Writing About My Outback Experience for Gapyear.com

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I am beyond THRILLED to have my first piece published on Gapyear.com! Their website is a really incredible source for all things gap year/travel-related. After a lot of writing, re-writing, and re-living my experiences, my piece is officially up and it looks fantastic.

Not only did I get to write about my two personal experiences in the Outback, but I also got to share a handful of photos from both trips. I think my heart has found a permanent place for itself in the Red Centre. Getting to write about those experiences? The coolest. It’s a trip I’d encourage anyone to take, because there is nothing like it. I’ve never felt so big and so small in one place.

Anyway, if you’re interested in reading a guide on how to camp in the Outback, here’s the place to do it. Dare you not to read it and wish you could fly there immediately. Yeah, it’s that convincing!

And stay tuned, because I plan on writing more about my Aussie travel experiences for Gapyear.com in the near future!

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“Don’t get stuck. Move, travel, take a class, take a risk. Walk away, try something new. There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming.” – Shauna Niequist

I reference this quote from Shauna Niequist often. It perfectly embodies how I feel about being in my twenties—I’m constantly getting stuck and wanting to experience something new. I want to continue becoming.

In keeping up with the tradition of a yearly bucket list, I’ve decided to do twenty-six things before I turn twenty-six. I guess this birthday is kind of a milestone in that I’m a quarter of a century old (OLD!)… but just because I’m turning into a cranky, sore-backed old lady doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have a little fun in the mean time (ok, to be fair, I’ve been a cranky old lady with a sore back for a while now—but still, I need fun to balance things out).

Here are the twenty-six things I’m hoping to accomplish by July 5, 2016:

  1. Improve my photography & calligraphy skills
  2. Go to SXSW
  3. Try pole dancing (extra challenging, as I have chicken arms)
  4. See Twenty One Pilots live
  5. Get a job in my own (or a new) industry
  6. Don’t be afraid to say “no”
  7. Get a tattoo
  8. Learn something new—bartending? coding? CAD? drums?
  9. Read 12 books (ideally, that’s one per month… *math*)
  10. Go on a date with someone new (condition: only when I feel ready/excited to do so)
  11. Visit the ocean
  12. Take a trip to Nashville
  13. Finish all of the shows I’ve been putting off finishing—including: Orphan Black, Community, The OC, Hart of Dixie, Gilmore Girls, Friends, etc.
  14. KEEP. WRITING.
  15. Get paid for my writing
  16. Visit a professional for my anxiety
  17. See three new bands/musicians live
  18. Commit to #BBG for at least 1 month
  19. Get comfortable with parallel parking
  20. Hang out with a friend I haven’t seen in a while
  21. Visit my Jersey family (bonus points if they visit me!)
  22. Exchange X-mas gifts with a far-away friend
  23. Commit to training for the Big Dawg Dare (in hopes it doesn’t kick my ass this summer)
  24. Go to Cider Summit Chicago in February
  25. Fall in love (with a person, place, band, hobby, etc.)
  26. TBD (it’s always fun to leave one space open for future un-thought-of endeavors)

“25 x 25”: THE FINAL POST

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Hellooooooo, 25! I’m already thinking big thoughts with you. It’s been about two weeks since my big quarter-of-a-century day and things have been great so far! Lots of positive vibes and fun nights spent with family and friends. But I need to wrap up my 25 x 25 list! To recap, this is a bucket list of 25 things I wanted to do before I turned 25. It was definitely a tough year on me, but there were so many good things too. Besides, I’d like to think that the tough times have made me stronger.

Here’s a final look at the list that accompanied me through life as a 24-year-old:

1 –  Get my Chicago tattoo and/or writing-related tattoo
No tats yet, as I’ve had some second-guessing. But I finally got my ears double-pierced. Tiny accomplishment! 

2 – Get into a yoga/running routine (and stick to it for at least 3 months)
I stuck to a running routine from September through November (then it got too cold and I’m not a treadmill kind of girl). From March through June, I stuck to a sort-of yoga routine. I found a class that left me feeling both strong and balanced and I’m excited to re-enroll after the chaos of summer subsides so I can get back into it!

3 – No longer be in debt
This is a huge accomplishment for me. I officially paid off my debt as of May. Now it’s time to master the art of “saving up.”

4 – Visit Lauren & Kaitlyn at SLU, IWU at least twice, see Jess once
I went to Lauren and Kaitlyn’s Theta Family Weekend and a Blackhawks game in STL (check). I visited IWU for Lauren’s 21st birthday and for Homecoming Weekend, where I participated in Brad’s proposal (huge check). I didn’t get to see Jess once. I GOT TO SEE HER TWICE AND I’M STILL OVERWHELMED AND EXCITED ABOUT THIS. Jess, Lukasz, and Kayla drove 14 hours to spend a long weekend in Chicago this past December. We spent New Years together and explored the city in negative temps. This past May, I used points to fly myself out to Jersey, where I got to hang out with Jess and the NJ crew for a long weekend (which included surprising Eric at his BBQ).

