The up-side of Winter…

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Is winter really that bad? Ha, my instinct is to “LOL” at that question. (This is coming from a beach bum who has only snowboarded once and is perpetually shivering).

A conversation with an ex-coworker/friend today, however, helped tie together some points that have been floating around in my head, leading me to say nothing but positive things about these coming, frigid months. (I know right? Who am I??)

Perhaps this idea began in order to make myself feel better about what I always assumed was a horrible event. I need to “tolerate” the winter. Freezing cold nose and hands. No outdoor activities. Only nine hours of sunlight. Waiting for ice to melt off your windshield and mirrors in the pitch darkness before or after work so you can drive as fast as you can to speed up the car’s heat temperature… I knew when I made the decision to live here this winter, that I’d have to tell myself (a lot) that it’ll be OK or just remind myself that only January through March are really “bad”. (So far that’s been true, thanks to that mild December!)

It’s amazing how scared we may be of something we are dreading, just to look back and say,”That wasn’t so bad. Where did the time go?” It’s already January and I barely noticed that I slowly added warmer or extra articles of clothing to my wardrobe every week or so. The holidays took a lot of the spotlight, along with settling into my job and studying for my yoga teacher training. It also helps that I don’t actually spend time outside. (Did I imagine I was going to be forced to sleep in a tent in the snowy woods and build my own fires??) I walk to and from my car and into heated yoga classes and…that’s it.

How silly this all sounds! Our bodies are used to the seasons, right? This adjustment naturally happens to protect us from suffering and help avoid “seasonal depression disorder”. I’ve only been away for four winters in my 32 years of life, but I panicked and regressed into a little baby in preparation for it…

Of course I always try to make the best of everything or any unpleasant situation, so all preparing aside, I was trying to look at the bright side of things. Mostly I saw quality time with my family, cooking in my own kitchen/ living a quarter mile from a super market (which is great for the way I have to eat for my health issue), a job in a the health field and obviously the yoga training. My best girlfriend, here on Long Island, pointed out the other obvious things like being cozy and bundled up on your couch or near a fireplace, warming foods and drinks like soups and teas and the overall satisfying hibernating aspects of the season (which I didn’t see yet). Also, she reminded me, the comfort and love from a partner is even better when it’s cold… Although that aspect hasn’t turned out the way I’d imagined, I still learned a ton from it and for sure it warmed my heart… Everything else rang true and it definitely made my time home more tolerable.

What I DIDN’T think would happen was I’d actually enjoy the hibernating, relaxing part of the deal! I can openly admit I sometimes suffer from FOMO (fear-of-missing-out), hence why I have always kept busy or searched for the next fun thing to occupy the day. Over the past few years I have grown to enjoy alone time and downtime more, however, if it was downtime in the SUN, it was way better than inside, on the couch, during 30 degree weather. This discovery actually JUST smacked me in the face after the convo with my old friend today. Because, just last week I was trying to find something interesting to do on New Years Eve. Even though I don’t drink anymore and it was my only day off to relax, NYE is, in my mind, a time to celebrate in some fashion. I also resisted staying in on my birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I feared I’d miss something, because I was so used to always socializing and being the life of the party. This life of non-drinking and now learning a new “trade” is fresh– so, it’s OK that I was resisting the inevitable couch/reading/movie watching holiday evenings, because, thus far, I was always out looking for the “most exciting” thing. Looking back on the last couple of months, however, I am happy I stayed in! I’m grateful for the quality time with myself and loved ones. My brain is thankful for the rest and my body for the full eight+ hours of sleep. And let’s talk about waking up before 7am when you don’t have to work early! How amazing that time is… at least when you’re a morning person like I am. 🙂

But why does it all make sense? One word: Balance! I could only really appreciate it or have something to compare it to after living south for a few years. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Puerto Rico and Florida winters, but the rest of the year is rainy and sweltering hot. There’s downsides to everything! Wouldn’t I rather the option to be outside, soaking in Vitamin D and the ocean’s healthy salts all year round over the staleness of the cold? Well, yes! The sun and sea are so good for our mind and body that even in the extreme heat or rainy season, there was always redemption. However, my point is, that’s NOT life for everyone, all the time. The changing of the seasons in the NorthEast for me is a reset button. A way to help me stay focused and grounded. While I lived in sunshine year-round I barely stayed in to relax. There was always a festival, a beach day, paddle boarding, a street fair, any reason to be outside- and any reason to drink. There’s something so amazing about that! BUT, to balance that, one needs more self-control and to really conquer FOMO. Of course it can be done, but, for me, it was difficult. Perhaps since changing my life-style it would be way easier, but it was hard for me back then. Sometimes it wasn’t just free activities outdoors, most of the time it meant spending extra money, too! I’d love to go back to the south if that’s where life takes me, but I needed to come back home to learn these lessons.

