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Belle

My Toxic Relationship

Posted in Lifestyle, Relationships by

A blond woman lays on a couch beside the window. It's grey and muted, her hair and her hand covering her face. A sense of sadness and loneliness is captured by photographer Benjamin Combs. The title "My Toxic Relationship" is overlaid.

There are plenty of people in my past that I wish I had never met. Or that I had stood up to. Or that I didn’t keep in my life for as long as I did. But the aliens/government/my future self aren’t sharing their time machines, so I’ve just gotta keep going with those black marks in my past.

The biggest stain on my people report card was my relationship. The relationship, singular, one, uno, can’t be confused with the other one because the other one doesn’t exist. That’s a tangled web of psychology and chaos to unwind at a later time, although it does likely have something to do with what that relationship was: toxic.

What is a Toxic Relationship?

As a kid, I heard all about abusive relationships that involved one partner hitting and beating and threatening the other. It wasn’t until I was describing my situation to my college roommate that things started to connect. Here’s the truth: an abusive relationship can exist without any physical harm. It’s called emotional abuse.

In some cases, emotional abuse is more obvious: “you’re stupid”, “you’re worthless”, “you’re ugly and lucky I love you because no one else would”. In others, its less: “I don’t want you to go out”, “you make me sad”, “you don’t do enough for me”. If your partner–or your friend or a family member–makes you feel worthless, that’s the toxin in your blood that they put there. If your partner makes you feel guilty about going out with friends, or wants to know every detail of the plan, s/he is trying to control you.

It can be subtle. It can develop slowly. Have you heard the story about the frog and boiling water? If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out. If you put a frog in water and slowly raise the temperature to boiling, the frog will stay and die. No one is hit on the first date and thinks “s/he might be the one!” In the same case, no one is made to feel worthless and unloveable on the first date and instantly falls in love. In the beginning, everyone is happy. Everyone is falling in love. Then, a year later, you wonder why you’re so miserable. But the darkness of emotional abuse is that it’s so subversive that it often draws the victim closer to the abuser.

Underwater, people are swimming. There's a sense of drowning as only the shadows and limbs are visible. Overlaid is the quote "If it's destroying you, then it isn't love, my dear." Photo taken by Tim Marshall.

How it Happened to Me

Disclaimer: Every story is different. This is mine. Whatever comments I make about myself, my decisions, my mentality, the things I perpetrated, do not apply to anyone else that may or may not have been, are in, or will be in an abusive relationship.

I was not popular in high school. My dates to dances were groups of friends and my run-ins with admirers were guys I had zero interest in (and were also at the bottom of the food chain. It was high school. Stop judging). As a result, once I got to college I got a bit…desperate. Not desperate for a date or willing to take just anyone, but I was all about finally being in a relationship and not being the ugly duckling any more. I dated. I hooked up. I had a good time. But no one was willing to commit.

Until Jon*.

He had admired me from afar when we lived in brother and sister halls in the dorms (unbeknownst to me. I had never seen him). Then it turned out we were living in the same apartment complex. A passing hello and a few group events later, we started dating. He made me happy: he spent time with me, was interested in me and everything that made me me (even the dark parts. In retrospect, especially the dark parts). He fixed my flat tire, taught me how to drive stick, cooked me food, and invited me over every day after class. We’d talk for hours. We talked about a future.

Jon turned 21 before me. He went to the bars every now and then. About every Thursday. This will be important later.

We moved into different apartments when the leases ended, but I spent the majority of my time at his place. We’d talk: about our dreams, about how he wasn’t happy in the ROTC program he was in, about what it was like having divorced parents, about his fears of being cheated on, about how hard and confusing life was. About how he was scared I would cheat on him. About my rising depression. About feeling like we wouldn’t be loved by anyone else. Around the seventh-month mark, the conversations were mostly somber, dark, usually involving one or both of us crying. We talked about wanting to be honest with each other and doing everything we could to make the relationship work. That turned into criticizing each other over the tiniest things: “you don’t say thank you enough”, “you don’t listen to me”, “I love you more than you love me”.

I turned 21 and was excited to finally graduate from house parties to bar crawls. Suddenly, Jon was “over” the bars and didn’t want to go out. Since he and his friends were pretty much my only friends by this point, it meant that I didn’t go out. And it was okay, because I was spending time with him.

Right?

Related Reading: The Things He Said

I was formally diagnosed with depression. He started looking through my phone in the middle of the night, waking me up to ask who Eric (a project partner) was or why I was having coffee with Jeff (an old friend, whom he had met on several occurrences). We started fighting. I was always made out to be the bad guy. I stayed because I was determined to do everything I could to make things work, both of us insisting that I could do more, should be doing more.

Finally, I was reaching the end of my rope. No matter what, I wasn’t good enough. Things weren’t getting better. He left work in the middle of the day to come talk to me about it. We both knew what was coming. While I waited, I talked with my roommate, who was busy painting the kitchen. I told her about the things that annoyed me and why I was unhappy: he didn’t like me going out, he constantly put me down, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to be me and life my life. That’s when she said it:

“That sounds like abuse.”

Cue the sound of shattering glass. Everything clicked into place. Everything made sense. Holy shit, I had fallen into a trap and been too blind to see it.

We broke up. He made me be the one to say it, insisting that I be the bad guy.

My only regret is telling him that he was still a good person.

