Has it really been a month already? I had such big plans for this blog. I even made a schedule of when I would post and I have failed miserably. Perhaps this will be one of my goals in a future month. For now, however my focus is shifting toward strengthening relationships in my life.

Last month I chose to focus on my physical health because I figured it would be an easy place to start as I already have a strong exercise routine and would really only need to make some small alterations. It ended up being slightly more difficult than expected, however. First, my boyfriend and I broke up at the beginning of the month, which meant I was going out more often and made my goal of drinking less alcohol suffer. In addition, I took on weight training with a personal trainer as part of my effort to mix up my workouts. Unfortunately, this led to a strained knee two weeks ago that I am still suffering from. I have continued to workout albeit without the squats and lunges that would have really helped to give me some shapely legs. I’m not willing to make this injury worse though as I am sure I would be much more miserable if I were to have to give up running and other forms of exercise for my vanity.

While things weren’t as successful as I’d hoped, I did learn quite a bit this past month by tracking my eating habits, trying new workouts, and creating some healthier eating habits. I will, of course, continue to work on this area, but with the changing of the month comes a change in focus.

One thing that really came into perspective last month was how few close ties I have here in Oregon despite having lived here for more than a year now. This was, of course, brought on by having broken up with my boyfriend which left me without standing weekend plans. But it wasn’t just that. It was also a trip home that really made me realize how much I miss having true friends in my life. Going home is always just so easy. My friends and I seem to pick up right where we left off and I always feel so free to speak my mind when I’m with them. There isn’t any judgment from them, which is something that is hard to find these days. I really struggle here in Oregon to open up to people because I tend to be very politically incorrect. People these days just don’t like to hear someone with an unpopular opinion and they definitely don’t like people who disagree with them. And so, I feel like I spend a lot of my time just biting my tongue or, even worse, not going out at all. I have become a bit of a hermit here in Oregon and it’s really depressing – as if the rain weren’t bad enough, right?

With these things in mind, I feel like it’s time to focus on creating a community for myself here. I have spoken to some colleagues about starting a book club and a writing group, and I have been participating in a guitar collective of sorts for awhile now. I want to make these a regular part of my life in the hopes that I will feel more connected to people here and, hopefully, will open up a little bit.

Goals for Month 2 – May – Creating a Community

*Family Relationships
– Mend fences
– Set aside time each week to talk to family
– Forgive; take responsibility for my role in bad relationships

– Make time for friends (join/start a group, go to happy hour, make weekend plans)
– Set aside time to talk to faraway friends
– Learn to remember people’s names when I meet new people
– Ask people questions about themselves (create a list of go-to icebreaker questions)
– Say yes more often


As I’ve been thinking more about how to live a more contented life, I have begun doing a bit of research about what makes people happy. I got a library card and checked out a couple of books like “100 Habits of Happy People” and other similar titles. One book, however, has really changed how I want to approach this project: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I have not finished this book (I’m only on Chapter 6), but already I am impressed with the process that Mrs. Rubin describes in her book and am very excited to develop my own Happiness Project in a more organized way. With that in mind, I have broken my goals down into categories and will work on one aspect of my life at a time, rather than approaching a variety of goals at once and adding new ones all willy nilly as I have been doing. One of the nice things about this, too, is that focusing on one area of my life will inevitably improve other areas. For example, my choice to make coffee at home not only helps me to cut out some major calories (health and fitness), but it also helps me to save money (financial).

When I took an inventory of my happiness, the number one thing I felt was affecting my mood and general discontent was my physical health. I have gained 15 pounds since returning to the United States and have picked up some bad habits like drinking less water, eating out too often, and going to bed too late. Because this is having such an effect on other areas of my life, I thought it would be best to focus on this area first. So, now I’m putting it in writing. Below are my goals for this month. I plan to talk about each one in more detail as the month goes on, but wanted to get this out there so I’m committed to it. If you have any suggestions or help to offer, please do! I’d love to hear about you own health and fitness goals and what you’ve done to achieve them!

