Posted in Lifestyle

The Gifts Yoga Has Given Me

lotus flower

In the past few years, I have become a pretty serious yogini, although I have taken breaks from my practice I have learned so much about myself through the process. Here are just a few of the lessons I have learned:

How you are in your practice is how you are in your life. Yoga has given me a new understanding of how I respond to challenges and obstacles. In practice when I come to a new pose or balance that I find challenging my first response is criticism, and then I criticize myself for being critical, and THEN I reach openness. After much practice, I am now less critical of myself when I come to a challenge that I can’t conquer right away. In my life, I have also learned to be less critical and to approach challenges in a new way. Instead of assuming that I will fail, I step back and appreciate my strengths and my ability to achieve my goals.

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Your mind is like a file cabinet. This is a metaphor I used a lot when I was working as a middle school counselor. I would ask students to think of their mind as a file cabinet with a trash can right next to it on the floor. Then I would ask them for some examples of files they would keep and files they would get rid of. Fear, anxiety, negativity, and resentment are examples of files that can stick in our minds if we give them a place there. Or we can choose to throw them in the trash and declutter the file cabinet in our minds. Hope, joy, ease and peace are files we can focus on and keep forever, they never clutter up our minds but help us to stay organized and clear headed. When a file starts to clutter up your mind imagine throwing it away in the trash can and make room for the files that will increase joy and ease. This is easier said than done and takes practice, but it has been a great visual for me!

file cabinet

Embrace the process. Anyone who has practiced yoga with any regularity will know the joy and bliss of reaching savasana. This is the pose at the end of your practice where you lay on your back and close your eyes. But the only way that you can really appreciate the bliss of this pose is if you have challenged yourself throughout your practice. It is so satisfying to lay in savasana knowing that you just conquered a new pose or stretched a little further than last time. I have learned this valuable lesson and have begun to apply it to my everyday life. Although the process is not alway easy or even enjoyable, the end result of hard work and dedication makes it worthwhile.

Discomfort and pain are two very different things. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to slow down or stop because whatever you’re doing could be hurting you. Discomfort is something that I have learned to recognize and I ask myself in that moment what is causing the discomfort. There is a good chance, especially in yoga, that discomfort is coming from a pose that I am trying for the first time, from feeling tired or frustrated. And none of these is a good enough reason to stop. Trying things for the first time is difficult, but I can accept that I might look silly or not get it right. Being tired is a sign that I am working hard and frustration should be a motivator to keep trying.

What gifts has yoga given you?


Images:
lotus flower. digital image. reference.com. 18 Apr 2017. www.reference.com
yin yang yoga. digital image. Smithers Yoga Loft. 18 Apr 2017. smithersyogaloft.com
file cabinet. digital image. Overstock. 18 Apr 2017. overstock.com
Posted in Book Reviews

Tell The Wolves I’m Home

He pushed himself up from the old blue chair he always painted in, wincing as he held on to it for a second, steadying himself. He took a step away and I could see that, other than the green tie at his waist, the only color Finn had was in the little splotches of paint all over his white smock. The colors of me and Greta. I felt like grabbing the paintbrush right out of his hand so I could color him in, paint him back to his old self.

Tell the wolves...

Author: Carol Rifka Brunt          Genre: Fiction          Pages: 355

June Elbus is quiet, extremely shy and thinks that her older sister Greta hates her. The only person who really understands her is her Uncle Finn and he has AIDS. I think the brilliance of Brunt’s writing in this novel is that she keeps you guessing. June has so many questions about her uncle and his relationship with his ‘special friend’ Toby, her questions draw you into the story. Jealousy is a major theme in this book. June’s mother is jealous of her daughter’s ability to grieve for her uncle while she is not able to. Greta and Toby are both jealous of June’s relationship with Finn. June is jealous of her sister who seems to have everything figured out, and of Toby who seems to have a much deeper and closer relationship with her uncle than she does. It’s basically one big web of jealousy and misunderstanding that is unraveled throughout the book.

