TBT

“Be happy in the moment, that's enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” 
― 
Mother Teresa

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Sometimes I get comments and messages from people who give me a hard time about why I’m posting places “when I’m not even there”. This really bothers me. One — if you don’t like it don’t follow me (and definitely don’t take the time to write a comment/message) and two — who says something is important or interesting or worthy of being shared just because it’s happening now? Where did this come from? I actually think it’s so odd when people post when they are actually doing something. That must be really annoying to everyone else. Being stuck behind a phone. Trying to write a caption and edit a photo instead of enjoying the moment that is worthy of being shared.

I wrote a little about it on Instagram today:

“This photo wasn’t taken this morning. It’s a #tbt of course. Like many of my photos, I don’t aim to post in the moment. For safety reasons first, but more to stay present. In the moment. I take my phone out to capture a scene and then I put it away. I don’t want to spend any time editing or coming up with some caption. ⁣

Photos, to me, have a life beyond the moment. Isn’t that like.. the point of a photo? It’s an artistic expression. So why would I ever feel that it couldn’t be shared again? Later? That a picture isn’t relevant if it wasn’t happening in this moment? ⁣

I think about the life of art sometimes. The picture on the wall. Where it’s been. What it’s seen. The people who have interacted with this same piece over the years. The meaning they ascribed to it. ⁣

Because if there’s one thing that frustrates me about social media, it’s the disposability of it. The fleeting nature. That a moment in time is only interesting for a moment. Before something better comes along. Memories don’t work that way. Art doesn’t work that way. Neither are disposable. They have a life beyond the moment. A life I want to continue to remember. To reminisce. To make meaning from. I hope that’s alright :) “

Because a photo isn’t a beautiful photo because it was taken right at that moment. A story isn’t moving because it just happened. We live in an instant gratification culture, where we want to know it all now. Take the time to step away from it. Wait a little. Experience things first. You’ll be glad you did.

17 in 17 - Podcasts

“We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.” 
― Susan Cain

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Some of the questions I get asked the most are: how do you handle long road trips alone? Aren't you bored? What do you listen to? And, while I'm honestly perfectly happy sometimes to listen to the same 4 songs for 7 hours straight (what? I like what I like) -- more often than not I will listen to tons of podcasts. They make the time fly, and I get to learn something new. Win win. 

I've written about my favorite podcasts before, but thought an update was in order (there are SO MANY podcasts now) So whether you are driving, flying, or just listening in the shower, here are 17 of my favorite podcasts of 2017: 

1. Bitch Sesh

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Maybe I should be embarrassed that this is my can’t miss weekly podcast? Nah :) Casey Wilson (of snl, Happy Endings etc) and Danielle Schneider discuss all things Real Housewives each week. They (and their guests) are hilarious, and give me another reason (as if I needed one) to watch some trashy Bravo shows. 

2. The Limit Does Not Exist

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This is a podcast centering around the intersections of STEM and art — right up my alley. They interview innovative creatives each episode, and offer really interesting insights on being a multi-hyphenate or “human venn diagram”. 

3. Dirty John

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This is the perfect road trip podcast. Like Serial, it presents a true crime (ish) saga through several episodes. I listened while driving from Colorado to Vegas, and it made the trip super enjoyable. 

4. Goal Digger

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This is a podcast that may seem cheesy to most people (and some of it is) — but it’s definitely helped to motivate me into a different direction creatively. Host Jenna Kutcher is super likable, and has some great guests that I admire (like Lara Casey) in the archives that I would recommend listening to if you are in any way interested in creative entrepreneurship. 

5. Dear Sugars

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This is an old favorite, but with good reason. Hosted by my idol Cheryl Strayed (along with Steve Almond — both former Dear Sugar columnists on The Rumpus) — each episode presents letters from listeners and then the hosts gives them advice/talk to authors about their situation. If you liked Tiny Beautiful Things (and who didn’t) give it a shot!

6. Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations

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Duh. Oprah. But really, she has some great interviews in the archives. I recommend Brene Brown (obviously), Sebastian Junger, Glennon Doyle Melton, as well as basically all the other episodes. :) 

7. Women on the Road

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I was on this podcast! Reason enough! (haha episode 4 for like 5 seconds :)) The other 99.9% of this podcast is also super inspiring — hosted by my amazing internet friend Laura Hughes, it profiles Women on the Road (duh). I love them all (seriously)

8. She Explores 

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I’ve been listening to this podcast since the very first episode — and it is so very me. Each episode centers around a theme or an interview with a woman who is in the outdoors in some capacity. There are 50 episodes currently and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. 

9. Girl Boss Radio

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This is one that I don’t listen to weekly (if that is even when they are released?), but that I have found some good content on. Maybe an unpopular opinion, but I really like Sophia Amoruso (host, founder of Nasty Gal, author of Girl Boss, etc..) and she interviews other entrepreneurial women who are, like her, kind of controversial/not universally loved. If anything it’s interesting and will give you something to think about. 

10. Embedded

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This is another fav I’ve written about before. It’s popular so you may have already listened, but if not, I’d recommend going back to season 1 to listen to “The House”, “We Found Joy” and “The School”. 

11. Slate Political Gabfest

slate political gabfest

When I’m feeling like I need an extra dose of politics or debate, I listen to this weekly podcast. It can be a little grating at times, but I do generally enjoy the perspectives and feel like I come away with a better understanding of current events than I do from many other information sources.

12. Radiolab

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This is another super classic podcast I’m sure most of us have listened to, but I couldn’t make a podcast list without it. It’s science, philosophy, sound, storytelling — everything really. The longer ones are my favorite, but try any!

13. Pantsuit Politics

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I’ve been listening to this podcast since the very beginning, and I still really enjoy the interaction between the two hosts — friends from Kentucky who are on different sides of the political spectrum. They have a balanced and nuanced approach to their debates, and bring an interesting perspective to things that are happening in the news. 

14. Invisibilia

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One of my favorites for the last few years, Invisibilia (Latin for invisible things) uses storytelling and science to explain how the invisible forces around us shape who we are. I’m not eloquent enough to expound, but if that sounds interesting (and how could it not), then try it out. 

15. The Dirtbag Diaries

dirtbag diaries

This is the ultimate in outdoor podcasts. It has been around for something like 10 years, and it shows in the storytelling. There are so many great episodes I don’t even know where to start. So just start. 

16. The Tim Ferriss Show

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Another polarizing figure — Tim Ferriss (of The 4-Hour Workweek) interviews inspirational people from all walks of life. I really like any podcast set up in this format as long as the interviewer is entertaining and knowledgeable — and I think Ferriss is. There are tons of episodes so scroll through the archives and find a guest that you like — there are sure to be many. 

17. Joe Rogan Experience

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I dated a guy earlier this year who told me about this podcast. I listened so we would have something to talk about (we needed it haha) but it ended up being a good move. I had seen it before (it’s always in the top charts on itunes) but really had no idea what it was and only knew Joe Rogan from Fear Factor. Again, I don’t listen to every episode of this one, but I have found some good interviews that work really well for road trips — they’re like three hours long! Like the Tim Ferris Show, find someone interesting in the archives and give it a shot. 

 

Happy listening!

My Insignificance

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

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Insignificance. It’s a word (but more of a feeling) that I’ve been thinking about a lot. That I’d argue we all think about a lot. Constantly even. We are all living our lives in a constant quest for some sort of significance. In our work and in our relationships. We all want to be seen. Valued. Significant in something or to someone. We live in a culture that values fame. Likes. Achievement. Be the best. The smartest, richest, happiest, and best looking person. But in our quest for significance, we constantly fall short. Of course. We aren’t the smartest, richest, happiest, or best looking person. Annnnnnd cue existential crisis. 

But is insignificance really something to be feared? 

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When visiting National Parks, one of the things I value most is the scale of it all. Driving across vast open spaces, hiking in the midst of tall trees, with huge mountain ranges towering over me. I feel my own insignificance. It’s visceral. I am a small part of a huge and beautiful world — one that’s existed before me and will exist after me. 

I’m not (obviously) the only one who feels this way. Reminders of our own insignificance are a big part of why anyone goes into nature. To remember our place in the world. So why is insignificance seen as a negative in all other situations? 

We live in a world that is more connected than ever before. I can have a conversation with a friend on another continent after reading an article posted one minute ago about a story that is unfolding across the country in real time. We have access to everything. We are constantly bombarded with notifications of the rich and famous. Those achieving things we’ve never even let ourselves dream of. And by the way they’re like, probably 12. We can’t compete.

So the downside to this fame obsessed culture is that we see the best of everything. The smartest, richest, happiest, and best looking people are constantly in our feeds. And we compare our own achievements to theirs. The big fish in a small pond analogy doesn’t really exist anymore. We are all small fish in the huge pond of life. And while we innately know that on some level — we now have the added existential challenge of seeing it. Constantly. 

And when we compare ourselves against the most significant our fear of insignificance is only strengthened.

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You know those 2 types of people memes? You’re either a  _____ or a _____ person. You set one alarm or fifteen. You put your ketchup on the side or on top of your french fries. You use a bookmark or you dog ear the pages. You pick a side consistently. While I generally think there is a huge amount of nuance and gray area in almost everything — I do think there is a consistency when it comes to the fear of insignificance: those who embrace it, and those who don’t.

The people who are afraid of their own insignificance are in a constant state of anxiety. They’re comparing. They conflate their sense of purpose with their rank in absolutes. If they aren’t the smartest, richest, or best looking then they aren’t anything. Second place is the first loser. Of course, these people aren’t totally delusional and upon recognizing that there is even one person better than them at anything — they shut down. Become disillusioned. Identity crisis. Existential angst. Whatever buzzword that’s currently being used to describe the dread that is taking over a good portion of our entire generation. 

And this realization leads to another bifurcation: you either give up, or you lash out. You believe you never deserved anything and are actually the worst at everything, or you still feel entitled to the best, feel like anyone who disagrees is a cheater, and then bully anyone who says otherwise. And hey guys guess what? Neither one of these people is likable (just fyi). 

Happy and content people are those who recognize and even embrace their insignificance in the world. They aren’t afraid of it. Don’t stay up at night because someone else got more Instagram likes. They know that they can’t be fully there or supportive of anyone else if they think they are the center of the universe.

They know the world doesn’t revolve around them. 

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When I think about the fear of insignificance, I think of fear in general. Some is healthy and serves an important purpose, but too much is dangerous. We should care about our lives. Do our best. Set goals and achieve them. Contribute something meaningful in our work and in our relationships — but we shouldn’t wreck ourselves in the attempt to achieve unrealistic absolutes. 

As a teacher I spend a lot of time differentiating. Because not every kid is the same. They don’t come in with the same skills or brains or attitudes. They are interested in different things. They process differently and the entry is different for everyone. An A+ isn’t the only way to master a skill. It’s the same in our lives. Our goals and achievements will look different than everyone else’s. And that doesn’t make one better or worse, or more or less significant than another.

Our ultimate insignificance leads to freedom. Really. There are so many people, places, things — I will never see it all, be it all, or the best at literally anything! (and if I am at some moment in time, chances are that will eventually be forgotten) That frees me up to so much. 

There are so many things you will never do or ever be or even see — we are insignificant in the grand show of life — a small part of a big and beautiful universe — so why do we care so much about these other — also insignificant — things? Why are we so convinced that in order to be anything we have to be the best at everything?

You are not the center of the universe. At all. And holy crap thank goodness — otherwise your bad day would throw everything out of orbit. 

Let me explain.

Earlier this week I was super sick and was forced to call in to work at the last minute. As a teacher, (and someone who has a tendency to think they are the center of the universe) I was super stressed about what would happen while I was gone. Who I would disappoint, what would get lost, and how would this one day off irrevocably ruin 150+ children’s lives (and my own). As I reluctantly opened my email the next day with one eye closed and a grimace anticipating what I was sure would be hoards of mean, disapproving, and urgent emails… I was surprised (somehow still, after all these years) to have not even one email regarding my absence. No one needed anything. I didn’t ruin anyone’s life. I didn’t miss any meetings or make anyone mad. The world kept turning. 

Shocking. I know. 

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In fact, generally, I’m pretty sure no one even notices when I’m gone (maybe not even all of the kids in my actual classes) — and once I get past my own ego I’ve realized that’s a great thing. It means I’m doing my job well, not the opposite. Things can — and do — go on without me. 

We are so conditioned to see the best and worst extremes that we miss the value in the middle. Significance is like anything in life — it’s relative. Things that are significant or insignificant to you are just that — to you. Everyone’s problems are more significant, their experiences more meaningful and the quality of their work more professional — to themselves.

It’s okay to just be okay at something. Humans have limitations. You can’t actually hack every area of your life for “unlimited productivity” or “crush all the obstacles in your path”. And that’s okay. It makes room for the things that, well, the things you still probably won’t ever be the best at — but the things in which you enjoy the attempt. 

While insignificance can lead to feelings of disassociation and loss of identity — it also can make us feel more connected. Our own awareness of our place in the world has the ability to shift our focus from our self to the greater good. In fact, feeling insignificant has actually been shown to increase altruism. When I realize I’m not the absolute in anything, I can spend more time using my abilities to strengthen others. I mean, there’s no I in team right? 

So the next time you start to doubt your significance in the world please remember that yes, you are insignificant. In a big and beautiful world. On a scale we cannot comprehend. And that’s a good thing. It gives you room for the significance that matters — in personal relationships and the smaller scale, but ultimately more important parts of life. 