*Names may or may not have been changed to protect identities. 

A couple sits in a car, not touching. They seem stiff and uncomfortable with each other. Overlaid is the quote "You'll never really see how toxic someone is until you breathe fresher air."

How to Recognize Abuse and Toxicity. And What to Do About It 

Maybe it’s happening to you. Maybe it’s happening to your best friend or your sister or your brother-in-law. Look out for yourself; look out for the people you care about.

Notice the signs: unhappiness, pulling away from other people, feeling guilty about little things, second-guessing things.

It is okay to want to spend time with your friends without your significant other. It is okay to dance the two-step at a country bar with someone that’s not your partner. It is okay to have drinks with a friend of the opposite gender (or same gender or non gender or anyone that is not your partner).

Talk about it: with your partner, with your BFF, with your sibling, with your parents, with your hair dresser, with a therapist. Speak as honestly as you can. Listen to what they have to say. If you think you’re seeing signs of abuse towards someone you love, bring it up with them.

Don’t accuse or pick a fight: abusers are skilled in turning everything onto you. If you attack, they’ll attack back. Things might escalate, get ugly, get worse. Victims, likewise, often don’t view themselves as victims. They’ll have something of a Stockholm syndrome: they’ll defend their attacker, insist you don’t know what you’re talking about. I found that phrases like “I’ve noticed x and y, can you tell me your take on it?” are much more effective and help people come to their own conclusions.

Be present and active: the worst thing to do, as a victim, is to fall deeper into it. Keep your friends and family that are outside of the situation, whether you talk to them or not about it. Make a point to have some control over your own life. If your talks with your partner isn’t doing enough, get outside help. If you think someone you love is being abused or is in a toxic relationship, don’t let them pull away: invite them out for drinks or activities, text them, call them, let them know you’re there for them. You don’t have to talk about the abuse all the time (or at all), but make sure that they feel safe with you. Because if they get out of the relationship, they’re going to need someone around to help them rebuild.

 

A blond woman lays on a couch beside the window. It's grey and muted, her hair and her hand covering her face. A sense of sadness and loneliness is captured by photographer Benjamin Combs. The title "Recognizing Emotional Abuse" is overlaid.
January 30, 2018
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W(h)ine About It: The Little Things

Posted in Winer's Corner by

Hands work a corkscrew into a bottle of wine. The title "W(h)ine about it: The Little Things" is written over it.

I’m standing in line for a latte that was going to be hot but will turn out iced. I’m desperately peeling off as many layers of clothing as I legally can while trying to form a coherent sentence for the barista. It’s a warm January day (35-degrees) with the sun out, and knowing that I’ll be outside when it drops below 20 tonight, I’ve layered up like the well-prepared Colorado native that I am. Unfortunately, the building manager set the cafe temperature to a balmy 70-degrees and I’m starting to sweat. And I don’t like sweat.

I know, I know, 2018 is supposed to be about being positive and complaining less, but I need to get some things off my chest. There are so many little things–inconveniences, irritants, complaints, irrational temperatures–that get under my skin. Here’s my list:

  • People that walk on the wrong side of the sidewalk.
  • Websites that lead you in circles and never get you to the information destination you need.
  • Starbucks that don’t accept rewards on gift cards, like the one’s in Barnes and Noble.
  • Slow drivers in the left lane.
  • Groups of people that take up the whole damn sidewalk and then walk reeeaaallllyyy slooooowwwly.
  • Free trials that require a credit card.
  • Free e-courses that don’t actually give you any information, but tell you that all the information is available if you purchase their e-book.
  • Cashiers that insist on giving quality customer service by asking everyone about their family history when there’s a three-foot-long line.
  • People that say “Give me a smile” or “You should smile more” or any variation of that. I have RBF, and you telling me to smile is actually just going to make me want to punch you.
  • Drivers that don’t use turn signals.
  • When an app–especially GPS–takes forEVER to load.
  • Apartment complexes that don’t have guest parking.
  • People that post every single life development to their social media pages.
  • People that create networking groups and use it as a platform to post about every single life development.
  • When people ask you to work on a project or assignment before you’ve finished waking up. Especially if they know you don’t function until at least ten in the morning (ELENA!!!).

To be honest, the list could go on forever. But my body has finally adjusted to the cafe temperature and I was able to put my outfit back together, and I figured it’d be best to end here before the five shots of espresso catch up to me. Now it’s back to being positive and cheery and a good person. Or at least I’ll try to.

January 23, 2018
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Cherish: A Story of Silver Linings

Posted in Lifestyle by

Cherish

When I was seventeen, my first tattoo was going to be a wing on my ankle. Two weeks before I turned eighteen, I rear-ended my best friends car. Bye-bye tattoo money. Thank goodness, too, because I would have regretted that tattoo.

Instead, the first tattoo I got was the word “cherish” on my left wrist, exactly one month before my nineteenth birthday. A lot of thought went into it: which word was the most important to me? that would mean the most? that wouldn’t be too cliche? In retrospect, I should have put equal consideration into the design, but what’s done is done. So much had happened in my first year of college, and I needed something to commemorate that growth, and to remind me to continue on that path.

The Tattoo

I see my wrist every day. Just as I see my nose every day, but rarely register it. After six years, the ink on my wrist has become so common place, that it has nearly failed in its responsibility to be a daily reminder.

