and still there doesn’t seem to be a collective message or understanding of how to truly cope with this very REAL reality we are all in.

As Glennon Doyle tweeted recently in response to Adele postponing her residency in Vegas, “Covid is killing us mentally because no one is showing us how to adjust our expectations of ourselves and of others. We are killing ourselves trying to make things work like they worked in the old world and we can’t do it.”

No one is leading with this message. In fact, it has been the opposite from the top of our government down to the leaders in our organization, down to ourselves – all rushing us to get back to work, keep producing like we did, keep going about as though this isn’t a real, existential threat to many, and keep moving as though we are not weighed down by grief or fear or frustration or loneliness.

That past two years have felt like groundhog day. That’s a crazy-maker. There’s a lot of grief around these years for very real reasons. We’ve lost millions of people across the globe to this disease; and we’ve “lost” years of our “normal” life. Well, I’m here to advocate for reframing of this perspective so that we no longer feel like we keep losing our time to all of this overwhelming unknown and, unfortunately, necessary restriction. I’m here to talk about how we can cope with the times we are in and still feel like we have a sense of control– and still feel like we are living.

The way to cope with this is to SLOW DOWN.

We need to. We have to. We are all used to going 100 miles per hour but the road is no longer built ahead of us. We’ve got to slow down so we don’t keep constantly wiping out and getting flats. TAKE IT SLOW. I know that this is hard for us, especially if you’ve lived most of your life and are immersed in the culture of the USA. Hustle culture, that “rise and grind” mentality is pervasive and under prior normal circumstances was pretty toxic and now it is, frankly, unbearably so. Now is the time to cleanse yourself of that and truly put your mental and physical wellbeing first.

HERE IS HOW YOU CAN SLOW DOWN.

Practice mindfulness. Check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Journal about it. Talk to a trusted friend or family member about it. Talk to a mental health professional about it — they’ll tell you that whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone. Being aware of what’s happening with YOU is the first and most important step in gaining a sense of control amid all this uncertainty. This will help you identify what you need, and once you know that you can make steps to fulfill your needs in a way that makes sense to the circumstance we’re all in. Once you have your needs fulfilled, it’s a lot easier to deal with impulses and reconcile the wants we may have that just aren’t feasible right now. In sum, mindfulness will give you control over what you have control over (yourself) and help you breathe through the frustrations.

Be Myopic. If you’re anything like me, you like to plan ahead. You like to have plan A, B, and C mapped out. Well, for once and your life, stop that. Don’t look ahead. Be nearsighted. We cannot see the road ahead right now. One of the reasons it feels like groundhog day is because we keep driving down the same rickety ass road at a 100 mph and it keeps looping us back to where we’ve already been. Let’s SLOW DOWN and try to enjoy the little things. Before when you thought, “Ah man, if only I had time for reading” or “Ah man, if I had the time, I’d learn a language,” or “Ah man, if I had the time…” for literally any hobby or skill you wanted to work on — NOW’S THE TIME. Do the puzzle. Pick up the book. Build the model plane. Learn the guitar. Slow down and be where you are. Doing these things in the here and now will help quench that thirst for planning.

Accept Uncertainty. Right now, we are in a shit storm of uncertainty. Being myopic and letting go of all your plans is the best way to cope with this right now but HOW do we ACCEPT uncertainty? After living abroad a few times, uncertainty and unknown is the hardest thing to cope with during culture shock. It’s vulnerable as hell because you have no control. You’re uncertain about expectations, uncertain about food, customs, the language. You’re like a baby learning about the world again. This is when we need to practice reframing our mindset. We are, collectively, learning about the world again. Much of what we knew is out the window — this can be EXCITING instead of anxiety-inducing. We get to MAKE UP the future. To return to the road metaphor, we get to lay down a new, better road going forward. And please, understand that right now we may lay some bricks and then in a month we might have to remove them. Laugh about it. Stay curious, stay agile, stay playful. Let yourself be a kid again.

Assume Positive Intent. This is one the core values of the non-profit that I work for. It means assuming that everyone is doing the best they can with what they got. And shit, it’s hard sometimes. Especially when you’re tired and cranky, like most of us are right now. But gosh, it really lightens the load when you relax that negative trigger in your brain. It allows compassion to blossom in your chest and that makes space for joy. These times are way too heavy to be cynical.

Adjust your Expectations. Expectation is the first step into misery. This is the hardest, and to achieve this, it really encompasses all of the above. In order to adjust your expectations, we’ve got to be mindful, we’ve got to accept the uncertainty, and we’ve got to keep returning to the present (being myopic). We need to slow down to cope with this and inevitably that means we cannot expect the same results from ourselves or from others. Take a deep breath. Our scale from 1 to 10, 1 being this is base-level routine, 10 being hell yeah, I f*cking did that, must be adjusted. Maybe before getting out of bed was a 1 and now it’s floating around a 7. That means getting yourself to work is likely a 10. Pat yourself on the back. These daily things are weighted so differently right now. Give yourself some praise. Mostly, give yourself a break.