Month 1 – April – Let’s Get Physical
Eat healthier – eat more vegetables, eat less sugar
Less caffeine and alcohol, more water
Take vitamins
Exercise regularly and MIX IT UP (5X/WK)
Use sunscreen + moisturizer every day
Ride bike to work more often (3X/WK)
Get more sleep – Early to bed, early to rise
Stretch morning and night (esp. hamstrings!)

For years I have been making new year’s resolutions that have helped me to tackle the big goals I’ve had for my life – running a marathon, taking a trip around the world, and going to grad school to list a few. But this year when resolution time rolled around, I was feeling a bit lost because, with the exception of hiking the PCT, I’ve accomplished all of the big things I’d ever wanted to do. In fact, this whole past year I’ve felt a little like a ship without a rudder. It’s like I’ve finally arrived and now I keep asking myself, “Now what? Is this really it? Is this my life now?” While I should be content, I actually feel a bit of a panic deep down that I have missed something or that I’ve got to find something new to work toward because I don’t know who I am without mountains to climb and challenges to overcome.

So when it really came down to it to make a goal for this year, I decided on something small that actually is really huge for me: being content with where and who I am. It started with a few small goals – write more, learn to play guitar, study a new language, ride my bike to work, pay off debt – that I knew would make me feel happier every day, but it has now grown into a huge project. I’ve been tracking these early goals with a spreadsheet that I made and have been checking off my progress each day. One of my goals though, writing more often, has been really lacking, however, and so I am hoping to blog regularly about this goal. Hopefully, sharing my struggle to become more content with the everydayness of life will lead to some interesting discussions, as well as suggestions and tips from you to help me along the way.

Have any of you been working on similar goals? What are some of the things you do that make you feel happy?

The interwebs have been all abuzz over the Always ad “Like a Girl” that became a hit during the Super Bowl. The message has obviously resonated with many of us, myself included. After watching the full length version of the advertisement, I really got to thinking about all of my “like a girl” moments and how that phrase being used in a negative way has affected me over the years.

I mean, I think of myself as a pretty independent, strong woman, but if I’m being honest, even I cut myself down for being a girl in many areas of my life, especially in the sports arena.

One example is as a runner. I have been running for almost ten years now and am proud of how far I have come from the 25-year-old who couldn’t even run half a mile. But get me out running with my boyfriend and I suddenly become an apologist. “I’m sorry, I know I’m slow. It’s not my fault. I’m a girl. I’ll always be slower than you.” What? For years, my inner monologue has been all about how it doesn’t matter that I’m slower than other runners as long as I am getting out there and doing better each time I run, whether by running farther or running faster. Yet, here I am, 10 years in, and every time I run with my boyfriend I end up begging him to just run ahead of me because I hate the feeling that I am slowing him down. He just wants to run with me. He wants to spend time together. He doesn’t care how fast we go. But I just can’t let it go.

Another example comes from climbing. A few years back, before I started a year abroad, I began training pretty intensely as a climber. When people would ask me why I was training so hard, I would tell them it was because I was going to be traveling alone but wanted to climb, so I needed to be able to show the male climbers out there (because they are the majority) that I could keep up with them. I didn’t want anybody refusing to climb with me because they thought I was weak. Upping my climbing ability definitely helped in this area, but this fear of being seen as “a girl” made me do some climbs that really scared me. The worst part about this is that had something gone wrong, I could have been seriously hurt. Climbing is no joke. This was really brought home to me after an experience I had in Australia.

I was climbing in Arapiles with some newfound friends. Like I said, I was traveling alone, so I was always having to make friends if I wanted to climb. I was a pretty strong climber at this time, but I had never tried trad climbing before. On my third day there, one climber really wanted to try a multi-pitch route that interested me. He didn’t have a partner, so I agreed to follow him up. Everything was going OK, until we reached the first belay station, when the wind suddenly picked up and the temperature started to drop. As I was belaying him up the second pitch, I started shivering relentlessly and my hands were turning bright pink. No problem, I’ll warm up as I climb, I thought. But as I was climbing, each time I needed to remove a nut from the wall, I’d accidently jam my hands against the wall because I couldn’t feel anything. By the time I reached the belay station, I had a couple of bloody spots and a ton of scrapes. But whatever, I’m a “real” climber, it comes with the territory.