The winter up here forces me to be OK with sitting in front of my homework and staring at the bare trees and plentiful firewood piles in my backyard. It means finishing books 75x faster than I’ve read before, self-teaching myself new things and actually writing in this blog! For some, it’s the only time to really devote to workouts… finding warmth and killing time in the gym or yoga studio, because where else do you really wanna go when it’s snowing and everyone else is inside? (Maybe someone will take me snowboarding again so I can at least enjoy the use of snow!) The summer can be that much more appreciated-guilt free- if I work my ass off and heal all winter.

If “forcing myself” inside is how I get shit done, then so be it! I’ll welcome it with open arms and a smile. I realize the cliche saying, “if you can’t beat them join them”, also refers to “tolerating” the cold and accepting winter… I no longer tolerate, but embrace! There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now than somewhere cozy, feeding my brain, toning my body or organizing clutter to promote a happier future. Now back to taking notes and cleaning my room…

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Reflections on my past four years of traveling.

I recently reflected on the sparse-but-happy blog posts of my past and I’m left with a warm-hearted feeling. I’m so proud of my journey and what I risked to achieve it. And yes, I consider each of my travels as an accomplishment. They may not be school degrees or framed certificates, but each trip and experience that shaped me is MY life trophy. Now, I’ve recently settled down in my home town to recharge, heal, and see where life takes me next. In the past seven months, since moving back from Florida, I chose to make some lifestyle changes to aid in my healing which led me to new people, friendships and most recently, to begin a yoga teacher training (my first accreditation).

The sunshine I chased for four years kept me out of depression and I lived life to the fullest. Everyone has a different definition of that, though, depending on our walks of life. I wasn’t raised by scholarly parents; they didn’t even go to college, like most middle-class families. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I “grew up”, so I skated through high-school and even though my grades were excellent in college, the only options I saw were desk jobs in Manhattan or finding a man to start a family. I wasn’t ready for either. I wasn’t into the health field yet, I just knew I wanted to have fun with my friends, which consisted mainly on having drinks at parties, going to concerts and traveling. It’s not my fault that I knew nothing else at the time. Someone else may have defined “living life to the fullest” by working their way to the top of a corporation, or building a family in the suburbs, or owning a lot of material crap, or maybe they knew at a young age that they wanted to better themselves and others in some form- like becoming a health practitioner or devote their free time to volunteering. My sights were set on an imaginary job I did not yet know existed, to live on a warm beach year-round and to meet as many like-minded, happy people along the way. Coming from a large family, I thrive best when I’m around lots of positive people who (maybe) are lost like me and are just finding their escape in an unconventional life- temporary or not.

The places I’ve lived helped me discover what I want and what doesn’t serve me and has brought me to where I am today. As challenging and severe some things I went through were, I will never regret any of it. I also will never apologize for who I was and who I am. Of course my priorities changed as well. I still find it very important to travel and explore- even if it’s a day trip nearby, a hike or place I’ve never been, because nature and learning about others and new locations is so stimulating to me and so is taking a break from work here and there. I needed to travel, “party”, and create amazing friendships from around the world as I did because that’s who I was, it’s what made me the happiest. How can I apologize for that? It may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but it’s mine and it was most certainly the best therapy for me at the time!

So, why am I home in a cold winter to heal? It begins with my monumental Asia trip three years ago… and an apple. I can explain my illness in another blog post- which is a whole story in itself. But, the lingering effects of the illness that that apple caused me have led me to the healing support of my childhood home. It’s what led me to my recent life-style and diet changes, but I’m thankful for it. I believe it was a blessing in disguise, to have me reevaluate my life. Sometime last year I grew sick of working full-time in a restaurant and going to bars a few times a week. Although I was also practicing yoga and being active during the day, since I got back from traveling abroad, I felt I was going nowhere. I had to quit drinking and focus more on my health which made me light a fire under my ass to sign up for yoga teacher training this year.

