Tag Archives: personal

Getting In the Game

Happy New Year, friends!

What did you do to celebrate New Year’s Eve? Did you go to one of those big expensive parties? Did you get dressed up and smooch someone at midnight? Or did you fall asleep before the ball dropped? We hosted our own party around here, full of food and drink and a really great playlist crafted by yours truly.

A particularly bright and blue morning in Milwaukee.

A particularly bright and blue morning in Milwaukee.

It’s 2015! Doesn’t that just sound weird? I wrote a few emails before the New Year and I included dates for this month, and the number just looks funny to me. If you asked me about my favorite or lucky numbers, I like 4, 8, and multiples thereof. Like, if I’m going to have a handful of M&M’s, I like to have an even number of candies. Odd numbers are not my thing. On a superstitious and superficial level, I was pumped for 2014, simply because it ended in 4.

But on a much deeper level- beyond pointless superstitions- 2014 was a really, really good year. I graduated from college. I wrote a thesis and won honors for it. I ran a half-marathon. I got a job! I moved to not one, but two cities. Highlights from those adventures include driving a pick-up truck for four beautiful weeks, as well as getting an apartment after just half a day of showings. New friends just recently entered the picture towards the end of the year, and my old friends continued to amaze me with their patience, love, and wisdom. And my family in general just rocked 2014. We killed it and ended on a crazy high note.

Celebrating! With bubbly and party nails.

Celebrating! With bubbly and party nails.

So as you can probably understand, I was a little sad to say goodbye to 2014. New Year’s Eve was bittersweet. 2014 was a blast. I didn’t want it to end!

But then, I started thinking about what is really the difference between years, or rather, what is so different between December 31st and January 1st? It’s all about a mindset. It’s all about viewing the year as a blank slate and giving yourself a fresh start. On January 1st, I finally took some steps towards fiscal responsibility. I opened up a 401(k), made my first student loan payment, and drafted a budget. This was something I really needed to be doing in, say, June, but something about the new year pushed me to get it done.

Besides that mindset, though, if you think about it, there isn’t a ton of difference between the last week of December 2014 and the first week of January 2015. I’m most excited about keeping up the momentum from the end of the year and letting that roll right into 2015. Big things have happened and big things will keep happening! The new year is just a great opportunity to take advantage of all that good energy and movement forward.

We always have a fire on New Year's Eve. I like to think of it as symbolic and festive.

We always have a fire on New Year’s Eve. I like to think of it as symbolic and festive. Mostly though it’s fun and for warmth.

Let’s talk resolutions, shall we?

In previous years, I’ve sat down and made a giant list of resolutions falling under a few different categories. Generally, this results in very little progress or change made. Think about it: what is effective or focused about 100 resolutions that you’re supposed to start all at once on January 1st?

This year, I just decided to start on a few things that, if done successfully, could motivate me to do more in the future. I decided I’d rather accomplish a small number of resolutions and do them well, than attack too many and end up not making an effort.

First up was managing my finances. The 401(k) is set up. Once it’s done, it’s done. I’m not going back and undoing what I did! The next was starting my student loan payments. Granted, that’s not something that’s an option, but it was a good move to pay ahead of time, rather than wait until the due date. Last was drafting a budget. This will be the biggest ongoing effort, because it requires entering my expenses into a spreadsheet- and thus, knowing exactly what I’m spending and where. While I haven’t been throwing my money away, I want to be more mindful of where everything is going, and where I can make adjustments.

Next up is always fitness. Last year I ran a half-marathon, which was a major athletic accomplishment for me. Since then, I’ve more or less stopped running. This year, I want to pick it back up, so I’m going to find a 10K to run in the first six months of the year. I also need to find a way to work on strength training, but without a specific goal, I know it will be difficult to stick to it. Any tips are welcome!

Another is wasting less food. This falls under both health and fitness. I need to find ways to cook what I have until it’s gone, without getting bored of what I’m eating. I will remind you of the time I ate nothing but burrito bowls and garlic shrimp in Amarillo for several weeks. Yeah. I’m not doing that again. Wasting food makes me feel guilty and annoyed- not just for the money lost, but also for throwing something away that I’m fortunate to have, and others are not.

My other major resolution is to get involved in the community. I just moved to a big city, and the time is right to learn more about it and meet more people. My university has a large and active alumni base in this area- I think that’s a good way to start. I’m also trying to settle on a parish, one that I’ll feel comfortable participating in however I can. All of that will get me out of my apartment, into the city, and building relationships.

A few more will be coming once I start these others- maybe I’ll try not to look at my phone the second my alarm goes off in the morning, and unplug from it well before bedtime at night. Maybe I’ll recommit to learning Portuguese. Maybe I’ll start meditating once a day. Maybe I’ll try to read more news.

But let’s start small and mindfully, okay? Everything in its own time- not all at once.