5 – Give vlogging a chance
Within the last year, this is something I’ve changed my mind about. It’s something I’m less interested in. Maybe I’ll give it a shot if/when the time feels right, but it’s not where I’m at right now.

6 – Keep up with my current 365 project
I kept up with taking photos, but did not keep up with posting. Oops. This is something to continue working on. It’s a project that has been near and dear to me for the last five years. I have no intention of abandoning it any time soon.

7 – Learn to be less critical of myself/compare myself less to other girls/friends/bloggers etc.
This is an ongoing thing, but I’ve definitely made progress. I have been actively making a point to stop myself from being so critical. I mean, I’ve always prided myself on doing my own thing and following my own path. Why would I not do my own thing when it comes to myself and my confidence? Yes, I have days where I wonder why I’m “not like her” and why “I don’t have my life together like she does.” But no progress comes from thinking that way.

8 – Make it to 5 concerts (at least three bands I haven’t seen before)
Easy! Out of the following, eleven bands I hadn’t seen before: Monumentour (Paramore & Fall Out Boy), Gavin DeGraw & Matt Nathanson & Andrew McMahon, KONGOS & Young Rising Sons, You Me At Six, Grizfolk & Bastille, The Night We Stole Xmas (Meg Myers, Vancy Joy, KONGOS, & Walk The Moon), Joe Renardo, The Wind and The Wave, and Bobby Long. It was a really good year for me and live music.

9 – Start writing poetry again
This is another thing that has not been syncing with me. My head has not been in the right space for it. New goal: start reading poetry again. Then start writing again. 

10 – Go out more often. Do things. (Kick the anxiety.)
Any time (okay, maybe more like 75% of the time) I’ve been invited out somewhere, I’ve gone. This is a long list, so bear with me: I finally made it to Summer House Santa Monica with Susan. I went to lots of concerts (some even by myself). I went out for tapas in the city with Amanda and Mary. I did my annual Sprinkles & Skyline night out with Gabby. I went to Brookfield Zoo with Mary and Sarah. I went up to Lake Geneva for a day with Lauren and Kaitlyn. I went to Mary’s going away party downtown. I went out for Lauren’s 21st in Bloomington. I went up to Milwaukee to do fall things with Adam. I met GRACE HELBIG HERSELF IN REAL LIFE. I went out on a whim with Gabby and John. I spent Halloween in Milwaukee (dressed as THE cool cats, Britt and Jeff, from Community). I went tailgating in Naperville with Amanda. I went out for Gabby’s birthday. I went out in Lincoln Park for Susan’s birthday. I did an overnighter in The Dells with the sibs. I had four jam packed days of Chicago adventures in Chicago with my NJ fam. I finally met Joe and saw him play a show. I saw and met The Wind And The Wave (bonus: joined their street team shortly after!), I made it downtown for St. Patrick’s Day weekend. I had a really fun time socializing and meeting new people at Brad’s St. Patrick’s party. I spontaneously visited STL to hang out with Theresa. I saw and met Bobby Long at SPACE again. I drove up to Wisconsin to visit Amanda. I saw the Blackhawks dressing room. I met my writing heroine, Sarah Dessen. I flew to New Jersey for 5 days and had the most amazing time ever with the best people ever. I did the Color Run (and a handful of other 5Ks). I’ve been planning a million wedding-related things too. The anxiety is still present, but I’m kicking it whenever I can.

11 – Drink more tea/water
Such a simple thing, but I did accomplish it! I’m finally drinking more water and making a point to do it on a daily basis. I can tell how much better I feel when I do.

12- Fall in love (with a person, place, or hobby)
I think I fell a little bit in love with my NJ fam while in South Jersey. I just kept sitting back and realizing what an incredible group of people they are. I feel like I belong when I’m around them. South Jersey is one of the first places I’ve traveled to in the States that still feels like home, despite how far away it is.

13 – Meet someone that impacts my life in a positive way
I officially met Lukasz in December, Joe in January, and Madia in May. I’ve known them all online before getting to meet them in person. But each one has impacted my life in a way.

14 – Take a drive to Nashville for a weekend
The weather hasn’t cooperated with these plans, but it’s not leaving the list until I make it there! 

15 – Get a full-time job
I started full-time at my job in April! Plus I started writing part-time for Literally, Darling. 

16 – Make a stranger laugh
I actually pulled this one off recently. I told the guy at my local pizza place that my mom made me bring her coupon even though I knew I didn’t need to. I got a laugh out of him. Check!