This last bit is the hardest bit for me. I fail often and spiral into self-doubt and even self-deprication. F*ck that, though. When I’m trying to reground after acknowledging that I am feeling angsty and unreasonably frustrated with myself, I often think of Jack Johnson’s song “Inaudible Melodies,”

Slow down everyone / You’re moving too fast / Frames can’t catch you / when you’re moving like that

In sum, things aren’t the way they once were and they won’t ever be the same after everything we’ve experienced. We heard this a lot before, right? Here I am to repeat it. This is a chance for us to be innovative. Our wheels are busted on that rickety road, so let’s not try to reinvent the same wheel — let’s SLOW DOWN and think beyond.

Sending love and calm,

Alaina

Hello, I’m Alaina and I’m a Recovering Artist

Hello friend,

I’m Alaina and I’m a recovering artist with a fear of my own greatness. I suffer from scalding amounts of skepticism and bitterness. I have 100 ideas and I start 5 of them and finish exactly 0 of them. This blog is a blaringly example of that. This blog is a source of both pride and shame. “At least I tried to do something,” the optimistic elf on one shoulder says. “Yeah, another great example of your flimsy dedication,” the unbearable gargoyle says on the other. I’m working on not feeling the gargoyle so much. Although there’s truth in it, it doesn’t’ need to come with all that judgement. I’m a work in progress and always will be. I know this. I’m just working on believing it.

I’m tired of hearing myself think “I could do that” and know that it’s true then become deeply ashamed of myself for not ever “doing that.” I’m tired for many reasons. But mostly, I’m tired of my external self. Do you know what I mean? I’m tired of this ego driving me to perform for things that aren’t my truth. Over the last few years, and I think the pandemic has certainly accelerated this, I’ve been feeling like I need to turn inward. But it’s scary in there. It’s scary to actually believe in yourself…that magic that’s in us all. I feel so conceited. I feel so foolish. I feel so…vulnerable.

The book I’m reading, “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, tells me this is a pretty sure sign that I’m “blocked” — and shit, yeah that’s the truth. I’m working through the lessons and trying to incorporate the habits that will help me to become unblocked. One of those things is the daily pages — she calls them the morning pages because you’re “supposed” to do them in the morning. I don’t believe in that word “supposed” – find what’s right for you and do it. I think the book says that, too. Anyway, I call them the daily pages because depending on the day, I do them at all different times. There’s a bunch of things that go into those daily pages, like getting all the yuck out, the inner critic, the problems that keep circulating in your brain that distract you from being here, now. Then you end with affirmations that feel right for you. It’s all about becoming more mindful, really.

The other thing that is prescribed is a weekly Artist Date — two hours of uninterrupted time dedicated to the artist in you. I was thrilled to see this — but I have not been able to do it really. I have a few projects that my soul is literally begging me to work on and I just can’t seem to do it. I tried to do it last night and I let bills, budgeting, and worries completely distract me from the story outline. It’s still sitting on the screen next to me… just staring at me. So, I thought I’d come back to this project and just write…something.

I am Alaina and I’m a recovering artist. I’m a writer. Gosh, my belly lights up when I write that. I am a writer. That feels like home. Here I am, working to unbury this home of mine. To let that light in my belly shine. To reconnect with my inner self and to share that with you — so we can maybe connect, too.

I am Alaina and I’m a recovering writer. I have a technology and procrastination problem. I have a fear of my own greatness. I struggle with self-doubt and an inner critic who is cruel. I am here to declare that I am working to honor and release the bubble of light, the divine creative creature in me.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading these raw words, friend. Will write again soon.

Wishing you calm,

Alaina

Whose Got the Funk? I Got the Funk

How I Shook the Funk

21686369214_feb84b53be_k

The other day, I was in a complete and utter funk.  This happens to all of us sometime or another. Lately, while adjusting to a new culture, new (HUGE) city, new routine, it seems to creep on me more frequently than usual.

I started the day with meditation. This is a practice I began incorporating into my day-to-day months ago, but I didn’t keep it up. While I was on vacation, I made a point to try to do it every day as to form the habit so that I could maintain it in my normal routine. It worked.

I’ve practiced every day since returning. The clarity of mind and internal calmness that have resulted are changing the way I approach conflict, bad vibes, moods, and overwhelming issues.

Despite this, on this other day, the moon was full. Harvest moon. This seemed to have caused a turbulent tide in me. It left me feeling frayed, completely off kilter, unbalanced and only able to see the worst in situations. Panic rose in me.