Your purpose in life isn’t rated on a scale of absolutes. It’s all relative. You aren’t the best at anything — but is anyone really? 

So just be you.
 

To Venture

“So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?” 
― Hunter S. Thompson

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School is back in session, so unfortunately my summer of near constant travel is over. I spent my last few free days camping in Aspen — one of my absolute favorite places. Before I left town I visited a hot springs right off the road on a river outside town. I love hot springs of all kinds, but natural and primitive are the best. Usually.

Some couples came and went and then others came. We had great conversation and it was a beautiful day. When one couple was about to leave a man I had seen earlier in the bushes came out of nowhere. He sat right behind me, with a big jug of something and just a creepy vibe. I've been trying lately not to think someone is "creepy" just because they're alone — I'm always alone. Or "creepy" if they seem to live in their car/a tent — I'm sleeping in a car too after all. 

But I've also been making an effort to listen to my body. When something doesn't feel right. Trusting my infamous women's intuition. So I got out of that hot spring, no goodbye to my new Polish friends, ran up to my car shaking in my bikini, and headed straight home. I was seriously scared. Literally shaking.

I do a lot of things alone and generally feel very safe and capable and all of those things, but I’ve realized there's a difference between doing things you're afraid of and doing things you should be afraid of.

But my problem is how do I know the difference? And how can I keep a situation like that from scaring me away from future awesome riverside hot springs? I don't have any answers, but I have some ideas.

aspen ghost town

I've been lucky. I travel alone way more than the average person and yet I haven’t had too many scary experiences on the road (thankfully), but there have been a few similar to the hot springs. And they all have one thing in common — they are not in National Parks. Or State Parks. Or hiking trails. 

I have a theory for why this is true -- and it starts with Donald Duck (doesn't everything though?)

You know those adults who are obsessed with Disney? They go to the parks for every vacation, without a care to the haters who wonder why. But I think I get it — National Parks/public lands are just Disneyworld for outdoorsy people. Hear me out. 

Disney is a bubble. It’s an escape from reality, where everything is spotless, commercialized, immersive, and characters will never break. It’s all carefully curated to take you to another place. Where all you have to worry about is wait times and where you’re getting your next overpriced meal. Everyone is there for the same reason.

National Parks/Public Lands are really similar in some important ways -- everyone who is there wants to be there. They’ve all spent considerable time and effort to trek to some huge swath of land because they love nature. They are my people. No need to be scared. 

Even though I’m alone in a park, I want to share my experience. Be alone together. That's why one of the things I always make time for in a park visit (even if I've been there multiple times) is to visit the lodges and visitors centers -- to be alone together. To get the high that comes from being surrounded by likeminded people. 

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I was talking to a friend the other day about my persona of solo female adventurer yada yada. He pointed out that visiting National Parks solo isn’t actually that adventurous — and he’s right! 

That’s kinda the point — it’s Disneyworld. It's an escape. I don't have to worry about being followed downtown and forced to literally run away in broad daylight trying to look at some street art (looking at you Rapid City, SD) or being terrified and pushed out of a roadside hot spring by an aggressive guy. And that's important to me. 

But I'm sure you're all wondering, what's the instagram connection (ha yikes). I’ve recently changed my Instagram handle (big news I know) and am in the process of changing my website over to a new moniker — emilyventures. I’ve ruminated for an embarrassingly long time over this — but words are important, remember. 

Venture is defined as “a risky or daring journey or undertaking” — and I feel like that ties my ambitions together in a way that my clumsy words never could. I want to lean in to uncertainty and I want to take risks. I want to do things that are daring — just not blindly dangerous. 

National Parks — and the outdoors in general — are a great way to do that. 

If you need more proof than Donald Duck can provide, well, there isn’t a lot. Information on crime in the outdoors or National Parks in particular is sparse— because there really isn’t much. Backpacker magazine says that despite 46% of men and 56% of women agreeing that its riskier for women to hike or backpack alone, “Your risk of being a victim of a violent crime (murder, rape, or aggravated assault) is thousands of times lower in a national park than in the country as a whole.”

That’s right — thousands of times lower. I’ve always felt safer, but even I was totally shocked by that statistic. Seriously, look at this graph.

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People ask me all the time how to hike alone, or how to visit a park alone — but you guys, it’s really not that brave. You're way safer there than you are almost anywhere else. That’s why the outdoors are so freeing — it’s an escape from a world full of real and perceived danger. 

So venture. Be smart, but trust yourself. If something doesn't feel right -- leave. But don't let it stop you from going in the first place. 

The Privilege of Sleeping in My Car

"The better you look, the more you see.” ― Bret Easton Ellis

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If you follow me on Instagram , you know I recently converted my Nissan Rogue SUV into a camper with a sleeping platform (post with more info coming soon). I spent most of the summer traveling around the United States and Canada, camping in my car and having the most amazing time.

Well, mostly. 

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There was a night or two when I was too excited to get to my days destination to plan in advance where I would stay that night. Now, even though I’m camping in the car, I still stay at campgrounds and have reserved them whenever possible. I’m alone and so I value the security even more that comes with knowing where I’ll be overnight. But on those few nights — one in particular — I didn’t have a plan and ended up sort of frantic unable to figure out where I should go, and if anything would be available when I got there. I also had no cell service, I mean this is the Wild West after all, compounding my anxiety.

There was a moment when I almost started to cry in my overwhelm, and actually thought to myself some form of “I understand how people feel when they don’t have a secure place to stay at night”. Umm… luckily, in about two seconds I had to stop myself from taking both my hands off the wheel to slap myself across the face because, no, I have no idea how that feels. 

I am so privileged. I have a car (that I can sleep in comfortably!), I have enough money to get a hotel if I needed to, I have family I can call, I am white, I am decent looking, educated, I have no history of legal trouble, and if I was broken down on the side of the road I am fairly certain every decent person who saw me would have no qualms about stopping to help me.

But that’s not true for everyone. Or even for most people. 

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According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in January of 2015 there were 564,708 homeless individuals on one single night — but we know the “homeless count” is famously difficult to track so it’s estimated between 2 and 3 million people a year actually spend time homeless. That’s insane. That’s the same as (or more than) the entire population of Chicago. 

That many people actually don’t know where they are going to sleep at night. They can’t just make a reservation online, or use a different credit card, or call their parents, cry to a park ranger, keep driving a few extra hours for an open camp site -- whatever many of us could do. 

So how does this affect me?

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“Checking your privilege” has become an almost annoying and overused popculture-y phrase that seems to have lost a little of it’s meaning. So let’s go backwards a little. Privilege is just an advantage that you have — earned or unearned — because of some aspect of your life. It doesn’t mean you don’t have struggles, it just means that you have some advantages other people don’t have. Two things can be true at the same time, remember. 

So how do I “check my privilege”? Should I stop doing what I’m doing? Should I spend the money I’m using on converting my car and reserving campgrounds to donate to homeless charities? Should I take a vow of poverty and give all my belongings away? For some people, yes, but I don’t feel led to that. Action that comes from guilt isn’t helping anyone. 

For me, checking my privilege is just a way to reflect. Not so much on my own unearned privilege — because privilege awareness in itself is a privileged position to be in, but I digress — but on the unearned disadvantages that others face. Realizing how bad I felt that night without a campsite then realizing this is literally just a shred of what a truly homeless person would feel is an invitation to more compassion and empathy. 

“Awareness” has become a dirty word of sorts — “but what does your awareness bracelet do to actually help ______?” But awareness is still an important step in the process of becoming a more equalized society. If we don’t know something is off balance, how do we equalize it? We don’t. We continue to live our lives in the secure and safe bubbles we’ve set up for ourselves, and turn a blind eye to those who experience life differently than we do. 

Well I refuse to do that.

I want to know the things that I don’t know. And not confuse empathy with experience. 

10 Denver Day Hikes

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” ― John Muir

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Somehow we are already in the second week of July (whaaaat? How did this happen?) I travel a lot in the summer, but luckily, living in Denver, even when I'm at home an adventure is only a short drive away. I get asked a lot to recommend day trips and hikes around Denver - so, while I could never make a list of all my favorites, I put together 10 of the (mostly) easy, close hikes around the Denver area that would be perfect for almost anyone. 

Below is a short overview of each hike, necessary info/links, what to do after, and a "water bottle score" - how difficult the hiking is on a scale of 0 (not really even a hike) to 5 (climbing a 14er) for a visitor. I've started with the hikes closest to Denver and ended with those the farthest. You need a car for all of these except in Boulder where you can take the bus from Denver. 

General tips for all of these hikes: try to go on a weekday! Colorado people stereotypes are true - they love to hike - and the weekends are insane pretty much everywhere. If you must go on a weekend, at least go early! This will also help with sunburn, fatigue etc that you may not expect if you aren't used to the elevation. 

If you go on any of these hikes, or have other questions, let me know! Enjoy :)

Lair O' The Bear - Morrison, CO - 22 miles from Denver

Headed to Red Rocks for a show or a hike? Keep going a few miles west on Highway 74 to Lair O' The Bear park. This is a relatively small, family friendly hiking spot right off the road. There are trails, a river, and picnic tables a-plenty. Trails are open for biking and the creek is popular for fishing. 

This is a great place for families, those who are not used to the elevation, or anyone who wants a quick getaway from Denver. 

Water bottle Score: 1/5

After: go back to Morrison, visit the quaint downtown shops, and eat at Twin Forks or the Morrison Inn. 

Site and trail map here.

Mt. Falcon - Indian Hills, CO - 25 miles from Denver

Once you've enjoyed your afternoon in Morrison, don't be confused by the signs for Mt. Falcon Park there. There are two ways to enter this park, and that is not the one you want. Just trust me here. Head to the West trailhead in Indian Hills (From U.S. Highway 285, take the Indian Hills turn-off, follow Parmalee Gulch Road for 5 miles to Picutis Road, then straight ahead to Mount Falcon Road). 

This park is one of my favorites for painting, reading, taking visitors, and even hiking (ha). It has trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There are tons of picnic areas, remains of an old castle, a lookout tower with amazing panoramic views, and a picnic shelter that used to be the summer home of John Brisben Walker

Water bottle score: 2/5

After: Head down to Mac Nation for lunch and then a stroll through the Mirada Gallery (both on Parmalee Gulch Road - can't miss them)

Site and trail maps here.

Chautauqua Park - Boulder, CO - 28 miles from Denver

There are tons of hiking trails in Boulder, but this is a great place to start. The Boulder Chautauqua is the only remaining Chautauqua in operation west of the Mississippi - regularly hosting performances, lectures, and events. Check out the ranger station when you arrive then start hiking! 

My favorite trail is accessed from behind the dining hall - I start on the Mesa trail, climb up McClintock, up a secret trail (can't reveal everything!) then head back down towards Bluebell Mesa, sometimes heading over to Baird, Ski Jump, or Amphitheater Trail before heading back down the Chautauqua trail. (map)

You can't go wrong here. All the trails are well marked (except to my secret spot :)), generally well trafficked, and generally loop into another trail. Just start walking and you'll find great things. 

If possible, like most of the trails on this list, go early on a weekday. - it gets super crowded. If you can't get here on a weekday, there are shuttles on weekends or paid parking (free on weekdays). 

Water bottle score: 2.5/5

After: eat lunch or happy hour at the Chautauqua Dining Hall (try the Big Country Salad and the cilantro jalapeno margarita) and/or make a quick stop at the general store (open in the summer months) for some ice cream (or picnic foods and a strawberry lemonade)

Site with much more info here.

Echo Lake - Evergreen, CO - 45 miles from Denver

If you want to get out of the foothills and into some higher, cooler, mountain air - head west on I-70 to Echo Lake. It's been my favorite spot since I moved here (and I wrote a whole post about it here) to get away. 

To get there, take the Mt. Evans exit off of I-70, turn left and follow the road about 13 miles to the lodge - stop at the two lots on the way up to see a waterfall and a great view of Mt. Evans. Once you get to the parking lot, the views are immediate. You can picnic, fish, or just walk the short trail around the lake, or catch the Chicago Lakes trail out farther into the Mt. Evans Wilderness. 

Water bottle score: 0/5 for the lake 3.5/5 for Chicago Lakes trail

After: Check out the Echo Lake Lodge for souvenirs, great food, and a great bar view. Then if you're risky, take the Mt. Evans road all the way up to the Summit (in the summer only) - it's the highest paved road in North America!

Site and trail map here

St. Mary's Glacier - Idaho Springs, CO - 45 miles from Denver 

After you come down the mountain from Echo Lake, go West on I-70 to the St. Mary's exit (a mile or two). Follow it up until you reach the parking lot (map) This is on private land so you MUST pay a $5 parking fee -- bring cash there is nowhere to get any. The trail is super short, about 1.5 miles round trip, but steep and rocky so if you aren't used to the high elevation it could take some time to get up. As you near the top there are several trails but they'll all get you to the lake. There you will find a beautiful view of the Rockies, a glacier, a lake, and plenty of room to relax or picnic (or just watch people snowboard down the glacier). 

This is a great short hike for visitors or families as long as you are in moderate shape. It's also a great way to beat the summer heat. 

Water bottle score: 2.5/5

After: head down to Idaho Springs and explore the downtown, soak in Indian Hot Springs, or visit the Argo mine. Drink at Westbound and Down, eat at Da Rivuh, and shop at The Soap Shop. 