Happy New Year, friends! May 2015 be your best year yet.

With love,

Gaby

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A Different Kind of Holiday

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Yes, I haven’t written since right around Thanksgiving. Yes, we are basically at the end of another year (I’m sorry, wait, WHAT?!).

Was this holiday season a blur for anyone else or just me?

A scene of quiet and breakfast the day before Thanksgiving. Pumpkin and blueberry muffins!

A scene of quiet and breakfast the day before Thanksgiving. Pumpkin and blueberry muffins!

That’s how it all started. I made pumpkin muffins to bring into the office two days before Thanksgiving. I then hopped on the train that night and served up the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. My mom was on the same page and had blueberry muffins on hand, too!

What else would you expect?

What else would you expect?

Of course it wasn’t long until I was throwing flour all over the place. That’s my unbaked apple pie. If you look closely, you can see that the pie crust was a little rough this time around. Lots of tears and holes. But you know what? It all works out. I would insert a picture of the baked pie, but then my phone broke before I could upload the rest of the pictures, and I lost all the photos between Thanksgiving and mid-December. Womp womp. Trust me. The pie looked nice.

I moved into an apartment right before Thanksgiving! A couple weeks later, my family was kind enough to rent a van and bring down my bedroom furniture. I went ahead and bought a couple of counter-height stools so I could actually sit at the counter and eat or do work. It’s a little nicer than sitting on the floor. Shocking, I know.

Mostly I just try to enjoy the view from my balcony. And dream about the glamorous sunset cocktail hours and bright Sunday breakfasts I can host on it.

Took this photo as I was running out of my apartment to a work event. But come on! How could I resist?

Took this photo as I was running out of my apartment to a work event. But come on! How could I resist?

Maybe I should get a couch or something first, though. So more than two people can actually sit down.

I started working with a new client at the beginning of December. They’re fantastic, and there’s nothing more I love than having a jam-packed to-do list. I’ve had multiple days where I leave my apartment before the sun is up and I’m not back until long after it has gone down. There’s a lot to get done, and I know I’ll love a vacation eventually. But for now, I know that I love to work, and I’m very lucky to have a job that challenges me and makes me excited for those long days.

Between the new client and the new apartment- all of the newness- the holidays arrived and started racing by until all of a sudden it was the weekend before Christmas. It didn’t feel like Christmas yet. I hustled around Michigan Ave. a bit to finish my shopping. I tried to listen to some Christmas music while I worked. I bought a poinsettia and set up my nativity set.

You know what really got me ready, though? Baking like a maniac that whole Saturday.

I decided to put together a box of cookies for my wonderful coworkers in another office. The key to a good cookie box (or tray) is variety. First up were apple cinnamon oatmeal cookies and sugar cookies. These photos have also gone missing. My apologies. The oatmeal cookies were to have a fruit-based flavor, and to get some hearty texture. The sugar cookies are just classic. I didn’t do cut-outs for this box, but I did cover them in lots of green and red crystals.

Next up were peanut butter blossoms. The recipe is on the back of a bag of Hershey’s kisses. For real! Get a bunch of peanut butter and those Kisses, and you’re probably good to go.

Glossy, sugary, crackly blossoms of joy.

Glossy, sugary, crackly blossoms of joy.

These are a no brainer. Putting peanut butter and chocolate together is always a crowd pleaser. Note: these are not the easiest to package. You’ll want to layer them on parchment paper in your container. Also, I would suggest having a glass of milk on hand. These are dense, rich, and a little sticky.

Third in line: double chocolate chip cookies with candy cane kisses. Can anybody please come up with another name for these? Basically, prep a double chocolate chip cookie. I used this recipe. Bake them all the way, let the cookies cool for a couple minutes, and then press the kiss in while the cookie is still soft. Let cool completely before you store or package them. Like the peanut butter blossoms, they need to be layered, not tossed around.

They are just the cutest and most festive cookies!

They are just the cutest and most festive cookies!

I love these for how Christmas-y they are: those stripes and that peppermint flavor make these appropriate only during this time of year.

Because I still miss Chile, and these never fail to impress, I also made alfajores with homemade manjar. Find the alfajores recipe in one of my Chile posts. For those new to the blog, alfajores are basically shortbread sandwich cookies filled with caramel (dulce de leche, or in Chile, MANJAR). Prep the manjar ahead of time: you’ll need to boil the can of sweetened condensed milk for at least two hours, and it needs to cool completely before you can spread it.

Warning: they might stick to paper towels. Not that that happened here...

Warning: they might stick to paper towels. Not that that happened here…

These actually didn’t make it into the cookie box. My friend C. came over, taste-tested the cookies, and then kept me from crushing too many cookies into that one Tupperware.

And then, it was Christmas.

First, there was a train ride.