To this point, I was determined to continue. But then, as my partner headed up the third pitch, it began to rain. It was just a sprinkle at first, so he continued up, hoping it wouldn’t get worse. It got worse. By the time it was my turn to climb, it was raining hard and the wind was whipping against my face. I was shivering uncontrollably, and I was beginning to panic. As my partner started to pull the rope up so I could climb, I began to cry. “Cry now, so he won’t see you being such a girl,” I told myself. And then I sucked it up and I climbed. Again, I fumbled with the gear all the way up. I also began to strain my muscles because I was gripping everything so tightly for fear of slipping on the now wet rock. As I ascended, the panic in me continued to rise. All I wanted was to get off of that wall, but now we were 450 feet up with no repel station in sight. When I arrived at the belay station, my partner asked if I felt OK to continue despite the weather. “I really want to be brave and say yes. I don’t want you to regret having come up here with a girl, but I really don’t want to continue. I’m freaking out and I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep going. I’ll do it if you really want to, but I’ll warn you that you may have a panicked, crying girl on your hands by the end.” (Little did he know that he already had a panicked, crying girl on his hands). So we hooked in some cams, tied our ropes together, and repelled while praying we’d have enough rope to get to the first belay station, where there was a bolted anchor.

When we made it down safely, I apologized for making it so he couldn’t finish his climb. I’d known he’d really wanted to do this climb and he would be bummed not to have finished it. Surprisingly, he told me he was glad that I’d said we should come down. He had been afraid to continue also, but he hadn’t wanted to admit it. Later, when I told some other climbing friends about the incident and told them how embarrassed I’d been about panicking and wanting to go back, they also surprised me with their response. “Climbing is an inherently dangerous sport. If you feel something isn’t safe, you should always say so. Nobody would say you’re afraid because you’re a girl – and if they do, you shouldn’t be climbing with them anyway. When someone literally has your life in their hands, you have every right to say that you think something is unsafe.” This statement is so true, and yet I’d let my fear of being seen “as a girl” almost put me into a potentially dangerous situation.

To put it mildly, I hope the “Like a Girl” ad and others like it can really change how we treat girls and women and think about how much words can really affect us. Sticks and stones and all that, but words really do hurt too. And they are so much more lasting than broken bones.

China's Papparazzi

China’s Papparazzi

A few weeks ago there was a humorous video going around the interwebs about what it’s like to be an Asian in America. The premise is that Asians get asked all the time where they are from, even if they were born and raised in America. While the original video was meant to be a joke, there were a lot of posts on my Facebook feed about it that were a little more serious. A lot of people talked about how annoying it is to be asked all the time where they or their family are from. Believe me, I know how annoying this is because every foreigner living in China gets the same treatment, along with foreigners in just about every country I’ve ever visited. Granted, in the Asian vs. Whities scenario it is caused by looking different, but even if it is your accent that tips people off that you do not belong, you will be asked about where you are from (even if you have been living in America for 30 years). Ask any Aussie or Brit you meet in the states, they’ll tell you I’m right.

For my Asian friends out there, you may find it funny that it is not just the usual questioning that we foreigners receive in Asia. In China, I have often felt like an animal in the zoo. Chinese people are constantly taking pictures of us foreigners as though we’re some kind of oddity that they cannot wait to show to their friends. The above picture was taken when my friend and I were essentially mobbed by camera-wielding tourists in Beijing whilst we sat on a cafe patio having a coffee. Yes, Beijing, one of the biggest, most developed cities in China, where there is a larger concentration of foreigners than in my hometown of Shenyang. One would think I would not be an oddity there, but that is just not so.

In addition to having my picture taken, people ask to touch my hair and sometimes feel up my arms (because they are hairy and Chinese women’s are not).  And, as illustrated in the video, they will say anything they know about my place of origin once they know where it is I am from. They will also do the thing where they say what their first guesses were about where I’m from (usually Russia or Germany). The most uncomfortable part about the confrontations are that they usually tell me that I am beautiful at some point and then start pointing out all of the specific things they like about my face. As it is not considered polite to say “thank you” for such compliments in China, I am always at a loss for words and feel even more rude for saying nothing. Also, I don’t really enjoy being told that I have a big nose, even if it is meant to be a compliment.