‘June, nobody knew anything about AIDS. Do you understand? There wasn’t even a word for it when Finn and I met.’ ‘Then why does my whole family think you gave it to him? Why would they say that?’  Toby tipped his head forward and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath before opening them. ‘Because that’s what we decided to tell them.’

In 1987, AIDS was still widely misunderstood. June’s family is unwilling to talk about Finn’s disease or his relationship with Toby, and I think this does June a great disservice. Danni (June’s mother) underestimates her daughter and what she can handle, mentally and emotionally. June is longing for closure after her uncle’s death but it seems that her family simply wants to move on and forget. June spends a great deal of the novel searching for answers and feeling like she has no one to turn to. But once she starts to open up to Toby she realizes that things are not always what they seem.

Don’t you know? That’s the secret. If you always make sure you’re exactly who you want to be, if you always make sure you only know the very best people, then you won’t care if you die tomorrow.

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. Reading it really did feel like untangling a web of secrets and misunderstandings and by the end of the book the loose ends were tied up and the damaged relationships were repaired. I would definitely recommend this book but make sure you have a box of tissues ready!


Images:
  • Tell the wolves i’m home. Digital image. Amazon. 13 Mar 2017. www.amazon.com
Posted in Book Reviews

My Top 5 Movies of 2017


I love watching movies! So I decided to do a post about the top movies I’ve seen so far this year. Not all of these movies actually came out in 2017 so I’m a little late in seeing some of them.
Here they are:

  1. The Edge of 17-Hailee Steinfeld is incredible in this movie! She is so convincing in her role as a 17 year old girl stuggling with all the ups and downs of high school and what a confusing time it can be. This is definitely an emotional film that deals with a lot of tough issues but worth watching for sure no matter your age. Woody Harrelson also does an excellent job as the quirky and grumpy teacher who Steinfeld confides in. The Edge of 17 trailer
  2. Moonlight-This movie won several Oscars, and for good reason. Though it was difficult to watch, it revealed many of the struggles surrounding poverty and drugs, and how easy it can be to get wrapped up the vicious cycle surrounding both. The acting was incredible and the story was heart wrenching. Moonlight trailer
  3. Beauty and the Beast-Seeing this live action version of beauty and the beast with Emma Watson was simply delightful. They stayed true to the original story and had all the original songs, along with a few new ones. Watson was dazzling as Belle and all the other characters did the originals justice as well. If you are a child of the 90’s prepare for the memories to come flooding back to you. Beauty and the Beast trailer
  4. Arrival-Science Fiction is not usually a genre I am drawn to but decided to watch this one based on a few recommendations. Amy Adams did a wonderful job as Professor Louise Banks, who is struggling to interpret and translate the language of alien visitors who have appeared on Earth. Throughout the movie, Banks is confronted with her past and future and is forced to consider whether if given the chance she would do things differently. Arrival trailer
  5. La La Land– Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are a perfect match in this musical. Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone) are drawn to each other, both struggling to make a living doing what they love. Throughout the movie they are forced to decide which is more important, true love or following your dreams. La La Land trailer

What are your favorite movies from the past year?

Posted in Lifestyle

Happy International Women’s Day!

Just some thoughts on International Women’s Day, better late then never!

One thing I love about Russia: International Women’s Day is a non-labor holiday and has been since 1965. This means that most banks, schools and official buildings are closed. I am ashamed to say that I have not taken much of an interest in this holiday until now, I’m not sure why. I want to say it’s because it wasn’t as widely recognized in the U.S. as it is in Russia but I’m not sure if that’s true. Maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention. However, I’m trying to make up for that now by getting informed and involved.