First, there was a train ride, and an unexpectedly sunny view of the skyline.

And an unexpectedly sunny view of the skyline.

Then, there were even more cookies. It’s not Christmas without these cut-outs!

My brothers get all the credit for frosting these, as I was trying to finish up some other baking. Didn't they do a lovely job?

My brothers get all the credit for frosting these, as I was trying to finish up some other baking. Didn’t they do a lovely job?

Then there was some pizza bread. And so much cheese and crackers.

This recipe needed a little rescue after I didn't take care of the dough. Thank you, Daddy!

This recipe needed a little rescue after I didn’t take care of the dough. Thank you, Daddy!

And then, there was just a really pretty tree, and a very beautiful, blessed family.

Couldn't ask for anything more.

Couldn’t ask for anything more.

And that, my friends, was Christmas. Just a few days before, I mentioned to a friend that it didn’t feel like it was time yet. My apartment wasn’t decorated, I hadn’t made much time to celebrate in the midst of work and learning the city, and everything was just so new that I didn’t know where my usual traditions fit in. But even though it maybe didn’t feel like the typical holiday season, and even though I maybe didn’t create enough time to reflect and just “be,” it was still a beautiful, meaningful holiday, with lots of time to appreciate and be grateful for what has been an incredible year.

That’s probably the best way I can describe what Christmas felt like this year: grateful. Appreciative. Just so unbelievably thankful for everything that has happened in 2014. Rather than buy extravagant gifts and plan out an elaborate party, in the moments I did think about Christmas, I kept returning to all of the things I’m thankful for. New friends, opportunities, adventures in other states, moving again closer to home, the closeness of old friends, college graduation- the list goes on and on.

Maybe that will be another post. But for now, I hope you have had a very merry Christmas, and that whatever holidays you celebrate have overflowed with blessings big and small.

With love,

Gaby

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Goodbye, Texas. Hello, Chicago!

This has been a long time coming.

When I got hired and learned that I’d be heading to Amarillo for my first project, I knew that moving to Texas- even temporarily- would be a big shift. It’s not easy to get back and forth between Amarillo and Milwaukee. It’s at least two expensive flights, with limited departure and arrival times to choose from. It was clear that, except for a few well-selected trips, I’d be settling into Texas for a little while.

My first glimpse of the Panhandle.

My first glimpse of the Panhandle.

I’ve already written about how it was different adjusting to life after college. There weren’t many people my age around. I mostly just saw the people I worked with. I lived in a hotel room- which had a kitchen, but eventually I got lazy and stopped working on how to cook interesting things for one person. When I finished work for the week, I tried to disconnect and just veg out.

So, maybe life wasn’t as interesting or exciting as I thought it was going to be. But I still learned a few things along the way- about Texans, about traveling, and about being by myself.

I drove this beautiful white Ford F-150 for four glorious weeks. I still miss it.

I drove this beautiful white Ford F-150 for four glorious weeks. I still miss it.

About Texans:

Texans are incredibly friendly and hospitable. I would argue that at least in the Panhandle, they rank with Upper Midwesterners in politeness, smiles, and courtesy. Strangers say hello to each other, which is always my benchmark for openness and hospitality. I had lots of offers from coworkers at the client and volunteers who invited me to eat with them, go to Mass with them, spend time at their homes, and so on. They do a lot to make you feel welcome!

Texans also have a powerful sense of identity and independence. There’s a reason they say Don’t Mess with Texas, and I can totally see how this state was once its own country. Amarillo is real Texas. Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are big, American metropolises. Austin is a funky liberal hippie enclave. Amarillo is cattle ranches, and farms, and oil fields. These Texans love a good steak…or a chicken-fried steak…or a Tex-Mex plate of enchiladas with beans and rice. Forget the traffic and the hustle and bustle of the other cities. This is the heart of Big Sky Texas, the Yellow Rose of Texas. And they don’t want anybody changing that.

This is what I mean by Big Sky.

This is what I mean by Big Sky.

About traveling and living on the road:

When you don’t have the luxury of an apartment to make your own space, do whatever else you can to make your living arrangements your own. In a hotel room, maybe that means buying a cheap vase and filling it with flowers every week. Maybe you bring or buy one of your own blankets. There’s nothing wrong with getting some kind of air freshener to make the room smell less like a hotel and more like a real home. Candles would be ideal…but I’m pretty sure that would set off the smoke alarms, so I never tried it.

These flowers lasted the longest of any I bought.

These flowers lasted the longest of any I bought.

This looks like a crisp fall day, but it was actually 85 when I took this.

This looks like a crisp fall day, but it was actually 85 when I took this.

Get into a routine, and make sure that routine includes ways to work your body and your mind outside of your job. I started exercising almost every day, either in the fitness room, or by walking in a nearby park or the neighboring bike path. I also recently began studying Portuguese with Duolingo. Find ways to unwind that don’t just involve sitting in the room watching TV.