In my teenage years, I had a sour nature and tendency to focus on the negatives. I strung up my unfortunate events and flew the banners from the rooftops, clinging to the notion that they excused my sullen and sharp behavior. It wasn’t until I had someone very dear to me start pointing out that I was poisoning myself with that negativity. I wasn’t doing myself, or anyone around me, any good. He directed me towards finding positive things in my life. Me, being the stubborn woman that I am and still inclined to see the negatives, compromised by finding the positives in the negatives.

One way or another, the idea of a commemorative, reminding tattoo came about. I thought of the word “treasure”: to treasure what has happened, and that it’s often hard to find. But it didn’t sound right, and it seemed an odd word to appear on someone’s wrist. A few others came and went, until I finally settled on the winner.

“Cherish” means to hold dear and to protect, to care for lovingly. I direct it towards my memories, my experiences, the lessons learned, the people I’ve met, and to myself. It has served me well, when I take the time to reflect on it.

Things I Cherish

  • Having a friend in elementary school that introduced me to video games, fantasy and sci-fi books, and writing. Even though our friendship didn’t last (most likely for the best), that’s where my identity took root.
  • An argumentative divorce that took ten years to fall into silence. However damaging that it was, it did at least teach me the importance of civil speech and forgiveness.
  • Owning a horse and learning how to become self-reliant.
  • My independent, take-no-shit attitude that alienated me from potential friends, but also prevent all but a few, minor instances of bullying.
  • My abusive relationship in college, the ending of which made me realize exactly how great I am and what I deserve.
  • Fantastic friends that have stuck around through the years and across cities.
  • The chance to spend six months abroad, even though it wasn’t the right place for me.

Related Reading: Carpe Diem and Other Ambitions for 2018

A girl walks through a green field under a bright sun. In an orange overlay box, the quotes reads "Once you start replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start seeing positive results."

The Importance of Silver Linings

Bad things are never going to stop happening. What can change, though, is how you let them effect you.

I still have a long way to go. I make excuse after excuse for why my work isn’t done; I whine about my terrible boss and the crappy weather; I rage at my BFF when she decides to go visit her family for the weekend instead of binge-watching Harry Potter with me. But I am taking steps to shift my thinking towards the positive and taking things in stride. I’m turning my excuses into aspects of my life that need to be examined and redirected; the weather isn’t going to change and now I have a great excuse to wear my rain boots.

It’s also about having a growth mindset. When you can find the positives in the negatives, you find the lessons in the failure. It’s from there that you can grow (understand why it’s called a growth mindset?).

Maybe you don’t have to be as extreme as me and get a tattoo, but try to find something that will remind you to think positively. Put a message in the corner of your bathroom mirror. Put silver things in your house. Repeat a positive mantra. Keep a gratitude page in your planner. Make the change.

Related Reading: 6 Mantras to Live By in 2018

Related Reading: Creating a Bullet Journal

 

January 16, 2018
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Santa Belle: What I Gave for Christmas

Posted in Lifestyle by

Christmas ideas

Christmas is my absolutely positively favorite holiday of the year. I love the festive decorations, the cookies and sweets, the music, the gathering of friends and family, and the gifts. As someone in her young twenties, Christmas is a reliable time of year to get some help on all the things I need and want but can’t afford. Like this year I received a much needed blanket for my bed and gift cards to some of my favorite places. But better than receiving the gifts is giving them.

I try throughout the year to give meaningful and thoughtful gifts. It’s the chance for me to say “I notice you and appreciate you”. Now, meaningful and thoughtful doesn’t have to mean expensive, which was very true this year (I spent an average of maybe $10 a gift); it means addressing someone’s interests, style, or personality. And this year I hit it out of the park.

So I don’t want to brag about the gifts I got. I want to brag about the gifts I gave. Hopefully this can give you some insight and help on what to give your loved ones the next holiday season!

For the ladies in my family:

Waaaay back in September I stumbled on a secret Kate Spade sale that finally let me achieve my dream of owning one of her purses and a wallet. It also let me get some Christmas shopping done.

  • For my mom, I got her a pair of dangling earrings, a collection of brassy little circles which she loved.
  • For my step-mom of sorts, a circle bracelet with a mod black, white, and blue pattern that 100% matched her beautiful style.
  • For my sister, a simple gold and crystal necklace since her ears aren’t pierced. As a similar lover of designers, she loved adding it to her collection.

Related Reading: Dear Bellena: Help with the Holidays

For the ladies that love a good home-made gift:

I love little crafts, especially those involving yarn or string, because it gives me something to do during my frequent Netflix marathons. They also make for great, inexpensive, heart-felt gifts!

  • For my best friend in the whole wide world: a “flowery” cross-stitch to decorate her fancy-pants cubicle and let her coworkers know just how much she cares.
  • For my step-sister of sorts: a framed cross-stitch that pairs her love for cats and activism in one perfect little picture.
My step-sister and step-mom pose with their Christmas gifts on the couch. My step-sister holds a white-framed cross-stitch pattern that features four cats and the words "less catcalls, more cats". My step mom looks down at the Kate Spade bangle bracelet I got her.

Step-mom and step-sister pose with their gifts.