I pledged to #BeBoldForChange and I hope you will too! This step is not only meant for women, guys should get involved as well! To me this means using this and other platforms to recognize women and the difference they have made in the world. If nothing else, follow the link above and go to the IWD website. It is full of information about women who have changed the world and what this day celebrates. Here are just a few examples of some of the larger than life women I admire and:

I love this video:  #likeagirl. To me it is so sad that growing up I heard ‘you run like a girl’ used as an insult. I may have even used it myself at some point. This video is such a perfect example of how our ideas and perceptions of girls should change. Being fast or excelling at something should should not be a condition of your gender.

Women who work hard and achieve their dreams are to be looked up to and admired, not belittled.

How are you celebrating International Women’s Day?

Posted in Book Reviews

Vanishing Acts

The policeman begins to push him through the doorway. I have a hundred questions: Why are you doing this to him? How could you be so mistaken? But the one that come out, even as my throat is closing tight as a sealed drum, surprises me. ‘Who is Bethany Matthews?’ My father does not take his gaze off of me. ‘You were,’ he says.

Author: Jodi Picoult      Genre: Fiction      Length: 418 pages

vanishing-acts

As usual, Jodi Picoult does not disappoint in this page turner. I could not put it down! Picoult follows her usual style of writing from multiple viewpoints giving each character a unique and compelling voice. I am drawn to Picoult’s writing because she always gives her readers so much to ponder. She has a way of presenting moral issues that makes the reader wonder how they would handle the situation.

Delia Hopkins works in search and rescue with her bloodhound Greta in rural New Hampshire. One afternoon a police officer knocks on her door and tells her that her father is under arrest for kidnapping, and she is the one he kidnapped. Throughout the novel Delia realizes that there are many complicated reasons for why her father took her away, and she is confronted with the realization that there is not always a clear right and wrong choice in life. The book is also written from the perspective of Delia’s father Andrew Hopkins, her fiance Eric Talcott and her best friend Fitzwilliam MacMurray (Fitz). Each of the characters in this story are so real and relatable that the reader can imagine each one as a friend or family member that who is grapple with tough decisions.

Delia’s life is complicated further by the fact that her fiance Eric also becomes her father’s lawyer when he is arrested for kidnapping. Delia, Andrew and Eric travel to Arizona where Delia was born and where her father took her away years ago, this is where Andrew must await trial in prison. Fitz appears in Pheonix as well to support Delia and Eric, but it turns out he has ulterior motives that have nothing to do with his friendship with Delia. These four characters struggle to trust each other and reconcile their new reality with what they thought they knew.

Another thing I love about Picoult’s books is how she waits until the very end, I mean the last few pages, to tie up loose ends. Even then she manages to leave you hanging, wondering what each character could have done differently to bring about an alternate ending. Throughout the whole novel I was wondering how things could possibly work out and how Picoult would fill in the plot holes, but fill them she did and by the end I was satisfied.

Posted in Travel Journal

Italy

Hello friends, I am here to tell you all about my wonderful and exciting trip to Italy! Our time in Italy was definitely not enough. We were only there for a week and I felt like a month would have been more appropriate to do the country justice. Alas, modern lives are busy and we made do with a week. Here is the basic breakdown of our trip:

  • Naples-Saturday
  • Pompeii-Sunday
  • Rome-Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
  • Florence-Thursday, Friday, part of Saturday

Naples

And yes the first picture I’m going to share is of this beautiful and delicious pizza. Because the first thing we did when we landed in Naples was check in to the hotel, but the second thing we did (and what we really wanted to do first) was search for pizza.

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I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t even remember the name of this restaurant. I was just so happy to be eating real pizza (it’s not easy to find in Moscow) that it slipped my mind to make note of it. Luckily, Naples is simply bursting with amazing and charming restaurants. But don’t worry we did things other than just eat on our trip. We spent Saturday evening strolling around this adorable city and went to bed early, because the next day we were planning on starting early…

Pompeii

From Naples we took a bus to Pompeii, the ancient city that was destroyed by an eruption of Mt Vesuvius over 2,000 years ago. Part of what I loved most about this day was our tour guide, Rick Steve’s Audio Guides. Using these guides on our trip allowed us to move along at our own pace and stop and start when we needed to. Rick’s audio tours are entertaining and packed with information! We spent about 4.5 hours wandering around the ancient city and I’m convinced we could have spent at least twice that amount of time. There is just so much to see.