17 – Do/try something new. Anything. (i.e. wake boarding)
Admittedly, I don’t think I tried many new things in the last year. I did give wake boarding a few attempts at the end of last summer. It didn’t go well, but it was something I was terrified of. My chicken arms just weren’t feelin’ it. Oh! I started two new daily projects– on my birthday last year, I started answering my “Q&A A Day” book, the other is something I started on January 1st– it’s called “1 Page At A Time” by Adam JK. Every day, I fill out a page. So far, it’s been a fun way to document this year. 

18 – Run a 5k (with few stops… maybe under 40 minutes?)
Big Dawg Dare, Hot Chocolate 5K, Turkey Trot, Color Run. I didn’t finish any in under 40 minutes though. I’m not giving up on that goal yet!

19 – Learn to cook/bake more
I taught myself how to make soft pretzels (watch out, Auntie Anne’s), fudge brownies from scratch, and elephant ears. I’ve also mastered the art of making Grandpa’s pancakes. I think he’d be proud.

20 – Do something for myself
I took a trip to New Jersey for a weekend to surprise Eric and his BBQ after I jokingly told him I’d be there. It was a much needed, much enjoyed trip.

21 – Go to the planetarium, aquarium, and a Blackhawks game in Chicago
I went to Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo, a Blackhawks game in Chicago and Saint Louis. I didn’t make it to the planetarium or aquarium, but I still would love to visit both. Maybe in the next year!

22 – Watch the sunset and the sunrise over the city
This is a big item on my list that I’m bummed about missing out on. I will absolutely make it happen in the next year. 

23 – Move out (esp. with Amanda)
Amanda pulled it off! She moved out to take her dream job. I’ve decided I’m going to take some time to save up so I can afford to move somewhere cool (ie Lincoln Park, Evanston, New Jersey, Australia… WHO KNOWS!)

24 – Learn something new
I’m cheating a little bit on this one: I’ve learned a lot about myself and my anxiety in the last year. I’ve learned even more about what I want in a relationship. Since working full time, I’ve learned a lot of new stuff in my position. So no, nothing like calligraphy (like last year), but I’m learning. I’m always learning. I never want to stop learning.

25 – Read 24 books
I only read 11 books. Not going to lie, Netflix has been hogging a bit of my free evenings (at least I finally finished Gossip Girl…) xoxo

Total: 16 out of 25

But wait, there’s more!

Twenty-four. I really love that number. And I think I really loved being that age. It was a good year, for the most part (as you can see above). I made a lot of great memories, went to so many incredible concerts, met Patty (from TW+TW) and Sarah Dessen, etc. I mean, you can’t really beat that.

Twenty-four made me realize I need to be my own priority. But I should note that a lot of my good moments were balanced out by plenty of down moments. More accurately, I had about six months that were very down. I fell into a slump that left me feeling extremely anxious and depressed. I can’t remember ever feeling the way I did in that span of time. I didn’t want to leave my bedroom. My family, despite their efforts to motivate me, became enemies. I didn’t want to take care of myself. I was letting them down. I was letting myself down.

At the same time, I remember constantly comparing my present-day self to my 23-year-old self. I was happier at 23, I made it to Australia at 23, I grew so much while I was 23. Why am I not happy at 24? It wasn’t healthy. I know that now and I knew it then. I don’t want to use those months as an excuse for why I didn’t accomplish as much of my list as I wanted to, but the reality is, I didn’t feel motivated. I felt mentally and physically strapped down. This list was not a priority. My goals were not important to me. The whole reason I write a yearly list is to push myself to accomplish more things while in my twenties. For six months, I was being pushed and I had no energy to push back.

I don’t know when I started to rise out of that slump, but I think it had a lot to do with starting yoga and beginning to work full-time. My energy was slowly shifted to more positive things. My parents were no longer on my case about getting a job. I was feeling motivated to make it to yoga. I was actively wanting to take care of myself. I made plans to travel to New Jersey to see Jess & her friends. It took a lot of little things to balance out the few heavy things weighing me down, but I did make it out.

This is not to say I don’t still struggle to this day. This is me acknowledging that 24 was hard and 25 will likely bring some dark days as well. But I think I’m less afraid now. At this point, I’m excited for what 25 will bring, whatever that may be. I’m ready to put myself first. I’m ready to celebrate my sister getting married. I’m ready to explore Chicago more than I ever have before. I’m ready to get into new hobbies and learn new things. I’m ready to grow as a writer. I’m beyond ready to see Twenty One Pilots live in a few weeks.

So, thank you, 24. You made me stronger, you made me less afraid. Hello, 25. It’s time to think bigger and brighter.

Literally, Darling

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Hello out there! I know, it seems like I’ve fallen off the face of the earth in terms of this blog, but I haven’t! I’ve just been on the hunt for new, exciting opportunities.