Herman Gulch - near Idaho Springs, CO - 54 miles from Denver

I try to get to the Herman Gulch Trail a few times a season. It's a fairly easy 7ish mile out and back trail right off of I-70. Like literally right off - it has it's own exit! Exit 218 if you'd like to try it for yourself. It's unmarked, so you just turn left and voila, the parking lot and trail! So easy! The trail is a part of the Continental Divide Trail - a 3,100 mile trail that crosses from Mexico all the way to Canada. 

Interesting fact: only about 200 hikers attempt to thru hike the Continental Divide Trail each year - and it takes about six months to complete! The other two "Triple Crowns" of long-distance hiking: The Appalachian Trail (2,184ish miles) and The Pacific Crest Trail (2,654 miles) have thousands who attempt a thru hike each year, but much much less who actually complete it.

Back to my (much shorter) hike. The Herman Gulch trail starts out fairly steep through the trees until you come to a beautiful meadow with wildflowers when in season. The hike continues through the meadow and a few shady areas (wear sunscreen!) until the final ascent to the Herman Gulch Lake. 

This hike is good for everyone! The elevation gain can be tricky if you are from out of town or not active, but with plenty of water and breaks you should be fine. The actual trail is not difficult or technical.

Water bottle score: 3/5

After: go back East to Silver Plume and visit Bread bar (on weekends) or on to Georgetown to walk the quaint downtown, or drive up Guanella Pass. 

Site and trail map here

Brainard Lake Recreation Area - Ward, CO - 57 miles from Denver

Way up in the mountains of Ward, Colorado, you will find one of the most beautiful places - not just around Denver - but around anywhere. Brainard Lake is part of the Forest Service (so you can use your America The Beautiful pass to get in without the $10 fee), and is near the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. There are lakes, camping, picnic areas, you name it. All of the recreation area is above 10,000 feet, so you can only access from around late June to October. 

Brainard Lake and Long Lake are easy to get to, while my other favorite hike - Mitchell Lake to Blue Lake is a bit longer. The hikes are so beautiful, with many alpine lakes on the way. Find more information about the trails here. 

Water bottle score: 3/5

After: head to Nederland and visit the Carousel of Happiness, then over to Salto Coffee Works

Mt. Bierstadt - near Georgetown, CO - 60 miles from Denver 

I've climbed two 14ers (all on my own woo!), since moving to Colorado. Mt. Bierstadt was the first - chosen because it is generally seen as an "easy" 14er. Now, for those of you who probably don't live in Colorado, a 14er is a mountain that is over 14,000 feet in elevation. There are 96 in the United States, with a whopping 53 in Colorado. So even an "easy 14er" is not so easy. 

That said, if you are acclimated to the altitude, and in decent shape, this is a great trail to start bagging peaks. It is only about 7 miles, with an elevation gain of 2,850 feet. The top is a bit of a rock scramble but totally doable even for the scaredy cats like me. 

14er tips: Start early! Thunderstorms kick up over the mountains almost every afternoon in the summer, and they can be (and are) deadly when you are above the tree line. Also, these trails are super busy so starting early gives you a head start (and parking space) over the masses. Wear layers - it's cold, hot, windy -- be prepared for it all. Bring lots of water! You will need it. Pay attention to the weather, and don't be afraid to take lots of breaks. Remember trail etiquette and if you start to feel weird - go back down! Altitude sickness is real and it is torture (and happens to even the fittest people). 

To get there, follow Guanella Pass from downtown Georgetown about 12 miles to the top. You will see the parking lots and millions of Subarus. 

Water bottle score: 4.8/5

After: head back down to Georgetown and ride the historic Loop Railroad. Visit the Rock Shop, and eat at The Alpine.

More information here

Emerald Lake - Rocky Mountain National Park - 64 miles from Denver

Many of the trails on this list are fairly popular, but this might be the most popular of them all. With good reason. Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are an easy day trip from Denver, and if you only have time for a hike or two, this one packs a punch. 

Enter RMNP, then either head up to the Bear Lake lot (if it's early on a weekday) or park in the park and ride and catch a shuttle to Bear Lake (recommend this). Bear Lake is one of the most popular lakes in the park, with an easy and accessible trail around it. If you decide to go on, you will walk about 3.5 miles and see four amazing alpine lakes. 

Again, this trail is very popular, but I still recommend it if you're in the park. If you want more of a workout, head down towards Glacier Gorge when you reach Bear Lake on the way down and catch the shuttle from there. 

Water bottle score: 3/5

After: explore the park! Then head in to Estes Park to walk the town, visit The Stanley Hotel and drink at Rock Cut Brewing. 

More info here

Manitou Incline - Manitou Springs, CO - 70 miles from Denver

If you're an extremist, or find yourself near Colorado Springs, you might want to hike the Manitou Incline. I wrote more about my experience here, but basically, it's this super steep former cable car route turned stairway. It gains over 2,000 feet in elevation in just under a mile and it's intense to say the least! Some parts have a grade of up to 68% (look at the picture above for some perspective). 

If you're still interested, remember that because this is so steep, once you start - you have to continue. There is a bail out, but it isn't until about 2/3 up the trail. To get down you follow the Barr Trail back to where you began. 

Water Bottle Score: 4.75/5

After: Explore Manitou Springs and stop by the The Mate Factor, then head over to Garden of the Gods for some much easier hikes, followed by dinner in Old Colorado City

Site and more info here. Download the app here

 

Now get out there! And let me know if you want more recommendations, or other information :) 

Questing

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard

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Quest: (according to dictionary.com) a search or pursuit made in order to find or obtain something. Medieval Romance - an adventurous expedition undertaken by a knight or knights to secure or achieve something.

My definition: finding purpose through the pursuit of big goals and seeking adventure.

What do you find purpose in? If you’re like me, probably a myriad of things bring purpose to your life. I find purpose in my work, my service, and my family - but I need something more. I need a quest - and I’d argue that we all do.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that, “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

To me, the pursuit of happiness is within the pursuit itself. The big, overarching goal or project that keeps me up at night. Right now, that goal is to visit all 59 US National Parks by 2025. A big goal to be sure, but that’s the beauty of it! Let me explain..

As part of another quest - last year’s 52 book reading challenge - I read the book “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau. He spent a decade visiting every country in the world and wrote this guide to help others on their quests - big or small.

He has some ground rules for quests that I applied to mine as well:

It must be a challenge

There are currently 59 National Parks. I have visited 19 as of this writing, and as a frequent park visitor have met many people on the same quest as I am. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

While a great deal of the National Parks are in the West, many are difficult to reach. Alaska boasts eight parks, including three (Gates of the Arctic, Kobuk Valley and Glacier Bay) that have no roads and can only be entered by boat, plane, or foot. There are two in Hawaii, one in the US Virgin Islands, one in American Samoa (the only park south of the equator) and three within the lower 48 accessible only by boat or plane (Isle Royale, Channel Islands, and Dry Tortugas). Even the parks that are “easier” to travel to are almost always in remote locations that requires a car, time, and considerable effort to get to.

It must require sacrifice

A quest can and should be something fun and enjoyable, but if it’s too easy it’s just a hobby. A quest is an adventure, an honorable pursuit leading to a worthy achievement - it’s going to take some sacrifice. Before pursuing a quest, it’s essential that you understand the sacrifices that will be involved. Time and money are the obvious sacrifices that are generally underestimated. I think of it as the “What am I not doing because of this?” question. If you aren’t okay with the trade-offs, don’t pursue it.

Personally, I’m okay with the trade-offs. I am gone on most long weekends and for several weeks in the summer, so I’ve missed trips with friends or events at home because I’m driving somewhere in the middle of a desert. Additionally, I’ve spent almost all my extra money on this pursuit. I have a National Parks Annual Pass ($80) which is a great deal, but there are a lot of extra costs. The obvious: gas, plane tickets, lodging, souvenirs, food - and the not so obvious: cell phone reception booster, special gear, ferries to the island parks, etc.

It must require considerable effort and persistence

Again, if it’s easy everyone would do it. If everyone did it then it wouldn’t be special. It wouldn’t be adventurous. It wouldn’t be a quest. Persistence has always been one of my greatest (and maybe worst) qualities. If I want to do something, I do it no matter what. If your quest isn’t something that inspires persistence, then it’s probably not the right one for you.

It must be clearly defined

This seems like such an obvious one, but also something that I don’t think a lot of us do. Just like any goal, it must be specific, otherwise when will you know you’ve met it? What motivation will you have to keep going? If my goal was to “visit as many National Parks as possible” well then, I’ve already done that - 19 is far more than most people I know. But then what? I’m just done? No way! I want to go to them all, and I want to do it by 2025. The time element is important to me. It’s long enough to be realistic, but still short enough to be challenging. I can’t sit around for years wishing or planning - I have to do it now.

Challenges

While a quest should be challenging in itself, there are other challenges that you have to consider before undertaking one. Along with the aforementioned cost and time, there is also the element of risk. Everyone has their own risk tolerance - mine is actually fairly low - and a quest, like anything in life, is going to stretch it.

Another challenge is other people’s opinions. In fact, this is probably the most challenging part for many people. I mean, we know what opinions are like.. and everybody's got one. A quest, long term goal, pursuit, adventure, project - whatever you want to call it - is a very personal thing. I’m sure there are some people reading this who have no desire to visit even a few National Parks and think it’s a self indulgent waste of time. To that I say - ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  You don’t have to. But I do.

Chris Guillebeau writes in his book that, “There’s an obsession factor with many quests. When you wake up at night consumed by an idea, that’s when you’ve found a quest.” That’s just how mine started. I visited several National Parks before it became “my thing” which later became a quest. (hence why I never started getting Park Passport stamps - don’t make the same mistake!) As I visited more, it became more important, then an obsession. I literally stay awake at night and get up early in the morning to plan trips, book airbnbs, and read travel forums. Remember, the happiness is in the pursuit.

There’s also some argument that pursuits like mine are somehow elitist - and I get it. Actually, I kind of agree. I’m very lucky to be in a position where I have money and time to do this when for many people that is not the case. Until our basic needs are met - and beyond - it isn’t necessarily realistic or worthy to gallivant around the nation looking for bison and WPA postcards. But while it’s important to be aware of privilege, I think, for a lot of people a quest is fully within their reach - it's just not a priority in their lives. Just like any other habit, we pursue the things that are a priority. And like Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

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Then What?

What happens when you achieve what you set out to do? Well, I haven’t yet so I can’t say for sure, but the obvious first step is - get a new goal! Find another quest - maybe it’s an extension of your last or maybe it’s something totally different. But don’t become stagnant. Life is a journey after all, not a destination. If you allow yourself to spend too much time celebrating your success it may actually have the opposite effect and leave you feeling empty.

Why?

Joseph Campbell said, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.” We want to experience life as fully as possible, with as much joy as possible. Through a quest we find purpose through achievement, but also gain so many other tangible and intangible things. For me, I’ve gained all kinds of skills and expanded my worldview, but the two most important results I’ve seen so far are greater confidence and empathy. Confidence from doing it all on my own, and empathy from spending time all over the country with people I'd never encounter otherwise.

I’ve also gained a lot from sharing my experiences. One of the core values I try to cultivate in my life is leadership, and I believe that I am able to sharpen those skills through this quest. John Quincy Adams said that, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” I’m inspired every day by others who are on the same and different quests - by their photos online, their blogs, and their words - and hope to inspire others in some way.

So what are you waiting for? Maybe you're already on a quest - make it public, share your experiences, heck - overshare (I certainly do). If you're not - start brainstorming. Make a list that seems totally unrealistic then ask yourself why. Why do I want to do this? Why do I think it's unrealistic? What could I change in my life and priorities to make this happen? and do I want to do that? Then get started! As Albert Einstein said, “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all of our lives.” So pursue your truth. Get a little obsessive if necessary, but make progress! That's where the happiness lies. 

“'The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.' So, too, for a quest. The most important thing is continuing to make progress.” - Chris Guillebeau

Friday Favorites - 3.24.17

 “I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly. It’s something that’s in the air – it’s different. The sky is different, the wind is different. I shouldn’t say too much about it because other people may be interested and I don’t want them interested.” - Georgia O'Keeffe on New Mexico

I haven't been so great about blogging lately. Mostly because the days are longer and I'm spending every moment possible outside. duh. But here are some things I've loved this week:

This Place

I went to Taos this past weekend and stayed in an earthship! It was so perfect and beautiful and relaxing. I was completely off the grid in the middle of nowhere outside of town - I really can't recommend it enough. You can read more about earthships and Taos here.  And/or watch my instagram story below:

This Data

I am currently reading 4 different books. And although I am not tracking a specific reading goal this year - I still project somewhere around 50 books read. While that sounds like a lot (and it is) think about all the books that exist! I want to read them all! But can I?

Emily Temple at Literary Hub decided to find out. She used data from the Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator and the average number of books read by different groups per year to find how many books you can still read in your lifetime. I've got around 2,800 left! I better choose wisely :) Look at the data here

This Recipe

I am restricting myself from meat for March (and into April for Lent), so I have been trying lots of vegetarian recipes (but mostly eating a lot of bread, french fries, veggie pizza, and macaroni and cheese haha). Anyways, I've found a winner! Buffalo Tofu!

Tofu?! It might sound scary if you've never worked with it, but this recipe is super easy and tastes so amazing I made it two days in a row. Head over to Killing Thyme for the recipe here (and thank me later) :)

This Timeline

The Atlantic recently went live with their "Life Timeline" You enter in your birthday and they give you a personalized timeline of world events from your birth into the future. Each event links to an article for more info. Some of it was meh but most of mine was pretty interesting. Try it for yourself here. 