But there's nothing wrong with a donut and a good book, either.

But there’s nothing wrong with a donut and a good book, either.

About being by yourself:

All of that said, maybe you’ve spent so much time around people that all you really want to do is watch TV and read and veg out. I get that. I did plenty of that. The most important thing is to do what you need to do to be happy. If that means you’re going to travel every other weekend, and you can afford it, go do it! If that means you go see a new movie each week, or try a new restaurant, there you go! If that means you just need to be by yourself, or you need to be around a whole bunch of people to recharge, then there’s your ticket.

You have to learn how to listen to yourself and be content with making your own decisions just for you, not based on what other people think you should be doing. Your experiences are entirely your own. Ultimately, only you can decide what you want to get out of your travels and your time in a place that is not your home. Do you want to make it your home? Is it just where you are during the week, but you jet out on the weekend? Or is it something in between, a way station of sorts?

This was a great way for me to start this job. I worked on a team, so I was never really completely alone. But, I wasn’t close to home, so there were some things that I just had to learn by myself. I had to learn just how to be by myself, for long periods of time. There is a lot of value in that. Especially in a world where we have put such a premium on constant connectedness, it’s becoming more and more rare that we have to be by ourselves and fill our time on our own. In that sense, I was very glad for this experience.

Wild sky on one of my last nights in Texas.

Wild sky on one of my last nights in Texas.

That said, I’m in Chicago and already loving it. If Texas taught me anything besides the lessons above, it’s that I am a city girl through and through. I felt instantly reenergized just by walking down the street and being surrounded by all the people and buildings and lights. This is my kind of environment- everything within reach, within walking distance, within a train ride.

On top of that, I’m much closer to home- heck, I could commute here for a short time if I had to. I’m also close to various friends living in and around the Windy City. Almost everything I felt like I was missing before, I think I’m getting it back again.

I have an apartment. I have a gas stove and a granite island and ample cabinet space for all kinds of baking goodies. I have an incredible balcony which is going to provide endless sparkly pictures. And I’m surrounded by a giant city, a city of fantastically diverse neighborhoods.

Let’s keep exploring, shall we?

With love,

Gaby

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For Real, Guys, It’s October.

On the one hand, I’m panicking a little bit because holy crap this project flew by and there’s no way we can get everything done we need to get done in just four more weeks. (Actually, yes, we can, but we’re not cruising to the finish.) I’m also wondering where the heck I’m going next. My company is awesome, but one of the catches with the way we work is that we get assigned our projects last minute. If you have any extra patience you can send my way, I’d appreciate it.

On the other hand (four sentences later), I’m quite excited, because if things go as planned (emphasis on the “if”), I’m leaving Texas in less than a month.

Don’t get me wrong. This has been a great project. I’m learning a lot! Texans are quite friendly, polite, and hospitable. I’ve been living very comfortably, and I’m now a Platinum Elite rewards member at my hotel. (Those minimum 75 nights in a year rack up pretty quickly when you literally live in the hotel.)

Nevertheless, I don’t have people here. I have my wonderful coworkers and the great team at our client. If I ever needed something, I would feel comfortable reaching out to any one of them. I have never before appreciated the powers of technology to keep me connected with friends and family. Not even in Chile was I this deeply appreciative of Skype and FaceTime and instant messaging. But none of that replaces actually being able to get in the car with somebody you don’t work with and go somewhere. Anywhere. Heck, even just shopping or to the park.

So I guess I’ve learned my limit for how long I can go without being around my own “people” is about four months. That seems to be my maximum for how much I can stand spending my weekends running errands and watching TV. That’s also the amount of time I can live without an oven.

The food rut is real. I think it’s contributing to my overall boredom. Same foods, same scenery, same stuff going on all the time. I’m listless and restless and antsy and lazy all at the same time. Today I ate a frozen single-serving pizza that I heated up in the microwave to “mix it up.” Living on the edge, right?

Here are some of the things I do to bide my time and keep occupied (and get my butt off the couch).

I've been trying to sustain plant life. I failed with a succulent and with a bouquet of sunflowers. These hydrangeas were moderately successful.

I’ve been trying to sustain plant life. I failed with a succulent and with a bouquet of sunflowers. These hydrangeas were moderately successful.

On Sundays, I spend quite a lot of time watching football. If the Packer game isn't on regular TV (which it almost never is, because Texas has two football teams), I head out for wings and beer.

On Sundays, I spend quite a lot of time watching football. If the Packer game isn’t on regular TV (which it almost never is, because Texas has two football teams), I head out for wings and beer.

I take a lot of walks on the weekends. This is from my favorite park.

I take a lot of walks on the weekends. This is from my favorite park.

This is from the path behind my hotel. It gets a pretty decent view of the sun right before sunset.