Related Reading: Adam’s Mystery Playhouse: Holidays R Murder 

For the southern dad that loves to cook and already has everything he needs:

My dad is the hardest to shop for. He doesn’t like a lot of fancy things, likes to keep thing simple and clutter free, already has every tool in the tool shed, and buys everything he needs for himself. I have to get super creative with his gifts, and they’re usually the ones I stress over for the entire year. But this year I stumbled on perfection.

  • A little book from Barnes and Noble’s discount shelves called Well Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit, a collection of weird and crazy sayings and stories from the south, perfect for someone who spent his summers on a farm in Missouri as a kid.
  • A Himalayan Salt Plate for cooking and bar-b-queing. My dad loves to cook and is a master at it, but already has all the pots and pans and knives he needs. This gave me something I could give to him that was new and interesting and expanded his cooking style. I’m looking forward to whatever he makes with it!

A salt plate with a serving tray and cook book sit on the coffee table after being opened as a gift on Christmas.

For the world-conscious, give-backers that rule the world:

These were other stumble-on miracles that I found that managed to combine duel interests into one perfect gift.

  • For my best friend’s sister, the green-thumb guru: a K-Cup Recycling Tool. Keurig pods can’t be recycled unless the top is separated from the bottom, which requires a nifty tool like this (which is relevant because she uses a Keurig for her morning coffee). Bonus points: the coffee grounds make great compost for her many many house plants.
  • For the friends and sister + brother-in-law that have a rescue pup(s): coffee is a great gift, but coffee that gives back is even better. Grounds and Hounds donates a portion of their profits to animal shelters and rescues, which I’m all about. This way, I was able to include the doggos in the gift without adding yet another squeaker toy to the over-flowing collection.

For everyone else, they are coffee mugs:

Simple, versatile, useful, necessary, and you can never have enough. Mugs are a great way to spread the love without emptying your wallet.

  • For the dog-lover stuck in a house with two cat ladies: a mug covered in cartoon pups. He needed a mug of his own that didn’t read “crazy cat lady” or “how do you like me meow?”
  • For the sassy, silly, YOLO AF bestie: a mug sporting the life motto of “no regerts”.
  • For the football-loving brother-in-law that married a Colorado native: some orange and blue Broncos pride on a mug. That he received while wearing a Steeler’s jersey. Welcome to the family, bro.

Related Reading: 5 DIY Christmas Gifts for the Office

What was your Christmas gift win this year? Tell me in the comments!

January 2, 2018
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The Two Step: A Bilateral Move

Posted in Lifestyle by

 

two step

How to Move Forward When Taking a Step to the Side

It started about 60 years ago in Denver: a complete stop of automobile traffic in all directions to allow pedestrians unobstructed movement in all directions. The joke became that, amongst the crowds and unpredictable paths, some people had to dance their way across the intersection. While utilized in several cities around the world, many in its origin city call it the “Denver Two-Step”. Simultaneously moving forward while moving sideways.

It’s a typically well understood and universal notion that a loss is expected when jumping from one ladder to the next, from one place to another. You have to relearn the ropes, establish a new ground floor, prove your capabilities in a new environment. Just like how you can’t expect a new romantic relationship to have as many memories and inside jokes as your last one, you can’t expect a complete career shift to get you ahead.

Right?

Maybe.

Defining Forward Movement

So often we label success by two factors: money and title. Financial status and social status. We criticize the woman who leaves her comfortable office job at an elite firm to open a sandwich shop. We laugh at the washed up celebrities working behind the bar counter. And yet we applaud the man who works sixty hours a week for an extra $300 a month and missed his daughter’s soccer game because of a recent promotion on the fast track to partner.

Forward movement means the fixing of a problem. It’s something tangible, something you can see, point to and say “that’s forward.” It’s a higher salary. It’s moving from a cubicle to a corner office. It’s having less people to report to while becoming the person more people answer to.

But that’s changing.

Related Reading: A Millennial Job Interview

A woman stands on the end of a pier by a lake in the woods.

Redefining Success

We’ve all heard various renditions of “pursue happiness” and “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. But there’s no money in art history, and selling knitted hats on Etsy won’t put food on the table. So we keep slugging on in the factory, in the ditch, behind the desk, in the job that doesn’t make us happy but pays the bill.

But things are changing. And we can change with it.

Slowly but surely, businesses are catching on to the new surge of Millennials fighting for their values of culture, social responsibility, and a work-life balance. The corner offices are disappearing. Success is being redefined.

I’ve already changed my career path since graduating college. Once a teacher, now a receptionist. And there’s another move looming in my future. In one position I had some (debatable) status, not a lot of money, and even less time. In the other I had very little to no status, almost decent money, and a moderate amount of time but terrible hours. I don’t consider either to be a success. Within the first few months at both positions, I became stressed, unmotivated, and threatened with dangerous coping methods.

So let’s call that move a draw. A purely sideways move: less status for more money, but overall no increase in satisfaction.

Because that’s what it’s about: satisfaction. Not complacency, not acceptance, not even happiness. Satisfaction.

It’s a balance. Work will always be work, no matter how much you love it. But you have to be satisfied with the balance between effort and payout, between how much time you spend at the office versus at home, between your personal wants and needs and those of the company. Some people might be willing to work long, grueling hours because the pay is good. Others may be more inclined to take a pay cut because it gives them more free time to pursue their hobbies or spend  time with friends and family. One person may crave the structure of a 9-5 job with a dress code and a boss, while another finds joy in working sporadic hours from home in their pajamas.