Now that I’ve grown and got a lot out of my system, I’m realizing what else can be therapy, perhaps in a more healthy and “conventional” way. I have discovered over the years how to maintain my energy level, avoid what creates health issues and what can help me achieve success in areas that I’m actually interested in, like health and wellness. I left behind waitressing for now, to work in a health-promoting retail store, even though I’m making a fraction in pay. I’m the least stressed I’ve ever been and people actually appreciate my help. Yoga has taught me to love more, relieve life’s anxieties, accept others for who they are and treat my body right. I’m finally learning about something worthwhile that I know will continue to better my life.

This doesn’t mean I want to give up being social. A person doesn’t have to fully change who they are, just because their lifestyle has changed. I love live music, I love new experiences and I certainly still love meeting new, like-minded people. I also enjoy being (sober) at a party or bar (before everyone gets drunk), so long as I am surrounded by my friends or family as a way to catch up. Because sometimes it’s a good place for friends to gather and sometimes the atmosphere is uplifting and fun. The challenge and idea is balance and acceptance… And staying up passed my average, granny bedtime of 9pm (lol, here’s to being over 30!)

I may have not had my “ah-ha” life-changing moment, yet, but I’ve come pretty close with my potential, future yoga teaching career. And I’m definitely grateful for and satisfied with what I’ve done thus far! Most people never get off the couch, let alone quit their job to chase a dream.

Am I doing the right thing? Am I scared of the cold? Do I miss being on the road with a backpack and plane ticket? Maybe a part of me does, but I also know that happiness and success is within us and that each decision or experience is what we make of it (cliché, so what?). I also believe that something can change your route- like love or an unexpected situation…

Just like with cold weather, life is about tolerating and breathing through the discomfort…A mantra I learned from my yoga teacher. As uneasy as I am in the cold and as bored of my diet as I have become, I believe these are challenges that life has thrown at me to help me with the bigger ones ahead.

Stay warm. Namaste!

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Post-Travels Summary

I am, by no means, an expert in travel. Hell, I have only left American soil a couple of times (so far). But, I have been exploring my whole life. My addiction to travel stemmed from my parent’s passion for camping. From frolicking naked in campgrounds up and down the east coast as a toddler, to road trips and flights across the country as an adult, I thrive on exploring new places. I started researching and following travel bloggers and destinations to add to my travel bucket list, which led me deeper into the world of backpacking and hopefully living abroad one day. Little did I know, while I was drooling over bigger adventures and obsessing over travel writers, I was gaining admiration from people for my adventures and blog!

Since I quit my job and moved to Puerto Rico three years ago, I have been on the move ever since. Family, friends and acquaintances have reached out to me to either ask for advice or to thank me for being an inspiration to them! Some say they just enjoy living vicariously through my pictures. These comments give me motivation to keep traveling and never stop sharing.

Which brings me to my response to anyone interested in learning from my experiences: I understand how insanely amazing it feels, but, yet, so foreign. I was lucky to receive great support from fellow travel buddies as well as travel writers I befriended, and now I can’t wait to pay it forward. Advice and stories are always best when written out in the descriptive detail that they so deserve. So, I will begin posting all about my amazing adventure into Asia, in advice-blog form! (Stay Tuned!)

*I try to live a life against “the norm” and follow the sun, not only through a passion for travel, but because it makes me happy. I realized, through tragedies and illness, that life is short! If you feel an urge to see the world, go do it!*

2013: The year I turned 30.

Cambodian hospital selfie!
Cambodian hospital selfie!

In the last year of my twenties, I’ve learned a slew of new life lessons, had a lot of lows with myself and friends, been depressed, extremely confused and almost deathly ill in a developing country, losing about 15 pounds. Yet, I’ve also been super happy, traveled halfway around the world, visited five new countries and learned what I like and don’t like about the constant moving. I’ve made discoveries in my health, created a plan for my debt, and opened up to a long-term relationship after four years of (purposely) being single.

reoccurring theme in my recent posts is overcoming the fear of doing things alone. I briefly mentioned in my “Planets post how some personal challenges have taught me so many good things about myself and others. Now I appreciate people in my life for who they are, not expect more… and family is that much more important. I have also FINALLY left the country and traveled solo a bit (future blog posts to come on my adventures in Asia!) and I know now that I can travel alone if I want. It’s such a freeing feeling to know how easy it is to explore a foreign country.