This is from the path behind my hotel. It gets a pretty decent view of the sun right before sunset.

I've become quite a connoisseur of Blue Bell ice cream flavors. I've also decided I need to step up my workouts.

I’ve become quite a connoisseur of Blue Bell ice cream flavors. I’ve also decided I need to step up my workouts.

I write this blog. How meta.

I write this blog. How meta.

Oh, and I cook! Yes, I do have some new food to show you this week. Not much, but it’s something!

Last weekend, after indulging in hibachi and beer and wings and all kinds of goodies, I recognized that I needed to put a little good in. So I pan seared a tuna steak and sautéed some zucchini and summer squash.

To prepare the tuna steak: put about a tablespoon or two of olive oil into a pan and get the pan nice and hot. Pat the tuna steak dry and season with salt and pepper. Sear the tuna steak for three to four minutes per side. And that’s all!

Cooking up. The white stuff is just fats oozing out a little. Yeah, it's kind of gross.

Cooking up. The white stuff is just fats oozing out a little. Yeah, it’s kind of gross.

I’ve sautéed summer squash on the blog before. Treat as you would any other vegetable: wash it, chop it up, sauté in a pan with olive oil and butter and seasonings until just golden.

Healthy and quick!

Healthy and quick!

In case fish and vegetables aren’t your thing, I also made some really great French toast!

Honestly, there’s nothing special about my French toast recipe. But French toast is one of those indulgent breakfasts you can make for one person, and it doesn’t require any unusual ingredients or tools- or heck, even an oven.

For one person, take two slices of bread. If you don’t remember to dry it out ahead of time, toast it on a very light setting. Mix an egg with a couple splashes of milk. Add two healthy dashes of cinnamon and a good half-teaspoon of vanilla. Stir that together. Dunk the bread in the egg batter and fry on the stove until golden on each side.

That's just about the right shade of golden.

That’s just about the right shade of golden.

I had some packets of syrup from the downstairs breakfast bar, but I wanted to do something different. So I smeared on plenty of Nutella. And it felt as indulgent as eating cake for breakfast.

The eggs are just for protein. The French toast is really the highlight here.

The eggs are just for protein. The French toast is really the highlight here.

So there you go! Don’t think that just because you’re solo means you can only eat basic breakfasts. Joy the Baker has a recipe for a single serving of pancakes somewhere. You can also find all kinds of recipes online for coffee cakes and muffins made in a mug in a microwave. Fancy weekend breakfasts are not just for crowds!

Hey, I’ve got Nutella-smothered French toast, lots to read, plenty on TV, and lots of friends and family I can text/message/Skype at almost any time of day. I guess life on the road isn’t so bad. I think I can make it another four weeks. 🙂

With love,

Gaby

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Ready for Fall, and College vs. Employment: A Pro and Con List

Has anyone else started to freak out that it’s already the middle of September and the season of all pumpkin everything and leggings and boots is upon us? I mean, the stores are already filled with fall and Halloween decor. And you know what that means.

The second that Halloween is over, they’ll start playing Christmas music. So it’s practically the holidays already. I mean, it sure seemed like it at Kohl’s yesterday.

STOP THE MADNESS!!!

STOP THE MADNESS!!!

I LOVE this time of the year. I love it when the weather gets cooler and I can bundle up a little more. It means I get to wear jeans and sweaters, which means I don’t have to shave as often (ladies, don’t deny it! That’s a HUGE perk of this season!). I can drink hot tea or coffee in the middle of the day and not sweat. I’m already really excited to start adding fall/winter colors to my wardrobe. I’m thinking I’m going to build a palette of dark grey, camel, aubergine/eggplant, and burgundy/wine. Maybe some forest green and cream if I can find the right pieces.

The (maybe) two men reading this post just totally checked out. Moving on.

As excited I am for the change in seasons, however, this fall is also a really big life moment. It’s the first fall in 18 or 19 years that I haven’t gone to school. This has brought up a lot of conversations between me and my friends about what we miss and don’t miss about college- even for the friends who are in grad school.

This week, I made a pros and cons list for College vs. Employment. School vs. “Real Life.” Pre-Adulthood vs. Trying to be an Adult-hood.

Let’s get started, shall we?

COLLEGE/KAWLEDGE

Pro: being able to spell “college” like that and people might maybe think it’s funny or witty. This does not happen after college.

Con: Being surrounded by people who spell words like that all the time in an effort to be funny. We need more creative wordplay.

Pro: dining halls and meal plans. Access to nearly unlimited amounts of food, two or three times a day. Then, on top of that, you have a magical ID card which allows you to purchase more food outside of meal times- and, more importantly, gives you access to significant quantities of Starbucks.

Con: eventually, the food gets boring. Also, the ID card is not actually magic and all of that Starbucks makes the magic run out more quickly than you thought.