This Soundtrack (and show)

Have you been watching Big Little Lies?? If you haven't, block out some time and get someones HBO password ASAP. The show is pretty addictive, but the best part is the soundtrack. While there is no official soundtrack, much has been written about the music on the show and you can find all the songs cataloged in many places. Find the songs from Episode 5 here. And this spotify playlist for more:

Happy Friday! I'm headed to California next week - follow along @emhart11 :)

Friday Favorites - 3.10.17

"I always have my own rules, and I can bend them if I want. I can see the confines I’m working in, but nobody else knows I’m doing it." - Jack White

Reminiscing: 

Yesterday I had a really awful morning. The kind that makes you rethink your entire life/place in the world etc. I tried to achieve some balance from, what else, reading random things on the internet. I read one of those articles (blogs) that regurgitated the same "social media is filtered, fake, etc." story. I was struck, again, by how much I disagree with that. 

I wrote this on Instagram and, although it may not be super eloquent (like this) I really believe it. 

I accidentally just read one of those blogs masquerading as news. It told me for the umpteenth time that social media isn’t real life, take it with a grain of salt, don’t compare etc etc. I look at social media as the complete opposite. This is real life. It is the absolute best parts of real life. The real life that, on a complete dumpster fire of a day like today (and it’s not even noon!), I can go back to in my mind if only for the few seconds it takes to find some kind of a throwback photo that brings me joy. And then I can post it in hopes that someone else finds beauty or joy in a photo of light coming in through a window in a corner of the desert. Because this is real life. And, you know, it’s pretty great.

So reminisce - please! Throwback Thursday, Flashback on Friday, whatever you feel like - it's your life. And it IS real life. How weird and unhealthy would it have been for me to post a picture of my morning breakdown in an effort to "be real?" Umm... no. I am purposeful in my life. I try to find beauty. It is there whether I instagram it or not - it is not a filtered view of anything. This is what I want to remember. 

More Reminiscing! (it's important remember)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Way to make me feel old ahhh. I never missed an episode growing up, I had the books, the VHS tapes, the posters, the outfits, and some crosses and stakes for the several years in a row I dressed up as Buffy for halloween. You can stream the whole series on Hulu and Netflix (and oh I do) - so if you never got into it in the beginning - do it now! It's still super subversive and amazing. 

There are so many great articles out today to commemorate the day. Here are a few I've read to start your journey into the rabbit hole (or should I say hellmouth) :)

Buffy's subversive feminism, NPR retrospective, how Buffy transformed TV, and Buffy and the birth of TV as art. 

Reading:

I just read this article/interview with Jack White in The New Yorker. I've always love White, but even more so now. Some cool takeaways from the article:

- White is obsessed with the number three. I have had an obsession (like, diagnosed) with it as well since before I can remember. "The number three is essential to his purposes. He says it entered his awareness one day when he was an apprentice in the upholstery shop. He saw that the owner had used three staples to secure a piece of fabric and he realized that “three was the minimum number of staples an upholsterer could use and call a piece done.” The White Stripes were built around the theme of three—guitar, drums, and voice. As both a stance and a misdirection, they wore only red, white, and black."

- He's into restrictions. This goes along with the number three. He says that, "the notion of restrictions appealed to White, who believes that, as far as his imagination is concerned, having too many choices is stultifying. The number three is essential to his purposes." I love this. I always talk (and write in this blog basically every week) about the importance of creative restrictions. Too many options is just that - too many. Restrictions are what allow us to come up with the most innovative ideas. 

- The Icarus Project. Omg. This is just geeky and perfect. "Recently, he put five years—a lifetime to him, he says—into a pricey piece of ephemera he called the Icarus Project, which involved sending a turntable into the stratosphere as it played a record, because a record had never been played at such an altitude. The project, he told me, exemplified his ambition “to be an eccentric and produce a beautiful moment that people will talk about.”

I especially love this quote, "White watched from a catwalk above the Detroit store, and about two hundred people watched with him, seeing the turntable revolve at one point with the curve of the earth behind it. The balloon exploded, and White thanked everyone for attending. Then he sat on a couch and said, “Now I can sleep at night.” This is exactly how I feel after completing something that I know is probably only important to me. But it is so important to me that I literally won't be able to sleep until it's done.

Listening:

I've been listening to PJ Harvey nonstop this week. I've been a fan for 15+ years, but like most things, the frequency of listening comes and goes.

I distinctly remember buying "Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea" as a 15 year old - and falling instantly in love. The music, her voice, lyrics, everything.

I'm also just really fascinated in her as a person. Like Jack White, and most artists, she is totally unique. She changes her style for each album and always brings a fresh perspective. Anyways, if you aren't acquainted, here is a list of her top albums. And if you aren't convinced yet, this is how the number one album is described:

Rid Of Me proves disturbingly relatable to anybody who’s ever been hurt by love, which is everybody, but it’s not the sort of album you casually spin while going for a drive. Truth be told, I don’t listen to it very often anymore — it’s too draining. It’s for moments when you crave all-consuming catharsis. Sometimes it’s enough just to know that this album exists. That it’s there waiting, for when you need to douse hair with gasoline, set it light and set it free.

Who could say no to that? :)

 

Thinking:

For my graduate theory class this week I had to read a whole lot of Foucault and write a paper. I've read a lot in the past, but never this particular excerpt from "Discipline and Punish" (sounds great already right?) Anyways, the architectural Panopticon is discussed and, well, let's just say it led to a never-ending (literally, it is still going) internet hunt for more information. 

A Panopticon is a circular building meant as a prison, where guards can observe prisoners at all times, but at a vantage point where the prisoners cannot see them. Therefore, the prisoners never know if they are actually being observed, but must display the same discipline regardless. It was designed by social theorist Jeremy Bentham, and despite it's popularity in theory, a true panoptic prison has never actually been built. 

The super interesting part of all this is the connection to the CIA wikileaks this week. Read up here if you're unaware. Like the telescreens in 1984, technology has in effect placed us in a panoptic society. We may be under surveillance at almost any time. Because we don't know if we are or not, our behavior may change. Foucault would say that we have become more docile as a result of the "unequal gaze" and therefore more easily coerced. There's obviously so much more to this, but even just the surface is an interesting thought experiment. If you want to go deeper... let's get a drink :)

Until then, read more here, here, and here

Planning:

Spring Break is just two short weeks away! I have a ticket to LA and a rental car for a week. I have trips planned to a few National Parks, some awesome AirBnB's booked, and... that's about it. I'll be in Mariposa (outside Yosemite), Carmel Valley, and Malibu - and while I won't have toooo much free time, I want your suggestions! What are some overlooked stops in these areas? Let me know! 

Happy Friday :) 

Friday Favorites - 3.3.17

“I thrive in structure. I drown in chaos.” 
― Anna Kendrick

I am, generally, a structured person. I started this Friday series in order to add some structure and deadlines into this blogging experiment. I have found through the experiment that while I really do enjoy the structure of a set post and the openness of the "five things I am interested in" outline - I want to try to add in more variability. 

I have found myself super busy recently and I don't want this to be a chore - it's supposed to be fun! Lately these posts have amounted to over five pages per week (single spaced!) of writing so I'm not going to shoot for five long researched interesting things each week - just things I'm thinking about - leave the longform for their own posts when I have the time and desire. And of course, this could change - maybe next Friday :) That's  the cool thing about this experiment - it is mine. It is literally my name and I can make it whatever I want it to be. So here are some of the things I really love this week. 

This Place

I was going through some old files this week and stumbled upon a brochure I picked up at Ghost Ranch a couple of years ago. Since then, I have basically been thinking non stop about it. Ghost Ranch was one of Georgia O'Keeffe's homes in New Mexico, and is now a retreat center where you can visit overnight or just on a day trip. 

It's no secret I love Georgia (read below for more evidence) and the desert. I could live in this picture. The smells, the sounds, the color, heck - even the dirt - I love it all. 

Ghost Ranch (and New Mexico in general) is a magical place that I highly recommend visiting. Find more info here

And read more about my adventures in New Mexico here, herehere, here, here, here, and here

This Article

The Brooklyn Museum just opened an exhibit on Georgia O'Keeffe - but not just her paintings, an exhibit featuring her style. Her persona. Anyone who is an O'Keeffe fan has no doubt been inspired by her sartorial choices, her words, and her attitude. The exhibit has paintings, as well as some of her clothing, and a retrospective of the many photographs taken of her. She is an icon in all three areas - and now I have a great reason to get back to Brooklyn to check it out. It runs from today through July 23.

More information on the exhibit here.

More information on O'Keeffe's here and here

 

This Quote

I love a good inspirational quote and I've been coming back to this one a lot this week:

"We don't see things as they are - we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

Life is so much easier (i.e. less annoying) when I remember this. So often (like, um, always) we assign judgement to others and their actions based on our own values. While I don't think it's realistic to refrain from any judgement, it's important to remember that it's all subjective. 

This seems super obvious, but the older I get the more I realize that the "obvious" things in life seem to be the easiest to forget. I have to constantly remind myself of these seemingly simple things. And it's not for others - sure, it's better for them if I don't judge them based on my own values - but remembering this is for me. My life is infinitely better when I stop assigning value judgments. Or, when I do, realizing that I have and remembering this quote. 

What are some of your favorite "obvious" quotes/sentiments?

This Thought

I always say that rather than thinking, creating, being etc.. "outside the box" that I just want a bigger box. I've been thinking about this a lot - I even wrote about it here. Structure is so important. Even if that structure is super limited. I need an expectation or a goal in order to succeed. I think many of us do.  Creativity testing has actually found that people are more creative when they encounter more obstacles, not when they are given total freedom. 

I really like a lot in this article. Here are some excerpts:

"The box itself has always represented limits, but why are those limits bad? And why can’t you simply expand those limits rather than ignoring them? Having limits provides an anchor or catalyst for your thinking, not a constraint. It’s actually how you go about thinking through the solutions that can be the real limit."

"Starting with the box, however, the sides give you concrete limits and useful details you can anchor your thinking around. But they don’t have to be the fixed limits everyone thinks they are. By examining those supposed limits, which are represented by the sides of the box, you can actually expand them to make your box bigger. And your “box” doesn’t have to be square. Add sides if needed to represent your specific situation."

What do you think? Do you work best inside a box? Outside? Within a bigger box?

This Media

Y'all! Are you listening to this podcast?? It is so good. If you don't know the background, Richard Simmons hasn't been seen in public for over three years now. The podcast features interviews and narrations by his friends in order to come to some sort of conclusion of what the heck happened. Of course, the premise itself is a bit icky, but it doesn't feel toooo exploitative or gross due to the hosts - who is a friend of Richards - genuine concern. 

Anyways, only three 30-minute podcasts have been released so far, but it's already been called "like Serial but better" - the highest possible podcast praise. I am hooked and I'm sure you will be too - listen here

And read more about Simmons and his public disappearance here and here

Happy Friday :)

Friday Five - 2.24.17

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.” 
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

 

None of these things are like the other. Enjoy :) 

Bryce Tweet


More National Park Twitter controversy. Bryce Canyon National Park sent a tweet out the day after the Bears Ears National Monument was designated congratulating it – along with a picture of a mail slot bearing their name. In response, Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz (who opposed the monument) has filed a letter probing whether or not Bryce had advance notice of the designation. Some memorable quotes from the letter: “when was a Bears Ears map slot created in the Bryce Canyon National Park’s front desk national parks and monuments map area?” and “the message created the appearance that officials at Bryce Canyon coordinated with the White House prior to this most recent designation.” Umm.. don't you have anything else to worry about (mail slots - really?? sore loser much?) But, good excuse to look at some pictures of the beautiful Bryce Canyon 


Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation


I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation. As a teacher, we talk a lot about building intrinsic motivation, but does it even exist? I’m not so sure. Stay with me here.


Steven Reiss, a psychology professor at OSU doesn’t think so. His book, "Myths of Intrinsic Motivation" , posits that there are actually 16 basic desires that motivate and guide our behaviors – not just 2 types. He says that there are many different things that work to motivate people and make them happy – to judge that one (intrinsic) is better than another (extrinsic) is a value judgement. 


There is also a problem with the definition of intrinsic motivation itself.  Generally, intrinsic motivation is supposed to be an internal motivating force. I do this thing because I want to do it, not because of what I am receiving as a result - externally or materially. The often cited example is learning. A child (ideally) should grow from extrinsic motivations (working for rewards and punishments) to a self-actualized love of learning that they are invested in. But the means and ends will differ. It may look as though a student is doing their best work because they love learning for its own sake, but they have actually been conditioned to expect the praise and reward of being a motivated student – so the external forces are still the motivator. 


An article I read in Psychology Today said that motivators are only labeled as intrinsic simply because we cannot identify the reinforcing consequence. A reinforcing consequence can be positive or negative – this happens as a result of this. When we see a child reading a book we assume it is because they love to read. But again, we may not see or understand the reinforcing consequences that exist – that their parent’s value achievement, they are motivated by grades, they like the praise they receive, they want to get a pizza in Book It (does that still exist??) etc.  


As for adults, Erving Goffman wrote extensively about losing/saving face – the mask that we wear in social situations to keep us from embarrassing or painful stigma. Saving face is a motivator – but it is intrinsic? If I’m acting a certain way because I simply want to save face is that an intrinsic motivator? I don’t think so. I go to work each day because I get paid (external motivation). I do a good job because I want to be seen as competent (external). Even this blog is not simply because I love research and writing – I want to practice these things in order to be more successful in other areas (external) and I want to be a well-rounded interesting person (external). 