It’s all in the eye of the beholder, dependent on personal values. So there’s one more thing that success is: fluid.

A change in careers can be a step forward if that’s the direction you want to take it in. You might lose money, lose sleep, lose status, but you might gain happiness, autonomy, a better work community. Jumping from one ladder to another doesn’t have to lose you any ground when you define the ground worth standing on.

 

The title "Moving Up and Over: Redefining Success" if overlaid against a pair of black converse shoes on green grass.
December 21, 2017
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5 Phone Apps Everyone Should Have

Posted in Lifestyle by
A woman holds her smart phone. The title "5 Phone Apps Everyone Should Have" is overlaid.

phone apps

Your phone screen is likely filled with messenger apps, social media apps, gaming, banking apps, and so on. But do you have these five essential apps on your phone? I know I do!

1. The GIF Keyboard

You’ve got your messenger and your other messenger, but do you have anything to make those messenger conversations any fun?

Belle and Elena have a conversation using just GIFs.

Other than my actual texting app, the most used app on my phone is the GIF keyboard by Tenor (Apple, Android). Entire conversations can be had with little clips of favorite shows, movies, interviews, and on. More elaborate and accurate than emojis, I can’t go a day without using it.

Be warned: while it can be hilarious and entertaining, it can also be used as a great source of annoyance. Let the spamming commence.

In a group message spammed with GIFs, a member complains about having to skip past all the spam messages to the last message that was sent.

2. A News App

It’s important to stay in the know, and not just on who recently updated their relationship status on Facebook. Especially in this day and age. Spend the $2.99 a month or whatever small amount it is to subscribe to a newspaper or other journalist source.

 

The one on my phone is TheSkimm. I’ll admit that I’m a combination of busy and just too lazy to read the news for longer than five minutes, so I instantly fell in love with the concept of all the headlines and updates in a quick-read version. If I want more info than they provide, I can look it up. If I don’t, I can continue on with my day. Either way, I at least know more than I used to. Gone are the days of people saying “Did you hear about that earthquake in Mexico?” and me saying “What!? No!”. Now, my response is: “Yes, and as of this morning the report was that ten people have died.” Bam, knowledge.

A screenshot of theSkimm app, showing a portion of an article wherein information from both the supporting position and critical position are presented.

Not only is it quick and to the point, it’s also got enough sass and sparkle to make it interesting. I never miss the chance to read it on my morning bus ride into work. Check it out.

3. Duolingo

Learn a language for free!? Whaaaa? Seriously, this app is fantastic. Are you going to become so fluent that you could become a professional translator? Probs not. Will you be able to hold a more-than-basic conversation in that language? Probs yes.

Duolingo can teach you Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Danish, Russian, and more. It even has courses in Esperanto, Hebrew, Irish, Welsh, and Swahili. Practice as little or as much as you like. You can even sync up with your friends and family to keep you motivated.

A screenshot of the TwoFeelsWrite Learn German Duolingo club. The joining code is AMW6MT

I especially love the format. I’ve previously tried Rosetta Stone and was constantly frustrated by not being able to find literal or exact translations. The technique works for some, but it made me want to quit, and therefore not absorb anything. Duolingo has cartoon graphics, matching, audio, speaking, and translating exercises to give you a variety of learning techniques. My favorite part, however, is being able to click on the words if I need to see a definition. That way I’m not guessing over which of the two words means “bike” and which means “red”.

4. A Book App

Please, please, have a book app on your phone. Reading is good for you! And you never know when you’re going to be stuck somewhere and in need of entertainment.

I’m able to dramatically increase my number of books read each month by listening to audio books while brushing my teeth, commuting to work, cooking dinner, or even while at the gym. There are paid services like Audible and Scribd that let you download audiobooks every month to you library. Those, plus apps like Google Books and Kindle can get you ebooks as well. Short on cash? Check with your local library! More than likely, they have an app (Overdrive or Axis 360 are common) where you can check out ebooks and audiobooks for free. Make it work, people.

A screenshot of a grouping of iPhone apps. In the "Learn Folder", the apps Duolingo, Scribd, theSkimm, and Axis360 are pinned.

 

Related Reading: What Should I Read Next?

5. Waze

I really like this map app because it updates in real time. Traffic jam on the interstate? Waze will find you another route. A car is stopped on the side of the road up ahead? It’ll alert you. There’s a cop hiding behind the sign around the corner? It’ll give you the heads up.

A screenshot of Waze. A map of Denver has alert tags about the location of favorite shops, police, and construction.

Drivers and passengers using the app can upload notifications about construction, traffic, and hazards. Other drivers and passengers can then confirm that such a condition exists, or let the app know that, nope, the traffic has cleared out, carry on. Just be careful to not become less aware of your driving and the road just to update someone about the pothole you only just narrowly missed.

 

 

What apps do you recommend?

December 5, 2017
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Thanksgiving: Then and Now

Posted in Lifestyle by

Thanksgiving times

A lot of things change as we get older: sugary cereals aren’t as tasty as mushrooms and asparagus, socks as Christmas gifts are actually amazing, and holidays are flexible. Thanksgiving has always been a bit different for me because my parents are divorced, but this year was something new entirely.

Then: Thanksgiving as a KidBelle, as a kid (approximately age 7) with her younger sister in the front yard of her grandparents' house in Florida.