Pro: Dorms! All of your friends, all people your age, all of the time. In many cases, you never want for company.

Con: Sometimes, it’s nice for it to be quiet and solitary. Also, totally done with the whole sharing a bathroom thing. I’ve taken more than my fair share of other people’s hair out of the shower drain.

Pro: Sleeping in late, or, as late as possible, because you don’t really need to dress up for your 8 AM class.

Con: You’re sleeping in so late because you didn’t go to sleep until 2 AM, for no reason other than homework.

Pro: Free workout areas and cheap fitness classes.

Pro: It’s still acceptable for your parents to take care of your finances.

Con: Even if you’re working, you’re probably not earning very much money. And much of that goes to cover your regular spending- partying, shopping, and so on.

Con: HOMEWORK. Because it was just a blast coming home from evening activities after 10 o’ clock, having to start reading 40 pages of political theory, due at 11 AM the next morning.

Con: Ruuuuuuules. Parietals? Alcohol? But we’re all 18 or older. Which makes us legally adults. Which means we totally don’t need those rules to keep us from making poor decisions…right?

Pro: Football weekends! Two solid days of school spirit and zero expectation of getting any work done.

Con: It’d be nice to be able to go into the bookstore after 12 PM on a Friday without having to weave through packs of alumni. I just need some folders…not a $50 sweatshirt.

Pro: you get to do a million things and have a bunch of different identities. You can be an actress and a researcher and an educator. You don’t have to choose!

Who else misses this? *sob*

Who else misses this? *sob*

EMPLOYMENT

Pro: FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE. Nothing feels better than buying something for yourself and knowing that you yourself earned it.

Con: Life is expensive. I mean, have you actually looked at what a box of cereal costs?? What happened to my free Cracklin’ Oat Bran?! Oh, and you actually do have to pay that credit card bill. That’s NOT a magical ID card. (See above, though. Paying it off feels GOOD.)

Pro: NO RULES! You can drink whatever you want every single night and have friends (or more than friends) (or even strangers) of the opposite sex over past 2 AM- heck, as late as you want!

Con: If you took that pro to the extreme, you may make some poor decisions and they will have consequences. Just saying. You do you…but maybe think about it first?

Pro: NO HOMEWORK!!! Well, this isn’t true for everybody. Some people do have to bring work home with them. Including commuting, I work until 8:30 or 9 PM most nights Monday through Thursday, but when I get home, I don’t check my email, I don’t open up Excel, and I veg out. It’s the greatest thing to know that you’re done for the day.

This was a long day, but it was worth it to get it all done!

This was a long day, but it was worth it to get it all done!

Con: What happened to all of my friends? Where are all the people my age? I can’t order and eat an entire pizza by myself…and I don’t have any place to just leave it out where I know it will get eaten.

Con: No more monthlong vacations.

Pro: PAID vacation.

Con: You might not be walking everywhere all the time (to class, running errands, etc.) so you’re getting less exercise. Also, gym memberships are expensive.

Con: If you got a job (that you like) straight out of college, a) congratulations! This is an awesome club to be in, right?, and b) you’re probably still really young in most people’s eyes. I’m finding that the years between 21 and 27 are a total vacuum. It’s before the time that people start talking to you about your biological clock and getting married, which is a plus. But it’s also before the time that people will trust that your age equals some level of experience. I get a lot of comments that I look 18. Glad to know that I’m not aging prematurely…but it requires a lot of work to gain professional credibility.

Con: Dressing the right way as a young professional woman. Too frumpy, dowdy, and matronly, and people think you don’t care about your appearance. Appearances do matter, friends. However, if you dress too young, skimpily, or fashionably, you may not be taken seriously. There’s a very fine line. For me, it means a lot of plain blouses and finding the correct length pencil skirt.

Pro: Proving that you can do something with your education that earns actual money and does not require more school (for the time being, anyway). All of those classes and papers and discussions and exams really and truly resulted in skills that I use every day, and I’m getting a salary and benefits for it!

Pro: You’re not alone in this. Everybody is just figuring it out as they go along. That goes for grads who are working, grads who went back to school, grads who are looking for work, and grads who are doing service. Unless your whole group of friends has magically stayed together in the same area, doing the same things, everyone has to learn how to make new friends as an adult and how to maintain the relationships we worked so hard to cultivate in college.

This sky looks like hope. And freedom.

This sky looks like hope. And freedom.

Now, all of the choices are yours. Not your parents’, not your professors’ or advisors’, not your college’s. They’re yours.

And that’s probably the biggest pro of them all.

With love,

Gaby

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Cattle and Wind and Sky, Oh My

During my job search, I was focusing on just a few specific regions. I was primarily looking at Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. Any other Eastern city- like Boston or Philadelphia- were also options. I was open to staying in Milwaukee for the right opportunity, and I knew that I could be happy in other Midwestern cities, like Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cleveland, and St. Louis. Miami ended up on the list, not because I love the idea of Miami (I don’t), but because it’s a major gateway city to Latin America, and therefore it had to be considered. 

