Friday, February 12, 2016

Mentors 101

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Over the last ten years of my life, my view on mentorship has vastly changed to the point where I don't trust people.

Immediately out of college I took on three consecutive internships and was burned three consecutive times. It really sucks when you commit time and energy to a project with the intention of connecting with people, learning from the best, and building your resume only to have them tell you that: 1) you should be committing more time to your unpaid internship rather than enjoying weekends with your boyfriend and family, 2) you will never be good enough to be paid, and 3) all of the work you have completed cannot be used in your portfolio because … because.

Lesson learned: Never do an unpaid internship in exchange for knowledge. People can be rude, unkind, and will only help you so long as they are bringing in money based on work you've done (aka breaking the law).

This is not to say that I haven't had positive influences on my life.

Oh no!

I have amazing family and friends who have always inspired me and brought out the best in me.

• There is my husband who was with me when I received one of those emails from an internship and saw me shaking and crying as I tried to respond with any amount of dignity. He held me together as I wrote the email and encouraged me to keep trying. I did – and got burned again, but that's another story. Of course – that's not the only time he has been an emotional support. That's what husbands are for, right? ;)

• My grandparents have also been a huge support in my life – both emotional and otherwise. They would pick me up from after school activities like orchestra and chorus; they bought me my first computer and installed games to help me with spelling and math. And then there was that Christmas when I received a big heavy gift under the tree. You'll never believe what it was! … A Webster's dictionary. It was both the most exciting and most boring gift I have ever received. But that shows you how dedicated to my education and seeing me succeed they were. <3.

• My parents have also been involved in my life. My mom checked over my homework every night making sure I dotted all of my i's and crossed all of my t's while my dad helped me with projects – anything from science to art. He encouraged me to be creative and think outside of the box. Unlike my mom, who I could occasionally get to type up a report for me, my dad refused to do any of my homework. In fact, he would show me how to solve a problem once and then go back to watching tv waiting for me to figure it out. In the end, it worked. Kudos to him for being more interested in television than solving my math problems for me. ;)

• And, oh, my friends. :) Email is how I first learned to type. You never know how fast you can learn to keyboard until you have something important to say. :) And the same friend that taught me to type always made the time to look over my English papers correcting errors and encouraging me to use active voice instead of passive. Meanwhile, another friend took my writing in a whole different direction; limited vocabulary meant I had to be simple and direct. (If only I had kept that up! Writing emails to him would take hours as I proofread and proofread again critiquing and analyzing every single word!) We won't even talk about emotional catastrophes and how these people helped me get through them.

• Finally – my teachers. In fifth grade I had a teacher that would always call on me during math class. I hated math; it was my worst subject. And thus? I hated her. :( But my math skills really improved under her guidance. She was the same teacher that said I had to read books from different genres by different authors. Looking back, she was a really great teacher. :) And then there was a college professor who related history to what was currently going on in the world. Justin disliked her and said she was full of it; I loved her. :) I got to write a paper on the history of Monopoly, the board game! How fun is that!

So, while my viewpoint on internships and mentorships is far from the best, I am definitely grateful for all of the people who have had a positive influence on my life. People who have encouraged me and told me that nothing I desire is out of reach; people who have chosen to be there for me through all of life's ups and downs.

Looking back on your life, who had the biggest influence on the person you are today? Was it mentors who provided career guidance? Teachers, friends, or family? Some of each? … Will you be taking the time to thank them for all they've done this Valentine's Day?

* I participating in #LoveBlog this month and you can too! Click here to see the prompts!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Perfect Date Ideas

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It all comes down to love.

What is the perfect date? Seeing the sun rise over the Eiffel Tower? That one kiss where you swear you hear fireworks in the distance?

I'd like to argue that, for me, a perfect date is just spending time with someone you love. There is always something that could go better during a date, and isn't more fun when you are less stressed about everything going wrong and more interested in just having fun?

Justin and I have had a lot of fun date nights over the past 11.5 years. Some were more simple than others, but in the end I think what has always made the best nights stand out were the moments we spent together just talking and having fun.