Every year, my sister and I switched between who we spent Thanksgiving with: one year with Dad, the next with Mom, then back to Dad again. This happened with other holidays, as well. Thanksgiving with Mom usually meant the church potluck, with me and some other kids playing Monopoly in a classroom. With Dad, it meant a big home-cooked meal, sometimes  with extended family. Regardless of whom I was with, Thanksgiving happened on the third Thursday of November, had turkey and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, and was altogether relatively normal.

Now: Thanksgiving as a Young Adult

This year, Thanksgiving happened on November 12th. A Sunday.

As we get older and start meeting new people, dating new people, gather step-siblings, have work and travel to plan around, and more and more, it becomes harder to schedule the holidays. I have my mom and dad, my step-sister has her mom and dad, family friends have their own families, you get the picture. There was no way to get everyone together on Thanksgiving for Thanksgiving, unless we wanted to have ham and green beans at ten in the morning. So my dad restructured his monthly Second Sunday dinner to be a Thanksgiving potluck.

A table filled with Thanksgiving dishes, such as stuffing, home-made bread, mashed potatoes, green beans, and turkey.

Everyone contributed a dish while my dad roasted the turkey. There was a cheesy brussle sprouts casserole, sausage stuffing, green beans, fresh baked bread, mashed potatoes, fruit salad, and a spinach salad with the most amazing cranberry vinaigrette. I made a sweet potato and walnut pasta bake that I had previously made for the weekly Family Dinner I have with Elena and Mitch, modified from this recipe.

It was a great event and the food was to die for. It took a lot of stress out of the month, but then something strange happened: what was left to do? While coworkers and friends talked about their Thanksgiving plans, I was left to shrug my shoulders.

 

I’m used to my holidays being a bit different; it’s been two years since I celebrated Christmas on Christmas day. The special days become less about the days and more about making time to spend with loved ones, however possible. While it’s awkward to be finished with a holiday before it happens and to try and explain that to people in the 30 seconds we’re in the elevator together, I feel more connected to the spirit of the holidays. As much as I’d love for things to be conventional and simple, I’ll take my rescheduled, purposeful holidays any day.

November 28, 2017
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My 6 Months in Taiwan: Overview

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travel to taiwan

There’s a tiny island off the coast of China that many have heard of, and yet don’t know about. Check the tag of your shirt or the bottom of your cup and you might just see it: Made in Taiwan.

In the spring of 2016, I accepted a job at an American secondary school in Taichung, Taiwan, and promptly left on the 4th of July, with five massive suitcases in tow. The plan was to go for one to two years; maybe longer if it was a good fit. Going in, I knew there would be some snags and cultural shocks that I would have a hard time getting past, so I wasn’t completely surprised that I decided to leave after six months.

Don’t get me wrong, the experience was great! I met some amazing people, learned a lot, went new places, and ate some strange and delicious food. But I’m happy to be back.

I could go on and on about the food, the culture, the school, the people, the country, my travels, my likes and dislikes, the reasons behind my decision….but I’ll go in depth later on, for now I’ll stick with a summary of my time while I was there.

 

Related Reading: Studying Abroad in College: Planning Your Trip

 

Taiwan

I’ll admit: Asia is not my cup of tea. It’s great and has its wonders and everything, but it wasn’t a place for me. It all started at the airport: after 24-hours of traveling, I was pushing my overloaded luggage cart towards the exit where the school bus was waiting for me and the other five teachers I was traveling with. The doors opened and I walked into a literal wall of hot humidity. Being a Colorado gal and a fan of dry climates, this instantly woke me up and sent me retreating back into the airport. The many mosquitoes I would meet later, didn’t make me like the climate any more.

The school was outside of Taichung, a city about an hour south of the capital, Taipei. For foreigners who don’t speak the language, there’s not much to do in Taichung beyond shopping, going out to eat or to the movies, and baseball games. The night scene is limited and very different than what I was used to: small, narrow bars that were never full but eager to shush you if you got too loud and excited. With my very busy schedule, and being 30-minutes outside of the city, it was hard to do much, and I quickly found myself going stir-crazy.

Taipei was a fun city: modern with hints of western culture (sidewalks!!) and plenty to do. Had I stayed in Taipei, I think things would have been different.

 

The School

I was hired as an English teacher and dorm parent for the girl’s hall. The majority of the students that attended were boarding students. There were three adults assigned to each floor to ensure the duties within the dorms were taken care of. We were in charge of locking and unlocking the main doors, making sure students went to class and to bed on time, monitoring cleaning schedules and study hall hours, and be there in the event a kid was sick or injured.

On the good side: I got free room and board, worked every third day and every third weekend, and had a 40-second commute from my bedroom to my classroom. The bad side: I lived and breathed that school, which definitely affected my spirit.

 

Teaching

I went in with the impression that the students knew English and were at relatively the same level as students in the United States, with the school being “the most prestigious in the city”. My passion is literature, not language, so I was more than a bit upset when I discovered that, surprise!, the kids were far from fluent. It was heartbreaking to teach kids that wanted to go to college in the States because I knew they were two, three years behind the curve: I was setting them up for failure it seemed.

I found myself working around 70-hours a week on a good week, doing work that I couldn’t get behind on, for people that I did not respect or agree with. About half-way through the semester, I finally decided it was in my best interest to protect my health and values, so I put in my notice and planned to leave at the end of the semester.