The literature on rewards is also not always clear-cut. Some meta-analyses have found that rewards actually don’t squash motivation as we have been lead to believe – except when linked to performance levels. 


External or internal, to me, the real question is – does it even matter? If one student is motivated by grades and another by some magic love of learning for its own sake shouldn’t we just be concerned that they are in fact learning? What do you think?


Longcuts


I was listening to a podcast a month or so ago, I don’t even remember which one, but Seth Godin was the guest and he was talking about “longcuts”. A longcut is basically the opposite of a shortcut. Since I heard the term I have been kind of obsessed with it. I think so often - especially now in our tech obsessed world - we try to do everything faster, but that doesn’t always make for a better result.


I read a study about literal shortcuts – the kind you take to avoid traffic on the way home from work. It said that often shortcuts become the longcut because everyone is in a hurry to take the shortcut that it is no longer shorter. I think this is true in so many things. If you want to save time painting a wall so you skip the primer – the paint ends up needing several more coats, which takes more time, money etc. I think this is all intuitive and we are aware of it even when we are taking the shorter, “easier” way out – but it doesn’t stop us from doing it. 


There is an efficiency paranoia that has led to all kinds of “hacks” online – ways to do things possibly faster - but inelegantly. Often these hacks require more time to learn than it would have taken to just do the thing the normal way.  So, before you take a shortcut or attempt a “life hack” remember the long cut. The long cut is often more worthwhile. Speed doesn’t trump quality and while outcomes are important – so is the process! 


Year of Without


I’m finishing up my month without coffee and…. It was kinda easy. Like I’ve written before, I have drank at least 2-3 cups of black coffee every day for over ten years - so I thought this would be really difficult. I still drank tea so I’m not totally caffeine free or anything, but I am still surprised at how easy it has been. 


I’m learning through this process of restriction that I actually already have a great deal of willpower – in fact, people who know me well might say too much (that can sometimes become purposeless stubbornness if I’m not careful). I just have to set the standard for myself. That is the key. Once I tell myself I am or am not doing something I will always follow through – it’s the initial decision that gets me. So while the restriction itself has not been hard, it has been super enlightening to understand my own behaviors and emotions. 


What have you restricted yourself from? What did you learn?


Private Prisons


In the last month there have been so many news stories that are shocking and quite frankly absurd that it can sometimes be hard to keep up. This is one that I hope doesn’t get lost in the news cycle. Prison reform is something I am deeply passionate about and there have been two possibly huge impact rollbacks of positive policy changes just in the last couple of days. 


One – Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced yesterday that the administration would rollback the policy Obama announced last summer to stop contracting with private prisons. This is deeply disturbing. While federal prisons only account for a small fraction of privately housed inmates, the private prison system is a disgrace to our democracy. The two largest prison corporations have funneled millions of dollars to candidates and spent even more lobbying for their cause – more people in prison for longer sentences to make more money. They now have profits of over 3.3 billion annually while the private prison population doubled in just 10 years. Private prison contracts have occupancy quotas (some of 100%) that, obviously, require more arrests and imprisonment to keep up with. 


More people in prison only lead to more problems. Prisonization makes acclimating back to society difficult for many reasons, and many prisoners have no resources or skills to help them. Adequate housing and a job after release are two of the major factors that reduce recidivism but they are hard to come by when many former inmates are rejected from jobs, housing, food programs and educational support. The Bureau of Prisons educational and vocational programs have shrunk to half the size they were 10 years ago and we know that lower educational attainment increases the odds of incarceration on the front end. 


I could go on and on but the bottom line is, “With the growing influence of the prison lobby, the nation is, in effect, commoditizing human bodies for an industry in militant pursuit of profit.” 


Read more here and here


Two – Prison phone calls. This hasn’t happened yet, but this article is reporting that the regulations on cost for phone calls from prison will likely be one the first things on the chopping block after Trump appoints two new members to the FCC. Some rates have been as high as $14 per minute. Per. Minute. This is super important. Whether you care about a prisoner’s ability to call home or not – think about their families. Think about the fact that strong connections and social bonds are a great predictor of reduction in recidivism. Reduction in recidivism = less prisoners = less of your taxes = happier families = on and on and on. It’s all connected. It affects us all. Be aware. 


Read more here and here

Happy Friday :)
 

Friday Five - 1.27.17

“If I were to remain silent, I'd be guilty of complicity.” 
― Albert Einstein

This week I couldn't help but be interested in politics. I mean - duh. I have a degree in political science and an almost Masters in Sociology so everything that is happening in America right now is endlessly fascinating - and infuriating. I don't want to blog in order to push my own political agenda but, I also don't think it helps anyone to stay silent. So, I'm taking the angle of the National Park Service - facts without opinion (kinda sorta). Read on if you'd like :) 

@AltNatParkSer

As I’m sure everyone is aware of by now, the National Park Service tweeted out some photos comparing Obama and Trump’s inauguration sizes this week – and were subsequently ordered to stop posting. After that, Badlands National Park tweeted out some facts on climate change – which Trump has said “is a hoax” (it’s not) They were quickly deleted and attributed to a rogue staffer, but not before they were retweeted, favorited etc thousands of times.

Since then, other official National Park twitter accounts (Death Valley, Redwoods, and Golden Gate – see a pattern? Haha) have seemed to be staging their own resistance and an Alternative National Parks Twitter account has sprung up – and at last count it has 1.25 million followers! Now, according to CNN there are now over 50 “alternative” twitter accounts – everything from @RogueNASA to @BadHombreNPS – the resistance Badlands Account - and while there is really no way to know if the accounts are being managed by actual park service employees – does it really matter?

Naturalist activism obviously has played an important part of shaping environmental policies and protected land as we know it. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Carl Sagan, Ed Abbey... the list goes on and on. So if Twitter’s not your thing – check out this book, or this, or this. Read this article. Or just support the parks by visiting them, respecting them, and not doing this.

"Fake" News

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about (like everyone else on the planet) is fake news. While there is news that is just out and out wrong – as a math teacher I’m more concerned about false interpretation. When I started teaching in Louisiana there was an entire standard based on interpreting misleading graphs as such. I looooove teaching this standard (well, actually, I don’t think it’s an actual standard anymore, but I teach it because, um hello) Anyways, I’m always looking out for misleading statistics.

Take the Chicago murder rate. Trump tweeted that he would “send in the Feds” to get the city under control because the murder rate has spiked 24% this month over last January, but let’s take a closer look.

This article does a great job explaining some of the nuances, but basically – Chicago isn’t the most dangerous city (not even in the top 10), and doesn't have the highest murder rate. In fact, it’s not even in the top 5. It’s murder rate is actually 8th in the nation (Chicago is a big city y'all) Yes there has been a spike in murders, but there are always spikes! You might remember trend lines from your middle school math teacher (at least I hope so) – the trend is long-term, and shows the direction of statistics over time while the spikes are short-term, variable cycles that can be contributed to sooo many other factors.

Take Chicago this month – A) we are not even one full month into the year – extrapolation based on that for the year over last year is not sound statistics B) It’s been unseasonably warm and warmer weather has always been shown to increase violent crime C) The rate of actual shootings has not went up. I could go on, but look at these graphs:

Chicago has always had a more variable pattern of murders, but the trend – like with all violent crime in the last 20 years – is still negative. These also show that monthly data is much more easily misinterpreted.

Think about data as a sawtooth – it goes up, but then it also goes back down. Looking at a small sample might lead someone to believe the data is steadily increasing and totally fails to recognize the pattern over time. There are always spikes in data – it is just noise.

So, are you smarter than an eighth grader? If you are – look at data trends over time, don’t make extrapolations based on small sets of data or data that is over a short period of time. There are definitely too many murders in Chicago and spikes in other cities - but don't take the headlines as evidence of some sort of crime spike - violent crime is still near record low levels across the board and have been on a decreasing trend for over 20 years. Read more here and here. 

Echo Chambers

The concept of a “Facebook Echo Chamber” has been swirling around social media for the past year or so. What it means is – Facebook, Google, (all the internet basically) uses algorithms that pay attention to the things you like, read, interact with, etc. These sorts of things are then showed to you more often. That doesn’t sound so bad on the surface – I get to see things I am interested in more often – but the problem is what you don’t see.

Before the election I had so many conversations with friends where I noted that they were totally underestimating the support for Trump. The idea that Hillary was going to win by a landslide seemed so obvious to many of my friends. The problem is that they were caught in their echo chamber. They weren’t surrounded by people who thought differently than them – face-to-face or online – and therefore had this idea that those people were fringe or much less in number than they really were.

I pride myself on having a fairly diverse set of friends and I’m from a small rural area so I knew in my heart the so-called “caps of support” weren’t real. Confirmation bias is powerful – the idea that we seek out things that support our own beliefs and ignore the things that don’t. We are motivated to be selective about the media that we consume and the people we interact with which gives us this feeling that everyone is like us. When I write this blog I assume most of the people who read it already know everything I’m writing because I feel like everyone is probably like me. I know this isn’t true but that’s where my head immediately goes.

But back to my point – echo chambers. I have seen a lot of people this week take a Facebook or social media hiatus, and I totally get it – there are a lot of hateful things being posted all over and that’s not healthy. But I also don’t think it’s healthy – for me anyways – to shield myself from it. If I don’t know how others are thinking about things then I can’t fully form my own beliefs or back them up in a way that is relevant. People generally only change their beliefs through emotional appeals that begin with understanding and common ground. If I don’t even know what is concerning someone who disagrees with me then I obviously can never connect with them intelligently over that concern.

So, I’m not going to take a social media hiatus. I’m going to try to continue to understand the people who disagree with me. I’m going to remember that not everyone thinks, feels, or knows the same information about issues as I do - and that’s okay. If you don’t want to be surprised by an outcome (ahem or an election) then don’t spend all your time in an echo chamber. Read more here and here

Praising the Process

I read this article in The Atlantic yesterday that I want to recommend – to teachers, parents, everyone. It talks about a study that showed girls begin to show evidence of gendered beliefs about their intelligence at just 6 years old! Boys and girls were asked to pick the person who was “really special” or “really, really smart” out of pictures of four people – two male, two female – and at age 6, girls started to choose the men over the women.

This is something I am so passionate about. Girls do just as well or better than boys in school, but their confidence is so much lower. Parents and teachers play a big role in this. Studies have shown that children pick up math anxiety from their parents, but even more important, they develop their mindsets from their parents. If a parent has a positive view of failure their child is shown to do better in school and life. Attitude about failure is even more predictive than attitudes about intelligence.

So why do more girls have a problem with failure? Through socialization girls are generally praised for being smart while boys are praised more for their perseverance and hard work. This “process praise” leads to higher confidence --> which leads to a stronger growth mindset --> which leads to more success. Boys are more likely to stick with fields where ability seems to be prized over hard work because they’ve been conditioned not to get sidelined as easily by failure.

This is a huge topic with so many layers, but this is what I would advise as a teacher: praise the process, normalize failure, model what learning from mistakes looks like for your kids, encourage them to persevere, and never praise them for some sort of innate ability or brilliance – even “geniuses” work hard to achieve – there is no such thing as a “math person” or a “science person”- just a person who works hard.

Read more here, here, and here.

Women’s March

I marched in downtown Denver last Saturday as part of the massive Women’s March.  A lot of people have asked me questions about it, and have made (false) assumptions. I feel like if I started to get in to the specifics, my reasons for marching, or counterpointing those who have criticized it (but weren’t actually there, didn’t read the unity principles, and have no idea what they’re talking about – but I digress) I would be here all day. So I will leave you (if you actually read this far) with this sociological poem explaining the value of protest that I recently re-stumbled upon: 

The Low Road

By Marge Piercy

What can they do

to you? Whatever they want.

They can set you up, they can

bust you, they can break

your fingers, they can

burn your brain with electricity,

blur you with drugs till you

can't walk, can’t remember, they can

take your child, wall up

your lover. They can do anything

you can’t blame them

from doing. How can you stop

them? Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse, you can

take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.

 

But two people fighting

back to back can cut through

a mob, a snake-dancing file

can break a cordon, an army

can meet an army.

 

Two people can keep each other

sane, can give support, conviction,

love, massage, hope, sex.

Three people are a delegation,

a committee, a wedge. With four

you can play bridge and start

an organisation. With six

you can rent a whole house,

eat pie for dinner with no

seconds, and hold a fund raising party.

A dozen make a demonstration.

A hundred fill a hall.

A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;

ten thousand, power and your own paper;

a hundred thousand, your own media;

ten million, your own country.

 

It goes on one at a time,

it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.

 

happy Friday :)

Friday Five - 1.20.17

“Son, anything can happen to anyone," my father told me, "but it usually doesn't.” 
― Philip Roth

canada.jpg

Canada National Parks Pass 

Today no doubt has many of you dreaming of moving to Canada. If you can't make the move, you can at least make a visit. Canada is super beautiful, and did you know that this year - as a part of Canada’s National Parks 150th anniversary celebration - they are giving away National Parks Passes for free?! Well - they are! You have to order the pass here - but everything is free. The pass will get you in to any of Canada’s 38 National Parks all year. I ordered mine a few weeks ago and I’m sure there is a huge demand so get yours today! And plan a trip to Canada :) 

Get yours here!

#letherlearn

This week I watched a video from the National Women’s Law Center’s #letherlearn campaign and couldn't help but cry. The Let Her Learn campaign's aim is to help stop school pushout of black girls. Black girls are more than five times as likely to be suspended from school for minor offenses than white girls - despite no evidence of them actually being worse behaved. This is a subject very close to my heart and something I have seen first hand - so I knew I had to share this with anyone and everyone. 