Nevertheless, here are my favorite activities I've done with my husband; things I recommend you do with your significant other as well:

1. When Justin and I first started dating, I would always plan elaborate outings for our yearly anniversaries. The first one included brunch at the top of the Westin in Atlanta, a spinning restaurant where, over the course of an hour, you can see the whole Atlanta Skyline. Then, the next year, we went to the chocolate exhibit at Fernbank Museum of Natural History, had Asian for dinner, and finished our night off at The Oceanaire, a restaurant I picked because of the color you could see from the outside at night – blue. We had a delicious brownie, bigger than you can ever imagine, with the waitstaff only a finger lift away. We felt like royalty that night as we consumed our brownie and glass of milk. :) We spent our anniversary one year at the JAX beach in Florida, then another having brunch at Canoe, a restaurant that serves fresh made-to-order orange juice and eggs that come from chickens they have "out back". Finally, there was the year, I gave up the reins and let Justin plan. We went restaurant hopping (appetizer at one, dinner at another, dessert at a third) and then saw a theatrical performance at Shakespeare's Tavern.

Seriously, if you have the time and resources to plan elaborate dates like this where you can get to know your state or city better, I highly recommend it. It's so much fun and gives you great memories to look back on.

2. Justin and I don't always go all out for date-nights. Sometimes we do things more simply – like sitting on a front porch swing on a beautiful summer night listening to the crickets and talking, going star-gazing, watching planes fly in at Dekalb Peachtree Airport, picnicking while watching the sunset, or leaf-looking in the mountains.

3. During the cold winter months or when one of us is sick, it's sometimes better to stay inside. Ice skating at the local rink is always fun and I love going to see a movie… But reading a book together, watching a movie at home, or even cooking can be a delightful experience too.

4. One of the most exciting dates Justin and I ever went on was when we got in the car and followed highway 78 in Atlanta just to see where it went. We bought a Papa John's pizza, got in Justin's ratty old truck and just started driving. When we finally got to the end of 78, it was nearly 9PM. That's about the point when my cell phone rang; it was my dad. "Where are you?" he asked. "Umm… You don't want to know…" I told him. Given that we were walking on a beach in Charleston, I assumed he could hear the waves in the background, so I finally gave in revealing my location. I said "I'll be a little late tonight." :)

Yes, I also recommend being adventurous, following roads until you get lost, and taking a pizza for snacking on as you go. You should try it! – It's fun! :)

5. Finally, I'm always up for spending time with one another's friends and family. You can't always be alone! Things like bonfires, Thanksgiving, and watching the Super Bowl are always better with other people, no matter how much you like your spouse.

What are some of your favorite date activities to do with your spouse or significant other? Is there something specifc you would consider doing on a "perfect date night?"

* I'm participating in #LoveBlog. See the prompts here if you would like to join in.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Deal Breakers

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Between the time I started dating my husband and the time I married him, we found ourselves facing a host of personality differences. There was only one (well maybe two) possible deal breakers that came up for me though. Because I'm of the opinion that I am not always right, I went to survey family and friends on whether or not they considered my deal-breakers detrimental to inner-workings of a potential future marriage. Of course, ninety percent of people did not agree with me. As it would seem, depending on how much I cared, I would be fighting my battle alone.

During that whole experience though I learned a lot about my friends. I mean – first of all, I learned never to go to them for relationship advice. They are awesome, but they don't know me or my relationship with my husband well enough to make decisions or pass judgements for me. The second thing I learned was that each person, with their different backgrounds, had a different view on the situation.

The most interesting opinion I received was that of a friend from another country who always had a way of providing refreshing and unique insights into my predicaments.

As it turns out, cultural differences really have an effect on your viewpoint and allow you to see things differently than you might otherwise.

Think about it. Would you use a fork in China? How many Americans do you know that would go out of their way to eat snails? And what about the importance of tea in Japan?

My first experience in Europe, we traveled between 4 different countries. Obviously there were big differences like language, but there were also smaller minute differences that were harder to spot unless you were in the right mindset. For example, as Americans we would naturally follow the speed limit from one sign to the next not even realizing that certain areas between cities had no speed limit! Autobahn, baby! ;) Then there was the whole issue of eating. You put the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right. Don't cut your food until you are ready to eat it. And go! (Argh! I hated it!)