I did not want to go to the West Coast. I did not look at jobs in California or Seattle. I also avoided the South. In the back of my mind, I knew I should be taking Texas a little more seriously, but my family had had various chances to relocate to Texas while I was growing up. We never did. I figured that was for a reason.

And now here I am, in Amarillo, the heart of the Texas Panhandle.

Amarillo sunsets are legendary. This isn't the best shot, but it's a start.

Amarillo sunsets are legendary. This isn’t the best shot, but it’s a start.

Texas happens to be in my office’s territory. Texas also has a lot of Spanish speakers- which is why I am here on this project and not somewhere else in the Central US. The way things are going…I could end up spending quite a bit of time in the Lone Star State.

Things I’ve observed so far:

People are friendly. SO friendly! In Wisconsin, I’m accustomed to greeting other runners/walkers/bikers/passersby with at least a smile and a nod, if not a full, “Hi! How are you?” We rival Minnesota in niceness. I had heard good things about Texans, but when I go to a new place, I typically don’t greet strangers. That’s something that would get me branded as crazy in Chicago or Boston or, God forbid, New York. 

Not here! I was sitting in a park yesterday reading, and everyone who passed by at least smiled. A couple people even said hello. One guy saw me twice and greeted me both times. The folks at the grocery store are exceptionally cheerful and chatty. It’s nice to be around nice people. I’m sure I’ll encounter a sour face now and again, but overall, it’s been much closer to my Wisconsin experience than I expected.

(Note: I’m not saying that people from the East Coast or other regions are not kind. You’re just not as open and warm with people you encounter on the street. That’s okay.)

I found green space! This park had plenty of grass and trees. It also looks into the Botanical Gardens.

I found green space! This park had plenty of grass and trees. It also looks into the Botanical Gardens.

Everyone and their mother has a pickup truck. That is a true stereotype. Sad news: they had to take my pickup truck away because someone else needed it. I now have another car. One advantage (well, besides fuel efficiency, which is no small thing) is that it is now much easier to find: a small maroon car stands out better than a white pickup truck. Except when it’s dwarfed in the sea of pickups and SUVs. 

The SKY. It is huge! Texas is indeed big sky country. None of my pictures really do it justice. One of these days I’ll take a good drive out towards one of the canyons and take some shots at a lookout point. It must be because of the flatness- there is almost nothing on the horizon. It is all sky.

An attempt to take pictures from the road.

An attempt to take pictures from the road.

The Texas Panhandle is one of the most important cattle and beef regions in the entire country. This means that it’s not unusual for the smell of cattle (aka, manure) to waft all over town. Amarillo doesn’t have any cattle ranches within the city limits, of course, but there are stockyards, where they auction and sell cattle. If the wind is right, well, you can smell the stockyards from just about anywhere.

I’ve also driven through Hereford a couple of times. Hereford is the self-proclaimed Beef Capital of the World. Who knows? It could be true. There was nothing but ranches and meatpacking plants for miles.

For real. They even have a sign.

For real. They even have a sign.

All of this beef of course means that I had my share of red meat during my first week or so. This is not a vegetarian or vegan-friendly town. If that’s you, go to Austin. Skip Amarillo.

This was my first real meal here. A green chile cheeseburger, with chili fries. So good. So impossible to eat all the time.

This was my first real meal here. A green chile cheeseburger, with chili fries. So good. So impossible to eat all the time.

When in Texas...

When in Texas…

The Panhandle is hot, but there’s usually a good breeze moving through. It’s so windy here that outside of town, wind turbines are going up all over the place. There’s oil in the Panhandle too, but it’s good to see an investment in renewable energy. Side note: a cotton dress with a full skirt is probably not what you want to wear while you’re pumping gas on a breezy day, you know?

This is beautiful country. It’s not quite as flat as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong- it’s FLAT, and there are no substantial bodies of water to speak of, but if you head east a little ways, all of a sudden it’s canyons and caprocks. The scenery isn’t half bad.

An attempt to capture Caprocks Canyon from the road. I'll try to get a better shot some other time.

An attempt to capture Caprocks Canyon from the road. I’ll try to get a better shot some other time.

So, what have we learned about the Panhandle so far?

People are friendly. Pickup trucks are for real. The scenery is actually gorgeous. Eat your steak. You’ll get used to the smell of cattle. 

Also, yes, people here actually do wear cowboy hats, as a real, functional, hat- not as part of a costume.

Have a beautiful week! Get out and see what’s special in your part of the world!

With love,

Gaby

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There Are BuzzFeed Lists About This

Somewhere between Dallas and Amarillo.