Sometimes I feel silly talking about the moon in this way. But in reality, it’s science. The moon literally changes THE OCEAN tides. Mind blowing how that all works. But if it’s controlling that amount of water to some extent, of course it would have an affect on all of us– what are we but over 50% water?

Staying with this idea, my tide sank low. Really low. I wanted to give up and just crawl into bed and allow myself to be pulled into the depths of oblivion. Horribly depressing thoughts trickled through my brain.

“Allow the thoughts to pass. Just like clouds. Let them pass,” I tried to remind myself over and over. But still, I found myself treading in this stanky tide.

I’ve spent years and years allowing myself to float along in terrible forms of thinking and feeling due in part to the dynamic duo that have resided in me: Depression and Anxiety. I’ve grown fed up of allowing that to rule and to wreck my precious time. It’s not that easy though, when they’ve got you by the throat and you can barely keep your head afloat.

In this moment, I knew having these types of thoughts and feelings weren’t going to come in and sweep away this funk. I knew I needed to take real action if I were going to hope to turn the day around.

First, I reached out to people I trust and who support me here and afar to talk about a big stressor that had been recently introduced into my life. Community is so important. Especially one that you can be vulnerable with.  It took five different people to help me see the bright side. I carried their words of encouragement and reminders of the things that I knew but wouldn’t allow myself to truly subscribe to in the moment, like little life vests as I began tredging my way through this tide.

I couldn’t afford (literally and figuratively) to let these tiny things continue to pile up. So I made a list of the things I could control. It was short. And I said aloud, “even though these things are a lot to me right now and I just want them to go away, I’m going to get them done.” Only way they’re going to go away is if I take care of them.

So, I set off to return library books.

Yes, that’s one of the things that I allowed to become a friggin’ tsunami. It’s laughable on the other side. But in this funky tide, navigating public transport at peak time to get to the center of the city, negotiating the late fee that had accrued, figuring out why they don’t answer their phone or emails, how to renew books electronically, all felt extremely overwhelming.

The other items on that list were commitments I made that I no longer felt like upholding. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if I backed out on it. No one was counting on me. In fact, they probably didn’t truly expect me to complete the task or to show up because I’m busy and the destination was so far away for me.

I’ve spent a long time doing that–giving my word, which is what my heart speaks, then allowing my brain to make excuses. I’m so sick of feeling the subtle tide of shame creep in due to my own decisions to not follow through. I’m sick of not showing face with pathetic justifications.

Enough of the excuses, Alaina. Uphold the integrity of your word.

And so I set out on trying to do so. First, I edited an essay by a Fulbright hopeful because I agreed to do it with enthusiasm and compassion. I was her one year ago. She was brave for seeking people out. I wanted to honor that. When I completed this one task, which in reality, a small one for me, I felt my stride grow a bit stronger. I was picking up momentum. 

The thoughts and emotions that had become like hurricane waves crashing into my brain calmed enough for me to push through and get ready to go on the journey to the center.

The walk wasn’t that far. The bus wasn’t that crowded. I could actually sit. When I arrived to the library, I explained my situation in a fractured, flustered sort of way. The receptionist behind the counter, stood up and said, “Come with me. Let me help you.”

I could have cried. His compassion and understanding felt like a lifeboat in the middle of this storm I’d been fairing. And what did I do to get it? I just showed up.

He showed me how to renew books online, then called out to his colleague to eliminate the fines, gave me the direct extensions to that library and the library he normally worked at and told me to call him directly if I had anymore issues. Oh sweet kindness.

When I left, I did so with a bit more pep in my step. I felt ready to re- enter the madness of the Transmilenio in order to get to my next appointment: A small group, semi-private Swing Class that was taking place about an hour bus ride in the North of the city.

I set off. Again, the Transmilenio wasn’t that bad. I was able to sit and to read the book I renewed! I even wrote a poem on my way. I had this feeling that the Universe was rewarding me in “little-big” ways for having gone out and tried despite the tides.

About half-way there, I realized I was going to be late. Thoughts trickled back into my brain. “Why even go then? You’re holding up the class. They’re not really expecting you anyway. It wouldn’t matter to them either way.

After gaining momentum, the clarity and calmness that I had been working on through meditation regained their foothold in my dispostion. So I was able to let these thoughts pass. 

I showed up and was greeted with open arms and enthusiasm. These people mirrored the dancing style:  fun-loving, joyful, inclusive and encouraging. Precisely what I needed that day.

I learned some basic steps, I danced, I sweat, I sand, I laughed.  When I finally departed for home and bed, I was feeling a whole new sort of funky.

 

 

I would love to hear ways you’ve overcome your own funk. Please share in the comments below!