In the book Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls In Schools, author Monique Morris addresses Pushout, “the structural racism and the cultural barriers that push Black girls out of the classroom and to the outer brinks of society. Black girls are suspended at six times the rate of white girls, and they make up only 17 percent of girls in public schools but almost half of school related arrests.” 

This is a disgrace. We have to do better. Watch the video. Read the book. Share. 

Read more here and here. Watch the video here:

Folk Numeracy and the Monty Hall Problem

I recently read about a super interesting new (to me) term - folk numeracy. Coined by Michael Shermer, folk numeracy is “our natural tendency to misperceive and miscalculate probabilities - to think anecdotally instead of statistically and focus on short term trends” 

Basically, this explains those people on Facebook who make some joke about global warming not being real every time it’s cold for a few days in a row. They look at a situation that they experienced and use it to extrapolate (false) data. 

Probability is always hard for people to understand - the language is so specific and technical, and it’s hard to wrap our heads around. Take the Monty Hall Problem - imagine you are on a game show and there are three doors. Behind one door is a car and behind the other two are goats. You choose a door - let's say 2 - and then the host opens one of the other doors with a goat behind it - let's say 3 - and gives you the option to switch your original guess. What would you do? Many people - the overwhelming majority in fact - would say that it doesn't matter because you now have a fifty-fifty chance at choosing the car. The problem is that the majority of people are wrong. 

Probability - and years of mathematical models - tell us that you have a 2/3 chance of choosing correctly if you switch your original guess. You see - originally you had a 1/3 chance of guessing correctly and a 2/3 chance that the car was behind one of the doors you didn't choose. Because the host opens a door that was not your initial guess - you still have a 2/3 chance that the car is behind the other door you did not pick. 

This has perplexed people (even mathematicians) for years. It is a veridical paradox - a paradox that is so counterintuitive it seems absurd. But it's been proven over and over. Try it with a friend - each person plays 10 rounds as the host and 10 rounds as the guest. Switch 5 times and stay 5 times as contestant and see what happens. 

Ahhhh math :) 

Read more here and here.

Birthday Paradox

Have you ever heard the birthday paradox? I heard it for the first time a few years ago at a Saturday morning math teaching conference (that believe it or not I went to willingly and even paid for myself). It posits that if you are in a room with 22 other people there is an over 50% chance that at least two people will have the same birthday. Really. 

When someone - usually a math professor, natch - introduces the question, those in the room are always asked to guess what the probability/percent chance will be that two people share a birthday and, without fail, participants always guess a super low percent. 

The problem is our context is off. When we are asked the question - most people think of it in terms of “what are the chances someone else in the room has the same birthday as me” which indeed does have a much lower probability. The context is that any two people in the entire room will have the same birthday - but that isn’t our natural thought. Like the Monty Hall Problem - humans just don't have a good grasp on probability. 

Richard Dawkins surmised that our probability problem is evolutionary - that humans exist in "middle world" where we can only understand medium sized things. Probability is just too big. What do you think? 

Read more here and here. Or watch this video:

Does randomness exist?

One of the things I hate most as a teacher is when students say they “just guessed and got it right”. I always tell them that there is no such thing as guessing - their subconscious has knowledge of the problem and influenced their choice whether they realize it or not. I say this in part to give them back the power over their learning they are trying to give away, but also because I really believe it. Can anything ever really be random?

This is definitely a question too big for this blog post but, I like to think about it. Mathematicians have coined a term for situations that technically pass statistical tests for randomness but where the number is still determined - “psuedo-randomness” Take rolling a dice. It seems random, but if we knew all of the variables and physics behind the dice, who is throwing them, the speed, the angles, the ground that it is being rolled on etc.. then it is not random at all - we could determine what would be rolled. 

Free will vs. determinism is, again, way too big to cover here but another interesting topic when thinking about randomness. Between the two schools of thought I think I stand closer to a soft determinism. Soft determinism says that determinism - all behavior is caused by preceding factors - can coexist with free will - self-determination. Maybe it’s the mathematician in me but, probability can explain almost everything. Even supposed “miracles” will happen eventually after enough trials. 

So what do you think, is there anything truly random? Are you ever really just "guessing"? Hmm. 

Read more here and here

Happy Friday :)

Solo Travel - Part 3 - In Defense of the Selfie

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” 
― Frederick Douglass

Remember family vacations as a child? Someone constantly asking you to “stand here” or “in front of that” “act like you like each other” “etc etc? At the time these photos may have been annoying – but now they are treasured. A good vacation photo album isn’t a bunch of pictures of scenery – it’s you and your loved ones within the scenery. You were there. That is the memory.

Traveling solo doesn’t mean you have to give up those memories – you can ask a kind stranger to take your photo, you can set up the camera timer (my fav – tips at the end of this post), or just take a selfie #noshame.

Selfies have gotten a bad rap – and for some good reasons. I don’t want to see a picture of someone’s face in the front seat of their car every day either but, honestly, I’d rather see a few of those than someone who’s hating. So here are some reasons why I am not ashamed of taking selfies – and why you shouldn’t be either.

Selfies are a digital self-portrait. Just like the original self-portraits of the 10th century – they are a mark in time capturing who the subject is and the emotions associated with that moment. Just like the childhood vacation photos, eventually we are going to forget about the places we went, the weird hairstyles we had, and the excitement we experienced in a new place. A photo can bring us back to that place. I don’t feel the same connection to a photo of a mountain as I do a photo of me as a child in front of the mountain doing something ridiculous. That’s the memory. That’s my experience of a place. I was there.

A selfie can also be a way to actually celebrate confidence and promote psychological well-being. The Dove film “Selfie” is a great example of how accepting yourself(ie) can be so powerful, especially for girls and women. As women, our entire lives we are bombarded by media images of perfection – a selfie is a way to show your uniqueness and boost your confidence. Due to social media there are now more images of “regular” people than models – how cool! While there are still the airbrushed unnatural standards of perfection selfies – a girl growing up today is much more likely to just see photos of real people - people who are unique and beautiful in all different ways. Social media and selfies are actually widening and redefining the definition of beauty – everyone can (and deserves to) be seen.

Taking a selfie is also a great way to show your personality. Whether you think about it or are consciously aware of it – we are all trying to create an image of ourselves. On and off social media, the things you do, say, write, read, etc. are all a part of how you are projecting yourself to the world. People often say that they don’t feel known – but maybe they just aren’t showing anyone who they really are. We can define ourselves in a way with a self-portrait. I love a photo where I just look like me – when I am outdoors, probably wearing a backwards hat, and smiling. This is when I feel most like myself. 

Obviously my view of selfies is pretty positive. I think it can be empowering to practice vulnerability by putting yourself out there – opening yourself up to ridicule, judgement, and even comparison. It’s also just really great to feel confident. That “who the hell cares if anyone likes this picture of my face and this thing behind my face because I LIKE IT” attitude - I like it and I want to be reminded of this moment later. I want to share this moment with the people who aren’t here. I want to remember the joy on my face and not just the backdrop.

But, what about the detractors (haters)? Well, I already explained that who the hell cares – but really, who cares what anyone else thinks? Why is anyone that concerned about you or what you do? The truth is they probably really aren’t concerned about you at all (remember the spotlight effect). And if they are – that says a lot more about them than it does about you.

What does science have to say? Well, research shows that looking at pictures of smiling faces makes you smile – and smiling makes you already feel that much happier. While there are also studies that show selfies lead or come from a negative place – I feel like those are all extreme cases. I’m not suggesting that you post a selfie every day or that you get all of your self-worth from the likes it receives – I’m just saying there isn’t anything wrong with it. But, like almost everything in life, balance is the key.

So, in a culture where women are given totally unrealistic standards of beauty – be comfortable with yourself. If that means take a selfie – do it. If it doesn’t – don’t. Really, who cares. No shaming necessary.

Camera Timer Basics

If you want a picture of something more than your face, use the camera timer! I like selfies but I also think photos with a person as the subject just look better and are more dynamic -  so I do this all the time (obviously and shamelessly) Here are a few tips:

Basics: Set the timer on your phone camera to 10 seconds and find something to prop your phone up against. It could be a wall, a fence, your water bottle – I’ve found some crazy stuff that works.

If you can, use the front camera – you won’t be able to see yourself but the quality of the photo is much better.

Set your phone up as high as you can. Sometimes a pic from the ground can look cool but generally closer to eye level makes a better photo.

If you have an Apple Watch - set your phone somewhere farther away and use the watch to cue the photo

Camera timers are the secret to the cartwheel/active shots – the timer takes a burst of photos so you have a few to choose from.

Take a bunch! Haha but seriously – take one, look at it, and then make adjustments as necessary.

And then post them all over the internet. (duh)

Thanks for reading :)

Solo Travel - Part 2 - Safety

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” 
― Marie Curie

A few years ago I was driving through the middle of nowhere Midwest and decided to stop at a tiny town off the interstate for some dinner (Big Macs duh). I went in to order and when I came back, to my surprise, my car wouldn't start. I was far away from anywhere or anyone I knew and, well, started to panic. I opened the hood of the car thinking that maybe the act of it would bring me some sort of knowledge that I previously did not have - but of course this just compounded my anxiety. 

A man called out behind me from what can only be described as a monster truck "hey, need help?" I could barely squeak out a yes as he got out of his car and I caught a glimpse of his confederate flag tattoo and offensive bumper stickers. I assessed the situation and decided I probably wasn't going to die on a Sunday afternoon in a McDonald’s parking lot so I let him take a look at my car and, again to my surprise, he ended up being the sweetest man I had come in to contact with for weeks. He was on his way to a family barbecue but took over an hour to call his wife to bring him his tools, drove me to the only store open in town to buy a new battery, put it in my car, and then wouldn't even give me his name or let me buy him a Big Mac for a thank you. 

When my car wouldn’t start I had two options: trust a stranger or live the rest of my life in a McDonald’s parking lot - and while I like Big Macs a lot that just wasn't happening. I had to assess the situation and take the steps to mitigate the danger. 

This wasn’t an isolated incident. I've been saved by complete strangers on several occasions. While all these incidents had happy endings - and I'd like to believe people are generally good - there is still always that nagging feeling  in the back of my mind that I shouldn't be trusting a stranger as a single woman traveling alone. 

Safety is a real concern traveling alone. There is safety (at least in our minds) in number and being alone in a new place can be disorienting. A lot of people you meet are in fact good but that doesn't mean you can blindly trust everyone you meet. We must find a middle ground: a healthy fear that keeps us from real danger but doesn’t stop us from taking some risks and having an adventure.  

Let's look at the facts. 

The nightly news and popular media have conditioned women to believe that they are at risk if they walk alone at night, jog alone in the morning, wear a certain outfit, respond and/or not respond to a man in a certain way, go to a “bad” part of town, engage the wrong person in a conversation, drive at night, pull over on the side of the road etc etc I could go on but you get it.

While terrible things do happen to people in those situations – it is the exception, not the norm.

A woman is much more likely to be a victim of violence (assault or rape) by their partner than any stranger (less than 1/3 of rapes are committed by strangers). Rapes occur outdoors in only 3.6% of cases, alcohol is generally involved, 71% of the time by someone you know, and 66% of the time occurs in a home.

So we are actually more likely to be a victim of violence in our everyday activities than alone on the road.

The reality is that driving is the most dangerous part of travel. The highest incidence (by far) of death or injury to travelers is due to auto accidents. After that, tourists generally encounter crimes of opportunity – theft etc,

But I'm afraid.

Fear is a natural emotion. It makes sense to be afraid of something when you don’t know what to expect/haven’t experienced it before. But you can’t let the fear stop you. Real courage is acknowledging fear and continuing. Easier said than done though right?

Here are some things that can help to face fears:

·         Gradual exposure – Identify your fears and then gradually expose yourself to them. If the idea of going on a week long off the grid hike is scary – start with a solo hike on a busy trail for a couple of hours. Work your way up to the thing you are afraid of. Practice is key – the more you expose yourself to the source of your fear the less of a hold it will have on you.

·         Acknowledge and accept – There’s always a point at the beginning of a trip where my mind is working overtime with fear. Did I remember to turn off the oven, did I pack my phone charger, what if the Airbnb is sketchy, what if what if what if. I have learned to acknowledge my fears and then accept that I can’t do anything more. I feel the fear and let it pass. This is a practice of mindfulness. Imagine you are watching cars drive by on a street. You acknowledge they are there and let them pass. Do this with your fear – acknowledge it and let the thoughts pass.

·         Think positively – A generally positive attitude is key. Assume things will go well. Assume it will all work out. Look to the past and remember the times when your fears were unfounded and assume they will be again.

But what if I am in real danger?

It’s important to cultivate your situational awareness, whether you are alone or in a group - traveling or not. Situational awareness is the awareness we have of our surroundings and the forward-thinking necessary to understand what could happen and how you will respond. Again, I see this as a type of mindfulness – but with an action plan.

As a teacher you have to have a certain degree of situational awareness. I was an interviewer for a teaching program once and a core competency was literally titled “with-it-ness” and was based around the interviewee’s ability to have the elusive eyes in the back of their head teacher skill.

Thankfully there are ways to cultivate your with-it-ness.

-       Look in your peripheral vision. Self-explanatory. Look beyond what it right in front of you if you don’t want to be surprised by what might be there.

-       Scan your surroundings. Look for suspicious people and objects. Also make sure you know where the exits are in an unfamiliar place and any barriers that could help or hinder you if you needed to make a quick exit.