But one of the things that caught me most by surprise, that I didn't read about until returning, is the way language is used in Germany compared to the US or the UK. For example, in German one might say "Clean the kitchen please", but in English, we would say "Could you please clean the kitchen?" One is very direct, straightforward and to the point (almost demanding), and the other is more lax and indirect. I have no idea if there is a more indirect way of asking in German, but, the article I read, suggested that the difference in speaking could easily result in miscommunication

The point I'm getting to is this: Don't judge people based on your first impression of them (or what they are doing). In my case, I had to talk out my differences with my husband to really discover if what we thought was a relationship deal breaker really was. And in the case of friendship with Germans (or anyone from another culture), you have to go into the experience realizing that you may not always see eye to eye. Or even more so, there may be miscommunication that is preventing you from understanding that you actually do agree even though you didn't think you did. (Maybe you were saying the same thing in different ways, etc?)

Don't let miscommunication or a lack of understanding prevent you from forming relationships with people. Don't be too quick to judge and assume you have found a "deal breaker" in someone until you have really gotten to know them. You may find that you have been sadly mistaken and miss out on the opportunity for a great friendship or relationship!

What do you think about deal-breakers? Do you think in some situations we are too quick to judge and assume bad things about others? Have you had an experience (through traveling or otherwise) where you've learned that a person's behavior is not necessarily what it seems?

* I'm participating in #LoveBlog this February. Click here to discover the prompts and join in!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Making The Most Of Your Time With Someone

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My Best Friend's Wedding is the story of a woman whose best friend calls her to inform her he is getting married right about the same time she discovers she has feelings for him. She spends the entire movie trying to break up the couple with the help of her gay editor friend.

When the prompt "quality time" came up, this was what came to mind. Julianne has this perfect moment to tell her best friend that she loves him, but then that moment … passes by.

Don't be that person. Don't let that moment pass by. Tell people you love them – both friends and family. You never know when you won't have a second chance. <3.

* I'm participating in #LoveBlog! Join in?

Monday, February 8, 2016

National Marriage Week Questionnaire

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For the month of February, I will be going through the #LoveBlog prompts and taking a "break" from my normal blogging schedule. As much as I love blogging about travel, food, money, shopping, and all of the things that make life "life", I think that February is a good time to take a break and focus on what really matters in this world – relationships and love. Don't worry though. I'll try not to get too sappy and emotional! :)

Today's blog topic is "national marriage week". Honestly, I didn't even know that was a thing.

One of the best ways I can think of to fill this blog post without writing a book is to answer a survey. I'll try to keep the answers short, simple, and to the point. Maybe you'll learn a thing or two about us?

On To the Survey…

What are your middle names?
Michael and Marie

How long have you been together?
We started dating 11 years ago and got married almost 4 years ago.

How long did you know each other before you started dating?
8 years? We had the same 4th and 5th grade teachers. But we were only friends for about a year before we started dating.

Who asked who out?
Depends. Justin asked me to prom, and I said no. Then, right before we went away to college, I told him we were dating. Does that count as asking?

Whose siblings do you see the most?
Mine. – Right now my brother lives closer. That won't always be the case.

What about pets?
We currently live with SoCo (a German shepard) and Smokey (a cat). Neither of which are our pets. (Don't ask.)

Who does the cooking?
My husband. I once tried to cook spaghetti for him, but he took over. He said "you're doing it all wrong!" Now I occasionally help, but I refuse to outright cook a meal for him.

Who is more social?
Him. He's good at small talk; I am not.

Who is the neat freak?
Between the two of us? Me. But I hate cleaning, so there's that. If my space could be clean without my doing it, I would be very, very happy. (Then again, wouldn't we all?)

Who is the most stubborn?
Me? But that's debatable. We usually try to determine who cares more about a particular topic and go from there.

Who hogs the bed?
Me, definitely. Those memes where the guy gets like a quarter of the closet and/or a quarter of the bed are totally true in our household! I grew up with a queen bed all to myself, so I don't know how not to sleep in the middle! :)

Who wakes up earlier?
Justin. He is a morning person and I am not. Mornings are the absolute worst.