Photo Cred: Eric Esquival

Creative Living: 8 Ways to Stay Disciplined

8 ways blog photo

If you follow this blog or take the time to look through it, you might notice there hasn’t been a whole lot of consistency. I know, I know. I beat myself up about it ALL THE TIME. I tell myself things like:

  • “If you really loved it, you’d just do it. It would be a habit.
  • “Maybe you should change your idea of your career path.”
  • “No one really cares what you have to say. No one reads your shit.”
  • “You’re not good anyway.”
  • “How can you call yourself a writer? What have your written lately?”

I’m sure some of you could contribute to this list and it could go on forever. But you know what that does? It makes being consistent even worse. How do I expect myself to get back on the horse after I’ve kicked myself into believing I can’t do it? We have to quit our inner pessimist, our over-critical, self-doubting voice. It doesn’t foster ANY sort of motivation at all. WE DON’T NEED IT!

DISCIPLINE in order to create more consistently is something I’ve been focused heavily on bettering about myself over the last three years. Sounds pretty logical, right? If you want to be good at anything, you must practice. You must give time to it consistently. So why is it so hard sometimes?

Because existence is hard sometimes? I don’t know, but here are 8 ways I’ve been using to stay disciplined in my creative pursuits

1. Find a Community

SUPPORT. We need it in our day-to-day life so of course we also need it for our passions and for productivity. It gives me a sense of purpose and a sense of accountability even if it’s just casual and no one actually is keeping tabs on me. For example, I downloaded Meet up, a really cool app that has a huge variety of groups that “meet up” to discuss or do whatever it is you’re interested in. I found a writing group that gets together and works on their stuff. 40 minutes on 10 minutes off for a few hours. I went a few times and it was enough to get the ball rolling for me.

I heard wind that there were free online courses you could take through the library system. I found one on fiction writing and enrolled. We had homework assignments and a professor that gave us feedback. It kept me accountable and was actually how I wrote a short story.

I found a really neat group to join called Drunk Writers, where we get together one night once a month to write to prompts on different topics. You have the option to bring your own things and work on them instead of writing to the prompts, but it’s always good to have a little exercise outside of your typical routine and stretch your mind in ways you’re not accustomed to. It’s like cross-training. I’ve started the group where I am now, too, to build that sense of community and also for the practice.

Another really awesome group of creatives I was introduced to is called Creative Mornings. They have them all over the world! They invite a speaker to come in and to speak on a topic each month. Before that though, creatives get one minute to pitch their ideas or their businesses. Attending these meetings is inspiring and eye-opening.

Last but not least, find yourself a creative partner. I’ve had creative supports come and go and they’ve been wonderful why there were there. I’m very lucky to have someone who I can brainstorm with, run ideas past, look to for some building-up when I’m telling myself all those things above, and that inspires me and collaborates with me. So very grateful for her.

Speaking of inspiring and eye-opening…

2. Make Time for Consumption

Like all things in life, there are ebbs and flows. You’re not always going to be inspired. AND THAT’S OK. When you are ebbing, give yourself permission to read, to attend a gallery and ruminate on photography or art, to go see a movie, or watch netflix or youtube, to listen to music– whatever it is that tickles your fancy and that awakens your soul.

I write poetry and most of my poetry is awful. Writing poetry is hard and it takes A LOT out of me. After writing what I deem to be a (semi) decent poem, I’m spent. It takes a lot of energy. To recharge, I find myself revisiting my favorite poet (Andrea Gibson) and exploring more to expand my mind, to remind myself of all the millions of ways one can express themself.

I also try to attend cultural events about issues I care about, like discussions on literature or social justice. I attend open mics even if I’m not feeling like performing, or exhibitions of any kind. These things help me reset in a way. They help remind me of my place, my own voice, my own experiences– they serve just as much as an inspiration as they do a wonderful mirror.

3. Have Specific Goals, Make a Schedule and Stick to It

This may seem obvious, but it’s definitely easy to get in the mindset of “oh I’m living creatively…so I’ll just create when the winds of inspiration sweep me off my feet.” or “Oh yeah, I have time this week. I’ll work on that then.”  Nope. Definitely doesn’t work like that. Creation takes WORK, and after you have created something, that hard work becomes part of the joy you get from it. In order to do that work it takes making a schedule and putting down on a specific tasks to work on and sticking to it.

When creating my chapbook, I started off with scheduling tasks like “Work on Chapbook” for an hour between my jobs. When I sat down to work on it, can you guess what happened? No, I didn’t make any progress. I spent the time floundering about all the poems that needed to be written and all the revisions I would need to make. I spent the whole hour I had overwhelmed with too vague of a task. Specificity is KEY. I began assigning myself specific poems, and would write to that even if it hurt, even if I felt like it sucked. A few times these poems turned out to be completely different poems for completely different projects but overtime I was taking small steps to the completion of my larger task.