Somewhere between Dallas and Amarillo.

Right? Hasn’t BuzzFeed already put together a bunch of lists of 27 Things You Learn While Living Alone, or 31 Things That Happen When You Move to a New Place, or something like that? I’m not going to repost any of them here- I’m sure they’ll pop up in my Facebook feed eventually- but I’m pretty sure they might approximate my life right now.

I’m relocated to Amarillo until November. I have never been to Texas before, let alone the Panhandle. This is the first time I’ve paid my own bills, pumped my own gas (I never drove often enough, okay?), and had a job that was not somehow connected with my education. If I want to take a weekend trip someplace, that’s my decision. I’m the one paying for it. If I want to spend the entire day on the couch watching TLC, I can do it. No one is telling me to go do my laundry or wash the dishes or eat (or not eat) or run errands. It is up to me.

Nothing is keeping me from spending hours in Target, browsing the amazingness there. Like this display of journals!

Nothing is keeping me from spending hours in Target, browsing the amazingness there. Like this display of journals!

You don’t transition into the freedom and the responsibility. I don’t know if there’s a way to ease into it. How would that work? Your parents come and live with you for a little while, until you’re in a routine at work? You pay part of your bills, and they pay the other part, until gradually you have enough to cover it all on your own? At some point, though, you have to strike out by yourself. At some point, it needs to be you.

I’m liking the independence so far. I am proud of being able to pay off my credit card balance in full, and I’m going to keep that up for as long as possible (ideally, forever and ever). I’m happy that I got a workout in before I went into the office, four out of five days last week. There are other things I need to do, though. For instance, my benefits kick in next month- meaning there will be less money coming in from my paycheck. I need to budget for that, as well as for my upcoming student loan payments, and for savings. You know, the money that you put aside for big expenses later on, or (God forbid) for emergencies.

Living on your own is not just about finances, of course. What do you do in a new place, with no friends or family around? Technically, you can just stay in your hotel room or your apartment all the time. I mean, there’s enough on TV and Netflix and the Internet in general to keep you occupied for your entire life.

That sounds like a really easy way to drive me absolutely crazy. And also burn my eyes out- I already spend all day on the computer at work, so why rely on that at home?

So, I’ve gone shopping. I live five minutes from the mall, Target, and Barnes and Noble. That worked at the beginning of my stay, when I really needed a bunch of things, but now it’s just to wander around and get to know the area. I went to the farmers’ market on Saturday, which is a great way to chat with locals. I arrived a little late- I think I’ll really have to get there closer to its 7 AM opening- but the few people I talked with were very friendly. They also informed me that the occasional strong smell of cattle comes from the stockyards, where they auction and sell cattle. Sometimes, the wind picks it up and blows it all over town. Good to know.

I’ve also taken up more reading. I especially hope to take advantage of this once I have longer work days, and I need time to unwind. For now, it’s an excellent way to occupy myself. I love the Barnes and Noble- there’s a Starbucks cafe in there, and it’s a lovely place to get a sandwich and a coffee and read on Sunday afternoons.

Here's what I picked up my first week: TIME, Hyperbole and a Half, Half Broke Horses, No One Belongs Here More than You (short stories), and my uncle's lifestyle book, Strength + Simplicity. Plus the Notre Dame prayer book.

Here’s what I picked up my first week: TIME, Hyperbole and a Half, Half Broke Horses, No One Belongs Here More than You (short stories), and my uncle’s lifestyle book, Strength + Simplicity. Plus the Notre Dame prayer book.

That reading list up there helped me get through my first “rough” night. A big thunderstorm moved through town last week. It wasn’t technically severe, but there was strong winds, pouring rain, and constant thunder and lightning. One lightning strike somehow hit the hotel and threw off the alarm system. Suddenly my smoke alarm was chirping, the fire horn was going off intermittently, and the alarm lights in the hallway were flashing. And of course that was the night that I was settled into bed early, ready to get a good night’s sleep before an early morning workout. I don’t like thunderstorms, and I hate the sound of alarms. I got both in the same night, at the same time.

That’s another living-on-your-own life skill: self-soothing. Which is actually something we learn when we are babies, but it something we call upon and hone the whole rest of our lives. You can’t sit and whine and cry every time you encounter a stressful or uncomfortable situation. You also can’t totally internalize your stress and anxiety and bottle it up. Not healthy. So what do you do to manage it? That night, I read and I watched the Tonight Show. The next morning, I ate Nutella on toast. Self = soothed. It was a thunderstorm. It was an alarm. Life goes on. I’m a grown up.

Yup. That’s been my first two weeks here. If any of you hear that I’ve made friends with the Target or Barnes and Noble staff, that’s a sign that I need to find something else to do.

What do you love to do, all by yourself? How do you cure boredom? How do you like to get to know a new place?

With love,

Gaby

 

 

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