Where was your first date?
We already talked about that. :)

Who has the bigger family?
My extended family is way bigger than my husband's.

Do you get flowers often?
Not unless I buy them. :) Occasionally he'll bring me roses for my birthday or something, but the surprise is somewhat lost on me since I check the bank accounts way too often!

How long did it take to get serious?
It took 6 months from the time Justin asked me to prom for me to agree to date him. It took 6 years for Justin to ask me to marry him. (Is 6 our number? Do couples have numbers? Y'know … like songs?)

Who eats more?
Justin. In variety and amount.

Who sings better?
Ummm…

Who does the laundry?
It depends. It turns out I actually have a loving husband who will occasionally take on the task for me. He cares a lot more about making sure whites are washed with just whites, certain fabrics with certain fabrics, etc. Aside from wanting the clothes clean, I'm all about efficiency: "let's just throw everything in together and see what happens!" Yeah, never get me to do your laundry. ;)

Who’s better with the computer?
Justin, by far. He is a computer engineer; I'm just a lowly computer user.

Who drives when you are together?
Justin. I don't want him judging my driving skills; it's much better to judge his. "You missed the turn!" "You shouldn't slam on the brakes like that!" "Ahhh!"

Who picks where you go to dinner?
Mostly me. Sometimes I give Justin a few options – like Mexican, Italian, or American. He will eat almost anything; I'm the picky one.

Who is the first one to admit when they’re wrong?
I'm not sure we run into that problem too often. If it's obvious someone is wrong, they admit to it. We don't really talk about anything anyone can be right or wrong about though.

Who wears the pants in the relationship?
This is another situation where it probably depends on who you ask. I think overall, I am more opinionated, so Justin probably bends to my will slightly more than I do to his. It's cool though, when he wants to have an opinion, he makes it known.

Who eats more sweets?
me. Chocolate, candy, ice cream… I can turn down savory foods, but I have a much harder time controlling my sweet tooth.

Did you go to the same school?
Yes, we went to the same schools – elementary, middle, and high.

Who is the most sensitive?
It depends. Sometimes Justin gets angry for no reason, or at least it seems to me like no reason. He's sick, he's tired, he's hungry, etc… I'm not good at reading people, so all I know is that he has just yelled at me for no reason at all. And then for that same reason, that I can't read people's emotions, I consider myself extremely sensitive. I get upset thinking the problem is me when the problem is really outside of my control. So who is the most sensitive? It really comes down to your viewpoint and how you see the situation.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
Lots of Mexican, pizza, and Five Guys.

Where is the furthest you two have traveled together as a couple?
As in alone? Probably some city (town?) in Germany.

Who has the craziest exes?
I don't have any exes.

Who has the worst temper?
Justin will show his temper more. I just become quiet and quit talking. I can never think of what to say when I'm angry.

So tell me about you and your significant other. Are you married? Just dating? Are you celebrating Valentine's Day this year with friends and family instead? What do you think about the existence of "National Marriage Week"? Is a week really necessary for celebrating marriages?

Feel free to snag this survey from me (which I stole from here) and post on your own blog! I'd love the chance to get to know some of my readers better!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Thursday Throwback: Valentine's Day

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Initials carved over 10 years ago!

Honestly I can't remember a single Valentine's Day that has stood out more than any other. I'm not really a "Valentine's Day" kind of gal. For that matter, I spent my one year wedding anniversary with my husband babysitting. Over a full weekend. Our honeymoon? The day after our wedding we went to the mall, before it opened, and sat and talked. For like – hours. About nothing and everything. Then we spent a day with out of town friends before heading back to work. Yeah – hearts, stars, and rainbows… Oh wait – what were we talking about?  Lucky Charms? ;)

Aside from that, there have been a few Valentine's Days that have stood out.

• When I was a kid my parents would go all out celebrating Valentine's Day. My mom always made spaghetti and a chocolate cake with white icing and sprinkles in the shape of a heart on top. Then, because that was never enough, she would get me and my brother Valentine's Day cards and small gifts just to make us feel loved. One year, as a surprise, my dad bought me ruby earrings (my birthstone)! Wow! :) It was a shock, as I grew older and saw how other families did Valentine's Day, to realize that not everyone is about family on this love-filled holiday.