I try to always remind myself to be a squirrel. Must take just one nut at a time. 

4. Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Building a habit, even around something you’re passionate about, isn’t easy. Set up a FEASIBLE schedule (key word here), try to stick to it, and give yourself a break. Literally and figuratively. Some days you’re going to be tired and you’re not going to want to do it– and some days you need to push through that. But other days, you need to listen to yourself and give yourself some rest. It has taken a lot of time for me to start being more kind to myself. But gosh, now that I give myself permission to fail (most of the time), time to rest, time to suck, I’m so much happier creating things.

I recently read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert (if you haven’t read it, go do it right now), and that’s one of her biggest sticking points. Creating should be FUN! If it’s miserable for you in part because you’re putting some much pressure on it (on yourself, your expectations of what it could become, of what people might think) you’re doing it wrong. Take a deep breathe. Relax. Think of it as a game, find your inner child, and play. And remember. This is for you.

Which leads to my next piece of advice…

BUT if you want to hear, stay tuned to my Youtube channel for the remaining 4 Ways to Stay Disciplined! 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6ekT0NqTzO1xpG5H1SwDww

 

Monthly Food Budget in Colombia

Something ultra important to me when I settle into a new place is food. Duh, right? While good restaurants in close proximity are a perk, having grocery stores and markets that are close by and affordable is KEY in order to create a solid monthly food budget.

Within a one block radius, there are three food stores. One is called D1 (De uno), another is Carulla, and the last is a local fruit, veggie, and meat market. Carulla is on the higher end with whole food type prices, so…I have tended to avoid it, though they are good for having specialty items or imported goods that other stores typically don’t have.

Since I started shopping, I’ve been sticking with D1 which is comparable to Aldi: super economical, easy, and you can be in-and-out fairly quick. There I buy eggs, pasta, crackers, nut mixes, tuna and other items that are non-perishable. For my fruit and veggie haul, I stopped in at the local joint, which proved to be a fantastic decision.

The D1 haul (which included buying olive oil, a tooth brush and splurging on some almond milk) cost me $40,150 Colombian Pesos (COP)[$13.74]. The fruit and veggie haul cost me $30,214 COP ($10.34 USD). Everything totalled up to: 70,364 COP or $24.08 USD.

img_8987.jpg

I bought this food a little over a week ago and I still have enough for 8 more meals, minimum, This all will total up to about 2 weeks of supply. Not bad, right?

The longevity of this haul has been elongated slightly because I have definitely had meals out. That is a comfort that will be hard to avoid while settling in a new place and making new friends.  

Nonetheless, I think I can do even better next time since I won’t have to buy staple items. Also, as I hone in on more specific meals I want to make, as well as the things I can and can’t eat (had a bad experience with Pitaya (Dragon Fruit) the yellow spiky fruit in the picture) I’ll be able to have a more precise idea of my budget.

As it stands, (if I do my math right) my grocery budget in Colombia may cost me little more than $50 USD per month. If I include going out for meals 2-3 times a week, at an average of $6 per meal ($18/week). My monthly food budget in Colombia is about $122. That is the low side of what I spent on groceries per month back at home… I shudder to think how much I ended up spending on meals out.

There you have it! A little glimpse into my day-to-day expenses in Colombia. Have any questions? Want to know what things are and what I cook? Comment below!

Cheers,

Alaina

UPDATE: The food above lasted me exactly 2 weeks! I’ve gone to the fruteria again and bought fruits and veggies for the remainder of the month and spent 21,107 COP ($7.02).

Also, along the way I bought some nut mixes for snacks and some napkins. I spent $15,160 COP ($5.05). A few days ago, I got a little capricious and bought some gummies, popcorn, cheese, cured meats, crackers, beer, and orange juice which cost me 40,750 COP ($13.57). I ended up throwing away all of the nacho supplies I purchased because they were actually disgusting lol. Approximately a $4 mistake.

I don’t anticipate buying more groceries again, and I’ll keep the $4 in there for other experiments or curiosities. That means the grand total of my shopping month was: $147,381 COP or $49.05 USD. I came in under my budget! Woo!

 

 

*Images at the top are stock images found on google with permission for reuse. I do not claim the rights to these photos.

*Image of food and special guest, Emma the Cat, is mine.

The Reality Behind Travel

DVNZ0278

Behind all the “grammable” moments, the gorgeous album of photos uploaded to Facebook, the amazing snaps and instastories blasted out for the world to see, the reality of traveling is a sobering one.