My point is not that your complaints are not valid, but that it happens everywhere. People are curious about other people who look different than them. Yes, it’s annoying. And, yes, I can see how it could come across as racist, especially in a country as obsessed with being politically correct as America is, but obviously the people asking are not in your shoes. They do not realize that you are asked this every single day. They are just curious and most likely think they are actually making you feel more comfortable, not less.

Bags are Packed, originally uploaded by bexadler.
Five months ago, when I made the decision to leave China, it seemed like an eternity before I would be able to leave. Now the snow has cleared, the sun is shining, and the streets are lined with trees and grass, and somehow Shenyang doesn’t seem so bad after all. Of course, come November I’d be back to feeling bluer than blue, which is why I had to make the decision during the dreary gray winter. I knew I’d be lulled into liking this place once the weather changed. And so it is that my time here is finished. The bags are packed, all of my furniture has been cleared out and given to other expats around town, and I’ve said all my goodbyes. I’m sad to be saying goodbye to so many new friends, but I am looking forward to the next big adventure. I still have not found a job and do not know what I am really doing, but I know it will work out in the end. Somehow.
P.S. I will be traveling in Mongolia for the next month, which means I will likely not have Internet access, so I have pre-posted some entries for you all. This means you still have to read about China for a bit longer. Hopefully I will find it in me to finally write about India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines once I get to Switzerland. We could all use a change of scenery, no?
Golden Gate, originally uploaded by bexadler.
I know we’ve had our differences in the past. I spent my teenage years complaining about how boring life was around you; talking about how we had nothing in common; how all I wanted in the world was to get away from you. In the past few years, however, I have really come to appreciate so much about you. Not just because I miss you, but because I have finally been able to see you through other people’s eyes.
When I was traveling through Australia, I would always get to talking to Aussies about how fantastic their country was. I loved all the awesome, “weird” animals they had. I loved the sunshine and the laid back attitude most people seemed to have. More often than not, they would look at me with a puzzled expression on their faces and say, “But you’re from California!”
Apparently we have cool, weird animals too, namely skunks, raccoons, bears, deer, rattle snakes, road runners, even squirrels. Yes, they were impressed by squirrels. AND California has the infamous Yosemite, a rock climber’s paradise and a destination for more than 4 million visitors per year.
As I have traveled around, this has happened again and again, not just in Australia. Being able to see what other people appreciated about my home state helped me to start to appreciate it too. But then, THEN, I stayed away long enough and traveled widely enough that I learned how truly lucky I have been in my life. So, California, here is a short list of all of the things I love (and miss) about you.
I love your diversity. I love that you translate signs into other languages even though the majority of your people speak English. I love that people of all colors sit together on the bus and it is not weird. I love your cyclists and hippies. Even your vegans!
I love your natural wonders. You’ve got deserts, and mountains, and coasts. I love your blue skies, your ocean views, your rivers, your lakes. I love that I can camp, hike, run, cycle, kayak, climb, ski, and even hang glide to my heart’s content. I love that there will always be somebody not only willing, but eager, to do all of those things with me.
I love your produce. I love that we can grow things almost year-round. Tomatoes, avocados, oranges, peaches, almonds, corn, strawberries: all available, fresh-picked, on the side of the road.
I love that I can drink your water from the faucet. I love that I can carry around my Nalgene and refill it at drinking fountains around town for free.
I love that you have mild winters and hot summers. I love that I can get a mimosa at 10 a.m. and that’s not weird. I love your wines. I love your cheese.
I love so many things about you; so many things that I did not know I would miss and grow nostalgic for. I am so grateful to be from such a wonderfully diverse state, both in terms of people and in terms of landscapes. I wouldn’t be happy to have come from anywhere else.
I miss you so much and look forward to being home again one day. Until then, I will be satisfied with looking through old photos and listening to Joni Mitchell’s “California” when I’m feeling homesick for you.

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