On that note, you’ll never guess who just joined the incredible team of writers over at Literally, Darling. Ok, so it’s actually a pretty easy guess after all. It’s me! I’ll be contributing to the website a few times a month. So if you’re looking for a site that posts content geared toward millennial women, check us out!

(And if you’re wondering exactly how pumped I am to join Literally, Darling, please see gif below:)

To check out my Literally, Darling contributions, click here!

Now Playing: The Wind + The Wave

Photo by Alexandra Valenti via thewindandthewave.com

Photo by Alexandra Valenti via thewindandthewave.com

The Wind + The Wave is the most badass musical duo to hail from Austin, TX. Okay, I don’t know that they’re the most badass, but after seeing them play a show at Lincoln Hall in Chicago last month, I can confirm that hearing them play live will make your soul stomp, swell, and sway. If you ask me, that’s pretty badass. After their set, I met Patty (the “wave”) and Dwight (the “wind”) and picked up their debut album, From The Wreckage, on vinyl and their newly released Covers One EP.

I can’t rope The Wind + The Wave into a single genre. That just wouldn’t be fair. But I’d describe their sound as indie meets alt-rock meets country meets folk meets a shot or two of whiskey meets a dirt road. Their sound is an experience and their songs tell stories that pull you away from reality. They’re honest. They’re written and played from the heart. From The Wreckage features upbeat anthems and breezy melodies that sound like what I imagine falling in and out of love in the country might feel like.

Between wise lyrics, Patty’s sweet, fiesty vocals, and a variety of fiery instrumentals, The Wind + The Wave have created a refreshingly gritty sound that is entirely their own. Stand-out tracks you should check out: “With Your Two Hands,” “From The Wreckage Build a Home,” “It’s a Longer Road to California Than I Thought,” and “Raising Hands Raising Hell Raise ’em High” (bonus: my personal favorite, “Every Other Sunday Morning”).

Be sure to also check out their Covers One EP it’s made up of seven ridiculously great tracks reworked with that distinct W+W twist.

 

Now Playing: Fifty Shades Of Grey (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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Fifty Shades of Grey is a hotly debated topic that I have absolutely no desire to dive into. But I’m a sucker for movie soundtracks. And even I can’t deny how good the Fifty Shades soundtrack is. It’s almost too good. A part of me kind of wishes there had been fifty tracks on it. Continuity, people…

Let me break it down for you: I love good music and creating playlists that match a mood or a feeling. The Fifty Shades Soundtrack delivers mellow, broody, and sultry sounds. It almost sounds like (dare I say) grey looks. From Ellie Goulding and Sia to The Weeknd and Beyoncé, it’s hard to find any tracks I don’t enjoy. If you’re not so sure, give a couple of underrated tracks a listen. My current on-repeats are “I Know You” by Skylar Grey and “I’m On Fire” by AWOLNATION.

Happy Australia Day 2015!

 

I don’t know how long it took for Australia Day to become a permanent fixture in my life, but over time it has become an eerie subconscious feeling. Like the universe lets me know in advance that it’s approaching. About a week ago, I stumbled upon a stash of Tim Tams at Target (God Bless America). They haven’t showed up there in years, so I stocked up. A few nights later, I had a dream I was back in Sydney. I wore my new itty bitty compass necklace to work that day. Next thing I know, it’s the 26th and I’m oozing with jealousy over all of my Aussie friends and their celebrations. There’s a slight chance that I’m just jealous that they’re in the middle of summer while it’s snowing over here.

Just because I’m 17 hours behind and over 9,000 miles away doesn’t mean I’m not going to celebrate my second home! I did it the only way I could: by pre-ordering one of my favorite Australian band’s albums, eating lots of Tim Tams, hanging up the bunting from my last trip, and drinking my favorite cider (the one I bought constantly while living in Melbourne).

Oops, left my heart in Australia. Guess I have to go get it back.

(Bonus photo: How cute does my bunting look hanging up over my world map?)

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What would you say?

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Image via @alexandra003

Ali Nelson is one of the many people I was seriously inspired by this past year. When I saw she posted this question/prompt on her Instagram, I knew I had to respond.

If you could write a text to the you a year ago to prepare yourself for 2014 what would you say?

Wow, load your questions much, Ali? I love it. I love the challenge. I know I could probably go on and on about what I would tell myself a year ago, but I only want to skim the most important things in my response. What fun would it be if we were given a specific set of directions/warnings each year? I for one would probably be terrified.

So, Ali. If I had the opportunity to prepare myself for 2014 via text, I would tell myself, “Breathe in, breathe out, repeat. Pack a little lighter for Australia. Don’t regret any of your experiences with him. Realize you deserve 200% better and let him go. You’re stronger than you think.”

2014 has been the biggest adventure-filled year of my life, which I hope means 2015 is going to bring even more adventure. Only time will tell, eh?

Happy New Year!