First, let me start by stating that I recognize how lucky I am to have earned opportunities to travel and to live abroad in different countries. I know a lot of people look at that with a mixture of incredulity, awe, and probably a bit of envy. A lot of people want me to share photos and videos so they can live vicariously through me. I get that. I do that. However, it’s a slippery slope when you’re not in the right frame of mind.

Even as I’m here, settling into a bustling, beautiful city in Colombia, I see my friends and my family and people I knew at some point having meals together, going to parks, playing games, getting engaged, married, having babies… all together. I feel envious. I feel sad. And I feel utterly alone.

From an objective standpoint, I know I’m not alone. I also understand that these 2D experiences I’m seeing are teeming with loads of challenging nuances that I cannot detect.  And currently, I’m acutely aware that I’m in the first stages of culture shock.

I’ve settled in to a beautiful house with nice people and two cats. I have a space to call my own, a place to store my food, a neighborhood to frequent. I have a launching pad from which I can go discover this city, this country, and this part of the world. It is wonderful relief.

With that relief, the ability to relax, a number of things fade: my survival instincts, the excitement of walking around a new city, re-navigating a language I love, discovering the subtleties of this culture, learning of things to try, places to see, etc. As this “honeymoon” stage melts away, room develops for homesickness, exhaustion, frustration, feelings of isolation and being stuck, even scared, and sadness.

I wouldn’t change this decision if I had to make it 50 more times. But like all things in life, there are ups and downs. Sometimes just going to the store is the hardest thing in the world. Sometimes you just need to curl up in a blanket with some mac and cheese and watch your favorite show. Sometimes things are going to suck, even if you’re in paradise.

So I guess, what I’m trying to communicate is that, while I post pretty photos and share nice stories about my experience, keep in mind that it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. Sure, revel in those moments with me, but please don’t lose sight of the magic of your own experience while you do. I’m going to remind myself of the same thing, especially in tougher moments like these.

You see the picture at the top of this page? My feet resting on a window sill that overlooks a gorgeous patio, lush with tropicalish flowers, blue skies in the background, reeking of tranquility. Well, shortly before taking that, as I ambled my gawky way into the hammock, I fell straight backwards, smashed my head into the bed so hard one of the wooden slats went crashing to the floor, scaring the cat so bad that it flew from its resting spot on my suitcase with her nails out, tearing up the fabric as she dashed away.

All rainbows and butterflies and shit, right?

Not exactly.

And good thing!

An Ill Nation: We’re Sick, We’re Sad and I’m Heartbroken and Mad

For years now, I’ve made the habit of listening to the news in the morning. While I lived in Spain, the NPR app was a way for me to stay in the loop with my country and its happenings. To feel more connected with my people soothed my homesickness. It provided comfort, even though what seemed like every other week I would tune in and hear about another shooting, another suicide, another senseless waste of life.

I will never forget the morning I woke up to a dreamy day in early June, in a gorgeous rustic hotel in a rural Spanish town. I was rousing from this piece of bliss when I tuned in to listen to the news while I got ready for the day. My heart fell through the floor as live updates of the Pulse shooting came streaming through. People searching for their friends and loved ones. Planning meeting points. Mothers in the street, unsure if their babies were in there. Havoc. Panic. I’ve never felt so impotent, heartbroken, and angry. My tears were not going to give life back to my brothers and sisters maimed by a sick, sad individual with a high-capacity gun.

I will never forget this morning in early June either. I put on my sunglasses as I drove down the road calmly. I turned on the radio and heard David Green reading about accolades and praise Anthony Bourdain has received. My heart sunk. Then he said it, “He was 61.” That’s too young, I thought frantically. Please no. Please no. The segment ended there so I quickly grabbed my phone to check…how?

Apparent suicide.

F*CKKK! Damnit!

I’ve never yelled profanity so loud in my life. I scared myself and probably the person next to me at the light who looked over alarmed.

Another loss. A knife cut through my chest in the same way it did when I heard about my cousin’s husband’s mother, my friend’s brother… the same it always does when beautiful souls depart us too soon at the hands of this plague. I angry cried all the way to work. I’m sad. I’m pissed. Another person who I revere and wholeheartedly admire… just gone. We opened the week with Kate Spade and we’re closing it with Anthony Bourdain. My heart is broken. I refuse to accept these types of events as commonplace in our news cycles.

Mass shootings, suicides…these things seem unrelated, but they’re not. I believe they are symptoms. Our country is ill. Many of us are ill. We are divided, we are extreme, we live in a culture of violence and shame. It isn’t any wonder more and more of us are battling with mental health issues. Our environment breeds this. How many more people will we lose as a result of this illness?

As a society, we are in desperate need of healing. How? I don’t know. I think, though, we must begin to talk about it where can. Begin where we have control— at home with yourself, with your partner, your family, your friends, your colleagues, your team, your church, your tribe, your school, your community.