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This is a view of Mt. Vesuvius (I know there is way too much sky but I’m not the photographic genius that my fiance is. Sorry you’re stuck with me!)
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One of the main roads in Pompeii, just picture ancient people dressed in togas and riding in horse drawn carriages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rome

The first day in Rome was Monday, we checked into the hotel and planned out our next few days. Monday afternoon we did a walking tour (Heart of Rome Walking Tour) and stopped for some gelatto (apparently if you don’t pronounce gelatto with a hard T they can’t understand you).

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Obviously the highlights of this tour were the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. But just walking around the city was incredible. We were of course harassed by people trying to sell us selfie sticks and other things we did not want but that didn’t take away from the experience, just added a little touristy goodness.

Tuesday was a big day for sightseeing, we went to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Capitol Hill. The Colosseum was incredible and hearing an explanation of the importance and extravagance of this site made me feel like I was watching the gladiators battle right in front of me. It was the same with the Roman Forum. It’s really hard to believe that these places have survived all this time and now we get to walk around inside of them and get a glimpse of what ancient life in Rome was like. And just think, people actually live in these cities, like right now. Can you imagine waking up in the morning and having the Colosseum be the first thing you see when you look out your window? Pretty spectacular. Once again we used our beloved audio guides for The Colosseum and The Roman Forum. Did I mention that they are completely free? I know, amazing.

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The Colosseum
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The Arch of Constantine

Wednesday we went to the Vatican City and toured the museums in the morning. There were so many incredible things to see; the tapestries, the paintings and sculptures and of course the Sistine Chapel. Guys I hate to say it but it was smaller than I thought it would be. Not that it wasn’t spectacular and thanks to Rick Steve’s Vatican City audio tour and Sistine Chapel audio guide we got an excellent explanation of the history and magnificence of both! Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel so I don’t have any photographic evidence, but we were there I swear!

Thursday  morning we hopped on the train to Florence!

Florence

I’m afraid Florence is a bit jumbled so I’m probably going to mix up what we did on which days, but you won’t know the difference will you?

Thursday afternoon we went to the Accademia and saw Michelangelo’s David. I stood in front of it for about 20 minutes just staring. It was truly magnificent. I see these things in movies and on TV so often that it was difficult to grasp that I was actually looking at the real thing. After the Accademia we went on the Renaissance Walking Tour, which took us to a bunch of the interesting sites around Florence. We stopped along the way for some gelatto and snacks, you know how hungry you get being all touristy and what not. Thursday evening we called it a night pretty early so we could get the most out of our last full day in Florence.

Friday morning we climbed the steps to the top of the Duomo, which was incredible and exhausting. I don’t remember exactly how many steps there were but it was A LOT. But the view was amazing:

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View from the top of the Duomo (my picture just doesn’t do it justice)

After lunch we spent Friday afternoon in the Uffizi gallery, probably the most impressive art gallery I have ever seen. There were so many incredible works of art, and famous pieces that I have heard so much about and seeing them up close was just spectacular. And thanks to Rick Steve’s Uffizi audio tour we were entertained and informed along the way.

Whew! I’m sure you are just overwhelmed right now after reading all of this so let me just leave you with one last thing. Saturday morning we rented a car (a tiny little smart car, so fun) and drove about an hour outside the city to Greve in Chianti. There were no grapes on the vines but we drove to the top of a hill and just enjoyed the views. Italy is definitely not lacking in scenic views, people.

Have you ever been to Italy? What was your favorite or least favorite thing? Leave your answer in the comments!