-       Don’t turn your back. My first year teaching I turned to write on the board on the first day of school and immediately a student yelled, “never turn your back, that’s how you get shanked!” While (I think) she was trying to make a joke – the sentiment has always stayed with me. If you are eating alone - face the door, if you are on a bus - put your back to the window etc.

-       Be a hard target. You’ll remember that most crimes against travelers are crimes of opportunity – meaning you look like you’re an easy target. Mitigate this by always having a confident attitude, posture, look like you know where you’re going (even if you don’t), and dress a little more badass than you normally do (but appropriately for wherever you are)

Ultimately – just be aware that you need to be aware. Don’t live your life like someone is constantly out to get you – just take the steps to make sure you aren’t an easy target.

How do I trust myself?

Trust your gut. Gut instincts are the sixth sense that we experience when our brain draws on past experiences and external cues to make a snap decision unconsciously. Neurotransmitters actually fire in the gut which gives you the feeling of dread or butterflies etc that signals the brain to something that is amiss.

Another way to describe a gut instinct is intuition – and women are hardwired for it. Female brains have stronger intuition naturally because of ability to read facial expressions and pick up on subtleties of emotion more accurately than men. While men and women both have this capacity – science says that women really do have a more natural intuition. (why the CIA says women make better spies)

So if you feel a visceral reaction to a situation – it may be your intuition or gut speaking. Don’t worry if you are just being paranoid – you probably aren’t out anything if you are. If something just doesn’t feel right – don’t do it. You are alone anyways so you have no one to impress.

13 Easy Safety Tips

Whew, that was a lot of information. If you feel overwhelmed, here is a breakdown of 13 easy things you can do to feel safer when you are traveling (or just living) alone:

1. Adventure in the light

I always plan my days so that I am back at my hotel/Airbnb by dark or right after. While this means an early return in the winter, it makes me feel safe to know that I am secure after dark. It also gives you time to relax, plan the next day, and get up with the sunrise.

2. Spend extra where necessary

If a hotel or Airbnb looks like it might be sketchy, just assume that it is and go for the more expensive option. In the grand scheme of things the extra money here and there for peace of mind is worth it.

3.  Plan plan plan!

If feels good to know what you’re doing, when, and how. Read more here.

4. Be careful with drinking

Most violence happens when drinking is involved and it also makes you an easier target. So either abstain, have just one drink with your lunch/dinner, or wait to have that wine until you are safely alone at night.

5.  Bring a whistle, doorstop, and pepper spray

I don’t have a doorstop yet but I plan on getting one for my next jaunt this weekend. Put it under the door from the inside to get some extra peace of mind. I’ve been in some airbnbs that don’t lock well and I know this would just add another layer of security. You can even get cheap doorstops with an alarm that will sound if they are triggered. A whistle is just practical to bring attention to yourself if you need it, and pepper spray more than anything just makes me feel more confident.

6. Stay connected  

Let people know where you are! Share your itineraries, get on social media, text people back for goodness sakes so they don’t worry!

7. Be confident  

...and if you aren’t pretend to be. Get your RBF out and walk with a purpose. Fake it till ya make it.

8. Be aware

Our awareness is actually better when alone without distractions, but make sure you are cognizant of your surroundings

9. Assess and make decisions

Sometimes you have to let a guy in a monster truck help you get out of a McDonald’s parking lot. Use your judgement. Assess the situation and make decisions. You can’t avoid everything.

10. Copies of documents

Scan/take pictures of important documents and credit cards in case you get separated from them (but make sure they are uploaded to some sort of cloud/your email). Also – write down some important phone numbers! If you lose your phone/it breaks you probably won’t remember them.

11. Share location

Let someone know when you should be somewhere if you think you will be off grid. I use the share my location feature on my iphone with at least one person when I’m traveling. If you know you won’t have service let them know that too.

12. Prep your car/rental  

Make sure you have your insurance/roadside assistance information and supplies in case of an emergency (snacks, water, blanket etc)

13. Phone charger and extra battery

Your phone might die quicker while traveling due to use, roaming etc so always have a charger or extra battery on hand

Safety is something we can’t help but pay attention to. Just remember, you’re probably just as safe (or even more) traveling as you are living your life each day. It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t let it stop you from living your adventure. The risk is worth the reward. 

 

Check back next week for Part 3 :) 

Solo Travel - Part 1

“The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” — Henry David Thoreau

Imagine your favorite band is coming to your town to play live at your favorite venue. You bought two tickets so you could share this life changing experience with a friend or partner and have been counting down the days to the event. But on the night of the show, to your surprise, your friend or partner doesn't care about the band and are just standing limply next to you scrolling through facebook during your favorite song. Would your experience change? Mine would. I would be annoyed that I bought the ticket in the first place, but more than that I would have a hard time focusing on my own enjoyment with someone who obviously would rather be somewhere else. I would still enjoy the concert but I would definitely leave the experience wishing I had just went by myself. 

While it is important to share experiences with others - it can be just as valuable to experience things all alone. There are a lot of things in life that I want to do and if I waited around for someone who wanted to do them with me (with the same amount of enthusiasm) I might be waiting forever. 

I don't have time to waste so I almost always travel alone - and it's one of the things I get asked about a lot. People are always curious about whether or not I went somewhere to visit family or friends or with some mystery someone else. When I tell them I go alone there are generally three reactions: a long list of questions that begin with why, those who think it sounds amazing but something they "could never do" or those who - like me - understand that solo travel is full of opportunity and joy. 

For those of you who may fit into the first two groups, here is the first in a series about solo travel: who is doing it, why you should, and some tips for enjoyment and safety. 

Who's Flying Solo?

Solo travel is more popular than ever - specifically solo female travel. 

According to a 2015 study, 24% of people traveled alone on their most recent vacation. While accurate statistics are hard to gather for this topic - according to the Travel Industry Association, 32 million single women traveled at least once last year with a third of them traveling three or more times. 

You might assume that the majority of these solo travelers are young single adventurers but the average female solo traveler is actually 47 and just as likely to be single or married.

Over half of women asked in this study said that they were more likely to travel alone than they were five years ago and it's no surprise: 65% of them said that they feel more confident after a trip alone, 63% said that a solo trip made them feel more energized and refreshed, and 59% said they would travel solo again in the next year.

Social media, also unsurprisingly, has played a role. The same study found that social media has empowered women to find unique places to go and are inspired by the other solo travelers that they see. (obviously I can attest to this as well)

Why not?

So while there seems to be a huge increase in solo travelers in recent years, there are still so many people who think they could never do it.

I think one of the reasons more people don't go on their own has to do with the natural human tendency to care about others perception of you. There is a stigma attached to doing things alone. Sometimes this manifests as the so-called "spotlight effect" - the belief that you are being noticed by others around you more than you actually are. The spotlight effect is what keeps people from doing things like eating at a restaurant, going to a museum, or a attending a concert alone - they have an (egocentric) belief that they are being noticed by others as the "loser who has no one to go with them" so they change their actions and don't do things alone. 

Another reason people wait around for others to do things is that they just don't think it will be as fun alone. I get that. You want to share your experiences - we all do. But what if nobody wants to do the thing you want to do? What if they can't take the time off? What if they actually hate the thing you end up doing and then mess up the experience for you both? 

But you shouldn't worry about enjoying a solo experience less. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people consistently underestimate how much enjoyment they will have doing things alone. The researchers asked participants to rate how much enjoyment they thought they would have doing something alone and then how much they actually had. The study found no statistically significant difference between those who did things with friends and those who did them alone. Surprised?

So, are you going to wait around for someone who loves your favorite band just as much as you do before you see them play? No way. Then why wait to travel. There is no perfect time  - just go. Solo travel - even just a day trip - promotes more enjoyment, productivity, reflection, and independence. Being alone gives you a chance to do exactly what you want, recharge, and make no apologies for it. So what are you waiting for?

 

Check back next week for Solo Travel - Part 2 Tips and Safety. 

Best of 2016

"In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As 2016 comes to a close I have spent a lot of time reflecting. Reflecting is something that is so important but often gets pushed aside in a busy life. John Dewey famously said that "We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience" and I couldn't agree more. It's important to look at our year and identify what worked, what didn't, and what we can learn to move forward.

I'm so grateful for the year I have had and the people I have shared it with. I love reading all the years in review around this time on social media so, with that in mind, here are some of the highlights of 2016 for me:

Reading Challenge

I set a goal to read 52 books this year - and I hit the goal! I'm super proud of myself and plan to set a similar goal for next year. Reading is such an easy way to learn new things, open your mind to other perspectives, and to sometimes just be entertained. Here are my top picks:

Non-Fiction: Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari

Fiction: Tenth of December by George Saunders

Personal Growth: You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero

A photo posted by Emily Hart (@emhart11) on

National Parks

I visited 11 National Parks this year! I loved every visit but I definitely had some favorites:

Overall: Grand Tetons

Classic: Yellowstone

Best Hiking: Zion

Interesting Abodes

I stayed in a lot of interesting places this year. I really enjoy spending a relaxing night in an architecturally interesting place - drinking wine, reading books, and just being. Here are some of the most memorable:

Most unique: Arcosanti

Best vibe: Taos Vintage Trailer

Best View: Torrey, Utah

Dresses

If you follow me on social media - or have read this post - you know I made up a holiday and wear whimsical outfits (mostly dresses) every Tuesday. It's been an important and fun part of my life that really brings me joy. Here are some of my favorites:

Overall: Dinosaurs!

Classic: Space!

Best Print: Mountains! 

A photo posted by Emily Hart (@emhart11) on

Trips

I went on a lot of trips this year - mostly road trips (and put over 30,000 miles on my car!) Looking back - while I always enjoy a road trip - there are a couple that really stand out:

Best trip (by far): Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana loop

Runner Up: Aspen

Most Surprising (in a good way!): South Dakota

So there ya have it - some of the best parts of 2016. This year had so many ups and downs. There have been countless times when I literally thought I was living in the twilight zone - what more could go wrong - but looking back at all these memories puts the down times into perspective.

I love scrolling through my instagram feed when I need a pick me up or looking back at blog posts when I need inspiration. Sure social media is a curated collection of your greatest moments but, shouldn't it be? Shouldn't we be emotionally intelligent enough to know that a person's life exists between filtered frames? I think so. So I will keep sharing the moments I love in 2017 - the things I want to look back on and that give me joy. I hope you will do the same! 

Happy New Year! :)

Friday Five - 12.30.16

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 
― Søren Kierkegaard

Resolutions < Goals

Did you know that of the 60% of people who make New Years resolutions, only around 8% keep them? That 25% of people will break them in just the first week and 80% will abandon them by February?? I feel like these or similar statistics are thrown around a lot this time of year but many people aren't deterred. We think we will be part of that 8% and set lofty resolutions each year. 

This year, like the last few years, I am not setting resolutions - I am setting goals. What's the difference? Well, goals are a plan to achieve something specific - resolutions are more of a permanent life change. Goal - I want to do yoga 5 times per week. Resolution - I want to lose weight. See the distinction? 

Resolutions are also often framed in the negative - something you want to change, lose, do better etc. Goals are just another awesome achievement you can add to your already cool life. 

How do you set a good, attainable goal? I have some acronyms for you, of course. Set a SMART BHAG. Whaaa?

A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Instead of "I want to lose weight" frame it as "I want to fit into my old jeans by June by attending yoga 5x per week and cooking at home 3x per week." Something like that. 

A BHAG is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It's something created by Jim Collins more for business goals but we used the term in the teaching program I was in and it's always stuck with me. A BHAG is something long-term and kind of crazy. Don't be afraid to think big!

Read more about goals here, here, and here

Importance of Reflection

Before you set some goals for 2017 I'm sure you will spend some time reflecting on 2016. The goals you made, what worked, what didn't, and what you want to change in the new year. Reflection is so important - not just at the new year - but every day! 

Reflection is the deliberate structured thinking that you do about your choices. It is an intentional attempt to synthesize what you've learned from an experience. A Harvard Business School study found that reflecting on a learning experience leads to better problem solving due to a greater perceived ability to achieve your goals. This perceived ability builds confidence (self-efficacy) and makes you better able to learn from mistakes, produce ideas, celebrate success, and help others. 

Reflection is the best way to change your perspective on a situation and ultimately be happier with your experiences. An easy way to reflect is with daily check ins like these from Joris Toonders. 

Daily Check In: 

Ask yourself these two question in the morning:

1. What are my goals today?

2. What are my challenges today?

Then ask yourself these in the evening to reflect:

1. Have I reached my goals for today?

2. What have I learned today?

So simple! Try it!

Read more here and here.

Choosing a Word

Albert Einstein said "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." So along with setting goals each year, I try to simplify by setting an overall theme for each year in the form of just one word. I've always known people who choose a word for their year and honestly thought it was pretty hokey until I tried it a couple years ago. 

Choosing a word is a great way to keep yourself focused on what matters. In teaching we backwards plan or "start with the end in mind" meaning if you don't have a destination or idea of what you want to achieve it's easy to get off track. A word works this way. While a goal is specific and a resolution is more open ended, a word is just a guidepost. It's also simple enough to not be overwhelming. 

So how do you pick a word? Well, I generally have an idea of the word that resonates with me or keeps popping up over and over but it's good to make a list. After you have your list, read the definition of each word, the roots, and the synonyms - you might find something even better. Then post your word up where you will see it every day, share it (if you want), and - consciously or subconsciously - let it guide you. 

Read more here, here and here.