It’s Pride weekend here in Milwaukee, and many places around the world. So many of my fellow queers battle with mental health because there is a wave of violence and shaming that overwhelms being OK with oneself. I hope during this time of celebrating who we are, we find space for transparent discussion.

I am queer and have struggled immensely with depression, and now battle anxiety daily. I have told my partner, my friends, my family, my colleagues– everyone I interact with on a daily basis is aware. And it’s not luck that they’re there and they’re supportive of me. It’s love.

I invite anyone who needs to talk to reach out to me. Let’s take it all out from under the rug. I love you, you beautiful human and your wonderful heart. Let us celebrate and discuss.

Rest easy, all who have been lost to this plague.

With all of my heart,

Alaina

5 of My Favorite Spanish Foods

When I first arrived to Spain, I wasn’t sure what to eat or how to eat or how to shop for myself. It was if entering into a new society suddenly wiped my mind clear of all the things I had learned after living by myself for five years. I’m already indecisive enough as it is, so add in a warehouse store like Carrefour (a European version of a target market more or less) filled with brands, fruits, cheeses, meat hanging from the ceiling and beer I had never encountered before, I was más perdida que un pedo en un jacuzzi— aka, I was completely lost. (If you understand Spanish or looked that phrase up haha excellent). My roommate accompanied me and was exasperated at the fact that I had no idea what to buy. She kept asking me with increasing insistence, “Pues, ¿Qué comes?” and I kept saying “No sé!” Had I had the capacity to express myself more fully I would have said something like “Tia, dejáme aquí… no me puedes meter prisa que ya estoy agobiada” which basically means, “Dude- leave me here- I’m overwhelmed AF.” But instead she watched me flail in the aisles as I went around and picked up a loaf of bread, a half kilo of turkey and ham without knowing what the heck a kilo equated to, some tortilla chips, ketchup, mayonnaise, two types of mustard, barbecue sauce, a jar of salsa, and a 12 pack of Estrella Damm because it was on sale. Her eyes turned to plates when she saw the number of condiments in my basket– “¿En serio?” she laughed at me, “Eres muy americana.”

My bread molded before I could even use a quarter of it, the turkey and ham went bad because I got sick of eating it and I finished the beers after about two days. Over the next few weeks I observed what my Spanish roommates ate. Being students, they all had mothers back in their pueblos that prepared them a freezer full of tappers which contained pasta with meat sauce, rice with rabbit and veggies, an assortment of different types of soups and stews and seafood paella to name a few. Nearly every meal was accompanied by picos, little tiny pieces of hard bread that we’d probably find in some sort of chex mix. Soon I, too, became a pico feign.  For breakfast they’d drink Colacao, which is like Nesquik, or powdered instant coffee with cookies or little muffins. Dinner was always late and light: a salad or some tuna with onions and tomatoes.

I was in a serious phase of adjustment, so adding cooking then dishes and balancing my roommates’ schedules in order to do so was not on the top of my priority list. So, I ate out… A LOT. And that is how I became very  well acquainted with some of my favorite Spanish dishes. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was totally spoiled in that I was growing my Spanish palate in arguably one of the best gastronomic strongholds of Spain. In just a few short months, my reliance on condiments and hot sauce completely vanished. Spain’s salty, savory, FRESH, simplistic yet full-bodied cuisine redefined my definition of satisfied.

 

My very first attempt at making Bacaloa Dorado ca.2014

1. Bacaloa Dorado

Golden Cod in English, this dish is eaten quite often in Extremadura. It’s traditionally a Portuguese dish, and is made of eggs, onion, cod, and fried potatoes (not french fries). For me, it was comfort food. I found out pretty soon that it’s super easy to make, too.

 

 

 

 

2. Jamón, Lomo, Chorizo 

Jamón del bueno with nice blurry finger 🙂

Although I don’t eat much meat here, I can’t get over the Spanish cured meats. Give me a bandeja of any of these and I’m one happy camper. Chorizo is chorizo. It’s less spicy than the Mexican chorizo we’re accustomed to and has a smokier flavor because it’s made with Pimentón or paprika. Pimentón de La Vera is a specialty from the province of Cáceres, located in the north of Extremadura.  Lomo is cured tenderloin. SO GOOD.  Jamón is cured ham leg and the best ham comes from Extremadura because they’re raised in open fields and feed on the bellotas or acorns from the Holm oak trees strewn across the region. My Spanish mom sent me some lomo and jamón for my birthday and I cried. These are no joke, folks.