The wing of my airplane from Taiwan, landing in Seattle with the sunset.

Overall

I’m thankful that I went. I’m thankful to be back. Not many people get to live abroad and experience a new culture, so I like having that one-up in my life. But that time abroad also wrecked a lot of havoc on my health and happiness.

If you’re ever presented with the opportunity to travel, to live abroad, to try something new, take it! But do your research first. Seriously: read up on the culture, the town, the nightlife, the food, the healthcare, the available services, exactly what will be expected of you while you’re over there. Going in with one idea and then being slammed with a different reality can ruin a lot of things for you. But I’m not letting it ruin everything.

Related Reading: 4 Things I Wish I Did Before Starting a Career

 

November 7, 2017
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A Night at the Theater: Macbeth

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performing arts Macbeth

My number one anticipated night of the month was, oddly enough, not Halloween. It was October 26th, a quiet and snowy Thursday night. Because I was off to the theater.

I enjoy the arts, especially the performed variety, but I don’t go as often as I should. In fact, it’s probably been a few years since I last visited the theater. Inspired by the trip to the ballet, I started looking for more shows I could attend. When I saw a newspaper review of Macbeth, directed by Robert O’Hara, it was a no-brainer decision to get myself a ticket.

Summary

Macbeth is the ol’ Scottish tragedy by the great William Shakespeare. Opening on the battle field between the Scottish forces of King Duncan and the defeated invading forces of Ireland and Norway separately. Duncan promotes general Macbeth to be Thane of Cawdor after hearing about his brave feats on the battlefield. A messenger is sent to tell Macbeth this.

Elsewhere, Macbeth and his friend Banquo meet three witches, who foretell that Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland. Banquo isn’t left out entirely: according to the witches, he will not be king, but his future sons will sit on the throne. Sure enough, the messenger arrives to announce that Macbeth is now the thane of Cawdor. Macbeth and Banquo go to meet with the king, who is invited to stay the night at Macbeth’s castle. Macbeth sends a letter ahead to his wife, explaining the news.

Filled with ambition, Lady Macbeth seizes on the prophecy that her husband will be king. When Macbeth arrives, she plots with him to secure his advancement: death to King Duncan before the morning. Macbeth needs a bit of convincing, but that night he does kill the king and, with the help of his wife, frames the guards as the murderers. Duncan’s sons, fearing for their own lives, flee the country.

Macbeth and Lady M both spiral into madness churned from their guilt in the coming scenes. Macbeth, plagued with paranoia, makes his situation worse by ordering the deaths of those he believes will usurp him: Banquo, who knows of the prophecy, and Macduff, a thane that has his suspicions and sailed away to rally Duncan’s son, Malcolm, to war.

War approaches between Macbeth and Malcolm. On the night of battle, Lady M dies off stage. Macbeth, strengthened by a new prophecy from the witches that he cannot be harmed by any man born of woman, terrorizes on the battle field. That is, until he meets Macduff, who was cut from his mother and therefore was not born. Macbeth is killed and Malcolm ascends the throne.

The Space Theater

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts has about eight theaters. Most notably is the Buell, used for big productions like Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera. Significantly smaller and built in the round, the Space Theater was used for Macbeth, and I can’t imagine a more perfect stage.

Painted with circles and runes beneath a pentagram light, the stage was set as the warlock’s temple. Told from their perspective, the story was set to be a bit darker and futuristic. At the start of the play, I knew the staging was going to be important: the warlocks entered and looked directly at the audience as they circled the stage, inviting and welcoming us to their stage.

The Applause program for Robert O'Hara's production of Macbeth at the Space Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The theater, before the production begins, is cast in purple light.

The Play

O’Hara’s Macbeth was performed by an all-male cast, but not in the traditional “that’s how it was in Shakespeare’s time” sort of way. Intrigued by the line “You should be women/ And yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so”, O’Hara transformed the witches into warlocks, and yes, they had beards. This lead to a magnified analysis of masculinity as it appear in the play, as gender is already a main topic for study with Macbeth.

To make everything that much better, the costumes consisted of tattoos, leather, buckles, and not much else.

A futuristic and fun flair was added to the play with techno club music, drunken acts, and suggestive motions that many of the Scottish nobles enjoyed the snow, if you get what I mean. It was startling at first, and many of the older audience members around me seemed a bit perturbed, but I quickly found it to be fitting and entertaining. O’Hara and the cast choreographed dance and action scenes; my favorite was the warlocks dancing around Hecate in the cave, covered in glow and the dark paint and blending a mixture of movement styles to create something tribal, futuristic, and mesmerizing.

 

My Thoughts

A screenshot of Belle's phone. In the notepad app, Belle wrote questions to ask the director and cast members of Macbeth after the theater performance. Belle poses with her copy of the Applause theater program from Macbeth at the Denver Center for the Performing ArtsI absolutely loved the play and was so happy to have gone. A William Shakespeare fan, English literature nut, and lover of gothic and witch stories- this production was right up my alley.

What made the night all the better for me was being able to ask the director and some cast members questions after the play, which was something I had not expected. I spent my time during intermission quickly typing questions into my phone’s notepad in preparation.