• My very first Valentine's Day with my (now) husband included hiking* through the woods near our high school. The idiot I am decided to climb a fence in boots with heels. Actually, the fence climbing was probably Justin's idea; I just can't turn down a challenge. Everything was going good until my jeans got caught on the fence. I decided to jump off of the fence to release the fabric … only the fabric didn't release. Instead, my favorite jeans ripped (just a tiny bit) and my foot, still hung, twisted.

After finally righting myself and getting both feet back on the ground, I kept a straight face as I limped my way to the car. My (now) husband only had the tiniest inclination of what had really happened, but, either way, we both knew the "date" was over.

The next day when I didn't show up at school (because I went to the doctor instead) my best friend gave my husband a hard time. "What did you do to her?" she demanded of him. Of course, she failed to admit any fault despite having flaked on both him and I on the day I fell. Justin denied any wrong-doing. In fact, he claimed that if I hadn't been so stubborn he would have carried me back to the car. Psh. Right.

The lesson I learned from this experience? BFFs flake and guys-who-have-a-crush-on-you come. And then you get married and travel the world. *shrugs* I guess things could have turned out worse. ;)

• Then there was the year I received my laptop … and it snowed. :)

• And finally, a few years ago Justin and I agreed to babysit a 3 year old for the full Valentine's Day week. During that week: my laptop hard drive died, my car transmission needed work, I failed at making a cake, AND the president came to town. WOW. That was quite the week.

This year I'm hoping for positive experiences. It's been years since I've gotten more than a good meal for Valentine's Day, but maybe we will see a bit of snow… or get to sleep in an extra hour. Sometimes it's the little things in life that are the best surprises. :)

What are your favorite Valentine's Day memories? Are you hoping for a special gift or meal this year?

* Hiking, to me, is walking, not necessarily strenuous, usually in the woods. 
** I'm participating in the Love Blog link-up. Want to join in?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

IWSG Again!

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Prague Castle – January 2016

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Woot! It's the first Wednesday of the month and thus time for another installment of IWSG! Having been miserably sick Monday and Tuesday, I must admit I'm glad that I actually feel up to the task today. Unfortunately, the weather doesn't look so nice out. They are calling for rain and severe thunderstorms. :( I guess I missed out on the nice weather from the beginning of the week. Doesn't that figure?

Anyway…

At the beginning of every month, as part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, I take a look at my successes, share the ways I hope to improve in the next month, and provide inspiration (if I have any).

January Successes:

• Traveling to Europe.
     * Being more culturally aware. (Or at least semi-trying.)
     * Eating 15,000 types of sausage in Germany. (I'll be happy if I never see sausage again.)
     * Learning how the train system works. (Completely confused me before.)
     * Getting free nights with hotel points. #win!
     * Spending $3,000 less than we did on our 2014 European excursion! :)
     * Pretending to be social. (I'm an introvert.)
     * Not losing my job. (I'm a service-worker.)
• 3 books read despite the time spent traveling abroad! (1,000 pages completed already for 2016!)
• We didn't spend more $$ than we made!
This picture. #love

February Goals –

Of course I have generic goals (take more pictures, write more succinctly, drink more water), but the following are specific things I'd like to do in February:

• Go to (or at least get tickets for) a cultural event. Beauty and the Beast (broadway production), Cirque du Soleil, or The Sound of Music (also broadway) come to mind. (I love seeing theatre productions, but we never make time or put together the money to go.)
• Come up with a blog plan. (Blogging is so much easier with one!)
• Try a new method of photo editing.
• Find a German book I can read with Kindle. (It offers a dictionary to make reading in a second language just the tiniest bit easier!)
• Finish 2 more books this month.

So, that's where I'm at. Super happy with how 2016 has started and hoping that I can continue experiencing successes (and pushing myself) throughout the rest of the year.

In terms of writing…
I've definitely been building vocabulary (in 3 languages!) but not necessarily incorporating anything I've learned in a written way. Maybe this month I'll get around to that as well?

IWSG'ers (and anyone who reads my blog!) what have you been up to during the month of January? Were you successful at life? Did you succeed at your goals? What will you be striving for this month?