 

 

Utter joy

3. Huevos Rotos

My mouth became a geyser each time I saw a plate of huevos rotos go by. It literally translates to Broken Eggs– even the name is awesome, right? This is another comfort selection as it consists of a bed of fries, topped with Jamón and two over easy eggs. That’s it. Simply delicious. Another version I often enjoyed swapped Jamón for gulas, which are little sea worms. Before you get totally grossed out, if you’re in Spain– try them! They’re also amazing  sauteed in garlic and olive oil (Gulas al ajillo)–YUM.

 

 

4. Tortilla de Patata con Salmorejo

Missing the Tortilla but it’s garnished with egg and ham bits…and features two more of my favorite things: olives and beer

Ah yes, the famous Tortilla de Patata or Spanish Omelette. Spain converted me into an egg lover. I love all the eggs in all the different shapes and forms they come in. One of my favorites for sure is the classic Tortilla de Patatas–but for me it has to be on the runnier side and it’s even better when it can be plopped into a cold, shallow bowl of Salmorejo.  This is another version of ‘cold tomato soup’ that’s similar to Gazpacho (which I also love). While Gazpacho contains pepino (cucumber), pimientos (peppers), Salmorejo does not. It’s slightly thicker because it uses more bread followed by fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and salt.

 

5. Tapas 

I realize “Tapas” is the broadest thing I could list here and it sort of seems like cheating. But for me, it’s the epitome of why I LOVE Spanish food.

Tapas which literally means lid, became a cultural staple after it was mandatory to serve food with alcoholic beverages (why isn’t this a thing everywhere still behooves me). The principle behind Tapas consists of two of my favorite things: snacking and sharing. Here I described how Tapas is a way of life–it’s representative of the family-style, communal approach to eating. It stirs up conversation and it brings you closer together as you truly bond over a shared meal.

Creative tapa made in honor of the Gay Pride Festival, Los Palomos, in Badajoz

 

This list could go on for days but that would be somewhat masochistic. It’s a good thing I have all of the recipes to my favorite Spanish foods AND I just started working part time at Milwaukee’s only authentic Spanish Tapa restaurant, MOVIDA, so I can satiate my cravings until I move back. 

If you behave nice and tell me what your favorite Spanish food is in the comments, maybe in the future I’ll treat you to Part II: My Favorite Spanish Foods. I’ll be sure to include cheeses and even some recipes!

So, dime (tell me)– have you lived in or traveled to Spain? If so, ¿cuál es tu comida favorita? If you haven’t, which one of my favorite Spanish foods sounds most appealing to you? Share in the comments! 

Amor Pacense

badajoz

 

Sagrada tierra

de barro,

Tierra modesta

de riquezas.

Tierra de conquistadores

y de marquesas.

Gente del mundo

gente de pueblo

suelo estable

terreno cercano

de almas llanas.

 

Tierra confiada

que casquivanos

dejan tirada por no ver

lo bueno que brota.

Tierra musical

que no da la nota.

 

Tierra fértil, tierra sutil,

mi tiempo contigo no fue fútil.

Tierra maja,

te salí de naja.

Perdóname, tierra bella,

he pisado en ti

pero en mí

siguen tus huellas.

5 Things I’ve Learned at my Office Job

1. Being on Time Matters

In this culture timeliness corresponds to responsibility and reliability. People notice and it does have an impact… even when you think it shouldn’t, it does. Ugh. This has been the hardest thing for me to reconcile.  If you know me (I’ve WAY gotten better!) I’m notoriously late… so trying to remedy this habit I’ve felt like a tired dog tied to a bicycle.

dogbehindbike.jpg

2. Once you start making the coffee, you can’t stop.

You become the pillar upon which the mood is set in the morning. You must not crumble.

Coffee
Coffee is King

3. Your birthday, your treat

Yup– that’s right. You bring the birthday treat. I find this is remarkably odd, but I suppose this is common place. During elementary school, the birthday girl or boy would bring in treats for the whole class. And in Spain, same thing– el cumpleañero brings the cake. (Full disclosure: I broke tradition).

4. The Hierarchy is Real

*Eye roll*

5. Everyone feels the same about working

Even if people like their jobs and are content with their responsibilities everyone pretty much agrees that it’s not healthy or necessary to be there for 40+ hours a week. If it’s necessary, there’s clearly a personnel or organization issue. I’m going to be bold and go ahead and say it: anyone saying otherwise is operating  under the false pretense that they appear “hard-working” and “dedicated”– I call bullshit. I’m thinking about starting a petition for incorporating a three day weekend into every month that doesn’t already have one. This is phase one of the initiative to transition to towards working a four day, 32 hour week all of the time… Or maybe I could just keep heavily advocating for 6 hour work days. Happier people=more productivity=more $$– win- win, right?

shenanigans
Comment “Siesta” when you get it

 

Do any of these sound familiar to you? What things have you learned at your office job? Can I get a “hell yeah” in the comments below if you agree with my sentiments regarding working hours?