I was most grateful that Adam Poss, who played Lady Macbeth (and brilliantly, I might add), was one of the actors to come out for the Q&A session. During the play, I noticed that Lady M was not a drag queen, especially feminine, and was not especially done up to be the opposite gender of the actor. Yes, Lady M wore a skirt, was a bit softer and more sultry than her full-male counterparts, but something felt…different. I asked where the line was drawn between masculine and feminine–if at all–from the actors and from the director, and I loved Poss’s answer:

He said that while rehearsing, O’Hara often directed Poss and Ariel Shafir (Macbeth) to switch back and forth between roles. Eventually the switches were so quick that they had little time to get into character, so it was no longer “I am a woman” vs. “I am a man”; it became “I want, therefore I will do ____” and “I desire, so I will ____”. It was no longer genders, but desires that dictated actions.

I was blown away by that insight and that result, and found my observations during the play put into words.

Related Reading: A Day at the Ballet: Dracula

Go to the theater. Go to anything and everything that sparks your interest. Go with friends, family, or by yourself. I loved being at the theater for Macbeth by myself because I didn’t have to worry about a friend elbowing me in the middle of a scene to ask for a translation or if she would be too tired to stay for the Q&A afterwards. That night at the theater was incredible, and something I won’t soon forget.

 

 

 

October 31, 2017
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Groupon Travel: Pros and Cons

Posted in Lifestyle by
the benefits and downfalls of traveling with groupon
My first ever international trip was to the land-o’-green in 2015. Ever since reading O.R. Melling’s The Hunter’s Moon, I had developed an interest in traveling to Ireland, but it was more of a whisper than a shout. Travel was not on my immediate to-do list; I loved Colorado and couldn’t rationalize spending a lot of money and time to go to a distant country where anything could happen.
 
Oh how wrong I was.
 
On something of a whim, I booked an 8-day trip to Ireland for myself and my then-boyfriend through Groupon. With airfare, hotel, and a rental car all included, it was exactly the push I needed to get out and establish my love of travel.
 
Since then, I’ve lived in Taiwan, spent a week in Bali and Amsterdam each, and a weekend in Hong Kong, all of which I’ve booked and managed myself (minus airfare to and from Taiwan). I am still far from being an expert on travel, but I have picked up on a few things along the way.
 
In this post, I want to focus in on the pros and cons of Groupon travel.
 

Pros:

Package Deal:

When you book your trip through Groupon, you’re likely getting more than a hotel or a tour. Trying to pinpoint the best deal for a flight AND hotel AND activities AND transportation takes a lot of time, a lot of know-how, and a lot of luck. AKA: a huge hassle that sometimes isn’t worth the end result. Groupon packages it all together and keeps everything organized for you. Make sure you read the description closely to see what you get and what you’ll have to fill in on your own, but overall it’s a great way to check multiple things off your list with one click.
 

Trips Worth Taking:

You’re not going to find a roach-infested motel in Romania built by slave children and unreachable by anything other than donkey carts, because that would be ridiculous and no one would buy it, even if it was cheap. The travel deals on Groupon are good. Maybe not 5-star celebrity-status good, but you get the idea. You might find yourself considering new destinations because the price is so “why not?”
 

Affordable:

The reason we shop on Groupon is because of the deals, so this should be a no brainer. Consider it this way: airfare alone from the U.S. to Europe generally costs about $1k, but you can find package deals that include airfare to locations in Europe (think Paris, Rome, Prague…) for less than that. If you book everything separately, you’ll likely end up spending three times as much as booking through Groupon. So duh, check out Groupon the next time you’re itching to travel.

 

Photo of Tanah Lot temple in Bali, Indonesia: a temple built on a small rock island just off the coast, surrounded by water. The picture highlights the sea surf, sand beach, and green trees of the temple.

I solo-planned a trip to Bali and took this amazing picture!

Cons:

Hidden Costs:

It’s important to look at the details carefully for each trip, and to anticipate what might not be included. Unless you live by one of the major airports (e.g. JFK), you’ll likely have to book a flight to reach your flight. If a rental car is included, keep in mind that there will likely be a security deposit required, extra charges if you have extra drivers, and fees for younger or uninsured drivers. And, often, Groupon travel deals are for groups, which means either roping in a few friends to fill the spots with you, or paying a couple hundred bucks to “fill” the spots and travel by yourself.
 

Modify Your Travel Style:

When I went to Ireland, I wanted to visit as many cities and places as I could in the week. I lost a lot of time traveling to and from my included villa. If your goal is to sightsee and bounce around, booking a deal that gives you one or two locations could inhibit you or cost you travel expenses and time. It’s important to know your travel style and whether the deal will end up working in your favor or against you.
 
Also, most deals are going to take place in the off-season. Depending on when you can and can’t take work off, this might not be an issue, or it could be the big red X that makes everything fall apart. Not to mention, a beach vacation might be ruined if the deal is during monsoon season. Do your research and know what you can do and what to expect.
 

Is It The Best Deal?

If you know the ins and outs of travel, know how to find deals and work magic, Groupon might actually be a more expensive option. There are definitely ways to travel on the cheap: hostels, AirBnB, local transportation, flight deals or credit card rewards, couchsurfing, and so on. If you really dig in and do the work, you can likely travel for a fraction of the price of that Groupon deal, but it comes down to luck, experience, and the right search terms
 
Overall, I’m a Groupon fan. I search the site before purchasing just about anything, but I also do my research. Read reviews, reflect on your own needs and wants, and pay attention to the fine print. Remember that the doing is more important than getting the deal!
October 16, 2017
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