Posted in Book Reviews

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke

the-woman-who-breathed-two-worlds

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads, and I could not put it down for the five days it took me to read! I have a bad habit of skipping sentences or entire paragraphs when I’m reading a book that I’m really into, so I’m afraid I may have missed some details. One reason I loved this book is that it tells one woman’s entire life story. It follows her from childhood all the way up to her death. Books like this remind me that there are so many ups and downs in life. Just because you are heartbroken or questioning one moment does not mean you won’t have moments of joy and clarity later on, maybe sooner than you expect. Chye Hoon (the main character) is a strong and courageous woman who is willing to sacrifice much to keep her family happy and safe. As a child she is stubborn and passionate, always wanting to explore and learn. As she grows she accepts that there are certain expectations that her family has for her, while she is not always able to choose her own path she accepts her destiny with grace and always makes the best of every situation.

This book was eye opening for me. I grew up in a very western household, very individualistic and I was able to choose my own path from a very young age. While my family had certain expectations (i.e. be a good person, work hard. etc.) I was always encouraged to be myself and follow my heart. I realize that other cultures can be very different. There are many families where emphasis is put not on the individual but on the group. I can see the value in this way of going about things, and Chye Hoon did as well. Throughout the story Chye Hoon is always putting herself second to her family’s needs, and in this way she sacrifices her own needs and desires for those of the group. During this time period, the West was beginning to have a greater influence on the rest of the world and Chye Hoon’s children began to take interest in Western values and trends. Chye Hoon is heartbroken when she realizes that her children, and many of her peers, are losing interest in the values and traditions of her ancestors. Eventually Chye Hoon realizes that she will have to adjust as well, to her changing family and their ideals, or she will lose them. Her adaptability and humility in these situations just made me love her more.

I would definitely recommend this book, it took me to a place I have never been and opened my mind. And isn’t that what great books are all about?

Posted in Lifestyle

What’s saving your life right now?

Today on the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog, Anne talked about what’s saving her life. Meaning what is getting her through these dreary winter months and helping her to stay positive. I am so appreciative of this post, it brought me back to the present and is helping me to notice all of the wonderful things going on in my life right now, instead of focusing on what I’m not doing or what I’m missing out on.

So here is my list:

  1. My sister is getting married in July (yay!) and I’m in the process of planning her bachelorette party at the beginning of June. There are ten of us renting a lake house in South Haven, Michigan for a weekend of relaxing and celebrating the bride to be. My sister is THE most kind and easygoing person on the planet (possibly in the entire galaxy) and she has made everything so easy and fun. Having things to look forward to always keeps me going.
  2. Italy!!! We are planning a trip to Italy (Naples, Pompeii, Rome, Florence) for the end of February. I don’t know if I will ever get used to this whole international lifestyle, being a Midwest girl born and raised, but I am definitely feeling fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to new and exciting places.
  3. AWO (American Women’s Organization) Meetings/lunches/hangouts. The women I have met through this organization have been a HUGE reason why Moscow is starting to feel like home to me. The minute I walked into my first AWO meeting I felt welcome and like I had instant friends. Spending time with these women, at meetings and social events, is always a good time and always lifts my spirits.
  4. Oh yeah, being in Moscow. Living overseas has always been something on my bucket list. I wasn’t sure how it would happen or even if it would happen. Now that I am here, sometimes I am just in awe of the experience. While living here has brought me out of my comfort zone, I’m so grateful for this experience and the perspective it has granted me.
  5. My health/ability to be active. While some days I am just happy if I can drag myself to the gym and spend ten minutes on the treadmill, for the most part I am getting faster and stronger, and continuing to push myself. Since my knee injury last summer, I have had to take a step back from running and yoga but I am still able to exercise and stay in shape, and I am grateful for that every day.
  6. Cat videos. I’m not joking, they might be low on the list but they are hilarious and wonderful.
  7. The luxury of time. Being able to journal, read, work out, try new recipes and just appreciate this experience.

Making this list was like a form of therapy for me, and I encourage you to make a list of what’s saving your life right now!