Good Things

I think it's safe to say that many people are happy to see 2016 come to a close. This year has been a doozy for a lot of reasons and you only need to glance at a few memes (or this) to see why. But a lovely result of the "2016 is the worst" mindset are all the good things that have been showing up on social media. Friends have been posting the good things that happened to them, sharing lists of great discoveries, and heartwarming stories of goodness. 

While I don't think it's healthy to ignore all negativity and live in a dream world of Pollyanna positivity - focusing on the negative isn't going to help anything either! Studies have shown that we remember negative experiences more clearly than positive because negative emotions involve more thinking and processing time. Basically, we ruminate on the negative and then it becomes bigger in our minds. 

Researchers have also found that setbacks are twice as strong as positive progress in our memory and that a ratio of 5 to 1 good to bad things is what's needed to stay positive. Whoa. So play the glad game and look at all the pictures of baby animals, kids getting adopted, and families being reunited. Read all about the amazing discoveries made this year, the people who helped their communities, and others who achieved their goals. You need it! 

Good things here, here, and here. (and literally everywhere else - if you look for them)

Snow Erupting from Old Faithful?!

You may have seen on the news this week that snow seems to be erupting from Old Faithful - the famous geyser that erupts with boiling water every 74ish minutes at Yellowstone National Park. Well, there is snow in the air but it's not what is erupting. Hot water actually freezes faster than cold water and it's so cold (0 degrees Fahrenheit) that the water almost immediately freezes when it hits the air. So cool.

Watch a video here. Read more here and here.  

 

Happy Friday :) 

Friday Five - 12.23.16

"Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but 'steal' some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.” ― Albert Camus, Notebooks 1951-1959

Lone Geniuses

I just got back from a short trip to Arizona and, like almost every trip I take, I went alone. I do most things alone - I prefer it. So many people ask me how and why I travel alone, tell me that it is brave/adventurous, or ask what I am running away from. I just like being alone. That's the secret that's not a secret at all. 

Due to my proclivity for alone time, I'm always interested in studies about solitude. I recently read about a study in the British Journal of Psychology that found that while social interactions increase happiness generally, they have the opposite affect on people with higher intelligence. Not that I fancy myself a genius or anything but the logic makes sense to me. Intelligent people are driven to a specific purpose - or have a lot of interests and hobbies that can make social interactions more difficult. Whether they are more intelligent naturally or as a result of their curiosity and drive doesn't really matter. 

More than "genius" or "high IQ" I think that (and have lots and lots of evidence that) creative people are more likely to thrive in solitude. Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, and Howard Hughes are just a few of the many noted creative people throughout history who preferred to be alone. I know that I need a ton of alone time - not neccesarilly to recharge in the introvert sense - but to cultivate creativity. I mean, I can't research and write this blog about creativity and solitude if I wasn't, in fact, alone. :) 

So, as Nikola Tesla famously said, "Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born." It's nothing to be afraid of.  

Read more here, here, and here.

Biosphere 2 

On my trip to Arizona I stopped at Biosphere 2 in Oracle. Biosphere 2 is the famous closed ecological system where "biospherians" spent two missions living and working to simulate a space like environment. The longer of the two missions lasted two years, and while it had it's share of problems (a whole other posts worth) it was considered to be a success by many in the scientific community. 

The space and the science are super impressive but what I was interested in this week was the confined environment and isolation the biospherians experienced. Being stuck in a space (even one over 3 acres like Biosphere 2) for any amount of time with 7 other people is sort of my worst nightmare. Imagine only interacting with those people day in and day out - working, eating, socializing - everything. 

Now imagine the stress you'd already be feeling from harvesting and making your own food (one of the biospherians famously said that it took 4 months to make a pizza), conducting science experiments all day, and being the only engineers and maintenance of the amazingly large structure. Then add losing weight due to the low calorie diet, losing oxygen due to the closed system (oxygen got so low that it was equivalent to being over 13,000 ft above sea level), and then the effects of prolonged isolation such as depression, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, and boredom. Whoa. 

Confined Environment Psychology is super interesting and studies these sorts of environments - mostly long term Antarctic research stations (or, appropriately, ICE - Isolated Confined Environments) and uses the results for a model for life in space (just like Biosphere 2 and other Mars simulations aim to do). 

Read more about Biosphere 2 here and here. Read about confined environment psychology here and here. 

Or watch this TedTalk by one of the Biospherians: 

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 Productivity Cliff

I wrote a bit last week about American's tendency to overwork and not take all their vacation time. I couldn't understand why people would willingly do this so I did more digging. My theory has always been that more than 50 hours of work a week makes me less effective and efficient. While the average teacher spends 59 hours per week working, I've always been proud of my work life balance and ability to leave the unfinished work unfinished (to save my sanity). It turns out my theory is on the mark for most people.

According to a Stanford study there is a "productivity cliff" after 50 hours of work per week. The relationship between hours worked and productivity is linear (math woo!) up until 49 hours but then falls after 50. Productivity dramatically falls after 55 hours per week (the cliff) so much that someone who works 70 hours a week produces no more than someone working 55. Whoa. 

Long hours have long been shown to increase absenteeism, turnover, sleep disturbances (which leads to even less productivity), increase chances of stroke, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes (in low-income jobs), and increase depression. So why do we do it? American's value work and "busyness" - but that is another topic entirely. Read on. :)  

Or first read more about the productivity cliff here, here, and here

Creating Margin

There was a piece in the Washington Post this week about how busyness has become a status symbol. According to a Harvard study, it's become the new conspicuous consumption - more people are able to have luxury items now so those items are losing their ability to signal importance or worth. Being busy all the time is a way to show your worth through perceived scarcity - (ie. I am very important and in demand). 

But if you read about the productivity cliff, the importance of taking your vacation time, or just have a pulse, you know that this isn't healthy or sustainable. You must create margin in your life. 

Margin is the "space between load and limits" or "between breathing and suffocating". It's the extra time intentionally planned into your day for the things that might come up or for the rest that you will need. And while you may not be signaling your importance, being intentional about creating margin opens up your life to more balance, creativity, and happiness. 

Read more here, here, and here. 

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Why I Use a Physical Planner (and you should too)

One more Friday of 2016 and you know what that means - new planner! I read this article on The Onion a couple weeks ago and am ashamed to say that many years I fall into the first few weeks then sporadic planner user group. But not this year. I actually started a new, undated planner a month ago (couldn't wait) and have tried to be very intentional about using it.

Successful people plan. They know where their time is being spent and where it is being wasted. If you are not intentional about time it can (and will) get away from you. If you want to create margin in your life, you have to be intentional. You have the power to design your own life - but you have to be conscious and plan it. 

So while I know all the important reasons to plan my days - there are also many reasons why I use a physical planner rather than one that is tech based. Here are some of them:

- Writing things down is linked to learning - you learn more when you write it as opposed to just seeing/hearing.

- Notes that are handwritten are remembered at a higher rate than those on a laptop.

- Physical writing helps you to focus - no notifications or other tech distractions

- Writing helps the brain stay sharp!

- Writing things down helps to mentally unload. You can think more clearly, receive ideas, and focus better once the mental clutter is on the page

- Writing down goals helps to achieve them. Self-authoring brings clarity, focus and direction.

(*Write your goals in your planner! You'll reap the benefits of writing them and of being reminded of them!) 

Read more here and here

Happy Friday :) *and Holidays!

Friday Five - 12.16.16

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” 
― Maya Angelou, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now

"Ugly" Christmas Sweater Day

Today is apparently "Ugly Christmas Sweater Day" according to the made up holidays of the internet. While I have dressed up for my fair share of these days/parties - I have a problem with the ugly part. Why can't it just be Christmas Sweater Day? Festive Christmas Sweater Day? I've read a little about the classism associated with the trend and as much as I love dressing up I'm just not into the ugly part. 

Just like another made up holiday - #jessdaytuesday - to me the success of this trend is due to the novelty not the ugly. It's fun to dress up! If I could wear a costumey festive outfit for every random made-up holiday I totally would. 

This article sums it up well. A few tidbits:

 "The "ugly sweater" trend lets us have it both ways. We can indulge in the whimsy of a fun holiday sweater, while emphasizing that of course we are not the kind of people who would genuinely purchase and enjoy such a thing. Those people wear holiday sweaters to church or to Wal-Mart because they don't know any better; we wear them to ugly sweater parties serving hand-crafted cocktails because we do.

So if you want to wear a tacky, fun, joy-inducing sweater (and you should!), just wear it. You don't need a theme party with kitschy decor and ugliest sweater prizes. You don't need the protective irony of the adjective "ugly" at all. Christmas sweaters are fun. They're warm. They're comfortable. They make people smile. The rest of us should be thanking their stalwart fans for keeping the tradition alive, not giggling at them behind their backs."

Read more here and here

Holiday "vacation"

In a few short hours I will be at the airport headed for a (slightly - dang you polar vortex) warmer location to begin my two week break from work. This time of year I can't help but realize how lucky I am to have a generous break. Did you know that in the US, companies are not obligated to offer paid vacation? In fact, the US is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn't guarantee leave. There are over 24 countries that actually require employers to offer 4+ weeks of paid vacation with some as high as 6 weeks. 

While companies aren't legally obligated to do so, many still offer 2-3 weeks throughout the year. But the bizzaro part is that only 57% of workers actually use all of their days. I read that this is in part because Americans find more happiness from their work while Europeans find that from leisure (but I don't believe it) And while as a teacher I get a ton of "vacation" let's be clear - it is not paid. Teachers have limited sicks days and are paid for their work days (generally only around 180/year)  - one of the reasons salaries are so low - despite working an average of 53 hours per week during the year. 

So - off soapbox and back to my point - if you get vacation days, paid/unpaid whatever - take them! Time off leads to "higher productivity, stronger workplace morale, greater employee retention, and significant health benefits" It makes you a better employee, a better boss, and really just a better person in general. And it's fun. 

Read more here and here

Flight Anxiety

If you made it through my rambling above you know this evening I'm flying off for a few days of solo adventure. It's a short flight but as I've gotten older I've developed some pretty gnarly flight anxiety. I read that one in three people are in the same boat so here are some of the things I've found that help me:

- Podcasts! I won't listen to my favorite podcasts for the week or two leading up to a flight so I have a lot of new ones to download before boarding. It's a great distraction.

- Close the window. I generally like the window closed (or a night flight) so I don't have to see where I am. Trick your brain into thinking you are on a train instead and the normal bumps seem totally different and more manageable.

- Trust the industry. Easier said than done but reminding myself how safe air travel is actually does help. 

- Box breathing. This is  a type of breathing that helps any type of anxiety. Basically you exhale all your air for four counts, breath in for four counts, hold for four counts, out for four counts,  repeat repeat repeat. Simple but effective. There is even an app!

- Just accept it. I've heard anxiety described as like a lid on a boiling pot. If you try to keep the lid on you're going to create an explosion. When you try to fight your anxieties you're only making them worse in the long run. Recognize how you are feeling, acknowledge the tools you have (or don't) to change the feeling, and then just accept it. Because really what other choice do you have?

- Watch this video. It goes through the takeoff/landing/normal sounds etc and is actually helpful :) 

Read more here, here, and here

Reading Challenge

I'm in the final stretch of my 2016 reading challenge. I challenged myself to read 52 books and I'm currently finishing up the 52nd! I wanted to know how much of a weirdo I actually was so I looked at some US reading statistics.

According to a Pew report in 2015, 72% of adults have read a book in the past year. The part that gets me about this number is that it's a book "in whole or part" - umm a part of a book could be 10 pages - does not count in my challenge. 

Anyways, some other interesting stats are: those aged 18-29 (the dreaded entitled millennials who are killing everything) are actually more likely to have read a book in the past year than any other group. The average number of books read was 12 but the median was only 4 - outliers like me screw up all the data. Women are much more likely to read than men (average of 14 books per year with men at only 9) as are those with higher education and incomes. 

Another interesting thing I found was statistics on the reading habits of successful people. Studies have found that successful people generally read at least two books a week, and that they're almost always nonfiction and personal development related books. One of the daily habits highest correlated with success is reading for self-improvement every day. 

For example, Bill Gates reads at least 50 books a year, Marc Cuban reads for over three hours a day, and Warren Buffet spends an estimated 80% of his day reading. "In fact, when Warren Buffett was once asked about the key to success, he pointed to a stack of nearby books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

So, even if you don't have the free time or desire to read like I do - set a goal! Set up a goodreads page, track your progress and learn some new things in 2017!

Read more about reading here, here, and here

Angel Tree

Christmas is only 9 days away! But luckily there's still time to help make a child's Christmas a little more joyful. I've participated in the Angel Tree program through the Salvation Army the past several years and it is always rewarding (and easy!). I usually pick a local child off a tree at Starbucks - it gives their age, gender, and three things they want for Christmas. You shop for them, wrap the gifts, and then drop them off. So fun! 

Last night I shopped for the 8 year old girl I chose. She wanted a dollhouse and Barbies so I got her the coolest Barbie Dreamhouse, some Barbies, and Barbie outfits. Did you know they make Barbie career outfits now?? I got her teacher and painter outfits haha I just hope she likes literally everything I like. I also ran into a family spending their evening shopping for Angel Tree kids all together - super heartwarming.

My gifts aren't due back until the 23rd so if you're interested check a Starbucks! You can see what the child asks for before you choose them if you don't want to get stuck buying something you can't afford. It would also be so easy to do as a group so you can pool the money and get extra awesome gifts.

The Angel Tree programs are region specific but learn more about my region here

Happy Friday :)