Top of the Lebua Hotel in Bangkok. Rooftop bar and scene in Hangover 2

I have also paid more attention to my health the past couple years. My interest in organic living was jump started by this online health coaching course I looked into. I changed my diet to mostly raw food (smoothies, unique salads, uncooked veggies), l learned how to keep my energy up, and more important, I figured out that I am lactose intolerant! Eliminating dairy is WAY easier than I thought and I’m no longer uncomfortably covering up my digestive issues! I honestly thought bloating and gas were just normal, Italian problems. 😉

I realize that I’m a bit stuck in between being a care-free twenty-something and a settled-down thirty-something and it messes with me. The challenge will always be balance. For now, I still work in restaurants which give me easy money so that I can make moves when I’m ready.

Baz Luhrmann once said,

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.”

I may not have a career path just yet, but, hey, at least I’ll be interesting. 

Floating down a Thai river on a bamboo raft
Floating down a Thai river on a bamboo raft

Planets and the year I learned a ton about life

Recently, two separate, spiritual/yogi-type friends have informed me about Saturn Return. To anyone else, at any other time, this information would be just horoscope hubbub. To me, it not only made sense and fit my life, it also came at an eerily perfect time.

“I’ll be 29 in two weeks. No, I don’t know what I’m doing this winter…” are sentences that have left my lips in the past month more times than I can count. Since I quit my job to work seasonally (winters in a warm locale and summers in a touristy U.S. beach town), where I work and live can change every time. Unless you plan to return to the same spot each season, being jobless, homeless and clueless about where you’ll be spending the next six months, isn’t so abnormal in this lifestyle. The beauty of working in a restaurant (or being a surf instructor, yoga teacher or a tutor, etc) is you your skills are mobile…and you can bank tons of cash in peak seasons to support you or travel with in the off seasons. You also pay rent as you go.

People with this travel lifestyle don’t necessarily have it all together. More specifically, I don’t. I’ve been through times recently where I’ve never been more scared. I’ve also never been happier. Everyone I meet in this “mobile” life is either 22 or traveling since they were 22. I’m a lot older than the average joe around here and chasing summer is all new to me…  It’s only my 1.5 year anniversary of leaving my old life behind. Up until now it’s been equally amazing and horrifying. It took moving, living and doing everything with a best friend to get my ass out of a depressing rut. And gaining, then losing a few friends and lovers to make me realize my flaws…the biggest one? Independence. Being independent seems like an easy thing, but for a girl from a huge family, with a handful of siblings and a good network of friends, (and being a libra), I rarely was alone and definitely avoided it.

Learning solitary (and learning from it) is the biggest challenge and opportunity I have ever faced… But, finally, my experiences have made me ready for it.

So, what’s your point, Gina? What is Saturn Return? OK, back to the planet story. Whenever I tell my “what’s potentially next in life” schpeel followed by my age, I cringe a little, expecting the person on the receiving end to make a judgmental comment like, “yikes, you’re almost 30?….” But, these yogi friends of mine, they got excited for me and continued on to explain this astrological phenomenon. It takes Saturn 29 years to travel around the sun, through all the zodiac signs and return to the exact spot it was when you were born. As quoted by Wikipedia, every 29 years, a person crosses over a major threshold and enters the next stage of life. With the first Saturn return, a person leaves youth behind and enters adulthood. They tend to discard old baggage to make room for new challenges and all the skills and experiences they’ve acquired thus far gets put to the test-so to speak.

How can you not be excited to hear that?! Maybe I’m a nerd and maybe you don’t believe. But everything I’ve read pertaining to me, my sign, my destiny, etc, has been spot-on. It also tells me what people have screamed into my ears my whole adult life: “Get out there (wherever ‘there’ is) and be alone”.

I believe that every single person I’ve met and every opportunity I’ve seized over the past couple years, has brought me out of the dependent cloud I was in and exactly where I was supposed to be. Like Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”. Currently, I’m planning a backpacking trip abroad in the winter- including a home stay on a farm, where I’d work, volunteer and/or pay something like $16/day in exchange for accommodation, food, yoga, and other local things.

I’ve never been more excited in my life.

Bring it on, Saturn!

Beach strolling in Montauk. Summer '12
Beach strolling in Montauk. Summer ’12